31 January 2014

Afghanistan’s uncertain future

Playing with fire
Hamid Karzai’s vilification of America is risking his country’s security
Feb 1st 2014 | KABUL | Source Link

THANKS to its bewildering president, Afghanistan has seen relations with the United States plunge to new lows just two months before a presidential election. If Hamid Karzai cannot reach an agreement with America for some troops to stay, then NATO is scheduled to pull out completely by the end of the year. Thus, though Mr Karzai will step down at the end of a possibly drawn-out process of choosing his successor, his unpredictability, and his desire to settle scores before going, threaten his country’s interests far into the future.

Confirmation of serious trouble came first in November, on the occasion of a loya jirga, a grand assembly of 2,500 community leaders and tribal elders. The meeting was convened to approve a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with America that will allow a small number of foreign troops to continue training and assisting Afghan security forces. Without their presence, many Afghans fear that flows of foreign aid will dry up and that, unable to resist the Taliban, the state might collapse.

The BSA had taken nearly a year to negotiate, and the loya jirga overwhelmingly endorsed it. Yet Mr Karzai used the occasion to attack his American allies for myriad perceived failings and to announce new conditions for his signing the pact. He also suggested that the responsibility for doing so should probably fall to his successor. (Mr Karzai is constitutionally barred from contesting another term.)

Since then, Mr Karzai has continued to give free rein to his resentments. On January 25th he held a press conference in which he excoriated the Americans further. He accused them of engaging in a “psychological war” in their efforts to seal the BSA and acting as a “rival” rather than as a friend. For good measure, Mr Karzai insisted that America must start serious peace talks with the Taliban—an impossibility, given the Taliban’s hostility to the BSA. If the Americans would not accept his conditions, he added, “they can leave anytime and we will continue our lives”.

Debating Rouhani in Post-Imperial America

January 30, 2014

The nuclear talks with Iran have two meanings. For those highly skeptical of the process the talks are, or should be, about nuclear weapons -- and about preventing Iran from obtaining them. For the Obama administration, which is committed to the process, the nuclear issue is partly a pretext, something that must be finessed, in order to reach a strategic understanding with Iran.

There is a big difference between these two positions. The neoconservatives and hardline Democrats who form the bloc of skeptics have very little interest in a strategic accommodation with Iran. That, in their eyes, smells of appeasement and the desertion of America's traditional allies in the region, specifically Israel. They see this Iranian regime as altogether evil, and view Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as -- pardon the cliche -- a wolf in sheep's clothing. And because the regime is altogether evil, it cannot be trusted with any sort of nuclear capability that might one day lead to a weapons breakout.

The Obama administration sees Rouhani very differently. It views him as a potential Iranian Deng Xiaoping, someone from within the ideological solidarity system who can, measure-by-stealthy-measure, lead his country away from ideology and toward internal reform -- something that could, in turn, result in an understanding with the West.

The skeptics would throw Rouhani under a bus if that's what it would take to kill a deal they fear will lessen the economic sanctions on Iran without forcing it to kill its nuclear enrichment program. To the Obama White House, however, Rouhani may represent the last best opportunity for negotiation before Iran embarks further down a road that might lead to a U.S. or Israeli military strike.

Rouhani: Is he or isn't he a true change agent?

How one comes down on that question depends on how one views American power and interests in the Middle East. For the fact is, few people are objective about Rouhani himself. How can they be, given that so much about Iranian politics remains opaque, with the result that people read into him what they want?

Those skeptical of both Rouhani and the Iranian nuclear talks believe the United States must maintain geopolitical primacy in the Middle East and ensure a modicum of order there, as well as work forcefully to install more democratic-trending regimes. In addition, such people feel American military and political preponderance in the region is a grand strategy of sorts for which the public at home clearly has an appetite -- or should have. They blame the ongoing disintegration of Syria, the partial disintegration of Libya, and the endemic violent turmoil in Iraq as reflections of weak U.S. resolve to set these places to rights. They believe all this because, in their eyes, a stable Middle East is vital to U.S. interests.

The Obama administration and its supporters, both active and passive, don't really believe much of this -- though they will not say so publicly. They believe that a broad transition is occurring in world affairs, and particularly in the Middle East, ushering in a less unipolar world. For them, public anger over the Iraq War and public weariness over the war in Afghanistan demonstrate that there is just not sufficient public support for American attempts to set complex and populous Muslim societies to rights, and that fixing them is not a primary American interest in any case. A messy and irregular Sunni-Shiite war across the Levant may be awful in humanitarian terms, but it does not necessarily endanger sea lines of communication or even the existence of Israel, which can survive regional anarchy well, thank you. Furthermore, according to this way of thinking, it is perfectly all right if the Sunnis of al Qaeda are preoccupied with killing Shiites rather than with killing Americans. After all, wasn't the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s enormously beneficial to the West? War within the Muslim world clearly has its uses. Now, were violent unrest to spread to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, that would be another question -- but it hasn't yet. And so wouldn't it be nice if the United States could reach an understanding with Iran over basic issues in the region? Wouldn't that lessen the load on the United States and reduce the possibility of America having to intervene again militarily in the Middle East, especially as the United States requires a diminished amount of oil from the region?

Challenges in Indo-Pacific region

India must play a proactive role for long-term security and stability
Gurmeet Kanwal

India has acquired robust military intervention capabilities and is formulating a suitable doctrine for intervention.

THE security environment in the Indo-Pacific region has been vitiated by territorial disputes on land in the South China Sea and the East China Sea as well as terrorism, the proliferation of small arms and piracy in the Malacca Strait. Freedom of navigation on the high seas is of critical importance for the economies of most Asian countries. Maintaining peace and stability and ensuring the unfettered flow of trade and energy supplies through the sea lanes of communications will pose major challenges for the Asian powers as well as the United States. Only a cooperative security architecture can provide long-term stability and mutual reassurance.

Through its forward military presence and its abiding military alliances, the US has played a key role in providing stability in the Indo-Pacific region through many decades of turbulence during and after the cold war. The US is now re-balancing or 'pivoting' from the Euro-Atlantic zone to the Indo-Pacific in tune with its changing geo-strategic priorities and the rise of emerging powers. It is also simultaneously downsizing its forces and will need new strategic partners to help it maintain order and stability. According to Rory Medcalf, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Washington, "the choreography of this geopolitical interplay will depend on the quality of leadership and decision-making in Beijing, New Delhi and Washington."

As C Raja Mohan has averred in his book "Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific", the major powers in the region, including Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and the US, need to work creatively to frame acceptable rules for the commons in the Indo-Pacific. Unless such realisation comes about, subterranean tensions will continue to hamper stability. China has so far been ambivalent in seeking to join a cooperative framework and has preferred to stand apart. It has failed to realise that its growing trade and massive dependence on energy imports through the Indian Ocean make it imperative for it to join the efforts being made to establish such a framework.

It would be in India's interest to readily join cooperative efforts aimed at maintaining stability. India has acquired robust military intervention capabilities and is formulating a suitable doctrine for intervention. Though India has a pacifist strategic culture rather than a proactive one that nips emerging challenges in the bud through pre-emption, it has not hesitated to intervene militarily when its national interests warranted intervention, both internally and beyond the shores. The Army was asked to forcibly integrate the states of Goa, Hyderabad and Junagadh into the Indian Union soon after Independence as part of the nation-building process. The Indian armed forces created the new nation of Bangladesh after the Pakistan army conducted genocide in East Pakistan in 1971.

Realism Not Romanticism Should Dictate India’s Pakistan Policy

January 30, 2014

Wags have often compared India’s policy towards Pakistan with the attitude of an abused wife who continues to harbour fond hopes that her tormentor will one day reform. Much like the abused wife, India’s response to incessant provocations from Pakistan is limited to the occasional protest. And, just as the abused wife justifies sticking to the unhappy marriage because destiny has willed it so, India uses geography and an outdated concept of neighbours to desist from taking any step or making any policy that will address the Pakistan problem substantially, if not entirely.

Thus it is that even as reports emanating from Pakistan reveal that the Lashkar-e-Taiba openly threatened war after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Jaish-e-Mohammad hosted a huge rally under police protection in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on India’s Republic Day, Pakistani troops once again violated the ceasefire along the LoC, and that the Pakistani delegation played the ‘dehati aurat’ (to use Nawaz Sharif’s evocative phrase) to seek US intervention and involvement on its side against India not just in Kashmir but also in Afghanistan, the Indian press is reporting that the lame-duck Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a last throw of the dice (and perhaps throwing all caution to the winds) is planning to visit Pakistan just on the eve of elections.

Although it is entirely possible that other than some movement on the trade front, no other Napoleonic feat will be achieved during this purported trip. There is apprehension that the outgoing government might enter into some understanding or even agreement – speculation is rife about some sort of roadmap being agreed to resume the Composite Dialogue – that ties the hand of the next Prime Minister in how to engage with, or as the case may be, stay disengaged from, Pakistan. In other words, by undertaking a visit to Pakistan, the Indian PM could well be laying a diplomatic and strategic minefield for his successor.

Whosoever forms the next government in New Delhi must have an opportunity to undertake a comprehensive review of India’s Pakistan policy. Such exercise should not only question the hoary assumptions and shibboleths that have guided policymaking so far, but also forge a policy framework that sheds all starry-eyed notions based on extraneous considerations – personal friendships, ancestral links, family origins, childhood nostalgia, romantic notions of being the one to normalise relations to recreate the period of glorious co-existence (which actually never existed!), delusions of statesmanship which will be the toast of the world – in favour of a policy that protects and promotes India’s economic, political, security and strategic interests. Hard-nosed and professional assessment based on ground realities, and not seductive and sugary statements from Pakistani leaders, must form the basis of any new policy.

Among the first things that the next government must do is get over the ‘saviour’ complex that has dogged India’s Pakistan policy since Independence. Against the backdrop of US-led ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan and the rising profile and power of both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups, immense pressure will come on the next government from sections within India to make concessions to Pakistan and rescue it from the existential crisis in which it finds itself. Such pressure to pull Pakistan’s chestnuts out of the fire must be resisted. Simply put, Pakistan's existential crisis is of its own making and asking or expecting India to rescue Pakistan from itself is a mug’s game. Innumerable times in the past India has become a victim to this ‘saviour’ complex only to repent later.

Everywhere, a Maoist plot

January 31, 2014


Chhattisgarh government is unable to accept the right to protest and unwilling to hear the people’s voice.

By going to town as the Chhattisgarh police and media have recently done on my alleged Maoist links, the real questions have been sidelined. As citizens of this country, do we have the right to protest democratically and constitutionally, and as journalists, researchers or human rights activists, are we free to pursue our vocation?

The police arrested one Badri Gawde on January 23, and paraded him before the media four days later, after his family had filed a missing report. Puffy faced, and barely able to keep his eyes open, Gawde “revealed” to the media that I was working on behalf of the Maoists to oppose the mines and railway line that are to come up in the Raoghat area of the state. The activities that my doppelgänger is up to, such as leading the Raoghat Rail Sangharsh Samiti in faraway Chhattisgarh, even as my mundane self takes classes in Delhi, amazes me. If only I had that much energy and time.

Like many young men in conflict areas, Gawde is a man of many parts. Stylishly dressed, and with political ambition, Gawde is active both with the Congress and in local Gond community politics, which involved supporting Vikram Usendi, the Gond BJP candidate in the assembly elections against the Halba Congress candidate. But being political in these parts also means, perforce, keeping up with the Maoists. In November 2013, soon after the assembly elections, I visited Bastar as part of my research on counterinsurgency and democracy. With me was a friend with ancestral roots in Narayanpur-Antagarh. Badri mentioned that he was going to meet a Maoist leader, and asked if we would like to come. Since this was a rare opportunity for us, we went along.

While the Maoists have often given access to embedded journalists and others, they have been deeply resentful of my criticism of them. If meeting a Maoist is a crime, then dozens of journalists should be instantly arrested. Can it be anyone’s case that there is a different law for journalists and a different one for scholars, each of whom contributes to information and knowledge dissemination, but in different ways? On that same visit, incidentally, I also met a senior police officer.

Our meeting with the young Maoist, who had a childlike face and giggled frequently, lasted an hour or so. We discussed the implications of the Raoghat mines of course, because it would be impossible not to, but also Godse versus Gandhi, local gods and customs, and his own life history. I came away from that meeting with a sense of great sadness, after having travelled through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen — mist covered mountains blue-green with trees, and clear pebbled streams. Badri pointed out a special tree from which alone the Anga Deo, or the log god, can be fashioned.

The sultans of Pakistan

January 31, 2014 


How a few wealthy dynasties dominate the nation’s politics, and get even richer.

Last month, the Election Commission of Pakistan, manifesting its independence, declared Nawaz Sharif one of the country’s richest parliamentarians and revealed his assets: six agricultural properties, a house in Upper Mall, Lahore, Rs 126 million in seven bank accounts, and other properties under the name of his wife, making him a billionaire. This may be explained by the fact that he belongs to an affluent family of businessmen. His father, Muhammad Sharif, a Kashmiri from Amritsar who moved to Lahore in 1947, had slowly built up a smelting works. He was stripped of his property in 1972 by the wave of nationalisation ordered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but the privatisation decided by Zia-ul-Haq (who blessed the elevation of Nawaz to the post of Punjab chief minister in 1985) helped the family recover its assets. The Sharifs also benefited from the investments they made abroad, including in Saudi Arabia, where they returned (the family was already a regular visitor before) after Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999. But when the Sharif family returned from exile, it wasn’t this rich. At that time, Asif Ali Zardari was estimated to be the richest politician and second-richest man in Pakistan. The Sharif brothers came fourth, according to one ranking.

Such personal enrichment of politicians is related to the scale of corruption that affects Pakistan. Zardari, who in 2008 reportedly owned several estates in the UK and the US can, in this regard, be held up as a symbol. In an investigative report for The New York Times, John Burns showed that Zardari had not only spent $4 million to purchase Surrey Palace and spent $660,000 in barely a month, but also that this money indeed came from ill-gotten gains. In 2003, the Swiss judiciary determined that Benazir Bhutto and Zardari were guilty of money laundering and had to return $11.5 million to the Pakistani state. A gold bullion dealer also reportedly paid $10 million into the Bhutto-Zardari account after the Benazir government had granted him a monopoly on gold imports in Pakistan. It is not for nothing that Zardari was known as “Mr 10 per cent” when he was minister. Whether Nawaz has also enlarged his fortune by resorting to dubious means has not been established, but the fact that the head of the executive has also become extremely rich is reminiscent of the kind of regime German sociologist Max Weber called “sultanism”, a blend of the personalisation of power and patrimonialism he first detected in the Ottoman Empire.

While top leaders amass fortunes through largescale corruption, there are other forms of corruption on a smaller scale involving National Assembly members. A report by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency based on the declarations of assets by elected members of the assembly showed that, in 2010, the average value of an assembly member’s assets was three times higher than the average value of assets of members of the previous National Assembly, many being the same people.

Can Afghanistan’s Economy Stand on Its Own?

Despite the ravages of war, the country is blessed with some significant advantages.
By Richard Ghiasy
January 30, 2014

At the turn of the century Afghanistan was economically comatose. The arrival of international forces in 2001 also marked the start of unprecedented international support. After 12 years of conflict, Afghanistan remains a burden for the international community.

The day is approaching when Afghanistan will have to stand on its own. To do that, Afghanistan will need to adapt to the dynamics and rules of globalization. The international community and incumbent administration have made a start to this adaptation process. The new administration will have to continue it with stronger commitment and at a faster pace – it has no pretexts to do otherwise.

Over the last twelve years, most media outlets, think tanks and experts have focused on the challenges that Afghanistan faces. Given the ravages of decades of conflict, this is not surprising, but it has led to a virtual “analysis paralysis.” Despite the very serious security challenges that clearly remain, few experts have underlined the fact that Afghanistan enjoys a highly unique convergence of factors that it could potentially seize to develop the nation

To begin with, there are a myriad of countries contributing to Afghanistan in a variety of ways: militarily, diplomatically, or financially. The U.S. has allocated an astonishing $100 billion of nonmilitary funds to Afghanistan since 2002, the largest amount the U.S. has ever spent on reconstructing a country. Even after the drawdown of forces this year many nations will remain committed: Germany, for example, has committed 430 million euro ($587 million) a year until at least 2016, while major aid organizations like the Asian Development Bank and the UN will also remain dedicated for years to come. This, the international community’s support and attention, is the exogenous advantage the country enjoys.

Add to this a set of endogenous advantages. Some of these have been in place for years, while others have emerged only recently. Among the latter are Afghanistan’s democratic political institutions, which permit participation and competition. Allowed to work as intended, these institutions should prevent the country becoming subject to the whims of a single authority. The election process meanwhile functions as a flushing mechanism for entrenched elites and ossified ideas – on paper at least. Supporting this and giving civil society a voice is a free media: today there are some 35 TV stations, over 100 radio stations and more than 150 newspapers. These are luxuries that civil societies in so many other underdeveloped nations can only dream of.

The Application of Federalism in Overseas Stability Operations

Chad Pillai adds an interesting perspective on the possible political decision to use federalism as a tool in stability operations. The views expressed belong to the author alone and do not represent the US Army or the Department of Defense.

Since the commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation New Dawn (OND) in 2003 and 2010, the United States and its coalition partners attempted to replace and reform a thoroughly medieval society in Afghanistan and a national socialist system in Iraq. While the two nations differ significantly, the nation building approach used to reform both nations followed an eerily similar pattern: build a strong central government, establish strong and professional national security forces, and conduct elections to gain legitimacy for the new government. The result has seen the rise of weak and incompetent governments with rampant corruption, and the rise of violent insurgencies challenging the legitimacy of the host nation’s government.

The conventional thinking regarding counterinsurgencies is that they take 10 years to conclude. The inherent problem with the strategic approach used in Iraq and in Afghanistan is impatience to rebuild their societies by employ the concept of federalism to harness the established forms of political power in each country. Federalism would have placed the responsibility of governance, justice, security, and economic development at the lowest level possible, where it was desired by Iraqi society and had long been established in Afghan society, while also retaining national level authorities to provide the oversight and services beneficial to the entire nation (i.e. international trade, foreign policy, and national security).

The concept of federalism goes beyond having provincial, regional, and sub-regional governing institutions. Federalism empowers semi-sovereign institutions at the local level with the constitutional powers that allow both levels of government to act directly upon the citizens through their officials and laws. Iraq and Afghanistan have historically employed tiered levels of government responsibility; however, their histories differed in the application of authorities and application of power. Iraq’s history consisted of strong central governments with weak provincial governments with little authority to establish rules, collect taxes, and administer justice. Afghanistan’s history has been one of weak central governments and a greater reliance on local tribal authorities. Though coming from opposite directions, both nations suffered from the inefficient use of their financial and material resources, created conditions for corruption and nepotism, and failed to govern in a manner that was acceptable to the will of the people. Had those nations established a form of federalism acceptable to their people and that efficiently divided the responsibility for governance, it is possible that both societies would have a more stable state than recently experienced.

Afghanistan After America: Ripples in Russia and the Caucasus

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 31, 2014

As the final pullout of US forces from Afghanistan approaches, uncertainties and security risks will shape the future of the country and its neighborhood. Leaving behind a small contingent of American and coalition troops for training and other non-combat missions, the Euro-Atlantic community challenges the stability of the country that will rest entirely on the Afghan National Security Forces’ shoulders. Given the geostrategic position of Afghanistan, there will certainly be a ripple effect on the broader region in post-2014 period. The immediate neighbors, such as Iran and Pakistan, will be affected the most, but to a lesser degree, third-tier countries such as ones in the South Caucasus will also feel the consequences.

A glance at a map reveals that energy and security are among the main factors that have brought about essential attention to Afghanistan. It is a “barrel” of energy resources in the sense that it is surrounded by energy-rich countries. Although the country has no hydrocarbon wealth of its own, its location in the energy rich region is vital both for affecting energy projects’ security and also, as a landlocked country linking Europe to Asia, potentially serving as a transfer hub for resources flowing through the region. The New Silk Road project[4] advocated by the United States, the Istanbul Process [5] endorsed by the “Heart of Asia” group and other similar projects all aim to capitalize on the trade potential of Afghanistan in connecting the European and Asian markets. The consensual understanding is that there cannot be a stable Afghanistan without a stable and prosperous region. Much still remains to be accomplished (especially in developing infrastructure) before any tangible results can be achieved. Should these projects succeed though, they could not only be economically beneficial for the parties involved, but also bring greater political stability to Afghanistan and the region overall. The country today still serves as a node of threat distribution in the world, including terrorism, drugs, and trafficking. The 2014 pullout will increase the risk of those challenges and bring about greater instability to Eurasia, what Richard Weitz of the Hudson Institute called [6] a “Post-2014 Afghan Storm”.

Due to its strategic significance, Afghanistan has served as a platform for a greater US presence in the region to not only eradicate the extremist elements that are a threat to the US national security, but also to integrate Afghanistan and other regional states in the US-driven agenda. This on its part was an attempt in trying to limit China and Russia’s roles in the Middle East.

Report Says Afghanistan Can’t Be Trusted to Prevent Misuse of U.S. Aid

JAN. 30, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — With billions of dollars in American aid increasingly flowing straight into Afghan government coffers, the United States hired two global auditing firms three years ago to determine whether Afghanistan could be trusted to safeguard the money.

The findings were so dire that American officials fought to keep them private. But the money has continued to flow, despite warnings from the auditors that none of the 16 Afghan ministries could be counted on to keep the funds from being stolen or wasted.

The problems unearthed by the auditors are detailed in a report to be published Thursday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an American government watchdog. The findings raise new questions about the efficacy and wisdom of giving huge amounts of aid directly to a government known for corruption.

The inspector general’s report is likely to increase tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bristled for years at what he says is an orchestrated campaign by President Obama’s administration to undermine his government with embarrassing revelations and leaks.

American officials have little affection for Mr. Karzai these days, and the deteriorating relationship between the countries has already affected the flow of aid. Congress cut the budget for development aid in Afghanistan roughly in half, to about $1.12 billion, in the current fiscal year. That step was in part a rebuke of Mr. Karzai’s increasingly vitriolic statements about the United States, and his refusal to sign a long-term security agreement that American and Afghan negotiators put together last fall.

Aid from Western countries pays most of the Afghan government’s expenses. The United States’ contribution is by far the largest, and Washington has pushed in recent years to route more of it directly to the Afghan government and less through programs managed by American officials. The direct assistance, which now accounts for about half of all American aid to the government, was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s strategy to build a credible national government that could capitalize on the battlefield gains made by the surge of American forces in 2009 and 2010.

Just as the surge yielded military gains against the Taliban that have proved to be transient, the efforts to transform the Afghan government have been undercut by the corruption that pervades Mr. Karzai’s administration, as illustrated in the audits and the internal American risk assessments they engendered.

For instance, $236.5 million earmarked for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health was in danger of misappropriation “arising from payment of salaries in cash,” according to a United States Agency for International Development risk assessment cited by the inspector general. The Afghan Mines Ministry could be “paying higher prices for commodities and services to finance kickbacks and bribes,” another assessment based on the audits said.

John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, who is known for his blunt and prosecutorial style, called the strategy of delivering more direct assistance “the biggest gamble with taxpayer money that U.S.A.I.D. has ever made.”

His report, provided to The New York Times ahead of its public release, acknowledged that the aid agency was simply following a policy set by senior officials in the Obama administration, and that direct aid payments to the Afghan government would probably continue no matter what problems were found. His chief recommendation was that the agency apply more pressure on Afghan ministries to clean up their operations.

The agency, which has grown accustomed to harsh reports on its work in Afghanistan from the inspector general, characterized the latest report as one with lots of smoke but no fire. The agency said that despite all the warnings about risks, the report outlined no specific instances of fraud.

Report Shows Afghans Overwhelmingly Against Taliban Rule

SWJ Blog Post | January 30, 2014 

A study obtained by VOA shows that Afghan citizens overwhelmingly oppose Taliban rule and believe their living conditions have improved over the last 10 years.
Captured Taliban insurgents are presented to the media in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Jan. 7, 2014.
The study, conducted by the Kabul-based ATR (Assess, Transform and Reach) consulting firm, surveyed more than 4,200 Afghans from 11 provinces.

Taliban rule rejected

ATR Consulting says only 13 percent of Afghan men and less than 2 percent of Afghan women surveyed are willing to have the Taliban govern them.

The study reveals a geographic divide among Afghan men. Only 3 percent of those surveyed in northern provinces say they want to see the Taliban rule, but 27 percent of men in the country's south favor that option.

Alam Payind, the director of the Middle East Studies Center at the Ohio State University, tells VOA this difference is expected because the northern alliances have strongly opposed the Taliban for years.

"But in the southern areas, where mostly the Taliban came from," Payind says, "they want some sort of negotiations because they have learned that without including Taliban in future negotiations, there will be no peace in Afghanistan."

While this desire for a peace agreement with the Taliban is widespread in Afghanistan, almost half of Afghans do not think the Taliban would respect a peace deal if one is ever reached with the government.

The ATR consulting report shows the most common answer to why Afghans believe the Taliban is fighting in their country is that Taliban insurgents are serving as proxies for other countries. One in four think the Taliban is fighting against foreign occupation.

Living conditions, government trust up

Overall, the results show Afghans believe their living conditions have improved in the last 10 years. Men in southern provinces are the exception; only about one-third say conditions have improved, with another third saying conditions are the same and the rest believing conditions have worsened.

Bangladesh: Implications of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Indictment

30 January 2014
Rupak Bhattacharjee

The trial of Bangladeshi war criminals that began on 21 November 2011 has generated many controversies. In March 2010, the Awami League (AL) government constituted the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) for the trial of persons accused of committing heinous crimes in the 1971 war. The accused have been tried under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act and the Collaborators Act - both promulgated in 1973. Most of the accused war criminals belong to the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami. In fact, its entire leadership has been held responsible for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. So far, eight Jamaat leaders - Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Quader Mollah, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, Ghulam Azam, Mohammad Mojahid, Mueen Uddin and Ashrafuz Zaman - have been awarded either life sentences or death punishment. Besides, several other top leaders including its present Ameer (chief) Matiur Rahman Nizami, Abdus Subhan, AKM Yusuf, Azharul Islam and Mir Quasem Ali are in detention and facing trial. 

The ICT has also indicted Jamaat as a political party. The investigation agency of the ICT has launched a formal probe into the alleged war crimes committed by Jamaat as an organization in 1971. The tribunal said, “Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party under Professor Ghulam Azam intentionally functioned as a criminal organisation.” The ICT says that militias created by the Jamaat like Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams and Peace Committee worked as auxiliary forces of the Pakistani Army and actively opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. 

All the Jamaat leaders convicted or facing trial were key organisers or commanders-in-chief of these militias in their respective localities. The dogmatic religious leaders collaborated with the Pakistani Army throughout the Liberation War and summarily executed scores of intellectuals, students, nationalist leaders and freedom fighters. 

For the last forty years, the families of victims have been relentlessly campaigning to bring the perpetrators to justice. Numerous pro-liberation organisations including Ekattarer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee for Uprooting Collaborators and Killers of 1971) led by Saheed Mata Jahanara Imam organised several demonstrations in the 1990s. The campaign for the trial of war criminals transformed into a mass movement at Shahbag, recently renamed as Projjanmo Chattor (Generation Square), following AL’s assumption of power in 2008. 

Initiating the trial process was a major election pledge of the AL, the party that once championed the cause of independence under the charismatic leadership of Sheikh Mujib. However, the conviction of war criminals, predominantly of Jamaat origin, has resulted in a highly volatile situation in the country. In the prevailing socio-political scenario, the Bangladeshi polity has become sharply polarised into two camps. A majority of the people identify themselves with the ideals of the independence struggle starting from the 1952 Language Movement culminating in the birth of a Bengali nation through a protracted and bloody Liberation War. However, some conservative politico-religious and reactionary forces that firmly resisted Bangladesh’s independence are not at ease with the concept of secular nationalism. The latter group emphasises the distinct religious identity of the Bangladeshi population and yearns to reform the society based on shariah.

Asian Security: Impact of the North East Asia Strategic Quadrilateral

Paper No. 5639 Dated 30-Jan-2014
By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Asian security and stability is nowhere more impacted than by the power- play and balance of power in North East Asian strategic quadrilateral comprising Russia, Japan, China and the United States and this is a strategic reality that has prevailed ever since 1945 when the United States and Russia emerged as superpowers.

The North East Asia Strategic Quadrilateral comprises Russia, Japan and China as the resident powers in North East Asia and the United States as the non-resident power but perceiving North East Asia as strategically crucial for American Homeland security and for its balance of power politics to ensure its continued global predominance.

The power play and the ensuing balance of power in North East Asia is not only confined to this strategic quadrant of Asia but spills over all the way to South East Asia and South Asia or more succinctly put impacts the entire Indo Pacific Asia. It also impacts the entire Asian Heartland.

North East Asia in the last decade stood strategically neglected by both the United States and Russia as the two most dominant powers. United States stood strategically distracted by its military imbroglios in Afghanistan and Iraq. Russia’s strategic resurgence had not extended to North East Asia mainly because of its strategic compulsions visa-a-vis the so-called Russia-China strategic nexus which failed to add or complement Russia’s strategic weight and postures.

This strategic vacuum in North East Asia facilitated an exponential military rise of China without any checkmating by the United States and Russia as the two dominant powers which could have done so.

The onus of facilitating the emergence of the ‘China Threat’ which now envelops Indo Pacific Asia lies squarely on the shoulders of the United States as after 1991 disintegration of the Former Soviet Union it had emerged as the sole Superpower and global policeman. The United States had not only contributed handsomely to the economic rise of China fuelling its military rise but also endangered Asian security as a whole by molly-coddling China ignoring the imperatives of facilitating the rise of Japan and India as the other legitimate Asian powers.

North East Asia has been forcefully thrust in the global strategic consciousness as in the run-up to 2014 China has switched over from its much publicised and much trumpeted ‘peaceful rise of China’ to a robust and unabashed use of China’s ‘hard power’ accumulated in the last decade without any checkmating. Gone are the US think tanks treatises emphasising and glorifying the use of China’s ‘soft power’.

China after signalling the world in 2009 with its public display of its stupendous military might felt strong enough to indulge in its use of ‘hard power’ first in the South China Sea against Vietnam and the Philippines and now in the East China Sea against Japan. Both South China Sea and East China Sea conflict escalations by China have now emerged as global ‘flash-points’. Concurrently, China also started displaying its use of ‘hard power’ on the India-Tibet border encouraged by India’s timid strategic responses.

Maldives: Local Council Elections and other Developments:

Paper No. 5640 Dated 30-Jan-2014

Elections to the Local councils took place on Jan 18 and the results announced indicate that there has been no significant shift in the loyalties of the people from that of the Presidential elections.

The Government Coalition obtained 465 seats, with 71 Atoll council seats, 3 City Council seats and 391 island council seats. The PPM of President Yameen obtained 281 seats, while its coalition partners Jumhooree obtained 125 and the MDA 59.

On the other hand, the MDP obtained in all 457 seats just 8 seats short of the ruling coalition and what is significant is that the party’s vote percentage remained intact despite being in the opposition.

Some significant observations include:

* The voter turnout unlike the Presidential elections was much less and this is because of the fact that one third of the voters lived and worked away from their registered islands of residence.

* The MDP won a majority in both the city Councils of Male and Addu that account for 40 percent of the electorate. This indicates that the trend seen in the Presidential elections continues and the MDP is yet to make a headway in rural areas.

* The PPM claims that it would have had better results had it not been for some of its members contesting as independents and winning in the seats allotted to other coalition partners. There was a strange case of both the MDP and the Jumhooree of the ruling coalition campaigning together in a local council dividing between themselves 3 seats for MDP and 2 for Jumhooree. It appears that despite an understanding the PPM contested all the five seats in that particular council allotted to the Jumhooree.

* The election indicates the fragility of the ruling coalition which can survive only with the support of other partners particularly the Jumhooree. The coming elections to the Majlis is also being fought with PPM contesting 49 of the 85 seats leaving the rest to the Jumhooree and the MDA. It will be interesting to see how the two top leaders Yameen and Gasim are going to get along for the next five years!

Surprisingly both the MDP and the PPM have expressed satisfaction over the results of the council elections.  

Nasheed of the MDP saw it as a great victory for the MDP and has even claimed that after the elections to the Majlis he would go for the impeachment of President Yameen! He said- I quote- “The Maldivian citizens still want an MDP government and for Maldives to be ruled according to MDP philosophy. I would like to tell the Maldivian public- do not be disheartened. God willing without much difficulty we will take over the government” The exuberance shown by Nasheed is rather premature!

Yameen on the other hand, also appeared to be greatly satisfied. He said “the results of the council elections showed huge support for our coalition. So I am satisfied.”

So far President Yameen has made the right moves. His visit to Sri Lanka was a success. He signed three MOUs relating to 1. On transnational crime 2. Developing Police Cooperation 3. Vocational training and skills development. He took his coalition partner Gasim Ibrahim along for the visit and the Sri Lankan press went out of the way to give equal prominence to Gasim during the visit.

Has Obama Abandoned the Pivot to Asia?

Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address implies that the Asia-Pacific is not a priority for his administration.

January 30, 2014

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama gave the traditional State of the Union address, wherein he laid out his vision for U.S. policy in the next year (a transcript can be found here). Such speeches are intended for a domestic audience (although they are also scrutinized all over the world) and typically focus more on domestic issues. Still, as Dan Lamothe at Foreign Policy wrote, this year Obama’s State of the Union speech “was notable for how little time he devoted to foreign policy — and how little he said that amounted to anything new.”

What Obama Did Say

It was obvious that, as pundits had predicted, Obama’s main focus was on his success rebuilding the US economy, and his plan to continue doing so. He spent the bulk of his speech laying out his “proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”

Accordingly, Obama’s few mentions of China were economic in nature. As usual, China mostly featured in Obama’s speech (along with Europe) as a competitor that should push the U.S. to make necessary reforms. “China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines, and neither should we,” Obama said at one point, arguing for additional money to fund research and innovation. The use of China as a measure of comparison didn’t go unnoticed by Chinese media. South China Morning Post made the lede of their article Obama’s “bold” declaration that “for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number on place to invest; America is.”

When Obama did talk about foreign policy, his focus was on the broader Middle East. With regards to Afghanistan, he spoke proudly of the fact that “we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.” There was little discussion of the uncertainties regarding the future of U.S. troops in the country, a topicmy colleague Ankit has covered numerous times. Obama promised to continuing working to combat terrorism “in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, [and] Mali” and made a vague promise to ”support the opposition” in Syria. Finally, he praised the role of “American diplomacy” in reaching agreements over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and Iran’s nuclear program, in addition to U.S. efforts to mediate Israel-Palestine talks. Europe and the Asia-Pacific were granted a mere paragraph apiece.

Will America's Asian Allies Go Nuclear?

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 30, 2014

North Korea’s nuclear-weapon developments and belligerent rhetoric, along with China’s military modernization and growing assertiveness, are creating direct challenges for Japan and South Korea, Washington’s Northeast Asian allies. In response, the United States has adapted its force posture and declaratory policy, and taken important steps to strengthen deterrence and reassure its allies. The recent decision to send an additional US Army combat force of eight hundred soldiers to South Korea with tanks and armored troop carriers and the pledge to maintain the US nuclear umbrella against North Korean threats is another step in Washington’s efforts to enhance defense of its ally.

While major conflicts have been deterred, it is unclear whether Japan and South Korea are reassured. Publicly and in private discussions, Japanese and South Korean officials insist that they trust US defense commitments. But they ask revealing questions about the conditions under which the United States would act, and how it would do so. They wonder about their roles and responsibilities, as Washington presses them to assume more of the defense and deterrence burden. And they worry about the reduction of roles and numbers of nuclear weapons in US strategy and, despite Washington’s rebalance to Asia, the ability of the United States to defend them well in a fiscally constrained environment. Plainly, US disengagement is a concern.

Could these concerns drive Japan and South Korea to resort to self-help and develop nuclear weapons? Both are technologically capable of going nuclear quickly, and this would be the cheapest way of increasing their indigenous military capabilities. But the real question is whether they would be willing to do so. While Japan remains allergic to the idea of crossing the nuclear threshold, there is growing public support, backed by influential elites, for manufacture of nuclear weapons in South Korea.

Neither Japan nor South Korea would develop nuclear weapons lightly. In all probability, the determining factor in their decision would hinge on its impact on their alliance with the United States.

What reaction, then, should they expect from Washington? There are two alternatives. One is that while unhappy, the United States would keep its alliances to maintain a favorable balance of power in East Asia. That logic would be bolstered by the idea that possession of nuclear weapons by each country would strengthen deterrence of North Korea and China. US policymakers would view Japan and South Korea as the United Kingdom―a US ally with nuclear forces integrated with US forces, with shared nuclear roles and responsibilities―or France―an ally operating independent nuclear forces. In other words, geopolitical dimensions would dominate the US reaction.

China Secretly Sold Saudi Arabia DF-21 Missiles With CIA Approval

The CIA secretly approved of China selling Saudi Arabia advanced missiles.
January 31, 2014

In 2007, China secretly sold Saudi Arabia improved ballistic missiles with U.S. approval Newsweek magazine is reporting.

According to the report, which cites a “well-placed intelligence source,” in 2007 China secretly sold Saudi Arabia DF-21 solid-fuel, medium-range ballistic missiles. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency quietly sanctioned the deal after confirming that they were not the nuclear-capable variants of the missiles.

The U.S. support for the deal stands in stark contrast to previous Sino-Saudi missile deals. Specifically, in the late 1980s Saudi Arabia clandestinely purchased DF-3 missiles from China, which the U.S. later exposed publicly and harshly criticized the deal. The arms deal created significant concern in some circles over fears that Riyadh’s purchase of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles signaled the Kingdom was intent on developing nuclear warheads.

The Newsweek report tries to play up the possible nuclear angle on the newer DF-21 missile deal, although there’s little reason to think this is Saudi Arabia’s reason for purchasing them given that it already possesses the DF-3 missiles. The report also notes that the DF-21 ballistic missiles have a shorter range but better accuracy than the DF-3 missiles.

Although the greater precision of the DF-21’s are important, perhaps the DF-21’s biggest advantage is their solid propellant and road-mobile ability. Their solid-fuel allows them to be launched more quickly and requires less maintenance, which is especially advantageous to the Saudi military which often requires significant foreign assistance to operate more advanced weapons systems. The fact that they have road mobile launchers gives them greater survivability, although this characteristic isn’t particularly necessary given the kind of threats Saudi Arabia faces.

The deal is interesting in a number of different ways. First, it shows China’s growing advanced weapon sales in the Middle East. Last year, Turkey announced that it had selected a Chinese air and missile defense system over a number of U.S. and European alternatives. China has a particular interest in furnishing Saudi Arabia with advanced military technology given Beijing’s heavy reliance on the Kingdom for oil.

Additionally, it reveals the dysfunction of America’s foreign and national security processes. That Saudi Arabia turned to China for advanced missiles is almost certainly because the U.S. would not provide comparable missiles to Riyadh. Advanced weapon sales to Saudi Arabia can be controversial in the U.S. as evidenced by the amount of effort former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had to devote to get through a deal to sell Riyadh more F-15s, as well as upgrade existing ones.

China is playing chicken with the US military in the South China Sea

War by other means: As China attempts to wrest control of the South China Sea, the US is forced to flinch or crash.

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) naval frigate 'Mianyang' steams through the swell as it approaches Sydney Harbour on September 20, 2010. China is increasingly deploying risky confrontations as a means to expand its reach in the disputed South China Sea. (Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

HONG KONG — As anyone who has seen “Rebel Without a Cause” knows, playing chicken is dangerous for California teenagers in hot-rods.

But playing chicken with warships, cruisers, and fighter jets — well, that’s just another level of crazy. 

Unfortunately, vessels from the US military and from other countries increasingly find themselves in such high-stakes confrontations on the East Asianseas, where China has adopted a strategy of making rivals flinch or risk collision. 

Just this week, Chinese sailors parked three ships on a disputed reef 50 miles from the Malaysian coast and performed a ceremony in which they swore an oath “to safeguard [China’s] sovereignty and territorial interests.” Malaysia also claims the reef, and is building a naval base nearby to protect it against China’s claim. 

That’s just the latest in an escalating series of incidents.

In November, China declared its right to patrol and regulate a large swath of airspace, including a zone controlled by Japan and areas regularly used by the US military. Since then, China says it has repeatedly dispatched surveillance planes to tail, monitor, and identify foreign fighters.

In December, a Chinese ship halted in the path of the USS Cowpens, in international waters, forcing it to change course or risk a crash. The American cruiser complied.

Then in January, China’s southernmost province of Hainan announced that police vessels had begun enforcing a law requiring “all foreigners or foreign ships” to get approval before they could fish in 2 million square kilometers of sea — an area five times the size of California. The claimed territory encompasses waters long plied by fisherman from Vietnam and thePhilippines.

While none of those incidents has yet led to bloodshed or to any formal cession of territory, they have yielded de-facto results. And collectively, they show the genius and risks in China’s plan to wrest control of the South China Sea, one provocation at a time.

“The latest examples of Chinese assertiveness are part of China's strategy of ‘legal warfare,” says Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at Australia Defence Force Academy.