9 January 2014

Blue Means Blue: China’s Naval Ambitions

Numerous articles in Chinese state media suggest it has an ambitious agenda for its navy.

By Henry Holst
January 07, 2014

In a 2012 article published in The Diplomat, Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins claim “China seeks to develop a ‘blue water’ navy in the years to come—but one that is more ‘regional’ than ‘global’ in nature,” and that China does not intend to challenge U.S. naval hegemony. However, analyzing China’s maritime identity, a concept that will be explained below, and it becomes clear that two major long-term goals of the PLAN’s blue-water modernization are to frequently deploy outside East Asia and challenge U.S. naval dominance on the high seas.

Erickson and Collins cite Chinese naval technological inferiority in areas such as anti-submarine warfare and area-air defense vis-à-vis the U.S. navy as evidence that the PLAN does not intend to challenge U.S. naval hegemony, concluding that such a military imbalance would make any challenge futile. Additionally, Erickson and Collins use the small number of PLAN deployments outside of East Asia as proof that in the future Beijing does not aim to frequently outside its immediate environs.

Erickson and Collins represent a popular trend within the China watcher community; many researchers rely on current PLAN armament modernization areas and recent deployment trends as a basis to predict future PLAN strategic objectives. Yet this methodology ignores the possibility that current PLAN research and development patterns may not predict future PLAN capabilities. China has bypassed generations of military technology hurdles through unorthodox means such as theft and espionage. Moreover, military capabilities are not self-deterministic. Analyzing China’s naval modernization in a purely material perspective and overly relying on current PLAN deployment trends does not provide a useful methodology for predicting future PLAN strategic interests.

Maritime Identity

Analyzing China’s maritime identity provides a superior methodology in anticipating future PLAN strategic interests. Maritime identity is a nation’s inherited maritime traditions, responsibilities, prerogatives, self-concept and strategic interests as a naval power. It frames the strategic discussion that occurs at high levels of government and therefore wields enormous influence over foreign policy. Washington’s willingness to employ naval forces in support of Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi in 2011 reflected America’s maritime identity, which is famous for supporting democracy, human rights and self-determination worldwide. The American maritime identity is perfectly summed up in the U.S. Navy recruiting slogan: “A Global Force For Good.” In a similar way, analyzing the personality of China’s developing maritime identity is a practical method by which to gauge future Chinese naval strategic interests.

How does one ascertain China’s maritime identity? Analyzing Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-run newspaper articles in the People’s Daily provides an excellent conduit into the strategic thinking of China’s decision-makingapparatus. This is because the People’s Daily serves as the mouthpiece of the CCP Standing Committee. For those unfamiliar with China’s system of government, imagine a totalitarian government having an elected body of seven individuals who wield total control over state affairs, and then broadcast their opinions directly through a controlled media body. Analyzing Chinese domestic media discussion on whether China should pursue a full-fledged blue-water navy (蓝水海军) , a pursuit both tightly bound to a country’s maritime identity and highly relevant to future PLAN strategic interests, sheds light on the strategic discussions occurring at high levels within the CCP.

Southeast Asia: 10 Trends to Watch For in 2014

From Thai turmoil to ASEAN integration, it promises to be an interesting year for the region.
By Prashanth Parameswaran
January 08, 2014

As we move into 2014, it is useful not only to reflect on what happened in 2013, but to project what some of the key developments in 2014 might be. As I did last year, I have attempted to articulate the top 10 trends in Southeast Asia to watch for during the rest of the year.

1. What will the “great power” game in Southeast Asia look like? While Southeast Asian leaders publicly insist that they prefer good relations with all major powers, the competitive dynamics of regional engagement are a reality that few would contest, not least between the United States and China. In 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama’s last-minute decision to cancel his Asia trip in November amid the government shutdown paved the way for skeptics to question America’s commitment to the region and for Beijing to steal the show (though I’ve argued that this narrative is overly simplistic). In 2014, questions about the sustainability of the U.S. pivot to Asia, including the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will continue to linger, and worries about the future direction of China’s new regional strategy unveiled late last year are likely to remain.

2. Continuity or change in the South China Sea? As I said in last year’s list, it’s difficult to exclude the South China Sea from a list of this sort. Prospects for a rules-based solution to contentious disputes remain dim given China’s recent documented foot-dragging on a code of conduct with ASEAN, as well as its “punishment” of the Philippines for trying to resolve the issue through the United Nations, a process which will move forward with a formal statement submission by Manila in March despite Beijing’s refusal to participate. China’s deployment of its aircraft carrier the Liaoning into the South China Sea recently, along with the setting up of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea (which some believe could be replicated in the South China Sea in 2014), suggest there is good reason to expect more sporadic saber-rattling or verbal sparring could be on the cards in 2014.

3. How will Southeast Asian economies fare? 2013 ended on a negative note for Southeast Asian economies as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) slightly lowered its regional growth forecast for 2014 to 5.2 percent due to the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines and continued political turmoil in Thailand. While the 2014 outlook will hinge partly on trends within the region, developments in major economies will also loom large, such as the pace of the recovery in Europe, reduced monetary stimulus in the United States, and potential growth challenges in India, China and Japan.

Attacking Iran is Still a Fool’s Errand

The arguments for a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities are as unconvincing as ever.
January 08, 2014

In what can sometimes feel like the stagnant academic fields of nuclear proliferation and strategic studies, Georgetown University Professor Matthew Kroenighas emerged as one of the most interesting and dynamic scholars in recent memories. Besides quickly compiling an impressive list of scholarly publications, Kroenig has further distinguished himself (in my book at least) by making important policy contributions to U.S. counterterrorism policy when he worked at the Defense Department, as well as regularly using his scholarly expertise to contribute to policy debates.

That being said, I’ve found some of his policy articles — though by no means all of them — considerably less impressive than his academic work. None more so than a widely discussed piece he published in Foreign Affairsin early 2012, making the case for a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. As it turns out, Kroenig has recently published an updated version of the article, arguing that the U.S. will still likely have to attack Iran despite the progress in negotiations (Colin Kahl, who responded to Kroenig’s first piece, has also updated his response).

In some ways, Kroenig’s case for why the U.S. should attack Iran is consistent with his academic work on nuclear non-proliferation. Although professing that a “truly comprehensive diplomatic settlement between Iran and the West is still the best possible outcome,” Kroenig goes on to argue that the only acceptable diplomatic solution would be one in which Iran was left with no enrichment capabilities whatsoever. That’s because, according to Kroenig, any deal that allows Iran to enrich even to 5 percent levels would make it far too easy for Iran to quickly acquire the bomb in the future, something Kroenig believes Iranian leaders will decide to do without question. Since Iran would never accept any deal that precludes it from enriching even to 5 percent levels, Kroenig calculates that the prospects for reaching a worthwhile deal with Iran are dim. As a result, the U.S. should be ready to attack, and is likely to have to do so at some point.

Asia’s New Year Economic Wish List

Can the region build on the progress it made in 2013?
January 08, 2014
Asia made further progress in 2013 in its seemingly inexorable rise to the top of the global economic standings. What might the region’s major economies hope for in the Year of the Horse?

Australia: Tony Abbott’s government has pledged to deliver free trade agreements with major trading partners China and Japan within months. Getting these signed and sealed, while avoiding any further rows with neighboring Indonesia, would mark a major trade win. Treasurer Joe Hockey’s May budget also faces the issue of trimming spending while ensuring the economy does not slip into its first recession since the early 1990s.

China: This year’s goals include ensuring the much-hyped shift away from export-led to domestic-focused growth by giving consumers a greater share of the pie. Implementing promised reforms and avoiding a hard landing in 2014 would do much to appease the populace (and global financial markets) as well as getting to grips with a government debt blowout.

Hong Kong: Maintaining its position as the world’s freest economy, as measured by the Heritage Foundation, along with its high global competitiveness rankings would mark another successful year for the Chinese city-state. Provided the mainland’s economy continues to grow, Hong Kong stocks could achieve the forecast double-digit gains for 2014.

India: Policymakers from Asia’s third-biggest economy have a daunting task in curbing inflation while preventing the economy posting a decade-low GDP growth rate below 5 percent. Avoiding a credit rating downgrade and ensuring the next government enacts reforms capable of maintaining its long-forecast potential will prove major challenges for the year ahead.

India-Japan Defense Ministers Agree To Expand Strategic Cooperation

India and Japan kicked off 2014 on a positive note by expanding their bilateral defense relationship.
January 08, 2014
India-Japan relations kicked off 2014 on a positive note. On Monday, India and Japan resolved to strengthen their strategic and global partnership, which was formally established in 2006, with the addition of a series of new accords on defense cooperation. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony met his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera in New Delhi and the two ministers agreed to increase bilateral cooperation in the field of maritime security, counter-terrorism, and anti-piracy operations.

While both Japanese and Indian diplomats are careful not to mention China in their official statements following important bilateral interactions, the rise of China has precipitated greater security cooperation between the two countries. India has other matters pending with Japan on the defense front: Japan is expected to export its ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft to India. The US-2 is used by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces in patrol operation and Japan has been pitching the aircraft to India for a while now. According to The Hindu, India chose not to prioritize the purchase ahead of Onodera’s trip to New Delhi. The US-2 sale is likely something that Prime Minister Abe will broach with his counterpart Manmohan Singh when he visits India later this month. Already this week the two defense ministers agreed to expand mil-to-mil relations among their air forces.

The ministers concluded their talks by resolving to continue their discussions on regional and global security affairs in the context of their upcoming “two-plus-two” dialogue, which will allow both the defense and foreign ministers of each country to speak in tandem on matters of international security and economic cooperation. Japan’s willingness to export defense equipment to India emphasizes its interest in security cooperation – Japan relaxed a 1967 ban on defense commerce (then intended to showcase Japan’s commitment to pacifism) in part to do business with India.

Alongside Onodera’s meeting with Antony, a group of Japanese parliamentarians toured India as well. According to The Hindu, the Chief Representative of the New Komeito Party Natsuo Yamaguchi lobbied India to address “areas of concern” for Japan such as nuclear non-proliferation, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and nuclear safety. In a meeting with Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, Yamaguchi urged India to pursue a more eco-friendly development strategy. The New Komeito Party is a coalition ally of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Japan and India enjoy warm relations along all axes with the exception of a pending civil nuclear cooperation deal.

Ordinary lives, extraordinary deaths

January 8, 2014
Vijay Prashad

APRumours will be the only justice for the dead. They will get no answers that they would care to hear. File Photo

Near misses are legion in Lebanon: of a boy who hurries up his father and finds he has saved them from a car bomb, of a woman who goes back to her house to get her pocketbook and escapes from a shell on her front walk

At around 9.30 a.m. on December 27, 2013, Anwar al-Badawi, a taxi driver from Hadath in south Beirut, bid farewell to his friends after a coffee near the Starco Building in central Beirut and walked toward his job. A massive bomb in a gold-coloured Honda CR-V blew to bits a car passing by that carried a former Finance Minister and Lebanese Ambassador to the U.S., Mohammed Chatah. Al-Badawi was terribly hurt, eventually taken to the American University of Beirut Medical Center where he lapsed into a coma and later died. He was one of the victims of the blast. The others included Chatah, the likely target, his bodyguard Tarek Badr, several bystanders — bank guard Mohammed Nasser Mansour, a Syrian national Saddam al-Khanshouri, a Lebanese-American on vacation Kivork Takajian — and, most tragically, 16-year-old Mohammed Chaar. Moments before the bomb exploded, Chaar and his three young friends had taken a self-portrait. His friends wore dark colours, while Chaar had a bright red sweater. In later pictures, he would be found lying on the side of the road, the sweater’s colour masking his young blood.

On December 29, at the funeral for Chaar in the Khashoggie Mosque, Sheikh Ahmad al-Omari, one of the leading Sunni clerics in Lebanon, said that the Sunnis of Lebanon had become targets of Syria’s “criminal Ba’ath regime,” who he accused of killing Chatah. Chatah’s sons, Omar and Ronnie, were present during this speech. As leader of the Muslim Scholars Association of Lebanon, Al-Omari had been crucial to the fatwa from June urging Muslims to go across the border and fight the Assad government. Like Chatah, he too had been a strong critic of the role of Hezbollah both in Lebanon’s polity and in Syria. In his speech at the mosque, Sheikh al-Omari called Hezbollah (the Party of God), Hezb al-Shaitan (the Party of the Devil). This kind of sectarian language set the mood for the reaction by many mourners to the presence of the Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani. Calling him an agent of Hezbollah, some people refused to allow Qabbani an exit. When he was evacuated in a military vehicle, the protesters threw shoes at it. That Qabbani is a leading Sunni cleric did not protect him from this rise of sectarian sentiment.

On January 2, a car bomb went off on al-Arid Street in Haret Hreik in the southern suburbs of Beirut leaving eight dead and almost 100 injured. Despite all talk of a “Hezbollah stronghold,” the bomber parked behind a school bus, near the al-Jawad restaurant and set off his bomb. It was a callous act, intended to create mayhem among the civilian population. Television channels read out the names of the dead and wounded solemnly. Among them was Malak Zahwa, 16, a student at al-Kawthar school, whose uncle said her face resembled that of an angel (in Arabic, Malak means angel). Not far from her had been Ali Khadra, 17, who planned to attend engineering school next year. Adnan Awali, 62, was driving through the area when the explosion obliterated his car. There are no celebrities among them; no famous politician who had been assassinated. This was run-of-the-mill terrorism, intended to create tension in the city.Families and near misses

The power of hot bubbles

APMount Sinabung spews hot lava as seen from Jeraya, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Forty per cent of the world’s geothermal energy resources are located in Indonesia — roughly equivalent to 12 billion barrels of oil

There is something off-kilter about the drive up to Kamojang, the crater of Mt. Guntur in West Java. Just before beginning the ascent I pass a bird market, with brightly coloured songbirds in wooden cages laid out in front of a mosque, standing abruptly before a field of electrical power transmission towers. The entire scene is framed by the mountain itself, a hulking green creature pierced ever so often with shooting columns of steam.

But the strangeness of the moment only accentuates my anticipation of coming face-to-steam with the source that could prove to be Indonesia’s energy salvation: renewable, constant, and plentiful geothermal energy.

With some 130 active volcanoes, Indonesia is a hotbed of tectonic plate activity. Lying at the point where the Eurasian plate constantly bumps up against the Indo-Australian plate, volcanoes in the archipelago have long been associated with outsized eruptions, deaths and misery. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, for example, killed more than 36,000 people and is considered to be one of the loudest sounds ever heard in modern history. Only a few days before my trip to Kamojang, another volcano in Sumatra, Mt. Sinabung, had erupted, forcing the evacuation of thousands of villagers.

But all this geological ferment is not an unmitigated negative. The flip side of the destruction is the availability of a vast amount of geothermal energy that if harnessed, can provide Indonesia with the kind of clean and reliable energy source it is in desperate need of.

Forty per cent of the world’s geothermal energy resources are in fact located in the country with the potential to provide 28 gigawatts (GW) of energy, roughly equivalent to 12 billion barrels of oil. And yet, three decades after the country’s first geothermal plant at Kamojang was set up, Indonesia’s total installed geothermal capacity of 1.4GW is only equivalent to four per cent of this potential.

India losing its clout in South Asia

Manoj Joshi
08 January 2014

Things have been bad enough for India in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and we now face the prospect of our relations with Bangladesh going down the tube in the coming months. 

After having a friendly government preside over a stable neighbour in the last five years, we are now confronted with the prospect of violence and anarchy in a country with which we share a 4000-km border. 

The cause of this alarming development is not too difficult to find - the continuing and debilitating quarrel between the two Begums of Bangladesh - Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her predecessor, Khaleda Zia, the chief of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). 

People gather in front of a burnt and vandalised house after Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami activists attacked a Hindu village in Jessore


The events in Bangladesh have also brought out an uncharacteristic rift between New Delhi and Washington DC. In the past year, the Americans have been warning against the holding of elections in a climate of violence, while India has made it clear that all its eggs are in Sheikh Hasina's basket. 

Had the two countries put forward a united stand on the elections, perhaps things would not have come to this pass. On Monday, the United States issued a statement that categorically called on the Awami League government to fix the situation. 

In Washington DC, Marie Harf, the official spokesperson, denounced the violence and said: "We believe Bangladesh still has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to democracy by organising free and fair elections that are credible in the eyes of the Bangladeshi people." 

Knowing Thyself .

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@ tribune.com.pk

The State of Pakistan wants the 16th of December to pass silently and quickly every year. Theexecution of Abdul Quader Molla made this extraordinarily difficult this time around. Enough has been said on the execution and its implications, and saying any further will be surplus to requirements. However, not nearly enough has ever been said about 1971. There is some talk every year, lament mostly, meticulously avoiding the specifics. The attempt sometimes it seems is to make the fall of Dhaka look like a natural catastrophe, beyond the locus of human and state control. Let bygones be bygones, Bangladesh is a sovereign nation and the vile Yahya Khan lives in eternal infamy, where he belongs. By all means, however, let’s trace our steps a little and briefly revisit the statements made by the architect of the “decade of prosperity” (according to our textbooks), Field Marshal Ayub Khan.

Ayub’s ghost-written, and unironically titled book, Friends, not Masters, says about the Bengalis as “ … (having) all the inhibitions of downtrodden races and have not yet found it possible to adjust psychologically to the requirement of the new born freedom”. In his diary, he further writes that the East Pakistanis have the desire “to isolate themselves from West Pakistan and revert to Hindu language and culture”. He felt that it was because of the reason that the Bengalis had “no culture and language of their own”. Aside, from the obvious point of the gallant Field Marshal being ignorant, bigoted and a racist, there is something else. The Sandhurst-trained Field Marshal sought to emulate the “Masters” in taking upon himself the mantle to pass condescending, conclusive statements about the natives. Lord Macaulay’s observation on the matter was that the Bengalis were “feeble” people … trampled upon by men of bolder and hardy breeds” and whose “mind is weak … for the purposes of manly resistance”. Repulsive thoughts by two racists, are they not? Yet, we wonder, what went wrong in East Pakistan?

What went wrong was that the State of (West) Pakistan was bred on racism and bigotry, and treated its compatriots with contempt. The violence, murder, rape and pillage that took place was always shocking, however, was it truly surprising given the training and indoctrination?

Ayub’s comment on the absence of a Bengali culture remains relevant today. The elite of West Pakistan felt that they had a culture ‘superior’ to East Pakistan. Bear the fact in mind that it was One Unit at that time and hence all of what is Pakistan was one province. The Bengalis, it may seem, had somehow betrayed the cause by insisting on also being Bengalis and not only becoming Pakistani. That sentiment lives and thrives in today’s Pakistan. The celebration of individual culture and heritage is seen to be suspect and drawing ‘divisions’ and we should all just say that we are Pakistanis only, etc. That is perfect nonsense, of course. We are Punjabis, Baloch, Sindhis, Seraiki, Pashtun, Hazara, etc. and that is an integral to us being Pakistanis.

Memoir of Former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates Harshly Criticizes Obama’s Leadership and Commitment to War in Afghanistan

Bob Woodward 
Washington Post 
January 7, 2014 

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” 

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” 

Obama, after months of contentious discussion with Gates and other top advisers, deployed 30,000 more troops in a final push to stabilize Afghanistan before a phased withdrawal beginning in mid-2011. “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes. 

As a candidate, Obama had made plain his opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion while embracing the Afghanistan war as a necessary response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, requiring even more military resources to succeed. In Gates’s highly emotional account, Obama remains uncomfortable with the inherited wars and distrustful of the military that is providing him options. Their different worldviews produced a rift that, at least for Gates, became personally wounding and impossible to repair. 

In a statement Tuesday evening, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Obama “deeply appreciates Bob Gates’ service as Secretary of Defense, and his lifetime of service to our country.” 

“As has always been the case, the President welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies,” Hayden said in the statement. “The President wishes Secretary Gates well as he recovers from his recent injury, and discusses his book.” Gates fractured his first vertebra last week in a fall at his home in Washington state. 

It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president. 

Gates’s severe criticism is even more surprising — some might say contradictory — because toward the end of “Duty,” he says of Obama’s chief Afghanistan policies, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” That particular view is not a universal one; like much of the debate about the best path to take in Afghanistan, there is disagreement on how well the surge strategy worked, including among military officials. 

Murder on the Roof of the World

My travels along the China-Pakistan border
ZIAD HAIDER, DEC 20 2013, 

Snow-capped peaks off of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan (Ziad Haider) 

On June 22, 2013, murder occurred on the “roof of the world.” Ten mountaineers were killed at the foot of Nanga Parbat—the world’s ninth-tallest peak, located in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on the border with China where some of the world’s tallest mountain ranges converge. The victims included American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Nepali, Pakistani, Slovakian, and Ukrainian nationals, and the audacious attack shattered a rare sense of calm in Pakistan’s northernmost corner, bewildering locals. Members of the Pakistani Taliban doggedly scaled the heights to the mountaineers’ camp at an altitude of 15,000 feet and stormed the tents in the dead of night dressed as paramilitary police. One media outlet’s coverage flashed a haunting image of vulnerability: an orange tent on the mountain slopes bathed in moonlight.I wound my way up through a land of glaciers, ibex, and snow leopards to the Khunjerab Pass—one of the world’s highest international border crossings.

Five days later, I boarded a plane to Gilgit-Baltistan.

I had set out to complete a journey I began 10 years ago: to traverse the mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) connecting China and Pakistan. A decade earlier, I had traveled along the 800 mile-long KKH from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region to the border with Pakistan. My travels became my college thesis—an analysis of the relationship between China, Pakistan, and Xinjiang’s restive Uighur Muslims in light of the traffic of militancy, drugs, and arms from Pakistan to Xinjiang. I argued that the KKH, a symbol of Chinese-Pakistani friendship, had proven to be both a blessing and a curse.

Now I set out to complete the journey from the Pakistani side in a week-long trip by plane, car, and boat. Once again, I discovered how lofty international relations and local communities intersect on the KKH—from tales of a “new Great Game” between China and America and infrastructure woes along the Pak-China Economic Corridor, to remarkable strides for women’s empowerment and development in communities keen to plug into China’s prosperity. I wound my way up through a land of glaciers, ibex, and snow leopards to the Khunjerab Pass at 14,000 feet—one of the world’s highest international border crossings. All the while, I was shadowed by the murder on the roof of the world.


I began my journey in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. I was lucky. The flight to Gilgit is frequently canceled due to inclement weather; travelers can be stranded in the purgatory of Islamabad for days on end. As the plane taxied and took off past military hangars, a reminder of the ever-fuzzy line between Pakistan’s civilian and military realms, the pilot pointed out the breathtaking convergence of three towering ranges that swiftly surrounded us: the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and the Himalayas. White knuckles gripping the seat, I alternated between awe and fear as the pilot deftly maneuvered among them, buffeted by unrelenting winds. As the plane reached cruising altitude, the pilot proceeded to outline the blood-stained route below: Abbottabad (where Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011), Mansehra (where seven people were killed when gunmen attacked the office of an NGO in 2010), Babusar (where 22 Shiite Muslims were pulled off buses and shot in a sectarian hail of bullets in 2012), and Nanga Parbat, in its gory majesty.“These bastards are driving away our business!”

Upon landing in Gilgit, I walked past security officers wearing badges that stated “Be Firm and Courteous.” As we got on what my taxi driver called the “China Road,” or KKH, his jaunty tone quickly hardened when talk turned to the mountaineers and the perpetrators. Tourism was the lifeblood of the region, and the incident had cast a pall for the foreseeable future on locals' livelihoods. “These bastards are driving away our business!” the driver exclaimed.


Despite the violence plaguing “down country,” as the locals refer to the rest of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan continues to draw tourists and mountaineers. Its stunning landscape boasts some of the world’s tallest peaks, including the formidable K2, and extensive glacier coverage; in crossing one such glacier, I was struck by the dazzling interplay of ice, light, and time. The night sky is crystal clear given the altitude (and limited electricity), and the stars strewn across it seem tantalizingly within reach. While the terrain is largely hard and rocky, verdant valleys periodically arise along the KKH. Trees are filled with cherries, apricots, mulberries, and irascible magpies. Local treats include poppy soup andbur chapak, a flatbread stuffed with cheese and brushed with apricot oil.

Driving north along the KKH from Gilgit, I arrived a couple of hours later in the village of Karimabad, which once served as the capital of the former princely state of Hunza. Theories of the ancestry of Hunza’s inhabitants involve groups ranging from soldiers in Alexander the Great’s army (popular but unlikely) to the White Huns of Central Asia, from whose name Hunza is derived. A magnificent 900-year-old fort in the neighboring village of Altit, with its Hindu Shiva Lingam and Buddhist carvings, attests to the region’s mixed heritage. The Tibetan-style roofing supposedly traces to a Tibetan princess who married a local ruler. Today, the erstwhile rulers, or mirs, of Hunza are politically sidelined. Buffalos lord over the empty swimming pool in front of the current mir’sbungalow in his absence.Near the village of Karimabad (Ziad Haider)

Gilgit-Baltistan’s strategic location near China and India has decisively shaped its fate. On display in Baltit Fort is a centuries-old trade agreement between the ruler in Hunza and authorities in China, showcasing historic commercial links along a branch of the Silk Road that Pakistan has sought to revive. Conversely, Pakistan has tried to minimize Gilgit-Baltistan’s connections with India, since the region was once part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that India and Pakistan have bloodily contested since 1947. Islamabad bestowed a measure of self-governance on Gilgit-Baltistan in 2009, though its elected legislative assembly has little say over key industries such as minerals and tourism.“We are sitting on a population time bomb in Pakistan.”

The raucous politics of down country do occasionally trickle up to Gilgit-Baltistan, complicating questions of identity. Slogans from the national elections in May marked the walls along the KKH—ranging from those of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party that holds sway at the opposite end of the country, in the port city of Karachi, to the All Pakistan Muslim League of former President Pervez Musharraf, who is held in some regard for building the Karakoram International University in Gilgit. Some use the term “Punjabi”—the majority ethnic group in Pakistan—as a catchall for anyone from down country, with hints of disdain for their unruliness and a sense of being culturally and politically distinct from them. Others—those who served in the army, for example—evince great pride in being Pakistani.

More important than belonging to the Pakistani nation for many in Gilgit-Baltistan is belonging to the Ismaili community, which follows a branch of Shia Islam led by Prince Karim Agha Khan. (When the wealthy, Western Europe-based spiritual leader had last visited the region, conducting part of his trip by helicopter, followers had carved messages of welcome into the surrounding mountains). Members of the Ismaili community donate a portion of their earnings to the Agha Khan Development Network (AKDN), which has been empowering women in a country where their education and advancement has lagged substantially behind that of men. As one AKDN official told me, “We are sitting on a population time bomb in Pakistan. We need mothers who can train their sons and we need to unlock the potential of half the country’s population.”

CIQAM, a vocational program in Altit that trains women in carpentry, land surveying, electrical work, and design and drafting, represents real progress—though the resulting changes to social norms are at times creating divisions within households and marriages. The services of trainees are now employed, for example, in constructing furniture for one of Pakistan’s leading hotel chains, the AKDN-owned Serena Hotel. AKDN and other organizations also offer educational services, resulting in a reported literacy rate of around 90 percent in Hunza compared to the national average of under 55 percent. When a friend and I visited one of the schools in Altit, we were invited to address an intent group of middle school students sitting cross-legged on the roof, engrossed in a talent show. My friend exhorted them to focus on their education and recalled an oft-cited saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “Seek knowledge even as far as China.” “In your case,” my colleague joked, “you don’t have to go too far!”A middle school talent show in Altit (Zaid Haider) 

As AKDN and foreign donors have provided services that the Pakistani state has largely failed to deliver, some in Gilgit-Baltistan and down country have grown concerned about, as one tour guide told me, a “parallel state” in the region. Locals described in hushed tones the omnipresence of Pakistan’s feared intelligence service given the area’s high geopolitical profile. More questions and conspiracy theories swirled following the attack on the mountaineers at Nanga Parbat.

It’s the kind of cloak-and-dagger meddling with which locals are all too familiar.


Once upon a time, Gilgit-Baltistan was center stage in the so-called “Great Game” between the British Empire and Czarist Russia, which came within mere miles of each other in the upper reaches of the subcontinent. Famously memorialized in Rudyard Kipling’s classic Kim and revitalized in Peter Hopkirk’sThe Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia, the phrase “Great Game” has entered the local lexicon. Kipling and Hopkirk’s works are displayed in Karimabad’s bookstores. And now, a “New Great Game” is afoot in the region, as a high school student, a tour guide, and a journalist put it in separate conversations with me. The players this time around: America and China.

I resumed my journey on the KKH pondering this New Great Game, and China’s ancient shadow over the region. The KKH, after all, is just a modern manifestation of a branch of the Silk Road that long connected China with the subcontinent. In the seventh century, the Chinese monk Xuanzang famously traversed this route on his pilgrimage to India to study Buddhism. Building a road on such treacherous terrain and at so high an altitude is a legendary feat of engineering in its own right. With ties cemented in common hostility toward India, China and Pakistan jointly constructed the highway over three decades, completing the project in 1978, at the cost of not just treasure but also blood (900 lives were lost). Today the KKH is hailed as a symbol of China and Pakistan’s “all-weather” friendship; a Pak-China Friendship Tunnel burrowed in the mountains drives home the point.“The stony silence of Khunjerab was broken by mellifluous sound of spaces.”

This close relationship has occasionally given China pause; In the 1990s, for instance, Beijing periodically closed the KKH to demand that Islamabad get serious about preventing the highway from becoming a conduit of drugs, arms, and militancy for China’s restive Xinjiang region. But the highway has aroused greater concern in Delhi and to some extent in Washington. India views China’s push into South Asia through large-scale infrastructure projects such as the KKH as an alarming and unwarranted intrusion into its regional sphere—let alone one in an area to which it lays claim. Analysts in the United States have emphasized the importance of China’s toehold in Pakistan both in Gilgit-Baltistan in the north and in Balochistan in the southwest, where Beijing has financed and operates the Gwadar Port. These moves are perceived to be part of China’s larger effort to expand its reach and influence beyond its borders, at America’s expense. Listen closely, and you can hear the rumblings of the New Great Game.

For Pakistan, however, the KKH represents the promise of jumpstarting its economy by plugging into China’s. The same week that I was traveling along the KKH, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in Beijing touting a Pak-China Economic Corridor through upgrades to the KKH—a “game changer” that would rapidly bolster anemic trade relations. Three speed bumps for the plan were apparent as I rode along the KKH itself, however. The first is security, given a steady uptick in attacks on Chinese nationals in the area, including at Nanga Parbat. (One prevailing theory in Hunza at the time of my visit was that the timing of the attack against the mountaineers at Nanga Parbat, right before Sharif’s visit to Beijing, suggested that the Americans were out to undermine Chinese-Pakistani relations.)

The second is economics. Local traders along the KKH expressed concern about Chinese goods flooding the market and China benefitting disproportionately from the economic cooperation; Pakistani fruit, for instance, cannot be readily exported to China because of quarantine restrictions, whereas Chinese fruit can freely enter Pakistan. Nonetheless, many saw the Chinese market as a tremendous long-term opportunity. One trader had just returned from Kashgar, where the Chinese government was setting up a mall and offering Pakistani businessmen rent-free space for three years to sell their wares. Others pined for Chinese tourism, noting the mere trickle of Chinese tourists in the region relative to their size and proximity.

Yet perhaps the biggest impediment to the envisioned corridor, as readily apparent on the KKH, is Mother Nature. An hour north of Hunza, the highway abruptly vanishes. It lies beneath Attabad Lake—a body of water created by a landslide in 2010 that dammed the Hunza River and wiped out entire villages. Goods going between Pakistan and China on the KKH are now loaded onto boats, which take roughly 45 minutes to cross Attabad; when we made our way across the sparkling blue lake, a beautiful floating graveyard, Chinese Kunlun brand tires were headed down country.A landslide in January 2010 created Attabad Lake and dammed the Hunza River. (Ziad Haider) 

Evidence of Chinese influence is everywhere along the KKH—from road signs with messages such as “Quality Is Life” and “Safety Weighs Greater Than Mountains” to Chinese items on restaurant menus. Crews from China’s Road and Bridge Construction Company, some dressed in fatigues, were hard at work. Their metallic camps off the KKH are cordoned off, and security details now shadow them in the wake of several incidents targeting the 10,000 Chinese nationals working on projects throughout Pakistan, from the Gwadar Port to the Gomal Zam Dam. Given the security and language barriers, “Pak-Cheen dosti” (Pakistan-China friendship) is on thin air at 14,000 feet, and the Chinese units remain aloof from locals. When I asked one crew in rusty Mandarin to move its steamroller so we could make our way to the border, the site manager shot off a list of grievances—from stomach sickness to a disdain for Pakistanis who could not build their own roads. All-weather friends, it seems, is all well and good in the temperature-controlled halls of Islamabad and Beijing. Relationships exposed to the elements day in and day out are a different story.

As we made our final push to the border, we passed through the dry port of Sost—a shanty town that had seen its share of South Korean and Japanese tourists judging from the writings on the walls of motels. Pakistani and Chinese trucks unload their wares in Sost and hand them off to nationals of the other country. We wound our way through the Khunjerab National Park, which boasts wildlife ranging from the Himalayan ibex and snow leopards to golden marmots and giant vulture-like birds. Suddenly, the terrain flattened. Before us stood China. A motel in Sost (Ziad Haider) 

The China-Pakistan border area is starkly beautiful, as desolate as it is randomly placed amid the heedless mountain ranges. A plaque on the Pakistani side describes the construction of the KKH in the typically overwrought rhetoric of Chinese-Pakistani relations, noting that “the stony silence of Khunjerab was broken by mellifluous sound of spaces.”

Grappling with altitude sickness, we trudged over to the Chinese marker, capped with the seal of the People’s Republic. Not a soul was present except the guard on the Pakistani side. The silence contrasted sharply with the noise of the Wagah-Attari crossing between Pakistan and India. Every evening, during the change of the guard ceremony, Indian and Pakistani border guards glare at each other and race to lower their flags in a faux competition set to the jingoistic cheers of spectators on either side of the border. At both crossings, Pakistan’s lack of trade with its neighboring economic giant is evident. Here, the stark geographic and cultural divides between the two countries, despite close political ties, were also on display. As we made our way back down the KKH, I looked back one last time. Twisting in the wind, I could make out flags—the red and yellow of China, the green and white of Pakistan. They were mere specks lost in a sea of mountains.China's border marker in the mountains of Pakistan (Ziad Haider) 


My return to Islamabad was disorienting. I gave a talk at a local think tank on the Obama administration’s “rebalance to Asia” and how Pakistan relates to and can leverage the economic dynamism of the Asia-Pacific region. But the conversation quickly turned inward to terrorism—not surprising given that the scourge remains painfully real, having claimed nearly 50,000 lives since 9/11 (just two days earlier, I had been 10 minutes away from a blast in Lahore’s Purani Anarkali market).

I left the event frustrated by my inability to get a seasoned audience of diplomats, journalists, and academics to think beyond today’s threats to tomorrow’s opportunities. Perhaps, I thought harshly, Pakistanis have bought into the same security-centric conception of themselves that they chide the West for promoting. Might that explain the prominent display books such asBlackwater and Manhunt get in Islamabad’s bookstores?

Yet the KKH breaks this mold. Despite echoes of terrorism and the murder on the roof of the world, it represents so much more: an instrument of grand strategy; an overlook on a rising China; a portal to Mother Nature; a lesson in development; and a channel through everyday lives and aspirations. Thinking of the starry sky above the highway—viewed alike by those hapless mountaineers, homesick Chinese, and women of CIQAM, hammering away—countless narratives suddenly seem within reach.

Making sense of the Kishenganga final award

Bharat H Desai and Balraj K Sigh

The Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project is currently under construction by India on the Kishenganga, a tributary of the Jhelum. Tribune file photo

“THE Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was a great achievement of Pakistan and India and of the World Bank, and it remains so… and these proceedings are an illustration of its continuing vitality," said Judge Stephen M Schwebel, chairman of the seven-member Court of Arbitration (CoA) in the Indus Waters Kishenganga Arbitration that delivered the final award on December 20, 2013.

The court, based at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague, has adjudicated upon the dispute concerning the Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project (KHEP) raised by Pakistan. It has conceded that the right of India to divert waters from the Kishenganga (called Neelum in Pakistan) for power generation is protected by the 1960 IWT. However, it added a caveat that this right is not absolute and India is under an obligation to maintain the minimum flow to be released downstream from the KHEP dam at 9 cumecs.

The court has not accepted India's argument for the usage of the drawdown technique for flushing sediment accumulated in the reservoir except in the case of “unforeseen emergency”. The award is a landmark for legal governance of shared trans-boundary water resources. The dispute has raised important questions on the relevance of the IWT; model of development adopted by building large dams and reservoirs for hydro-electric power with environmental consequences; application of international environmental obligations and adequacy of existing international courts; and tribunals to settle complex water disputes.

Indus Waters Treaty

Despite the history of animosity, trust deficit and inhospitable hydro-political climate, India and Pakistan remained engaged in the trans-boundary Indus Basin water-sharing cooperative framework through the IWT. The treaty regime has survived wars, shrill calls for abrogation, political instability and helped, to some extent, in containing water disagreements. It has also served as an important function of allocation of river waters as well as providing an inbuilt framework for the settlement of disputes. The Baglihar Dam case, referred to the neutral expert, was a testimony of its effectiveness and resilience.

The Kishenganga case marks the first instance in the history of the IWT when a CoA was constituted. The proceedings have arisen out of a dispute concerning the implementation of the treaty in relation to the construction and operation of the KHEP. The primary subject of the arbitration was the KHEP, currently under construction by India on the Kishenganga, a tributary of the Jhelum. The KHEP is designed to generate power by diverting water from a dam site on the Kishenganga (within Gurez Valley, an area of higher elevation) to the Bonar Nullah, another tributary of the Jhelum (lower in elevation and located near Wullar Lake) through a system of tunnels, with moving water powering turbines having a capacity of 330 MW.
The Jhelum, known as Neelum in Pakistan, is the lifeline of the Valley.

The dispute

For the management of sedimentation in the reservoir, India intended to employ the technique of drawdown flushing that consists of drawing the water in the reservoir down to a level close to that of the riverbed by releasing water through low-level outlets in the dam. These were the issues raised by Pakistan. In view of the technical nature of the dispute, the court visited project sites at Neelum-Jhelum and Kishenganga. It highlights difficulties surrounding the technical nature of the disputes and perceived lack of expertise for the adjudication of such projects having environmental consequences. It heard the matter in 2012 and gave a partial award on February 18, 2013.

The partial award provided that India may divert water from the Kishenganga for power generation and deliver the water released below the power station into the Bonar Nullah. The issues of India's obligation to maintain a minimum flow of water in the Kishenganga; and usage of drawdown flushing to an extent that would entail depletion of the reservoir below dead storage level (portion of storage not used for operational purposes) became highly contentious during the proceedings.

The court decided to do a tightrope walk to ensure the balance of interest for both parties. It conceded priority right to India since it crystallised KHEP before Pakistan resorted to the NJHEP. Still such a right to develop a hydroelectric project has been sought to be circumscribed by ensuring a minimum flow in the river and rejection of the drawdown flushing technique.

India sought clarification concerning the permissible use of drawdown flushing technique in the future run-of-river projects on the western rivers (allocated to Pakistan). The court stated: “(T)he prohibition on the reduction below dead storage level of the water in the reservoirs of run-of-river plants on the western rivers, except in the case of unforeseen emergency, is of general application.”

The moratorium issued in the award would be applicable to all future run-of-the-river projects to be carried out by India, sowing seeds of potential difference.

Permanent Indus Commission

The court analysed the data with regard to the impacts of a range of minimum flows to be discharged at the KHEP dam. It decided "a minimum flow criterion of 9 cumecs at KHEP is a relatively severe criterion with respect to environmental flow, but would nevertheless be sufficient to maintain the natural flows". It has recognised that a degree of uncertainty is inherent in any attempt to predict environmental implications such as the flows in the Kishenganga. In its view, the appropriate mechanism for the reconsideration of minimum flow, exchange of data and monitoring of the parties' usage on tributaries of the Indus is the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC).

The ball is back into the court of the IWT mechanism of PIC. That brings under scanner the efficacy of the IWT in resolving disputes. The final verdict vindicates the obligation for peaceful settlement of disputes enshrined under the UN Charter. However, the growing number of disputes arising under the IWT underscores distrust between the parties. Ironically, Pakistan's invoking of the IWT mechanism shows its inability to resolve bilateral disputes through negotiations and ineffectiveness of PIC that led the matter to highly expensive international arbitration proceedings even as both countries are facing extreme poverty.

It raises a question on the working of PIC to resolve disagreement. Some perceived challenges could arise due to the pressure of population and developmental needs as well as shrinking water availability in the Indus Basin due to a host of factors including climate-induced changes. But it does not affect the utility and effectiveness of the IWT as it provides multiple methods to resolve issues.

It is time to use cutting-edge technologies and hardware such as remote sensing satellites and geographical information systems that play a vital role in the planning, construction and maintenance of such projects. It could help in jettisoning rumours, ignorance and emotions from taking hold in the absence of hard data.

Losing the vision

The fact that parties have turned, time and again, to the IWT mechanisms - and not the use of force - itself speaks volumes for the existing legal governance of Indus waters under the treaty. However, complaints by Pakistan that India is violating the IWT and its efforts to drag the matter to an international forum emanates from deeply entrenched distrust and compulsions of domestic politics. The IWT has withstood the test of time in showcasing the spirit of cooperation.

Many demand re-negotiation of the IWT, which they argue is the need of the hour (after working for 53 years) under changed circumstances. Still, considering the current realities, it is a remote possibility. It is hoped that wiser counsel will prevail to resolve water disputes in the larger interest of the teeming millions on either side.

In order to harness the huge hydro potential of shared water courses in the Indus Basin, both countries shall have to learn from world history and rise to the occasion to consider joint designing and implementation of projects that take a holistic hydrological view and maintain environmental integrity of the basin without compromising developmental needs.

The edict

* The award is a landmark for legal governance of shared trans-boundary water resources.

* India's right to divert waters from the Kishenganga for power generation is protected by the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. But it is under obligation to maintain the minimum flow to be released downstream from KHEP dam at 9 cumecs.

* Argument by India regarding the use of the drawdown technique for flushing sediment accumulated in the reservoir has been rejected. It can be done only in the case of an emergency.

* The dispute has raised important questions on the relevance of the Indus treaty; model of development by building large dams and reservoirs with environmental consequences; application of international environmental obligations; and adequacy of existing international courts to settle water disputes. 

The writers are Chairman of Centre for International Legal Studies at JNU, New Delhi; and Executive Director, Centre for Advanced Study on Courts & Tribunals, Amritsar, respectively.

"NATO in Afghanistan: Turning Retreat into Victory"

December 2013

Author: Henrik Larsen, Research Fellow, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security

This policy brief is based on "NATO in Afghanistan: Democratization Warfare, National Narratives, and Budgetary Austerity," Belfer Center Discussion Paper #2013-10.

Afghanistan is a positive case of NATO's political adjustment to counterinsurgency warfare and civilian-military integration.
NATO's narrative can be challenged on whether it has truly been fighting international terrorism and whether its accomplishments pertaining to building an Afghan state are sustainable or have qualitative value at all.
A credible post-2014 partnership with Afghanistan needs a clear coupling to NATO's security expertise to have a real impact on its domestic politics.


Afghanistan forced NATO to undergo a long adaptive process to be able to operate in an unprecedented and harsh strategic theater. It differed fundamentally from NATO's previous peacekeeping missions in the Balkans because the traditional division of labor between civilian and military efforts could not be maintained in practice. The UN state building agenda (Afghanistan Compact) tied NATO specifically to the security pillar throughout the country, which proved to be a gross underestimation of the actual resources required for such an effort. NATO contributors initially preferred a "light footprint" approach with a limited number of boots on the ground to avoid repeating the Soviet Union's negative experience. It proved inefficient, however, and warlords and power brokers did not demobilize and arbitrate disputes through Western-style elections and centralized institutions.

To combat the growing insurgency, NATO decided in 2008 to significantly escalate the number of troops throughout Afghanistan and adopted a new strategy to win the "hearts and minds" of the Afghan people. The surge was designed as a last attempt to clean up the Afghan government and to allow the Afghan authorities the necessary breathing room to assume responsibility for security throughout the country, as NATO would gradually withdraw towards the end of 2014. NATO and the Afghan government have agreed to an "Enduring Partnership" for the 2015–2024 period, when NATO's role will be delimited to a mere support function (security assistance and funding). While the original ambition of a democratic Afghanistan centralized in Kabul remains a priority on paper, security-sector building, with the purpose of ensuring a manageable transition, has now become NATO's primary concern.

The al-Qaedastan Threat


Affiliates of the terrorist organization took over Fallujah, Iraq, last week. The bold operation was a victory—but it could also be the group’s Waterloo.

On Monday, Iraqi army forces and other tribal fighters started to encircle the city of Fallujah and, according to some reports from the ground, began shelling al-Qaeda positions inside. The news is reminiscent of the battle of Fallujah nearly ten years earlier when the U.S. military began the long slog of taking back the western Iraqi city in one of the war’s most important battles.

Gunmen fighters walk in the streets of the city of Ramadi December 30, 2013. (Ali al-Mashhadani/Reuters)

But analysts inside and outside the U.S. government say the chances of al Qaeda’s affiliate actually holding Fallujah are slim. One U.S. official Monday acknowledged “The security trends in Iraq are concerning,” noting that violence has spiked and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq is resurgent. But this official also said, “The situation in Fallujah and Ramadi, however, remains fluid. Prime Minister Maliki and his government are doing their best to beat back al-Qaeda’s advances.”

Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) has focused much of its attentions recently on Syria, where its reclusive leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is believed by U.S. intelligence officials to reside. And it is in Syria that ISIL has recently lost ground.

As Baghdadi’s fighters were planting the black flags of al Qaeda in Fallujah, the group suffered major losses in its strongholds in northern Syria to other Islamist rebel groups.

“It’s far more significant for the future of (al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate) that the Sunni Islamist groups are turning on them,” said Will McCants, the director of the project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. “This could be a major set back for the organization. Until now, they have not played nicely with those groups.”

Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate also has not played nicely with al Qaeda’s central leadership. Al Jazeera reported last June that al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had rejected ISIL plans to take over al Qaeda’s other affiliate in Syria known as Jabhat al-Nusra, which had a majority of Syrians fighting in its ranks and often collaborated with other rebel groups. But Baghdadi publicly rejected Zawahiri’s edict and continued to expand his group’s operations in Syria, which is considered by al Qaeda to be a more important front in the wider jihadist struggle today than Iraq.

“Jabhat al-Nusra has been accepted by the opposition,” said Valerie Szybala, a Syria analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. “They have been there since the beginning. Seventy percent of their fighters are Syrian, but their leadership has more foreign fighters. Compared to ISIL they are much harder to vilify.”
The group responsible for 9/11 and committed to restoring an ancient Islamic caliphate has never succeeded at actually governing.

Bangladesh Elections 2013: Fate of a Nation

7 January 2014
Chiranjib Haldar 
Email: chiranjibhalder@gmail.com 

The outcome was never in doubt. Sheikh Hasina's Awami League ended with more than two-thirds of seats in a hustings shunned by international observers as flawed and derided as a ‘farce’ by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). When the Shahbag unrest intensified in February 2013, some called it an upheaval, some an awakening of sorts. Most analysts termed it a display of pent up feelings and expression that had been stifled for years. The representative reality may be mired in illusion as many sceptics would say, but in this case, a visible spontaneous movement was sustained despite attempts to stifle it by two major opposition parties in Bangladesh. 

The Awami League regime doggedly pushed through the polls on schedule despite the opposition boycott with BNP and 17 smaller parties simply refusing to file nomination papers. The supreme questions confronting the average Bangladeshi at this crucial juncture is whether this resilience can be combined with wisdom to assimilate internal contrasts and divisions rather than to intensify hatred even in select segments of the populace. A question that obviously crops up is will one of Asia's youngest nations be able to preserve its secular fabric. With over 154 Members of Parliament elected unopposed to the 300-member Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) from the ruling Awami League, the elections were largely be a formality with the party easily garnering two-thirds majority.

While the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by Begum Khaleda Zia has termed the inevitability of MPs getting elected unopposed as ultimate treachery and deceit, Awami League has termed it as a final frontier between forces who favoured the creation of Bangladesh and those who opposed it. And BNP chairperson and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has reiterated umpteen times that elections cannot be free and fair with her rival Awami League in power. If one objectively analyses the Hasina and Khaleda regimes in totality, forces both of cohesion and disunity have coexisted in a precarious balance, as it has since the nation felt its pangs of birth. Even the Shahbag protests have not led to complete integration and so fulfilment may have extracted its pound of flesh. 

So, there is much more at stake than discontent and support both in favour and against the war crimes tribunal sentencing anti-liberation satraps. When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was sworn in 2008, she may not have anticipated this offshoot in the next general elections. What we are witnessing may be the churning of a nation in the 43rd year of its liberation. 

If we rewind for a moment, the last Bangla hustings in December 2008 saw Awami League securing a landslide victory with 230 seats in the Jatiya Sangsad and subsequently forming a Grand Alliance with Ershad’s Jatiya Party and splinter groups. The BNP was decimated from 193 seats in the 2001 polls to just 29 while its principal ally, Jamaat-e-Islami reduced to 2. Many commentators have opined that behind Khaleda Zia’s incessant braggadocio is a premonition that under a neutral caretaker regime, January 2014 could be a repeat of 2001 in heavily polarised Bangladesh when she sprang back to power despite plenty of projections to the contrary. On top of it, the BNP secured convincing victories in the last mayoral polls in four urban hotspots. 

No real winners in Bangladesh

January 9, 2014

The elections in Bangladesh went off predictably — amid a boycott by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its 18 smaller allies, lots of violence, loss of life and property, and a victory for the Awami League. As many as 30 people died on the election weekend, and on voting day activists and supporters of the boycotting parties went about burning polling booths. The Election Commission says the turnout was just less than 40 per cent, a figure hotly contested by the Opposition which put it at a quarter of that. In any case it was nowhere close to the nearly 80 per cent turnout in 2008 — the highest in Bangladesh — that gave Sheikh Hasina a landslide victory. This time, the Awami League was assured of victory even before a single vote was cast — it faced no contest in half of the 300 parliamentary seats due to the boycott. In the remaining ones, the party faced opposition from its own dissidents, and won 110, thus obtaining an absolute majority. Although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has declared her satisfaction with the turnout, and asked law enforcing authorities to quell the continuing unrest with an “iron hand”, she must know that questions about the credibility of this election will not easily vanish. In a nation that has worked hard to build some of the best social indicators in South Asia — Bangladesh has cut ahead of India on reducing poverty and malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality rates and gender disparities — such unending political and civil strife can only undermine the gains of the last few years.

The Bangladesh Prime Minister has rejected calls, including by the United States, for dialogue with the Opposition and fresh elections. She has declared that talks with the Opposition can be held only when the BNP ends “violence and terrorism” and severs its alliance with the banned Jamaat-e-Islami. But a mid-term election may become a necessity if the political chaos does not abate. It is time the Awami League realised that while its fight against Islamism is a good fight, it simply cannot be won by polarising the nation politically. It will take two, though. BNP leader Khaleda Zia needs to discover better alternatives to expressing political differences than holding the country ransom to street violence and thuggery. As for her dalliance with Islamism, she has Pakistan’s example to see what opportunistic alliances with religious extremism can do to a country. New Delhi’s description of the elections as a “constitutional requirement” that Prime Minister Hasina has fulfilled, is too nuanced to serve any useful purpose; in fact, it only makes it seem partisan. If India really wants to help progressive and liberal forces in Bangladesh, it must use its cordial ties with the Awami League to work at breaking the deadlock.