23 January 2014

Genuine strategic autonomy lies in creating conditions conducive to private participation in the defence industry

As Asia grapples with the management of strategic change and related security challenges, countries across the region - from India to Japan - are strengthening their defence capabilities. Meanwhile, despite periodic changes and updates of its defence production and procurement policies to try and build indigenous capacity, India's ministry of defence (MOD) has been largely unable to remedy severe constraints in the country's defence industrial base. Around two-thirds of India's defence hardware requirements are still being imported. There are endemic delays in domestic production programmes while costs continue to escalate, seriously undermining India's defence preparedness. This is an area of vulnerability that India can ill afford.

Symptoms of this deficiency abound. Even after three decades of development, the serial production of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft is still some years away. Russian-origin SU-30MKI fighters basically continue to be assembled, not manufactured, by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The long-awaited medium multi-role combat aircraft contract remains bogged down over modalities for co-production of the Rafale. In contrast, as pointed out by former Air Chief N A K Browne, "the streamlined induction and speedy operationalisation of our new assets like Mi-17 v5, C-130J, Pilatus PC-7 and C-17 aircraft have afforded us unprecedented response capabilities." Sadly, outright imports seem to work, with timely deliveries and without cost overruns.

Even in the middle of a prolonged diplomatic impasse with the US over the past month, it is significant that India concluded a contract worth $1.01 billion for the acquisition of six additional C-130J "Super Hercules" aircraft on December 27 last year. This may be welcome for the Indian Air Force but gives rise to concerns in some quarters about "dependence" on the US. However, a growing defence trade and technology partnership with the US is hardly likely to push India into defence dependence. If that were indeed the case, then India's defence relationship with the erstwhile USSR and now Russia would have to shoulder much of the blame. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia accounted for 82 per cent of Indian arms imports during 2006-10. Decades of defence ties with Russia have not helped kick-start India's domestic defence industry, and can only be described as a patron-client relationship. Therefore, holding up the nascent India-US defence relationship as a signal of India's dependence on international players would be a wrong diagnosis. The problem lies elsewhere.

There are a number of structural constraints bedevilling India's domestic defence industry. In the past, India shunned private participation in its defence industry, while Cold War dynamics restricted defence industrial interactions with the West. Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) emerged as the principal players, and there are today more than 50 Defence Research and Development Organisation facilities, 41 ordnance factories and nine DPSUs. The fact that this combine is still struggling to meet the growing needs of the Indian defence forces because of inherent limitations speaks for itself. Attempts at indigenisation have been largely rhetorical and less than satisfactory, to say the least.

It was only in 2001 that the defence industry was finally opened up for the Indian private sector, but procurement policies have remained heavily skewed in favour of seemingly overburdened but chronically under-performing DPSUs. The latest iteration of the Defence Procurement Procedure 2013 mandates purchases from an Indian maker as the most preferred option, which could potentially be made to work to the advantage of the Indian private sector, which still lacks operational experience, technology and resources. However, moving from the monopoly of DPSUs to the oligopoly of a few Indian private sector companies would not be a sustainable model either. What India requires is a vibrant defence industrial base with multiple domestic and international players engaged in healthy partnerships as well as competition to provide the best weaponry for the armed forces.

Political Crisis in Thailand and Its Effects on Foreign Relations

January 22, 2014

There is still no end in sight for Thailand’s political crisis that has lasted for more than seven years since the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by a military coup in September 2006. Without the intervention by the Thai military, the judiciary or other decision-making forces, Suthep Tuagsuban’s “Shut down Bangkok, Restart Thailand” campaign, which started on January 13, will merely prolong the present political deadlock. Indeed, it may last even after the February election as the Democrat Party and its anti-government supporters boycott the national poll.

But the side-effects of the years-long attempt to root out Thaksin influence from Thai politics goes beyond domestic political instability and polarization. On the international front, Thailand’s relations with foreign countries are being jeopardized by political scams aiming to discredit Thaksin and his party-led government. For some countries, engaging with Thailand without being drawn into the existing political game becomes more and more difficult.

The Shadow of Preah Vihear Temple

The classic case is the Thailand-Cambodia dispute over the Preah Vihear Temple that flared up in 2008. Following the joint communique in which Thailand expressed support for Cambodia to list Preah Vihear as a UNESCO World Heritage site, The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), or the so-called Yellow Shirt movement, accused the People Power Party’s Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama of ceding the 4.6 square kilometer area surrounding the Temple to Cambodia and abandoning Thailand’s right to reclaim the Preah Vihear in exchange for business concessions in Cambodia.

The Democrat Party, the then main opposition party, repeated the PAD’s charges againstNoppadon in the no-confidence debate despite the Foreign Minister’s insistence that Cambodia had agreed with Thailand to list the Temple’s vicinity in accordance with the 1962 Thai Cabinet’s Resolution which would not alter the existing territory. It also ignored the fact that Thailand can no longer request the International Court of Justice (ICJ)to reverse its 1962 verdict to award Preah Vihear to Cambodia. With the Democrat’s push, the Thai Administrative Court and Constitutional Court both ruled against the validity of the joint communique. Noppadon resigned from the post and Cambodia went on to register the Temple with the UNESCO but the relations between the two countries significantly deteriorated due to the nationalist fervor being stirred up on both sides. From 2008 towards the end of Democrat Party’s government in July 2011, the Thailand-Cambodia border had witnessed several alleged incursions, diplomatic tensions and military skirmishes.

Thaksin has close personal ties with Hun Sen and may even have used that to benefit his family business in Cambodia but the Preah Vihear case has proven to be a wrong move of the anti-Thaksin forces which vows to protect their national territory. In May 2011, Cambodia finally requested the ICJ to interpret its 1962 rule on Preah Vihear and claimed its right over the 4.6 square kilometer area. The verdict was announced last November entitling Cambodia to the whole area of the Temple’s promontory. While the Thai government insists that Cambodia did not succeed in taking what it had claimed, it is certain that Thailand will lose some of the area it has occupied for more than 50 years.

Indian Companies - Need for a Clear Definition


January 22, 2014

Lagging behind the other services, and probably even the Coast Guard, in the race for modernization, Army has drawn up a ‘multipronged plan to boost its capabilities’.1 That is quite reassuring. But for this plan, or, for that matter, any other such plan to fructify, much ground work needs to be done.

On its part, the Army Headquarters will need to steer specific procurement proposals through the labyrinthine procurement procedure, first up to the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) stage and later through the tendering stage. But this path is beset with difficulties as many issues concerning the defence procurement procedure and the offset policy have remained unaddressed for far too long, leaving the companies – both Indian and foreign – in a state of perpetual perplexity. Ministry of Defence (MoD) will have to clear the air on all such issues, or, at least, on the issues which fall squarely in its own jurisdiction.

One such critical issue, relevant in the overall context of the procurement procedure and offsets, is the definition of an ‘Indian company’. With ‘Buy (Indian)’, ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ and ‘Make (Indian)’ categories now occupying the pride of place in that order in the hierarchy of procurement categories, which companies will qualify as Indian companies assumes a great importance as under these categories the Request for Proposal (RFP) can be issued only to the Indian companies. Any ambiguity in this regard could put the procurement proposals in a spin.

This is also important in the context of the offsets. The offset guidelines provide that ‘Indian enterprises and institutions and establishments engaged in manufacture of eligible products and/or provision of eligible services, including DRDO, are referred to as the Indian Offset Partner (IOP)’ and the IOP shall, ‘besides any other regulation in force, also comply with the guidelines/licensing requirements stipulated by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, as applicable.’2

But the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2013, as also its earlier versions, does not define an Indian company, much less an Indian enterprise, institution and establishment. Some would argue that the answer is very simple: any entity registered in India under the Companies Act, 2013 or any other relevant statute and operating with a valid license, where such a license is required, qualifies as an Indian company, enterprise, institution or establishment. The question is whether it is so. Life would be simple if it is indeed so, but even then, this clarification must be officially notified by the MoD so that there is no ambiguity on this issue.

India-Japan Ties Strengthen

An upcoming visit by Shinzo Abe to India underscores just how close bilateral relations have become.
By Nitin Gokhale
January 21, 2014

It is useful to remember that way back in 2006 U.S. President George Bush and Shinzo Abe, then in his first term as Japanese prime minister, each in their own way achieved far-reaching changes in their respective ties with India. While George Bush helped end the nuclear apartheid against India, Abeunambiguously declared (in 2007) that “a strong India is in the best interest of Japan and a strong Japan is in the best interest of India.”

Since then, after the initial euphoria, India-U.S. ties have plummeted perhaps to their lowest level in the past two decades, not least because of the recent Khobragade affair. The relationship between India and Japan, on the other hand, has found new momentum in the past couple of years. It is no surprise to find that Shinzo Abe is at the helm in Tokyo again.

Abe’s visit to New Delhi as Chief Guest for India’s Republic Day Parade on January 26 will in fact cap a series of high-level visits by Japanese leaders over the past few months. This included the historic visit of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to India in December 2013. They were returning to the country 53 years after their 1960 trip as the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan. Their symbolic visit apart, the fact is that during the last five years, bilateral trade has increased 80 per cent; currently it is at 18 billion dollars. Although this is nowhere near the India-China bilateral trade figure, which is now inching towards 100 billion dollars, Japan and India have set a goal of $25 billion this year. It must also be remembered that in recent decades, Japan has quietly extended financial and technical support to several infrastructure projects in India, helping to build metro railway systems and industrial corridors, dedicated freight corridors, highways, bridges and power plants.

Now the two countries are finding new avenues of cooperation. Last week Japan’s Defense Minister Itsonuri Onodera spent four days in India exploring and finalizing various ways to take the fledgling defense cooperation between New Delhi and Tokyo to the next level. Onodera and his Indian Defence Minister AK Antony said at the end of their meeting in New Delhi that India and Japan will “further consolidate and strengthen their strategic and global partnership in the defense arena through measures ranging from regular joint combat exercises and military exchanges to cooperation in anti-piracy, maritime security and counter-terrorism.”

As a first follow up India and Japan will hold their third “2 plus 2″ Dialogue and fourth Defense Policy Dialogue in New Delhi later this year, along with the third bilateral exercise between the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Indian Navy to be held in Japanese waters. Two plus two is a dialogue involving both foreign and defense ministry officials. On January 14, a small exercise involving Coast Guard ships from India and Japan was in fact held in the Arabian Sea.

Joint exercises apart, India and Japan are expanding their defense ties in other ways. For instance, the two sides will also conduct “expert exchanges” in counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief between the Indian Army and Japan Ground Self Defense Force. The possibility of conducting staff talks between Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Indian Air Force as well as professional exchanges of test-pilots, flight safety experts and others is also in the offing.

Rekindle Indo-Iran ties

Manoj Joshi
21 January 2014

On Monday, the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 nations —the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China —kicked into the first phase of its implementation. The deal, which has the potential of changing the geopolitics of the South-west Asian region, if not the world, is as of now a series of steps through which Iran will begin the process of stopping and rolling back its nuclear programme, in exchange for the western countries easing sanctions that have crippled its economy. The whole process will be confirmed through a final agreement which will be negotiated over the next six months by the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

Given the history of the long and tortuous negotiations between Iran and the western countries over its nuclear programme in the past decade, fingers are crossed in respect to the final agreement. Some hardliners in Iran have actually hailed the deal, but there are many naysayers in the US, especially in its powerful Congress who are skeptical. 

Israel and Saudi Arabia are unhappy for their own reasons. The White House, for its part, is also playing it cautious and its statement noted "With respect to the comprehensive solution, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to." 

Put simply by the end of the six month period, Iran's uranium stockpile would have been diluted to an enrichment cap of 5 per cent, though it will continue to hold the stockpile it has and have the capacity to enrich uranium to the 5 per cent level. It will have stopped work in the Arak reactor and desisted from building reprocessing facilities which could enable it to also obtain plutonium to make nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons require a core of plutonium, or uranium enriched to above 90 per cent. 5 per cent is what is sufficient for reactors that generate power. 

The P5+1 and EU will commit themselves to temporarily shelve the sanctions on Iran's oil exports and material imported for use in its motor industry, suspend efforts to block Iranian crude purchases around the world, allow trade in bullion and return $4.2 billion seized from Iran in tranches over the next six months. 

Iran has had nuclear ambitions ever since it was ruled by the Shah of Iran. But following the revolution of 1979 that brought its current Mullah-led regime into power, Iran had formally abjured from chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. In any case, Iran was a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. 

Nagaland: descent into chaos

January 23, 2014
Updated: January 23, 2014

The absence of a credible state in Nagaland has created a power vacuum that is being filled by chaotic sub-nationalist forces often at war with one another

The reckless ‘ceasefire’ between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM), a militia predominantly of the Tangkhul tribe of Manipur, for the last 17 years is pushing the Nagas into a state of civil war. While the protagonists of the ‘ceasefire,’ New Delhi and the NSCN (I-M), are in mutual comfort capering about the mulberry bush without a stopwatch, the process has landed the Nagas in an orbit of self-destruction. They are far more fragmented and fractious than before.

The Naga society is seething with multiple tensions intermittently erupting into morbid fratricidal violence. The wars in Zunheboto between the local Sema Nagas and the NSCN (I-M) that left several dead and scores injured on both sides, the discovery of mass graves in and around Dimapur, and the closing of ranks by six tribes of eastern Nagaland — Chang, Konyak, Phom, Khaimniungan, Yimchunger and Sangtan — for a protracted fight for political and administrative separation from other tribes of Nagaland are some of the latest grim portents of their fraught predicament.

Over 1,800 Nagas have been killed in some 3,000 fratricidal clashes since the beginning of the ‘ceasefire’ (1997-2013). Contrast it with the violence during the 17 years preceding the ‘ceasefire’ (1980-96) that took a toll of some 940 Naga lives in 1,125 clashes mostly with the security forces. The irony is underscored by the fact that while the security forces and the NSCN (I-M) have been at mutual ‘peace’ during the ‘ceasefire,’ twice as many Nagas have died, killing one another in some 300 per cent escalation in fratricidal violence. The vector of violence has turned inward with a vengeance, from between the security forces and the Naga militias to the one among the Nagas themselves. Some in New Delhi gleefully chuckle at their remarkable feat of trapping the ‘belligerent’ Nagas in this vicious cycle of fratricidal killings.

The term ‘Naga’ is a rubric for a host of over 25 distinct tribes inhabiting the Nagaland State and adjoining areas of north-eastern India and Myanmar. Their mutual differences far outnumber their commonness. Each tribe is culturally distinct and linguistically unintelligible to the others. In the not so distant past, contacts between two tribes were, more often than not, marred by bloodshed. Modern state, modern education and the Gospel have had a somewhat sobering influence on their world view.Secession bid

Governance in Northern Province of Sri Lanka: Stresses and Strains

January 21, 2014

CV Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of Northern Province of Sri Lanka has lamented in a recent public speech on January 10, organized by a Colombo-based think tank that Colombo is not appreciative of the essence of issues of governance in his province. The Chief Minister has opined that Sri Lanka Army (SLA) is hindering governance in the northern province and that post-war context demands a different approach to governance.1 Wigneswaran has further highlighted that militarization is affecting resettlement of the internally displaced Tamils, the SLA has taken over private land and even agricultural activities and as a result "locals have to purchase produce from their own land cultivated by Army".2 The Chief Minister has also spoken on his recurring difference with the provincial Governor, Maj Gen (retd) G.A.Chandrasiri inter-alia alleging inadequate administrative structure and staff with the province as well as his administrative staff being "used to the Governor`s ways"3 are posing hurdles. Wigneswaran has, however, admitted that there has been some progress in these matters after his recent interactions with President Rajapakse.

The essence of the problem which the Chief Minister has highlighted is that there is dualism in administration in the province and that the officials of the provincial administration are often facing contradictory or overlapping instructions from the provincial government and the Governor. Some may view this as an outcome of a structural problem of the 13th Amendment. This aspect seems to have got accentuated in the Northern province as against other provinces in Sri Lanka, because of the fundamental differences between the Rajapakse regime and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the issue of devolution and rights of Tamils on the one hand and the Army and the TNA on the other, rendering the functioning of the northern provincial government difficult. This, according to the Chief Minister, is affecting the implementation of the policies. There are, however, reports that the present governor is not unpopular with the provincial bureaucracy including Mrs. R. Wijiayaludchumi, the chief secretary. On the contrary, there are media reports that the chief secretary has been receiving threats for not being cooperative with the TNA executive.

Wigneswaran has been having a political tussle with governor Chandrasiri even before September last year when elections brought the TNA to power and has frequently expressed his uneasiness towards the governor. The stand of Wigneswaran does not seem to arise on matters of principle because during the last presidential elections in Sri Lanka he had supported Sarath Fonseka, a retired general, against Rajapakse.4 Despite the hangover of the past, the Chief Minister and his ruling political alliance seems basically intended to ensure a more effective control of the political executive over the provincial bureaucracy. The problems are systemic because of the very limited political and administrative devolution affected to the northern province by the Rajapakse government.

INS Vikramaditya – Deployment Options for India

January 21, 2014

Six weeks after it set sail from Severodvinsk in North Russia, India’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, home-ported at the Karwar naval base in Karnataka recently. The ship, escorted along nearly its entire passage by INS Trikand – the Indian navy’s latest and the last of the six Talwar class ‘stealth’ frigates ordered from Russia - the INS Delhi and the tanker-ship INS Deepak, traversed a distance of nearly 10,000 nautical miles before reaching Indian waters. On entering the Indian navy’s area of operations in the Indian Ocean, it was greeted by the entire Western Fleet that had sailed all the way from Mumbai to receive the ship.

The Indian navy is understandably elated at the development. For naval planners, it has been a long wait for their premier operational platform. It was almost nine years ago that the Vikramaditya’s procurement process got underway, with the ship entering an extensive refit and refurbishment programme at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, North Russia. Many additions and alterations later, and a series of installations and trials - involving numerous hits and misses, reverses and successes - the aircraft carrier’s was finally commissioned on Nov 16, 2013.

Now, as the new aircraft carrier enters an Indian port for the first time, it is time to finally take a good hard look at the asset and examine its possible uses and deployment options.

A Brief History

An assessment of the Vikramaditya’s attributes and capabilities needs an objective and clinical consideration of the history of its acquisition. The ship’s metaphoric ‘journey’ into an Indian realm has, indeed, been a long and eventful one. For starters, this was not an aircraft carrier in its original form at all. Formerly, the ‘Baku’ - a Ukraine constructed, Kiev class ‘aircraft carrying cruiser’ – the ship was originally designed for Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) fighters like the Yakovlev-38 aircraft. The ‘Baku’ was renamed as the ‘Admiral Gorshov’ in Nov 1990 and remained in service till 1996 when high cost of operation in the post-cold war era led the Soviet navy to decommission many of its ships.1

Negotiations for acquiring the 44,500 ton Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier started in 1994 after the ship was put up on offer by Russia – ironically, as a ‘free gift’ to India provided the costs for refit and fighters were paid.2 The Indian navy was then looking for a new carrier, as the old warhorse ‘Vikrant’ was on its last legs. By the time the Vikrant retired in 1997, the navy’s search had turned frantic. So when Russia repeated its offer, it was just too attractive for India to pass up. New Delhi moved fast, assigning naval and scientific delegations to examine the ship. Soon, the ship’s hull has been assessed and declared it fit for procurement.

The deal, however, got bogged down in the official negotiations. While a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed in Dec 1998, followed by an Inter-Governmental Agreement, there was still some ambiguity about the price and the extent of work. As per the initial terms of purchase in April 2000, the refit cost of the ship was set at $400 million. However, by the time a commercial contract came up for consideration in Jan 2004 the price had jumped to $1.5 billion (Rs 4881.17 crores) for the entire package of ship, spares, infrastructure augmentation and documentation (with $974 million earmarked for the refit and rest for 16 MiG-29Ks).3 At that point, the ship was scheduled to be completed within 52 weeks at the Sevmash shipyard.4

An India-Japan Alliance Brewing?

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 22, 2014

On January 26, India will celebrate its sixty-fourth year as a republic, and the chief guest for the Republic Day festivities will be Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. It’s an honor no Japanese leader has been accorded for four decades. The Indians have a clear purpose in extending it to the man whose efforts to break the strictures imposed by Japan’s “peace constitution” have elicited concern, and in the case of South and North Korea and China condemnation, in various Asian countries. That’s because for India, a Japan with greater military muscle is not something to be feared but rather something to be welcomed. The reason for this attitude on New Delhi’s part can be summarized in five letters: China.

As for Japan, particularly since Abe’s last (and ill-fated) stint as Prime Minister (2006-2007), it has come to see India—a country with 1.3 billion people, Asia’s third-largest economy, and substantial and growing military power—as a natural partner given Tokyo’s worries about what it sees as an increasingly powerful, assertive and threatening China. There’s a natural fit between the two putative partners: Japan’s technological prowess and wealth complements India’s size, and a New Delhi-Tokyo duet would stretch China’s power across two widely separated fronts (and more if the partnership can be complemented by the United States, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia, something that Japan would like to see) while also serving as a counterweight to a Pax Sinica in East Asia.

Like Japan, India is a democracy, a fact that facilitates cooperation between New Delhi and Tokyo and makes it easier to build trust and to gain public support for the alignment in both societies. In contrast to India’s relationship with China, there are no major issues on which Japanese and Indian interests clash. As part of its Look East policy, India is seeking partners and among its aims is to create counterbalances to China and to ensure that Beijing’s quest for primacy in East Asia does not go uncontested and enable it to build strategic depth in India’s eastern flank. More specifically, the 4,200-kilometer Sino-Indian border remains disputed and continues to be a flashpoint, as witnessed by the reported incursion last April of Chinese troops into terrain claimed by India in the Depsang Valley, in Ladakh region in the western sector of the frontier.

Networking the Northeast through the 'rail route'

Maulik Mavani
22 January 2014

Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, the 'Frontier State' in the easternmost part of India, is on the verge of being integrated into the Indian Railways network through a 33 km broad gauge line laid between Harmuti and Naharlagun. The first trial engine run was conducted successfully last week. This project will be reinforced with the gauge conversion of the 510 km Rangia - Murkongselek line running along the North Bank of the River Brahmaputra (predominantly in Assam, with some works in Arunachal Pradesh). A critical part of this link, the 172 km Rangpara - North Lakhimpur stretch, which is being tapped to connect Itanagar, has been accorded top priority. Besides, the crucial double-decker Rail cum Road Bogibeel Bridge project connecting the South and North Banks near Dibrugarh, promises unprecedented potential of propelling regional development. 

Hitherto, a compelling argument has been made regarding India's lack-lustre performance vis-à-vis China in the Arunachal Pradesh equation. The prime force upholding India's sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh is the democratic mandate exercised by the 'citizens'. Railway integration would strategically leverage the sovereign claim - the network unarguably being the bloodstream of the nation. The development would induce faster progress on all other fronts - infrastructural, industrial, agricultural and socio-economic. This project is an essential prerequisite for India to advantageously exploit the Stilwell Road (Ledo Road - connecting India (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh) to China's Kunming through Myanmar's Myitkyina) vis-à-vis China. 

The case being made against the road was the fear that 'expansionist' China might overwhelm the North East market through the route, while playing a military aggressor in case of a conflict. "The post-1962 war psychosis —if we build roads into the Northeast, it might be a potential security threat —is one that has to go away." Comprehensive capacity building led by the 'railway engine' would go a long way in balancing the scale. 

At the very core is the larger agenda that combines development, welfare, empowerment and strategy. The North East Frontier railway network comprises a route length of merely 2600 km, of which 1454 km is on the broad gauge (mostly within Assam) and the remaining on the metre gauge. The strategy behind the national projects is based on expeditious linking of every State capital with the network, which would be enhanced through gauge conversion and double lining, wherever viable. Besides Arunachal Pradesh, capitals of Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim are to be networked. For this objective, there are several projects either in planning or in implementation stages. 

On a wing and a prayer

January 23, 2014

Although a military operation against militants is the last option for Pakistan, it has resorted to targeted strikes in North Waziristan against the Taliban. The picture shows people gathering at the site of a bombing in Bannu on May 8, 2013.

Whether Islamabad can negotiate for peace with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan from a position of strength is a moot question

The Pakistan government finds itself between a rock and a hard place. The spate of bombings targeting the security forces and the police, and the blast near the military General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, a day after the suicide attack in the Bannu cantonment, are too close for comfort. Every attack has been claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with which the government was mandated to have a dialogue for peace by the All Parties Conference (APC), at its meeting on September 9, 2013.

Within two months of the APC, on November 1, 2013, TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a drone strike and the Minister for Interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, slammed the United States for sabotaging the peace process. He said at a well attended press conference the next day that ties with the U.S. would be reviewed. Some interlocutors had been about to fly to meet Mehsud with a formal invite for talks with the government, he said. Even before that, a week after the APC , militants killed two army officers in Upper Dir, and followed it up with week-long bomb attacks in Peshawar, including an attack on a church that killed over 80 people.

The TTP’s new leader Mullah Fazlullah has refused to talk to the government, if the militant outfit’s publicists are to be believed. The outfit’s recent attacks have not spared even the media. Last week, the TTP brazenly called up a television channel whose staffers it killed in an attack in Karachi to claim responsibility.Air strikes

Blasts are occurring with unfailing regularity and the government which is putting together a draft National Security Policy can only react in shock and condemnation. The policy envisages a military operation against militants as the last option. At the APC, outgoing army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was also on the same page as the government on the need for a dialogue. The government keeps saying the army is on the same page even now, despite the constant targeting of security forces. However, there are targeted operations as in December when the security forces killed over 20 militants in North Waziristan after an army checkpost was bombed. After the Bannu attack, the army used air strikes to hit suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan, which killed 40 terrorists, including top Taliban leaders.

Myanmar Stumbles on Press Freedom

Despite the lifting of censorship, journalists in Myanmar still face intimidation.
By Bridget Di Certo
January 22, 2014

A little over a year after the much-heralded lifting of censorship for Myanmar media, journalists worry that murky intimidation tactics have replaced the censorship board, with true press freedom remaining elusive.

Journalists in Myanmar protested in support of an imprisoned peer on January 7 in the country’s commercial capital Yangon. Bearing banners that read, “We don’t want threats to press freedom,” journalists, in what some local observers said was the largest public gathering in Yangon since the Saffron Revolution of 2007, rallied in support of daily newspaper Eleven Media Group journalist Ma Khine, who was sentenced to five months imprisonment on charges associated with her reporting on a corruption case in Kayin State.

A sister journalist protest planned for Mandalay was barred by local authorities there.

Rakhine-based journalists also rallied in support and issued a damning statement on the incarceration of Ma Khine, calling it a blow to the dignity of the judiciary and a suppression of media freedom. Their outrage was echoed by writers and journalist groups across the country.

Ma Khine, also known as Naw Khine Khine Aye Cho, was convicted of trespassing, using abusive language and defamation in connection with the corruption story and after one and a half months’ pre-trial detention was sentenced to five months behind bars, with two months to be served concurrently.

She was reporting on a legal dispute between a movie distributor and a movie rental shop owner over the alleged distribution of pirated movies. Ma Khine testified at her court case that she went to interview the lawyer in the case and was invited into the lawyer’s home after she identified herself as a journalist.

According to local media reports quoting her court testimony, she was then asked to leave after one of the lawyers, Aye Aye Phyo, was angered by Ma Khine’s questioning over legal fees.

Aye Aye Phyo and her father Aung Shein then sued the journalist for trespass, abusive language and defamation.

Myanmar’s defamation laws are based on the nearly century-old colonial penal code the country still uses. Defamation is often used as a catch-all law to file lawsuits against journalists or publications that print articles the government or powerful businessmen find unfavorable.
Aim of China's Military Reforms
By Jayadeva Ranade

Modernisation of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has entered the final stage of its current phase. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Third Plenum, which was held in November 2013 and represents a major advance in China’s reforms, provided a substantive push to the PLA’s modernisation when it approved proposals for major organisational restructuring. The reforms coincide with China’s continuing assertiveness that has unsettled its neighbours.

Appointments to the Central Military Commission (CMC) effected earlier by the CCP’s 18th Congress in Beijing in November 2012 accelerated the drive to strengthen and modernise the 2.3 million-strong PLA. Within days of his appointment as the CMC chairman, Xi Jinping not only endorsed the military modernisation policies of his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, but also began bluntly advocating more rapid modernisation and technological upgrade of the PLA.

The organisational reforms approved by the CCP’s Third Plenum indicate that changes are imminent in the PLA’s command structure comprising the four principal departments and seven military regions. The PLA Navy (PLAN), PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and China’s strategic missile strike force, namely the Second Artillery, have clearly been allotted an enhanced operational role and will receive priority in allocation of budgets and manpower. Personnel of the Second Artillery, PLAAF and PLAN already receive higher salaries than their counterparts in the PLA’s ground forces. Within days of the Third Plenum, CMC vice-chairman and till recently the PLAAF commander, Xu Qiliang, wrote an article in the party mouthpiece People’s Daily confirming the reforms will be implemented. He mentioned that the number of non-combatants would be drastically reduced and that the reforms would enable the PLA to win wars.

Quite separately, reports filtering out of Beijing and disclosed initially in the solitary official English-language China Daily, suggest that plans have been finalised to merge the military regions. These envisage reorganising the seven military regions into five “combat zones” (zhan chu) within the next five years. Over the past few years China’s military literature has hinted at such impending change with occasional references to “Theatre Commands”. The reorganisation is intended to concentrate firepower and troops trained for a specific type of warfare within a single theatre or zone for ease of rapid deployment. Land and sea warfare forces are to be grouped separately. This reorganisation gives the PLA a definite “outward orientation” neatly meshing with its doctrine of “active defence”.

According to these reports, the three mainly coastal military regions of Jinan, Nanjing and Guangzhou are to be converted into three “combat zones”. Adopting a mainly maritime role, their primary objective will be to reinforce China’s efforts to establish dominance over the East China Sea and South China Sea and face up to the US-Japan alliance. By 2020, all three zones will be reinforced by three aircraft carrier combat groups. Reports suggest existing aircraft carrier Liaoning will be deployed in the East China Sea, while the other two aircraft carriers will be in the South China Sea. Interestingly on January 1, Xinhua showed pictures of Liaoning returning to its home base in Qingdao after month-long exercises in the South China Sea, but avoided mention of the run-in with the US-guided missile warship USS Cowpens.


JANUARY 12, 2014
By Alexandros Petersen

In a year of potential flux across Central Asia, one trend should remain constant: China’s relentless expansion of influence in the region. As Western forces withdraw (in one configuration or another) from Afghanistan, the Manas Transit Center closes in Kyrgyzstan and the United States diplomatic, development and security cooperation efforts are precipitously decreased in the area between the Black Sea and the Pamirs, leaders in the region are preparing for a reality in which they will have to balance Russia’s bombastic pugnacity with China’s economic steamroller. While it would be ideal for the locals, so to speak, to carve out their own geopolitical and economic space, this task is made more difficult with the loss of a non-Eurasian great power as a potential partner.

Were Washington wise, it would view the Afghanistan withdrawal as an opportunity to recast its Eurasia policy as one that engages the countries of the region on their merits – not as thoroughfares for Afghanistan or adjuncts to Russia. A recent excellent blog post by the team at Central Eurasia Standard highlights the long list of U.S. interests that should and will inevitably draw Washington policymakers to address Eurasia’s fluid dynamics: http://cestandard.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/10-reasons-the-us-foreign-policy-community-cant-afford-to-ignore-eurasia/

Meanwhile, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) continues to expand its energy network from the Caspian to Karamay. The latest piece was put into place on the last day of 2013, when the Kyrgyz parliament ratified a deal for CNPC to build an alternative route for the Central Asia-China pipeline through Kyrgyzstan. This network, which is set to encompass all six Central Asian states, including Afghanistan, not only brings gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Chinese consumers, but distributes gas in the region, giving CNPC notable geopolitical leverage with regional governments – a tool that only Russia’s Gazprom used to enjoy. CNPC plans continue to fluctuate, but future pipeline routes to Tajikistan, southern Uzbekistan and northern Afghanistan seem to be in the offing.

The ever insightful Chris Rickleton, writing for Eurasianet, highlights an interesting trend line, which could color Chinese approaches to investment across Central Asia: namely the simmering puissance of Sinophobia:http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67928 While the rise of extortion of and attacks on Chinese in the region will likely not stem the flow of investment and manpower coming from the east, it could stake certain communities against the Chinese presence more generally and/or force official Beijing to take a more active role in guiding the growth of what Raffaello Pantucci and I have called China’s Inadvertent Empire in the region.

It is encouraging to see that the narrative we have been promoting for over two years – that as the United States pivots to the Asia-Pacific, China pivots to Eurasia – is gaining steam in a number of outlets, most recently on Al Jazeera (http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/1/the-us-s-pivot-eastchinasmarchwest.html). However, it is worth noting that a lot of often non-specialist commentators do not quite get the picture right when examining China’s activities across Eurasia.

Readers interested in a perhaps overly detailed account of ongoing Chinese activity in the region can view my remarks at a recent Johns Hopkins SAIS Central Asia-Caucasus Institute discussion here (beginning at the 39:00 mark):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI02JFPFnGU&feature=youtu.be

For those with less free time, below is a telegraphic list of five threads to watch this coming year in the China in Central Asia story:

1. As the clout of Chinese energy companies continues to eclipse that of their Russian counterparts in the region, how and where will Beijing seek to use its increasing geopolitical leverage in Central Asia’s energy sectors? Until now, the major arena has been Turkmenistan, but look for increased activity in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

2. How will Chinese companies, traders and diplomats react – if they do at all – to Moscow’s implementation of Customs Union provisions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan? There is little evidence that Russian efforts will present a challenge to the tsunami of Chinese trade and investments in the region.

3. Will Sinophobia bubble over in a major flashpoint that will alter Chinese approaches to engagement and investment in the region? Small-scale incidents occur regularly, but it seems only a matter of time until a larger one grabs widespread attention.

4. How will Chinese actors react to the region’s looming transitions? From northern Afghanistan to the Fergana Valley to Badakhshan, Chinese investments could either come under threat due to looming political transitions or serve as a salve for tensions. The China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) does not seem capable of grappling with Central Asia’s current and potential security concerns. What might force its hand?

5. When and how will China cash its check in the region? Having provided hundreds of billions of USD in investments, tens of billions in loans and almost all of Central Asia’s new infrastructure in the past decade, while also establishing Mandarin as the region’s fastest growing language, will Beijing inject its ‘Inadvertent Empire’ with purpose?


Why Xi Is Going to Sochi

Xi’s attendance at the Sochi Olympics is meant to offer support to Russia as Moscow faces critiques over human rights.
January 22, 2014

Xi Jinping is planning to attend the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia on February 7. The official announcement, made by China’s Foreign Ministry, noted that this would be the “first time for the Chinese President to attend such a major international sports event held by a foreign country.”

So if a Chinese president has never before attended the Olympics (except, of course, for the 2008 games in Beijing), why choose now? One theory is that China is becoming increasingly involved in the sort of public diplomacy that the Olympics represent. Huang Yaling, secretary-general of the China Sport Science Society, toldXinhua that “President Xi’s attendance shows to the world China’s belief in promoting the development of the Olympics and China’s aspiration for a peaceful and beautiful world.” Image-building is definitely a factor.

Still, it’s interesting that Xi would use the Winter Olympics to make this point. By their own admission, China has little interest in the winter sports that will be on display in Sochi. In a press conference, Deputy Sports Minister Yang Shu’an said China was only a “middle” country in this field, citing a “problem of imbalance and a lack of popularity in for winter sports in China.” Clearly there are other concerns at play rather than a simple love of sport — Hu Jintao did not attend the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, though China as a whole is far more competitive at summer games.

Iran’s Navy Deploys to Atlantic Ocean

Iran on Tuesday sent two warships to the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.
January 22, 2014

Iran’s Navy began its first deployment to the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday, according to reports in local press.

The semi-official Fars News Agency, which is seen as close to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported on Tuesday that Iran has sent a navy flotilla consisting of the Khark helicopter-carrier and Sabalan destroyer to the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday. The report said they would travel some 23,000 nautical miles over the next three months.

The Navy held a ceremony to celebrate the ships’ departure, which was attended by the commander of Iran’s Navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, as well as his deputy, Rear Admiral Seyed Mahmoud Moussavi.

Iran has long discussed deploying naval assets to the Atlantic Ocean. As far back as 2011, Sayyari had threatened to deploy warships off the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

“Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to American marine borders,” Sayyari was quoted as saying at the time.

As The Diplomat previously reported, Iranian media outlets noted in August 2013 reports that Iran’s Navy “also plans to dispatch its 28th fleet to the Atlantic, Pacific or South Indian oceans in the near future.”

Iranian media have previously reported the Khark helicopter-carrier and Sabalan destroyer as making up the 27th fleet.

According to the Fars report this week, Sayyari said back in November: “The Navy’s next flotilla will be dispatched to either the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic on January 21-Feb 20.”

Fars also quoted an Iranian naval official in December as saying: “The previous flotillas of warships were sent to the Mediterranean Sea and passed the Suez Channel and even sailed through the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea. Now we intend to enter the Atlantic Ocean and this will be materialized after dispatch of the next flotillas of warships.”

In that December article, Sayyari was noted as saying that the deployments to the Atlantic Ocean would be in order to protect Iranian oil tankers and cargo ships from pirates.

Iran’s Navy has increased the range of its deployments in recent years, making port calls as far away as China and India. It has also participated extensively in the United Nations’ anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

Still, at present Iran is not able to project significant power beyond its immediate waters, where Iran’s naval assets are mostly commanded by the IRGC rather than the regular Iranian Navy, which is tasked with the longer range deployments.

The Fourth War: My Lunch with a Jihadi


As a Marine Captain in Iraq, Elliot Ackerman lost men fighting jihadis, but then he found himself breaking bread with a former adversary in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey.

The night before, Abed and I had agreed. When I met Abu Hassar, we’d lie and tell him I’d been a journalist.

We drove out of Gaziantep early that morning, stopping on the outskirts of town to pick up a twenty-piece box of baklava, Abu Hassar’s favorite. Then we took the autobahn, a newly completed feat of Turkish engineering, past the city of Urfa and to the refugee camp in Akçakale, a town less than a mile from the border where Syrian artillery rounds occasionally landed.

“It’s going to make talking about Iraq a bit awkward,” I said, looking at Abed as he drove.

As we struggled to break 130 kph, he glanced at me and our black Peugeot shook like a shuttle on reentry. His eyes shifted quickly back to the road. “Tell him you covered the war,” Abed said, his Damascene accent mixing with an English one, the result of time spent in London and a job he’d once had in the British Consulate’s cultural section.

I knew Abed was right. Abu Hassar and I were veterans of the Iraq War, albeit different sides of that war. Even in the abstract, I felt a bond to Abu Hassar but the idea that he’d feel the same towards me could, justifiably, be considered naïve and a bit delusional. From 2005 to 2008, he’d run guns and fighters across the Syrian border into Iraq, right under the nose of Assad’s secret police, the Mukhabarat. Then, in 2008, Assad’s Mukhabarat had thrown Abu Hassar in jail for three years. He’d only been released when, in the wake of the Revolution begun by democratic activists like Abed, Assad emptied the prisons of jihadists in 2011. Assad had hoped the jihadists would fight against him. A regime under siege by radical jihadists is more likely to garner international support than a regime under siege by democratic activists.

To Assad’s credit, it worked. Now many of Abu Hassar’s old jihadi friends were members of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the most hardline and controversial groups in the current Syrian Civil War. And Abed, my friend the democratic activist, wasn’t an activist anymore. He was a journalist, or, like me, he was calling himself one.

After two hours, we exited the autobahn onto an old and broken road. Abed slowed our Peugeot down, dodging potholes, driving carefully in the morning rain. My mind churned over the questions I’d ask Abu Hassar. To settle my thoughts, I looked out the window. The road was straight and flat. In the distance were the wet hills of Syria’s Ar-Raqqah Governorate. Between the hills and us, soggy fires burned the bare cotton stalks of an early winter harvest. Bales were stacked in the fields among clods of wet earth. Fleks of cotton rose in the hot air and made little blazes here and there. They looked liked fireflies in the day.

The Case for Aid

It's become fashionable to argue that foreign aid doesn't make a difference. Here’s why the critics couldn't be more wrong.
JANUARY 21, 2014

I have long believed in foreign aid as one tool of economic development. This is not an easy position to maintain, especially in the United States, where public misunderstanding, politics, and ideology all tend to keep aid an object of contempt for many people. Yet the recent evidence shows that development aid, when properly designed and delivered, works, saving the lives of the poor and helping to promote economic growth. Indeed, based on this evidence, Bill and Melinda Gates released a powerful letter to the public today also underscoring the importance and efficacy of foreign aid.

As experience demonstrates, it is possible to use our reason, management know-how, technology, and learning by doing to design highly effective aid programs that save lives and promote development. This should be done in global collaboration with national and local communities, taking local circumstances into account. The evidence bears out this approach.

Of course, I do not believe that aid is the sole or main driver of economic development. I do not believe that aid is automatically effective. Nor should we condone bad governance in Africa -- or in Washington, for that matter. Aid is one development tool among several; it works best in conjunction with sound economic policies, transparency, good governance, and the effective deployment of new technologies. 

Professor William Easterly of New York University has long been a vocal opponent of aid, and recently declared that the aid debate was "over," claiming victory for his theory that large-scale aid projects are doomed to fail. This blanket claim flies in the face of recent experience. Prof. Easterly has been proven wrong in both diagnosis and prescription.

During the past 13 years, the greatest breakthroughs in aid quantity and quality came from the field of public health (unlike other social sectors, such as education and sanitation, where aid increases were far less notable). As a result, the outcomes in public health in poor countries have also advanced markedly. Not only did aid quantities for public health improve; new public health institutions, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, were created to promote the effective delivery of the increased aid.

The approach of increased aid that is well targeted through innovative institutions has been enormously successful in improving public health in low-income countries. One could cite many examples ranging from the scale-up of vaccine coverage (largely through GAVI and UNICEF) to increased treatment coverage for HIV/AIDS and expanded tuberculosis control (through the Global Fund and the U.S. PEPFAR program), but I will focus specifically on malaria control, since Prof. Easterly was particularly pointed in his opposition to the mass scale-up of malaria control that has proved to be so successful. Fortunately, the global community did not heed Easterly's erroneous advice, and followed a path that the public health community strongly advocated.