28 January 2014

Maoists Look for Safe Sanctuaries and External Support


January 27, 2014

A media report of 17 January this year, said a large number of armed guerrillas of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or Maoists in short, have infiltrated into Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh comes as no surprise. Of course, it is difficult to hazard a guess at the number of rebels that have moved across the porous border between Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and from the adjoining areas of Gondia (Maharashtra). The enclosed map shows a few safe sanctuaries in the Maoist-affected areas indicating that in case of sustained operations and hot pursuit by the security forces (SF) against the Maoists, they could move into some of the prominent forested areas - also characterised by their remoteness and vulnerable population. These include general areas in and around Malkangiri, Abhujmarh, Gadchiroli, Balaghat, Balrampur and Sarguja, and Saranda. Interestingly, all these lie along inter-state boundaries. The bi-junctions and tri-junctions are known to be the most vulnerable areas.

On 29 May last year, the Maoists - in one of the deadliest pre-planned attacks - had successfully ambushed a convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh's Bastar district, killing 29 people. The immediate reaction of the rebels was to cross over to southern parts of Odisha, which thereafter resulted in an increase in violence, particularly in Malkangiri and Koraput. The SF too had further intensified their operations in southern Odisha (Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagarh, Navrangpura etc), southern Chhattisgarh with greater focus on the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. They have met with a large measure of success, resulting in apprehension, elimination or surrender of a few rebels. Gudsa Usendi (GVK Prasad), leader and spokesperson of Dandyakarna Special Zonal Committee (DSZC) surrendered to the Andhra Pradesh police in early January 2014, after having remained with the Maoists (particularly in Chhattisgarh) for about three decades. The rebels have also remained active in the conflict areas by resorting to killing civilians and security personnel, laying IEDs and preventing development activities by destroying plant equipment and vehicles of contractors. If we plot, on a map, the areas in which the operations were conducted by the SF and the places where the rebels have experienced the heat of such operations, the Maoists could possibly move into the adjoining areas of Balaghat (Madhya Pradesh) to the west or Andhra Pradesh in the south or forested areas in the north, to seek refuge. Considering the overall status of anti- Maoist operations, the distances involved and the success achieved by the Andhra Pradesh's police, Balaghat forests and ghats appeared to offer a relatively safer sanctuary.

Movement of the Maoists into an otherwise relatively dormant Balaghat region was quite expected. It has been reported that one of the Local Guerrilla Squad (LGS) commanders, named Dilip, who has been on the wanted list, has led the armed Maoists into the Balaghat region. Balaghat has also been in the news in recent times due to activities of the Tanda Dalam (guerrilla squad). Coupled with this, a few suspected Maoists were arrested in early January 2014. Balaghat district - one of the poorer district - lies along the south eastern portion of the Satpura Range, and has a series of ghats, laden with dense forest cover. In addition, it is extremely rich in minerals such as manganese, bauxite, copper, marble, dolomite, limestone and clay. Balaghat has all the ingredients required to bolster Maoists activities - difficult terrain, dense forests, vulnerable population. While such forested areas and ghats provide safe sanctuaries to the Naxals, it is also easier to move across the porous border into Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra to escape the dragnet of the operations by the SF.

Network Centric Warfare

Date : 27 Jan , 2014

No matter the advancements in robotics, the importance of the ‘man behind the machine’ will remain relevant. This is equally applicable to Network Centric Warfare (NCW). The success of NCW rests on the idea that information is only useful if it enables more effective action. Significantly, the key to success of NCW is not technology but people who will use it – the human dimension, which is based on professional mastery and mission command requiring high standards of training, education, doctrine, organisation and leadership. It is about the way people collaborate to share their awareness of the situation in order to fight more effectively. The human dimension of NCW is complex, difficult to conceptualise and defence forces all over the globe are struggling with the issue, experimenting to achieve breakthroughs in varied measure.

Advancements in robotics notwithstanding, the role of the ‘man behind the machine’ will continue to remain critical and relevant. This is equally applicable to Network Centric Warfare (NCW). The success of NCW rests on the idea that information is only useful if it enables more effective action. Significantly, the key to success of NCW is not technology but personnel who will use it – the human dimension, which is based on professional mastery and mission command requiring high standards of training, education, doctrine, organisation and leadership. It is about the way people collaborate to share their awareness of the situation in order to fight more effectively. The human dimension of NCW is complex, difficult to conceptualise and defence forces all over the globe are struggling with the issue, experimenting to achieve breakthroughs in varied measure.

The Issue

The role of information in NCW is clear but much needs to be understood how human beings share, absorb and make sense of available information and then make decisions based on that information. Simply increasing the amount of information available to commanders does not necessarily result in improved knowledge nor help them make better decisions. The premise, that more information is better, is not always true. Though gathering information enhances intelligence, it also must aid understanding and decision making. Coupled with the aspect of information are issues such as understanding the power of the applications itself, for example, knowing properties and limitations of the Decision Support System (DSS).

The purpose of an information management strategy is to improve human ability to find data and to understand it on receipt…

The purpose of an information management strategy is to improve human ability to find data and to understand it on receipt. In a network centric environment, team decision making and situation assessment are distributed in both time and space. Shared understanding among team members with regard to the impact, importance and quality of relevant information items is critical element in selection of an effective course of action. The focus required is the minimum information that needs to be exchanged, how to capture that information and how to best display it.

In the US, NATO and Coalition Forces, “Chat” has become a dominant communication vehicle. Based on a compilation across multiple stakeholders and inputs chat tools are developed to meet user needs in a dynamic environment. Implementation of these chat tools enables effectiveness and efficiency because they facilitate situational awareness. They allow users to gain timely access to chat information as well as provide optimal archiving and retrieval capabilities besides facilitating timely message composition, transmission and receipt user identification and the like.

2013 could be beginning of watershed moment in China's history

27 January 2014

The ’China Dream’ is part of the new Chinese leadership’s attempt to find a balance between reforms, social changes and corruption that took place in frenzied pace since 1989, according to Dr. Tansen Sen, Associate Professor of Asian History, Baruch College, City University New York, USA. 

Delivering a lecture on ’China After Thirty Years: Reflections on a Changing Society’ at the ORF Kolkata Chapter on 21 January, Dr. Sen said the idea of ’China Dream’ could have occurred to President Xi Jinping from the 2008 Beijing Olympics for which he was in charge of preparations. The motto of Beijing Olympics, ’One World, One Dream, ’may have helped shape Xi’s idea of the ’One China Dream’ which is also being referred to as the ’Chinese Dream.’ 

The distinction between individual aspirations and a national dream is clear to the Chinese government where there are contradictions between the political system and the consumerism-driven economy, Dr. Sen added. He said that the Third Plenum tries to come to terms with such contradictions between the government and the society at large. During this phase, Dr. Sen said, there does not seem to have been a clear direction guiding reforms and policies to address the needs of a changing society. These seem to be the main goals under President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. 

Dr. Sen said that the year 2013 could be the beginning of a watershed moment in China’s contemporary history. 

One of the important developments in the past year or so in China, according to Dr. Sen, has been the way in which the Chinese are reflecting and expressing their views on the recent, post-1949, history. People are, for example, beginning to talk about and undertake research on the Cultural Revolution more thoroughly than any time before. In the last 8 to 10 months, several former Red Guards have come out and expressed themselves in public and apologised for the wrongs they committed during the Cultural Revolution. Similarly, there are universities and institutions that are conducting research and publishing their outcome. This marks a dramatic change from the 1980s when individual expressions about the Cultural Revolution were restricted and controlled. 

Left-wing Extremism 2013: The Threat Continues

26 January 2014
N Manoharan

Left-wing Extremism (LWE) continued to remain as one of the major challenges to India’s internal security in 2013. Its intensity persisted especially in three states – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa – apart from significant presence in West Bengal, Bihar, and Maharashtra. At the same time, the left-wing extremists have successfully managed to penetrate into some of the states of the northeast and south of India and into few of the urban areas.

The Expansion in 2013

In 2013, the Maoists continue to push the boundaries of the ‘Red Corridor’ and set up support bases in upper Assam and some of the tribal areas in the hilly interiors. The presence of Maoists is felt in pockets of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Sivasagar, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam and Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh (adjoining Tinsukia). The Maoists have also been trying to extend their presence in southern India, especially around tri-junction of Tamil Nadu-Kerala-Karnataka. As far as urban areas are concerned, significant Maoist activities, especially of its front organisations, have been reported from places like Delhi and the National Capital Region, Gurgaon, NOIDA, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Nagpur, Surat, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Raipur, Durg, Patna, Hyderabad, Rourkela, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati and Chandigarh.

Decline in Violence Statistics in 2013

Compared to 2011-12, the number of violent incidents and killings due to LWE has come down in 2013. However, though less in numbers, the attacks by Maoists have been intense and brutal. One of such ruthless attacks was made on a convoy of Congress leaders and workers at Jeeram Ghati in Jagdalpur district of Chhattisgarh on 25 May 2013 that claimed 28 lives and injured scores of others. Those killed included Mahendra Karma, a former Minister of Chhattisgarh and a former Lok Sabha member, Nand Kumar Patel, the state’s Congress chief, his son Dinesh Patel, and former MLA Uday Mudliyar; former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla and Konta MLA Kawasi Lakhma were critically injured. The convoy was an ideal target because of the presence of many high-profile leaders in one place, and that too with less security cover, passing through a most vulnerable area.

The year witnessed a shrink in the number of middle- and top-level Maoist leaders due to killings or arrests or surrenders. This happened mostly in Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Yet, one cannot assert with absolute confidence that the Left-wing Extremism is on the wane. 

Securing Afghanistan: India needs to go beyond symbolism

Raghav Sharma
27 January 2014

"The coordinated group martyrdom attack which struck the restaurant 'Taverna du Liban' of foreign invaders at 07:30 pm last night (January 18) lasted till 09:30 pm local time in which the invaders suffered heavy losses, according to officials. The target of the attack was a restaurant frequented by high ranking foreigners."

The above statement by Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the dastardly attack in the heart of Kabul's diplomatic zone on 18 January that killed 21 people. The scale of preparation and ammunition required to execute the attack must have been smuggled into the capital. This points to gaps in the intelligence mechanism -- something that the country can ill-afford as Afghans increasingly take to the drivers seat. The attack was a stark reminder of the escalating levels of violence. Further, such attacks underscore a significant psychological victory for the Taliban and their patrons. It also helps the Taliban capture public imagination far more than their ability to control territory in their traditional strongholds. Finally and significantly, it causes immense anxiety concerning if and how would Afghanistan be secured once the transition process is complete. Accentuating this sense of anxiety is the impending political transition in April 2014 as well as the refusal by President Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US. 

Spelling out a chronological timeframe for the transition, not necessarily linked to performance benchmarks of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Obama in June 2011 appeared resigned to the inability of the US mission to secure Afghanistan. He remarked: "Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security?.We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government." 

This admission comes notwithstanding the monumental scale of international intervention can be gauged from the fact that since 2001 over US $ 286.4 billion in military and humanitarian aid have been allocated to Afghanistan. The security sector has been the largest recipient of aid flows, with US $ 29 billion of the 57 billion dollars in aid disbursed being allocated to the security sector. 

However questions abound in many people's minds is that as Afghanistan inches closer to completing the inteqaal ( the Pushtu-Dari word for transition) process by December 2014, is the Afghan state ready to truly step up to the plate? 

As the ANSF takes the lead in providing security across the country, figures available do not appear to support Obama's proclamation in his last state of the Union address: "?by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over". It contradicts the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Committee which notes that the "...Taliban-led insurgency?remains resilient and capable of challenging US and international goals." As the ANSF takes charge of security there has been a steady escalation in levels of violence with United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) recording a "...10 per-cent increase in civilian casualties in 2013" compared to 2012. Further, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on-going conflict has internally displaced an estimated 600,000 and with this number expected to rise further in 2014. It has also ensured that Afghanistan continues to be the world's largest producer of refugees. 

Pakistan: Prospects for 2014


The conflict within Pakistan has multiple dimensions. Three of Pakistan’s four provinces, Baluchistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continue to be plagued by violence, and FATA is, for the most part, outside the control of the state. With Pakistan’s Punjab province increasingly being subjected to terrorist attacks, some form of terrorist violence now affects the whole country. While terrorism within Pakistan is not a new phenomenon, what gives the current narrative reasons for increased concern is the multiplicity of threats against the state, which cannot but bode ill for its stability. Insurgency and terrorism through the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has not only not been controlled, but the militants appear to be on the ascendant; sectarian violence is creating deeper schisms between the majority Sunni and minority Shia populace of Pakistan, and also between the Deobandhi and Barelvi factions within the larger Sunni group. Insurgency in Baluchistan remains worrying, with Karachi, the heart of the country’s economy, in flames. The message emanating from opinion makers and thought leaders in Pakistan appears increasingly gloomy and pessimistic. Consider just two statements from the many, which have emanated from the Pakistani media over the last fortnight.

Ejaz Haider is caustic when he states…“Let no words be minced. The rats are winning. They are winning the war psychologically and ideologically. That is always the essence in any war but more so of irregular wars.”[1] Aasim Zafar Khan says much the same thing… ‘Thirty attacks. In 24 days. And that’s assuming there won’t be one today and tomorrow when this column appears in the paper. Must be some kind of new grisly record. And yet, the state remains deep in an opiate slumber.[2]

But what of the thought leaders of Pakistan[3]. As per Riffat Hussain, academic and security analyst, Pakistan’s foremost challenge in 2014 is ‘the poor health of the economy with stagnant exports, rising imports, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, a depreciating rupee, severely reduced FDIs, crippling energy shortages and galloping inflation. Unless the government makes a concerted effort to reverse these negative trends on a war footing, the country’s social stability cannot be guaranteed’. Zahid Hussain, a senior journalist views a nightmarish scenario unfolding for Pakistan, with the country facing an existentialist threat from rising militancy that has already claimed thousands of lives. He goes on to state that, ‘it is a disturbing reality that radical Islamic elements have as much if not more power over Pakistani society than the state. While the state has failed to develop a national narrative against militancy, an obscurantist ideology still holds sway’. Najmuddin Shaikh, former foreign Secretary is of the view that the foremost principal challenge to Pakistan will be Afghanistan and the fallout from the economic slump that the country will experience in the coming year. He visualises about two million economic refugees pouring into Pakistan if the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) is signed without reconciliation. According to Mahmud Ali Durrani, former NSA, Pakistan is confronted with almost half a dozen challenges, which can be classified as serious, or life-threatening. These include terrorism, poor governance, economic ills, illiteracy, an exploding population, an exodus of young talent and finally a mounting energy crisis. However, the mother of all these problems is a weak and corrupt political leadership, which in spite of its impressive rhetoric, is comprehensively incompetent. The list is endless, but perhaps one more needs to be quoted. Ashraf J Qazi, a former Pakistan ambassador considers the systemic state dysfunctionality as the foremost challenge facing Pakistan. He talks of it ‘as a progressive political condition which need not end in state demise, but in dysfunctional state equilibrium – an even worse prognosis’.

Big Year for Myanmar Economic Reforms

Can the country maintain the reform momentum ahead of elections?
By Philip Heijmans
January 28, 2014

Myanmar’s parliament reconvened on January 13 with some 30 crucial proposed bills on the table, among them the establishment of a special economic zone law, mining regulations and the revamping of the foreign investment law. One thing was abundantly clear, 2014 is going to be a busy year.

The stage for continued economic reform in this once isolated country was set by a series of unprecedented milestones last year, including the announcement of two international telecommunications firms as winners of a tender to develop Myanmar’s mobile infrastructure, and the implementation of guidelines for the Foreign Investment Law. Now, with global firms across all sectors waiting in the wings for the passage of new investment rules that would allow them to do business in Myanmar for the first time in 50 years, the pressure is on the government to keep its promise of opening the economic borders by 2015.

The success of Myanmar’s economy in the lead up to general elections next year, international finance institutions have stressed, will hinge on addressing growing political concerns, including media and human rights as well as faltering efforts to maintain a ceasefire with ethnic groups entrenched in the far reaches of the country.

“The economic transition faces momentous challenges, but holds even greater promise and opportunities,” Ulrich Zachau, Myanmar country director for the World Bank, said at the end of last year. “Continued fundamental reforms, sustained with patience and commitment by all, hold the key for Myanmar’s…transition to reduce poverty and tangibly improve the lives of people throughout the country.”

If successful, foreign investment into Myanmar’s economy is expected to continue to grow to the tune of 6.8 percent this year, as the quasi-civilian government moves into its third year at the helm, according to the World Bank. Foreign direct investment (FDI), meanwhile, is on pace for a record year, after reaching $1.8 billion in just five months of the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to government data. This significantly outpaces $2.7 billion in FDI for all of 2012, which in itself was a 42.1 percent increase from 2011.

The End of Childhood in Asia

By Pankaj Mishra - Jan 26, 2014

Bollywood’s biggest international success, after many expensive and absurd attempts to break through abroad, was the 2009 film “3 Idiots.” Based on a novel by the Indian writer Chetan Bhagat, the movie follows three engineering students struggling to realize their deepest desires against the punitive strictures of teachers and parents. Meeting young people from China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan early this month at a conference in Hong Kong, I had a clearer sense of why East Asian millennials responded so keenly to the film’s evocation of a life beyond and above conventional notions of success.

Needless to say, the young Chinese I talked to were not among the 61 million kids -- 22 percent of all children in China today -- who, according to a disquieting recent story in Bloomberg Businessweek, live apart from their migrant-worker parents. Growing up amid steady economic growth, the South Koreans and Taiwanese were not nearly as disadvantaged as the fresh-faced graduates I met last year in Spain (a country with almost 50 percent youth unemployment rates), who forlornly inquired about job prospects in the U.K.

Still, the Asian students’ anxieties about the future were deep and genuine. Unlike their parents, they live lives tied to large global processes and exposed to peer pressure of an unprecedented sort. They have come of age in a world of unstable capital and trade flows, in which information about apparently high-achieving rivals in other countries is readily available. And now they find themselves, while still in their late teens and early 20s, coerced into an extensive and often traumatic project of self-remaking.

It was the ruthless modernizer Josef Stalin who first spoke about “the engineering of human souls,” deeming it essential to the creation of a socialist paradise. In recent decades, a more ambitious and truly global attempt at utopia has mandated another kind of retrofitted human being: one that is aggressively entrepreneurial and individualistic, relentlessly boosting his or her portfolio with educational and professional achievements.

The French social historian Philippe Aries famously argued that the expansion of formal schooling during the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe had created the modern concept of childhood by removing children from adult society, and drawing attention to their particular needs and abilities. One could argue that the Asia-wide obsession with vocational education and careers has led to the opposite -- the early exposure of children to the tasks and responsibilities of adult society, and the destruction of childhood.

The freedom and innocence of youth has been cruelly foreshortened by the imperative to train early -- through a joyless regime of coaching classes and entrance exams enforced by tiger moms, dragon teachers and other fierce taskmasters. Many among the striving young then find that success is not guaranteed in the scramble for skills and jobs in an unforgiving new world, where whatever comparative advantage one may have always seems to be slipping away.

This is true in even those societies that have achieved the holy grail of modernization or high income. The strains of the post-development world are most visible in Japan, which long ago achieved the goals that India and China are still inching toward: It completed the rural-to-urban transition, industrialized successfully, and found its own utopia of consumerism.

Two decades of economic recession have since exposed Japan to the challenges of life beyond economic growth. Hundreds of thousands of young people never leave their homes. Bookshops are full of guidebooks advising parents how to prevent their children from becoming freeters-- young men and women moving from one low-paid temporary job to another.

Targeting Minorities: Emerging Trend in Bangladesh and Pakistan

C Uday Bhaskar
Member, Executive Committee, IPCS

Even as India celebrated its Republic Day to reiterate its commitment to the Constitution and the equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion, caste, language and ethnicity – a dangerous trend is emerging in South Asia where the ‘other’ has become the target of murderous politics.

Nowhere is this more evident than in neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan where the minority community – however described - has become the target of such organised killings and rape. Constitutionally, both Bangladesh and Pakistan are ostensibly committed to the protection of their minorities but the reality is that a whole pattern of politics has become entrenched wherein a corrosive and distorted ideology has determinedly ‘bloodied’ the waters.

India and other South Asian nations including Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan are differently grappling with this malignancy and a review of what is happening in Bangladesh and the extrapolation to the daily violence that is racking Pakistan are instructive.

Almost twenty people were killed on 5 January when Bangladesh went to the polls that were boycotted by the main opposition party – the BNP. Scores more were killed in the run-up to the election, and the more disturbing aspect was the deliberate targeting of the Hindu minority by the BNP and their ideological alliance partner – the Jamaat. The community who are perceived to be staunch supporters of the ruling Awami League (AL), spread across Jessore, Gaibandha, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Rajshahi and parts of Chittagong were the targets of the BNP-Jamaat violence. As is common in the region, shops were looted and burnt, temples vandalised and idols desecrated, while women were raped and innocents killed.

Liberal opinion in Bangladesh remains anguished but helpless in the face of this organised pogrom tacitly supported by the BNP, and some commentators have compared the 2013-14 blood-bath with the genocide of 1970-71 unleashed by the Pakistani Army supported by the local Jamaat prior to the birth of Bangladesh.

It merits repetition that a large cross-section of Bangladeshi opinion is ranged against such communal violence and condemns the politics and ideology of the BNP-Jamaat. A thoughtful observation by an eminent editor, Syed Badrul Ahsan, merits recall. Ruing the anti-Hindu sentiment that is being stoked, Ahsan writes: “No, communalism has not died in this country. When you yet have Hindu men forced out of their hearths and homes, when there are yet rapacious fanatics waiting to destroy the modesty of Hindu women, when it is Hindu property which is yet the object of covetousness on the part of many Muslims, you cannot say that this is a truly secular Bengali republic. Add to that the indifference of the police and the local administration in coming to the aid of the persecuted Hindus? Do not forget the brazen behaviour of the police in declining to come to the aid of the nation's Buddhists when their homes and temples were razed to the ground by Muslim bigots in Ramu. Civilized, educated, liberal Muslims have wept in silence at the humiliation of their Hindu and Buddhist neighbours.” (Daily Star, 22 January 2014).

Nepal- Post Elections: The State of the Parties: Update No. 291

Note No. 707 Dated 27-Jan-2014
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

After a delay of over two months, the interim Parliament convened on Jan 22 with the veteran 86 year old Surya Bahadur Thapa in the chair. 

In all, 565 out of 601 members took the oath of office in 11 different languages, proving once again that Nepal being a multi ethnic, multi lingual country, multi cultural country, the decision to have a federal constitution appears to be the right choice of the people.

Though all parties vowed to bring in a new constitution within one year, it looks that from the way the parties took their own time to produce their list of candidates for proportional representation, that delayed the convening the parliament, it is very doubtful whether they could arrive at a new draft within the stipulated period. Even the dead line for submitting the list had to be postponed twice by the Election Commission to accommodate the parties!

There were many internal problems in the parties in choosing the candidates for the PR list. There was an acrimonious discussion in the UCPN (M) - (Dahal’s) central committee meeting that accused Dahal of having included his own candidates for the list without consulting other senior colleagues like Baburam Bhattatarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha. Seats were supposed to have been sold to the highest bidders in some of the other parties. There appears to be a need to review the entire mode of proportional election system. One way could be for the parties to give a prioritised list even before the elections to avoid “horse trading” that is alleged to have occurred.

The Parties do not seem to understand the urgency of the situation and the mandate given by the people to get on with the constitution making has already been ignored!

Then there was the controversy over who would call for the assembly- the President or the interim Chairman of the council who conducted the elections. This controversy unfortunately was raised by the President’s office itself. It was finally discovered that the prerogative is not with the President.

The second issue was whether the President and Vice President could continue in their posts when fresh elections for another interim assembly had taken place. The Supreme Court on a PIL petition filed, declared that the present incumbents President and Vice President could continue till a fresh constitution is in place. Yet the UML and UCPN (M) are bent upon having a fresh election for the post of President and Vice President. The President, Ram Baran Yadav, having served over five years could gracefully leave in view of the controversy surrounding his continuation. Yet he is still digging his heels and this is another controversy that has unnecessarily arisen.

All the parties are having problems in electing their parliamentary leaders and for the Nepali Congress this is crucial as their leader would be the Prime minister being the party with the largest number of candidates.

The top three leaders of the Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ramachandra Paudel have ambitions of their own to be the next prime minister. Sushil has nothing else to recommend except in carrying the Koirala name, while Deuba had been a prime minister thrice and in one instance was openly declared to be incompetent. Paudel unlike Robert Bruce tried many times to be the Prime minister in the last assembly but failed. The talks amongst the three continued till late night of 25th and no consensus could be arrived at. An election had to be held. With Paudel and thirty of his followers throwing in their lot with Koirala, the latter won with 105 votes as against 89 votes for Deuba.

This election showed that there had been no real merger of the Deuba group with the main Nepali Congress groups and that the patched up merger has shown cracks once again. 

With this kind of a split in the ranks of the Nepali Congress one wonders how they are going to carry on the government and produce a constitution within one year as promised. With their house in disorder how do they expect other parties to support them to produce the constitution which is still the main task of the present assembly? It looks that they are out to destroy the immense faith the people have placed on them to provide stability and move on!


Rising nationalism and an increasingly hawkish military pose a major challenge for China’s new leadership, writes Subir Bhaumik

China’s neighbours have good reasons to be alarmed by recent suggestions made by a General of the People’s Liberation Army that Beijing should opt for “limited armed conflict” to settle the country’s maritime territorial disputes in the East and South China sea. That this comes after China established controversial air defence identification zones and no-fishing zones over these seas has possibly added to their worries.

One can discern a pattern in these hawkish military attitudes that seeks to capitalize on China’s growing domestic constituency for aggressive nationalism. India got a taste of it last summer when the PLA moved nearly 20 kms inside what India perceives to be her territory at Depsang bulge in Ladakh. Now China’s south-east Asian neighbours are experiencing this teacher-and-bully tactics with some Chinese official threatening war and some visiting Chinese ministers offering more aid and trade.

Liu Yazhou, now political commissar at the PLA’s National Defence University, said in a recent interview that such conflicts would be a good chance to test the country’s military prowess. “An army that fails to achieve victory is nothing,” Liu was quoted as telling theGuofang Cankao, or the Defence Reference Magazine. He advocated that the PLA could emerge as a modern military power by “seizing opportunities” for war. A growing number of hawkish generals, backed by a fiercely nationalist young officer corps, makes the PLA ever more ambitious in trying to flex its muscles — whether to corner an ever-greater share of the national budget or to go a step further by reversing the Maoist dictum of the party controlling the gun is what one would have to closely follow.

Some China-watchers like Huang Jin of the National University of Singapore compare the situation in the country today to the Japan of the 1930s with a hawkish military elite backed by a nationalist popular surge seeking wars to justify its raison d’être. For China’s new leadership, this is a very hot mix to control and one that would test its mettle to the hilt.

When Liu Yazhou recommended a “limited war” in the South China sea, other Chinese analysts were quick to point out the fallacies behind such arguments. Some even said that such “reckless talk of conflict would harm the nation’s long-term interests”. Xu Guangyu , a retired major-general, was quick to point out that Liu’s views may reflect views supported by some PLA leaders, but do not reflect official thinking. A Macau-based analyst, Antony Wong Dong, says that Liu might be trying to please President Xi Jinping who, he says, needs to show that the military supports his decision to announce the air defence zone over the disputed seas. But is Xi trying to play along with the military to ensure that he has their loyalty to be able to ultimately control them? The veteran China-watcher, David Shanbaugh, has even argued that China’s new leaders are fast losing control over their foreign policy because they do not really know how to handle the aggressive nationalism that spurs a hawkish military. That is a dangerous scenario for the world, if this is true.

Why China’s Carrier Program Makes (Some) Sense

China’s interest in aircraft carriers is a strategic calculation based in the psychology of modern warfare.
January 27, 2014

The reactions to what appeared to be the confirmation last week that China has embarked on a program to build its own aircraft carrier were as varied as they were expected, ranging from alarmism to the usual dismissal of the large platforms as little more than hugely expensive boats for enemy target practice. While carriers do indeed have severe vulnerabilities, they are not without their uses, though those are a function of the role(s) they are expected to play.

The first role is more psychological than utilitarian. There is no doubt that China’s domestic program is directly related to the country’s desire to be regarded as a major power, of which aircraft carriers, warts notwithstanding, serve as an undeniable symbol. Although the acquisition of the ex-Varyag, its eventual refurbishment, and its rechristening as theLiaoning following its entry into service, provided a major boost to China’s self-image, the platform nevertheless served as reminder of China’s reliance on external assistance. For that reason alone, a domestic carrier will help China cross a very important psychological barrier and signal to the world that it is now a major and, perhaps more importantly, self-sufficient power.

Additionally, the program cannot be dissociated from the need for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) services to justify growing budgets (a carrier project, while already requiring extraordinary amounts of funding, will in turn generate further budgetary requirements as carrier battle groups must be built to accompany them, while carrier-capable aircraft must also be created).

Evidently, the ambitions of military services alone would not in and of themselves be sufficient to rationalize the allocation of such budgets without the acquiescence of the political leadership and the conditions that can help justify their development. China’s regional — and perhaps global — ambitions, which seem to be expanding under Xi Jinping’s leadership (though the carrier program would likely have been approved under the Hu Jintao administration), make it easier to sell the need for various power-projection platforms such as aircraft carriers.

The key term here is power projection. In an age where a number of countries, big and small, have acquired or can easily acquire the means to sink aircraft carriers, the decision to build and deploy expensive and ultimately vulnerable platforms may appear counterintuitive. After all, critics would argue that from a purely combat perspective, it would be much more sensible to build dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller vessels equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles for the same price, what with the advantages of dispersal, radar evasion, and so on.

Lessons from the Battle of the Paracel Islands

Forty years on, the battle has enduring lessons for Vietnam’s naval modernization.
By Ngo Minh Tri and Koh Swee Lean Collin
January 23, 2014

On January 16, 1974, the Republic of Vietnam Navy (RVN) discovered the presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Crescent Group in the western Paracel Islands, which was held by South Vietnam. This was an unexpected development, because notwithstanding the reduced U.S. military assistance to Saigon after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, and subsequent reduction of South Vietnamese garrisons on the islands, the Chinese had not taken unilateral actions to subvert the status quo – by which the Amphitrite Group in the eastern Paracels and the Crescent Group were respectively under Chinese and South Vietnamese control.

Over the next two days, the opposing naval forces jostled with one another in close-proximity maneuvers off the islands, before a firefight erupted as the South Vietnamese troops attempted to recapture Duncan Island. The skirmish subsequently escalated with overwhelming Chinese reinforcements deployed to the clash zone, including close air support staged from nearby Hainan Island and missile-armed Hainan-class patrol vessels. Shorn of American naval support, given that the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet was then scaling down its presence in the South China Sea following the peace accords of 1973, the RVN was utterly defeated. Beijing swiftly exploited the naval victory with an amphibious landing in force to complete its control of all the Paracel Islands.

The Battle of the Paracel Islands has since gone down history as the first Sino-Vietnamese naval skirmish in the quest for control over the South China Sea isles. The Sino-Vietnamese naval skirmish in the nearby Spratly Islands in 1988 was the second and final such instance. Since then, tensions have eased. There have been continued exchanges at the ruling party level and between the countries’ militaries (including the hosting of a PLA Navy South Sea Fleet delegation to a Vietnamese naval base). Beijing and Hanoi have also recently inaugurated mutual consultations on joint marine resource development in the South China Sea.

However, the Battle of Paracel Islands in 1974 yields some useful and enduring lessons for Hanoi and its ongoing naval modernization in the South China Sea, particularly in the face of geopolitical developments.

Enduring Lesson #1: Diplomacy is the First Recourse… But Not the Sole Recourse

No international and regional treaties constitute perfect safeguards against unilateral action, including threat or use of force. The landmark Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea inked in 2002 between China and the Southeast Asian claimants has not been entirely successful. In fact, unilateral actions aimed at subverting the status quo in the South China Sea by threat or use of force has continued to dominate. Recent video footage revealed by China’s CCTV in January 2014 showed a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese law enforcement ships off the Paracel Islands back in 2007. More recent, recurring incidents included the harassment of Vietnamese survey ships by Chinese vessels, the Sino-Philippine maritime standoff in the Scarborough Shoal in April 2012 and, later, the show of force by Chinese surveillance ships and naval frigates off the Philippine-held Second Thomas Shoal. These episodes bear an eerie resemblance to the sort of naval jostling that led to the skirmish back in 1974.

Why is the US helping China look for oil in the South China Sea?

Stormy weather ahead? National Science Foundation

Political tensions in the South China Sea have seldom been higher, with China’s “marine identification zone” deemed a provocative threat to peace by neighboring countries and the United States. The vast area, variously claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other southeast Asian countries, is hotly contested in part because it is thought to hold vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

It’s easy, then, to foresee some sticky scenarios emerging from an unusual joint research trip set to embark this week. Thirty-one geologists from 10 countries—including 13 from China and nine from the United States—will spend two months drilling rock samples in the South China Sea. The trip is funded mostly by China, but will take place on a US-operated drilling vessel, the JOIDES Resolution, under the auspices of the International Ocean Discovery Program.

If the group finds oil deposits, as a previous research expedition did in the late 1990s, it will raise the diplomatic stakes for the countries vying for control of the South China Sea waterways and islands, such as the Spratleys and Paracels.

“Oil and gas fields lie close to the coast, but the key is to open the treasure box buried beneath the basin,” Wang Pinxian, a marine geologist and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the South China Morning Post. Estimates vary widely, but the South China Sea could hold up to 17 billion tonnes (18.7 billion tons) of oil and 498 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to Cnooc, China’s state-controlled energy group.

The JOIDES Resolution was previously funded largely by the National Science Foundation, a US federal agency, but thanks to budget cuts last year China needed to step in to finance the South China Sea trip. “The generosity of the Chinese government—which is paying US$6 million, or 70 per cent, of the expedition’s cost—was a deciding factor,” the Post reported.

Rocky waters between China and Japan could buffet America

You can see the danger signs from Richmond, Va., to Harbin, Manchuria: The major powers of East Asia are increasingly angry with each other. That could bring trouble to the region and, while we’re not paying much attention, to the United States, too.

The skirmish at the Virginia General Assembly might seem comical to most Americans. Trying to please their Korean-American voters, Northern Virginia legislators introduced a bill requiring Virginia textbooks to note that the Sea of Japan is also known as the East Sea. Japan’s government is lobbying to kill the measure.

Honestly, you might say, who cares?

But like many long-standing disputes, the argument over place names has taken on new urgency in the context of China’s rise, Japan’s resurgence and uncertainties in the region about the United States’ staying power.

Bitterness spilled out a few days ago when China opened a “memorial hall” — really a small museum — honoring a Korean activist at the Harbin railway station where, in 1909, he assassinated a former Japanese prime minister.

A Japanese official denounced China for glorifying a “terrorist.” A South Korean politician responded, “If Ahn Jung-geun was a terrorist, then Japan was a terrorist state for having mercilessly invaded and plundered countries around it.”

The opposing views of history aren’t new. Korea, which was annexed by Japan shortly after the assassination, years ago put Ahn on a 200-won postage stamp. The assassinated prime minister, Hirobumi Ito, adorned Japan’s 1,000-yen notes. Korea has long urged China to establish a memorial on the site of the killing.

What’s changed is China’s attitude. After years of politely rebuffing the Korean request, the Chinese government apparently decided it had little to lose in further souring relations with Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month made a similar calculation when he visited the shrine to Japan’s World War 11 dead, including its war criminals, knowing the visit would inflame both China and Korea.

“The competition for leadership in Asia is alive and intensifying,” former State Department official Dan Twining recently wrote in Foreign Policy. With roughly $8 trillion in annual output, China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. But Japan, at about $6 trillion, is not far behind, and Abe has made clear he does not believe it should cede technological, military or economic primacy to China. (U.S. output is about twice China’s.)

Earlier this month, Abe and China’s foreign minister toured Africa almost simultaneously. In an implicit slap at China, the Japanese leader said, “it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave. We don’t want to see a new co­lo­ni­al­ism.”

China’s ambassador to Ethi­o­pia retorted, “Abe has become the biggest troublemaker in Asia.”

The most perilous flashpoint is a pile of rocks in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, and claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyus. This one is more than an argument over names — fisheries and offshore oil are in play — and it could flare into something very nasty, including for the United States.

Is the Assad Regime in League with al-Qaeda?

Opposition groups and their Western backers say that despite claims to be fighting terrorism, Bashar Assad is colluding with extremists

Jan. 27, 2014

A mural of President Assad riddled with holes on the facade of the police academy in Aleppo in 2013.

For months, anti-regime activist claims that the Syrian government has cultivated a beneficial relationship with al-Qaeda groups in order to undermine the opposition have fallen on deaf ears. After all, the idea that Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has staked his leadership platform on a campaign against “terrorists”—his term for all anti-government fighters and supporters—would engage with the most radical of all rebel groups, reeks of conspiracy theories. Yet an emerging consensus among analysts and Western diplomats reveals that there might be some truth to the accusations after all. The opposition is now hoping that a shift in the current Syria narrative—which pits the regime against dangerous Islamist extremists—may help spur an international push to remove Assad from power, according to Rami Jarrah, a well-regarded Syrian anti-regime activist who is currently in Geneva on the sidelines of the talks.

As peace talks between Syrian government officials and representatives of the opposition stuttered through a third, largely inconclusive, day in Geneva, the more controversial issues appear to have been set aside in favor of discussions about so called “confidence-building measures” such as improving access for humanitarian groups, potential prisoner releases and localized ceasefires. These are promising gains for a beleaguered civilian population, but are likely to achieve little on the political front.

Regime representatives maintain that the biggest threat to Syria—and the region—is the growing influence of al-Qaeda-linked terror groups among the rebels. “We have to agree on a formula where all terrorist organizations should be fought by all Syrians and be expelled,” Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told the New York Times, “Those who are financing, supporting, arming and harboring terrorists should be made accountable.” Perhaps they should start with themselves, suggests one Western diplomat involved in the negotiations. “It is clear that the regime has a relationship of convenience with al-Qaeda,” he says, speaking on condition of anonymity. Citing his nation’s intelligence findings, he says that Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, the two al-Qaeda linked rebel groups operating in Syria, have benefited financially by those connections. “Al-Qaeda has taken control of oil producing areas and is selling oil to regime forces, indicating a relationship with the regime.” It wouldn’t be the first time, he adds. Assad is believed to have turned a blind eye as al-Qaeda fighters set up training grounds and sanctuaries in Syria during the American war in Iraq. “We well know the history of the regime’s support for al Qaeda in Iraq [during the war].”

The regime has dismissed allegations of collusion as propaganda, claiming that it is the biggest victim of al-Qaeda attacks—and that despite all the accusations, no one has produced solid proof. Both groups call for the overthrow of the Assad regime, but ISIS has made it clear that it sees the establishment of an Islamic caliphate as a priority, and is spending more efforts protecting its territorial gains from rival rebel groups than attacking regime targets.

Another Western diplomat, drawing from different intelligence sources, confirms that there is regular contact between regime forces and al-Qaeda elements, but he is not sure that it amounts to outright collusion. “I have no doubt that there are links,” he says. “But ISIS’ indirect assistance to the regime through oil sales, and the regime’s implicit acceptance of ISIS presence in some areas, may just be a tactical alliance that allows both entities to pursue the same short term goals.”

That may be the case, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at Assad anyway, highlighting the hypocrisy of a nation that claims to fight terror as a negotiating tactic. “[Assad is]” trying to make himself the protector of Syria against extremists, when he himself has even been funding some of those extremists – even purposely ceding some territory to them in order to make them more of a problem so he can make the argument that he is somehow the protector against them,” he told reporters on January 17. “We’re not going to be fooled.”

NATO Needs a Southern Strategy

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 27, 2014

In the first two decades after the end of the Cold War, NATO looked predominantly east, toward Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia. Today it is being drawn increasingly south to the Mediterranean, Middle East and Gulf for a simple reason—this is where many of the new challenges are located. If NATO wants to avoid strategic irrelevance, it needs to give increasing attention to the threats from the MENA region and develop a “Southern Strategy.”

The southern members of the Alliance, particularly Italy and Spain, have long advocated the development of such a strategy. However, their calls initially received little attention, as NATO’s top priority at the time was the integration of Central and Eastern Europe into Western security structures. Since the completion of the second round of NATO enlargement, however, the Alliance has begun to focus increasing attention on threats from the south.


TheMediterranean Dialogue (MD), initiated in l994, signaled the Alliance’s recognition of the growing importance of security challenges from the south. The MD includes: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania. Progress in developing the initiative, however, has been slow. While bilateral cooperation has developed relatively smoothly, multilateral cooperation has proven difficult because of members’ differences with Israel regarding the Palestinian issue and more recently the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations.

The Mediterranean Dialogue has also been hindered by the proliferation of various other dialogues on Mediterranean security. Many Mediterranean countries found it hard to distinguish between these various diplomatic initiatives. The political and military dialogues on Mediterranean security conducted by NATO and the WEU, for instance, had largely the same goals and included nearly the same countries.

NATO’s comparative advantage is in “hard” security. However, many of the Dialogue countries prefer to concentrate on “soft” security issues such as migration and cultural security—issues that are better dealt with in other fora such as the EU’s Barcelona process. As a result, the impact of the Mediterranean Dialogue has remained limited.


The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), launched at NATO’s summit in Istanbul in June 2004, has been more successful. Initiated by President George W. Bush, the ICI focuses on intensifying practical cooperation with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in areas such as:
  • Defense transformation, defense budgeting, defense planning and civil-military relations.
  • Enhancing interoperability
  • Anti-terrorism cooperation, including intelligence-sharing
  • measures
  • WMD counterproliferation
  • Cooperation in enhancing border security
  • Civil emergency planning

Four out of six members of the GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE) are members of the ICI. Saudi Arabia and Oman, while not members of the ICI, have a regular political dialogue with NATO.