29 January 2014


China’s support for Hasina Wajed may have a message for India 
Subir Bhaumik

When Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League won a landslide in the January 5 polls, most were asking how long the government would last. It was not an unfair question, considering that a similar election in early 1996, held with Khaleda Zia in power, had led to huge protests that forced the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader to accept a caretaker dispensation and hold fresh elections within a few months. That election led to an Awami League victory and a change of guard. After the January 5 polls, most were busy looking for parallels. The 1996 polls led to a 7 per cent turnout and was boycotted by the Awami League-led opposition. The January 5 polls had a much better turnout, but that was nowhere near the 80 per cent registered in the December 2008 polls. It was boycotted by the BNP-led opposition and marred by intense violence. Wajed was aware of the limitation in which she was taking over as prime minister for a third time as she promised a dialogue with the opposition and fresh polls as soon as a consensus was reached. The United States of America rubbished the elections as “less than credible” and its envoy in Dhaka, Dan Mozena, called for fresh dialogue and mid-term polls to “let the Bangladesh people express their will freely”. The European Union and the Commonwealth also dubbed the polls one-sided and called for fresh elections. Only India expectedly backed Wajed, saying that the polls were a “constitutional necessity”. 

But within a week, the situation has changed for her. Russia has come out in support of Wajed’s government, saying it looked forward to a “constructive partnership and cooperation” with the new government. More interestingly, the Russian statement blamed the opposition for the violence and the boycott while it explained the one-sided nature of the elections. This brought back memories of the 1971 liberation war for many Awami League veterans, of the troubled months when India and the erstwhile Soviet Union firmly upheld the cause of Bangladesh’s independence against a brutal Pakistani military regime backed by the US and China. After Vladimir Putin’s firm intervention in Syria, this move by Russia to back Wajed was also seen as yet another Kremlin assertion in a major Asian issue. But what came after that was all the more surprising. 

China, which backed Pakistan in 1971 but soon established good relations with Bangladesh, has maintained equidistance when it comes to the two rival, battling coalitions which have run the country since it returned to democracy from military rule in the early 1990s. Before the January 5 polls, the usually quiet Chinese envoy in Dhaka, Li Jun, had called for a dialogue between the Awami League and the BNP, so that “wisdom prevailed over violence”. But as Wajed assumed office and formed her cabinet, she received a message from the Chinese prime minister, Li Keqiang, saying that China was keen to “join hands” with her government to “advance the Sino-Bangla comprehensive and cooperative partnership to a new height”. Li Jun handed over the letter to the Bangladesh foreign secretary, Shahidul Haque, to deliver the message even more clearly that Beijing meant business when it came out in support. Li’s letter had no mention of the elections, let alone referring to its credibility or one-sided nature. The Chinese premier was clearly sending a message to the West, specially the US, that the business of democracy and governance be better left to the government in Dhaka. In December, the Chinese had told Indian and Bangladesh officials at a BCIM meeting in Kunming that Beijing was keen to work with both Delhi and Dhaka to develop an economic corridor connecting Calcutta and Kunming that would “open a new chapter in our relationship and economic development”. Now by breaking away from its strict equidistance policy and supporting the Hasina Wajed government, China is seeking to warm up to India as well and drive home the message that it would be only too happy to work with India in the region. That this comes at a time when India-US relations are at a low following l’affaire Devyani is significant. Chinese officials have previously dropped broad hints to Indian diplomats that the deep sea port they plan to build at Sonadia off the Cox’s Bazar coast would be useful to India in accessing its Northeast. Beijing is keen to draw India out of the US ambit and what better time than now? The expression of support for Wajed, who is seen as close to India is, for China, like killing two birds with an arrow. 

Japan enters where China is barred – northeast India

TNN | Jan 27, 2014

President Pranab Mukherjee taking salute as chief guest Shinzo Abe looks on during the 65th Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2014. 

NEW DELHI: Japan is sailing in where China fears to tread. As India and Japan ramp up their bilateral relationship, India has invited Japan to invest in and build overland infrastructure in areas which are generally out of bounds for Chinese investments. 

India and Japan used the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to dramatically expand the scope of bilateral cooperation to include the politically sensitive northeastern states of India, areas where Chinese investment or projects are actively discouraged. Japanese companies will have the opportunity to help the development of the northeast specially to build roads, and aid agriculture, forestry and water supply and sewerage in these states. 

China claims Arunachal Pradesh as its territory, which has aggravated border tensions between India and China. Security agencies have also long tracked Chinese weapons assistance to militant outfits in northeastern states. It has taken India many difficult years to calm down these hills, but China remains a significant security threat. 

For India to invite Japan to build infrastructure here is a huge political statement. In 2007, China opposed an ADB loan for development works in Arunachal Pradesh describing it as "disputed territory". The last time the Japanese were in India's northeast was during the second world war, when they worked with Netaji Subhash Bose's INA to confront the British in Nagaland. 

Japanese companies have also been invited to help develop a new port in Chennai, which would be used to improve India's sea-route connectivity. India assiduously keeps China out of port development because they constitute India's critical infrastructure. Japanese assistance for Chennai port is also aimed at giving teeth to a new sea-based route that would start in Chennai, and end in Dawei port in Myanmar's Tanintharyi region. The port is being developed by Thailand.

In 2012, Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra had promised PM Manmohan Singh that Thailand would pump in a massive $50 billion into Dawei, making it a bigger investment than China's in Gwadar or Hambantota. 


29 January 2014

Villages along the LoC suffer from cross-border shelling but also poor infrastructure. Mobile phone towers do not exist in these remote areas, writes RAMEEZ RAJA

That entire night, ear-deafening sounds of firing and shelling across the border dominated the sky. All of Shayeen's family stayed together in one room, as they were not too sure if they will wake up alive the following morning. In that tense hour, they were equally worried about the livestock tied outside the house — with no shelter. Shayeen kept thinking about her father who was posted in Doda and unaware of the situation.

“I wish I could have called my father and listened to his voice, as we waited for our deaths”, said this 18-year old girl from Bharooti, a nondescript village tucked away in the border land of Poonch District in Jammu & Kashmir. Shayeen could not call her father, not because she didn’t have a mobile phone but because there were no mobile phone towers in the village. The ‘waiting for death’ moment is not new to those who hail from villages like Bharooti, located merely five to six kilometres from the Line of Control.

It started with the killing of two Indian soldiers at the LoC in January 2013, which was followed by the killing of five others in August last year. In the aftermath of such killings, a total of 150 incidents of ceasefire violations have transpired, the highest in the past eight years. For those residing away from the border, ceasefire violation is just news but for the ones living there, it is a nightmare.

To compound the problem, villagers have to face development challenges all alone. One of the major challenges faced by those inhabiting near zero line is connectivity. This is not talked about much but it is a challenge that affects their life quite severely.

Sixty-two year old Rasham Bi, a resident of village Ghani, shared her experience. She said: “Last month, I had to go to the sub-district hospital in Mendhar as I was feeling unwell. I was alone as my only son lives in Saudi Arabia working as a labourer there. Doctors, post checkup, suggested that I get admitted to hospital for a minimum of two days.” It left the old lady in distress as, although she had a mobile phone, she couldn't contact her daughter back home as there is no tower in her village. Later that night, her daughter had to come searching for her mother spending Rs 900 on a hired cab. Availability of a single mobile phone tower could have avoided the chaos.

View from the left

January 29, 2014


The CPI(ML) weekly ML Update is critical of the army for announcing the closure of the Pathribal case and clearing itself. It demands the scrapping of the AFSPA.


The CPI(ML) weekly ML Update is critical of the army for announcing the closure of the Pathribal case and clearing itself. It demands the scrapping of the AFSPA, claiming that army officers accused of murder and rape must enjoy no protection and asks the Centre to ensure that the Pathribal killers face trial in a civilian court. The editorial, the “Republic Has Blood on Its Hands”, quotes the president’s Republic Day-eve address, wherein he argued that “mavericks who question the integrity of our armed services should find no place in public life.”

“Perhaps for the first time in India’s history, the designated custodian of the Constitution virtually issued an open call to ‘supporters’ of [the] armed forces to evict critics of the army’s impunity from public life. And on the heels of Republic Day, the army gave itself a clean chit in the Pathribal case… The Republic has blood on its hands, but the public has been warned to remain silent.” The Pathribal episode, it says, also drives home the fact that the ordinary Kashmiri in India is entirely unprotected by any semblance of civil liberties or hope of justice, and is at the mercy of the army that enjoys the licence to murder.


The CPM’s People’s Democracy focuses on the BJP’s economic blueprint unveiled by Narendra Modi, arguing that it was high on rhetoric and low on content: “If at all there was any reconfirmation that was ever needed on the score that there is virtually no difference… on matters of economic policy between the Congress and the BJP, it has come in the RSS/ BJP’s prime ministerial prospect’s address at the recently held the BJP’s national council meeting…” It says that what Modi talked about, like building smart cities, bullet trains, creating more IITs, IIMs and AIIMSs as well as the development of infrastructure, reviving power plants, setting up of agro infrastructure, deploying optical fibre networks and establishing special courts to punish black marketing — sounds similar to the UPA’s Bharat Nirman.

The right way to look East

IssueCourtesy: Mail Today| Date : 28 Jan , 2014

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh meeting the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe, in New Delhi.

Much has been achieved during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s current visit to India and much has not. In reiterating a clear intention to strengthen bilateral ties, the visit has been a success, though in breaking new strategic ground concretely, the results could have been better.


Honouring Abe as chief guest at our Republic Day celebrations was politically significant. Such invitations are either intended to convey a desire to forge closer ties with a country or to indicate that relations had already reached a high level of entente. In other words, either an investment in the future or a celebration of success already achieved. Abe’s visit would fall in between these two categories.

If today there is a felt need to highlight this shared attachment to liberal values, it is to differentiate themselves from China’s authoritarianism.

The joint statement mentions the resolve of the two leaders to jointly contribute to peace and stability “taking into account changes in the strategic environment”- an indirect reference to the strategic issues raised by China’s rise and its increased assertiveness, as no other change in this environment has occurred that would disturb both India and Japan.

No doubt both countries are Asian democracies that share the values of freedom, democracy and rule of law, a feature of particular importance for Abe. But then, India and Japan have been liberal democracies since decades, without this providing a political glue all these years. If today there is a felt need to highlight this shared attachment to liberal values, it is to differentiate themselves from China’s authoritarianism. Uniting on the basis of universal values of democracy avoids the impression that the two are coming together on any explicit anti-China platform.

What Can Manmohan Singh Accomplish By Visiting Pakistan?

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan in March to reignite the Composite Dialogue Process.
January 28, 2014

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is planning to visit Pakistan sometime in March 2014 to resume the long-stalled composite dialogue between India and Pakistan. The news comes a little over a week after Pakistani Trade Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan met his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma in New Delhi and the two agreed to move forward with warmer trade ties. Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma will pave the path for Singh’s trip to Pakistan when he heads to Lahore in mid-February for an Indian trade show.

The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan was suspended last January after an Indian soldier was beheaded by Pakistani troops–an incident that marked the beginning of a year that was marred by various skirmishes along the troubled India-Pakistan border. A series of ceasefire violations in 2013 ensured that no progress was made on ameliorating bilateral relations. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to improve relations with India prior to his election.

The so-called Composite Dialogue Process between India and Pakistan addresses the entire spectrum of issues inhibiting warmer ties between the two South Asian rivals, including the final status of Kashmir, Siachen, economic cooperation, counter-terrorism cooperation, and general confidence-building measures.

So far, 2014 has set a completely different tone for India-Pakistan relations compared to 2013. Where last year was littered with skirmishes along the Line of Control in Kashmir, this year the two have already broached major trade issues in an amicable bilateral setting. At the very end of 2013, the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of both nations met at the Wagah border crossing to consult on military matters as well. Of course, what little progress was made during the brief bilateral consultation on trade issues was undone following an Indian drug bust in Kashmir, which prompted Pakistan to temporarily cease border crossings, but that hasn’t entirely undone the positive momentum underlying bilateral efforts this year. Prime Minister Singh’s resolve to travel to Pakistan in March underscores this trend and will likely be the PM’s last major foreign policy hurrah before his term ends in May after India’s general elections.

Thatcher offered military help to Indira

The role of the Special Air Services in Operation Bluestar unlikely
Kuldip Nayar

I HAVE no doubt that Great Britain assisted the Government of India to plan and execute Operation Bluestar, the Army’s nomenclature for the onslaught in and outside the Golden Temple at Amritsar to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his militant followers. The British have tried to prove the point that the Indians scurry to their colonial masters whenever they are pitted against a ticklish situation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, seen here with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, wants to go into the role of Mrs Thatcher's government in the 1984 operation and “establish the facts”. A Tribune file photo 

To rub salt into the wounds, the British archives have made public the documents and letters relating to that period to synchronise with the 30th anniversary of Operation Bluestar. The reason why Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sanctioned the operation was the fear she entertained from the militants who used the Golden Temple as their shelter. The then British Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, offered military help to Mrs Gandhi to enable her to go ahead with her plan.

I have reached this conclusion because of the daily telephone talks they held. Mrs Thatcher herself told me when I was India's High Commissioner in London that they would converse on the affairs relating to India and the UK. They could not be discussing the weather. Sikh militants would have figured in their talks. Once I asked Mrs Thatcher whether she was in touch with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, she peevishly replied: “He was a different person.”

However, I rule out the assistance by the Special Air Services (SAS) in the operation. Had this been true, the media in the UK and India would have uncovered it in the last 30 years. The operation, as Lieut-Gen. K.S. Brar (retd) has claimed, was entirely carried out by the Indian forces. “We never saw anyone from the UK coming in here and telling us how to plan the operation.” In any case, the truth will be known when the inquiry ordered by British Prime Minister David Cameron is complete. He wants to go into the role of Mrs Thatcher's government in the 1984 operation and “establish the facts.”

The Sikhs in India and abroad are understandably upset because London has been giving the impression that as if it was not happy with the operation. Indeed, Mrs Gandhi before sending the Army into the Golden Temple was frantically seeking opinion from different people on whether to undertake the operation. R.K. Dhawan, her aide, came to my residence to know my reaction if the troops entered the temple. He indicated specifically that Mrs Gandhi had sent him. I told him that he would not have come without her permission knowing well how annoyed she was with me because of my writings.

Front Row Seat: Watching COIN Fail in Afghanistan

January 28, 2014 

With President Karzai as unlikely as ever to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, an early withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan seems increasingly probable. Although the focus will soon turn to determining how to safely extract coalition forces, the United States also needs to think about how to preserve the strategic gains it has won at so great a cost over the past dozen years. Unfortunately, America’s own institutional inertia will probably lead Washington to continue pushing a failed nationalcounterinsurgency strategy on the Afghan military. The United States has taught its Afghan allies—albeit not always successfully—to fight and govern as Americans fight and govern, rather than teaching them to do so in a way consistent with their culture and in line with their own strategic beliefs. The current strategy, which requires a unified national policy directed by a strong, legitimate government, is unrealistic in its expectations and inappropriate against violence that is dispersed and motivated by local concerns. Unless the United States begins pushing the Afghan National Security Forces to adopt policies more suited to their current needs and their military culture, the blood and treasure we have poured into Afghanistan over the past twelve years will have been for nothing.

Current counterinsurgency doctrine presumes a national solution to local problems: that a national army, usually with the aid of local police or militias, can come into a fractious area and convince unfriendly locals to ally themselves with the state by bringing security and certain amenities like electricity or economic programs. This strategy requires a functioning and legitimate government and a skilled and disciplined military that can effectively target insurgents who hide amongst the civilian population without causing collateral damage. It assumes that all enemy strongholds must be retaken and that unless the insurgency is defeated in all its parts, the nation cannot survive.

Rather than allowing the Afghans to find their own solutions to the insurgency, the United States bequeathed its ally a reductionist approach. Thus, “the insurgents” were identified with the “Taliban” and the “Taliban” with those who most closely resemble the Taliban of Mullah Omar’s failed state. Although the insurgency is strengthened, fueled and spread partly through religious networks, it is fundamentally a localist and anti-government movement. Conservative rather than radical and tribal rather than religious, the insurgency is less a religious or political organization and more a classic peasant revolt of isolated, anti-modernist and largely landless individuals. These individuals’ only familiarity with the central government comes from being taxed and subjected to its military force. The dispersed and decentralized nature of the insurgency is not, as is sometimes argued, evidence of what is fashionably termed “chaoplexy” or otherwise indicative of an advanced cell-based structure. Rather, the insurgency is dispersed and decentralized because there are too many actors with too many different personal agendas dispersed over too large an area with too few communication tools for it to be a unified or coherentpolitical opponent—and it is precisely this that makes it so durable and so difficult to defeat using our current policies.

Our Quagmire in Afghanistan

By Richard Cohen - January 28, 2014

While watching the utterly gripping movie "Lone Survivor" recently, I comforted myself by noting that the four Navy SEALs engaged in a desperate firefight with the Afghan Taliban were all volunteers. They asked for this, I told myself. They were not draftees yanked out of civilian life and compelled to fight a war they could neither understand nor win. They had asked for this, I insisted, but I knew all the time that this was a lie. They had volunteered, but certainly not to die and certainly for no purpose.

OK, I know this is only a movie. But it is faithful to the book of the same name, which is faithful to the 2005 mission called Operation Red Wings that was intended to take out a Taliban commander. The title "LoneSurvivor" pretty much says what happened, but you owe it to the SEALs and to their families to see the movie. The ending is not in doubt, but the reason for their sacrifice undoubtedly is. Afghanistan is a war searching for a reason.

All through the movie I kept asking myself, "Why?" What are these men fighting for? Once, I knew the answer. After Sept 11, 2001, I wanted to wipe out al-Qaeda and kill its Afghan hosts, the Taliban. Even before the terrorist attack, reports of the Taliban's treatment of women -- stonings, public executions in the soccer stadium, etc. -- and the beheadings of men convinced me they simply had it coming: Send in the Marines.

But American fighting units have been there since 2001. The initial mission was completed long ago -- the destruction of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Taliban and their allies remain, but unlike al-Qaeda they are indigenous and, seemingly, undeterred. They apparently have an unlimited supply of suicide bombers (who are these people?) and they continue to inflict mayhem on Afghans and foreigners alike. Earlier this month, the Taliban struck a Kabul restaurant with a western clientele and killed at least 21 people. The attack by gunmen was preceded by a suicide bombing.

Bob Gates, in his memoir "Duty," depicts Barack Obama as a commander in chief whose policy in Afghanistan was to do as little as possible -- simultaneously ordering a surge and announcing a pull-out date. Gates, then the secretary of defense, was appalled. "The president doesn't ... believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his."

Well, the war is not Obama's. It is George W. Bush's -- one he interrupted to mindlessly chase after Saddam Hussein. But Obama embraced the Afghanistan mission and then, apparently, never knew what to do with it. I don't blame him. Afghanistan is an arid Vietnam, a quagmire presided over by the petulant and unpredictable Hamid Karzai. For Obama, Gates wrote, "it's all about getting out."

The trap

Pentagon’s proposal to keep 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan or nothing makes little military sense.
By N.V. Subramanian (24 January 2014)

New Delhi: Military campaigns are by their nature based on some kind of arithmetic. But the United States has carried it too far in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has advised the Barack Obama White House that the United States should retain 10,000 troops or nothing in war-torn Afghanistan after the withdrawal. The Pentagon figure has the state department’s approval. But the United States vice-president, Joe Biden, disagrees. He is not sure how the Pentagon arrived at that precise number, and questions why it cannot be more or less. For himself, he wants a clean break from Afghanistan, meaning, no residual military presence there. From the beginning to the end that dismally draws near, the United States’ occupation of Afghanistan has been an unmitigated disaster, without direction or overarching vision, and it is turning its back on the country, a defeated superpower. This judgment is not harsh but apt and realistic. 

The first rule of war is that you shouldn’t begin one unless you know how to end it. Emperors and dictators have lost everything by slighting this rule. You would think democracies would understand this principle better, but not the United States. There may be a case that outside its national borders, the United States forsakes the morals of a democracy. Be that as it may, but the fact remains that American unilateralism has reduced to serial blundering, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, one following the other, emitting bad military odour at their conclusion beside much else, cannot be expected to teach lasting lessons to the United States’ war-makers. 

The United States’ conflict against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for aiding and abetting the 9/11 attacks was as just as it could ever get in the morally ambiguous, post-ideological, post-historic, post-Cold War world. But once evil was thought to have been evicted from the municipal limits of Kabul, so to speak, the George W.Bush administration lost interest in the Afghan war. Instead of pursuing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists to their Pakistani hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and determinedly hunting down Osama Bin Laden hidden in Pakistani garrison towns, the United States attacked Iraq. The world was misinformed that Saddam Hussein was going nuclear. He was tied to the 9/11 tragedy when it was well-known that his secular ideology clashed with Bin Laden’s fundamentalist Salafi one. 

When war is fought without a clear political aim, defeat is preordained. What larger strategic benefits accrued to the United States by bringing down Saddam? None that could be argued with any cogency. On the other hand, it made Iran stronger, which cannot have been the American aim. If Saudi Arabia and the other kingdoms thought they would grow more powerful in the Arab world with the Iraqi dictator down, that didn’t happen either. So, to all events and purposes, the United States fought a meaningless war in Iraq. Even that was sought to be prosecuted at the beginning with a precision unknown to any serious and successful military campaign, arising from a reservation bordering on fear of making ample commitments of ground troops. Shock and awe. The United States believed that the mantra would work in Iraq. Instead, a terminal surge had to be ordered to make the inevitable pullout look decent. 

Afghanistan, US and the Peace Process: A Deal with the Taliban in 2014?

Mariam Safi 
Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies, Kabul 

If the rise in violence this month is any mark of the year that is to be, then we can conclude that 2014 will turn out be an ominous year for Afghans. The winter season in Afghanistan, which tends to witness a reduction in fighting, has in fact faced a sharp rise in violence, shocking many in Afghanistan. In Kabul alone there have been several attacks, in and around the fortified diplomatic enclave, targeting both local and foreign security personnel, government and military installations. Many believe this to be a glimpse of what is yet to come, as Afghanistan gets ready to hold its third Presidential elections in April 2014. 

US Lt General Mark Milley has predicted that this trend is likely to continue into 2014 with insurgents targeting. For many locals, this scenario has reinforced their anxieties concerning the prospects for 2014 being a pivotal year, marking the end of the security transition process, withdrawal of international troops, and handover of all political, security and development responsibilities to the Afghan leadership. While the challenges to peace and security are many, the solutions however are extremely limited and difficult to reach in the time-lines that have been set. One such mechanism has been the Afghan peace and reconciliation programme (or peace process) which was launched in 2010. This process envisioned political means to facilitate military measures for reconciliation and reintegration of insurgents through talks and negotiations. This process was to assist the security transition process and set the stage for the handover of all responsibilities from international to Afghan ownership by the end of 2014. However, the lack of achievements coupled with consistent setbacks and growing obstacles have done little to set the foundation needed to ensuring peace and stability post-2014. With the prospects for reaching a peace deal with the insurgency almost next to none, many are left wondering what to expect from it in the post-2014 period. 

The Afghan peace process is a two-tiered initiative with a reintegration and a reconciliation pillar, both of which have been implemented simultaneously. The reintegration pillar has been implemented at the sub-national level where foot soldiers are enticed to reintegrate and take advantages of the financial incentives provided by the ‘Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme’. The reconciliation pillar on the other hand has been implemented at the national and regional levels where the Taliban leadership has been approached to participate in official channels of communication with the Afghan government in the hopes of starting a negotiation process that could lead to a peace deal. Thus far the Afghan government has been able to reintegrate 7,375 foot soldiers and local commanders, making reintegration a relatively successful programme, whereas reconciliation efforts have consistently hit roadblocks with no major achievements to date.

In Afghanistan, a war that has lost its purpose

While watching the utterly gripping movie “Lone Survivor” recently, I comforted myself by noting that the four Navy SEALs engaged in a desperate firefight with the Afghan Taliban were all volunteers. They asked for this, I told myself. They were not draftees yanked out of civilian life and compelled to fight a war they could neither understand nor win. They had asked for this, I insisted, but I knew all the time that this was a lie. They had volunteered, but certainly not to die and certainly for no purpose.

Okay, I know this is only a movie. But it is faithful to the book of the same name , which is faithful to the 2005 mission called Operation Red Wing that was intended to take out a Taliban commander. The title “Lone Survivor” pretty much says what happened, but you owe it to the SEALs and to their families to see the movie. The ending is not in doubt, but the reason for their sacrifice undoubtedly is. Afghanistan is a war searching for a reason.

All through the movie, I kept asking myself, Why? What are these men fighting for? Once, I knew the answer. After Sept. 11, 2001, I wanted to wipe out al-Qaeda and kill its Afghan hosts, the Taliban. Even before the terrorist attack, reports of the Taliban’s treatment of women — stonings, public executions in the soccer stadium, etc. — and beheadings of men convinced me that it simply had it coming: Send in the Marines.

But U.S. fighting units have been there since 2001. The initial mission — the destruction of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan — was completed long ago. The Taliban and its allies remain, but unlike al-Qaeda they are indigenous and, seemingly, undeterred. They apparently have an unlimited supply of suicide bombers (who are these people?), and they continue to inflict mayhem on Afghans and foreigners alike. This month, the Taliban struck a Kabul restaurant that draws a Western clientele andkilled at least 21 people. The attack by gunmen was preceded by a suicide bombing.

Bob Gates, in his memoir “Duty,” depicted Barack Obama as a commander in chief whose policy in Afghanistan was to do as little as possible — simultaneously ordering a surge and announcing a pull-out date. Gates, then defense secretary , was appalled: “The president doesn’t . . . believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his.”

Well, the war is not Obama’s. It is George W. Bush’s — one he interrupted to mindlessly chase after Saddam Hussein. But Obama embraced the Afghanistan mission and then, apparently, never knew what to do with it. I don’t blame him. Afghanistan is an arid Vietnam, a quagmire presided over by the petulant and unpredictable Hamid Karzai. For Obama, Gates wrote, “it’s all about getting out.”

Pakistan reaches the tipping point

There are indications the government may have finally made up its mind to hit back at terror. The latest wave of attacks, which has prompted people to ask what is the State doing to protect them, seems to have caused that.

Nasim Zehra 

Everyone seems to be asking the obvious question now: Will this ever end? Who will protect us? Who will stop this? The terrorists’ dark and deadly scorecard in Pakistan has suddenly shot up.

The year 2014 has had a gruesome start. The rapidly widening net of suicide attacks and bombs set off by terrorist groups ranging from the TTP to the LeJ is devouring citizens at a frightening speed. By now far more than the often quoted figures of 40,000 civilians and 5,000 security personnel have been killed. 

PPP supporters protest the killing of three polio workers in Karachi on January 21. Reuters

The government has failed to address Pakistan’s most critical problem. Its repeated failure, even after announcing dates, in formulating a National Security Policy, speaks to the government’s inability to even understand the problem. At best, the government has focused on lecturing people on the virtues of dialogue with the TTP, made contradictory statements on what steps have been taken to initiate the dialogue, sought help from opposition leader Imran Khan in that, issued condemnations of terrorist attacks, or announced compensation for those killed in the attacks.

In contrast, the terrorist groups have not lacked in confidence, capacity or clarity of objective. They have remained on the offensive and conducted suicide bombings, jailbreaks, targeted killings, intimidation.

With the latest wave of attacks that has claimed the lives of 22 pilgrims die in Mastung (including two schoolchildren), three TV people, members of a Tableeghi Jamat in Peshawer, a woman administering polio drops to babies in Karachi, and soldiers near the GHQ among others, Pakistanis have had enough.

International Reactions to the Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh

January 28, 2014

The largely boycotted January 5 Bangladesh election has generated wide attention in the international community. The international reactions to the parliamentary elections assume significance since Bangladesh heavily depends on a number of developed countries and global organisations for development assistance, loans and trade concessions. But the tenth Jatiya Sangsad election has not succeeded to evoke positive response from them largely due to its non-participatory and violent nature.

A total of 390 candidates, predominantly from the ruling Awami League (AL) and its allies contested for 147 seats. The remaining 153 seats were uncontested as 27 political parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – led 18 party alliance boycotted the polls. As expected, the AL gained three fourth majority winning more than 230 out of total 300 parliamentary seats. The Election Commission (EC) claimed a 40% voter turnout whereas the local media reports indicate it varied between 20% and 30%.

The European Union (EU), Commonwealth, the US, the UK and many other nations had refused to send election observers. However, a South Asia- based electoral management group, Forum for Election Management Bodies – South Asia, has observed that the elections had been conducted “smoothly” and “quite peacefully”. One of its members said they noticed “good’ turnout in some polling booths while in some others it was “not so high”. The voting was low in the northern and western strongholds of the BNP and Jamaat-e Islami where polling booths had been torched and poll officials and ruling party activists attacked. But in other regions of the country such as greater Chittagong, Dhaka and Barisal, high turnout was recorded.

The fear of violence at polling stations had kept away many voters despite the EC sending a text message to the voters – “Please go to cast your vote without any fear and hassle”. On the polling day, more than twenty persons, including security personnel, poll officials and ruling party activists were killed and 200 polling stations set on fire. It was also reported that some BNP and Jamaat supporters and anti-social elements associated with them “physically prevented voters from reaching” several polling booths.

All these aspects have been severely criticised by the foreign nations particularly in the west and major international forums. The US, which is the largest trading partner and a key ally of Bangladesh on counter-terrorism and global security, has clearly spoken about its disappointment over the low turnout and violence- marred elections. In a statement, the US State Department said the just-concluded elections did “not appear to be credibly express the will of the people”. It also called for fresh elections “as soon as possible’. However, the US pledged to continue its alliance with the Sheikh Hasina government.

Turkey and its Quest for Leadership Role in the West Asian Region

IDSA Monograph Series No. 32

Turkey is one of the major regional powers in West Asia. Born from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has taken time to consolidate and establish itself as a prosperous modern state. It has overcome military coups and economic crisis in past decades and is now emerging as revitalized country with a host of opportunities for expansion. The countries of the region have often seen it with contempt and suspicion due to the Ottoman legacy as also its Western orientation in earlier part of its short modern history. However, Turkey under the leadership of current Prime Minister RecepTayyip Erdogan and its visionary foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu have, over the past decade reoriented Turkish policies in an attempt to not only befriend the neighbourhood but also emerge as a major interlocutor and a potential leader in the region. Although, initial attempts and especially the foreign policy initiative of “Zero Problem with Neighbours” yielded initial success, the recent Arab uprisings as well as other domestic challenges are forcing a rethink in Turkey. Rapidly changing balance of power in the region, its acceptance within the region and the Islamic world and its ability to balance its domestic and regional issues will dictate Turkey's future in the region in the coming years.

About the Author

Colonel Rajeev Agarwal was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery in June 1990 and has had varied operational and service experience for over 23 years. He has commanded his Regiment on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. He has also been a military observer with the United Nations in DRC for a year. He holds a Master's degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from Madras University. He has special interest in International affairs and been following events and trends in West Asia, Central Asia and Afghanistan over past three years.
His published work include “Security in the Gulf Region: India's Concerns, Vulnerabilities, Interests and Engagement Options” in Rumel Dahiya (ed) Developments in the Gulf Region: Prospects and Challenges For India in the Next Two Decades, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2013. 'Arab Spring' and Democracy: Possibility or an Elusive Idea, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, Vol 8, No.4, October to December 2013.

Chinese takeaway

January 29, 2014 


From New Delhi’s perspective, the Western speculation on China offering nuclear protection to Ukraine is largely academic. India’s problem is rather different.

Although Nizamuddin Basti lacks a formal identity, its urban renewal has been done with sensitivity, thanks to community engagement.

Rajan will have only one policy variable available to deal with any economic disturbance, the rate of interest, till end of May.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping after a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 5, 2013.(Reuters / Wang Zhao)

There was some flutter recently at reports that China was opening a “nuclear umbrella” for Ukraine. “Nuclear umbrella” is about a nuclear weapon power protecting a non-nuclear weapon state, usually a very close ally, against atomic threats from others. In nuclear jargon it is called “extended deterrence”.

China has in the past tended to avoid alliances and insisted that its nuclear arsenal was meant for national defence and not for securing the interests of any other nation. It had always denounced the US nuclear umbrella extended to its neighbours, Japan and South Korea. Given this background, there was much speculation if China was changing its policy on extended deterrence.

The speculation was triggered by a joint statement issued by Chinese President Xi Jinping after a meeting with the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, last month. The joint statement said: “China pledges unconditionally not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the nuclear-free Ukraine and China further pledges to provide Ukraine nuclear security guarantee when Ukraine encounters an invasion involving nuclear weapons or Ukraine is under threat of a nuclear invasion.”

The confusion appears to have been caused by a misreading of the statement in a section of the Chinese media and mistranslation and over-interpretation by a few Western analysts. A closer reading of the statement, however, suggested China was merely offering boiler plate assurances to Ukraine, which had given up its claim to nuclear weapons after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Since the mid-1990s, all nuclear weapon powers had been issuing similar assurances, both negative and positive, to non-nuclear weapon states. Under the “negative assurances”, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council promise non-nuclear weapon states that they will not attack or threaten to attack them with atomic weapons. Under the “positive assurances”, the P-5 offer to come to the aid, the nature of which is deliberately left ambiguous, of non-nuclear states threatened by atomic weapons. Few in the world take these statements seriously.

Forget Kim Jong Un—China’s New Favorite Dictator Is Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko


Forget Kim Jong Un—lately, the bigwigs in Beijing have been heaping praise on Aleksandr Lukashenko, the man Condoleezza Rice once nicknamed “Europe’s last dictator.”

Twenty years ago, Belarus bustled with hope and anxiety. Flat, forested, and landlocked between Poland, Ukraine and Russia, it had never truly known national autonomy. The Soviet Union, which had defined the territory of modern Belarus, was dead. What looked like the end of history to jubilant spectators across the West was for many Belarusians the beginning of an inscrutable future. The election of 1994 was the first free vote in the history of the Belarusian people, and they turned to a man called Aleksandr Lukashenko to carry them forward.

Two decades on, there has not been another unrestricted election in Belarus. Minsk, the capital, is a picture of unbearable desolation. At dusk, workers emerge from gargantuan Soviet-built blocks and disappear into the darkness. There is a chilling silence on buses and in the subway. The fear of being watched chokes conversation. The only public assemblies that aren’t dispersed with force are the long queues outside the exchanges. At the central train station, young people who may be students furtively introduce themselves as currency dealers, offering up to 10,000 roubles for one American dollar. We want to get out of here, they say. But very few do. Why? “Because Belarus is a prison.”

For 20 years, Lukashenko has ruled Belarus in the fashion of his hero Joseph Stalin. Public assembly is banned, the press is censored, the Internet is monitored, telephones are tapped, and people’s livelihoods—and lives—depend on avoiding politics. Far from rejecting it, Lukashenko relishes the title, bestowed on him by Condoleezza Rice, of Europe’s last dictator. “I am the last and only dictator in Europe,” he said in 2012. He has already appointed his nine-year-old son, Kolya, as his successor.

Brussels and Washington may no longer be able to contain Lukashenko as he builds a Stalinist dynasty in the heart of Europe. Originally, it was the idea of a “Russian sphere of influence” that deterred the West from applying significant pressure on Lukashenko. This was always an exaggeration. Belarus has relied on Russia to keep its debt-financed economy afloat—yet for all its apparent power, Moscow has not been able to persuade Lukashenko to recognise the Putin-supervised sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. His erratic behaviour in handling Russian oil pipelines prompted Moscow to seek alternative routes of supply. Now, conscious of his diminishing utility for Putin and eager to brandish his independence from Russia, Lukashenko has found a new patron: China.

Expand strategic ties

GVC Naidu, Jan 27, 2014 :

To build a genuine, long-term oriented strategic partnership, the two countries should find ways to expanding the base.

A known Indophile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has acquired a rare distinction as far as his love affair with India is concerned: he was the first Japanese premier ever to address the joint session of the Indian Parliament in 2007 and again the first from that country to grace the Republic Day parade as its chief guest in 2014. It is equally remarkable that he, after resigning in 2007 for health and political reasons, pulled off a most unlikely victory in the December 2012 Lower House elections to take the reins of power for the second time, a rare feat in Japan.

Known for his right-wing, conservative views, besides hailing from a well-known political family, two issues dominated his second term in office. One, to pull the economy out of mire that has been virtually stuck in the vortex of deflation and a runaway budget deficit that by most accounts had reached almost unsustainable levels, and two, to deal with a China that is getting aggressive riding on its phenomenal rise by laying claims over the Senkaku islets in East China Sea that have been under Japanese administrative control for over a century. 

On the economic front, Abe has proved the sceptics wrong by taking certain unorthodox initiatives. Of the three arrows that he prepared to fire, the first two have been close to the bull’s eye - both quantitative and qualitative monetary easing and huge public spending respectively, which have paid rich dividends by way of improved business sentiment in the country. The economy has picked up growth and the inflation target of 2 per cent appears achievable. The exports have gone up with the weakening of Yen and share prices have increased by over 70 per cent in the last two years. It, however, needs to be seen what unfolds in the third arrow representing a long-term strategy. 

China is the other issue that has dominated the discourse on Japan’s security. It is here probably that one can expect to see Abe’s role in fundamentally altering Japanese security perceptions and policies. Beijing exerting relentless pressure to acknowledge Senkakus as a dispute is not just one-off instance but an indication of a larger East Asian security dynamics that is undergoing fundamental shifts even as it strives to emerge as a pre-eminent power. 

It appears that Beijing is using every opportunity to reiterate its status as a rising great power and to grab as much strategic space as it can. Its attempts to reorder the East Asian security architecture have already begun to push Japan to the margins even as Washington’s ‘rebalancing’ strategy faces uncertainty.

New course

Although security reforms have been going on especially since Koizumi time in the early 2000s, what Abe is trying to do is fundamentally different, which may result in a Japan that is far more strategically autonomous and self-reliant and taking proactive steps in courting friends and to counter challenges. He seems to understand the need to chart an entirely new course for Japan in dealing with China and in fashioning an East Asian security order. He has created a National Security Council, removed the self-imposed restraint on arms exports, increased defence allocations and plans to acquire military capabilities, including the so-called offensive, to defend national interests. 

Beijing Pushes For China-EU Free Trade Deal

At a meeting with his EU counterpart, Yang Jiechi expressed hope for a China-EU free-trade agreement.
January 28, 2014

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi is in Brussels this week for meetings with Belgian officials as well as the fourth China-European Union strategic dialogue, which Yang co-chaired Monday with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. Though the main focus of the dialogue is strategic and security issues (including regional affairs, non-proliferation, and climate change), perhaps the biggest news to come out of the meeting was economic — Yang’s enthusiasm for a free-trade agreement between China and the European Union.

According to Reuters, Yang told the press that China and the EU should “work jointly to create conditions for launching a feasibility study of a China-EU free-trade agreement.” The global repercussions of such an agreement would be huge — during his December visit to Beijing, UK Prime Minister David Cameron estimated that an FTA between China and the EU “could be worth tens of billions of dollars every year.” He predicted it would boost the UK economy alone by £1.8 billion ($2.98 billion) per year, which explains why Cameron enthusiastically offered to “put [his] full political weight behind such a deal.”

The EU is China’s largest trading partner, and only the United States does more trade with the EU than China does. The EU’s Trade Commission notes that China-EU trade is worth over €1 billion ($1.37 billion) a day, reaching €433.6 billion ($593 billion) in 2012.

Still, despite (or perhaps because of) the massive volume of trade the two have a history of nasty trade disputes. Last year, the European Union accused Chinese firms of dumping solar panels, and threatened to add duties to these products. The Chinese government retaliated by opening investigations into EU wine exports. Reuters called the row “the biggest trade dispute by far” between China and the EU.