20 February 2014

Principle versus practice

Ex-servicemen feel let down on one rank, one pension

Inder Malhotra

Ex-servicemen return their medals in protest in Delhi. A Tribune file photograph

ON Monday when Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, while presenting his interim budget in Parliament announced that the "government has decided in principle" to accept the long-standing demand of ex-servicemen for one rank, one pension (OROP), the loudest cheers came from Defence Minister A. K. Antony, sitting next to him. Normally, this declaration would have been sensational news. But Mr Chidambaram's thunder was stolen because it was widely known that a delegation of ex-servicemen had met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and he had promised them that the wishes of the retired defenders of the country's freedom and frontiers would be respected.

However, neither Mr. Gandhi - who welcomed the announcement as "historic" -- nor Mr Chidambaram explained why the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had resolutely refused to meet the legitimate demand of the retired officers and other ranks of the three armed forces for full five years. Whenever, during this period, I raised the issue with the bosses of the ministries of defence and finance, the off-the-record answer I got was: "The demand is just but the expenditure on it will be unbearable".

No wonder that ex-servicemen agitated vigorously, held protest rallies and returned their gallantry medals to their Supreme Commander, the President, but to no avail. What has happened then to persuade Mr Gandhi to take sudden interest in the welfare of retired soldiers, sailors and airmen and the government's change of mind almost overnight? The clear answer is: the general election barely two months away which the Congress party looks like losing, judging from all public opinion polls so far.

After all 14 lakh serving officers and men and 25 lakh ex-servicemen by themselves constitute a fairly large vote bank, and if you add members of their families, the number of voters soars as high as 20 million. Alas, that is precisely where the rub lies. Ex-servicemen who were initially happy with the budget speech were soon disappointed and irate. They felt let down because they discovered that the principle is one thing and its practice quite another. For the Finance Minister has provided only Rs 500 crore for equalising the pensions of all retirees of the same rank - and that, too, only prospectively - while the real requirement is at least Rs 2,500 crore a year. Mr. Chidambaram's promise to provide more money, if required, means nothing. The government's coffers don't have enough cash. Printing more currency notes would only add to the already high inflation.

All is not ship shape with the Indian Navy

The Indian Navy is vital for safeguarding India’s defence, maritime and economic interests and also as an instrument of diplomacy. The recent spate of accidents involving naval ships is a matter of deep concern as it has potential to affect India’s ability to be taken seriously in a difficult and adversarial region.

Dinesh Kumar

THE Indian Navy, the world’s seventh largest, is in the news for the wrong reasons at a time when it has just finished hosting a major week-long 17 nation multi-lateral exercise named MILAN and is currently engaged in a massive month-long Theatre Level Readiness and Operation Exercise (TROPEX) involving 50 ships that includes for the first time India’s nuclear-powered submarine, INS Chakra, on lease from Russia.

A series of mishaps and accidents – seven over last December and January alone – have rocked this highly expensive technology intensive service.The incidents are fraught with the probability of it causing a loss of image to not only the Navy but also to a geo-strategically importantly positioned nation that correctly considers naval power to be vital.

These incidents (see chart) have ranged from the Indian Navy’s first-ever sinking of a frontline submarine in a horrific explosion in August last year that resulted in the death of 18 personnel. This incidentally is the world’s only peace time loss of a submarine in post World War-II history while docked in harbour. A collision with a fishing boat that led to the latter’s sinking, an on board fire, damage caused while berthing, and damage to vital equipment that involves a sonar and a propeller thereby leading to grounding of two ships are among other recent mishaps involving Indian Navy ships.

At least two of these incidents have been serious enough to warrant the Navy stripping two ship captains of their command. More significantly, the Navy has lost a total four vessels – three ships and one submarine – during peacetime over the last 24 years. Two of these major mishaps have occurred in the last three years alone. In contrast, the Navy has lost only one ship in a war – INS Khukri during the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

680 million Indians lack the means to meet their essential needs: report

February 20, 2014 
Rukmini S

The HinduA homeless man in Coimbatore. In a new research report released on Wednesday, McKinsey Global Institute said that 680 million Indians, or 56 per cent of the population, lacks the means to meet their essential needs. File photo: K. Ananthan 
Proposing a new “empowerment line” that aims to measure the minimum economic cost for a household to fulfil eight most basic needs, a global research organisation has estimated that 680 million Indians, or 56 per cent of the population, lacks the means to meet their essential needs.Health care, drinking water and sanitation between them account for nearly 40 per cent of the gap between their current status and the ‘empowerment line.In a new research report released on Wednesday, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the research arm of the consulting firm, created the new line by estimating the economic cost per capita to meet a minimum requirement of consumption of eight basic services — food, health care, education, sanitation, water, housing, fuel, and social security — and “others’ that included entertainment and clothing.Using sector-specific norms for each parameter, this worked out to an average Rs. 1,544 per capita per month. MGI then estimated the value of government services reaching the household at Rs. 208 per capita per month. Adjusting for the State-delivered goods and services, the ‘empowerment line’ was set at Rs. 1,336 per month. In 2011-12, this left 56 per cent of the country below this line, nearly 1.5 times the number of people that India’s official poverty line classifies as poor.
The line was set 38 per cent higher for urban India than for rural India. Based on this benchmark, 171 million urban residents (or 44 per cent of the urban population) were below the line, compared with 509 million rural residents (or 61 per cent of the rural population), the report said.
“Every poverty line has its problems, and we are aware that there will be problems with this line too, Shirish Sankhe, director at McKinsey and co-author of the report, told The Hindu.The additional consumption required to bring these 680 million above the line worked out to 4 per cent of GDP, the report said.
Deprivation score
Using census data, MGI also estimated the availability of basic services at the district level by compiling an Access Deprivation Score. Bihar had the highest level of deprivation with an ADS score of 62 per cent (the average resident lacked access to 62 per cent of services) followed by Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Assam. Himachal Pradesh had the lowest access deprivation at 28 per cent followed by Punjab, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Tamil Nadu among the big States.

The battle for water

February 20, 2014 
Brahma Chellaney
With the era of cheap, bountiful water having been replaced by increasing supply-and-quality constraints, many international investors are beginning to view water as the new oil

There is a popular, tongue-in-cheek saying in America — attributed to the writer Mark Twain, who lived through the early phase of the California Water Wars — that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.” It highlights the consequences, even if somewhat apocryphally, as ever-scarcer water resources create a parched world. California currently is reeling under its worst drought in modern times.

Among the issues that will shape our future world are water and other natural resources, demographics, and sustainable economic growth, as well as an accelerated weaponisation of science and other geopolitical elements. A combination of these factors will create winners and losers in the world.

Adequate availability of water, food and energy is critical to global security. The sharpening, international, geopolitical competition over natural resources has turned some strategic resources into engines of power struggle and triggered price volatility. The geopolitics of natural resources promises to get murkier.

Water — the sustainer of life and livelihoods — is already the world’s most exploited natural resource. With nature’s freshwater-renewable capacity lagging behind humanity’s current rate of utilisation, tomorrow’s water is being used to meet today’s need.

Consequently, the resources of shared rivers, aquifers and lakes have become the target of rival appropriation plans. Securing a larger portion of the shared water has fostered increasing competition between countries and provinces.Impact on ecosystems

A just war or a catastrophe?

February 20, 2014 
Parvathi Menon
Was World War 1 an exercise in futility or a just war that saved the future of democracy in the continent?

As the United Kingdom prepares for a four-year centenary commemoration of World War 1 (1914-1918), which will see a string of official and popular events to mark each stage and turning point in the war’s progression, an intense national conversation on the significance and lessons of the ‘War to End all Wars’ is gathering volume and pitch, threatening to draw level with the sounds of the celebratory bugles and trumpets. Was WW1, with its terrible toll on Britain of 16 million dead and 20 million injured, an exercise in futility; a grotesque mistake that sent a generation of young men to an early and senseless death, with nothing gained? Or was it, as many would argue, a just war that saved the future of democracy in the continent, by putting paid to the ambitions of an aggressive Germany bent on world domination?

These two positions are the book-ends that enclose a debate of many shades and nuances of historical detail and ideological positions, reflected in media debates and more lastingly, in a surge of WWI books that have flooded bookshops.A ‘just war’

One end of the polemic is represented by the Education Secretary Michael Gove who, in a recent article in the Daily Mail, berated those (he singled out Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and other “left-wing academics”) who view the war a “mistake” — as the “unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage.”

As examples of these “misbegotten shambles,” Mr. Gove held up anti-war productions such as “Oh! What a Lovely War” (a new version of the classic anti-war musical of 1963 is now running at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London); “The Monocled Mutineer” (a four-part 1986 BBC drama, written for the stage by Alan Bleasdale about Percy Toplis, a British soldier who is supposed to have led a British Army mutiny in northern France in 1917 at the height of the war); and the anti-war episodes in the fourth and final series of the BBC “Blackadder” sitcom series. Professor Evans in an article in The Guardian argued that “the men who enlisted in 1914 may have thought they were fighting for civilisation, for a better world, a war to end all wars, a war to defend freedom: they were wrong.” Mr. Gove cited the works of historians such as Professor Nigel Biggar of Oxford University, Gary Sheffield of Wolverhampton University, and military historian William Philpot, who has written on the battle of the Somme, in defence of his argument that it was a “just war.”The other argument


Energy access, conservation, investment and renewability must guide India’s energy security policy, writes Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Source Link

A coal mine in Dhanbad

During the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine ensured that coal reigned supreme as the primary source of energy, although over 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, naturally occurring tar or asphalt was in use. It was only from the 16th to the 18th centuries CE that the mining and use of crude oil increased, and after the discovery of fractional distillation, the first modern refinery was built in the Alsace region of France in the 1850s. The internal combustion engine revolutionized transport. The military conflicts of the 20th century boosted demand for petroleum products. By the 1950s, oil had dethroned King Coal as the principal fossil fuel and lifeblood for economic growth. Affordability, accessibility and availability of energy supplies became integral to national energy security and the sine qua non for economic growth and prosperity.

India’s economic growth depends crucially on primary energy supplies. Power generation alone must rise to about 9,60,000 megawatts in the next three decades, and India’s energy security will continue to be import-dependent. Sixty-six per cent of India’s requirement of coal, 90 per cent of oil and 60 per cent of natural gas will be imported by 2030. Increasing and intensifying exploration of onshore and offshore blocks, acquisition of oil and gas assets abroad, increasing energy efficiency of transportation and other sectors, blending oil with ethanol and replacement with renewable sources, wherever possible, are options that must be explored for India’s energy security.

The new exploration licensing policy of 1999 allowed 100 per cent foreign direct investment and 47.3 per cent of the Indian sedimentary basin are under exploration, as are coal bed methane blocks. ONGC Videsh Limited has acquired and invested altogether $15 billion in oil and gas assets abroad, with Oil India, Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum, GAIL, Reliance, Essar and Videocon following suit. Import diversification measures have increased crude-oil supplies from Africa (16.19 per cent) and Latin America (15.82 per cent). The share of West Asian crude has reduced from around 80 per cent, ten years ago, to 62 per cent.

Facebook to buy WhatsApp

 February 20, 2014 

APOn Wednesday the world's biggest social networking company, Facebook, announced it is buying mobile messaging service WhatsApp for up to $19 billion in cash and stock.

Facebook is buying mobile messaging service WhatsApp for up to $19 billion in cash and stock, by far the company’s largest acquisition.

The world’s biggest social networking company said Wednesday that it is paying $12 billion in Facebook stock and $4 billion in cash for WhatsApp. In addition, the app’s founders and employees will be granted $3 billion in restricted stock that will vest over four years after the deal closes.

Facebook says it is keeping WhatsApp as a separate service, just as it did with Instagram, which it bought for about $715.3 million.

WhatsApp has more than 450 million monthly active users. In comparison, Twitter had 241 million users at the end of 2014.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says WhatsApp is on path to reach a billion users.

Defence budgeting based on delusion

By Ajai Shukla, 
Business Standard
17th Feb 14

The interim defence budget, which raises military expenditure by 10 per cent from the current 2,03,672 crore to Rs 2,24,000 crore for 2014-15, is merely a fiscal bridge until the incoming government presents a final budget. With growth less than 5 per cent, the United Progressive Alliance has tried to signal that it is strong on national security. Yet, defence allocations remain below 2 per cent of GDP, a low figure given India’s two-front threat perception from China and Pakistan, and its internal security challenges in J&K, the northeast and in the Naxal belt.

The figure looks better --- close to 3 per cent of GDP --- if one adds spending on defence pensions, nuclear forces and central armed police forces (CAPF) --- which include organisations like the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force that play essential roles in internal security. Finance Minister Chidambaram, again strumming the “strong-on-security” chord, announced the allocation of Rs 11,009 crore for modernising the CAPF. This is welcome, given that the CAPF’s heavy-handedness (and that of the J&K Police) in handling public protests in J&K in 2009 and 2010 created a national security crisis.

Directly courting a restive ex-servicemen community, which is also being wooed by the BJP, the government acceded to a longstanding demand for “One Rank One Pension”, or OROP. This entitles soldiers, sailors and airmen who retired before 2006 --- when the 6th Pay Commission raised salaries and, therefore, pensions --- the higher pensions drawn by more recent retirees for the same length of service. This concession was not surprising since Rahul Gandhi had virtually promised OROP to a group of army pensioners he met last Friday.

Through OROP, the government has reached out to a constituency of 1.26 crore people, if one counts 14 lakh serving soldiers, 24 lakh pensioners, and a family unit of four for each. The government has long opposed OROP because full and retrospective implementation would require a one-time pay out of Rs 3,000-4,000 crore for arrears since January 1st, 2006; and also an annual hike of Rs 2,000 crore in the pension budget. To minimise the financial impact, the government has dispensed with the arrears, garnering the goodwill while handing the tab to the next government. While allocating only Rs 500 crore for OROP, the separate defence pensions allocation has been raised substantially, from 45,500 crore this year to Rs 50,000 crore in 2014-15.

India-U.S. Relations: ‘The Rupture is Certainly Real and Quite Tragic’


Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington, DC-based think-tank, and the driving force behind its South Asia programme, believes the negative fallout from the United States-India diplomatic spat that followed Dr. Devyani Khobragade's arrest is not only "real," but quite "tragic."

Dr. Tellis has nearly three decades experience of following U.S.-India relations and being a protagonist in the push for a U.S.-India strategic partnership. He served as senior adviser to then U.S. ambassador Robert D. Blackwill at the US embassy in New Delhi. He also served on the National Security Council staff as special assistant to the President and senior director for strategic planning and Southwest Asia.

He is the author of India's Emerging Nuclear Posture and co-author of Interpreting China's Grand Strategy: Past, Present, and Future. He is also the research director of the Strategic Asia programme at the National Bureau of Asian Research and co-editor of the programme's 10 most recent annual volumes. He is frequently called to testify before the United States Congress.

The rupture is certainly real and quite tragic. Unlike problems arising from policy differences, which can be negotiated and resolved somewhat dispassionately, the Khobragade affair has left bruised personal feelings on both sides.

We often assume that diplomats are moved solely by concerns about the national interest. But, in truth, how they are treated makes a difference to the enthusiasm they muster in carrying out their duties.

Both sides are obviously trying to put the incident behind them, but it will take time. And the repair is not helped by the fact that both countries are terribly inward looking at this point in time.

Lest we forget, there was a very difficult moment in the bilateral partnership after India's 1998 nuclear tests. The U.S. then had imposed sanctions on India and the mood was dominated by great acrimony, at the highest levels in Washington, towards New Delhi's actions.

Heavy Satellite Launch Vehicles: An Assessment

February 19, 2014 


A satellite launch vehicle (rocket) is designed to lift a satellite from the earth and to deliver it to the desired orbit. The strength of such a vehicle depends on the weight of the satellite and the nature of the orbit in which it is to be placed. With advancing rocket technology, capability to put the heavy satellites into different orbits has increased significantly. Recently, India joined the coveted club having capacities to launch around 2 tonnes of payload into the geostationary orbit. This Issue Brief makes an assessment of the existing global capabilities to launch heavy satellites into the space. 

Technically, launch vehicles could be categorised based on various features. It could be based on the number of stages the vehicle use for launching a satellite like single stage, twin stage, etc. It could also be based on method of assembly like vertically or horizontally assembled. However, the most common approach of classification could be based on the payload carrying capacity. There could be further sub-classifications in this category based on the orbits in which the payload is to be delivered. 

In relative sense for rocket scientists’ development of technology for delivering less than 2000-kg payload satellites in the low earth orbit (LEO) has been an easier task than putting heavier satellites in higher orbits. Currently, every space-faring state is not in a position to put heavy satellites into the geosynchronous orbit. Interestingly, even states like India with much advanced space programme has not been able to successfully undertake Moon and Mars missions but could achieve success in this field only at a later stage. 

On January 5, 2014, India conducted a successful launch of GSLV-D5 under its Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle programme. With this launch India, has for the first time, succeed in demonstrating its indigenous cryogenic technology. For India mastering this technology is extremely important because without cryogenic/semi-cryogenic technology it is not in a position to further develop its rocket programme for launching heavy satellites. What India has achieved with the successful launch of GSLV-D5 on January 5, 2014 (approximately two tones payload) could be viewed as a first step in the direction of developing a reliable launch system for the delivery of heavy satellites into different orbits. For all these years India has been depending on outside agencies to launch its communication/weather satellites (normally of four tonne variety) at cost. With the Indian system being available the cost of such exercises will not only be significantly less but could attract business by offering launch facilities using GSLV vehicle. 

India’s cryogenic engine development programme was in making for many years. In fact during early 1990s India was denied this technology. Russia then was supposed to transfer this technology to India but was pressurised by the US not to do so owing to the nuclear and missile related policies prevalent then. Since 2001, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been involved in the development of cryogenic engine. It witnessed one failure on April 15, 2010 when the launch using indigenously developed cryogenic engine failed. The failure to develop cryogenic technology appears to be almost universal. 

Smoothening the India-China Border Wrinkles

By Bhaskar Roy

The 17th round of India-China border talks (Feb. 10-11) in New Delhi passed off without any “free and frank” exchanges, that is, there was no disagreement. The first meeting was at the joint secretary level with military experts on both sides.

The situation on the border was reviewed and apparently was found satisfactory. The meeting it appears, was constructed by both sides to ensure no negative vibration emerged.

The main meeting, the 17th round of talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) of the two sides was much wider in scale because matters outside the border issue were discussed. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement said the talks were held in a “candid, friendly and constructive atmosphere”. Mr. Shivshankar Menon, the Indian SR and Mr. Yang Jiechi, the Chinese SR are veterans in the foreign policy game and India-China relations. On the Chinese side they know the stakes they are playing with. They have in their pocket “something to give” on the border issue if need be. But no one can say for sure what that is.

It must be kept in mind that the old Chinese position “if India makes concessions in the east” has not become irrelevant. In China’s foreign policy dealings, nothing once stated becomes irrelevant unless it is stated so officially.

The three-step process agreed to by both sides to resolve the boundary question was reiterated. The process has arrived at step-2 to reach a framework for a resolution of this question. This will be based on the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the settlement of the India-China Boundary Question. The SRs discussed possible additional Confidence Building Measures (CBM).

Other issues discussed, according to the MEA release included areas of mutual interest including cooperation in the East Asia Summit process as well as developments in West Asia and Afghanistan. Pakistan should have figured in the discussions, but it appears that the Chinese do not want it to be seriously included in the “India-China strategic partnership and co-operation”. It is too sensitive a subject.

China made its general position on the border clear when reacting to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in November last year. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang urged (Xinhua, Nov.30 2013) India not to indulge in acts that complicate the boundary issue and work with China to create conditions for talks and preserve peace and tranquility on the border.

China, Pakistan Flesh Out New ‘Economic Corridor’

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a part of Beijing’s greater strategic plan.

February 20, 2014

As Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain wraps up a visit to Beijing, China and Pakistan are solidifying plans to create a new “economic corridor” between their two nations. The three-day visit to Beijing was Hussain’s first official trip abroad since assuming the presidency. During his visit, Hussain met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in talks designed to underline the historically close ties between the two countries. “Friendship with China is the most important pillar of our foreign policy and security policy,” Hussain said just before his meeting with Xi.

Besides emphasizing China and Pakistan’s generally close ties, Hussain’s trip was focused on the new China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The idea was first proposed during a visit to Pakistan last May by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Hussain has embraced the idea as well, predicting that the “project is going to be a monument of the century. It will benefit not only Pakistan and China, but also the whole region with billions of people.”

According to Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Planning, Development, and Reform, China and Pakistan expect to sign cooperation agreements on projects to enhance transportation and trade during Hussain’s visit. Such projects include construction of an airport at the Chinese-controlled port of Gwadar and upgrades to roads and railways. “In the past, the economic relationship could not match the political one. Now the leadership on both sides has realized that we have to bridge that gap,” Iqbal told the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to building infrastructure, China Daily predicted increased cooperation “in the industrial, agricultural, mining, financial, telecommunication and service sectors.” For its part, Pakistan’s government is especially keen for China to help develop the energy sector in order to alleviate crippling power shortages. China has already committed $6.5 billion to build a new nuclear power plant in Karachi.

The list of projects to be completed in Pakistan is just the beginning. China has wider ambitions for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. According to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, the corridor will “serve as a driver for connectivity between South Asia and East Asia.” Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the Pakistan-China Institute, told China Daily that the economic corridor “will play a crucial role in regional integration of the ‘Greater South Asia’, which includes China, Iran, Afghanistan, and stretches all the way to Myanmar.”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is one of many examples of China trying to enhance its economic integration with countries to its west. There are also plans to set up a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. On an even larger scale, the “new silk road” and “maritime silk road” represent complementary efforts to build up infrastructure for trade and transportation between China and Central Asia.

Afghan Ethnic Tensions Rise in Media and Politics

FEB. 18, 2014

Launch media viewer A Pashtun neighborhood in Kabul. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — It started with a heat-of-the-moment comment on a partisan television talk show, drawing an ethnic line that was bold even by Afghan standards.

“Pashtuns are the rulers and owners of Afghanistan; they are the real inhabitants of Afghanistan,” said Gen. Abdul Wahid Taqat, a former intelligence official. “Afghanistan means ‘where Pashtuns live.’ ”

The words ignited protests in Kabul in December. Social media erupted. To contain the uproar, President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, had General Taqat arrested and chastised the news media for trying to whip up hatred, something he said many outlets were increasingly doing.

The president warned his fellow Afghans, with their bitter memories of ethnic conflict, of what they stood to lose: “If it were not for the national unity of the people, you wouldn’t be able to live in Kabul for a second.”

More than 100,000 people died during the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, a conflict that broke largely along ethnic lines, among the Pashtuns and the smaller Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek populations.

Launch media viewer Buying onions from a truck in a Hazara neighborhood. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Although there has been little ethnic violence across the country lately, in political and news media circles, nerves are raw and tempers have been flaring. Shouting matches over ethnic issues in Parliament and on radio programs have started to erupt into fistfights, a troubling reminder that the fragile ethnic détente here, sustained by foreign troops and billions of dollars in aid, could easily shatter. And with the American-led coalition preparing to withdraw, a long-term security agreement in doubt and a presidential election looming, many Afghans feel vulnerable about the future.

But so far at least, ordinary Afghans do not seem to be following the news media and political elite’s lead. Many people have taken to the Internet and to the streets to protest the provocations, writing songs and poems about unity and castigating the news media and partisan leaders who play the ethnic card. Under pressure, General Taqat offered an apology to the nation, in a video posted on YouTube.

U.S. facing a no-win legacy in Afghanistan

By: Philip Ewing
February 18, 2014 11:29 PM EST 

As the war in Afghanistan winds to a close, the architects of the campaign face a decidedly one-sided battle with history.

At the moment, they’re losing and losing badly, as Washington is plumbing new depths of pessimism about the outlook for the nation that President George W. Bush and his team once vowed to transform.

There’s no talk of “victory,” or how the U.S. should spend its share of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, or how to use the peace dividend from a world made safe from Al Qaeda. Instead, the discussion has boiled down to a debate over whether the future will bring a quick implosion or a slow-motion collapse — and whose fault it would be.

Even former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, who helped set the war into motion in the Bush administration, acknowledged that today’s reality has not matched some of Washington’s past aspirations for what it could accomplish in Afghanistan.

“All along, there were times when some officials would get what I consider to be a little too hopeful or a little too enthusiastic, or a little too excessive in their expectations or their rhetoric about building democracy or economic prosperity,” Feith told POLITICO.

But he defended the original need for the invasion, which he said had accomplished its aim of destroying the government that harbored Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda fighters. And he said not to lose sight of the progress he said Afghanistan has made since then.

“I think Afghanistan has been improved very substantially in a number of ways that do make a difference. It’s more promising economically and politically for the people there,” he said.

He also conceded, “It has a lot of problems. … I don’t know if we’ll be able to preserve what we created there in the way of national security, the police and the military, after we leave.”

Kabul cannot afford the Afghan National Security Forces that were formed, trained and supported largely by the U.S. Today’s biggest question isn’t whether Washington will begin to dial back its assistance to Kabul, only when. It might not happen until after President Barack Obama leaves office in 2017, or it could be as soon as next week.

National security officials and members of Congress are furious that Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai set free a cadre of insurgents who American commanders say have killed U.S. troops and Afghan civilians. And that’s only Karzai’s latest thumb in the eye, following reported false claims about American airstrikes and his refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement he negotiated with the Obama administration.

Some key American decision makers just want to write off Karzai completely and try to find a more stable negotiating partner after April’s Afghan presidential election.

* Iran 'May Send Forces Into Pakistan'

February 19, 2014

A recent attack involving Sunni militants on the Iran-Pakistan border highlights differences between the two neighbors.

Relations between Iran and Pakistan are growing strained over the kidnapping of five Iranian border guards in Iran’s Sistan Baluchistan region by the Iran-based Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice). The five guards are now suspected to be in Pakistani Balochistan.

In response to the kidnapping, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli told Iran’s Mehr news agency that “If Pakistan doesn’t take the needed steps to fight against the terrorist groups, we will send our forces into Pakistani soil. We will not wait for this country.”

The minister noted that should Pakistan refuse to treat the case “strongly and seriously,” it must allow Iran to secure the region against what it perceives to be a significant domestic terrorist threat. “Otherwise we do consider it our own right to intervene and create a new security sphere for our safety,” he said.

According to other Iranian sources, an Iranian delegation visited Pakistan on Monday in order to secure the guards’ release. Iran Students News Agency reports that Iran has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to the country twice already over the issue.

In response to the Interior Minister’s comments, Pakistan warned Iran not to send its troops across their shared border in Balochistan. A Pakistani government statement warned that “Iranian forces have no authority to cross our borders in violation of the international law. We must respect each other’s borders.” The incident threatens to flare up sectarian tensions in bilateral relations between Iran’s largely Shia rulers and Sunni Pakistan.

The statement added that “The government of Pakistan regrets the suggestions of negligence on its part over the incident, especially when Pakistan’s active support against terrorists groups in the past is well-known and acknowledged by Iran.”

Political Turmoil in Bangladesh Likely to Continue

February 19, 2014 

Bangladesh has been facing political turbulence for more than a year now. To press the demand for the installation of a non- partisan interim administration to supervise elections, the opposition parties have made the task of governance difficult for the Awami League (AL) through continued agitations, strikes and blockades. 

The January 5 election has not found acceptance at the domestic and international levels as it does not help resolving the ongoing political standoff. In the absence of opposition parties, the AL has managed an easy victory winning nearly three fourth of total parliamentary seats. Sheikh Hasina claimed her party’s victory as “legitimate” because in some quarters questions were raised regarding the legality of the parliament. 

Following the announcement of poll verdict, Hasina urged her arch rival Khaleda Zia to shun the path of violence and sever ties with anti-liberation forces like Jamaat-e-Islami. She has indicated her government’s willingness to sit for a dialogue with the opposition for conducting future elections. She said, “A solution can be reached on the next elections only through talks. For that, everyone will have to have restraints, tolerance and stop political violence of all sorts.” 

The opposition boycott has undoubtedly undermined the credibility of the elections in which only 20 %-- 30% voters turned up amid large-scale violence. It may be noted that in the February 1996 elections with Khaleda as the prime minister, which the then opposition party AL boycotted, the turnout was recorded a meagre 26%. It is an irony that the AL as the main opposition party had been spearheading a countrywide agitation demanding the establishment of a caretaker administration. In 1996, the question of legality was not raised as the parliament passed the Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment incorporating the provision of caretaker system. Some Bangladeshi political observers argue that the new parliament may be “controversial” from oppositions’ viewpoints since they stayed away from the elections by dubbing it “farcical” but in no way could be termed “illegal”. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh, has remarked, “Although the elections were constitutional and legal, it is questionable on a political and ethical perspective”. 

Global Space Spending Drops For First Time Since 1995

Also, China’s Hongdu L-15 is back in production, USS Taylor runs aground, PLA soldiers getting too big. Links.

February 20, 2014

A few mid-week defense and security links:

Global Space Spending Drops For First Time Since 1995According to a new report by Euroconsult, global space spending fell in 2013 to a total of $72.1 billion. The drop is rather slight as 2012’s peak was $72.9 billion. Euroconsult’s press release notes that “This is the first time since 1995 that public space programs worldwide have entered a downward trend, a direct result of the cyclical nature of countries’ investment in space-based infrastructures combined with governments’ belt-tightening efforts during tough economic times.” The U.S. spent $38.7 billion on its space programs, civil and defense combined. Russia came in a distant second, but was the only country apart from the United States to spend over $10 billion on its space program. Japan, China, France, Germany, Italy, and India spent over $1 billion.

Oops. The USS Taylor ran aground last week while getting ready to moor in Turkey last week. The Taylor was initially deployed to the Black Sea for security ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, something mainstream sources have been happy to point out. The Taylor and the USS Mount Whitney were conducting maritime security operations in the Black Sea and remained available should Russian authorities require assistance in the event of a disaster.

A Chinese Ministry of Defense announcement (in Chinese) suggests that the Hongdu L-15 Falcon supersonic training and light attack aircraft will be back in production. The announcement mostly focuses on the fact that the L-15 development is now attracting better-qualified candidates, but production is back on track. We’ll keep an eye on this and update Flashpoints readers as more becomes available. The L-15 is intended for domestic use by the PLAAF and PLANAF. There hasn’t been a major push for exporting the L-15 so far. Zambia is the lone importer at the moment; Nigeria and Pakistan may look into the L-15 in the future.

National Defense Magazine has a March 2014 feature on cybersecurity, focusing on the preparedness of U.S. critical infrastructure and utility companies. Fears that these industries are widely vulnerable to a devastating cyberattack appear to be well-placed given the stakes, but existing security measures and safeguards are somewhat more developed than many would believe. The U.S. energy grid is the backbone of American commerce and livelihood; ensuring it is impervious to a cyberattack is a tall task with great stakes.

China Must Force North Korea to Change

By The Editors
Feb 19, 2014 

Photo: Getty Images/AFP; Illustration by Bloomberg View

The United Nations' report on human rights in North Korea is a sickening document. It should give China's leaders pause. Supporting the despicable regime of Kim Jong Un is not in their interests.

North Korea's chubby, basketball-loving leader invites mockery, but the report released Monday makes plain that he and his regime are no joke. UN investigators provide an appalling catalog of horrors: children beaten for not performing well at mass games honoring the Dear Leader, citizens jailed for dusting their mandatory portraits of Kim’s father and grandfather with insufficient dedication, women subjected to systematic sexual exploitation, families sent to labor camps for the supposed crimes of a single member.

The descriptions of those camps -- estimated to hold as many as 120,000 people -- are especially disgusting. Former inmates talk of being tortured and starved, forced to eat rats and flesh from the bodies of dead prisoners.

Michael Kirby, the retired Australian judge who led the inquiry, warns Kim that he might be personally culpable for crimes against humanity and could face international prosecution. Yet the investigators' recommendation to arraign Kim and others is almost certain to fail, because China will veto it. Chinese officials refused to cooperate with the commission. A Foreign Ministry representative denounced the report for politicizing human rights.

China props up Kim's rule with moral, diplomatic and economic help. It abets some of the regime’s worst crimes, forcing North Korean refugees -- whom China calls economic migrants rather than asylum seekers -- back to face imprisonment and torture. One such returnee told investigators that North Korean guards forced her to drown her infant child because the father was presumed to have been Chinese, hence racially impure. Refugees who manage to escape detection in China must live in hiding, their children deprived of schooling and health care.

Navy Official: China Training for ‘Short Sharp War’ with Japan

February 18, 2014 

Chinese marines assault a beach during the Mission Action 2013 exercise. Xinhua Photo

China has long trained for an amphibious invasion of Taiwan during military exercises but has expanded its training to include a similar attack on Japanese holdings in the East China Sea, according the chief of intelligence of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLEET).

As part of China’s Mission Action 2013 exercise — a massive exercise between the all branches of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — the military trained for taking the Senkaku Islands, said Capt. James Fannell, deputy chief of staff intelligence and information operations for PACFLEET.

View China’s Training Plan in a larger map

“We witnessed the massive amphibious and cross military region enterprise — Mission Action 2013,” Fannell said at the West 2014 conference on Feb. 13 in San Diego, Calif.

“[We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [islands] — as some of their academics say.”

In the last year, China has increased the military activity has additionally increased provocative military actions in the South China Sea around the so-called Nine Dash Line — China’s expansive claim into the region in conflict with several other international claims.

China Will Have to Face a Stronger US-Japan Alliance

By Jin Kai
February 19, 2014

Despite its wish for a new type of relationship with the US, China will face a stronger US-Japan alliance in coming years.

However China explains its claimed peaceful rise, it will still be viewed by a number of major actors in world politics as a revisionist power that intends to change the U.S.-led status quo, starting with the East Asian region.

As a newcomer to the dominant system, China has spent more than three decades learning and growing, especially utilizing resources from the Western world that range from capital investments to advanced management knowledge and skills. At the same time, China has been extremely vigilant when it comes to the issues that inherently determine China’s uniqueness: in general, China has emerged while keeping its own political and ideological characteristics. Interestingly, a swiftly-democratized Russia was invited to G7 while China, the world’s second largest economy, is still kept out of G8. Nick Butler of The Financial Times describes the absence of China in the G8 as “a self defeating exclusion.” As an important player in G20, though, China never stopped its rapid emergence, particularly in East Asia.

As China gains in global and particularly regional influence, a complex diplomatic issue has emerged. In the midst of enduring disputes in the East China Sea, a Chinese version of an ADIZ has been viewed as an example of its assertiveness, particularly by the U.S. and its key ally Japan, both of which have disparaged China’s action. For now, China needs to deal with its stand-off with Japan and its engagement with the U.S. at the same time. There’s a good chance that China may face a stronger U.S.-Japan alliance even as it endeavors to build a new type of great power relations with the United States.

China’s Military Trains for War Against Japan

A senior US military official says the PLA has been holding exercises to practice seizing islands in the East China Sea.

February 19, 2014

A senior U.S. military officer has accused China’s People Liberation Army of training for a “short sharp war” against Japan in the East China Sea aimed at seizing the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

According to the U.S. Naval Institute, Captain James Fanell, Director, Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said that the massive Mission Action 2013 exercise between all three branches of the PLA last year was aimed at preparing for a war to defeat Japan’s Self Defense Forces in a conflict in the East China Sea.

“We witnessed the massive amphibious and cross military region enterprise — Mission Action 2013,” USNI News quoted Capt. Fanell as saying. “[We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [islands] — as some of their academics say.”

During the speech delivered at the USNI-sponsored WEST 2014 conference, Capt. Fanell also took aim at some of China’s broader maritime activities in the East and South China Seas.

“Tensions in the South and East China Seas have deteriorated with the Chinese Coast Guard playing the role of antagonist, harassing China’s neighbors while PLA Navy ships, their protectors, (make) port calls throughout the region promising friendship and cooperation,” Fanell said, according to USNI News.

He went on to add: “By the way, protection of maritime rights is a Chinese euphemism for coerce[d] seizure of coastal rights of China’s neighbors.”

Fanell has wide experience serving in the Pacific, giving him unique insight into how the region’s navies operate and how this is changing over time. He also has broad expertise on China itself. According to his official biography, in 1991 Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific (JICPAC) named him as one of the first China maritime watch officers. Between 2005 and 2006 he studied China’s naval operations at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and from 2006 through 2008 he was the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)’s senior intelligence officer on China. He currently serves as the moderator of Red Star Rising, an information service that monitors the rise of China.

To Counter Beijing, Japan Moves Closer to Taiwan

Rumors of a Japanese Taiwan Relations Act hint at a possible strategy to court Taipei at Beijing’s expense.

February 20, 2014

A report from Kyodo News International says that lawmakers from Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are trying to create a Japanese version of the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. law that governs Washington’s relations with Taipei. Japan does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but the proposed law would seek to formalize the current unofficial ties. Specifically, the law would create “a basis for strengthening economic relations and personal exchange” with the island. The law is championed by Japan-Taiwan Young Parliamentary Association on Economic Exchange, a group chaired by Nobuo Kishi, who happens to be the younger brother of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It’s unclear how broad of political support the new law would have or what the specifics would be.

Despite this, China wasted no time expressing its displeasure. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters that China was “deeply concerned” by the news. “The Taiwan Question concerns China’s core interests. Whether Japan-Taiwan relations can be properly handled or not has a bearing on the political foundation of China-Japan relations,” Hua said. She added that China was “firmly opposed” to the “attempt to strengthen Japan-Taiwan relations.” An article by China’s state media organization Xinhua summarized Hua’s remarks, further reiterating China’s opposition to the move.

Calling the act the “Japanese Taiwan Relations Acts” is a bit misleading (and possibly intentionally provocative on Japan’s part). The U.S. Taiwan Relations Act is most famous for providing the justification for regular U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Current reports indicate Japan’s bill would be restricted to furthering economic and cultural ties, avoiding the hot-button issue of defense partnerships with the island.

The idea of a Japanese bill to expand Taiwan relations is not new. Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian called for such a law back in 2006. Chen’s idea for the act specifically mentioned security elements. “We’d like to see a strategic dialogue mechanism set up between the two countries,” he said, adding that he hoped a Japan-Taiwan partnership could make an important contribution to regional security and stability. Current president Ma Ying-jeou has not repeated these calls, but he has described Taiwan’s relationship with Japan as a “special partnership” characterized by great warmth.

The 2014 vision for Japan’s own “Taiwan Relations Act” is more focused on economics, which accords with the domestic political needs of both Shinzo Abe and Ma Ying-jeou to shake off sluggish economic growth. According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan is Japan’s fifth-largest trading partner, and Japan is second only to China as Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Deepening economic cooperation would be beneficial for both—and could also have political benefits. Highlighting Japan-Taiwan cooperation serves as a pointed counter-narrative to worsening China-Japan ties.