11 August 2014

A FORGOTTEN IRREPLACEABLE - Remembering Samar Sen, an extraordinary diplomat

K. Shankar Bajpai 

He deserves remembrance for services rendered, for the standards by which he lived and worked, perhaps most of all for being such a delight. In Tynan’s striking phrase for those remarkable character-actors who made otherwise unremarkable works lively and admirable, Tinoo Sen was one of those “forgotten irreplaceables” who never sought matinee-idol stardom (even refusing the foreign secretaryship) but who, in role after role, raised their stature and effect.

That he was “Tinoo” always, and to all, indicates the kind of person he was: immediately friendly — but never trying to be, attentive and earning attention, perceptive and responsive. I wish I could bring to life someone so full of it, wide in sympathies and interests, uncondescendingly understanding of human weaknesses and differences while also shrewdly alert to the evil that men do (especially those for whom, it might currently be said, one lie is not enough). He could not abide deviousness and intrigue, knew how to cope with them but when they tried to enmesh him he would rebel, as he did when, as head of Chancery in our London office, a serpentine Krishna Menon drove him to resign; yet even there he was so innately likeable, and so capable, that not only was the resignation rejected, but the same KM also stood in for his absent father-in-law at his marriage and later chose him to be chairman of one of the three international control commissions for Indo-China.

Few of the varied groups that make up our peoples have produced so many interesting characters, of endless variety of knowledge and stimulation, unconventional if not idiosyncratic, drawing you to them for the sheer pleasure of the company, as our Bengalis — and don’t they know it. Tinoo was an outstanding example, but without knowing it, a natural as well as an original. He was, in fact, hardly conscious of being of any particular region — though, incredibly for a man of his fluency, who was to excel in two of our positions most needing communication skills, his very Bengali accent could sometimes do with translation. Generously hospitable, a great bridge player, enjoying a glass (so to speak) with friends without ever showing it, he could be a lively companion till the early hours and yet first in office the next morning. But his was never an effusive, back-slapping amiability: that would repel him, for he was almost reserved, in a self-contained way. He never had any money, never drove much less owned a car, but enjoyed his circumstances with real cheerfulness. Only a woman with similar inner strength, originality of mind, range of interests and real charm could have been his wife, and he was to find an enviably happy life with Shiela Lall, who excelled even him in these respects, and happily still remains her own spritely, original self, with a delightful family of four children and their offspring.

Tinoo was also one of the hardest working and most able civil servants we have had. While training in law at London’s Inns of Court, he preferred to join the ICS, from which he was soon picked out for the Indian Political Service, that highly selective branch specializing in dealing with non-British India and our immediate, if smaller, neighbours. Evidently his potential for the skills associated with diplomacy were recognized early, and he was one of the handful of younger officers posted abroad even before Independence, surely the only one in such a major assignment as New York, where he was to return for a dramatic stint as head of our United Nations mission. In between, he ranged from Algeria to Australia, excelling in hard jobs, high commissioner in difficult times in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, with an outstanding performance in the UN security council projecting the latter’s cause against the former’s excesses in 1971. For this, Bangladesh honoured him posthumously. Surviving a failed hand-grenade attack on his Dacca residence, he could not escape a bullet in his shoulder, but carried on working, refusing Delhi’s special plane to fly him out.

Misunderstanding secularism

August 11, 2014

Speaking as the chief guest at a conference at Gujarat University’s convention hall on August 2, Supreme Court judge Justice Anil R. Dave said, “Had I been the dictator of India, I would have introduced Gita and Mahabharata in Class I. That is the way you learn how to

live life. I am sorry if somebody says I am secular or I am not secular.But we have to get good things from everywhere.”

These words reflect some of the current misunderstandings about Indian secularism. It is in consonance with Indian secularism to borrow “good things from everywhere”, including the Gita and the Mahabharata. This “ism” does not imply the secularisation of society. On the contrary, whereas French laïcité involves a clear separation between public and religious spaces, far from excluding religion from the public sphere, Indian secularism officially recognises all faiths, as evident from the Constitution and its implementation in the first decades of the Indian republic.

Jawaharlal Nehru himself wrote in 1961: “We talk about a secular state in India. It is perhaps not very easy even to find a good word in Hindi for ‘secular’. Some people think it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct. What it means is that it is a state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities.” Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, president of India when Nehru was prime minister, expressed a similar vision in these eloquent terms: “When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we as a people reject the reality of an unseen spirit or the relevance of religions to life or that we exalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that the state assumes divine prerogatives. Though faith in the supreme spirit is the basic principle of the Indian tradition, our state will not identify itself with or be controlled by any particular religion.”

The specificity of Indian secularism transpires clearly in these quoted passages. Far from being areligious, irreligious or anti-religious, this principle is, on the contrary, perfectly compatible with religiosity. But, recognising the importance of religion in the public space, the state intervenes in favour of all religious communities. It thus subsidises all kinds of religious activities, including pilgrimages for Sikhs (to Pakistan) and Hindus (like the one to Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir). The state also subsidises major religious celebrations such as the Kumbh Melas. The one in 2001, for instance, cost Rs 120 crore. Since 1993, Indian pilgrims to Mecca have been largely state-funded, too.

This multicultural approach has been recently illustrated in the way President Pranab Mukherjee hosted an iftar party towards the end of Ramzan, soon after publicly offering prayers at the Padmanabhaswamy temple.

There are no winners in the game

Zahid Hussain

One wonders whether the Pakistan Prime Minister actually believes the army will come to his rescue in a time of crisis. Nawaz Sharif needs to take lessons from history for his own sake. It is a great plunge to take from the politics of confrontation to the politics of survival

THE elephant is already in the room and surely by invitation this time. A panic-stricken civilian administration has handed over the security of the nation's capital to the army at its own peril.

The Triple One Brigade, whom we hear about mostly in times of military coups, is now deployed around key government installations. All this is happening as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri threaten, separately, to force the government out through a “revolution march”, providing enough fuel to keep alive our ever-active rumour mill. The development is ominous nonetheless.

One does not expect anything like the storming of the Bastille on August 14. Neither Khan's young brigade, nor Qadri's few thousand fanatical followers are the vanguard of revolution. But the government's own ineptness and paralysis is proving to be its unravelling. An absentee prime minister, a sulking interior minister and some other irrelevant members of the cabinet do not evoke much public faith in a crumbling power structure.

True to his self, Nawaz Sharif plans to counter the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) long march with unprecedented pomp and show on Independence Day, starting with a military parade and the hoisting of supposedly the biggest-ever national flag. Curiously, this military drill is not a routine part of Independence Day celebrations; it is taking place as the civilian administration has abdicated the responsibility of security of the capital, leaving it to the army to handle reported terrorist threats. This lends some credence to the opposition allegation that it is a deliberate move by the government to involve the military in the political conflict — with dangerous consequences. For sure, Article 245 has routinely been used in conflict zones in order give legal cover to security forces fighting insurgencies. But this provision has rarely been invoked in urban areas in times of peace. It was in 1977 that the army was summoned by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the height of the Pakistan National Alliance movement in Lahore and Karachi under Article 245. And that “mini martial law” was perhaps the beginning of the end of the Bhutto government. Article 245 was later also invoked by Nawaz Sharif in Karachi in 1998.

Surely one cannot draw a parallel between the situation then and now, but the outcome may not be very different. What is worse this time is that the army has been called in even though there has not been any serious incident of violence or a law-and-order situation that cannot be handled by civil law-enforcement agencies. One wonders whether it is pure naivety on the part of the prime minister or whether he actually believes the army will come to his rescue in a time of crisis. Sharif needs to take a lesson from history for his own sake. One oft-repeated argument offered by the government is that the invocation of Article 245 was linked with the operation in North Waziristan meant to give legal cover to the troops dealing with any militant backlash. But why has this only been exercised in Islamabad? Why not Peshawar, Lahore or Karachi? Interestingly, the provision has been invoked more than six weeks after the start of the operation. Is there any explanation for why now? Particularly since there has been virtually no major terrorist incident in the city during that period that it would require extraordinary measures?

Perpetuating the fiction of the failed state

Rafia Zakaria

The proliferation of glib terms like ‘failure’ and ‘rentier’ and ‘ungovernability’ are the mis-characterisations and deceptions of the new colonialism. Like the old, it presents the shadows of intervention as weightless and the obligations of aid as never, ever, nefarious.

THESE are familiar questions in Pakistan's current dark times: Is the state failing, has it failed, will it fail? These are all questions that have appeared in ink in Pakistani newspapers, fallen from the lips of new analysts, been scattered around by politicians.

A centrepiece in the scientific analysis of governance, a sense of gravity, is invested in the idea; and, consequently, “state failure” is imagined as an objective standard against which existing inadequacies can be tabulated. In the chaos of Pakistani politics — the inveterate corruption, the endemic nepotism, the lack of oversight and objectivity — the prospect of standards, especially objective ones, gleams and glistens. In this climate of developing-nation despair, therefore, the term “failed” state has been embraced.

Foreign commentators, many of whom make their living on their expertise on Pakistan's unravelling, have offered their own affirmations. Writing in 2012, following the immediate release of the Failed States Index 2012, Robert Kaplan — the chief geopolitical strategist for Stratfor — dictatorially declared: “Perversity characterises Pakistan.” Many of his ilk have happily followed suit, heaping all sorts negative terms, each supposedly attached to the pristine numerical objectivity of the “failed states measure”.

As it turns out, the term “failed state” is a hoax designed precisely to capitalise on the insecurities of struggling sovereignties like Pakistan. In an article published in the Guardian newspaper over a year ago, commentator Elliott Ross exposed both the term's origins and the nefarious intentions for whose fulfilment it was coined. The term and the Failed States Index which accompanies it is the child of a man named J.J. Messner, a former lobbyist for the private military industry.

Not only does Mr Messner not disclose this inconvenient fact about his past employment history, he also refuses to release any of the raw data that goes behind the index that he publishes.

Despite this, many political scientists who are usually quite vigilant about trawling through each other's data to verify claims have accepted the presence of the index in their midst. As Ross explains, this is not an accident. The term itself was coined by two men, Gerald Helman and Steven Ratner, both employees of the US State Department in 1992. In an article appearing in Foreign Policy (which also hosts the dubious index, that has since been renamed the Fragile States Index), the duo argued that new countries emerging on the world's map were incapable of functioning or sustaining themselves as members of the international community.

Metastasis of the Islamic State

Published: August 11, 2014

Vijay Prashad

APIS has slipped through the cracks of regional disunity.

Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the anti-Assad powers, refuse to join a united front with Iran, Iraq and Syria to tackle the IS threat. With absent coordination, the Islamic State will continue to thrive.

Comfortable in its bastions along the Euphrates river in Syria and Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State (IS) has struck at its two ends --- in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and Iraq’s Jabal Sinjar. Barred from entry into Baghdad and from making a dash to Damascus, the IS has moved with dramatic ferocity into Iraq’s northwest and into the breadbasket of Lebanon. A resolute Lebanese Army response in Arsal stopped the IS advance down the Bekaa toward Beirut. A delegation from the Muslim Scholars Association helped the IS and Lebanon’s government broker an agreement for the withdrawal of the fighters over the mountains into Syria. Consistent aerial bombardment by the Syrian government moved the IS and its sometimes ally, Jabhat al-Nusra, back north toward the city of Raqqa. An uneasy quiet reigns for now in Lebanon. But not so in Iraq.

Superiority and fearlessness

After regular shelling and threats of extermination, the Islamic State finally left Mosul for the towns of Sinjar and Qaraqosh. The Kurdish fighting force, the legendary Peshmerga (“those who confront death”), could not hold their defensive lines. “What took place was a tactical retreat,” said Brigadier General Azad Jalil – the Peshmerga do not have the capability to fight the Islamic State across the region. It retreated to defend Irbil, its capital. The Peshmerga is poorly armed and badly paid. In May, a Peshmerga division blocked the Duhok-Akre road with the complaint that it had not been paid in two months. Morale has been low among the soldiers, who could not withstand the firepower and braggadocio of the jihadi army. The Islamic State was, therefore, able to threaten Iraq’s largest power and water source --- as the Peshmerga fled from Mosul dam. Each victory makes the IS more powerful --- they get arms, they get new infrastructure, and they get momentum.

The Yazidis

Sinjar, Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella, Karamlesh, Nahum —-- these are towns with ancient lineages, home to communities with the most fascinating lineages. It is here that the Islamic State has now arrived with a demand to the Yazidis, Chaldean Christians, Shabak, Syrian Christians and Turkomen that they must either submit to the faith of the IS or die. Most people have fled, 2,00,000 according to the United Nations. Towns that are not yet in the Islamic State's hands are being emptied as people lose faith in the ability of the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army to act. Forty thousand Yazidis took refuge in their holy mountain, cut off for several days from any humanitarian aid. Marzio Babille, UNICEF’s Iraq chief, said that children were “dying on the mountain, no the roads. There is no water. There is no vegetation. They are completely cut off and surrounded by the Islamic State. It is a disaster. A total disaster.” Over the first two days of their flight, Mr. Babille said, 40 children had died. United States transport aircraft dropped food and water for 8,000 people ---- four days into their siege. A slow transit has begun to Syria, without any proper humanitarian corridor established. The various Kurdish armed factions, the PKK (from Turkey), the YGP (from Syria) and the Peshmerga, have begun to operate together but only tentatively. The PKK and YPG are hardened forces. They can seriously threaten the Islamic State on the battlefield.

Tightening the noose around Gaza

Published: August 11, 2014
Satyabrata Pal

APWhat Israel is doing in Gaza is heartless, brainless and eyeless. A displaced Palestinian child stands in a classroom, at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip.

Israel’s plan is to increase the rigour of the blockade until the residents of Gaza turn against Hamas, which they elected to govern them

For a month now, many in Israel have been under great stress — their lives constantly interrupted by sirens and explosions of incoming rockets intercepted by Israeli missiles. According to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), 2,830 rockets were fired from Gaza in July, some capable of targeting every corner in Israel. The Israeli government has a duty to protect its citizens and invokes it to justify the offensive in Gaza, which, it says, will make them more secure. But will Operation Protective Edge do that and is that what it is meant for?

These questions arise because this is the continuation of an operation called Brother’s Keeper, launched by several IDF brigades in West Bank after the kidnapping and murder on June 12 of three Israeli teenagers. Without a shred of evidence, the Israeli government blamed Hamas, which strenuously denied its involvement. That operation, supposedly meant to rescue the boys and find the kidnappers, failed on both counts.

Instead of calling off the operation, Israel intensified it. It called on the Prime Minister of Palestine to abjure the agreement of April 23 between Fatah and Hamas and targeted Hamas, which almost by definition could not have been responsible once the involvement of the Qawasameh (a clan that ostensibly supports Hamas and which owns the land on which the victims’ bodies were found) became known. Several innocent Palestinians were killed and hundreds of Hamas leaders and cadres arrested, including those who had been released in a prisoner-exchange agreement.

Promoting a strategic objective

It became increasingly obvious that the Israeli government was exploiting the murders to promote a strategic objective to purge the West Bank of a Hamas presence, and break its pact with Fatah, which united and strengthened the Palestinians politically. The Israeli government had opposed the pact and objected to the formation of the new Palestinian government. The military operations followed within days. By June 26, 566 Palestinians were detained, six were shot dead, and over 120 wounded. And it was only after this sustained provocation that Hamas played into Israel’s hands and resumed firing rockets, something it had not done after the last ceasefire came into effect.

Chhattisgarh: Sukma - Region of Sorrow

Deepak Kumar Nayak 
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management 

On July 28, 2014, a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre was killed and three personnel of the 150th battalion of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), including an Assistant Commandant, Alok Kumar, were injured in an encounter in the forest near Ramaram village under the Chintagufa Police Station limits in Sukma District. Police recovered the body of the slain Maoist after the exchange of fire was over. Police later claimed that reliable sources indicated that another ten Maoists, including ‘five commanders’, were killed, though Police did not recover any other bodies. 

Earlier, on July 7, 2014, two troopers of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) of the CRPF were injured in an encounter with the Maoists in forested patches of Karikunda under Bhejji Police Station limits in Sukma District. According to Sukma Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), Neeraj Chandrakar, during a combing operation in the forested patch, the Security Forces (SFs) suddenly came under indiscriminate firing by the Maoists.

Sukma was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District in January 16, 2012, and occupies an area of 5635.79 square kilometres, with a population of 250,159 (census 2011). It shares its borders with Maoist-infested the Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada Districts of the State to the north and west, Malkangiri District of Odisha to the east and Khammam District of Telangana to the South. Some 3,500 square kilometres of Sukma, more than 75 per cent of its total area, are under thick forest cover. The forest cover, terrain and location of the District give the Maoists a distinct advantage in their campaigns to establish disruptive dominance and evade action by SFs. 

The location of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) as part of Dantewada District, the newly established Sukma District caught the attention of the nation with the high-profile abduction of the District’s first Collector, Alex Paul Menon, on April 21, 2012. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the District has already registered 23 fatalities (2 civilians 20 SF personnel and one Maoist) in five incidents of killing in 2014, out of a total of 67 fatalities in Chhattisgarh. There were 56 fatalities in 16 incidents of killing in the District in 2013 (out of 128 in Chhattisgarh), and 16 fatalities in nine incidents of killing in 2012 (out of 108 in Chhattisgarh).

Fatalities in Sukma District: 2012-2014
Incidents of Killing
Left Wing Extremists
Source: SATP, *Data till August 3, 2014

While Maoists fatalities have increased since the formation of the District, civilians and SF fatalities reflect a sharper increase, and account for about 36 per cent and 48 per cent of the total, respectively.

At the Conventional-Nuclear Interface

09 Aug , 2014

Conventional backdrop to nuclear foreground

Accustomed to the phrase ‘nuclear backdrop’ as the army has been over the past two decades, the title may require explaining. The assumption is that in case of introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict, even at the lower order levels of nuclear first use and retaliation, the conflict is dramatically transformed from its original scope. The understanding that informs the pre-nuclear use situation, specifically conventional operations in a nuclear backdrop, has therefore to change to one in which conventional operations form the backdrop for a nuclear foreground.

The political and diplomatic dimension will be dominant and nuclear operations will supersede conventional operations, making the latter recede in significance, urgency and importance to the background.

…in case of enemy lower order nuclear first use or demonstrative strike, there could be a case for postponing nuclear retaliation and proceeding with conventional operations at a heightened tempo.

This implies that conventional operations will require deferring to nuclear operations and would be subject to a greater stringency in so far as supporting the political and diplomatic dimension goes. Clearly, military aims and conventional objectives would require review. Since this can be anticipated, the contingencies can be thought through for early and speedy realignment of conventional operations.

There are two conceivable directions along which this could proceed. Operations duly tweaked for the nuclear situation could either proceed with greater vigour exploiting the nuclear shock or they could be more restrained and cautious since nuclear operations may proceed apace. In either case, the endeavour will be to gain a favourable position for conflict termination since this could, under the nuclear circumstance, be sooner than later in light of international conflict termination initiatives.

The latter may be more likely since quickening operations under conditions of mobility and logistics under nuclear conditions may not be readily possible. Also, the slow-down, to include tactical pauses, may help create the conditions for nuclear retaliatory strikes. Since counter strikes can be expected, caution in movement and particularly in reconfiguring of the communication zone may be necessary to prevent targeting from counter strikes.

On the other hand, the former – speeded up operations – may be more dangerous in a nuclear situation since, firstly, the enemy may get into a ‘use them-lose them’ dilemma; and secondly, his resulting conventional paralysis may make him rely more on the nuclear card. Also, own nuclear retaliatory strikes will require space for execution, uncluttered by ongoing conventional operations.

However, in case of enemy lower order nuclear first use or demonstrative strike, there could be a case for postponing nuclear retaliation and proceeding with conventional operations at a heightened tempo. As has been argued on the IDSA website in 2008 and recently in 2014,[1] India’s nuclear doctrine lends itself to be interpreted accordingly. Since it states that nuclear retaliation will be of unacceptable levels in case of ‘first strike’, if India is to interpret ‘first strike’ as a higher order first use aimed at degrading India’s retaliatory capability, then India’s nuclear retaliation can be flexible – later and/or lesser. In case lower order strikes are met with a lower order nuclear retaliation the scope for conventional operations potentially enlarges.

India’s position to press on conventionally will be unassailable since Pakistan will be in violation of the nuclear taboo. India can retain the choice of punishing it either by nuclear means, by conventional means or both.

Blasphemy Laws: Pakistan’s Religious Apartheid

By Aden Dur-e-Aden
August 09, 2014

Pakistan condemns Israel in Gaza is hypocritical, but has its own issues with religious minorities. 

Since the start of the recent Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Pakistanis have been very vocal about the actions of the Israeli government. Ordinary citizens have taken social media by storm, and a significant number have come out on the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. From Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to various political and religious leaders across the country, there has been an unequivocal and unapologetic condemnation of Israel.

Pakistan doesn’t officially recognize Israel as a state, and Pakistanis have always felt a deep sympathy toward the Palestinian cause. Ask almost anyone on the street, and they would express their opposition to the idea of a “Jewish” state, a state that privileges its Jewish citizens and gives them more rights than Palestinian Muslims, who have been living on that land for centuries. As a result, Israel, in its current form, is seen as an apartheid state to be boycotted and protested against, until Palestinians are given equal rights to Israelis.

However, when a mob last week burned down several Ahmadi homes in Pakistan, killing an elderly woman, two minors and an unborn child, the hypocrisy of that argument was underscored. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have gotten international attention several times in the past, when people from young children to those having mental conditions have been accused of blasphemy. The reaction to these incidents however is very familiar: from deafening silence on one end to the outright celebration and condoning of the violence on other. Very few voices have dared to speak out against the brutality of these laws, and even those voices are now fading. Even the most liberal responses from politicians and religious leaders end up justifying the existence of these laws, while emphasizing the need to prevent their “misuse.” Those who see problems with the Israeli use of religious identity to discriminate against its minorities are unable to see the problems inherent in the blasphemy laws of the “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan. These laws also make Pakistan a religious apartheid state.

Blasphemy laws on the subcontinent were institutionalized by the British, though they didn’t differentiate between religions. Pakistan retained the laws after its creation in 1947, yet only eight incidents of blasphemy were reported before the laws were modified by President Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. During that time, certain additional provisions were included specifically related to Islam, such as criminalizing the defiling of the Quran and the use of derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad. A separate provision specifically targeted Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. Ahmadis, while identifying themselves as Muslims, believe in a prophet after Muhammad, a belief that a majority of Muslims in Pakistan find heretical. As a result, mere expressions of their religious belief, such as calling themselves Muslims, performing prayers in the same way as Muslims, or using Islamic religious terms such as As-Salaam Alaikum (peace be unto you) are criminalized under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. When obtaining a passport or an identity card, every Muslim in Pakistan has to sign an oath declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims and their prophet as a false prophet. In other words, while Muslims can blaspheme against Ahmadi beliefs, Ahmadis can be accused of blasphemy just for practicing their own beliefs.

It was not surprising that the number of reported cases of blasphemy in Pakistan skyrocketed after these changes. Since 1986, more than 4,000 cases have been handled by the courts. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, “from 1953 to July 2012, there were 434 offenders of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and among them were, 258 Muslims (Sunni/Shia), 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis, and 4 Hindus.” Furthermore, “the report mentions that since 1990, 52 people have been extra-judicially murdered, for being implicated in blasphemy charges.”

Without shift in Afghan strategy, Taliban only winners

By Scott Smith, Special to CNN
August 7th, 2014

Editor’s note: Scott Smith is director of Afghanistan and Central Asia programs at the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed are his own.

This week’s attack at an Afghan military academy, which claimed the life of a U.S. general and more than a dozen troops, brought back like a recurring nightmare a problem that seemed for a while to have been solved – so-called green on blue attacks on U.S. and allied forces by disgruntled Afghan soldiers or Taliban infiltrators.

The assailant had reportedly served at the academy for over two years. But regardless of his individual circumstances, it is difficult not to connect this killing with other signs of growing insecurity – a United Nations report citing a 24 percent increase in civilian casualties, a rise in Taliban attacks, and a number of recent political assassinations – to the political wrangling over the presidential election. After all, the election was supposed to produce the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, but has instead turned into a quagmire. This unending dispute is fraying the fragile political coalition that has held Afghanistan together since 2001, while emboldening the enemy and testing the patience of the international community.

Since the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent to rebuild Afghanistan. A political collapse would eviscerate that investment, hurt the emerging generation of modern Afghans, and raise the question of whether Afghanistan can ever be saved from its political demons. The damage to U.S. prestige would be incalculable.

The political crisis was set off by the second round of the presidential election, launched in June. Unofficial early reports indicated a large victory for the reformist technocrat Ashraf Ghani over his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani had trailed Abdullah in the first round, when eight candidates ran.

The election commission’s preliminary official results gave Ghani a million-vote lead, but with a surprisingly high total of 8 million votes – less than 7 million had voted in the first round. Abdullah accused the commission was involved with committing fraud. His activists took to the streets, with one of his powerful regional backers threatening to declare a “parallel government.”

These troubling omens prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to travel to Kabul, and his mediation saw Abdullah agree to cooperate with the counting process in exchange for a guarantee that the next president would share power with the loser, and that the vote would be audited under international observation.

But the audit agreement was unclear on crucial issues such as how to determine valid votes, whether invalid votes would be excluded, and who was responsible for deciding on all this. The United Nations intervened to clarify the murky issues left by Kerry’s mediation, and U.S. President Barack Obama invested his personal prestige by calling both candidates a number of times, urging them to respect the agreements already made.

Pakistan’s Home-grown Terrorism Threat: War Beyond 2014


ICPVTR / RSIS / Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / Country and Region Studies / Global / International Politics and Security / South Asia / Terrorism Studies 

RSIS Commentary No. 114/2014

Synopsis The upsurge in terrorist violence in Pakistan this month indicates the trajectory of its home-grown terrorism by Islamist insurgents well beyond 2014. Besides a strong military response to win the fight against militants, the political leadership must take ownership of the war and demonstrate strong political will.

Commentary TWO HIGH-PROFILE attacks in Karachi and Balochistan have highlighted the resurgent threat of home-grown terrorism by Islamist insurgents in Pakistan. On 8 June 2014 militants from the Islamic Uzbekistan Union (IMU) and their Pakistani counterparts mounted a brazen terrorist attack on Pakistan’s biggest airport in Karachi. In the five-hour long siege, around 39 people, including 10 militants and 12 security personnel, were killed.
Meanwhile, three suicide bombers of a Sunni militant outfit Jaish-ul-Islam (Army of Islam) targeted a hotel hosting around 300 Shia pilgrims in south-western Balochistan province’s Taftan town, killing 30 people. The Shia pilgrims were returning from visits to shrines and holy places in Iran.

Implications of airport attack The attack on Karachi airport virtually stymied the peace process between the militants’ umbrella group, the Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan TPP), and the Pakistani government. It has pushed the country’s political and military leadership onto the same page. The public anger over the attack allowed the embattled Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to announce a military operation in North Waziristan Agency, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. On 15 June the Pakistani Army formally launched the military operation, Zarbe Azb (Sword of the Prophet) against local and foreign militants in the Agency.

The attack on Karachi airport has brought home the realisation that Pakistan’s fight against home-grown terrorism will continue well beyond 2014. The US exit from Afghanistan in 2014 will not bring any respite but more trouble for Pakistan’s internal security. In the context of growing militancy in Pakistan, the US presence in, or absence from Afghanistan and Pakistan-US counter-terrorism cooperation, have become irrelevant factors.

Ahead of 2014, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had shifted its strategic objective from fighting the US occupation of Afghanistan to Pakistan-focused operations. TTP has reconfigured itself as a Pan-Islamist jihadist group in Pakistan. Its war is now against the Pakistani state for the establishment of Taliban-style Sharia system in Pakistan. TTP’s campaign against Pakistan’s May 2013 parliamentary elections was a clear signal of the strategic shift.

Update on the Security Situation in Pakistan

Pakistan Security Brief

AEI Critical Threats ProjectAugust 8, 2014

Pakistan expands North Waziristan operation, tells residents of Shawal and Eidek areas to evacuate; Five thousand PAT protestors camp out near in Lahore; Lahore police cordon off neighborhood to close access to PAT locations; Punjab government requests deployment of Rangers personnel to Lahore; Islamabad government imposes section 144, banning protests or gatherings; Islamabad police cancel leave for all personnel until August 14; Prime Minister Sharif summons emergency session of national security council in Islamabad; U.S. Department of State amends terrorist designation of militant group Harakat-ul-Mujahidin; U.S. Ambassador says U.S. will stay neutral if political standoff results in change in government by “constitutional means;” Pakistani government condemns U.S. drone strike; Arrested Indian Border Security Force soldier released.

North Waziristan Offensive

The Pakistani government on August 6 asked residents to evacuate Shawal sub-district and the Eidek area of Mir Ali sub-district of North Waziristan as the ground offensive expands beyond the cities of Mir Ali and Miram Shah. The government had previously exempted Eidek and Shawal from evacuation. A government official in Bannu said that evacuation of Shawal will begin on August 8 and that the evacuation of Eidek began on August 6 with 4,000 Eidek families heading for Bannu. Residents and elders in Shawal and Eidek have strongly criticized the government for backing out of its commitment to allow the locals to stay.[1]

Crackdown on PAT Marchers

On August 7, Lahore police blocked entry and exit to and from Lahore’s Model Town area to prevent protestors from accessing Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Tahirul Qadri’s residence and the PAT’s headquarters, the Minhajul Quran Secretariat. The Express Tribune reported that almost 2,000 PAT protestors armed with makeshift sticks and shields have camped out near Qadri’s Model Town residence. Despite police efforts, hundreds of PAT protestors reportedly reached the party’s headquarters on August 7. PAT officials said that 3,000 protestors have reportedly gathered at the PAT’s Minjahul Quran Secretariat. Police also enhanced security on the roads leading to the Prime Minister’s residence. According to police officials, Punjab police have arrested 500 PAT protestors from different parts of the province. PAT officials cited higher numbers, reporting the arrest of 800 PAT protestors from parts of Punjab not including Lahore.[2]

On August 7, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Central Information Secretary Dr. Shireen Mazari said that the PTI strongly criticized the Punjab Police and its attempt to block PAT protestors from reaching PAT chief Dr. Tahirul Qadri’s residence.[3]

On August 8, the Punjab government requested the deployment of five companies of Punjab Rangers to Lahore until August 14 to protect sensitive installations and government buildings. In an August 8 press report, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) officials asserted that the Pakistani government deployed Rangers and army personnel to Punjabi cities to prevent terrorist reprisals following Operation Zarb-e-Azb.[4]

Resolution of Bangladesh-India Maritime Boundary: Model for South China Sea Disputes?

Sam Bateman 

IDSS / RSIS / Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Politics and Security / Maritime Security / South Asia 

Synopsis In a rare ‘good news’ story for regional maritime security, an international court has established the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and India. Could this be a model for the South China Sea disputes?

Commentary ON 7 JULY 2014, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (‘the Tribunal’) in The Hague delivered its judgment on the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and India in the Bay of Bengal. This helped settle a long-running dispute between the two parties and will help provide a solid basis for cooperative management of the bay and its resources.
It is significant because as well as the dependence of the littoral countries on the fish stocks of the bay, the area is believed to be rich in deep-water deposits of oil and natural gas.

‘Win-win’ or ‘lose-lose’outcome? After complex considerations regarding historical and cartographic evidence, the Tribunal determined the location of the terminus of the land boundary between the two countries, and then delimited the boundary between them of their territorial sea, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf within and beyond 200 nautical miles.

Bangladesh was awarded 19,467 sq.km of the 25,602 sq.kms of sea area in question, although India still has a large area of continental shelf further south in the bay.

The judgement has been variously described as a ‘win-win’ or a ‘win-lose’ outcome for the two parties. With Bangladesh gaining about four-fifths of the disputed area, some media reports have hailed Bangladesh as the ‘winner’, but both countries have seen it publicly as a ‘win-win’ outcome.

The foreign minister of Bangladesh called it ‘a victory for friendship between Bangladesh and India’, while India also welcomed the judgement. A statement from India’s external affairs ministry says that the boundary settlement will ‘enhance mutual understanding and goodwill between India and Bangladesh by bringing to closure a long-pending issue’. India’s welcoming of the decision is a solid demonstration of new Prime Minister Modi’s emphasis on building closer links with India’s neighbours.

Key considerations In their submissions to the Tribunal, India claimed a boundary based on the equidistance principle but Bangladesh claimed one based on equity. This meant that there was quite a large area in dispute where India’s claim overlapped with that of Bangladesh.

China’s Proposals for Trans-Himalayan Connectivity: Consider Four Economic Corridors


CMS / IPE / RSIS / Commentaries / East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Political Economy / South Asia 

RSIS Commentary No. 154/2014

Synopsis Following its “New Silk Roads” policies to improve connectivity with neighboring countries in Asia, China proposed earlier this year to establish a “Trans-Himalaya Economic Region” to be led by India and itself. Details of the proposal are not clear but they should focus on building four trans-Himalayan economic corridors to connect South Asia with Central and East Asia.

Commentary CHINA’S EMERGENCE as the “Factory of the World” based on its focus on exporting labour-intensive manufactures is well-known. Less well-known is the role that infrastructure played in this strategy. In the short run, infrastructure development boosts investment and economic growth. In the longer run, quality infrastructure boosts productivity of a county and enhances the competitiveness of its exports.
A recent issue of The Economist magazine cites a McKinsey Global Institute report which finds that from 1992 to 2007 China spent 8.5% of its GDP on infrastructure, well over the developing country norm of 2-4%. During the period 1992 to 2007 it built 35,000 km of highways at a cost of $120 billion.

China’s infrastructure spree China’s push for infrastructure development within its borders picked up pace with the Western Development or the Go West policy implemented in 2000. Prior to this policy China’s development was confined to the eastern coastal region of the country. China’s success in attracting investment into the coastal special economic zones made the country the fastest growing country in the world. But it also led to widening economic disparity between the coastal region and the rest of the country specially the inner western part of the country. The Go West Policy sought to address this disparity by building basic infrastructure towards the country’s hinterland and by attracting investment in the western region.

Last year, China came up with the “New Silk Roads” policies to enhance connectivity with its neighbouring countries. These policies have two components. First, Xi Jinping, the President of China, made a call for a “Silk Road Economic Belt” with Central Asia. Second, a “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” is also to be developed to connect China with ASEAN initially and ultimately with South Asia as well.

China’s actions have led to the revival of the Northern Silk Road. Cities in inner provinces, such as Kunming, Chongqing, Chengdu, Xi’an, and Xining have emerged as major metropolitan cities with urban infrastructure projects paralleling those in the coastal areas. China has built an east-west railway line to connect far-flung cities like Urumqi and Kashgar to Xi’an and the coastal cities. This railway line has been extended to Moscow, using Central Asia as an economic corridor, and then on to Duisburg (in Germany) to become the China-Europe railway line. Cross-country East-west pipelines such as the Kazakhstan-China and Central Asia-China pipelines have also been built.

Together with India which is actively implementing its Look East policies, China is building the BCIM Economic Corridor to connect the Yunnan province of China with Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India. This is an important segment of the less well-known Southern Silk Road of old.

Uighurs’ Veils Signal Protest Against China’s Restrictions

AUG. 7, 2014

Uighur Women in China in Crossfires of Intensifying Culture War 
Uighur Women in China in Crossfires of Intensifying Culture War 
URUMQI, China — Fond of denim and lace, fluent in multiple languages and proud of her success as an international business translator, Luna appears to be a model of the assimilated Uighur that the Chinese government is striving for. She grew up in the far-western region of Xinjiang, where marrying and mothering was the paramount role for women of her largely Muslim, Turkic-speaking minority ethnic group, and eventually moved to distant Beijing, where she feels more comfortable among the country’s Han majority than in the conservative world of her youth.

But Luna, who like others interviewed for this article asked to be identified by a nickname to avoid retaliation by the police, is increasingly torn between her professional ambition and her outrage toward official restrictions targeting the Uighur way of life. “The more the Chinese government forces us to live a Han lifestyle, the more we will find ways to express our Uighur identity,” she said.

As the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang intensify an increasingly deadly campaign framed as a battle against Islamic separatists, they have cast their net over a wide range of Uighur practices, including the wearing of veils and long beards, which are seen as dangerous signs of religious extremism. Some Uighurs have responded with alarm, redoubling efforts to safeguard centuries-old traditions they fear could disappear. Critics argue that the government’s increasingly assertive policies have inadvertently bolstered the appeal of conservative Islam, with its emphasis on morality and traditional roles for women.

Stuck in the middle of this intensifying culture war are Uighur women who want to embrace modernity without forsaking their heritage.

“Uighur women are really the first victims of mounting tensions and repression in Xinjiang,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. “They are under pressure from the state to adopt new standards, and pressured by their communities to cut ties with a society seen as unclean.”

Sino-Indian border dispute: Better left dormant

Santosh Sharma Poudel, Stefanie Kam

ICPVTR / RSIS / Commentaries / East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Politics and Security / South Asia 

RSIS Commentary 144/2014

Synopsis The border dispute between China and India has come to the fore once again even as bilateral trade between them has increased exponentially. The border dispute highlights the growing strategic competition and lack of trust between them. But it is better left dormant while both governments focus on more immediate issues.

Commentary Beijing recently unveiled an official map which showed the whole disputed area with India on both sides of Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, as Chinese territory. This has raised important questions about China’s intentions and strategic direction. At the same time, the new Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to establish dozens of additional outposts and encourage settlement close to the LAC by investing in infrastructure. India’s government is also mulling providing military training to locals in border areas to improve overall vigilance and security apparatus.

Strategic competition India and China are geographically proximate countries, which makes it impossible for them to ignore each other. A sense of strategic competition can be seen between them, and the border dispute has provided a clearer avenue for this. China has spent billions of dollars on infrastructure development in its Western front. While the rationale is economic, India believes such road and rail network, which now reaches close to the Indian borders, would provide Chinese military with strategic capability to easily move troops and weapons. On its part India sees its own investment in improving security along the border as a decision long overdue. China however was not impressed when the head of the exiled Tibetan government in India was invited to PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

Strategic competition has also manifested itself regionally and globally. Regionally, China has increased bilateral trade relations with countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and recently expanded its navy’s operational deployments in the Indian Ocean. India has also taken an interest in the South China Sea, where China has staked territorial claims.

Also, Prime Minister Modi holds Japan in high regard. (His first overseas trip as PM after neighbouring Bhutan is to Japan), and is looking to court further investment from Japan, China’s archrival. Observers are watching China’s approach to relations with India, as Japan has also made overtures to bolster ties with New Delhi. Globally, the talk of forming a stronger democratic diamond comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia has gained more currency. Hence, strategic competition exists between the two nations, at regional and global levels.

ISIS Advance on Irbil Slowed; Kurds Reforming Their Frontline Positions West of the City

Kurdish forces regroup on frontlines after U.S. airstrikes

Liz Sly

Washington Post , August 10, 2014

Kurdish soldiers, also known as pesh merga, study a map near the front line on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, Iraq. The pesh merga have been fighting Islamic State extremists, whose momentum appears to have slowed somewhat. (Sebastian Meyer/For The Washington Post)

OUTSIDE MAKHMOUR, Iraq — On the newest front line of the expanding war being waged by Sunni militants for control of the Middle East, the juggernaut of the Islamic State’s advance appeared Saturday to have slowed, at least for now.

Buoyed by U.S. airstrikes the previous day, Kurdish pesh merga fighters said they pushed back an attempt by the extremists to overrun one of their artillery positions on the northern edge of the dust-blown town of Makhmour, south of Irbil. Makhmour was seized by Islamic State fighters Thursday.

At the same time, however, commanders said Islamic State fighters had begun to return to positions that U.S. airstrikes had forced them to flee — a reminder that the so-far limited intervention may represent only the beginning of what President Obama warned Saturday could be a long campaign. Hours later, the U.S. military announced it had carried out four more airstrikes, in the Sinjar area farther west.

The Islamic State boasted in a video of its newest conquests, including Iraq’s biggest hydroelectric dam, outside Mosul. If breached, the dam would inundate towns and villages along the Tigris river and unleash flooding as far south as Baghdad.

The renegade al-Qaeda force is also reported to have made advances elsewhere across the vast stretch of territory it controls, in the Iraqi province of Anbar, in Kirkuk and in the eastern Syrian province of Hasakah.

Kurdish military volunteers gather near the front line on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, 35 miles south of Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region. (Sebastian Meyer/For The Washington Post)

Hundreds of Militant Fighters Defecting From Al Qaeda to Join ISIS

Fighters abandoning al-Qaeda affiliates to join Islamic State, U.S. officials say

Greg Miller

Washington Post, August 10, 2014

U.S. spy agencies have begun to see groups of fighters abandoning al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa to join the rival Islamist organization that has seized territory in Iraq and Syria and been targeted in American airstrikes, U.S. officials said.

The movements are seen by U.S. ­counterterrorism analysts as a worrisome indication of the expanding appeal of a group known as the Islamic State that has overwhelmed military forces in the region and may now see itself in direct conflict with the United States.

“Small groups from a number of al-Qaeda affiliates have defected to ISIS,” as the group is also known, said a U.S. official with access to classified intelligence assessments. “And this problem will probably become more acute as ISIS continues to rack up victories.”

The influx has strengthened an organization already regarded as a menacing force in the Middle East, one that has toppled a series of Iraqi cities by launching assaults so quickly and in so many directions that security forces caught in the group’s path have so far been unable to respond with anything but retreat.

U.S. officials attribute the Islamic State’s rapid emergence to factors both psychological and tactical. Its core group of fighters honed their skills against the armies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the United States when it occupied Iraq. The group has used raids and ransoms to stockpile weapons and cash. And its merciless reputation triggered rampant defections among Sunni members of Iraq’s security forces already disenchanted with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Even before its assault on Kurdish territories in northern Iraq this month, analysts said the Islamic State had shown an almost impulsive character in its pursuit of territory and recruits, with little patience for the elaborate and often time-consuming terror plots favored by al-Qaeda.

Counterterrorism analysts at the CIA and other agencies have so far seen no indication that an entire al-Qaeda node or any of its senior leaders are prepared to switch sides. But officials said they have begun watching for signs of such a development.

The launching of U.S. airstrikes has raised new questions, including whether the bombings will hurt the Islamic State’s ability to draw recruits or elevate its status among jihadists. “Does that increase the spigot or close it?” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere have crippled al-Qaeda but also served as rallying cries against the United States.