12 November 2014

PLUG THE LOOPHOLES - The myth of getting back unaccounted incomes



For decades now we have talked about stopping ‘black’ or unaccounted (and therefore illegal) incomes, physical and financial assets. Amnesty schemes forgiving past transgressions have worked only marginally. The twist that occurred mainly from the time of Indira Gandhi as prime minister was the holding of these in foreign bank accounts, usually in tax havens. Their growth was accelerated by commissions on government purchases of defense and other equipment. The subsequent twist was that these moneys got invested (as black money did in India) in productive assets overseas (real estate, stocks and shares, manufacturing and commercial establishments).

The initial cause of such illegal incomes being made was the high levels of income and wealth taxation. They tempted many to avoid these confiscatory taxes and not pay at all on all, or a substantial part, of the generated incomes. However, the development of rigid industrial and import licensing opened a new channel for illegal earnings and new outlets for their safekeeping. Under- and over-invoicing of exports and imports and for construction and purchases of plant and equipment became a major source for illegal earnings. The investor would pad the costs of construction, take commissions to be kept overseas if the supplier was foreign, and in cash if the supplier was local. Government officers who issued licenses of all kinds would take bribes to speed up the process.

The estimates of the amount of such illegal assets have received little attention. People have said that a fourth and up to a half of our gross national income is in additional black income generation. International agencies have said that Indians are the largest holders of illegal assets abroad. Estimates go to as much as $500 billion. Getting this vast amount of black money back into the tax net and illegal holdings abroad into our foreign exchange reserves has again become a matter of national interest. Political grandstanding has been an important reason for the publicity to this issue. Public statements that each Indian would get as much as Rs 15 lakhs each if we could get these assets back have also stimulated interest. This is humbug and an opiate for the masses.

Utopia as skill set

Published: November 12, 2014

Santosh Mehrotra

The HinduNEXT STEP: “The government has to use its goodwill with industry to expand the objective of ‘Make in India’ to ‘Skill India.’” Picture shows students at a handicrafts workshop in Chennai. Photo: M. Srinath

Is India ready to cash in on its demographic dividend?
A demographic dividend is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a nation and can either make or mar its citizens’ present and future. When the share of the working-age population is on a rising curve while the share of dependents (those under the age of 15 and over 60) is falling, it enables workers to save (hence savings share in GDP rises) and invest. Thus, ceteris paribus, the growth rate rises. But for this dynamic to be in place, the working-age population should earn more than what their parents were earning. For that they must be in jobs more productive than agriculture, and agriculture itself must become more productive. These jobs require more skills and higher levels of education, both of which are demonstrably lacking in our population. This is the most important reason for why India’s potential dividend risks becoming a nightmare.

Providing vocational training

Just over half of our workforce of 470 million is either illiterate or has not completed primary education. National Sample Survey estimates that only 10 per cent of the workforce has any vocational training, formal or informal. But has public action and private initiative in these areas in the last decade reflected the extent of the problem and the urgency in tackling it? The demographic dividend will last only another 25 years or so.

In his address to the nation on Independence Day in 2007, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated, “The vast majority of our youth seek skilled employment after schooling. We will soon launch a Mission on Vocational Education and Skill Development through which we will open 1,600 new industrial training institutes (ITIs) and polytechnics, 10,000 new vocational schools and 50,000 new Skill Development Centres. We will ensure that annually over 100 lakh students get vocational training, which is a fourfold increase from today’s level.” The tragedy is that almost none of this has happened. The only good news is that the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), which was created as a private-public partnership in 2010, has trained a million people, as it incubated hundreds of private vocational training providers.

Who will make the Middle East’s new map?

Published: November 12, 2014 
Peter Jones

The U.S. wants countries like Iraq and Syria to remain unified failing which it fears complicated new realities will emerge. But those complications are already here

The present turmoil raging across the Middle East is unfolding on several levels, reflecting the multitude of forces and tensions involved. There is civil war in Syria, an insurrection in Iraq, domestic political unrest in Egypt and others countries and the relative peace that earlier existed between the majority Sunni and minority Shia communities have now been breached with break out of interreligious conflict across the region. One way to understand this turmoil is as an exercise in fundamentally redrawing the region’s map. But the mapmakers have vastly different objectives.

The Middle East since World War I is the legacy of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the efforts of the European powers to redraw it in their interests. New states were created by Britain and France to reward wartime allies, to protect key imperial routes and to assure access to oil. But these new states rarely aligned with the tribal, religious or other realities of the region.

Thus were born Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and others. Some have established coherent political spaces, such as Jordan. Others were held together by force. The rulers and systems which did this in places like Iraq, Libya and Syria have been ousted or are under threat, and centrifugal forces are pulling these countries apart.


It seems likely that several of these countries will not survive. Syria and Iraq are foremost, but places like Yemen and Libya are not far behind. They will probably become several smaller states in the coming years, despite western policy preferences for their survival in their present form. It will be a messy few decades.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014 | Ashok K Mehta

The year 2016 could be a game-changer for Afghanistan. It has to legitimise the NUG, keep the Afghan Taliban at bay and seek an early clarification on the deviation between Op Resolute Force and the BSA

Despite the frequent suicide attacks in Kabul and the heavy casualties being taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, and compared to the turmoil in Libya, Iraq Syria, Ukraine and the emergence of the Islamic State, Afghanistan has good news. In the power-sharing agreement brokered by the US and overseen by the UN, which the Indian foreign office unofficially alludes to as “an artificial arrangement”, there is cautious optimism over the formation of an inclusive National Unity Government.

Assisted by two five-men teams, President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and CEO/Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah meet frequently to discuss policy. Mr Ashraf Ghani will enunciate policy and vision which Mr Abdullah will implement through the Council of Ministers. So far, except for National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar, no other major appointment has been made. While the Abdullah side is likely to secure Defence and Foreign Affairs, the Ghani camp shall get Finance and Internal Affairs. A roving Ambassador for the region — which is still to be defined — is to be innovated for spurring the regional peace process. Mr Abdullah’s office is to be the residence built for former President Hamid Karzai, who has chosen to move into a modest abode.

The names of the Cabinet Ministers have to be finalised before the Winter recess of Parliament as they are required to be presented there. In any case, names will be known before the London conference scheduled on December 4-5, as the international community wants to meet the new faces. The London event is not a pledging meet but one only to review recent developments and endorse the NUG.

Why India needs to get tough with China

November 10, 2014 

'It is certainly time for New Delhi to open up. Not only should it go ahead at full steam with the roads to the LAC, but the government must also allow tourists to visit these stunningly beautiful areas of Indian territory,' says Claude Arpi.

China is unhappy about India's plans to build a road on the southern side of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh.

A couple of weeks ago, Hong Lei, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, stated 'The boundary issue between China and India is left by the colonial past. We need to deal with this issue properly. Before a final settlement is reached, we hope that India will not take any actions that may further complicate the situation.'

'We should jointly safeguard peace and tranquility of the border area and create favourable conditions for the final settlement of the border issue,' he further asserted.

The proposed billion dollar project on the Indian side of the India-Tibet border was announced by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju during a visit to his home state, Arunachal Pradesh.

Rijiju hoped the construction of the 1,800 km road could begin soon. The minister also said the road would be the 'biggest single infrastructure project in the history of India.'

One could, of course, have asked Hong when China decided to build a road through the Aksai Chin plateau in the early 1950s, was not Beijing 'complicating' the border issue with India?

More recently, during his monthly press conference, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun also 'urged India not to take actions that will complicate the situation on the border, where the two countries have territorial disputes.'

Yang's remarks were made in response to a question about Delhi's plan to build 54 border posts in Arunachal Pradesh ('Southern Tibet' for Beijing).

The Chinese Twin Silk Roads – Can India shake off its lethargy?

08 Nov , 2014

Map Courtesy: www.xinhuanet.com

If you have to see the future, look at the map of the future. Or better why not draw the map yourself. If you are the most populous, recently turned the largest economy and the emerging new type of superpower – the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – the map will cost you USD 21.1 Trillion. Just for comparison, the economy of Sri Lanka for the year 2013 was around USD 67 Billion. Is China serious about it? (On a side note, this has nothing to do with recent phrase in Indian media and social media “are you serious”).

…if these silk routes have to be successful, China will have to interact with India.

China’s twin roads to Superpower Status

If learning is the key to future, you have to give it to China. Of course, the best way to learn quickly is to copy exactly what the successful people, companies and countries have done in the past. If the manufacturing revival of China is anything to go by, in copying exactly and at massive scales, there is no better player in the world then the PRC. Yet, Chinese revival has a remarkable long term original vision created by Deng Xipong architecture of the new type of superpower by 2050. It was completely focused on internal economic and infrastructure revival till the turn of the century. By 2005, however, the writing was on the wall that China is the greatest “business-country” of the world. Ted Fishman wrote book, “China Inc – The relentless rise of the Next Great Superpower.”

In year 2008 Zakarias’s book Post-American world, China becomes the Challenger to the sole superpower – the USA. He writes, “Americans may admire beauty, but they are truly dazzled by bigness”. China clearly indicates not big but Huge. Recently, Bill Gates twitted a Vaclav Smil statistic about China, “China has consumed more cement in 3 years than US has consumed in 100 years”.

If Chinese relentlessness of the scale, stupendousness and shock are metrics that world has been amused in last three decades or so, what China said in 2013 it will do to the world will leave you astonished completely. China will build the twin silk routes to the west was what was proclaimed in 2013. The map above is the updated plan from the Chinese government mouthpiece.

The map shows the Chinese plan. There are comparisons to the US Marshall Plan after World War II. USA gave close to USD 160 Billion in today’s terms to rebuild Europe after WWII. It was criticized in and out of USA. It was USA’s “save the world with Dollars” plan. Perhaps, the hidden hypothesis in that criticism was the dollars that have been earned by selling steel and materials to Europe for WWII. If the Chinese map above is considered just a castle in the air, have a look at the plan in an earlier map.

China’s Maritime Silk Route without Sri lanka. Image Courtesy: The Diplomat.

India, Iran, and the West

By Hrishabh Sandilya
November 09, 2014

Why the development of the Chabahar port could be a significant development for Asian security. 

Late in October, the Indian cabinet, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made a final decision tosupport the Iranian Chabahar port project on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Although the news of this decision was lost to a world focused on elections and the Ebola pandemic, it remains a significant development in the context of Asian security, and embodies a confident new direction in Indian foreign policy. It also provides the West with a trustworthy partner to help with negotiations with Iran.

The much-touted port project is located in Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran’s restive border province that abuts Pakistan in the south-east of the country. Not even a hundred kilometers separate Chabahar from Gwadar, another mega port project located in Pakistan’s Baluchistan region, which was completed in 2006 with Chinese support. The Pakistani government was keen to develop an outlet for Baluchistan’s abundant resources and find an alternative to Karachi, its largest port, which is located tantalizingly close to Indian territory. Chabahar fulfills similar ambitions for Iran, as it seeks to develop an alternative channel to Bandar Abbas and its other major ports that line the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf – narrow waterways that are easily blocked – with its strategic location on the tip of the Indian Ocean. By developing the port, and the transport infrastructure that connects it, Iran hopes to quell the unrest in Sistan and Baluchestan with development and, more importantly, offer another trade route to access landlocked Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia.

Chabahar lies eight hundred kilometers from Zaranj, the Afghan border city that provides access to the rest of the country. In 2009, India completed work on the Zaranj Delaram road, which connects Zaranj on the country’s western margins to the garland shaped Highway A01, which drapes the country and links its major cities to the capital Kabul, and in turn forms part of the wider Asian highway project, feeding into border roads that link Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. For India, this is all part of the bigger picture as it seeks an alternative route to Afghanistan and Central Asia that circumvents Pakistan, its tetchy neighbor, which has thrown a spanner in India’s aims to engage with the region further by refusing or limiting access for trade to and from India through its borders. The curse of geography leaves India with only a theoretical border in Kashmir with Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor, yet that part of Kashmir remains in Pakistan’s hands across the Line of Control. Chabahar, only a day’s sail from western Indian ports, is slowly emerging as the only viable route for India to ramp up its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia – economic activity that it views as a necessary step to maintain the overall security of the region and its interests there.

Iran and India see eye to eye on this and many other things. India, for long Iran’s trusted partner in the region, is the second largest buyer of Iranian oil. Its appetite for energy is insatiable, and will only continue to grow as the economy perks up and returns to pre-financial crisis growth rates. It has had a relatively stable and healthy relationship with Iran both before and after the Islamic Revolution, with only the occasional hiccup, such as when India voted against the Iranian nuclear program at a resolution passed at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2009.

In Afghanistan, both India and Iran supported the Tajik-led Northern Alliance in the decades of civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal, and, in a sense, were both on the losing side, when the Pakistan-backed Taliban emerged in power at the end of the struggle. The Taliban was inimical to the interests of India and Iran and it showed: Iran and the Taliban nearly fought a war in 1998 over the killing of Iranian diplomats and journalists in the Taliban’s capture of Mazar-i-Sharif. India, too, suffered as the Taliban-led Afghanistan proved a fertile breeding ground for anti-India jihadist groups who used the Pashtun heartlands as a base for terror attacks in Kashmir and other parts of India.

Reinforcing its commitment to the Chabahar project, the Indian government announced a strategic investment plan to convert berths in the port into a container and multi-purpose cargo terminal. While the initial commitment of $85 million remains small, it signifies an end to the policy paralysis and lack of decision making that plagued Indian foreign and trade policy in the dying months of the previous government. If things go well, and India is able to leverage its investment to boost trade and send the supplies and aid it has promised the Afghan government, it is reasonable to assume that India will be willing to make an increased commitment to Chabahar, similar to the Chinese investment in Gwadar, in the future. Iran’s offer to make the province a free-trade zone and offer India preferential tariffs for its exports en route to Afghanistan and Central Asia is also a game-changer and bodes well for the development of Chabahar.

Should India Give Up on the UN Security Council?

By Neelam Deo and Karan Pradhan
November 09, 2014

If India were to become a permanent member, could it influence the council’s ethos and make it relevant again? 

In his address to the 69th United Nations General Assembly on September 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to “make it more democratic and participative.” It was a thinly-veiled call for India to be made a permanent member.

Modi reiterated that India was one of the founding members of the UN in 1945, and urged that the reforms be carried out in time for the international organisation’s 70th anniversary next year. He highlighted the fact that institutions must reflect 21st century realities or risk irrelevance—a challenge the UN is already failing to meet.

The UNSC is the most important organ of the United Nations. It decides issues of war and peace, and has a total of 15 members. Of these, the five permanent members wield veto powers: U.S., Russia, UK, and France—the victors of World War II—and late entrant China.

Since 1945, the UNSC has been reformed only once, in 1963, to expand the number of non-permanent non-veto empowered members from six to 10. This does not reflect even the most basic realities of a world in which the population has grown from 2.3 billion, when the UN was established, to over 7 billion now, and the number of UN member countries has almost quadrupled from 51 to 193.

Since 1955, India has claimed permanent representation in the UNSC. In later years, two of the defeated former powers, Japan and Germany, have also staked a similar claim, as has emerging power Brazil. Numerous other countries also remain claimants to UNSC seats—including two (unnamed so far) from the African Union and an Arab/Islamic country

It is unacceptable that India, with a population of 1.2 billion, a $2 trillion economy, the third largest country in terms of purchasing power parity, a nuclear weapons power with the third largest standing army in the world, and a major contributor to the UN’s peacekeeping missions, is not a member of the UNSC—that too when economically and morally exhausted nations like France and UK remain on the council.

Many spoilers without credible claims of their own are committed to derailing the chances of neighbours and rivals. But it is the opposition from the Uniting for Consensus (that includes Italy, Mexico and Pakistan—called the “Coffee Club” by UN diplomats) as well as the reluctance of existing members that has confounded the reform.

India’s new government has taken up the issue not only in the General Assembly, but also at summit-level interactions with the U.S. and China. After Modi’s White House meetings in September, President Barack Obama expressed his appreciation for India’s role in peacekeeping operations for the last 60 years and reiterated his backing for a reformed UNSC with India as a permanent member. In the past, France, UK, and Russia have also supported India’s claims to permanent membership. But the verbal support has so far not translated into any action.

Meanwhile, even as the reform remains in abeyance, global geopolitics have changed.

Today, there are three major conglomerations of problems: the turmoil in West Asia, encapsulated by the brutal Islamic State, which is quickly redrawing the map of the region; the rise of an increasingly expansionist and assertive China; and the renewed standoff between the West and Russia.

Things that Modi should do in Myanmar

November 10, 2014

Myanmar will draw the international spotlight when the world leaders including Prime Minister Modi, President Obama will attend the upcoming ASEAN and East Asian Summit in Naypidaw from 11 November.

Can PM Modi play the same magic in Myanmar as he did in Nepal, Bhutan and Japan? Though not a stand-alone visit, Modi during his meetings with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could do well to underline how he proposes to revalidate the Swarna Bhumi - Bharat Bhumi natural links.

India shares 1700-km boundary with Myanmar, yet the absence of it in India’s foreign policy priorities has been a strange but serious omission. It is difficult to imagine how India’s otherwise astute leaders then allowed Burma to slide into seclusion and accepting Chinese hegemony to India’s detriment. No one seemed to even care for the economic imperative - Burma exported 3 million tons of rice prior to its independence. Rangon was a flourishing city, when Bangkok was only a village. The reason though may have been less to do with India’s policy neglect, but Rangon’s own idiosyncratic expression turning into self-inflicted isolation. To be also sure, Myanmar ignored India in the fear that China might step up arms subversion.

India’s controversial relationship with Myanmar must come to an end. Modi should just do that. Modi’s visit to Naypidaw should assume importance against the backdrop of firstly, the possibilities of greater political reforms underway including an amendment in constitution — which currently bars opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Suu Kyi from becoming president — ahead of 2015 elections. The regional summit will ensure a more spotlight on the country's progress toward democracy.

Second, China strong traditional ties with Myanmar are undergoing a change. Beijing for decades provided the junta with military and diplomatic support to the detriment of democracy in Myanmar. However, Thein Sein government since 2011 significantly sought to decrease the country’s over-dependence on China. In fact, China has been stung by massive outcry over Chinese exploitation of country natural resources and use of Myanmar’s territory for a gas and oil pipeline and hydroelectricity projects. Mainland China and Hong Kong combined had invested $20.8 billion in Myanmar but Thein Sein suspended the Chinese-led $3.6 Myitsone dam project, meant for supplying electricity to China. Beijing is watching the political reforms and softening of Western approach towards Myanmar nervously. Beijing has been reaching out to Suu Kyi. There is a possibility of Suu Kyi making a “good-will” visit to China next month. If the visit takes place, Beijing will succeed in changing the perceptions that its long-lasting support to the military junta was transitory and it is not oppose to democratic transition.

India’s ties with Myanmar improved substantially after Gen. Maung Aye’s visit to New Delhi in 2000, the landmark visit by President U Thein Sein in October 2011 and the return visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Naypyitaw in May 2012, the first such visit in 25 years. These exchanges have fundamentally changed the context. Myanmar’s international image improved since then and encouraged other countries including President Obama to visit Naypyitaw in November 2012.

However, after the initial support, India failed to sustain the quantum of support for the pro-democracy movement. Suu Kyi expressed disappointment over India’s courting the junta and backing away from supporting her when she visited New Delhi in 2012. Suu Kyi said, in a memorial lecture for Nehru. "I was saddened to feel that we had drawn away from India, or rather that India had drawn away from us, during our very difficult days, but I always had faith in the lasting friendship between our two countries."

The Prime Minister must reach out to Myanmar in unconventional ways and remove any antipathy among the people who once, like other neighbours, had began to perceive India as a big military threat. China fully exploited those sentiments. The junta even looked once upon a time to Islamabad for military aid.

Clearly, for India relations with Myanmar cannot be a bilateral affair – rather it a matter of regional security and India’s long-term interest. While India should acknowledge Myanmar’s military’s role in stabilizing a country beset by an unprecedented insurgency problem that helped India as well. However, there are signs that Myanmar will loom large internally, and if India is not careful, the democratic agenda supported by it could be usurped by others. India’s national interest also lies in preventing the US fomenting crisis in its strategic neighbourhood. The changes within Myanmar are likely to spur greater enthusiasm among the Burmese to seek closer affinity within India.

For India, the lack of conceptualization has been a serious deficit in its policy thinking. So far, failing to imagine India’s geographic continuum as a whole has rendered space for others to maneuver the region. China has cleverly boxed India in South Asia. However, foreign policy under Modi is showing signs of India regaining its lost geopolitical profile. Modi’s visit to Myanmar, therefore, should prove to be the defining spirit and it should underscore the same significance as he did to signify India’s ability to show responsibility, realism and regionalism in Bhutan, Nepal and Japan.

How Modi will bring Myanmar back into the Indian fold will remain a challenge. One very clear and indigestible truth is that the role of Military in that country cannot be wished away easily. Any paradigm shift in policy will be too optimistic. Myanmar shares long borders with China with which it has long historical association. India, therefore, should not aim to compete or replace Chinese influence but should exploit those areas where it enjoys a distinct edge in Myanmar.

Backgrounder: World Oil Transit Chokepoints

World Oil Transit Chokepoints

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

November 1, 2014


World chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) defines world oil chokepoints as narrow channels along widely-used global sea routes, some so narrow that restrictions are placed on the size of the vessel that can navigate through them. Chokepoints are a critical part of global energy security because of the high volume of petroleum and other liquids transported through their narrow straits.

In 2013, total world petroleum and other liquids production was about 90.1 million barrels per day (bbl/d).1 EIA estimates that about 63% of this amount (56.5 million bbl/d) traveled via seaborne trade.2 Oil tankers accounted for 30% of the world’s shipping by deadweight tonnage in 2013, according to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).3

International energy markets depend on reliable transport routes. Blocking a chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and world energy prices. Chokepoints also leave oil tankers vulnerable to theft from pirates, terrorist attacks, shipping accidents that can lead to disastrous oil spills, and political unrest in the form of wars or hostilities.

The seven chokepoints highlighted in this report are part of major trade routes for global seaborne oil transportation. Disruptions to these routes could affect oil prices and add thousands of miles of transit in alternative routes. By volume of oil transit, the Strait of Hormuz, leading out of the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints. This report also discusses the role of the Cape of Good Hope, which is not a chokepoint but is a major trade route and potential alternate route to certain chokepoints.

Figure 1. Daily transit volumes through world maritime oil chokepoints

Oil tanker sizes

Ships carrying crude oil and petroleum products are limited by size restrictions imposed by maritime oil chokepoints. The global crude oil and refined product tanker fleet uses a classification system to standardize contract terms, to establish shipping costs, and to determine the ability of ships to travel into ports or through certain straits and channels. This system, known as the Average Freight Rate Assessment (AFRA) system, was established by Royal Dutch Shell six decades ago, and is overseen by the London Tanker Brokers’ Panel (LTBP), an independent group of shipping brokers.

New Pakistani ISI Chief Visits Kabul

Pakistan’s ISI chief Gen. Rizwan Akhtar visits Kabul
November 11, 2014

Lt. General Rizwan Akhtar, Pakistan’s newly appointed military intelligence chief visited Afghanistan on Monday to meet with the Afghan government. 

Akhtar assumed charge of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) following the retirement of his predecessor Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam. 

The main agenda behind Akhtar’s visit to Kabul has not been disclosed so far. The government officials have not commented regarding Akhtar’s visit to Kabul. 

According to Tolo TV, Akhtar met with officials of the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) during his visit to Kabul. 

Akhtar is one of the two most powerful men in Pakistan, answerable only to the army chief. He was promoted as a three-star general and appointed Director General ISI in September, more than a month in advance by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. 

He is the third senior Pakistani official visiting Afghanistan following the formation of the National Unity Government. 

His visit to Afghanistan comes as the US Department of Defense accused Pakistan in its latest report for using militant groups as ‘proxy forces’ to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan Hit by Coordinated Multiple Bombings

By Ankit Panda
November 11, 2014
Source Link
A series of coordinated bombings suggests the Taliban is ramping up its attacks ahead of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a bid to demonstrate its resurgence and tactical sophistication ahead of the impending withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, the Afghan Taliban coordinated a series of bombings across Afghanistan. On Sunday, two explosions occurred within an hour in Kabul. Other bombs were detonated across the country on Monday in Jalalabad, Logar province, and again in Kabul. One of the initial Kabul explosions was perpetrated by a suicide bomber who successfully infiltrated Kabul’s highly secure city police headquarters. That attack killed the police chief’s chief of staff, Col. Mohammad Yassin and injured an additional seven. Afghan authorities maintain that the attack was an assassination attempt against Kabul’s police chief. In the case of the Logar bombing, the attacker was wearing a police uniform. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of the insurgent group.

Beginning with the announcement of its annual “Spring Offensive” earlier this year, the Afghan Taliban has been keen to ramp up attacks as international forces prepare to depart Afghanistan. In carrying out these attacks, the insurgent group purports to highlight the ineffectiveness of the central government in Kabul. While a majority of U.S. and NATO troops will leave the country at the end of the year, a small number will stay on in Afghanistan for limited counter-terrorism and training purposes. Officials in the United States have expressed their doubts about the Afghan National Army’s competency in holding off a persistent Taliban threat into 2015 and beyond. The attacks in Kabul particularly highlight the continued need for security in the country’s capital.

This recent spate of attacks appears to have been specifically focused against members of Afghanistan’s police and security forces, highlighting a possible shift in the Taliban’s priorities. While the group has always attacked military targets, it punctuates those attacks with the occasional high-profile attack on a civilian target. The recent focus on police and military targets in particular could be a bid to weaken the hand of the new national unity government in Kabul as it works to consolidate power across the country. Following a disputed presidential election, the two leading candidates agreed to share power with Ashraf Ghani as the new president of Afghanistan and Abdullah Abdullah as the country’s new chief executive.


November 10, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts based on insights gleaned from Jason Campbell’s recent NATO-sponsored trip to Afghanistan that featured meetings with senior NATO and Afghan officials, members of Parliament, representatives from a number of international organizations, and prominent members of Afghan civil society.

Following an election dispute that took up the bulk of 2014, the newly inaugurated Afghan unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah now must engage in the process of building a government. The degree to which the two camps can avoid infighting and settle on appointments will determine Afghanistan’s prospects for near- and medium-term stability. Meanwhile, a longed for but tricky reform agenda is beginning to take shape. But will it over promise and under deliver?

Still some squabbling, but working toward a greater good. The consensus from the meetings is that both Ghani and Abdullah “get it”: the unity government must work. There is some doubt, however, on the degree to which their respective camps comprehend the gravity of the situation. Thus, Afghan civil society members we met with welcomed reports that Ghani and Abdullah have agreed to meet one-on-one, three times per week. One NGO director said, “The more they talk directly, the better. It leaves less chance for political spoilers.” This may indeed be productive in reaching agreements on overarching issues or procedural matters. Yet the fact remains that each candidate relied on an eclectic mix of political players to reach this point and there will be many voices competing for a say in government formation.

Mechanism in place for government formation. Five senior members from each camp will form a council to recommend and vet potential government appointees. There did not appear, however, to be further details as to what the specific rules of engagement will be or who will decide in the event of a stalemate. Ministries, provincial governorships, and ambassadorships were listed as the order of priority. According to one parliamentarian, there are roughly 230 appointments in all, of which 65 of the most essential are now being deliberated.

As for ministerial appointees, no specific names have been confirmed, although the rough contours of some of the more prominent ministries seem to be taking shape. Abdullah will reportedly appoint the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of defense, while Ghani’s side will name the minister of interior and has already appointed the National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar. One potential point of contention will be the nomination of the director for the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.

Very ambitious…but strategic? Since being inaugurated, President Ghani has announced a wide-ranging and ambitious agenda. He has called for a reassessment of all senior leadership within the Afghan National Security Forces (to be covered in greater detail in an upcoming post), voiced his desire to institute minimum requirements for those who serve in government, and opened a new case against some of those involved in the Kabul Bank scandal. This despite a lame duck Cabinet, as all senior government appointees have been placed on a 90-day interim basis pending the formation of a new government. Needless to say, there is concern that Ghani is pushing for too much too soon and runs the risk of outpacing Afghanistan’s institutions. While no one we met with took issue with any specific initiative, most questioned the timing of his proposed reforms.

A NATO official sensed that the impending NATO Conference in London in early December is a motivating factor. Afghan officials are eager to show the international community that progress is being made and the official said it would be interesting to see how hard Ghani pushes to build donor confidence ahead of it.

(Next) reinvigorated push for reconciliation. Afghan officials appear eager to put in place a framework for new peace talks. Afghan officials repeatedly mentioned that the Taliban leadership has not yet refused to engage with the new government, as it did repeatedly during President Karzai’s tenure. Some among the Afghan leadership may also be less opposed to peace talks than previously thought. According to one NATO official, prominent former Northern Alliance members such as Abdullah and Mohamed Mohaqiq are much warmer to the prospect of engaging in peace talks than they were two years ago.

How to commit blasphemy in Pakistan

5 September 2012 

The country's blasphemy law is overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas. As the case of 14-year-old Christian Rimsha Masih gains global attention, why have politicians failed to act? 

Pakistani Christians rally in support of Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death under blasphemy laws. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Fourteen years ago, around the time young Rimsha Masih, now in jail under Pakistan's blasphemy law, was born, a Roman Catholic bishop walked into a courthouse in Sahiwal, quite close to my hometown in Central Punjab. The Right Rev John Joseph was no ordinary clergyman; he was the first native bishop in Pakistan and the first ever Punjabi bishop anywhere in the world. He was also a brilliant and celebrated community organiser, the kind of man oppressed communities look up to as a role model. Joseph walked in alone, asking a junior priest to wait outside the courthouse. Inside the court, he took out a handgun and shot himself in the head. The bullet in his head was his protest against the court's decision to sentence a fellow Christian, Ayub Masih, to death for committing blasphemy. Masih had been charged with arguing with a Muslim co-worker over religious matters. The exact content of the conversation cannot be repeated here because that would be blasphemous. The bishop had campaigned long and hard to get the blasphemy law repealed without any luck. He wrote prior to his death: "I shall count myself extremely fortunate if in this mission of breaking the barriers, our Lord accepts the sacrifice of my blood for the benefit of his people."

Joseph had been pursuing another case, in which an 11-year-old, Salamat Masih, along with his father and uncle, was accused of scribbling something blasphemous on the wall of the mosque. We don't really know what he wrote, because reproducing it, here or in court, would constitute blasphemy.

The boy's uncle, Manzoor Masih, was shot dead during the trial. The Masih case went to the high court, where a judge, Arif Bhatti, applied common sense and released him. A year later the judge was murdered in his own chambers, and his killers claimed that the judge had committed blasphemy by freeing those accused in the blasphemy case.

Frustrated and in a fit of rage, the bishop meditated and reached the conclusion that he should kill himself publicly to make his point.

You could argue that Joseph should have organised candlelight vigils, gone on a hunger strike, hired better lawyers. But he had tried everything and realised that a bullet in the head in the middle of a court was his only way to draw attention to this colossal absurdity called blasphemy law.

He was wrong. The law stayed. Many more Christians were killed.

There are situations though, where confronted with the prospect of a 14-year-old being sentenced to death, as a celebrated community leader you can't do anything but take a gun to your head.

And hope for the best.

How to commit blasphemy in Pakistan

A young girl carrying trash in a plastic bag in a slum in the capital of Pakistan is not likely to arouse much curiosity. Not unless the girl is a Christian. Not unless there is a Muslim boy who wants to inspect the contents of her bag. Then this certain young man, Hammad, takes the trash bag to the local mosque to show it to the imam, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti (also known as Maulana Jadoon), who decides that the contents of the bag are, indeed, blasphemous but wonders if they are blasphemous enough. So he inserts some pages of the Qur'an in the trash bag. What the girl was carrying was a book of alphabets, taught to children, may or may not have had a verse from the Qur'an in it. Reproducing an image of the contents of this trash bag would be blasphemous, so we are never likely to know. We discover the imam's role in sexing up the blasphemous contents two weeks later when one of the imam's deputies cracks up. By then Rimsha has been arrested, refused bail, sent to jail and a medical board constituted to ascertain her age and mental health. We are still not sure if she is 11 or 14, we don't know if she has Down's Syndrome as was originally claimed. In the initial days of the case, human-rights workers pinned their hopes on Rimsha's mental condition. As if those who demanded her arrest, those who arrested her, those who denied her bail and put her in jail were all mentally "normal". Her family has gone into hiding; another 300 Christian families have been forced to leave their homes and are struggling to find shelter in one of the Islamabad forests.

This Epic Map Shows The Border Disputes That Could Tear Asia Apart

NOV. 7, 2014 

As the US makes a military and strategic "pivot to Asia," it is entering a highly complex and fluid geopolitical environment.

China's territorial disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea have become a major point of contention in the region and maybe even a source of future violent conflict — and the rising superpower is far from the only country in the area with conflicts on its borders.

This map shows that the borders in Asia aren't nearly as fixed as they might seem. China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, have numerous simmering boundary disputes. So do regional powers like Russia and Japan, along with more peripheral players in central Asia and the South China Sea.

A Balance of Power Tale of the Tape: Comparing Chinese and American Strategies in Asia

November 10, 2014

What does President Obama hope to achieve during his trip to Beijing for the APEC summit? How does he assess his ability to accomplish his China agenda?

There is no shortage of issues to discuss with Xi Jinping. The two countries ostensibly share concerns about an unstable nuclear North Korea, Iran’s drive toward nuclear weapons, and the failing old order in the Middle East. But little progress has been made. While Xi talks about a “new-type of great power relationship,” he seems to mean the U.S. should come to China as a supplicant, as National Security Advisor Rice did recently, asking for China’s help on the Middle East—now of equal importance to Beijing and Washington. 

The presidential visit comes at a perilous time for Sino-American relations. Washington has not adequately answered China’s continued aggression toward Japan and Southeast Asian nations. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army is continuing to harass the U.S. military operating in Asian seas.

U.S. Asia policy is not progressing because both Washington and Beijing are now overestimating China’s rise and underestimating the sustainability of American power. This is a dangerous trend in perceptions with some grounding in reality. From Washington’s perspective, the Sino-American relationship will be unproductive if both sides think the balance of power now favors China.

Better policy outcomes require a reassessment of the balance of power that goes beyond straight counts of military forces and capabilities. Trends in the military balance must be viewed in the context of each country’s preferred approach to the region as well as an accounting of the internal political obstacles hindering each side’s strategy. The key questions are: What is each country trying to accomplish? What is each country’s strategy? How well is each side implementing its strategy and what are the obstacles in the way of the outcomes for each country?

Competing Strategic Visions: America’s Strategy

Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has pursued a strategy of primacy. Successive U.S. presidents have found that a “preponderance of power” best served its Asian interests, which have included:

1. Defending the U.S. homeland far forward. In the post-Pacific war period, the U.S. created what used to be called the “defense perimeter,” now referred to as the First Island Chain. The forward U.S. defense posture begins along the island chains and territories from Korea through Japan and the Ryukus, and the Luzon Strait down through the Philippines;

2. Preserving a favorable balance of power in Eurasia, so that no power can dominate the continent;

3. Ensuring free military and commercial access to maritime and continental Asia;

4. Maintaining and continuing to refine the liberal international order consistent with the “U.S. way of life,” as the framers of the U.S. Cold War strategy put it;

5. Supporting a network of allies who assist in reinforcing that order.

America’s grand strategy of primacy has been a success. It has tamed security competitions between historic Asian rivals and created the conditions for economic growth and peaceful transitions to democracy throughout Asia. Countries that had the capacity to develop nuclear weapons were persuaded not to do so. Asia’s rising wealth and power is not a coincidence. Rather it is the result of wise decisions by Asian elites, the hard work of Asians to better their lives, and U.S. primacy. It is no wonder that successive presidents have stuck with primacy. 

The Military Structure of Primacy

U.S. primacy in Asia has required a forward basing posture for combat aircraft, large numbers of SSN and SSBN submarines, and carrier strike-groups to project power in Asia. These assets provide a continual deterrent against conflict. U.S. “boomer” submarines, armed with ICBMs, lurk underwater ready to act should the U.S. face an existential threat. Carrier strike groups serve as highly visible symbols of U.S power to deter would-be aggressors. Depending upon the global security situation, the Navy can have up to five carriers strike groups base in Japan and along the U.S. Pacific coast.

Is There Room for the US in China’s 'Asia-Pacific Dream'?

November 11, 2014

China’s “Asia-Pacific Dream” involves a region led by Beijing, not Washington. 

Xi Jinping is quite the dreamer. In addition to his famous “China Dream” slogan, Xi called for pursuit of the “Asia-Pacific Dream” during an address at this weekend’s the APEC CEO Summit. The Asia-Pacific dream is the latest iteration of China’s vision for a united Asian community with Beijing as its center — and with the United States noticeably absent.

Xi’s description of the Asia-Pacific dream incorporates elements seen earlier, including at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) held in Beijing in May. The first common thread is an oblique reference to the “Asia for Asians” concept, seen in Xi’s “Asia-Pacific Dream” concepts as the need to act “in the spirit of the Asia-Pacific community.” At CICA, Xi made clear that means having Asian problems “solved by Asians themselves,” rather than by outside parties (most notably, of course, the U.S.). In his APEC speech, Xi also emphasized the idea of a “shared destiny” of all Asian nations as the foundation of their common dream.

Notably, Xi’s “Asia-Pacific Dream” is closely tied to economic elements. The dream, as Xi defined it, involved striving for continued developed and “more economic vibrancy,” including free trade agreements and investment possibilities. China’s renewed push for the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) thus falls under this rubric, as does China’s expanding vision for its Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road.

Over the weekend, Xi announced the creation of a $40 billion Silk Road Fund, which will be used to develop infrastructure along China’s twin Silk Road projects. In describing that project, Xi made it clear that funding is the main obstacle facing Asian unity and development. China hopes its Silk Road Fund can “break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity,” Xi said. The Silk Road Fund, plus the newly developed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, put China at the center of two major initiatives designed to help developing Asian nations improve infrastructure and plug into regional and global trade networks. And given China’s economic importance for the Asia-Pacific and the world, that will certainly mean boosting economic partnerships with Beijing.

While describing the future of Asian development, Xi stressed that China is the force driving regional economies. Indeed, China is already an economic leader in the region; China is the largest trading partner for South Korea, Japan, Australia, and ASEAN. China’s new initiatives, including the Asia-Pacific Dream, make it clear that China wants to turn economic leadership into more explicit strategic leadership. Beijing want to develop and promote a vision for Asia’s future, translating its economic clout into something more. As Xi put it in his APEC CEO Summit address, other countries are welcome “to get on board the train of China’s development.” The unspoken corollary is that countries that choose not to “get on board” with China will be left behind.

That has interesting implications for the United States, which has been at best skeptical of China’s regional ambitions and at worst has outright tried to block projects like the AIIB and FTAAP. The U.S. is wary of China’s vision for the region in part simply because increasing Chinese leadership naturally means decreasing U.S. influence. There’s no natural place for the U.S. in the Silk Road initiatives, for example, even though China has floated vague references to making it a global rather than continental project.

US-China Relations: The Danger of Strategic Misjudgment

November 08, 2014

Beijing and Washington cannot afford to let strategic misjudgments continue to pile up during the rest of Obama’s term. 

President Obama will head to Beijing in the coming days to attend the annual APEC summit on November 10 and 11. But perhaps the more important event on his agenda is the whole day meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 12. Compared to Obama’s first state visit to China in 2009, and the two leaders’ meeting in Sunnylands, California last year, both of which drew the world’s media focus, this meeting has not accumulated the same hype. The importance of this year’s summit has been diminished in the light of President Obama’s weakened domestic political leverage.

President Obama left Washington with the bad news that his Democratic Party had lost control of the U.S. Senate to the Republicans in the mid-term elections. With the result of the elections and the lower approval rating for his policies, it has become apparent that Mr. Obama is a lame duck president going into his final two years in office. Next year will bring the start of the 2016 presidential election cycle, and the current presidency will become even less of a focus. There is a sharp contrast between President Obama and his Chinese contemporary when it comes to domestic politics. Mr. Xi continues to accumulate more power and influence within China as he uses his anti-corruption campaign as a tool to further strengthen his power base. Additionally, Mr. Xi is conducting major reforms with the ambitious plan to further change China and his party.

For both President Obama and President Xi, the upcoming meeting on November 12 will be mainly focused on the immediate future, with the hopes of creating a mechanism to set the tone for smoother relations between the U.S. and China while Obama finishes his term in office.

Furthermore, what also makes this meeting less important than those prior is that after six years in power, the Obama administration still has not found its China strategy. Inside the United States and even inside the administration itself, there are very different opinions being debated about the policy towards Beijing. The “pivot to Asia,” Obama’s signature policy on the Asia-Pacific region, never really took hold, and has yet to provide any sort of effective impact. This policy’s content has never been made clear, and as such it has caused much suspicion and varied interpretations in the region.

One of the profound problems for the Obama administration’s China policy is that several key positions on Obama’s China team, including the senior positions in the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon, are currently being held by “young people” who don’t have long-term experience in dealing with China policy or even working within the government. In the past these positions have been held very senior political analysts and China experts, but in the second term of the Obama administration, many of these individuals left government service. Their successors are comprised of individuals with much less government experience, many of whom are not even China experts. This is an unparalleled occurrence since the two governments established diplomatic relations 35 years ago. Until recently, the U.S. had a tradition of having its best China experts handle this important relationship.

In the past six years, U.S.-China relations have become unstable, and there is strong mutual strategic suspicion and mistrust between the two states. There is now a rising concern that the mutual mistrust will develop into mutual strategic misjudgments and mistakes. China’s foreign policy and the Xi administration have caused major concerns inside the United States. For example, China’s behavior in the South China Sea in recent months, including the deployment of oil rig HYSY 981 within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, has been interpreted as a change in Beijing’s foreign policy, and has some comparing it to Russia’s behavior in Ukraine.

However, I just returned from Beijing and one of the most senior policy analysts of the Chinese government told me that this is purely a misinterpretation. According to the analyst, China is simply reacting in a more assertive manner. He emphasized that China, far from being an aggressor, has only acted in response to other countries’ behaviors. He complained that China is a latecomer in terms of resource exploration in the South China Sea: that to this day, China doesn’t have a single oil or gas well in the Spratly Islands. China just started some oil and gas exploration in the area while other area nations such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia have for some time been making huge profits from oil and gas development. Additionally, China only recently started to enlarge and build artificial islands where other states did so over ten years ago. This Chinese analyst believes China is just following suit — that its actions are nothing new, even though the Western media has been paying great attention to these issues as China gets involved. Therefore, he argued, China is just responding in a more active fashion, and in no way taking an expansionist approach in the South China Sea.

The New Silk Road: China's Marshall Plan?

November 06, 2014

China’s plan for massive investments along the New Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road is a bid for diplomatic clout. 

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled plans for two massive trade and infrastructure networks connecting East Asia with Europe: the New Silk Road (also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt) and the Maritime Silk Road. A little over a year later, these initiatives are rapidly becoming reality as Beijing shows it is more than willing to put its money where its mouth is.

Bloomberg, citing Chinese government officials, reports that China plans to create “a $16.3 billion fund … to build and expand railways, roads and pipelines in Chinese provinces that are part of” the planned Silk Road Economic Belt. China’s state-owned China Daily also picked up the report. The massive investments will help boost economic development in China’s poorer inland regions, a key goal of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

Meanwhile, Beijing also plans to promote policies that encourage Chinese banks to lend money to other countries along the planned route. And that’s in addition to the massive amounts of infrastructure funding China had already promised to Silk Road partners: $1.4 billion for developing port infrastructure in Sri Lanka;$50 billion in infrastructure and energy deals in Central Asia; $327 million in general aid to Afghanistan, some of which will fund “the construction of rail lines, highways, water conservancies, [and] power facilities,”according to China Daily. With the establishment of China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), expect to see even more money flowing into the region to shore up infrastructure capabilities. Want China Times estimates that the total value of the Silk Road Economic Belt, when all is said and done, will be an astronomical $21.1 trillion.

Xinhua’s recently unveiled an updated, interactive map depicting the extent of two Silk Road projects. A quick comparison to Xinhua’s earlier version of the map reveals a number of new “stops” that have been added in the past six months, including Moscow, Russia; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Colombo, Sri Lanka. And Beijing is still expanding its list of potential partners: in his recent visit to China, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indicated his country’s willingness to be part of the project.

In most cases, the Silk Road is not a hard sell. Regional partners (particularly smaller, and often over-looked countries like the Maldives) are eager to gain Chinese assistance in building critical infrastructure for their people. As Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei put it in a recent press conference, “A place needs to have well-functioning roads before it can get rich.” In less prominent countries, China may be the only ready source of international aid. And in countries that have several major power suitors vying for their affections (the Central Asian states, Indian Ocean states, and Eastern Europe in particular), China’s largess may spark a sort of “bidding war” that encourages China’s rivals to commit funding and diplomatic attention in ways they might not otherwise do. For example, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concerted outreach to India’s smaller neighbors, including Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, is partially motivated by fear that New Delhi is being overshadowed by Beijing in those regions.

For China, the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road are opportunities to expand Chinese influence while also showcasing Beijing’s softer side. If brought to fruition, the Silk Roads would boost China’s trade with effectively the whole Eurasian continent. Meanwhile, with Beijing footing the bill for much of the requisite infrastructure development, the vast trade network would increase the number of regional governments that view China as a patron and benefactor rather than a threat. To use China’s favorite foreign policy catchphrase, it’s a “win-win” situation – China can foster a softer image for itself even while boosting its regional influence.