17 December 2014

Who are the Pakistani Taliban

Published: December 17, 2014 0
APIn this August 5, 2012 photo, Pakistani Taliban patrol in their stronghold of Shawal in the Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan.

A look at the Pakistani Taliban, a militant organisation that has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar:


The extremist group is made up of fighters who largely have been based in North Waziristan, a northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan. They have been battling government troops in the northwest since Pakistan aligned itself with the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Taliban didn’t officially form until 2007 as an umbrella organisation that included various militant factions, all aligned against the government. In recent months, the organisation has fractured amid a Pakistani military offensive and U.S. drone strikes that have raised tension in the ranks. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, it is headed by Mullah Fazlullah, a militant commander who claimed responsibility for trying to kill education activist Malala Yousafzai in 2012. The teenager survived the shooting and won the Nobel Peace Prize.


The TTP has vowed to overthrow the government and install a harsh form of Islamic law. The extremists are aligned with the Afghan Taliban a group fighting U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan as well as al-Qaeda militants who also live in the rugged northwest. They have frequently attacked Pakistani troops, government targets and civilians to help carry out their goals. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the violence, but Tuesday’s school assault was one of the deadliest in more than a decade of fighting.


Pakistan’s military has carried out numerous operations in the tribal areas over the years, and more than 4,000 soldiers have been killed, with thousands more wounded. But many Pakistanis are tired of the operations and question their effectiveness. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, elected in 2013 partly on a platform of promising to negotiate an end to the violence, has tried for months to talk to the militants with little result. When militants attacked the Karachi international airport in June, the violence shocked the country. The government began an offensive in the militant hub of North Waziristan the last remaining tribal area where the military had not launched an operation. Pakistan says it has killed more than 1,000 militants in the operation, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people.


By the states, for the states

Written by Bhaskar Dutta | Posted: December 17, 2014 

One of the first decisions of the new government has been the decision to scrap the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission, set up in 1950, has increasingly become an anachronistic behemoth, although it did play a crucial role in the initial years when public investment was an overwhelmingly large part of overall investment in the economy. Those were the days when centralised planning, and hence the Planning Commission, had an important role. Obviously, increasing reliance on the market economy in a globalised world and the growth of the domestic private sector have resulted in the commission becoming more or less irrelevant.

Quite apart from the growing irrelevance of the Planning Commission is the fact that there have been serious charges against its actual functioning. Since the government will soon announce a new body that will replace the commission, it is important to keep these in mind, so that the same mistakes are not repeated in future.
Perhaps the most important allegation is that the commission has strayed a long distance away from the role that was initially visualised for it. There has been little attempt to ground the planning process within a consultative framework within which the states and the Central government are equal partners. The Planning Commission has become increasingly autocratic and has typically enforced its diktat over different states. “We know best” may well have become the slogan of the commission. Not surprisingly, state inputs into Five Year Plans have become perfunctory. There are anecdotes that interactions with the commission have become so scarce and meaningless that state allocations are decided even before any interaction with the states. Of course, there are investment projects that are truly national in character, since their reach spans several states. But there are other smaller, state-specific projects whose benefits are more or less contained within the state itself. There can be no justification for allowing officials in Yojana Bhavan to decide unilaterally the contours of such projects.

Another equally serious charge is that the commission has become an agent of the ruling political party or coalition at the Centre. A large fraction of the resources transferred to the states from the Centre are governed by formulas — for instance, those arising from various Finance Commission awards. However, a sizeable component of the transfers is on account of what are called Central plan schemes and Centrally sponsored schemes, and these are almost entirely discretionary in nature. There is overwhelming evidence that the Planning Commission has allowed itself to become an agency of the ruling party or coalition at the Centre, as a disproportionately large fraction of such discretionary grants go to those states that are politically aligned with the ruling party in New Delhi.

A new imagination for Indian universities

C. Raj Kumar

The Hindu“The agenda of universities needs to be established by the faculty and students, keeping in mind the needs and aspirations of everyone.” Picture shows engineering students in Hyderabad. on February 06, 2009.

Indian universities need a transformational change for them to become relevant in the context of global rankings of educational institutions

The Times Higher Education BRICS and Emerging Economies Rankings 2015, which gives new insights into the performance and contribution of universities in BRICS and emerging economies, demonstrates a stronger and sharper attention to issues of quality and excellence to be paid by India.

These rankings give comprehensive data on 100 universities in 18 emerging economies of the world. The results have shown that out of the top 10 universities, three are from China, three are from Turkey, one is from Taiwan, one is from Russia, one from Brzail and one from South Africa. There is not a single Indian university in the top 20 universities. Only the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, ranks 25 on the list. This year’s rankings have once again shown the extraordinary progress achieved by Chinese universities. Turkey is another great example of a strong performer in this year’s rankings; besides the three mentioned, eight institutions figure in the top 100.

Besides China, another performer has been Russia (seven Russian universities can be found in the top 100). There is a substantial focus on the importance of international rankings of universities among Russian universities and policymakers. There is also a significant impetus for capacity building to improve quality of education and to promoting excellence in all aspects of university governance.

In this context, Russia has embarked on an ambitious initiative called “Project on Competitiveness Enhancement of Leading Russian Universities Among Global Research and Education Centres.” This is expected to be a transformational initiative for Russian universities to seek a stronger presence in global rankings.

Baying for slices of a contested Bay

The Statesman, 17 Dec 2014

Ataur Rahman

This paper brings out the evolving complexity of relations among China, India and the United States. It highlights how a number of strategic initiatives undertaken by China, like investing in a deep sea port in Bangladesh, an oil-pipeline from Chittagong to Kunming, BCIM Economic Corridor, and Maritime Silk Road are yet to be realised in the contesting and divergent perceptions and interests of the three major maritime powers. The seven littoral countries of the Bay of Bengal - Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia - have an outlet through this largest bay in the world. It is thus attracting renewed attention catalysed by its strategic links, resource endowments and overall geopolitical significance. Recently, focus has been more on bridging infrastructure and broader connectivity gaps created by rapid development and the increasing volume of goods, services, people, and capital flows between economies of the bay region

US interests

Security relations in and around the Bay region are perceived by the US to have significant implications for its new “Asia Pivot” strategy. In the past several years, the US has developed new interests in the Bay of Bengal, and is in competition with India and China driven by a number of geo-strategic, economic and security considerations. The US expects that Bangladesh and other states adjoined by the Bay in the Indian Ocean should be partners in its security and economic cooperation framework. The US hopes that the Bay states or ‘community' should not relapse into chaotic unstable conditions, and that the US security assistance programme should aim at supporting them to “better control their borders and coastline and better deal with natural disasters and transnational security threats.”

India's ambitions

The rising importance of the Bay of Bengal in recent years is also linked to growing assertion of India as a naval power, and its stepped-up activities in trade relations, investment opportunities and establishing increasing connectivity with littoral states. India's ambitious modernisation of its navy with increasing bilateral and multilateral naval ties in the Bay of Bengal are driven partly in response to China and partly as a power rising on the world stage. Indian Maritime Doctrine projects a depletion of world energy resources that will make the prospect of outside military involvement in India's geographic environs even more prominent than now. India's ambitious ventures along the eastern part of the Bay of Bengal are underway. They include construction of a large new terminal beside the old harbour in Sittwe (Akyab) in Myanmar to open its own landlocked and impoverished north-eastern states, reduce costs of freight, and provide easy movement of cargo.

Pak Taliban target army-run school, kill 132 children in revenge attack

Dec 17, 2014

PESHAWAR: Picking the softest of soft targets, the Pakistani Taliban on Tuesday launched a savage and cowardly attack on a school, essentially for children of military families, spraying machine-gun fire on kids behind desks and leaving 132 of them dead. By the time the nine-hour siege ended, 141 people including the terrorists were killed. It was the worst attack on children anywhere in the world since the Beslan mass killing by Chechen Islamist rebels in 2004.

Addressing a press conference in Peshawar after conclusion of rescue operation, military spokesman, Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, said the Tehrik-e-Taliban attack on the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar was carried out by seven terrorists wearing suicide jackets. He said the attackers had planned to stay for long.

"The ration and ammunition which they brought was sufficient for several days," he said. At the time of the attack, he said, around 1,100 students and staff members were in the school. He said that the special services group (SSG), which carried out the operation, rescued about 960 students and their teachers. He said 141 people, including 132 students, were killed and 121 injured. The dead included school's woman principal Tahira Qazi. Another female teacher was burnt to death.
"During the operation seven SSG soldiers and two officers were also injured," he said. The spokesman claimed to have taken pictures and videos of the terrorists and said to have tracked down their communication with their leaders. "We'll share the record with media later," Bajwa said.

The terrorists had planted improvised explosive devices in the school making rescue operations difficult, leading to virtually a day-long gun battle. Claiming responsibility, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani said, "We selected the army school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females. We want them to feel the pain."

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar December 16, 2014. 

Nearly 200 dead as Syria bases lost to al-Qaida: Monitor

Dec 16, 2014

At least 120 soldiers were taken prisoner and about another 100 fled south in vehicles and on foot towards the town of Morek in the neighbouring province of Hama.

BEIRUT: Nearly 200 combatants on both sides were killed in 24 hours when the Syrian branch of al-Qaida took two regime bases in Idlib province, a monitoring group said on Tuesday. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain but gleans its information from a wide network of activists and medics on the ground, said Al-Nusra Front attackers also captured more than 100 regime soldiers. 

"There were at least 100 dead on the regime side and 80 among the attackers, killed in clashes, bombardments and by mines," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. 

At least 120 soldiers were taken prisoner and about another 100 fled south in vehicles and on foot towards the town of Morek in the neighbouring province of Hama. 

Seizing the key Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiyeh military posts on Monday also gave the jihadists control of most of the northwestern province, in a major blow to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. 

The jihadists advanced on the bases in coordination with Islamist rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, the Observatory said, adding that a string of villages in the area also fell. 

It was also another defeat for Western-backed rebels who were driven out of most of Idlib last month by Al-Nusra Front fighters. 

Mainstream rebel forces had been battling to take Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiyeh for around two years, but failed to take it over despite repeated attempts. 

Idlib was among the first provinces to fall, soon after the March 2011 outbreak of the armed revolt against Assad's rule. 

Elsewhere in the war-torn country, regime warplanes hit the besieged district of Waer in the central city of Homs, killing at least 13 civilians, said the Observatory. 

Among the casualties was a member of a delegation that had been in talks for a ceasefire with the government, as well as his wife. 

Waer is the last rebel-held area of Homs, which as once known as the "capital of the revolution" against Assad. 

Generations of Victims: Bhopal's Unending Catrastrophe

By Anne Backhaus and Simone Salden in Bhopal, India

Thirty years after the worst chemical accident in history, the disaster is hitting a new generation. The victims have received little help, professional clean-up has not happened and there are no signs the ongoing environmental catastrophe will end.

When the monsoon washes away the dust of the Indian summer from the landscape, huts and people of Bhopal, the dry basin behind the slum of J.P. Nagar turns into a lake. Laughing children swim in it, fishermen wait for the telltale tug on their lines to signal a catch, and buffalos greedily devour the succulent stems of water lilies.

In Hinduism, water is considered the source of all life. But in Bhopal, a cycle of death begins with each year's rainy season.

"The people can't see, smell or taste the poison," says Rachna Dhingra, "but it's there." It's in the water, in the flesh of fish and in the milk of the water buffalo, and it's in the dark mud that slum residents scrape from the shores of the lake to fill the cracks in their houses. Dhingra, 37, is standing on a small hill in her blue kurta, a long traditional Indian garment, angrily trying to talk sense into the fishermen. "This is suicide," she shouts.

SPIEGEL ONLINE/Anne BackhausBhopal: A Disaster in India that Continues TodayToday's lake was once used as a solar evaporation pond, a dump for the unfiltered waste from the nearby chemical plant. More than 11,000 tons of material was dumped there, and now the soil and groundwater are contaminated with mercury, nickel and other heavy metals. Nevertheless, farmers water their animals at the lake every day, and women fetch water from it to wash their children and their laundry. The contaminated lake affects more than half a million people. For activist Dhingra, what is happening in Bhopal is an "endless catastrophe -- and the world simply looks away."

Taliban: We Slaughtered 100+ Kids Because Their Parents Helped America

Mohammad Sajjad/AP

Militants attacked an army-run school in Peshawar claim it’s retaliation for U.S.-backed efforts to crush a group that's helped protect Al Qaeda.

LONDON — The unprecedented slaughter Tuesday of more than 125 people, most of them children, at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, shows in the most gruesome possible way that the Pakistani Taliban known as the TTP have not yet been defeated or brought under control by the Pakistani military’s recent offensives. Certainly that was the objective of the attack: the school is a private one run by the army for the children of soldiers.

“The TTP is ready for a long, long war against the U.S. puppet state of Pakistan,” a TTP Taliban commander told me when I reached him on his Afghan cell phone. “We are just displaced, but we are still in positions to attack wherever we want," said Jihad Yar Wazir.

Yar Wazir justified the killings as fitting retribution. “The parents of the army school are army soldiers and they are behind the massive killing of our kids and indiscriminate bombing in North and South Waziristan," which are the TTP strongholds. “To hurt them at their safe haven and homes—such an attack is perfect revenge.”

But the children are innocents, I said. What about them, I asked?
“To hurt them at their safe haven and homes—such an attack is perfect revenge.”

“What about our kids and children,” he said. “These are the kids of the U.S.-backed Pakistani army and they should stop their parents from bombing our families and children." Yar Wazir went on: “Those kids are innocent because they are wearing a suit and tie and western shirts? But our kids wearing Islamic shalwar kamiz do not come before the eyes of the media and the west.”

Jihad Yar Wazir says the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban) has a long list of attacks that it will carry out in Pakistan against the security forces whose efforts to crush the group are supported by the United States. The regions where it is strong have served as a refuge for Al Qaeda, which is the main American target.

Torture Report Message: Let Pakistan Handle It

By Eli Lake
13 DEC 14, 2014 

Senate Democrats this week issued a declassified report stating that the harsh interrogations the Central Intelligence Agency once claimed saved American lives failed to produce unique and valuable intelligence. But Senate Democrats also assert that third-world interrogations of al-Qaeda operatives often did produce such vital intelligence.

The report, written by the majority staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, cites six instances in which Pakistani authorities, in particular, obtained leads through interrogating al-Qaeda operatives that helped disrupt plots or locate other terrorist leaders. The Pakistanis often got first crack at detainees before they were sent to CIA prisons.

Take the example of Ammar al-Baluchi. In the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” the torture of al-Baluchi is depicted as revealing the key piece of intelligence identifying Osama bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. In 2011, the CIA was able to find and kill bin Laden because it had tracked the movements of al-Kuwaiti.

The CIA’s rebuttal to the Senate report says al-Baluchi gave up much more specific information on al-Kuwaiti after he went through the agency’s harsh interrogations. The Senate report, however, says al-Baluchi gave up al-Kuwaiti first to the Pakistanis.

A footnote on page 399 of the Senate report says al-Baluchi was arrested along with another al-Qaeda operative, Khallad bin Attash, by Pakistani authorities on April 29, 2003. “Upon his arrest in Pakistan, Ammar al-Baluchi was cooperative and provided information on a number of topics to foreign government interrogators, including information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti that the CIA disseminated prior to al-Baluchi being transferred to CIA custody,” the footnote says.

A footnote on page 244 of the report also says al-Baluchi was interrogated by a Pakistani who had built a rapport with him, leading al-Baluchi to disclose key information on plots against U.S. targets in Pakistan. The Senate report does not however discuss the conditions of al-Baluchi’s short detention in Pakistan any further, other than noting that some of his interrogation was conducted in a non-coercive manner.

Can Kabul Handle its Growing Pains?

December 16, 2014

Plus, Taliban surges attacks, Imran Khan takes his protests to Lahore, and India bans Xiaomi. South Asia links. 

A few South Asia links to start off the week:
A report in The Guardian takes a look at Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul–a booming metropolis that is described as “bursting at the seams.” Kabul’s rapid urbanization in recent years is causing problems for the city government, but the city nonetheless represents a beacon of hope in Afghanistan as international forces prepare to withdraw after over a decade of war. The primary problem with Kabul’s urbanization is that population growth is out-pacing the city’s ability to provide jobs and services. The Guardian report paints a picture of a “city beset by criminality and economic malaise” as international troops depart.

Meanwhile, also in Afghanistan, the Taliban continue a nationwide campaign to increase attacks as international forces prepare to depart. The Taliban has ramped up its attacks since Afghanistan’s new government came to office. The group is determined to shake the confidence of the new national unity government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently condemned the surge in the Taliban’s attacks across the country: ”We will never surrender,” Ghani said. He added that the Taliban’s attacks were “unacceptable,” “un-Islamic,” and “inhuman.” The Taliban’s ‘surge’ in attacks represents one of the foremost challenges for the Afghan government as it transitions into 2015.

Across the border in Pakistan, Imran Khan, former cricketer, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party and instigator of August’s Azadi march in Islamabad, led a day of protest in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. Khan is attempting to spread his protests against the current government led by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party across the rest of the country. He claims that Sharif won the May 2013 election using illegitimate means. The Pakistani government is attempting to talk to the PTI, but Khan has been unreceptive to the government’s overtures so far.

China’s Balkan Gamble

By Dr. Valbona Zeneli
December 15, 2014

Why is China investing so much in the debt-burdened Balkans? 

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will soon visit Europe again to participate in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) – China Summit to be hosted in Belgrade. This visit is a continuation of last year’s 16+1 initiative held in Bucharest which appeared to offer considerable promise. At that meeting, leaders called for wide-ranging multilateral cooperation aimed at doubling trade and investment in five years.

The outcome of last year’s forum was a four-point proposal for a comprehensive, friendly and cooperative partnership. The main pillars of the proposal included enhancing political trust between China and CEE countries, exploring economic and trade potential, creating a large number of cooperative projects, and strengthening cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

One must ask why China seems so interested in the Balkans. Although some countries – Greece and Serbia are examples – may seem to have some appeal, China is in fact showing an overall interest in the region.

That interest appears to go beyond markets – in fact, the Balkan markets could be considered insignificant for trade. It also seems to go beyond the need to secure a source of commodities, although the Balkans are rich in natural resources. Rather, it appears that China is focused on infrastructure and access to Western European markets.

China’s long-term strategy views Serbia as a strategic partner in the region, and it believes that Belgrade can fill the role of a European transportation hub. An agreement to construct a high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest was signed in November 2013. With construction set to begin in 2015 and finish in just two years, the railway highlights China’s interest in infrastructure projects. The project, worth 2.5 billion euro ($3.112 billion), will be financed by the China Development Bank and executed by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Of note is the number of Chinese workers engaged in the project.

Take a closer look, and this approach suggests a Chinese strategy of ensuring greater access to Western Europe to promote its own commercial activities. One of Beijing’s aims is to advance the New Silk road project by accelerating investments in regional infrastructure links and creating a large network of ports, logistic centers, and railways to distribute Chinese products and bolster the speed of East-West trade.

The starting point in this network is the port of Piraeus in Greece, which has attracted continued and significantChinese investment since 2009, partly through COSCO Pacific, a global shipping giant. Piraeus has subsequently become the main entry point for Chinese goods in Europe, shortening normal shipping times by one week. China has also shown interest in the port of Thessaloniki (Greece), among others in the region, including Bar in Montenegro.

China’s efforts to set up logistics bases started with the Thriasis hub in Greece and then continued in other countries of the region. A new and efficient railway route through the Balkans is the perfect picture of a speedy distribution network.

However, given the low productivity of the Balkans, we can surmise that China is prepared to sacrifice short-term profits while it focuses on pursuing a trade-substituting investment strategy. This approach would allow the Chinese to set up shop on the edge of the EU. That in turn could potentially allow Chinese companies to circumvent trade restrictions and export products directly to a market of 800 million people, thanks to free trade agreements that Balkans countries enjoy with the EU.


By Pramod Jaiswal

A pastoral scene in Nepal 

With just a few weeks left to meet the 22 January, 2015 deadline for the promulgation of the constitution, the President of Nepal, Ram Baran Yadav, is busy asking the lawmakers to fulfill their commitments.
Contentious Issues

The current Constituent Assembly (CA) that was elected in November 2013 has already taken the ownership of the progress made by the previous CA – which streamlined the tasks of writing a new constitution. Despite that, Nepalese political leaders made little effort to resolve the contentious issues of the constitution-making. They need to resolve four key contentious issues including federalism, forms of governance, electoral system and judiciary. Due to lack of intensive discussion among the political parties, they have failed to make any substantial progress.

Federalism remains one of the thorny issues major parties are sharply divided on. Among the crucial questions are the numbers of federal provinces, demarcation of boundaries, and names of the federal units. The future of the constitution also depends on how the political parties handle the issue of federalism. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-Maoists) advocate for decentralised governance of 10 to 14 provinces based on ethnicity while the Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) call for centralised governance of a maximum seven provinces. The UCPN-Maoists and the Madhes-based parties are demanding more provinces in the hilly regions and less in the Madhes.

The UCPN-Maoist has proposed for a presidential form of government and envisage the directly-elected president as both the head of state and head of government while the NC proposed a reformed parliamentary form of government where the president is the head of the state and the prime minister is the executive chief. Vis-à-vis the electoral system, the UCPN-Maoists proposed a multiple-member, proportional, direct electoral system based on proportional inclusion, to be determined on the basis of the population, geography and socio-economic factors while the NC and CPN-UML proposed a mixed system, with half the members of parliament elected directly on First Past the Post (FPTP) voting and half elected proportionally (similar to the system applied in the CA elections). Regarding judiciary, the NC and the CPN-UML call for a supreme court while UCPN-Maoists demand a constitutional court.

Additionally, the parties of the ruling coalition, namely the NC and the CPN-UML, prefer all decisions to be taken in the plenary of the CA by majority vote while the oppositions (UCPN-Maoists and Madhes-based parties) prefers the consensus approach.
Polarisation among the Political Parties

Islamic State overruns town in Anbar, executes Awakening fighters

December 14, 2014 

The Islamic State took control of a town in Anbar province in western Iraq yesterday and executed 21 members of the Sunni Awakening tribal movement in another town late last week.

Islamic State fighters launched an assault on al Wafa, which is west of the provincial capital of Ramadi, on Dec. 12 and defeated Iraqi security forces and local tribal fighters. Nineteen policemen were killed in the fighting. Reuters reports:

Police forces backed by few members of government-paid Sunni tribal fighters tried to prevent the militants from crossing the sand barrier surrounding the town, but were overwhelmed when sleeper cells from inside opened fire on them, the mayor and a police officer said.

Police forces and the pro-government Sunni fighters were forced to retreat to a nearby police-brigade headquarters bordering their town.

"We are trapped inside the police 18th brigade. Islamic State managed to surround us today. If no government forces were sent to help us then we will be exterminated," the mayor, who was with the police forces that withdrew from al-Wafa, said by telephone.

Additionally, near the town of Baghdadi, which is just outside of Al Asad Airbase, the Islamic State captured 21 Awakening fighters on Dec. 10 and executed them two days later. "All the bodies had bullet wounds to the head and chest and were dumped inside an orchard near the Islamic-State controlled town of Kubaisa," Reuters reported.

The Islamic State's Anbar division released photographs of the fighting in Baghdadi on Dec. 11. The photos show its fighters firing on Iraqi personnel, then displaying the bodies of dead security personnel. Additionally, the Islamic State showed photos of captured vehicles and weapons, including US-made Humvees, mortars, rockets, heavy machine guns, and assault rifles. Some of the photographs are reproduced below; the images of the dead Iraqi security personnel are too graphic to display.

4 Ways Conflict Could Develop in East Asia

December 16, 2014

As you watch East Asia in 2015, keep an eye on these four factors. 

What will the future of war look like in East Asia? A recent conference at the Pandia Calogeras Institute, a think tank associated with the Brazilian Ministry of Defence, examined potential developments in warfare with an eye toward 2045. Here are several trends the group identified, with implications for thinking about how conflict may develop in East Asia:

A New Set of Security Players

Currently, states dominate the land and seascapes of geopolitics in East Asia. But as we’ve recently learned in the Middle East, and as we’ve long known in Latin America and elsewhere, sub-state and trans-state groups can loom large on the threat matrix. Ideological movements, ethnic groups, religious communities, and transnational criminal networks may reassert themselves in the Asia-Pacific, giving states something to worry about beyond a few uninhabited islands. Developments of this sort could drive interstate cooperation, and potentially change how regional militaries approach planning for war.

War and the Growth of Inequality

Will future conflicts in the Asia-Pacific happen within states, between states, or across states? Developments in economic inequality may affect this question. Although it’s tough to draw a straight line between inequality and conflict, and (controversial) work of French economist Thomas Piketty suggests some potential fruitful ideas. Piketty argues that wealth inequality in many countries is approaching historic highs, which could create crises of legitimacy across several states. These crises could lead to risk-acceptant behavior, or to internal disintegration.

At the same time, Piketty is clear that major power war in the twentieth century proved the great “leveler” in terms of wealth inequality. The wars destroyed a tremendous amount of property, undermined the great European empires, and led to inflation and high rates of taxation, all of which produced a far more egalitarian distribution of wealth.

Evolution of the Laws and Morality of War

Australians Just Showed the World Exactly How to Respond to Terrorism With #IllRideWithYou

In the aftermath of the hostage crisis in downtown Sydney, Australians are showing the world they're not caving to racism or Islamophobia. 

On Monday, an armed gunman stormed a cafe in Martin Place, entering a tense standoff with police. After the hostage-taker displayed an Islamic flag in the cafe's window, many of Australia's Muslims are understandably anxious about facing retribution. 

But instead, Australians have banded together on Twitter with #IllRideWithYou, a hashtag showing their solidarity with fellow countrymen scared of being attacked on public transportation. 

The hashtag started simply, with an act of compassion. Tessa Kum, a writer living in Sydney, told Guardian Australia she acted after seeing a tweet from TV reporter Michael James:

This, this is what good people do. #sydneyseige #MartinPlace pic.twitter.com/zxbHLWzxEphttps://pbs.twimg.com/media/B43iEviCIAECsJf.jpg:large

If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don't feel safe alone: I'll ride with you. @ me for schedule.

Maybe start a hashtag? What's in #illridewithyou?

The campaign snowballed from there. Topsy, a social media analytics website, measured more than150,000 tweets with the hashtag in just 12 hours:

I'm a semi regular commuter on the #mandurah line. If you see me #illridewithyou. I'll be wearing this scarf. pic.twitter.com/sWSpbDcOsdhttps://pbs.twimg.com/media/B44vmcYCIAAs2BC.jpg:large

If you wear religious attire, & need to get from #Adelaide's west suburbs to the city on Tues but don't want to travel alone #illridewithyou

India-Russia-United States Strategic Pyramid Analysed

By Dr Subhash Kapila

India under Modi Sarkar sits atop the strategic pyramid with Russia and the United States at the base at opposing ends intending to reinforce their respective Strategic Partnerships with India to their advantage.

Russia has had a long standing and time-proven Strategic Partnership with India until its misconceived recent Defence and Security Agreement with Pakistan. President Putin’s recent visit to New Delhi retrieved the Russia-India Strategic Partnership Strategic Partnership by offering explanations for its Pakistan-policy change and with a slew of military and nuclear-related agreements to bring back the Russia-India Strategic Partnership on the rails. India repaid the strategic trust reposed by Russia in India’s rising power by awarding nearly $ 100-115 billion worth of contracts to Russia.

The US-India Strategic Partnership is only a decade or so old and this time span stood marked by strategic bumps arising from United States propensity to underwrite Pakistan Army’s military adventurism in South Asia and thereby endangering its evolving Strategic Partnership with India. President Obama’s forthcoming State-visit to India as the Chief Guest at the Republic Day 2015 celebrations raised hopes that this visit underwrote United States renewed intentions to add both substance and intent on raising the US-India Strategic Partnership to a higher level.

Regrettably, the official reactions pouring out of Washington in the wake of the strategically and financially high-value agreements signed between President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week were peevish in nature. Worse still were some reactions of a demanding nature that India would be well advised to desist from entering into trade agreements with Russia. Such reactions are likely to sour the optimism which ensued on the announcement of President Obama’s visit to India next month. While India would welcome a revitalised Strategic Partnership with the United States, it no longer can be expected that India would ‘outsource its foreign policy to Washington’ as it was in the last ten years.

In effect the spectacle that is being presented in terms of international relations is that India is being strategically wooed by both Russia and the United States arising from India’s rising global stature with the unfolding of her strategic, military and economic potential. Pointedly, this recognition of India by both Russia and the United States has surfaced in sharp contours with the emergence of India’s dynamic, bold and decisive Prime Minister in the person of Narendra Modi.

India’s potential was always there, even in the last ten years, but global recognition was withheld as in these years, since India stood projected as lacking in dynamism and assertiveness befitting a regional power.

Repairing the Diplomatic Threat Reduction Enterprise

15 DECEMBER 2014 

The “nuclear enterprise” – as the nuclear weapons complex and force structure in the United States have been successfully rebranded — is bloated and in need of paring. It is also in need of repair. The Pentagon commissioned two high-level studies to clarify particulars and remedies. Repair work on an aging command and control infrastructure and a broken security culture is not optional.

Supporters of the nuclear enterprise also seek far larger expenditures to recapitalize all three legs of the Triad. Whatever sums are spent on strategic modernization programs will not reduce threats unless the United States also repairs and modernizes non-military means of threat reduction. Investing in one without the other is a poor investment strategy. Nuclear weapons deter threats in kind; they don’t reduce them. Deterrence without diplomacy is downright dangerous.

The diplomatic threat reduction enterprise consists of the men, women and institutions, domestic and international, dedicated to reducing threats posed by dangerous weapons. The primary locus of non-military threat reduction in the United States is the State Department, but other agencies provide crucial technical and analytical support. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency used to be dedicated to this mission, but it was folded into the State Department in 1997 to facilitate the Senate’s consent to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. If you google ACDA now, the first entry that pops up is the American Choral Directors Association.

The arms control brand, which made a splash in the 1960s, has come upon hard times. The arms control brand still evokes images of formal negotiations where progress is counted in numbers. A decade ago, I argued (in Cooperative Threat Reduction, Missile Defense and the Nuclear Future) for the rebranding of “arms control” as “threat reduction” – with apologies to this website and the Arms Control Association. My reasoning: arms control has expanded well beyond formal negotiations to encompass collaborative laboratory initiatives to improve nuclear security, checkpoints at border crossings, sleuthing for illicit transfers of radiological material, the creation of centers of excellence to improve personnel training, mine demilitarization efforts, greater transparency in arms transfers, improved monitoring for very low-yield underground testing, the development of codes of responsible conduct, and dozens of other activities.

The merger of ACDA and State has not been kind to the WMD threat reduction mission, which has suffered from insufficiently funded mandates, poor personnel management, and the absence of mechanisms and slots to recruit new talent. The seventh floor of the State Department is fighting so many fires that it has neglected basic housekeeping needs. The person whose job it is to attend to those needs has been awaiting confirmation for over 500 days. (As this is written, Frank Rose finally appears set for a confirmation vote.) Unlike the nuclear enterprise, the non-military threat reduction enterprise has no powerful constituency to demand budget redress or ameliorative steps. Supporters of arms control have not horse-traded very well on Capitol Hill.


By Michael Hayden

I have been out of government about five-and-a-half years and I get to talk to a lot of groups. One of the standard requests is: What keeps you awake at night? The problem is there is so much going on now. It’s not just that we’re more interconnected and seeing more on our 24/7 news stations or on our cellphones; there is just more stuff – ugly stuff – going on. But what’s going on underneath? What are the tectonics? Why is the surface of the earth shaking in so many places?

I’m going to suggest three tectonics that explain why this world is so turbulent.
Tectonic Number 1: The New Malevolence: The Threat from Non-State Actors 

It was mentioned that I worked on the NSC staff for Brent Scowcroft in the Bush 41 administration. Two-and-a-half years ago, Brent wrote an article[1] arguing that when he was National Security Advisor, all the pieces on the board we cared about were nation-states, and frankly we moved those pieces around through what you and I today would call hard power – masses of men and metal at the right place at the right time. If we liked you, it was the promise of masses of men and metal; and if we didn’t like you, it was the threat of masses of men and metal. That’s how hard power operates among nation-states.

Scowcroft suggested most things in the industrial age trended to strengthen the nation-state. If you’re going to industrialize a society, you need a powerful center. Look at our own history. We remember the Republican Party as being the anti-slavery party but that wasn’t the only plank in the platform. The other plank was the construction of a national infrastructure to support the industrialization of the United States. Elsewhere, Communism was a horrible theory of history, worse theory of government, but it worked if your goal was to rapidly industrialize a backward and agrarian society. In other words, the industrial age trended towards strengthening the nation-state.

Whereas the industrial age strengthened the nation-state, the post-industrial information age erodes the power of the nation-state. In other words, things that we used to think could be done only by government are now being done by sub-state actors, groups, gangs, even individuals. All of us have been empowered magnificently. We have been wondrously empowered to do things on our own but that empowerment has an incredible dark side. It pushes power down to sub-state actors, groups, and individuals, some of whom are very, very malevolent. Years ago we never lost any sleep over a religious fanatic living in a cave in the Hindu Kush . . . and yet now we do.

A Global Energy Superpower Rises

December 15, 2014 

The big question about America’s energy boom is not how much it will produce, but how much it can export. 

When it comes to crude oil and other hydrocarbons, the United States is bursting at the seams. The United States has very rapidly become a powerhouse as an exporter of finished petroleum products, natural gas liquids, other oils including ethanol, and even crude oil — with total gross exports of all of these combined expected to reach 5 million barrels per day (mb/d) or more by the end of this year, up a stunning 4 mb/d since 2005. Total oil exports in 2014 pushed the commodity to the top of the list of U.S. exports by category, far surpassing all agricultural products, capital goods, even aircraft as the largest sector of U.S. export trade. Meanwhile, U.S. crude oil exports, largely to Canada, are 500 percent above what they were a year before, and are heading for around 500,000 b/d by year end. 

This remarkable boom is unlikely to stop even if prevailing prices for oil fall as low as $50. Indeed, even if light sweet crude (WTI) prices fell below $75 for a while, production growth would continue at relatively high levels for years to come. While the debate in the United States intensifies over whether the country should lift restrictions dating back to the 1970s on exporting crude oil, facts on the ground are changing faster than policymakers in Washington recognize — or global markets are ready to realize. As U.S. hydrocarbon trade flows get turned on their head, oil exporter countries lose their largest market, and face greater competition in the rest of the world. The global impact on energy prices, global trade and investment flows, petrostate revenues and political stability, and economic boosts to net importer countries and consumers are resulting in broad economic and geopolitical shifts that are beginning to ripple through the world. 

By late 2014, every barrel of locally produced petroleum product and crude oil — as well as the yet-to-be-legally-defined category of condensate (chemically, a form of ultra-light crude oil) — that can get out of the country is, in fact, getting out. Too much attention has been placed on whether to lift the “ban” on crude oil exports. Only a limited ban effectively impacts oil produced in federal waters or transported through a federally mandated pipeline; elsewhere, there is a minefield of obstacles to exporting crude oil from the United States — but a fairly permissive regulatory framework that already applies to Canada, is likely to be applied within a year to Mexico (and soon thereafter to some free trade agreement partners), even without legislation to lift the bans. 

A Desert War on ISIS, Fought From a Floating City

DEC. 15, 2014

ABOARD THE U.S.S. CARL VINSON, in the Persian Gulf — More than a dozen Navy F/A-18 warplanes roar off this aircraft carrier every day to attack Islamic State targets in support of Iraqi troops battling to regain ground lost to the militants in June.

These Navy pilots face an array of lethal risks during their six-hour round-trip missions. Surface-to-air missiles and other enemy fire lurk below, as the downing of an Iraqi military helicopter late Friday underscored. About 60 percent of the aircrews are still learning the ropes on their first combat tours.

The United States-led coalition improvises how the Iraqis call in airstrikes: Iraqi troops talk by radio to American controllers at Iraqi command centers, who in turn talk to the Navy pilots to help pinpoint what to hit. Senior commanders have said that placing American spotters with the Iraqi troops would be more effective, but they have yet to recommend that step knowing that President Obama opposes it.

Prepare for Cyber Armageddon

December 15, 2014

The United States is woefully unprepared to deal with the inevitability of a major cyber attack. Recent hacks of private companies such as Sony, Home Depot, Target and the like are warnings of greater dangers to come; like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. These companies don’t represent critical infrastructure such as the power grid, banking system, food distribution and storage or air traffic control. A successful attack on any one of these could bring this country to its knees.

The Internet was never intended to be secure. Neither is much of the software in use today by individuals, companies and even governments. As anyone with security software on their PCs or devices knows, they receive a continuous stream of updates as security companies such as McAfee strive diligently to stay abreast of the threat.

Some progress has been made in the area of cyber defense, particularly by the Department of Defense. It created Cyber Command, a component of U.S. Strategic Command, to oversee and direct the activities and operations of the individual Service cyber elements. Together with the Defense Information Systems Agency, Cyber Command is said to be doing a very good job securing defense networks. It also has developed very potent offensive capabilities that it doesn’t talk about.

Unfortunately, the rest of government, state and local as well as federal, is not nearly as well protected as DoD. Neither is the private sector which owns and operates 85 percent of this country’s critical infrastructure. Cyber Command lacks the necessary authorities, not to mention sufficient resources, to enable it to defend the rest of the federal government much less the country as a whole.

Russia’s Military Cooperation Agreement with Pakistan: An Assessment

Deecember 15, 2014

Russia signed a ‘military cooperation’ agreement with Pakistan during the visit of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Islamabad on November 20, 2014. This was the first such visit after the break-up of the Soviet Union and came against the backdrop of increased engagement between defence officials of the two countries – all three commanders-in-chief of Russia’s armed forces have visited Pakistan in 2014. The agreement talks about “exchanging information on politico-military issues, strengthening collaboration in the defence and counter-terrorism sectors, sharing similar views on developments in Afghanistan and doing business with each other.”

This watershed agreement raises two pertinent questions: What are the driving factors behind Russia’s Pakistan strategy? And should India be concerned? 
Russia’s Pakistan Strategy 

It is likely that Russia’s outreach towards Pakistan is substantially driven by the deterioration in its ties with the West. At a time when the Kremlin continues to be isolated over the Ukrainian standoff, there is a concerted push to explore synergies of cooperation with countries that seek to chart an independent foreign policy. Against this backdrop, Pakistan’s geostrategic position at the juncture of South, Central and West Asia and as the lynchpin of US strategy for the region assumes significance. Moscow remains deeply suspicious about US policies in its ‘near abroad.’ Pakistan’s potential in undermining any US design aimed at reducing Russia’s influence in this region is likely to have facilitated this agreement. In turn, the agreement gives Pakistan a bargaining chip in its own negotiations with the US.

Moreover, developments in Afghanistan also appear to have played a key role in determining Russia’s strategic calculus towards Islamabad. Moscow remains concerned about terrorism and drug trafficking from the region spilling over to Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is likely to have concluded that Afghan instability will persist for the foreseeable future. Therefore, apart from shoring up the defences in Central Asia, there is a growing realization that Pakistan holds a key lever for bringing stability to the region. This is likely to be one of the reasons for Russia supporting Pakistan’s full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as well.

One can also argue that Russia’s rapprochement with Pakistan is in response to India’s perceived drift towards the West and its weapons diversification programme. However, this would tantamount to perceiving India’s and Russia’s relationships with other countries as a zero sum game.
Implications for India

America: Australia's Dangerous Ally

December 16, 2014

Australia should not embrace America, writes its former prime minister, but preserve itself from Washington’s reckless overreach. 

IT IS time for Australia to end its strategic dependence on the United States. The relationship with America, which has long been regarded as beneficial, has now become dangerous to Australia’s future. We have effectively ceded to America the ability to decide when Australia goes to war. Even if America were the most perfect and benign power, this posture would still be incompatible with the integrity of Australia as a sovereign nation. It entails not simply deference but submission to Washington, an intolerable state of affairs for a country whose power and prosperity are increasing and whose national interests dictate that it enjoy amicable, not hostile, relations with its neighbors, including China.

As painful as a reassessment of relations may be for intellectual and policy elites, there are four principal reasons why one is long overdue. First, despite much blather about a supposed unanimity of national purpose, the truth is that the United States and Australia have substantially different values systems. The idea of American exceptionalism is contrary to Australia’s sense of egalitarianism. Second, we have seen the United States act in an arbitrary, imprudent and capricious fashion. It has made a number of ill-advised and ill-informed decisions concerning Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Third, at the moment, because of U.S. military installations in Australia, if America goes to war in the Pacific, it will take us to war as well—without an independent decision by Australia. Finally, under current circumstances, in any major contest in the Pacific, our relationship with America would make us a strategic target for America’s enemies. It is not in Australia’s interest to be in that position.

Yes, Uzbekistan Is Putin’s Friend

December 15, 2014

Russia’s president offers a generous dose of debt forgiveness to keep Uzbekistan close. 

At a tough time for Russia’s economy, Vladimir Putin is reaching out in the Central Asian neighborhood for friends. Landing before dawn on Wednesday in Tashkent, the Russian president was warmly received by his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov. The large smiles captured by Uzbek television during the encounter suggested an amenable entente. The vast majority of Uzbek debt towards Moscow was to be written off and both parties knew that was going to facilitate additional talks.

Uzbekistan will pay only $25 million of the $890 million it owes Russia and will consider taking part in a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are members. As the largest country (by population) in Central Asia, “Uzbekistan is one of Russia’s priority partners in the region,” said Putin, while referencing the leading role of his country in trade and economic relations with the Central Asian nation. That role remains relevant, even though auto sales from Uzbekistan, a traditional mainstay of trade transactions, dropped 35 percent in 2014. More positively, representatives of LUKoil, who accompanied the presidential delegation, gave assurances that the Russian energy company would keep investing in the Kandym gas condensate field in the Bukhara region, adding an additional $5 billion over the next 25 years. Overall, two-way trade is around $4 billion annually, with annual increases of 8-9 percent over the past couple of years. Notably, the two presidents cited two very different figures during their public statements, with Karimov boasting of an $8 billion yearly trade volume.

Putin and Karimov signed an important agreement to reach common ground on the settlement of mutual financial claims. The document was inked only days after Putin declared full amnesty for the return of capital held abroad, a move that denotes the need to substitute the loss of hard currency due to the massive capital flight of recent months. Unfortunately, nothing was disclosed to the press about the much anticipated discussionconcerning the natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan to southern Kyrgyzstan, interrupted since last April.