About Chellaney

Professor, strategic thinker, author and commentator

Nuclear power’s troubled future

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, November 19, 2014

wind-nuclearNew developments highlight the growing travails of the global nuclear-power industry. France — the “poster child” of atomic power — plans to cut its nuclear-generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources, like its neighbours, Germany and Spain. As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden oil sheikhdoms. Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are located in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.

Six decades after Lewis Strauss, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavourable economics. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2014, released last week, states: “Uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear — government policy, public confidence, financing in liberalized markets, competitiveness versus other sources of generation, and the looming retirement of a large fleet of older plants.”

Heavily subsidy reliant

Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors. Plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, still averages almost a decade, as underscored by the new reactors commissioned in the past decade.

The key fact about nuclear power is that it is the world’s most-subsidy-fattened energy industry, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half-a-century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times.

In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17 per cent in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13 per cent, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5 per cent since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years.

Yet, the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

Fukushima’s impact

Before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the global nuclear power industry — a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms — had been trumpeting a global “nuclear renaissance.” This spiel was largely anchored in hope. However, the triple meltdown at Fukushima has not only reopened old safety concerns but also set in motion the renaissance of nuclear power in reverse. The dual imperative for costly upgrades post-Fukushima and for making the industry competitive, including by cutting back on the munificent government subsidies, underscores nuclear power’s dimming future.

It is against this background that India’s itch to import high-priced reactors must be examined. To be sure, India should ramp up electricity production from all energy sources. There is definitely a place for safe nuclear power in India’s energy mix. Indeed, the country’s domestic nuclear-power industry has done a fairly good job both in delivering electricity at a price that is the envy of Western firms and, as the newest indigenous reactors show, in beating the mean global plant-construction time frame.

No competitive bidding

India should actually be encouraging its industry to export its tested and reliable midsize reactor model, which is better suited for the developing countries, considering their grid limitations. Instead, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, after making India the world’s largest importer of conventional arms since 2006, set out to make the country the world’s single largest importer of nuclear power reactors — a double whammy for Indian taxpayers, already heavily burdened by the fact that India is the only major economy in Asia that is import-dependent rather than export driven.

To compound matters, the Singh government opted for major reactor imports without a competitive bidding process. It reserved a nuclear park each for four foreign firms (Areva of France, Westinghouse and GE of the U.S., and Atomstroyexport of Russia) to build multiple reactors at a single site. It then set out to acquire land from farmers and other residents, employing coercion in some cases.

Having undercut its leverage by dedicating a park to each foreign vendor, it entered into price negotiations. Because the imported reactors are to be operated by the Indian state, the foreign vendors have been freed from producing electricity at marketable rates. In other words, Indian taxpayers are to subsidise the high-priced electricity generated.

Westinghouse, GE and Areva also wish to shift the primary liability for any accident to the Indian taxpayer so that they have no downside risk but only profits to reap. If a Fukushima-type catastrophe were to strike India, it would seriously damage the Indian economy. A recent Osaka City University study has put Japan’s Fukushima-disaster bill at a whopping $105 billion.

To Dr. Singh’s discomfiture, three factors put a break on his reactor-import plans — the exorbitant price of French- and U.S.-origin reactors, the accident-liability issue, and grassroots opposition to the planned multi-reactor complexes. After Fukushima, the grassroots attitude in India is that nuclear power is okay as long as the plant is located in someone else’s backyard, not one’s own. This attitude took a peculiar form at Kudankulam, in Tamil Nadu, where a protest movement suddenly flared just when the Russian-origin, twin-unit nuclear power plant was virtually complete.

India’s new nuclear plants, like in most other countries, are located in coastal regions so that these water-guzzling facilities can largely draw on seawater for their operations and not bring freshwater resources under strain. But coastal areas are often not only heavily populated but also constitute prime real estate. The risks that seaside reactors face from global-warming-induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated parts of the Madras Atomic Power Station. But the reactor core could be kept in a safe shutdown mode because the electrical systems had been installed on higher ground than the plant level.

One-sided

Dr. Singh invested so such political capital in the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement that much of his first term was spent in negotiating and consummating the deal. He never explained why he overruled the nuclear establishment and shut down the CIRUS research reactor — the source of much of India’s cumulative historic production of weapons-grade plutonium since the 1960s. In fact, CIRUS had been refurbished at a cost of millions of dollars and reopened for barely two years when Dr. Singh succumbed to U.S. pressure and agreed to close it down.

Nevertheless, the nuclear accord has turned out to be a dud deal for India on energy but a roaring success for the U.S. in opening the door to major weapon sales — a development that has quietly made America the largest arms supplier to India. For the U.S., the deal from the beginning was more geostrategic in nature (designed to co-opt India as a quasi-ally) than centred on just energy.

Even if no differences had arisen over the accident-liability issue, the deal would still not have delivered a single operational nuclear power plant for a more than a decade for two reasons — the inflated price of Western-origin commercial reactors and grassroots opposition. Areva, Westinghouse and GE signed Memorandums of Understanding with the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) in 2009, but construction has yet to begin at any site.

India has offered Areva, with which negotiations are at an advanced stage, a power price of Rs.6.50 per kilowatt hour — twice the average electricity price from indigenous reactors. But the state-owned French firm is still holding out for a higher price. If Kudankulam is a clue, work at the massive nuclear complexes at Jaitapur in Maharashtra (earmarked for Areva), Mithi Virdi in Gujarat (Westinghouse), and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh (GE) is likely to run into grassroots resistance. Indeed, if India wishes to boost nuclear-generating capacity without paying through its nose, the better choice — given its new access to the world uranium market — would be an accelerated indigenous programme.

Globally, nuclear power is set to face increasing challenges due to its inability to compete with other energy sources in pricing. Another factor is how to manage the rising volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities. More fundamentally, without a breakthrough in fusion energy or greater commercial advances in the area that the U.S. has strived to block — breeder (and thorium) reactors — nuclear power is in no position to lead the world out of the fossil-fuel age.

(Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.)

© The Hindu, 2014.

The Sunni Arc of Instability

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

fe21defbc1641fe5df0de23cb6094216.landscapeLargeWhile international observers fixate on the Sunni-Shia rivalry’s role in shaping geopolitics in the Islamic world, deep fissures within the Sunni arc that stretches from the Maghreb-Sahel region of North Africa to the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt are increasingly apparent. Moreover, it is Sunni communities that produce the transnational jihadists who have become a potent threat to secular, democratic states near and far. What is driving this fragmentation and radicalization within the ranks of Sunni Islam, and how can it be managed?

The importance of addressing that question cannot be overstated. The largest acts of international terror, including the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and the 2008 Mumbai attack, were carried out by brutal transnational Sunni organizations (Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, respectively).

The Sunni militant group Boko Haram, known internationally for abducting 276 schoolgirls in April and forcing them to marry its members, has been wreaking havoc in Nigeria for years. And the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, whose dramatic rise has entailed untold horrors to Iraq and Syria, are seeking to establish a caliphate, by whatever means necessary.

The influence of these organizations is far-reaching. Just last month, individuals inspired by these groups’ activities carried out two separate attacks, one in the Canadian parliament and another on police officers in New York.

Political and tribal sectarianism in the Sunni Middle East and North Africa is both a reflection and a driver of the region’s weakening political institutions, with a series of failed or failing states becoming hubs of transnational terrorism. A lawless Libya, for example, is now exporting jihad and guns across the Sahel and undermining the security of fellow Maghreb countries and Egypt. Several largely Sunni countries – including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Afghanistan – have become de facto partitioned, with little prospect of reunification in the near future. Jordan and Lebanon could be the next states to succumb to Sunni extremist violence.

The Sunni tumult has underscored the fragility of almost all Arab countries, while diluting the centrality of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The post-Ottoman order – created by the British, with some help from the French, after World War I – is disintegrating, with no viable alternative in sight.

The sectarianism plaguing the Sunni belt is affecting even the relatively stable oil sheikdoms of the Gulf, where a schism within the Gulf Cooperation Council is spurring new tensions and proxy competition among its members. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates view Qatar’s efforts to aid Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood as an existential threat, even as their own wealth has fueled the spread of Salafi jihadism and Al Qaeda ideology. Both countries, along with Bahrain, have recalled their ambassadors from Qatar.

This rupture is compounded by a rift between the Middle East’s two main Sunni powers, Egypt and Turkey, whose relationship soured last year, after the Egyptian military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government, backed by pro-Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Egypt recalled its ambassador from Ankara and expelled the Turkish ambassador from Cairo. In September, the Egyptian foreign ministry accused Erdoğan of seeking to “provoke chaos” and “incite divisions in the Middle East region through his support for groups and terrorist organizations.”

A similar divide exists between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the latter’s provision of aid and sanctuary to Afghan militants – a divide that will only deepen when the United States-led NATO coalition ends its combat operations in Afghanistan this year. Pakistan’s support has spawned two incarnations of the Taliban: the Afghan Taliban, sponsored by the Pakistani military, and the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistani military’s nemesis. Successive Afghan governments have refused to recognize the frontier with Pakistan known as the Durand line, a British-colonial invention that split the large ethnic Pashtun population.

Such conflicts are spurring the militarization of Sunni states. The UAE and Qatar have already instituted compulsory military service for adult males. And Kuwait is considering following in Jordan’s footsteps by reintroducing conscription, which is already in place in most Sunni states (and Iran).

Against this background, efforts to tame the deep-seated Sunni-Shia rivalry (by, for example, improving relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran), though undoubtedly important, should not take priority over a strategy to address the sectarianism plaguing the Sunni belt. That strategy must center on federalism.

Had federalism been introduced in Somalia, for example, when the north-south rift emerged, it probably would not have ended up as a failed state. Today, federalism can allow for the orderly management of key Sunni countries, where a unitary state simply is not practical.

The problem is that federalism has become a dirty word in most Sunni countries. And the emergence of new threats has made some governments, most notably Saudi Arabia’s, staunchly opposed to change. What these countries do not seem to recognize is that it is the petrodollar-funded export of Wahhabism – the source of modern Sunni jihad – that has gradually extinguished more liberal Islamic traditions elsewhere and fueled the international terrorism that now threatens to devour its sponsors.

Stagnation is not stability. On the contrary, in the Sunni arc today, it means a vicious cycle of expanding extremism, rapid population growth, rising unemployment, worsening water shortages, and popular discontent. Political fissures and tribal and ethnic sectarianism add fuel to this lethal mix of volatility and violence.

It is time for the Sunni world to recognize the need for a federalist approach to manage the instability and conflict that plagues it. Even the US must reconsider its regional policy, which has long depended on alliances with despotic Sunni rulers. In a region ravaged by conflict, business as usual is no longer an option.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, is the author of Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

How India can reclaim leverage over the Tibet issue

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, November 12, 2014

Despite booming two-way trade, India-China strategic discord and rivalry is sharpening. At the core of their divide is Tibet, an issue that fuels territorial disputes, border tensions and water feuds.

Beijing says Tibet is a core issue for China. In truth, Tibet is the core issue in Beijing’s relations with countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan that traditionally did not have a common border with China. These countries became China’s neighbours after it annexed Tibet, which, after waves of genocide since the 1950s, now faces ecocide.

China itself highlights Tibet as the core issue with India by laying claim to Indian territories on the basis of purported Tibetan religious or tutelary links, rather than any professed Han Chinese connection. Indeed, ever since China gobbled up the historical buffer with India, Tibet has remained the core issue.

The latest reminder of this reality came when President Xi Jinping brought Chinese incursions across the Indo-Tibetan border on his recent India visit. Put off by the intrusions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government permitted Tibetan exiles to stage protests during Xi’s New Delhi stay, reversing a pattern since the early 1990s of such protests being foiled by police during the visit of any Chinese leader.

imagesHowever, India oddly bungled on Tibet and Sikkim during Xi’s visit — diplomatic goof-ups that escaped media attention.

In response to China’s increasing belligerence — reflected in a rising number of Chinese border incursions and Beijing’s new assertiveness on Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) — India since 2010 stopped making any reference to Tibet being part of China in a joint statement with China. It has also linked any endorsement of “one China” to a reciprocal Chinese commitment to a “one India.”

Yet the Modi-Xi joint statement brought in Tibet via the backdoor, with India appreciating the help extended by the “local government of Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China” to Indian pilgrims visiting Tibet’s Kailash-Mansarover, a mountain-and-lake duo sacred to four faiths: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Tibet’s indigenous religion, Bon. Several major rivers, including the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej and the Karnali, originate around this holy duo.

The statement’s reference to the “Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China” was out of place. It lent implicit Indian support to Tibet being part of China by gratuitously changing the formulation recorded during Premier Li Keqiang’s 2013 visit, when the joint statement stated: “The Indian side conveyed appreciation to the Chinese side for the improvement of facilities for the Indian pilgrims.” Did those in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) who helped draft the statement apprise the political decision-makers of the implications of the new, China-inserted formulation?

After all, the new wording ran counter to India’s position since 2010 — a stance that came with the promise of repairing the damage from India’s past blunders over Tibet, including by Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi. Nehru, in the 1954 Panchsheel pact, ceded India’s British-inherited extraterritorial rights in Tibet and implicitly accepted the sprawling region’s annexation without any quid pro quo. Under the terms of this accord, India withdrew its “military escorts” from Tibet, and handed over to China the postal, telegraph and telephone services it operated there.

But in 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee went further than any predecessor and formally surrendered India’s Tibet card. In a statement he signed with the Chinese premier, Vajpayee used the legal term “recognize” to accept what China deceptively calls the Tibet Autonomous Region as “part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

Vajpayee’s blunder opened the way for China to claim Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet,” a term it coined in 2006 to legitimize its attempt at rolling annexation. Had Vajpayee not caved in, China would not been emboldened to ingeniously invent the term “South Tibet” for Arunachal, which is three times the size of Taiwan and twice as large as Switzerland. And since 2010, Beijing has also questioned India’s sovereignty over J&K, one-fifth of which is under Chinese occupation.

In this light, the reference to China’s Tibet region in the Modi-Xi joint statement granted Beijing via the backdoor what India has refused to grant upfront since 2010. This sleight of hand implicitly endorsed Tibet as being part of China without Xi committing to a “one India” policy.

Now consider India’s second mistake — falling for China’s proposal for establishing an alternative route for Indian pilgrims via Sikkim, a state that strategically faces India’s highly vulnerable “chicken’s neck” and where Beijing is working to insidiously build influence.

Ironically, it is by agreeing to open a circuitous alternative route for pilgrims via Sikkim’s Nathula crossing that Beijing extracted the appreciation from India to China’s Tibet government. Given that Kailash-Mansarovar is located close to the Uttarakhand-Nepal-Tibet tri-junction, the new route entails a long, arduous detour — pilgrims must first cross eastern Himalayas and then head toward western Himalayas through a frigid, high-altitude terrain.

Unsurprisingly, the meandering route has kicked up controversy, with the Uttarakhand chief minister also injecting religion to contend that scriptures “recognize only the traditional paths for pilgrimage passing through Uttarakhand.” China currently permits entry of a very small number of Indian pilgrims through just one point — Uttarakhand’s Lipulekh Pass. The Indian foreign ministry, which organizes the Kailash-Mansarovar visits, is to take a maximum of 1,080 pilgrims in batches this year, with no more than 60 travellers in each lot.

One obvious reason China chose the roundabout route via Sikkim is that the only section of the Indo-Tibetan border it does not dispute is the Sikkim-Tibet frontier, except for the tiny Finger Area there. Beijing recognizes the 1890 Anglo-Sikkim Convention, which demarcated the 206-kilometre Sikkim-Tibet frontier, yet paradoxically rejects as a colonial relic Tibet’s 1914 McMahon Line with India, though not with Myanmar.

tibet_china_rail_map_600_20060828The more important reason is that China is seeking to advance its strategic interests in the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, which overlooks the narrow neck of land that connects India’s northeast with the rest of the country. Should the chicken’s neck ever be blocked, the northeast would be cut off from the Indian mainland. In the event of a war, China could seek to do just that.

Two developments underscore its strategic designs. China is offering Bhutan a territorial settlement in which it would cede most of its other claims in return for being given the strategic area that directly overlooks India’s chokepoint. At the same time, Beijing is working systematically to shape a Sino-friendly Kagyu sect, which controls important Indian monasteries along the Tibetan border and is headed by the China-anointed but now India-based Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley.

The Indian government has barred Ogyen Trinley — who raised suspicion in 1999 by escaping from Tibet with astonishing ease — from visiting the sect’s headquarters at Rumtek, Sikkim.

Yet — redounding poorly on Indian intelligence — the Mandarin-speaking Ogyen Trinley has been regularly receiving envoys sent by Beijing. In recent years, he has met Han religious figures as well as Xiao Wunan, the effective head of the Asia-Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation. This dubious foundation, created to project China’s soft power, has unveiled plans with questionable motives to invest $3 billion at Lord Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal — Lumbini, located virtually on the open border with India.

Ogyen Trinley — the first Tibetan lama living in exile to include Han Buddhist rituals in traditional Tibetan practices — was recently accused by the head of the Drukpa sect in India of aiding Beijing’s frontier designs by using his money power to take over Drukpa Himalayan monasteries, including in the Kailash-Mansarovar area. Indeed, Himachal Pradesh police in 2011 seized large sums of Chinese currency from the Karmapa’s office.

Since coming up to power, Modi has pursued a nimble foreign policy. His government, hopefully, can learn from its dual mistakes. With China now challenging Indian interests even in the Indian Ocean region, it has become imperative for India to find ways to blunt Chinese trans-Himalayan pressures.

One key challenge Modi faces is how to build leverage against China, which largely sets the bilateral agenda, yet savours a galloping, $36-plus billion trade surplus with India. Modi’s “Make in India” mission cannot gain traction as long as Chinese dumping of goods undercuts Indian manufacturing.

Also, past blunders on Tibet by leaders from Nehru to Vajpayee have helped narrow the focus of Himalayan disputes to what China claims. The spotlight now is on China’s Tibet-linked claim to Arunachal, rather than on Tibet’s status itself.

To correct that, Modi must find ways to add elasticity and nuance to India’s Tibet stance.

One way for India to gradually reclaim its leverage over the Tibet issue is to start emphasizing that its acceptance of China’s claim over Tibet hinged on a grant of genuine autonomy to that region. But instead of granting autonomy, China has make Tibet autonomous in name only, bringing the region under its tight political control and unleashing increasing repression.

India must not shy away from urging China to begin a process of reconciliation and healing in Tibet in its own interest and in the interest of stable Sino-Indian relations. China’s hydro-engineering projects are another reminder that Tibet is at the heart of the India-China divide and why India must regain leverage over the Tibet issue.

That a settlement of the Tibet issue is imperative for regional stability and for improved Sino-Indian relations should become India’s consistent diplomatic refrain. India must also call on Beijing to help build harmonious bilateral relations by renouncing its claims to Indian-administered territories.

Through such calls, and by using expressions like the “Indo-Tibetan border” and by identifying the plateau to the north of its Himalayas as Tibet (not China) in its official maps, India can subtly reopen Tibet as an outstanding issue, without having to formally renounce any of its previously stated positions.

Tibet ceased to be a political buffer when China occupied it in 1950-51. But Tibet can still turn into a political bridge between China and India. For that to happen, China must start a process of political reconciliation in Tibet, repudiate claims to Indian territories on the basis of their alleged Tibetan links, and turn water into a source of cooperation, not conflict.

(c) Mint, 2014.

Friendly backer of jihadists

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Seeking to undercut Russia’s petro-economy, Obama is bolstering the petroleum clout of the jihad-bankrolling Qatar and Saudi Arabia while turning a blind eye to Qatar’s jihadist rampages in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. 

BY BRAHMA CHELLANEYThe Japan Times

p7-Chellaney-a-20141104-870x627Tiny Qatar, the world’s richest country in per capita terms, has leveraged its natural-gas wealth to emerge as a leading backer of Islamist causes, paralleling the role that the much-larger, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has long played to promote militant groups in countries stretching from the Maghreb and the Sahel to Southeast Asia. Qatar’s clout comes from the fact that it is the world’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas and boasts one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.

Located on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar has propped up violent jihadists in other lands. It has contributed, among others, to the rise of the terrorist Islamic State group and to Libya’s descent into a lawless playground for Islamist militias.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia’s sclerotic leadership, Qatar’s 34-year-old emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, is the youngest head of state in the Arab world. In fact, Qatar, which controls the Al Jazeera television network, seeks to present itself as a “progressive” oasis in the Persian Gulf — a nation that aspires to be “modern” in a way that few other Arab monarchies do, with the exception of Dubai.

Still, as a global funder of jihadists and a key negotiator for release of Western hostages held by Islamists it supports, Qatar has repeatedly bared its dual leverage, including by helping to free a number of Western hostages.

It brokered U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and Hamas, helped to free U.S. journalist Peter Theo Curtis from the Qatari-aided Jabhat Al Nusra terrorist group in Syria in August, and played a role in the earlier American swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Guantánamo Bay detainees from Afghanistan. The five, all prominent Taliban figures, now reside in Qatar as guests of its government under a deal with Washington.

Qatar has underscored its usefulness for U.S. policy in other ways too, including hosting a huge U.S. air facility (which it built at a cost of more than a billion dollars), agreeing in July to buy $11 billion worth of U.S. arms, and facilitating U.S. secret talks with the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban. Indeed, with U.S. support, it allowed the Afghan Taliban to open a de facto diplomatic mission in Doha, the Qatari capital.

The U.S. today directs its air war in Syria and Iraq from the Qatar-based Al Udeid Air Base, home to 8,000 American military personnel and 120 aircraft, including supertankers for in-flight refueling of fighters. Another sprawling facility in Qatar, Camp As-Saliyeh, serves as the U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters. Qatar charges no rent for either facility.

Qatar’s critical importance for U.S. policy has deterred the Obama administrating from leaning too heavily on it to halt its support for violent jihadists. Qatar indeed has sought to augment its influence by funding some prominent American think-tanks, including the Brookings Institution, of which it is the single biggest foreign donor.

Qatar’s clout allows it to run with the foxes while hunt with the hounds. Like another U.S. ally, Pakistan, Qatar panders to America’s demands while working simultaneously to undercut U.S. interests. Some of America’s Arab allies indeed have been warning that Qatar is playing a double game — claiming to back U.S. policies while sponsoring dangerous extremists. Even as it bankrolls global jihad, Qatar participates in the U.S. air war in Syria — but not in the bombing campaign, limiting its role to surveillance flights.

Qatar is the world’s third largest holder of natural-gas reserves, nearly all of them located in one vast field — the North Field, widely considered to be the largest single gas reservoir in the world. The geographically concentrated reserves makes it is easy and cheap to extract gas. By contrast, Russia has nearly twice as much gas reserves as Qatar but located in hundreds of different places.

Seeking to undercut Russia’s gas-and-oil exports as part of its new sanctions drive against President Vladimir Putin’s government, the U.S. is aiding the petroleum clout of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This role further crimps Washington’s ability to prevent funds and arms from flowing to violent Islamists.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia generously supplied weapons and funds to violent Sunni extremists in Syria, opening the door for the Islamic State to emerge as a Frankenstein’s monster. The two monarchies, however, have supported opposing proxies in other places, including Egypt, Libya, Gaza and Mali, leading to a rift in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the grouping of the cloistered, petroleum-rich sheikhdoms.

The Qatari government has aided the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Hamas in Gaza, and Muslim Brotherhood movements across the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, wealthy Qataris have served as private fund-raisers for a spectrum of violent Islamist groups, with U.S. Treasury officials singling out Qatar and Kuwait as “permissive jurisdictions” for terrorist fund-raising.

Yet the Obama administration has remained unwilling to confront Qatar directly. Even as the U.S. wages war on the Islamic State, it has enforced no sanctions against those that helped create this monster. Indeed, there is conspicuous U.S. silence over who aided the Islamic State’s rise, lest unpalatable truths be uncovered.

Today, as a result of sharpening geopolitical competition between Arab monarchies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are arrayed on opposite sides. While Saudi Arabia backs strongman regimes in Islamic states, Qatar supports grassroots Islamist groups. The rival top-down and bottom-up approaches, however, cannot obscure the role of both camps in instilling a jihad culture in other states.

In continuing to back Muslim Brotherhood-style movements — which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates view as a dangerous threat to the region and to their own security — Qatar has not been deterred by its strategic vulnerability: the Saudi military could snap it up in short order.

Qatar has sought to mitigate that vulnerability in two ways — by hosting major U.S. air and ground facilities, which control access routes to Qatar; and by trying to punch far above its weight internationally.

In the Sunni world, Qatar does not have the same religious-political maneuverability as Saudi Arabia, home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. But Qatar is buying influence by other means, including funding grassroots militant movements and hosting major international events, including the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In fact, Qatar believes its investment in Islamist causes puts it on the side that is bound to eventually win. It sees grassroots Islamism as representing the political aspirations of the majority, and has teamed up with the pro-Islamist government in Turkey to empower political Islam. In Syria, Mali, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Gaza, and elsewhere, Qatar has played an overtly militant role.

Qatar’s jihadist agenda is clearly spawning more dangerous Islamists and rearing forces of destabilization and terror.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Japan Times, 2014.

A broken international system?

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Pakistan’s internal dynamics strain subcontinental peace

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Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times, October 18, 2014

terrorist-pakIndia is a confident and vibrant nation, while Pakistan — created in 194 — remains a country that is adrift and still searching for a national identity. So, the India-Pakistan “peace process” has produced a lot of process over the decades but no peace.

In fact, every time a Pakistani leader moves to build better ties with India, the step is undermined by Pakistan’s politically strong military masterminding a serious cross-border attack or terrorist strike. In recent months, the Pakistani military establishment — which includes the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — has actively sought to undercut Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and derail any prospect of a rapprochement with India.

It is not an accident that this month’s border tensions and artillery duels have followed a power struggle in Pakistan that culminated with Sharif’s wings being clipped and the military reasserting authority in foreign policy.

Sharif has emerged as a diminished figure and the main loser from a crisis triggered by street protests that were tacitly backed by the army and the ISI, the rogue agency that has been accused of seeking to pull down the elected government and of orchestrating the abortive assassination of a senior journalist, Hamid Mir.

The military has allowed Sharif to stay on in power, at least for the time being, but only after politically castrating him. With the military back in the driving seat without staging an overt coup, Pakistan’s democratic transition has again been disrupted.

Such has been Sharif’s weakening that he had little say in last month’s appointment of the new ISI chief, even though the spy agency, theoretically, answers to the prime minister. Indeed, it was the military that announced Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar’s appointment as ISI chief, as if to highlight the true line of authority in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s internal dynamics have a direct bearing on its relations with India.

Sharif and India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, come from the political right and enjoy parliamentary majority. Both are business-oriented and eager to revive flagging economic growth at home. Yet the expectations aroused by Sharif’s presence at Modi’s inauguration five months ago proved false because they failed to factor in the role of a powerful, meddling third party — the Pakistani military, which holds virtual veto power over any fundamental change to the India-Pakistan dynamic.

This party is simply not ready to allow better bilateral relations because peaceful cooperation with India will undermine its extraordinary power and privilege in Pakistan.

Indeed, it was during Sharif’s previous term in office that a major Indian peace initiative — as symbolized by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 1999 bus diplomacy — collapsed spectacularly, with the bus itself getting hijacked allegorically. A war flared over the Pakistani military’s surreptitious encroachment into Indian Ladakh’s Kargil region.

This has served as a cautionary lesson on how the pursuit of peace can lead to war when one side’s military is not answerable to the civilian government.

The Pakistani military, seeking to test the resolve of India’s new government, has again escalated border tensions with India through artillery exchanges. In fact, it sought to test Modi soon after he won the national election.

On the eve of Modi’s inauguration, ISI-backed militants stormed the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat. The Pakistani plan was to take some Indians hostage and execute them one by one, bringing India under siege just as Modi took office. The plan, however, went awry as the consulate’s Indian security guards heroically killed all the attackers.

The U.S. blamed the Herat attack on the same ISI front organization that it held responsible for the highly deadly 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes — Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, remains the Pakistani military’s darling, with his public life in Pakistan mocking America’s $10-million bounty on his head and the U.N.’s inclusion of him on a terrorist list.

The daring attack in Herat, 1,000 kilometers from Pakistan, must have had ISI’s nod. The ISI’s “S” branch — tasked specifically with aiding and abetting acts of terrorism in India and Afghanistan — handles LeT, the Jalaluddin Haqqani network and other terror organizations. This shows the ISI is itself a terrorist entity.

The war by terror is a reminder that the scourge of cross-border terrorism emanates more from Pakistan’s whiskey-sipping generals than its rosary-holding mullahs. The real jihadists are the self-styled secular generals, who have reared the forces of jihad and fathered the LeT, the Taliban and other terror groups.

Another reminder is that India-Pakistan relations will be shaped largely by Pakistan’s internal dynamics. Pakistan’s civil society remains too weak to influence the direction of ties with India. In the absence of a structural correction to Pakistan’s historically skewed civil-military power equation, a peace dialogue with India only encourages the Pakistani military to carry out cross-border shootings, ambushes and acts of terror.

With the Pakistani army and intelligence services still using terrorist proxies as an instrument of the country’s foreign policy, India’s dilemma is compounded by its own situation, which is diametrically opposite to that in Pakistan: India continues to shut out its military from the policymaking loop in a way unmatched in any other established democracy. This exclusion also puts pressure on India’s China policy, given that the Communist Party and the military shape Chinese foreign policy.

Modi’s cautious, measured start has masked his discreet gradualism. Border and other provocations are molding his policy approach, founded on the premise that preventing hostile actions hinges on India’s capacity and political will to impose deterrent costs in response to any aggression. In Modi’s policy of graduated escalation, pressure on the adversary begins at low levels and then progressively increases in response to the target’s continued provocations and aggression.

There was no Indian reprisal to the Herat attack, and India’s response to summertime Pakistani border shootings was circumspect. But, in keeping with the doctrine of graduated escalation, this month’s Pakistani machine-gun fire along the Kashmir frontier brought a heavy response, including retaliation with 81-mm mortars, which have a range of up to five kilometers.

The mortar-for-bullet response showed Modi is different from his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, whose peace-at-any-price approach was founded on the naïve belief that the only alternative to do nothing in response to terror is to go to war. So, whether it was the Mumbai attacks or a border savagery, such as a captured Indian soldier’s beheading, Singh responded by doing nothing.

The real choice was never between persisting with a weak-kneed policy and risking an all-out war. Indeed, that was a false, immoral choice that undermined the credibility of India’s own nuclear deterrent and emboldened the foe to step up aggression.

The Modi government, by building a range of options, including to neuter Pakistani military’s nuclear blackmail, is indicating that aggression will attract increasing costs. It is clearly signaling that India’s response to the Pakistani military’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts will no longer be survival by a thousand bandages; the response will be punitive so as to bolster deterrence and mend conduct.

Brahma Chellaney is a New Delhi-based geostrategist, author, and professor.

© The Japan Times, 2014.

Doctrine of graduated escalation

Pakistan’s internal dynamics strain peace, blocking better relations with India

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, October 15, 2014

The India-Pakistan “peace process” has produced a lot of process over the decades but no peace. While India is a vibrant, buoyant nation, Pakistan remains a notion in search of a national identity. Yet, given Pakistan’s foundational loathing of India, many among Pakistani strategic elites still pine for India’s unravelling or at least Balkanization.

In this light, the Pakistani military has again escalated border tensions with India. Since the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks it scripted, it has initiated intermittent exchanges of fire along the Line of Control (LoC), including this summer and then in recent days. This month’s artillery exchanges along the LoC were unusual in terms of their ferocity and the sudden eruption in violence, resulting in the highest single-day death toll in over a decade.

In provoking a second series of firing duels along the LoC since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, the Pakistani military establishment — which includes the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — was doing more than using gunfire as cover to allow Pakistan-trained militants to infiltrate into India. It was also testing the resolve of India’s new government while simultaneously undermining Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and derailing any prospect of rapprochement with India.

Every time a Pakistani leader wishes to build better ties with New Delhi, his effort is undermined by the military masterminding a serious cross-border attack or terror strike. Indeed, it was during Sharif’s previous stint in office that a major Indian peace initiative — as symbolized by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy — collapsed spectacularly, with the bus itself getting hijacked allegorically to Kargil, triggering a war. This has served as a cautionary lesson on how the pursuit of peace can lead to war when one side’s military is not answerable to the civilian government.

The Pakistani military actually sought to test Modi soon after he won the national election. On the eve of his inauguration, ISI-backed militants stormed the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat. The Pakistani plan was to take some Indians hostage and bring India under siege just as Modi took office. The plan, however, went awry as Indian security guards at the consulate heroically killed all the attackers.

The U.S. blamed the Herat attack on the same ISI front organization it held responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes — Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, remains the Pakistani military’s darling, with his public life mocking America’s $10-million bounty on his head and the U.N.’s inclusion of him on a terrorist list.

The daring attack in Herat, 1,000 kilometres from Pakistan, must have had ISI’s nod. The ISI’s “S” branch — tasked specifically with aiding and abetting acts of terrorism in India and Afghanistan — handles LeT, the Jalaluddin Haqqani network and other terror organizations. This shows the ISI is itself a terrorist entity.

The ISI is searching for new tools and methods to bleed India. In this context, is this fountainhead of transnational terror now using Osama bin Laden’s close associate, Ayman Zawahiri? The aging Zawahri, who U.S. officials say is hiding in Pakistan, announced the formation of an Indian branch of Al Qaeda in a videotaped message released early last month. The 55-minute video, in which Zawahiri threatens terrorist strikes across India, indicates that he is not holed up in some mountain cave but ensconced in a safe house, as bin Laden was.

pakistani-terroristsISI’s war by terror is a reminder that the scourge of cross-border terrorism emanates more from Pakistan’s whisky-sipping generals than its rosary-holding mullahs. The real jihadists are the self-styled secular generals, who have reared the forces of jihad and fathered the LeT, the Taliban and other terror groups. In fact, Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon occurred not under civilian rule but under two military dictators — one (Zia ul-Haq) who nurtured and let loose jihadist forces, and another (Pervez Musharraf) who took his country to the very edge of the precipice.

Another reminder is that India-Pakistan relations will be shaped largely by Pakistan’s internal dynamics, especially its civil-military relations. Although it is in India’s interest to help strengthen Pakistani civilian institutions, Pakistan’s civil society remains too weak to influence the direction of ties with India. In the absence of a structural correction to Pakistan’s historically skewed civil-military power equation, a peace dialogue with India only encourages the Pakistani military to carry out cross-border shootings, ambushes and acts of terror.

Modi and Sharif come from the political right and enjoy parliamentary majority. Both are business-oriented and eager to revive flagging economic growth at home. Yet the expectations aroused by Sharif’s presence at Modi’s inauguration proved false because they failed to factor in the role of a powerful, meddling third party — the Pakistani military, which holds virtual veto power over any fundamental change to the India-Pakistan dynamic. This party is simply not ready to allow better bilateral relations because that will undermine its extraordinary power and privilege in Pakistan.

It is not an accident that this month’s border provocations by Pakistani forces followed a power struggle in Pakistan that culminated with Sharif’s wings being clipped and the military reasserting authority in foreign policy. Sharif has emerged as a diminished figure and the main loser from a crisis triggered by street protests that were tacitly backed by the army and the ISI. With the military back in the driving seat without staging an overt coup, Pakistan’s democratic transition has again been disrupted.

Such has been Sharif’s weakening that he not only had little say in the recent appointment of the new ISI chief, but also his government, at the behest of the military, has sought to re-internationalize the Kashmir issue. The intensity of ceasefire violations indeed was designed to help shine an international spotlight on Kashmir and also demonstrate as to who is in charge of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Modi’s cautious, measured start has masked his discreet gradualism. Border and other provocations are moulding his policy approach, founded on the premise that preventing hostile actions hinges on India’s capacity and political will to impose deterrent costs in response to any aggression. In Modi’s policy of graduated escalation, pressure on the adversary begins at low levels and then progressively increases in response to the target’s continued provocations and aggression.

There was no Indian reprisal to the Herat attack, and India’s response to the summertime border shootings was circumspect. But, in keeping with the doctrine of graduated escalation, this month’s Pakistani machine-gun fire along the LoC brought a heavy response, including retaliation with 81-mm mortars, which have a range of up to five kilometres. Modi wasn’t exaggerating when he said publicly, “Pakistan has been taught a befitting lesson.”

After hundreds of Indian mortars rained across into Pakistan, Modi told an election campaign rally that, “It is the enemy that is screaming,” adding: “The enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” Indeed, with the goal to make Pakistani forces think twice before firing across the frontier, local commanders of India’s Border Security Force have been permitted to retaliate with proportionately greater force if their troops come under attack. Under Modi’s predecessor, border commanders had been given no clear instructions on how to manage frontier-related provocations yet discouraged from reacting strongly.

The Modi government’s mortar-for-bullet response suggests that India’s policy of appeasement since 2003 is officially over. Indeed, to underscore that times have changed, the Modi government was quick to scrap foreign secretary-level talks in August after the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi defiantly met Kashmiri secessionists. For Islamabad, meeting Pakistan-backed Kashmiri separatists was “business as usual,” but for Modi’s government, such interaction was simply unacceptable.

Modi is showing he is no Vajpayee, whose roller-coaster policy on Pakistan traversed through Lahore, Kargil, Kandahar, Agra, Parliament House and Islamabad, inviting only greater cross-border terrorism. And Modi is clearly no Manmohan Singh, whose peace-at-any-price approach was founded on the naïve belief that the only alternative to do nothing in response to terror is to go to war. So, whether it was the Mumbai attacks or a border savagery, such as a captured Indian soldier’s beheading, Singh responded by doing nothing.

The real choice was never between persisting with a weak-kneed policy and risking an all-out war. Indeed, that was a false, immoral choice that undermined the credibility of India’s own nuclear deterrent and emboldened the foe to step up aggression.

The Modi government, by building a range of options, including to neuter Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail, is indicating that Pakistani aggression will attract increasing costs. If the ISI is planning new attacks in India, with the intent to fob them off as the work of Al Qaeda’s supposed new India franchise, it can be sure that it will invite an Indian response imposing serious costs on the entire Pakistani security establishment.

Modi is clearly signalling that India’s response to the Pakistani strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts will no longer be survival by a thousand bandages, but punitive so as to bolster deterrence and mend conduct. Given that the “do nothing” approach allowed India to be continually gored, prudent gradualism has been a long time coming.

(Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of Water, Peace, and War.)

© The Hindu, 2014.