Fifteen years on, the Afghanistan war still rumbles

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Brahma Chellaney, The Globe and Mail

dod-photo-by-staff-sgt-william-tremblay-u-s-army1Despite the worsening Afghanistan quagmire, this month’s 15th anniversary of the longest war in American history attracted little attention. The raging battles cast a shadow over Afghanistan’s future and highlight the failure of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy to gradually wind down the conflict. The war now draws little international attention, except when a major militant attack occurs.

The current situation in Afghanistan is worse than at any time since 2001, when the U.S. invasion helped oust the Taliban from power, forcing them to set up their command-and-control structure in neighboring Pakistan, their creator and steadfast sponsor.

Today, the resurgent Taliban hold more Afghan territory than before, the civilian toll is at a record high and Afghan military casualties are rising to a level that American commanders warn is unsustainable. From sanctuaries in Pakistan and from the Afghan areas they hold, the militants are carrying out increasingly daring attacks, including in the capital Kabul, as illustrated by the recent strike on the American University of Afghanistan.

In declaring war in Afghanistan on September 21, 2001 after the world’s worst terrorist attack in modern history ten days earlier in the United States, President George W. Bush explained why 9/11 was a turning point for America: “Americans have known wars — but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941 [Pearl Harbor]. Americans have known the casualties of war — but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks — but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day…”

Yet before he could accomplish his war objectives in Afghanistan, Bush invaded and occupied Iraq — one of the greatest and most-calamitous military misadventures in modern history that destabilized the Middle East and fueled Islamist terrorism.

Obama came to office with the pledge to end the Bush-era wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, he ended the Bush war, only to start a new war in the Syria-Iraq belt.

In Afghanistan, Obama thought that he could end the war simply by declaring it over. This is what he did in December, 2014, when he famously declared that the war “is coming to a responsible conclusion.” But the Afghan Taliban had little interest in peace, despite Washington allowing them to set up a de facto diplomatic mission in Qatar and then trading five senior Taliban leaders jailed at Guantanamo Bay for a captured U.S. Army sergeant.

As a result, Obama repeatedly has had to change his plans in Afghanistan. In July 2011, he declared that by 2014 “the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security,” adding seven months later that, “By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.” Then in May 2014, he promised that, “One year later … our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence.”

But just two months ago, he decided to keep 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan indefinitely and leave any withdrawal decision to his successor. Some 26,000 American military contractors also remain in Afghanistan, doing many jobs that troops would normally do, according to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

In fact, the deteriorating Afghan security situation has forced Obama to reverse course on ending U.S. combat operations and give the American military wider latitude to support Afghan forces. For example, he has now allowed American troops to accompany regular Afghan troops into combat. He has also allowed greater use of U.S. air power, particularly close air support. It is a clear recognition that his strategy to end the war lies in tatters.

This raises the key question: Why is the U.S. still stuck in the war? In large part, it is because it has fought the war on just one side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan divide and been reluctant to go after the Pakistan-based sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban and its affiliate, the Haqqani network, which enjoys tacit Pakistani intelligence support.

The U.S. assassination in May of Afghan Taliban chief Akhtar Mohammad Mansour by a drone strike inside Pakistani territory was a rare exception — a one-off decapitation attack that did little to change the military realities on the ground.

Research shows that terrorist or militant groups are generally resilient to the loss of a top leader, unless their cross-border sanctuaries are systematically targeted. Indeed, as Israel’s record and America’s own experiences in Somalia, Syria and Yemen show, decapitation can actually help a militant group to rally grassroots support in its favor and against the side that did the killing.

The fact is that no counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when the militants have enjoyed cross-border havens. The Afghan Taliban are unlikely to be defeated or genuinely seek peace as long as they can operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan. Indeed, their battlefield victories give them little incentive to enter into serious peace negotiations.

As for Pakistan, Mansour’s killing near where its borders meet with Iran and Afghanistan exposed years of denials by Pakistani officials that they were sheltering Taliban leaders. Like in the 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden, Mansour’s assassination involved the U.S. violating the sovereignty of a country that is one of the largest recipients of American aid.

Although Obama hailed the Mansour killing as “an important milestone,” the decapitation cast an unflattering light on U.S. policy: America took nearly 15 years to carry out its first – and thus far only – drone strike in Pakistan’s sprawling Balochistan province, the seat of the Afghan Taliban’s command-and-control structure.

In order to preserve the option of reaching a Faustian bargain with the Afghan Taliban, the U.S. over the years has concentrated its drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), often targeting the Pakistani Taliban — the Pakistani military’s nemesis. The U.S. military has failed to disrupt the Haqqani network because Pakistan, with the intent to keep this group’s leadership out of the reach of American drones, has moved these militants from FATA to safe houses in its major cities. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban leadership, with the Pakistani military’s acquiescence, has stayed ensconced in Balochistan, located to the south of FATA.

Tellingly, the United States has not designated the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization. The Obama White House has engaged in semantic jugglery to explain why the group is missing from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

In truth, the Obama administration is willing, as part of a peace deal, to accommodate the medieval Taliban in a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan. It assassinated the Taliban leader because he defiantly refused to revive long-paralyzed peace negotiations.

For almost eight years, Obama has pursued the same unsuccessful Afghanistan-related strategy, changing just the tactics. His strategy essentially has sought to use inducements to prod the Pakistani military and its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency to go after the Haqqani network and get the Afghan Taliban to agree to a peace deal. The inducements have ranged from billions of dollars in military aid to the supply of lethal weapons that could eventually be used against India.

However, the carrots-without-sticks approach has only encouraged the Pakistani military to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

Barack Obama’s successor will have to make some difficult choices on Afghanistan. To do so, she or he will have to face up to a stark truth: The war in Afghanistan can only be won in Pakistan. With the Afghan government’s hold on many districts looking increasingly tenuous, the next president, however, will not have the time like President Obama to experiment.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including, most recently, “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

© The Globe and Mail, 2016.

China’s Dam Problem With Myanmar

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

e75112196a1f438f93612ac9eb9443ff-landscapelargeChina is a big fan of dams. Indeed, over the last 50 years, the country has constructed more dams than all other countries combined. But there is one dam that China never managed to get built: the Myitsone Dam in Myanmar. And Chinese leaders can’t seem to let it go.

The Myitsone Dam was to stand at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River, Myanmar’s lifeline. It was designed as a hydroelectric power project that would generate energy mainly for export to China, at a time when Myanmar’s economy depended on its giant neighbor. Ruled by a brutal military junta, Myanmar faced crippling United States-led sanctions and broad international isolation.

Where others saw human-rights violations, China saw an opportunity to advance its own strategic and resource interests. When the Myitsone Dam project was introduced, China was also establishing a foothold in Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu port on the Bay of Bengal, from which it would build energy pipelines to southern China.

A stronger presence in Myanmar’s Irrawaddy, which flows from near the Chinese border to the Andaman Sea, promised to provide China with a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe. As an added benefit, the Myitsone project  and, more broadly, China’s relationship with Myanmar  would advance China’s ambition of challenging India’s advantage around the Indian Ocean.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan. But in 2011, just two years after the $3.6 billion project got underway, Myanmar’s government suddenly suspended the dam’s construction  a slap in the face to China. Moving toward democratic reform, President Thein Sein’s government was eager to cast off the view of Myanmar as a Chinese client state.

Sein got what he wanted. Myanmar’s reversal on the Myitsone Dam became a watershed moment for the country’s democratic transition. It helped to bring an end to Myanmar’s international isolation, and an easing of the long-standing Western sanctions that made Myanmar so dependent on China in the first place. In 2012, Barack Obama became the first US president ever to visit Myanmar.

Last year, Myanmar elected its first civilian-led government. The National League for Democracy, led by the former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, won the election in a landslide. Though Suu Kyi was blocked from running for the presidency directly, she is the most powerful figure in Myanmar’s ten-month-old government.

Alongside all of this democratic progress, however, Myanmar’s relations with China cooled considerably. After work on the Myitsone Dam halted, several other dam and energy projects were also put on hold, though Chinese firms did manage to complete multibillion-dollar oil and gas pipelines from Myanmar’s western coast to southern China in 2013-2014.

But China has not given up on the Myitsone project. Indeed, President Xi Jinping seems to be trying to seize the opening created by Suu Kyi’s efforts to defuse bilateral tensions  her first diplomatic trip since the election was to Beijing  to pressure her to reverse Sein’s decision.

China has warned that if Myanmar fails to resume the Myitsone project, it will be liable to pay $800 million to China. Hong Liang, China’s ambassador to Myanmar, declared three months ago that Myanmar should be paying $50 million in interest alone for each year the project is suspended. But if the project were completed, Hong continued, Myanmar could reap high returns by exporting much of the electricity to China.

The threats have not fallen on deaf ears. Before her visit to Beijing, Suu Kyi tasked a 20-member commission to review proposed and existing hydropower projects along the Irawaddy, including the suspended Myitsone deal.

But Suu Kyi, who disparaged the dam project when she led the opposition to the junta, remains unlikely to restart the Myitsone project. As much as she wants China off her back  an objective that surely drove the decision to launch the commission – actually agreeing to resume work on the deeply unpopular Myitsone Dam would be too politically compromising to consider.

In fact, within Myanmar, the Myitsone project is widely regarded as a yet another neo-colonial policy, designed to expand China’s influence over smaller countries, while feeding its own resource greed, regardless of local conditions or needs. And there is plenty of evidence to support this reading – beginning with China’s demand for most of the electricity, even as much of Myanmar suffers from long daily power outages.

Moreover, the construction that did take place had serious consequences for the people of Myanmar. By flooding a large swath of land, the project displaced many subsistence farmers and fishermen, fueling a popular backlash that contributed to the end of a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army and government forces. (Ironically, as part of its effort to get Suu Kyi on their side, the Chinese are now seeking to mediate peace talks between the government and the rebels, who, it has long been believed, receive arms from China.)

Chinese pressure to revive the Myitsone project is reviving anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar. Indeed, while Suu Kyi was in Beijing, anti-Chinese protests flared anew back home. At a time when Myanmar is being wooed by all major powers and eager international investors, there is no incentive for the government much less the public to ignore the environmental and human costs of China’s projects.

It is time for China to recognize that the decision to end the Myitsone project will not be reversed. It can hope that Suu Kyi’s commission makes some face-saving recommendations, such as paying compensation to China or making new deals for smaller, more environmentally friendly power plants. But, with Suu Kyi committed to a neutral foreign policy, China’s days of sucking resources from Myanmar, without any regard for the environmental or human costs, are over.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

How to Stop Terrorism in Europe

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Burqa and burkini bans in Europe give the impression of real action when, in truth, they leave the core issue unaddressed — to strike at the roots of terror.

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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Europe is under pressure. Integrating asylum-seekers and other migrants — 1.1 million in Germany alone in 2015 — into European society poses a major challenge, one that has been complicated by a spike in crimes committed by new arrivals. Making matters worse, many European Muslims have become radicalized, with some heading to Iraq and Syria to fight under the banner of the so-called Islamic State, and others carrying out terror attacks at home. Add to that the often-incendiary nativist rhetoric of populist political leaders, and the dominant narrative in Europe is increasingly one of growing insecurity.

Many European countries are moving to strengthen internal security. But their approach is incomplete, at best.

Germany and others have introduced new measures, including an increase in police personnel, accelerated deportation of migrants who have committed crimes, and the authority to strip German citizenship from those who join foreign “terror militias.” Other steps include enhanced surveillance of public places and the creation of new units focused on identifying potential terrorists through their Internet activities.

The pressure to reassure the public has driven Belgium, Bulgaria, France, and the Netherlands, as well as the Swiss region of Ticino and the Italian region of Lombardy, to ban the burqa (the full-body covering worn by ultraconservative Muslim women) and other face-covering veils in some or all public places. Several French coastal cities have also banned the burkini, the full-body swimsuit some Muslim women wear to the beach.

Even Germany, whose Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière initially rejected such a ban, has succumbed to pressure from allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel and proposed a ban on face-covering veils in public places where identification is required. Such clothing, the logic goes, is not conducive to integration.

But no internal security measures, much less clothing requirements, can guarantee Europe’s safety. To find a real solution, European leaders must address the ideological roots of the security challenges they face.

The problem is not Islam, as many populists claim (and as the burqa and burkini bans suggest). Muslims have long been part of European society, accounting for about 4% of Europe’s total population in 1990 and 6% in 2010. And previous waves of immigration from Muslim countries have not brought surges in terrorist activity within Europe’s borders. For example, beginning in the 1960s, roughly three million migrants from Turkey settled in Germany to meet the booming economy’s demand for labor, without posing any internal security threat.

Today, that threat results from radical Islamism — a fundamentalist vision of society reordered according to Sharia law. Beyond enduring untold suffering and violence, many of today’s refugees, from war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria, have imbibed radical Islamist ideology and, specifically, calls to jihad. Some might be Islamic State fighters who have disguised themselves as asylum-seekers, in order to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe. US intelligence officials have repeatedly warned of this possibility.

Even for the majority of asylum-seekers, who are genuinely seeking safety, the violence and Islamist rhetoric to which they have been exposed may have had a powerful psychological impact. After living for so long in a conflict zone, assimilating to a peaceful society governed by the rule of law requires the newcomers to develop a new mindset, one that enables them to face genuine challenges without resorting to criminality.

And this does not even account for the deep psychological scars that will afflict many of the refugees. Research indicates that more than 50% of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience at least partial posttraumatic stress disorder, which is associated with an increased risk of violence.

To many in Europe, these factors suggest that the key to keeping Europe safe is controlling the flow of refugees, including through improved vetting procedures. (Such procedures have often been lacking, owing to the sheer number of refugees pouring in.) And there is a case for keeping the refugees in the Middle East, though a key mechanism for doing that — the European Union’s deal with Turkey — is now at risk, owing to political turmoil following last month’s failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.

But not even constructing a Fortress Europe would eliminate the terrorist threat. After all, some attacks, including in Brussels and Paris, have been carried out by Muslim European citizens who became radicalized in their own bedrooms. According to Rob Wainwright, who heads Europol, some 5,000 European jihadists have been to Syria and Iraq, and “several hundred” are likely plotting further attacks in Europe after returning home.

The only way to address the threat of terrorism effectively is to tackle the radical Islamist ideology that underpins it. This means working to stop the religious-industrial complexes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and elsewhere in the Gulf from using their abundant petrodollars to fund the spread of extremist ideology.

It also means launching a concerted information campaign to discredit that ideology, much like the West discredited communism during the Cold War — a critical component of its eventual triumph. This is a job for all major powers, but it is a particularly urgent task for Europe, given its proximity to the Middle East, especially the new jihadist citadels that countries like Syria, Iraq, and Libya represent.

To take down the terrorists requires delegitimizing the belief system that justifies their actions. Burqa bans and other measures by European authorities that target Islam as such are superficial and counter-productive, as they create divisions in European society, while leaving the ideological underpinnings of terrorism unaddressed.

The Arab World’s Water Insecurity

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By , a column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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(Palestinian children in Gaza fetch water from a container. Photo credit: Reuters)

Nowhere is freshwater scarcer than in the Arab world. The region is home to most of the world’s poorest states or territories in terms of water resources, including Bahrain, Djibouti, Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. This shortage – exacerbated by exploding populations, depletion and degradation of natural ecosystems, and popular discontent – is casting a shadow over these countries’ future.

There is no shortage of challenges facing the Arab world. Given that many Arab states are modern constructs invented by departing colonial powers, and therefore lack cohesive historical identities, their state structures often lack strong foundations. Add to that external and internal pressures – including from surging Islamism, civil wars, and mass migration from conflict zones – and the future of several Arab countries appears uncertain.

What few seem to recognize is how water scarcity contributes to this cycle of violence. One key trigger of the Arab Spring uprisings – rising food prices – was directly connected to the region’s worsening water crisis. Water also fuels tensions between countries. Saudi Arabia and Jordan, for example, are engaged in a silent race to pump the al-Disi aquifer, which they share.

Water can even be wielded as a weapon. In Syria, the Islamic State has seized control of the upstream basins of the two main rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The fact that nearly half of all Arabs depend on freshwater inflows from non-Arab countries, including Turkey and the upstream states on the Nile River, may serve to exacerbate water insecurity further.

Sky-high fertility rates are another source of stress. According to a United Nationsreport, average annual water availability in the Arab world could fall to 460 cubic metersper capita – less than half the water-poverty threshold of 1,000 cubic meters. In this scenario, water extraction will become even more unsustainable than it already is, with already-limited stores depleted faster than ever – a situation that could fuel further turmoil.

Finally, many countries offer subsidies on water, not to mention gasoline and food, in an effort to “buy” social peace. But such subsidies encourage profligate practices, accelerating water-resource depletion and environmental degradation.

In short, the Arab world is increasingly trapped in a vicious cycle. Environmental, demographic, and economic pressures aggravate water scarcity, and the resulting unemployment and insecurity fuels social unrest, political turmoil, and extremism. Governments respond with increased subsidies on water and other resources, deepening the environmental challenges that exacerbate scarcity and lead to unrest.

Urgent action is needed to break the cycle. For starters, countries should phase out the production of water-intensive crops. Grains, oilseeds, and beef should be imported from water-rich countries, where they can be produced more efficiently and sustainably.

For the crops that Arab countries continue to produce, the introduction of more advanced technologies and best practices from around the world could help to reduce water use. Membrane and distillation technologies can be used to purify degraded or contaminated water, reclaim wastewater, and desalinate brackish or ocean water. Highly efficient drip irrigation can boost the region’s fruit and vegetable production, without excessive water use.

Another important step would be to expand and strengthen water infrastructure to address seasonal imbalances in water availability, make distribution more efficient, and harvest rainwater, thereby opening up an additional source of supply. Jordan, with Israeli collaboration and European Union aid, is creating a Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline, a conduit that would desalinate Red Sea water, in order to provide potable water to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, and then funnel the brine to the dying Dead Sea.

Improved water management is also crucial. One way to achieve this is to price water more appropriately, which would create an incentive to prevent wastage and conserve supplies. While subsidies need not be eliminated completely, they should be targeted at smaller-scale farmers or other high-need workers and redesigned so that they, too, provide incentives for water conservation and efficiency.

Of course, wealthier, more stable countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE are better placed than conflict-torn countries like Yemen, Libya, and Iraq to address the rapidly intensifying water crisis they face. But, in order to break the cycle of violence and insecurity, all countries will ultimately have to step up to improve water management and protect ecosystems. Otherwise, their water woes – along with internal unrest – will only worsen.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Mirage of a rules-based order

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Japan Times, July 26, 2016

downloadIs the world governed by international law? The attitudes of the world’s two demographic titans, China and India, on international law are a study in contrast, underscoring that compliance with or defiance of rules is often driven by power dynamics and state character.

Consider China’s brazen refusal to respect the recent, legally binding ruling of an international arbitral tribunal that knocked the bottom out of its expansive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has poured scorn on the ruling, calling it “a farce” and “naturally null and void,” and saying it deserved to be “dumped in garbage.” The choice insults belie China’s loss of face internationally.

Yet, to bring Beijing to heel, there is little that the international community can do — other than punitively restrict imports from China, which no country is willing to do.

China’s open disdain for the verdict stands in sharp contrast with India’s ready acceptance of adverse rulings by international arbitral tribunals between 2013 and 2016 in three separate cases.

One case, initiated by Bangladesh, involved a maritime boundary dispute in the Bay of Bengal. A second case, instituted by Pakistan, related to the Indus Waters Treaty and centered on its challenge to India’s small, 330-megawatt Kishenganga hydropower plant. The third case was filed by Italy over India’s initiation of criminal proceedings against two Italian marines, who were arrested in 2012 for allegedly killing two unarmed Indian fishermen by opening fire from their oil tanker, less than 21 nautical miles off the Indian coast.

In all the three cases against India, the tribunals — just like the tribunal in the South China Sea case against China that was filed by the Philippines — were established under the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

India, despite apparent flaws in the rulings, deferentially agreed to comply with the verdicts, thereby underscoring that it lacks China’s power and political will to stage any act of defiance.

Take the Bay of Bengal case, which went largely in Bangladesh’s favor. The arbitral tribunal, in its July 2014 decision, delimited the two countries’ territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, including the area beyond the EEZ of 200 nm. This case ranked as one of the first two in which the extended continental shelf beyond 200 nm was delimited by an arbitral tribunal without waiting for the essential recommendations from the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), which was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to define the outer limits of nations’ seabed territory.

In delimiting the boundary between Bangladesh and India, the five-member tribunal left a sizable “gray zone,” which lies beyond Bangladesh’s limit of 200 nautical miles. The gray zone was one of the reasons the delimitation decision was not unanimous. The dissenting arbitrator found the majority’s reasoning unsatisfactory and its delimitation decision arbitrary.

Indeed, two distinct gray areas have emerged in the Bay of Bengal — one where Indian and Bangladeshi territorial control overlaps, and the other with overlapping claims of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. This is because the gray zone that resulted from the final delimitation line between India and Bangladesh partially overlaps a gray area that emerged from another tribunal’s earlier delimitation of the Myanmar-Bangladesh line in 2012.

Such gray areas are zones of potential conflict. Yet India — which voluntarily went for arbitration, something major powers rarely do — promptly welcomed the ruling, which awarded Bangladesh more than three-quarters of the 25,602-sq.-km disputed territory. The tribunal actually went beyond established jurisprudence to uphold Bangladesh’s contention that the concavity of its coastline necessitated “special circumstances” in the application of UNCLOS to the determination of its maritime boundaries.

Now consider the Indus ruling, delivered in late 2013: The verdict went beyond Pakistan’s challenge to the Kishenganga project (which was allowed to proceed with conditions); the tribunal delivered a general prohibition against drawdown flushing in all new Indian hydropower projects. This potentially affects the economic viability of all future Indian projects on the Indus River and its tributaries in Indian-administered Kashmir: Without the use of drawdown flushing, silt would build up in a project, undermining its sustainability.

The paradox is that the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty remains by far the world’s most generous water-sharing pact, under which India has reserved over 80 percent of the basin waters for its regional adversary. Yet Pakistan has waged a constant battle to keep India on the defensive on the waters issue, including through propaganda and by invoking the treaty’s conflict-resolution procedures, which allow international arbitration or neutral-expert assessment.

Had China been in India’s place, would it have put up with this? It would likely have dumped the treaty itself.

In fact, India’s unparalleled water generosity to Pakistan has invited unending trouble. Within five years of the Indus treaty’s entry into force, Pakistan launched a major war against India to grab the remaining part of the divided Kashmir in 1965, at a time when India had still not recovered from its humiliating rout in the 1962 war with China. Today, Pakistan expects eternal Indian munificence on water even as its military generals export terror across the border to India and Afghanistan.

The case initiated by Italy, for its part, is odd. Long before Italy filed the case, a considerate India had allowed one of the two accused marines to return to Italy in 2014 after he suffered a stroke. India also permitted the other marine to stay in the Italian ambassador’s residence in New Delhi rather than be in jail. In fact, the high court in the state of Kerala allowed the two, after their arrest, to go to Italy for Christmas in 2012.

The issue currently before the five-member tribunal is whether India, under UNCLOS, has penal jurisdiction over the marines for the double murder in its EEZ. The arbitrators, however, have no power to dictate bail conditions for the accused.

However, the tribunal, in an unusual “provisional measures”  order delivered in April this year over India’s objections, stated: “Italy and India shall cooperate, including in proceedings before the Supreme Court of India, to achieve a relaxation of the bail conditions of Sgt. Girone (the second marine) so as to give effect to the concept of considerations of humanity, so that Girone, while remaining under the authority of the Supreme Court of India, may return to Italy during the present (UNCLOS) Annex VII arbitration.”

This was not a directive to let Girone return to Italy but an instruction to both sides to cooperate over a possible further relaxation of his bail conditions so that he “may” go home. Yet, with Italy blocking India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to secure the return of the remaining marine, the Indian government promptly asked its Supreme Court to let Girone go to Italy, and he was allowed to return. Had Indian naval officers, instead of Italian marines, been involved in the incident, they would still be rotting in jail.

Italy showed how leverage can be employed in diplomacy even to influence criminal proceedings in another country. It was only after Girone returned home that Italy ended its extended obstruction to India’s MTCR admission.

Contrast Italy’s exercise of leverage with India’s reluctance to link the future of the Indus treaty to the cessation of Pakistan’s war by terror, or to leverage its ballooning imports from China to help improve Chinese behavior.

Pakistan’s use of state-reared terrorist groups against India can possibly be invoked by New Delhi, under Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, as constituting reasonable grounds for its withdrawal from the Indus treaty. Instead, Pakistan has just announced its intention to drag India before an international arbitral tribunal again over a new Indus treaty-related issue that it wishes to litigate.

Unlike India, which has repeatedly been summoned before the international justice system, the South China Sea case marked the first time for China to be hauled up before an international tribunal. China’s dismissal of the ruling in that case shows that it is willing to absorb the cost to its reputation as long as it maintains and expands its hold on territory and resources in the South China Sea.

In a world in which power respects power and money talks louder than words, reputation can be repaired. China, after all, paid no lasting international costs for gobbling up Tibet, or for causing the death of tens of millions of Chinese during the so-called Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, or for carrying out the Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators.

Indeed, as if to underscore that nothing succeeds like aggression, no one today is talking about getting China to vacate the seven reefs and rocks that it has turned into nascent military outposts in the South China Sea after massive land reclamation. Rather, the talk is about finding ways to dissuade it from further expansionary activities.

International law is powerful against the powerless, but powerless against the powerful. The five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council serve as prime examples of a unilateralist approach to international relations.

Like China today, the other four permanent members have refused in the past to comply with rulings from international arbitration or adjudication, including on issues relating to UNCLOS, which was at the center of the South China Sea verdict. The United States has not even ratified UNCLOS, and it rejected a 1980 International Court of Justice verdict directing it to pay reparations to Nicaragua for illegally mining its harbors.

Although globalization has fundamentally transformed economics, politics, cultures and communications, the world has remained the same in one basic aspect — the powerful cite international law to other states, demanding compliance, but ignore it when it comes in their own way. The notion of universal compliance with a rules-based order remains an illusion.

Long-time Japan Times contributor Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author of nine books, is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. His latest book is “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Salvaging the war on terror

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

Hayat Boumeddiene 'appears in Islamic State film' - 06 Feb 2015

The recent upsurge of jihadist attacks from Nice and Istanbul to Medina and Dhaka is a reminder that the global war on terror stands derailed. The use of a truck for perpetrating mass murder in the French Riviera city of Nice shows how a determined jihadist does not need access to technology or even a gun to unleash terror. Terrorists are increasingly employing innovative methods of attack, and all the recent strikes were on ‘soft’ targets.

To bring the war on terror back on track, it has become necessary to initiate a sustained information campaign to discredit the ideology of radical Islam that is fostering “jihad factories” and promoting self-radicalization. Blaming ISIS for the recent strikes, just as most attacks after 9/11 were pinned on Al Qaeda, creates a simplistic narrative that obscures the factors behind the surging Islamist terror.

Attention needs to be focused on the cases where the scourge of jihadism is largely self-inflicted. This will help to highlight the dangers of playing with fire.

Take the growing Islamist attacks in Bangladesh: The country’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) — like Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — reared jihadist groups for domestic and foreign-policy purposes. During the periods when Bangladesh was under direct or de facto military rule, DGFI was the key instrument to establish control over civil and political affairs and partnered with the National Security Intelligence agency in the sponsorship and patronage of jihadist outfits.

A top U.S. counterterrorism official, Cofer Black, expressed concern way back in 2004 while visiting Dhaka over “the potential utilization of Bangladesh as a platform for international terrorism.”

The cozy ties that security agencies developed over years with jihadists promoting Islamic revolution in Bangladesh has made it difficult for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government — elected in 2008 — to effectively clamp down on Islamists. The Dhaka café attack by five young men, some with elite backgrounds, highlighted the dangers of the accelerating radicalization in Bangladesh.

Now consider Turkey’s Pakistanization under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership: The recent Istanbul Airport attack, which was followed by a failed coup attempt against Erdoğan’s government, was a reminder that Turkey has come full circle. Turkey served as a rear base and transit hub for ISIS fighters. But when ISIS became a potent threat to Western interests, Turkey came under pressure and began tightening its borders. By allowing the US to fly sorties over Syria and Iraq from one of its air bases, Turkey has now incurred the wrath of the group whose rise it aided — ISIS.

Indeed, Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu earlier accused Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party earlier this year of trapping the country in “a process of Pakistanization” by proactively “aiding and abetting terrorist organizations” and helping to turn Syria into a new Afghanistan.

Turkey’s increasingly difficult security predicament reflects the maxim: “If you light a fire in your neighbourhood, it will engulf you”.

Take another case: For more than four decades, Saudi Arabia has exported a hyper-conservative and intolerant strain of Islam known as Wahhabism, which has spawned suicide killers by instilling the spirit of martyrdom. Wahhabism is actually the root from which the world’s leading terrorist groups, including ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, draw their ideological sustenance.

The monsters that Saudi Arabia helped create have undermined the security of a number of countries, including India. Now those very monsters are beginning to haunt Saudi Arabia’s own security, as the July 4 terror attacks there indicate. This underscores the law of karma: What you give is what you get returned.

According to the analyst Fareed Zakaria, Riyadh “most lavishly and successfully exported its ideology” to Pakistan, where “Saudi-funded madrasas and mosques preach” Wahhabism. Such has been the extent of the Saudi success in “Wahhabizing” Pakistan that the blowback has now reached the Saudi kingdom. Twelve of the 19 people arrested for the triple bombings on July 4 are Pakistani. In one attack, a Pakistani suicide bomber struck outside the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah.

The same day there was an unprecedented attack outside the Medina mosque where Prophet Mohammad is buried, thereby challenging the Saudi monarchy’s claim that only it can protect Islam’s holiest sites. The Prophet’s Mosque is considered to be Islam’s second holiest site after the Sacred Mosque, or Masjid-al-Haram, which surrounds the Kaaba in the city of Mecca.

The cloistered Saudi royals are reaping what they sowed: Having aided ISIS’s rise, they now confront an existential threat from that terrorist organization, which believes that its caliphate project cannot succeed without gaining control of Mecca and Medina. ISIS thus is using Wahhabism to topple the Wahhabism-exporting House of Saud, labelling it as decadent.

The fact that what goes around comes around is apparent also from the recent Orlando attack. The Orlando killer’s jihadist indoctrination can actually be traced to his father who was a local guerrilla commander in the US-backed jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The father, a CIA asset, was rewarded with permanent residency in America, where the son was born.

Against this grim background, the fight against terrorism demands two main things. The first is finding ways to stop the religious-industrial complexes in the Persian Gulf from funding Muslim extremist groups and madrasas in other countries. The other imperative is for the US and some of its allies, including France, Britain and Turkey, to learn lessons from their role in aiding jihadism through interventionist policies designed to achieve narrow geostrategic objectives.

Jihad cannot be geographically confined to a targeted nation, however distant, as the examples of Libya, Syria and Afghanistan indicate. Nor can terrorism be stemmed if distinctions are drawn between good and bad terrorists, and between those who threaten their security and those who threaten ours. As illustrated by the Turkish, Saudi and Pakistani cases in particular, the viper reared against another country is a viper against oneself and against third countries. As an Indian proverb warns, feeding milk to a cobra doesn’t make it your friend.

Liberal, pluralistic states could come under siege unless the global war on terror is salvaged and concerted efforts are made to drain the terrorism-breeding swamps reared or tolerated by some countries. After all, radical Islam shares a fondness for totalitarianism and targets what it sees as ideologically antithetical — secular, pluralistic states. Never before has there been a greater need for close international cooperation on counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Ensuring defiant unilateralism is not cost-free

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BY The Japan Times
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China has been expanding its frontiers ever since it came under communist rule in 1949. Yet no country dared to haul it before an international tribunal till the Philippines in 2013 invoked the dispute-settlement mechanism of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), thereby setting in motion the arbitration proceedings that this week resulted in the stinging rebuke of China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

The trigger for Manila approaching the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) was China’s capture in 2012 of Scarborough Shoal, located close to the Philippines but hundreds of miles from China’s coast. ITLOS then set up a five-member tribunal under The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to hear the case.

Despite strenuous Chinese efforts to dismiss and discredit the proceedings from the start, Beijing tried unsuccessfully to persuade the tribunal that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case. Last October, the tribunal said that it was “properly constituted” under UNCLOS, that the Philippines was within its rights in filing the case, and that China’s non-participation in the proceedings was immaterial.

Now in its final verdict delivered unanimously, the tribunal has dismissed Beijing’s claim that it has historic rights to much of the South China Sea and ruled that China was in violation of international law on multiple counts, including damaging the marine environment through its island-building spree and interfering with the rights of others.

The panel effectively declared as illegitimate China’s South China Sea boundary (the so-called nine-dash line).

It also held that China’s strategy of creating artificial islands and claiming sovereignty over them and their surrounding waters had no legal basis. In less than three years, China has built seven islands and militarized several of them in an attempt to annex a strategically crucial corridor through which half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes.

In the absence of a mechanism to enforce the ruling, Beijing, however, was quick to pour scorn on the verdict and brazenly declare that it would ignore a legally binding ruling.

Contrast China’s contempt for the landmark verdict with neighboring India’s ready acceptance of adverse rulings in recent years by similar PCA tribunals in two separate cases involving South Asian rows — India’s maritime-boundary dispute with Bangladesh and its Indus River-related dispute with Pakistan over a small dam project at Kishenganga. India deferentially accepted the verdicts and complied with them, although the Kishenganga ruling will affect all future Indian projects on the Indus and the other ruling has left a large “grey area” while delimiting the Bangladesh-India sea borders.

China’s disdain for the ruling shows that international law matters to it only when it can serve its own interests. Otherwise, international rules are bendable and expendable.

To be sure, China has never pretended that it believes in a rules-order order. This was apparent from its aggressive steps to enforce its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea — actions that the tribunal has now ruled violate international law.

Indeed, Beijing has sought to rely on a multinational proclamation that it has flagrantly breached — the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which it signed with the 10ASEAN states in 2002. While violating the declaration’s central commitment — to resolve “disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force” — Beijing has cited the declaration’s reference to the use of “friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned” to insist that any dispute can only be addressed bilaterally and not through international arbitration or adjudication.

Dispute settlement by peaceful means is essential to building harmonious interstate relations. However, Beijing’s dismissal of the tribunal’s ruling is in keeping with its broader opposition to settling disputes with its neighbors — from Japan and South Korea to India and tiny Bhutan — by means of international mediation, arbitration or adjudication.

Instead, China’s creeping aggression in Asia reflects a “might is right” strategy that aims to extend Chinese control to strategic areas and resources by altering the status quo. The strategy focuses on a steady progression of steps to create new facts on the ground by confounding and outwitting neighbors while avoiding a confrontation with the United States, which sees itself as a geographically non-resident power in Asia.

Through its furious reaction to the tribunal’s ruling, China is saying that it should be the judge in its own cause. More ominously, it is signaling its determination to stay on the course of unilateralism by settling matters militarily in the resource-rich South China Sea, which is larger than the Mediterranean and carries $5 trillion in annual trade.

The example Beijing is setting will not only be damaging to the law of the sea but is also likely to stoke serious tensions and insecurities in Asia, the world’s economic locomotive.

The South China Sea — a global trade and maritime hub — is critical to the contest for influence in the larger Indo-Pacific region extending from the Arabian Sea to Australia and Canada. As Beijing consolidates its power in the South China Sea by completing ports and airstrips and building up its military assets on man-made islands, the impact of its actions will extend beyond reducing ASEAN states to a tributary status and bringing resources under its tight control: Such consolidation will have a significant bearing on the wider geopolitics, balance of power, and maritime order.

Like-minded states thus must work closely together to defend the law of the sea by ensuring that defiant unilateralism is not cost-free. Unless China is made to realize that its future lies in cooperation and not confrontation, a systemic risk to Asian stability and prosperity is bound to arise, with far-reaching implications for the world.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

 © The Japan Times, 2016.