Countering China’s High-Altitude Land Grab

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

Bite by kilometer-size bite, China is eating away at India’s Himalayan borderlands. For decades, Asia’s two giants have fought a bulletless war for territory along their high-altitude border. Recently, though, China has become more assertive, underscoring the need for a new Indian containment strategy.

On average, China launches one stealth incursion into India every 24 hours. Kiren Rijiju, India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, says the People’s Liberation Army is actively intruding into vacant border space with the objective of occupying it. And according to a former top official with India’s Intelligence Bureau, India has lost nearly 2,000 square kilometers to PLA encroachments over the last decade.

The strategy underlying China’s actions is more remarkable than their scope. On land, like at sea, China uses civilian resources – herders, farmers, and grazers – as the tip of the spear. Once civilians settle on contested land, army troops gain control of the disputed area, paving the way for the establishment of more permanent encampments or observation posts. Similarly, in the South China Sea, China’s naval forces follow fishermen to carve out space for the reclamation of rocks or reefs. In both theaters, China has deployed no missiles, drones, or bullets to advance its objectives.

China’s non-violent terrestrial aggression has garnered less opposition than its blue-water ambition, which has been challenged by the United States and under international law (albeit with little effect). Indian leaders have at times even seemed to condone China’s actions. During a recent panel discussion in Russia, for example, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that although China and India are at odds over borders, it was remarkable that “in the last 40 years, not a single bullet has been fired because of [it].” The Chinese foreign ministry responded by praising Modi’s “positive remarks.”

Moreover, Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, used to claim that, in their 5,000-year history, India and China fought only one war, in 1962. What this rose-tinted history failed to acknowledge was that China and India became neighbors only after China annexed the buffer Tibet in 1951.

Given India’s accommodating rhetoric, it is easy to view the country as a paper tiger. While Modi has used the phrase “inch toward miles” as the motto of India-China cooperation, the PLA has continued its cynical territorial aggrandizement by translating that slogan into incremental advance. After spending so many years on the defensive, India must retake the narrative.

The first order of business is to abandon the platitudes. Modi’s calls for border peace and tranquility might be sincere, but his tone has made India look like a meek enabler.

yh9Tk17LChina’s fast-growing trade surplus with India, which has doubled to almost $60 billion on Modi’s watch, has increased Chinese President Xi Jinping’s territorial assertiveness. The absence of clarity about the frontier – China reneged on a 2001 promise to exchange maps with India – serves as cover for the PLA’s aggression, with China denying all incursions and claiming that its troops are operating on “Chinese land.” But, by acquiescing on bilateral trade – the dumping of Chinese-made steel on the Indian market is just one of many examples – India has inadvertently helped foot the bill for the PLA’s encirclement strategy.

China’s financial regional leverage has grown dramatically in the past decade, as it has become almost all Asian economies’ largest trade and investment partner. In turn, many of the region’s developing countries have moved toward China on matters of regional security and transport connectivity. But, as Modi himself has stressed, there remains plenty of room for India to engage in Asia’s economic development. A more regionally integrated Indian economy would, by default, serve as a counterweight to China’s territorial expansion.

India should also beef up its border security forces to become a more formidable barrier to the PLA. India’s under-resourced Indo-Tibetan Border Police, under the command of the home ministry, is little more than a doorman. Training and equipping these units properly, and placing them under the command of the army, would signal to China that the days of an open door are over.

If the tables were turned, and Indian forces were attempting to chip away at Chinese territory, the PLA would surely respond with more than words. But in many cases, Indian border police patrolling the area don’t even carry weapons. With such a docile response, China has been able to do as it pleases along India’s northern frontier. China’s support of the Pakistani military, whose forces often fire at Indian troops along the disputed Kashmir frontier, should be viewed in this light.

The PLA began honing its “salami tactics” in the Himalayas in the 1950s, when it sliced off the Switzerland-size Aksai Chin plateau. Later, China inflicted a humiliating defeat on India in the 1962 border war, securing peace, as a state mouthpiece crowed in 2012, on its own terms. Today, China pursues a “cabbage” approach to borders, cutting off access to an adversary’s previously controlled territory and gradually surrounding it with multiple civilian and security layers.

Against this backdrop, the true sign of Himalayan peace will not be the holstering of guns, but rather the end of border incursions. India’s accommodating approach has failed to deter China. To halt further encroachments, India will need to bare its own teeth.

© 1995-2017 Project Syndicate.

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The Age of Blowback Terror

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

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World powers have often been known to intervene, overtly and covertly, to overthrow other countries’ governments, install pliant regimes, and then prop up those regimes, even with military action. But, more often than not, what seems like a good idea in the short term often brings about disastrous unintended consequences, with intervention causing countries to dissolve into conflict, and intervening powers emerging as targets of violence. That sequence is starkly apparent today, as countries that have meddled in the Middle East face a surge in terrorist attacks.

Last month, Salman Ramadan Abedi – a 22-year-old British-born son of Libyan immigrants – carried out a suicide bombing at the concert of the American pop star Ariana Grande in Manchester, England. The bombing – the worst terrorist attack in the United Kingdom in more than a decade – can be described only as blowback from the activities of the UK and its allies in Libya, where external intervention has given rise to a battle-worn terrorist haven.

The UK has not just actively aided jihadists in Libya; it encouraged foreign fighters, including British Libyans, to get involved in the NATO-led operation that toppled Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime in 2011. Among those fighters was Abedi’s father, a longtime member of the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, whose functionaries were imprisoned or forced into exile during Qaddafi’s rule. The elder Abedi returned to Libya six years ago to fight alongside a new Western-backed Islamist militia known as the Tripoli Brigade. His son had recently returned from a visit to Libya when he carried out the Manchester Arena attack.

This was not the first time a former “Islamic holy warrior” passed jihadism to his Western-born son. Omar Saddiqui Mateen, who carried out last June’s Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida – the deadliest single-day mass shooting in US history – also drew inspiration from his father, who fought with the US-backed mujahedeen forces that drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In fact, the United States’ activities in Afghanistan at that time may be the single biggest source of blowback terrorism today. With the help of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and Saudi Arabia’s money, the CIA staged what remains the largest covert operation in its history, training and arming thousands of anti-Soviet insurgents. The US also spent $50 million on a “jihad literacy” project to inspire Afghans to fight the Soviet “infidels” and to portray the CIA-trained guerrillas as “holy warriors.”

1021324883After the Soviets left, however, many of those holy warriors ended up forming al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups. Some, such as Osama bin Laden, remained in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, turning it into a base for organizing international terrorism, like the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US. Others returned to their home countries – from Egypt to the Philippines – to wage terror campaigns against what they viewed as Western-tainted governments. “We helped to create the problem that we are now fighting,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in 2010.

Yet the US – indeed, the entire West – seems not to have learned its lesson. Clinton herself was instrumental in coaxing a hesitant President Barack Obama to back military action to depose Qaddafi in Libya. As a result, just as President George W. Bush will be remembered for the unraveling of Iraq, one of Obama’s central legacies is the mayhem in Libya.

In Syria, the CIA is again supporting supposedly “moderate” jihadist rebel factions, many of which have links to groups like al-Qaeda. Russia, for its part, has been propping up its client, President Bashar al-Assad – and experiencing blowback of its own, exemplified by the 2015 downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula. Russia has also been seeking to use the Taliban to tie down the US militarily in Afghanistan.

As for Europe, two jihadist citadels – Syria and Libya – now sit on its doorstep, and the blowback from its past interventions, exemplified by terrorist attacks in France, Germany, and the UK, is intensifying. Meanwhile, Bin Laden’s favorite son, Hamza bin Laden, is seeking to revive al-Qaeda’s global network.

Of course, regional powers, too, have had plenty to do with perpetuating the cycle of chaos and conflict in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia may have fallen out with a fellow jihad-bankrolling state, Qatar, but it continues to engage in a brutal proxy war with Iran in Yemen, which has brought that country, like Iraq and Libya, to the brink of state failure.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia has been the chief exporter of intolerant and extremist Wahhabi Islam since the second half of the Cold War. Western powers, which viewed Wahhabism as an antidote to communism and the 1979 Shia “revolution” in Iran, tacitly encouraged it.

Ultimately, Wahhabi fanaticism became the basis of modern Sunni Islamist terror, and Saudi Arabia itself is now threatened by its own creation. Pakistan – another major state sponsor of terrorism – is also seeing its chickens coming home to roost, with a spate of terrorist attacks.

It is high time for a new approach. Recognizing that arming or supporting Islamist radicals anywhere ultimately fuels international terrorism, such alliances of convenience should be avoided. In general, Western powers should resist the temptation to intervene at all. Instead, they should work systematically to discredit what British Prime Minister Theresa May has called “the evil ideology of Islamist extremism.”

On this front, US President Donald Trump has already sent the wrong message. On his first foreign trip, he visited Saudi Arabia, a decadent theocracy where, ironically, he opened the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. As the US and its allies continue to face terrorist blowback, one hopes that Trump comes to his senses, and helps to turn the seemingly interminable War on Terror that Bush launched in 2001 into a battle that can actually be won.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut, Water: Asia’s New Battleground, and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© 1995-2017 Project Syndicate.

Modi’s Russia Challenge

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Russian President Putin shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Modi during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, June 2, 2017

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Russia visit raises a fundamental question: Is Moscow still India’s ‘tried and trusted’ friend? Russia’s growing relations with India’s adversaries, China and Pakistan, have spurred unease in New Delhi. However, many in India have failed to grasp the factors driving Moscow’s overtures to Pakistan or its sale of offensive weapon systems to China.

Such moves have little to do with India. Russia may be in decline economically but, geopolitically, it is a resurgent power, spreading its geopolitical influence to new regions and pursuing rearmament at home. Russia is the only power willing to directly challenge US interests in the Middle East, Europe, Caspian Sea basin, Central Asia and now Afghanistan, where America is stuck in the longest war in its history.

In keeping with the maxim that countries have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests, Russia has rejigged its geopolitical strategy to respond to the biting US-led sanctions against it since 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin has significantly expanded the geopolitical chessboard on which Moscow can play against the US and NATO.

Putin has made Russia the central player in the bloody Syrian conflict, fuelled by outside powers. Until Russia launched its own air war in Syria in September 2015, the US-British-French alliance had the upper hand there, aiding supposedly ‘moderate’ jihadist rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s regime and staging separate bombing campaigns against ISIS. Russia’s direct intervention, without bogging down its military in the Syrian quagmire, has helped turn around Assad’s fortunes and reshaped Moscow’s relationships with Turkey, Israel and Iran.

As part of his multidimensional chess game, Putin is also building Russian leverage in other countries that are the key focus of US attention — from North Korea to Libya. But it is Russia’s warming relationship with the medieval Taliban — the US military’s main battlefield foe in Afghanistan — that seriously conflicts with India’s interest.

Russia’s new coziness with the Taliban, of course, does not mean that the enemy of its enemy is necessarily a permanent friend. Moscow is opportunistically seeking to use the Taliban as a tool to weigh down the US military in Afghanistan. Because of the Taliban’s command-and-control base and guerrilla sanctuaries in Pakistan, Moscow has also sought to befriend Islamabad. This imperative has been reinforced by the US refusal to bomb the Taliban’s command and control in Pakistan.

The paradox is that as India has moved strategically closer to the US, American policy has worked against India’s regional interests, propelling Russia to forge closer ties with Beijing and to build new relationships with the Taliban and Pakistan. The US still continues to fecklessly accommodate China and battle the Taliban on just one side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan divide. Russia is equally nonchalant if its geopolitical chess play squeezes Indian interests.

The revival of the “Great Game” in Afghanistan is just one manifestation of the US-Russian relationship turning more poisonous. Another sign is Moscow’s stepped-up courting of China. For example, with Russia staying quiet, last year’s BRICS Goa Declaration, at China’s insistence, omitted any reference to cross-border terrorism or to any Pakistan-based group yet mentioned ISIS and al-Nusra. Putin attended the recent “One Belt, One Road” summit in Beijing despite his concern that China is using that project to displace Russia as the dominant influence in Central Asia.

With Russia becoming the largest crude oil exporter to China, Moscow-Beijing ties are booming economically, yet underlying political suspicions and wariness remain. In the India-Russia case, it is the reverse: Relations are warm politically but the two-way trade is in sharp decline, slumping to less than $8 billion in 2015. US-led sanctions against Russia, by promoting Moscow-Beijing closeness, are undercutting a central US policy objective since the 1972 opening to Beijing — to drive a wedge between China and Russia.

For Putin, the sanctions represent war by other means and a justification for Russia to countervail US power. With the US Congress threatening to impose additional sanctions even as a special counsel investigates alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Moscow, US-Russian tensions and rivalries will continue to buffet India’s regional interests, but serve as a strategic boon for China.

Against this background, Modi faces an exigent challenge to revitalize a flagging partnership with Russia while safeguarding India’s regional security and its $3 billion development aid to Afghanistan since 2002. This challenge is compounded by the fact that a robust relationship with Moscow is vital to a balanced Indian foreign policy, to leveraging India’s ties with other powers, and to managing an increasingly muscular China. A drifting relationship with Russia would crimp India’s options, to its serious detriment.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2017. 

China’s Imperial Overreach

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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HONG KONG – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tenure has been marked by high ambition. His vision – the “Chinese dream” – is to make China the world’s leading power by 2049, the centenary of communist rule. But Xi may be biting off more than he can chew.

A critical element of Xi’s strategy to realize the Chinese dream is the “one belt, one road” (OBOR) initiative, whereby China will invest in infrastructure projects abroad, with the goal of bringing countries from Central Asia to Europe firmly into China’s orbit. When Xi calls it “the project of the century,” he may not be exaggerating.

In terms of scale or scope, OBOR has no parallel in modern history. It is more than 12 times the size of the Marshall Plan, America’s post-World War II initiative to aid the reconstruction of Western Europe’s devastated economies. Even if China cannot implement its entire plan, OBOR will have a significant and lasting impact.

Of course, OBOR is not the only challenge Xi has mounted against an aging Western-dominated international order. He has also spearheaded the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and turned to China’s advantage the two institutions associated with the BRICS grouping of emerging economies (the Shanghai-based New Development Bank and the $100 billion Contingent Reserve Arrangement). At the same time, he has asserted Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea more aggressively, while seeking to project Chinese power in the western Pacific.

But OBOR takes China’s ambitions a large step further. With it, Xi is attempting to remake globalization on China’s terms, by creating new markets for Chinese firms, which face a growth slowdown and overcapacity at home.

With the recently concluded OBOR summit in Beijing having drawn 29 of the more than 100 invited heads of state or government, Xi is now in a strong position to pursue his vision. But before he does, he will seek to emerge from the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party later this year as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Since taking power in 2012, Xi has increasingly centralized power, while tightening censorship and using anti-corruption probes to take down political enemies. Last October, the CCP bestowed on him the title of “core” leader.

Yet Xi has set his sights much higher: he aspires to become modern China’s most transformative leader. Just as Mao helped to create a reunified and independent China, and Deng Xiaoping launched China’s “reform and opening up,” Xi wants to make China the central player in the global economy and the international order.

So, repeating a mantra of connectivity, China dangles low-interest loans in front of countries in urgent need of infrastructure, thereby pulling those countries into its economic and security sphere. China stunned the world by buying the Greek port of Piraeus for $420 million. From there to the Seychelles, Djibouti, and Pakistan, port projects that China insisted were purely commercial have acquired military dimensions.

But Xi’s ambition may be blinding him to the dangers of his approach. Given China’s insistence on government-to-government deals on projects and loans, the risks to lenders and borrowers have continued to grow. Concessionary financing may help China’s state-owned companies bag huge overseas contracts; but, by spawning new asset-quality risks, it also exacerbates the challenges faced by the Chinese banking system.

The risk of non-performing loans at state-owned banks is already clouding China’s future economic prospects. Since reaching a peak of $4 trillion in 2014, the country’s foreign-exchange reserves have fallen by about a quarter. The ratings agency Fitch has warned that many OBOR projects – most of which are being pursued in vulnerable countries with speculative-grade credit ratings – face high execution risks, and could prove unprofitable.

Xi’s approach is not helping China’s international reputation, either. OBOR projects lack transparency and entail no commitment to social or environmental sustainability. They are increasingly viewed as advancing China’s interests – including access to key commodities or strategic maritime and overland passages – at the expense of others.

In a sense, OBOR seems to represent the dawn of a new colonial era – the twenty-first-century equivalent of the East India Company, which paved the way for British imperialism in the East. But, if China is building an empire, it seems already to have succumbed to what the historian Paul Kennedy famously called “imperial overstretch.”

And, indeed, countries are already pushing back. Sri Lanka, despite having slipped into debt servitude to China, recently turned away a Chinese submarine attempting to dock at the Chinese-owned Colombo container terminal. And popular opposition to a 15,000-acre industrial zone in the country has held up China’s move to purchase an 80% stake in the loss-making Hambantota port that it built nearby.

Shi Yinhong, an academic who serves as a counselor to China’s government, the State Council, has warned of the growing risk of Chinese strategic overreach. And he is already being proved right. Xi has gotten so caught up in his aggressive foreign policy that he has undermined his own diplomatic aspirations, failing to recognize that brute force is no substitute for leadership. In the process, he has stretched China’s resources at a time when the economy is already struggling and a shrinking working-age population presages long-term stagnation.

According to a Chinese proverb, “To feed the ambition in your heart is like carrying a tiger under your arm.” The further Xi carries OBOR, the more likely it is to bite him.

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Money trumps anti-terror task

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Donald Trump’s embrace of a country he long excoriated for its role in sponsoring terrorism reflects the fact that Saudi Arabia is a cash cow for American defense, energy and manufacturing companies.

BY The Japan Times

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Want evidence that money speaks louder than the international imperative to counter a rapidly metastasizing global jihadi threat, as symbolized by the latest attack in Manchester? Look no further than U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the world’s chief ideological sponsor of jihadism, Saudi Arabia. The trip yielded business and investment deals for the United States valued at up to almost $400 billion, including a contract to sell $109.7 billion worth of arms to a country that Trump previously accused of being complicit in 9/11.

By exporting Wahhabism — the hyper-conservative strain of Islam that has instilled the spirit of martyrdom and become the source of modern Islamist terror — Saudi Arabia is snuffing out the more liberal Islamic traditions in many countries. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi fanaticism is the root from which Islamist terrorist organizations ranging from the Islamic State group (which claimed responsibility for the Manchester concert attack) to al-Qaida draw their ideological sustenance.

The Manchester attack, occurring close on the heels of Trump’s Saudi visit, has cast an unflattering light on his choice of a decadent theocracy for his first presidential visit overseas. The previous four U.S. presidents made their first trips to a neighboring ally — either Mexico or Canada, which are flourishing democracies. But Trump, the businessman, always seeks opportunities to strike deals, as underscored by his 100-day trade deal with the world’s largest autocracy, China.

But Trump is not alone. In thrall to Saudi money, British Prime Minister Theresa May traveled to Riyadh six weeks before Trump on her most controversial visit since taking office. As if to signal that a post-Bexit Britain would increasingly cozy up to rich despotic states, May flew to Saudi Arabia shortly after triggering Article 50, an action that started a two-year countdown for her country’s exit from the European Union. She has also stepped up her courting of China and enthusiastically endorsed Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” program, which many EU states see as lacking in transparency and social and environmental accountability.

Anglo-American support and weapons have aided Saudi war crimes in Yemen, which is now on the brink of famine. Mass starvation would ensue there if the Saudis execute their threat to attack the city of Hodeida, now the main port for entry of Yemen’s food supplies. Britain alone has sold over £3 billion worth of arms to Riyadh since the cloistered Saudi royals began their bombardment and naval blockade of Yemen more than two years ago. While London is planning to sell more weapon systems, Trump’s arms package for the Saudis includes guided munitions that were held up by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Salvaging the global war on terror demands a sustained information campaign to discredit the ideology of radical Islam. But as long as Saudi Arabia continues to shield its insidious role in aiding and abetting extremism by doling out multibillion-dollar contracts to key powers like the U.S. and Britain, it will be difficult to bring the war on terror back on track.

Trump exemplifies the challenge. In a speech to leaders from across the Muslim world who had gathered in Saudi Arabia, the “Make America Great Again” campaigner championed “Make Islam Great Again.” After earlier saying “Islam hates us” and calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S., Trump described Islam as “one of the world’s great faiths” and urged “tolerance and respect for each other.”

It was weird, though, that Trump spoke about the growing dangers of Islamic extremism from the stronghold of global jihadism, Saudi Arabia. The new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology that he opened in Riyadh promises to stand out as a symbol of U.S. hypocrisy.

The long-standing U.S. alliances with Arab monarchs have persisted despite these royals bankrolling Islamic militant groups and Islamic seminaries in other countries. Trump cannot hope to deliver credible or enduring counterterrorism results without disciplining Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other oil sheikhdoms that continue to export Islamic radicalism. But he has already discovered that this is no easy task.

For example, the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia yields exceptionally huge contracts and investments for the American economy. In short, Saudi Arabia is a cash cow for American defense, energy and manufacturing companies, as the latest mega-deals illustrate.

Against this background, Trump’s embrace of a country that he long excoriated reflects the success of the American “deep state” in taming him. Hyping the threat from Iran, even if it fuels the deep-seated Sunni-Shiite rivalry, helps to bolster U.S. alliances with Arab royals and win lucrative arms contracts.

Ominously, Trump in Saudi Arabia spoke of building a stronger alliance with Sunni countries, with U.S. officials saying the defense arrangements could evolve into an “Arab NATO.” However, the Sunni arc of nations is not only roiled by deep fissures, but also it is the incubator of transnational jihadis who have become a potent threat to secular, democratic states near and far. IS, al-Qaida, the Taliban, Laskar-e-Taiba, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are all Saudi-inspired Sunni groups that blend hostility toward non-Sunnis and anti-modern romanticism into nihilistic rage.

In this light, Trump’s Sunni-oriented approach could worsen the problems of jihadism and sectarianism, undermining the anti-terror fight.

The murky economic and geopolitical considerations presently at play foreshadow a long and difficult international battle against the forces of terrorism. The key to battling violent Islamism is stemming the spread of the ideology that has fostered “jihad factories.” There can be no success without closing the wellspring of terrorism — Wahhabi fanaticism. But who will have the courage to bell the cat?

A long-standing contributor to The JapanTimes, Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

© The Japan Times, 2017.

A win comes with a challenge for India

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Brahma Chellaney, DNA

Clipboard01Pakistan is an incorrigibly scofflaw state for whom international law matters little. Still, India was left with no option but to haul Pakistan before the International Court of Justice after a secret Pakistani military court sentenced to death a former Indian naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, for being an Indian “spy”. At a time when there was no hope to save Jadhav, the ICJ interim order has come as a shot in the arm for India diplomatically.

However, Pakistan’s response to the provisional but binding order that it does not accept ICJ’s jurisdiction in national security-related matters underscores India’s challenge in dealing with a country that violates canons of civilized conduct and engages in barbaric acts, as exemplified by the recent beheading of two Indian soldiers. The concept of good-neighbourly relations seems alien to Pakistan. For example, in the Kashmir Valley, the Pakistani military establishment is actively promoting civil resistance after its strategy of inciting an armed insurrection against India has yielded limited results.

For years, India has stoically put up with the Pakistani military’s export of terrorism. Even as Pakistan violates the core terms of the Simla peace treaty, India faithfully adheres to the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).

Significantly, the ICJ’s welcome interim order has followed a string of setbacks suffered by India between 2013 and 2016 in three separate cases before international arbitral tribunals. One case involved a maritime boundary dispute in the Bay of Bengal, with the tribunal awarding Bangladesh almost four-fifths of the disputed territory.

A second case, instituted by Pakistan, related to the IWT and centred on its challenge to India’s tiny 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 for killing two unarmed Indian fishermen.

Despite apparent flaws in the decisions of the tribunals in all three cases, India abided by them. The ICJ is a higher judicial organ than any tribunal, yet it lacks any practical mechanism to enforce its rulings. If Pakistan does not abide by the ICJ order, it will expose itself thoroughly as a rogue state.

In a world in which power respects power, the international justice system cannot tame a wayward state like Pakistan. In the final analysis, India has to tame Pakistan on its own. The ICJ interim order should not obscure this harsh reality.

© DNA, 2017.

America’s deepening Afghanistan quagmire

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Trump needs to break with failed U.S. policies on the Taliban

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A damaged U.S. military vehicle is seen at the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on May 3. © Reuters

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

The proposed dispatch of several thousand more U.S. troops to war-torn Afghanistan by President Donald Trump’s administration begs the question: If more than 100,000 American troops failed between 2010 and 2012 to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, why would adding 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers to the current modest U.S. force of 8,400 make a difference?

For nearly 16 years, the U.S. has been stuck in Afghanistan in the longest and most expensive war in its history. It has tried several policies to wind down the war, including a massive military “surge” under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to compel the Taliban to sue for peace. Nothing has worked, in large part because the U.S. has continued to fight the war on just one side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan divide and refused to go after the Pakistan-based sanctuaries of the Taliban and its affiliate, the Haqqani network.

As Gen. John Nicholson, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, acknowledged earlier this year: “It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven.” Worse still, the Taliban is conspicuously missing from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, while the procreator and sponsor of that medieval militia — Pakistan — has been one of the largest recipients of American aid since 2001, when the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan helped remove the Taliban from power.

The mercurial Trump has revealed no doctrine or strategy relating to the Afghan War. But in keeping with his penchant for surprise, Trump picked Afghanistan for the first-ever battlefield use of GBU-43B, a nearly 10-metric-ton bomb known as the “Mother of All Bombs.” The target, however, was not the U.S. military’s main battlefield enemy — the Taliban — but the so-called Islamic State group, or ISIS, which Gen. Nicholson told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee earlier had been largely contained in Afghanistan through raids and airstrikes.

To be sure, Trump has inherited an Afghanistan situation that went from bad to worse under his predecessor. A resurgent Taliban today hold more Afghan territory than ever before, the civilian toll is at a record high, and Afghan military casualties are rising to a level that American commanders warn is unsustainable. In the Taliban’s deadliest assault on Afghan army troops, a handful of militants killed more than 140 soldiers last month at a military base in the northern province of Balkh, prompting the country’s defense minister and chief of army staff to resign.

The enemy’s enemy

Not only is the Taliban militia at its strongest, but also a Russia-organized coalition that includes Iran and China is cozying up to it. Faced with biting U.S.-led sanctions, Russia is aligning with the enemy’s enemy to weigh down the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Indeed, as Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to expand the geopolitical chessboard on which Moscow can play against the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a new “Great Game” is unfolding in Afghanistan.

Almost three decades after Moscow ended its own disastrous Afghanistan war, whose economic costs eventually contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has sought to reemerge as an important player in Afghan affairs by embracing a thuggish force that it long viewed as a major terrorist threat — the Taliban. In effect, Russia is trading roles with the U.S. in Afghanistan: In the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan promoted jihad against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with the Central Intelligence Agency training and arming thousands of Afghan mujahedeen — the violent jihadists from which al-Qaeda and the Taliban evolved.

Today, the growing strains in U.S.-Russia relations — with Trump saying “we’re not getting along with Russia at all, we may be at an all-time low” — threaten to deepen the American military quagmire in Afghanistan. Trump came into office wanting to befriend Russia yet, with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head over alleged election collusion with Moscow, U.S.-Russian ties have only deteriorated. Russia has signaled that it is in a position to destabilize the U.S.-backed government in Kabul in the way Washington has undermined Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Moscow-supported regime by aiding Syrian rebels. Gen. Nicholson has suggested that Russia has started sending weapons to the Taliban.

Against this background, the odds are stacked heavily against the U.S. reversing the worsening Afghanistan situation and “winning again,” as Trump wants, especially if his administration follows in the footsteps of the previous two U.S. governments by not recognizing Pakistan’s centrality in Afghan security. Trump’s renewed mission in Afghanistan will fail if Washington does not add sticks to its carrots-only approach toward the Pakistani military, which continues to aid the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups.

No counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when militants have enjoyed cross-border havens. The Taliban are unlikely to be routed or seek peace as long as they can operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan, where their top leaders are ensconced. Their string of battlefield victories indeed gives them little incentive to enter into serious peace negotiations.

Still, the U.S. has been reluctant to go after the Taliban’s command and control base in Pakistan in order to preserve the option of reaching a Faustian bargain with the militia. For eight years, Obama pursued the same failed strategy of using inducements, ranging from billions of dollars in aid to the supply of lethal weapons, to nudge the Pakistani military and its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency to target the Haqqani network and get the Taliban to the negotiating table. According to Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard G. Olson, the U.S. has no “fundamental quarrel” with the Taliban and seeks a deal.

Troop surge

If the recent visit of Trump’s national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, to Afghanistan and Pakistan is any indication, a fundamental break with the Obama approach is still not on the cards. In fact, the Trump team has proposed reemploying the same tool that Obama utilized in vain — a troop surge, although at a low level.

To compound matters, Trump is showing himself to be a tactical, transactional president whose foreign policy appears guided by the axiom “Speak loudly and carry a big stick.” In dropping America’s largest non-nuclear bomb last month in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, Trump was emboldened by the ease of his action days earlier in ordering missile strikes against a Syrian air base while eating dessert — “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen” — with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It is easy to drop a massive bomb or do missile strikes and appear “muscular,” but it is difficult to figure out how to fix a broken policy. This is the dilemma Trump faces over Afghanistan. In the same Pakistan-bordering area where the “Mother of All Bombs” was dropped, two U.S. soldiers were killed in fighting just days later.

Unlike Obama, who spent eight years experimenting with various measures, extending from a troop surge to a drawdown, Trump does not have time on his side. Obama, with excessive optimism, declared in late 2014 that “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.” The reverse happened: Security in Afghanistan worsened rapidly. The Taliban rebuffed his peace overtures, despite Washington’s moves to allow the group to establish a de facto diplomatic mission in Qatar and to trade five senior Taliban leaders jailed at Guantanamo Bay for a captured U.S. Army sergeant.

Today, the very survival of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government is at stake. Problems are rapidly mounting for the beleaguered government, which has presided over steadily deteriorating security. Its hold on many districts looks increasingly tenuous even before the approaching summer brings stepped-up Taliban attacks.

The revival of the “Great Game” in Afghanistan, meanwhile, threatens to complicate an already precarious security situation in South, Central and Southwest Asia.

If the U.S. continues to experiment, it will court a perpetual war in Afghanistan, endangering a key base from where it projects power regionally. The central choice Trump must make is between seeking to co-opt the Taliban through a peace deal, as Obama sought, and going all out after its command and control network in Pakistan. An Afghanistan settlement is likely only when the Taliban has been degraded and decapitated.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War.”

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2017.