To say that the geopolitics of South Asia is in a state of flux might sound like a cliché for a region that is nowadays commonly described as the most dangerous place on the planet. The horrific terrorist attacks on the western Indian city of Mumbai in November underscore the grim reality. The region indeed finds itself at a crossroads. There are huge uncertainties about regional security. The pall of gloom is deepening. The war in Afghanistan inevitably becomes the focal point. But that isn’t everything. Not a day passes without one form or other of violence gripping South Asia. […]

The terrorist carnage in Mumbai resulting in more than 170 deaths draws attention to the role of Pakistan, which India instinctively accuses of responsibility. The fedayeen-type attack singled out Americans and Jews as targets, which smacks of an al-Qaida game plan. Delhi initially distinguished between terrorist groups in Pakistan and the Pakistani authorities as such, but that distinction is getting blurred. Islamabad stubbornly rejects imputations of involvement. Reflexes are hardening on both sides. In the competitive environment of domestic politics as India heads for general elections in the next six months, it will be suicidal for the ruling party to […]

The latest assault in Mumbai has brought fresh tensions to fragile India-Pakistan relations at a time when the Pakistani government had made unprecedented friendly overtures toward its traditional rival. The attacks — which at latest count claimed more than 170 lives, while injuring over three hundred — took place just three days after Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari proposed a “no first nuclear strike” policy with India. According to early news reports, one of the captured attackers revealed under questioning that he was from Pakistan’s Punjab province, belonged to the banned extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and had been trained in […]

Sino-Indian relations have registered significant progress in the past five years. Beijing and New Delhi have engaged in a series of summit meetings, frequent high-level visits, joint antiterrorism training exercises between the two militaries, and fast-growing bilateral trade. During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China in January 2008, the two countries issued a joint document on a Shared Vision for the 21st Century, pledging to promote a harmonious world of peace and stability and further strengthen the Sino-Indian Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity. These developments have encouraged analysts across the Himalaya to talk about the return […]

TORONTO — Major media organizations operate as devout, if secular, institutions. Think of churches, mosques and temples, stripped of their religious content. What remains is the faith, however, both in the mission of journalism and the audience’s ability to appreciate it. This belief system is often accompanied by heavy doses of public sanctimony. Consider the approach of these organizations when confronted with the abduction of their own correspondents. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), upon learning that Mellissa Fung had been snatched in Afghanistan, requested an embargo on information from all Western media outlets in the country. The corporation, citing advice […]

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia — Malaysia has followed through on promises to deport illegal immigrants, sending more than 10,000 Filipino refugees back to their war-torn homeland. The move came as Philippine President Gloria Arroyo sought to reassure the U.S. that Manila will restart talks with Muslim separatists seeking to establish a homeland in the country’s troubled south. The numbers were well short of expectations after authorities boasted more than 100,000 could be sent packing, but were enough to raise eyebrows among regional analysts who believe forcing impoverished civilians back into a zone shattered by civil war, Islamic militancy and terrorism will […]

Gates Stays?

The NY Times is reporting that it’s almost official: Secretary of Defense Bob Gates will stay on at the Pentagon in the Obama adminsitration, although it’s not certain for how long. I think the political optics of what signal this sends regarding Democrats ability to manage national security rightly take a back seat here to the fact that Gates has been very impressive in effecting the institutional changes necessary to support the operational needs of two ongoing wars. But the Pentagon’s final internal armistice lines (COIN vs. conventional and hard vs. soft power in Iran, for instance) have not been […]

Pakistani Military’s Change of Heart in FATA?

Must read from Arif Rafiq at the Pakistan Policy Blog on the recent developments in the Pakistani FATA: The reality is that none of the latest U.S. drone attacks could haveoccurred without the provision of intelligence by Pakistan’s military. This is why the targeting seems to be more precise — in clear contrastto the Angor Ada raid that yielded no high value targets and killedmainly innocent Pakistani civilians. In fact, most of the good U.S.intelligence on the tribal areas and al-Qaeda comes from the ISI. Rafiq goes on to speculate as to what caused the Pakistani military’s change of heart, […]

The Cost of Victory in Afghanistan

Commenting on my post about the projected end state size of the Afghan security forces (I had taken the figure to be for the Afghan army alone), Joshua Foust has this to say over at Registan: I think, despite his deep skepticism, he might be underselling the problems even here . . . The State Department wants about 162,000 ANSF—Afghan NationalSecurity Forces, or all the troops and police combined. In 2010, thatwill cost more than Afghanistan’s total GDP. Literally, the U.S.government’s big plan is to build an Afghan security force whose costexceeds the total economic output of the country, and […]

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) released Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World last week, with its avowed purpose to “stimulate strategic thinking about the future by identifying key trends, the factors that drive them, where they seem to be headed, and how they might interact.” The release of the report was more specifically timed to inform the thinking of the incoming Barack Obama administration about the broader strategic challenges and opportunities it will confront upon assuming office on Jan. 20, 2009 — and before officials of the new administration become overwhelmed by their daily inboxes. The authors of Global Trends […]

Afghan Army per Capita

I usually don’t do any posting over the weekend, but that doesn’t mean the internal content management system gets shut down. To give an example, a not-so-little number kept rattling around in the cranium the past couple of days: 162,000. That’s the end strength goal the Dept. of Defense has now set for the Afghan National Army by 2010, in order to provide the manpower needed to adequately support U.S.-NATO operations once “surged.” Since Afghanistan’s population, according to the latest CIA Factbook estimates, is 32.7 million, that’s roughly the size, per capita, of the combined American military (including the Air […]

TOKYO — At last week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Japan and Russia had been expected to announce plans for a visit by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Japan by the end of this year. But the decision to instead postpone the visit until early next year is a fair reflection of the state of political relations between the two nations — technically still at war — in recent years. “Relations have remained stunted,” says Joseph Ferguson, adjunct professor at the University of Washington, who argues that political relations currently lag some way behind economic ties. Ferguson, author of “Japanese-Russian […]

Putting Piracy in Perspective

Intriguing observation from Josh Marshall: I don’t want to draw over-broad interpretations. But historically, therising incidence of piracy has frequently, if not always, been a signof the receding reach of whatever great power has taken onresponsibility for policing the sea lanes. I’m admittedly a sucker for this kind of over-broad interpretation. But to put things in perspective, a) piracy has become this month’s media cycle, which means that to the same extent that the problem was being ignored last year, it’s being exagerrated now; b) I wonder how the historical comparisons would stack up if you compared the incidence of […]

Bob Gates & COIN

Discussing Barron YoungSmith’s TNR post about the potential tension between Michele Flournoy (the head of President-elect Barack Obama’s Defense Dept. transition team) and Bob Gates should Gates stay on as Sec. of Defense, Kevin Drum writes: Gates has taken the position that the Army should focus almostexclusively on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare in the future. . . Now, I’ve been keeping a wary eye on the body-snatching COIN pods ever since they touched down, primarily because of how tempting the vision of warfare that they offer is to both the humanitarian left and the hawkish right. I’m also skeptical of […]

When Thailand’s new prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, paid his first visit to the country’s insurgency-wracked southern provinces last month, he was cautiously optimistic, commenting at the time, “I have been briefed by regional bodies and I consider the situation has improved, but we still cannot be complacent.” Somchai was wise to strike a note that balanced satisfaction with concern. Even skeptics grudgingly acknowledge that the Thai government is making progress in its fight against the insurgency in the restive Malay-Muslim provinces, annexed by the predominantly Buddhist country in 1902. Violence has plummeted by a jaw-dropping 50 percent compared to last […]

Humanitarian Aid and Strategic Pressure

In an op-ed for the Age (via the Interpreter), Andrew Selth argues that the global community should separate efforts to help the Burmese people form its desire to change the Burmese regime: The harsh reality is that there are few options against a regimethat refuses to observe customary norms of behaviour, puts its survivalbefore the welfare of its people and is protected by its allies. Symbolism is important in international politics, but we also have to be pragmatic. There needs to be a new approach. . . Instead of looking for new ways to punish an entrenched andnationalistic regime, a […]

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