The Afghan government and its international supporters have long viewed the estimated $1 trillion to $3 trillion worth of natural resources thought to lie beneath Afghanistan’s rugged landscape as being among the country’s best prospects for economic independence. But hopes of developing Afghanistan’s extravagant array of natural resources—including world class deposits of iron, gold, copper, lithium and lucrative rare earth metals—are in serious jeopardy. Wavering international investors, Afghanistan’s unresolved and contested new draft law concerning resource extraction and the political uncertainty associated with next year’s presidential elections and substantial NATO drawdown risk dashing efforts to transform Afghanistan into an economically […]

This week, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama laid out a U.S. foreign policy agenda for the remainder of his term in office, with particular emphasis on finding a solution to the impasse over the Iranian nuclear program and making a lasting breakthrough in the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute. However, the overall focus of the address, with its emphasis on the centrality of the Middle East, is seemingly at odds with the direction articulated earlier in his administration, most notably by former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: the so-called […]

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is meeting U.S. President Barack Obama today at the White House, where the two leaders are expected to reach deals on defense cooperation and trade in nuclear technology. That reflects the interest on both sides to move past the “differences and divisions have taken center stage in recent months,” as Richard Fontaine explained in World Politics Review last month: Despite drift in some key areas of the relationship, the underlying strategic rationale for it remains. Washington is rebalancing its foreign policy to Asia, attempting to allot that region greater diplomatic attention, military resources and commercial […]

By most measures, the income gap between urban and rural households in China is one of the largest in the world, with urban residents’ incomes more than triple those of their rural counterparts. Not surprisingly, then, improving rural incomes has become the main target of social welfare policies in China today, though it is too early to tell whether such policies will be enough to reduce the rural-urban income gap. The new social policies have also been introduced in the context of two long-term demographic trends of great significance: China’s high-speed urbanization and the rapid aging of its population. China’s […]

Earlier this month, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held one of its most important summits in years. The SCO faces the task of managing the instability engendered by the Arab Spring and the ongoing NATO military drawdown in Afghanistan. In addition, the organization has the potential to substantially shape the broader China-Russia relationship. Yet besides its traditional joint declarations and bilateral leadership meetings, the summit, which took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Sept. 13-14, was noteworthy mainly for its limited achievements. The most important participant was China’s new president, Xi Jinping, who was attending his first SCO summit. Xi reaffirmed […]

India’s sheer size and poverty have meant that addressing the needs of its hundreds of millions of poor and vulnerable citizens has preoccupied Indian policymakers since independence. Unsurprisingly, the mix of strategies, the resulting policy instruments to undergird them and their relative effectiveness have been a matter of contentious debate. As with other poor developing countries, India’s efforts to improve the welfare of its vulnerable populations have, at least in principle, involved three major components. The first, given the abysmally low income of the average Indian household, has been to try to raise incomes through growth with the assumption that […]

An accord on electoral reform reached this week between Cambodia’s long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) ended three days of protests in the capital but did not convince the CNRP to drop its threat to boycott the opening session of parliament next week. According to the current vote tally from Cambodia’s July elections, which were widely considered flawed, the CNRP won 55 seats in Cambodia’s 123-seat legislature, the bulk of them from Phnom Penh and its nearby provinces. While falling short of a majority, the number represents an unprecedented gain of 22 seats […]

Despite India’s graduation from outlier to tepidly accepted member of the global nuclear order, one area of New Delhi’s nuclear activities continues to raise alarm: its undersea nuclear deterrent. India unveiled its first nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, in July 2009. Though the ship was largely indigenous, Russia helped in designing the miniaturized nuclear reactor. Just last month, the nuclear reactor in INS Arihant went critical, clearing the way for its final operational trials in the Bay of Bengal. India has designs to produce four to five nuclear submarines by the end of this decade. When integrated with nuclear-tipped sea-launched […]

Last week the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif completed its first 100 days in office. The elections in May, though marred by rigging and irregularities, made history as Pakistan’s first democratic transition. But if Pakistanis were jubilant about this milestone at the time, their joy had faded by the time of my visit last month. Sharif campaigned on five major promises: that he would set the economy on track, end energy shortages in three years, end U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory, tackle terrorism and pursue positive relations with neighbors. In pre-election polls, 81 percent […]

Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao paid a three-day visit to Vietnam this month to promote bilateral relations. In an email interview, Michael Leach, associate professor of politics and public policy at Australia’s Swinburne University researching Timor-Leste politics, explained Timor-Leste’s foreign policy priorities and its growing role in its region. WPR: Which countries are Timor-Leste’s closest regional partners? Michael Leach: Indonesia and Australia will remain Timor-Leste’s most important regional partners for the foreseeable future. Indonesia is Timor-Leste’s largest trading partner, though bilateral trade is overwhelmingly skewed in favor of Indonesian exports of essential and consumer goods. Despite minor tensions over small […]

Fighting between rebels and security forces erupted in the southern Philippines Monday after heavily armed Muslim rebels landed in coastal districts with plans to declare an independent state. As Reuters reported, security officials say the rebels are part of a rogue faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that was angry over claims the government had not fully implemented an existing peace agreement. In an email interview, Steven Rood, Philippines country representative of the Asia Foundation, said the incident in Zamboanga City is not likely to destabilize the peace deal signed last year with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front […]

During a recent visit to Afghanistan to assess the implications of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) withdrawal with regard to humanitarian needs and responses, I was struck by the dissonance between the debates over Afghanistan’s future inside and outside the country. The troop withdrawal has dominated the international agenda since it was announced in 2009. It still remains unclear how many troops will stay in Afghanistan after 2014, when ISAF’s mandate is set to expire, and what their role will be. Meanwhile, the recent row over the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement has raised the specter of a “zero option” […]

In India, violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims over the weekend reportedly killed at least 30 people. Officials say the riots in the northern Indian province of Uttar Pradesh were a reaction to a video clip allegedly showing the lynching of two young people. “India is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world, so it’s always had difficulty in keeping the peace between its various religious groups,” Ajay Verghese, assistant professor of politics at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, wrote Trend Lines in an email interview. “But what happened in Uttar Pradesh really fits the […]

The West’s perception of Myanmar’s problems is often limited to the image of Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for political opening against the country’s ruling military junta. But Myanmar, or Burma as it is still known by many in the West, is ethnically and religiously complex, and the inability to reconcile those many differences led to decades of civil war with multiple ethnic insurgencies. While outright hostilities have for the most part ebbed, the grievances that have historically driven these conflicts are by no means resolved. As Myanmar now emerges from isolation, the challenges facing it are numerous and can […]

In its public rhetoric, the Chinese government has long recognized the need for reforms, but for a number of reasons it has often struggled to implement many of these changes. These include overarching ideological resistance, factional disagreements within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government, lobbying and disruption from vested interest groups, poor policy implementation and pressure from popular opinion. Beijing’s list of promised reforms is considerable. From the host of commitments agreed as part of China’s 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), to Wen Jiabao’s repeated allusions to political change, to Xi Jinping’s intimations of broad-based […]

Last month, Tanzania imported 591 military transport vehicles from India in an effort to improve the transport capabilities of the Tanzania People’s Defense Force. In an email interview, Laxman Kumar Behera, a research fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi specializing in the Indian defense industry, explained the dynamics of India’s defense exports. The views expressed are the author’s own. WPR: What are the main countries to which India exports defense products, and what does it sell them? Laxman Kumar Behera: The Indian defense industry mainly exports to Asian and African countries, though it also […]

Since early 2013, the rate of border skirmishes between the Pakistani and Indian militaries has accelerated. Though the incidents have been scattered and casualties few, they represent an uptick from 2012: Thus far in 2013 there have been 42 cease-fire violations along the Line of Control (LoC), while in all of 2012 there were only 28. The increased military activity on the border has elicited accusations from both sides, even during a time of increased dialogue and political moves toward greater cooperation. The border incidents have also prompted international concern about the future of Kashmir and stability in the region […]