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The 19th Party Congress and Chinese Foreign Policy-MICHAEL D. SWAINE

Posted by admin On November - 7 - 2017 Comments Off on The 19th Party Congress and Chinese Foreign Policy-MICHAEL D. SWAINE

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The 19th Party Congress and Chinese Foreign Policy
Source: Getty
MICHAEL D. SWAINE
ArticleOctober 16, 2017
Summary:  Comparing Xi Jinping’s report at the 19th Party Congress to earlier such documents provides an excellent indicator of continuities and recent changes in Chinese foreign policy.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) congresses are usually not occasions for presenting the details of the country’s foreign policy. Such details usually are revealed as part of the major work report on state policies presented during the annual gatherings of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s national legislative body, held during the spring following every party congress. Instead, most of the news-making events that take place at the CCP’s national party congresses focus on party leadership changes and general statements of national strategic orientation applicable to many policy realms.

That said, since at least the advent of the reform era in the late 1970s, CCP congresses have invariably addressed three general areas of direct or indirect relevance to foreign policy: 1) the Chinese leadership’s assessment of the overall features of the global and Asian diplomatic, economic, and security environments; 2) China’s basic national development goals of direct relevance to foreign policy; and 3) the country’s major foreign policy initiatives and priorities.
Michael D. Swaine
Senior Fellow
Asia Program

More from this author…
China and the World After the 19th Party Congress
Time to Accept Reality and Manage a Nuclear-Armed North Korea
Chinese Attitudes Toward the U.S. Withdrawal From the Paris Climate Accords
@DALZELL60
Together, these serve as guidelines for more detailed presentations of Chinese foreign policy that take place during the NPC and various party and state meetings. Hence, variations and continuities in the themes struck in each of these areas during successive party congresses can provide an excellent indicator of both the enduring foundations and the new departures occurring in China’s foreign policy over time. Based on an examination of relevant statements from the 16th–18th party congresses (held in 2002, 2007, and 2012 respectively), as well as geopolitical developments that have been taking place since 2012, one can obtain a reasonably reliable impression of what to expect regarding Chinese foreign policy statements at the upcoming 19th Party Congress due to convene on October 18, 2017.

KEY GLOBAL AND REGIONAL CONDITIONS FOR CHINESE FOREIGN POLICY

The 19th Party Congress will without a doubt stress a number of old bromides commonly observed in Chinese foreign policy statements as well as a new focus on defending globalization. Many of these long-standing features have been evident in Chinese analyses of its external environment since at least the beginning of the reform era: the development toward a multipolar world in which no single power dominates, a generally stable international situation, and an emphasis on “peace and development” as the “underlying trend” of the times.1

This generally positive overarching assessment of the world outside China has allowed Beijing to remain focused for decades on the implementation of an outward-oriented, cooperative, long-term economic development strategy, seen as essential to achieving the country’s national development goals. Given China’s ongoing need to maintain relatively high (if somewhat lower than before) levels of economic growth while transitioning toward a more efficient, value-added technology-focused and information-driven development model, there is no reason to think that Beijing will alter this assessment.2

At the same time, over several party congresses, Chinese leaders have paired this positive viewpoint with remarks indicating the continued presence of potential threats to Chinese security and prosperity. The latter usually involve some variation of the following statement:

Hegemonism [read: U.S. behavior] and power politics still exist, local conflicts and hotspot issues keep emerging, imbalances in the world economy are [present or] worsening, the North-South gap is widening, and traditional and nontraditional threats to security are intertwined.

In addition to these views, the Chinese leadership for the first time highlighted so-called neo-interventionism (that is, efforts or supporting arguments by the United States, and other usually Western states to intervene militarily in the domestic affairs of various countries) alongside hegemonism and power politics at the 18th Party Congress. This addition was primarily due to the U.S.-led or U.S.-supported military interventions that occurred or were threatened in Libya and Syria after the 17th Party Congress in 2007.

This phrase might not appear or be given as much prominence at the 19th Party Congress, however. This is because, while the Syria situation has arguably grown worse since 2012, with some outside (albeit limited) intervention by foreign powers, the only significant new example of large-scale intervention has been carried out against Ukraine and Crimea by Russia, China’s increasingly friendly strategic partner. It is unlikely that Beijing would seek to call attention to Moscow’s misbehavior, although this possibility cannot be discounted entirely.

In addition to these past negative features, the 19th Party Congress will probably also highlight a new set of potential threats to peace, continued growth, and stability, in the form of growing imbalances in global economic development, and a troubling backlash against greater global economic integration and the forces of globalization. Just last month, Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated:

We live in a world that is witnessing profound changes in the international landscape and balance of power, prominent traditional and non-traditional threats, insufficient driving force for global growth and a growing backlash against globalization. There are unprecedented challenges for mankind’s pursuit of lasting peace and sustainable development.

The 19th Party Congress will likely for the first time include language similar to this. In addition, Beijing will probably present itself as a strong opponent of protectionism and a proponent of greater global and regional economic integration. This has become a noticeable theme in Chinese statements by Xi Jinping and other senior leaders, especially since the election of Donald Trump and the rise of similar “me-first” nationalists in Europe. For instance, while giving a speech at the 2017 World Economic Forum annual meeting, Xi stated that “pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air. No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”3

CHINA’S NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS AND FOREIGN POLICY PRINCIPLES

At the 19th Party Congress, China’s top leaders will likely focus on two of the country’s overarching, long-standing national development objectives, while connecting these goals to a relatively new term, the China Dream, that Xi first coined in late 2012 to describe the country’s aspirations for national rejuvenation. Specifically, the rhetoric at the congress will doubtlessly continue to emphasize China’s double centenary tasks of building:

“A moderately prosperous society” by 2021, the centenary of the founding of the CCP, a project ratified in Jiang Zemin’s report to the 16th Party Congress in 2002, and later reaffirmed in Hu Jintao’s subsequent congress reports in 2007 and 2012, as part of his efforts to build a “harmonious society”4
A “strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and modern socialist country” by 2049, the centenary of the founding of the PRC
These two long-standing goals were first announced during the Jiang Zemin era at the 15th Party Congress in 1997. However, they arguably did not become highly prominent until Xi became CCP general secretary in 2012 at the 18th Party Congress. After that event, these goals came to be identified as the main development features of Xi’s China Dream concept. There is little doubt that this concept will be highlighted at the upcoming Party Congress, as an indication of Xi’s dominant stature within the CCP leadership.

The general characterization of China’s current and future foreign policy principles or guidelines that appear at the 19th Party Congress will also likely be similar to those found in recent party congresses. The key phrases will probably involve references to China’s ongoing efforts to

continue to hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit and strive to uphold world peace and promote common development [and] . . . unwaveringly follow a win-win strategy of opening up and promote robust, sustainable and balanced growth of the global economy through increased cooperation.

These stock phrases will likely be paired with more recent references to “a new type of international relations,” and “a new model of major-country relations”; these two oft-used slogans originated during the Hu Jintao era but have been raised to greater prominence under Xi.5 Some observers believe that these slogans have been downplayed in recent months, and thus might be omitted from the 19th Party Congress documents. This is unlikely, however, given their very close association with Xi and his policies, and the fact that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to echo them in March 2017 during a meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing. Tillerson stated that “the U.S. side is ready to develop relations with China based on the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation.”6

Also likely to be included in the 19th Party Congress remarks on foreign policy is a repetition of the need for China to advance multilateral diplomacy, and, most notably, to reform the international system and the structure of global governance, especially regarding the representation and views of developing countries. Past party congresses have stressed this latter theme many times. As a representative example, in a July 2017 speech, State Councilor Yang Jiechi explained that “In response to major issues and challenges confronting global governance, General Secretary Xi Jinping has put forth a series of new propositions on global governance, security, development, justice, interests and globalization which are aimed at promoting a global governance system that is fairer, more equitable, inclusive and balanced.”7

Alongside these long-standing statements of Beijing’s central foreign policy features, the 19th Party Congress will also undoubtedly repeat the past 17th and (especially) 18th PC statements of China’s need to “safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and ensure its peaceful development.” The most recent and pointed reference to this now core element of Chinese foreign policy under Xi occurred last summer, in a speech by State Councilor and head of Chinese foreign affairs Yang Jiechi, who formerly served as foreign minister. Yang remarked that China must unequivocally make clear China’s positions on Taiwan, the South China Sea, and other issues concerning China’s major core interests, adding: “We have drawn a clear line of what is unacceptable, and acted forcefully to defend our core interests as well as legitimate rights.”

This emphasis on protecting China’s sovereignty and rights is central to the concept of weiquan or “rights protection” that the Xi Jinping regime has now placed alongside the long-standing concept of weiwen or “stability maintenance.” Although the protection of national sovereignty and rights certainly predates the Xi period, the two concepts became identified as equally important goals of China’s foreign and defense policies, and raised to prominence, only after Xi became CCP general secretary.8

One important question is how much greater prominence will be given to the weiquan concept during the 19th Party Congress, if any. Many observers believe that if, as expected, Xi Jinping is able to strengthen further his dominance over the Chinese leadership at the congress, he will likely adopt a more aggressive stance toward territorial disputes and the advancement of China’s maritime rights. Hence, the argument goes, a greater emphasis on weiquan at the congress would perhaps herald such a shift. However, this assumes that Xi thus far has been prevented from advocating those elements because of leadership resistance, which is a very dubious assumption. There is no evidence that any of Xi’s senior colleagues question or oppose the increased emphasis on weiquan.

In the defense and security realm, the 19th Party Congress will almost certainly repeat Xi’s post-18th Party Congress stress on fostering a “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security” environment for the Asia-Pacific. Xi first coined this slogan and defined its contents at the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in May 2014.

It has been repeated several times since then, perhaps most notably by Yang Jiechi at the opening session of the fifty-first Munich Security Conference in February 2015.9 Essentially, the four aspects of this concept are intended to serve as the basis for an Asia security system that is all-inclusive, covers all types of security problems, centers on cooperative dialogues, recognizes the importance of development and regional integration to security, and thus does not seek “absolute” security for any single nation nor use alliances to target third parties. These views challenge, in part, what Beijing regards as U.S. efforts to seek absolute security and strengthen alliances aimed at countering China.

The 19th Party Congress might also refer to another set of security-related concepts coined since the previous party congress: the so-called three principles for handling hotspot issues. These include:

Adherence to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs and opposition to the practice of imposing one’s will on others
A willingness to uphold fairness and justice as well as opposition to the singular pursuit of selfish interests
Adherence to political settlement and opposition to the use of force in handling hotspot issues
Although these concepts are fundamental to Beijing’s well-established support for win-win cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, their combination in a set of explicit principles for handling “hotspot issues” such as maritime sovereignty disputes in East Asia is new. If mentioned, these concepts will likely be placed alongside any reference to support for “a new type of international relations.” But they will probably receive a more detailed treatment at the 2018 NPC, given the more detailed presentation of foreign and defense policy issues that occur at that event.

Regarding military policies in particular, the 19th Party Congress will likely reiterate the statement that appeared for the first time at the 18th Party Congress of the need to construct a “strong national defense and powerful armed forces that are commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests,” as well as the need for the Chinese military “to increase cooperation and mutual trust with the armed forces of other countries, participate in regional and international security affairs, and thus play an active role in international political and security fields.”

Although these statements seem rather innocuous and unremarkable on the surface, in fact, this calls for armed forces with a strength and presence beyond China’s borders equal to its growing international standing in 2012 was unprecedented, and it was indicative of the more active and ambitious role expected of the Chinese military under Xi.

Equally important, as part of its efforts to increase China’s military presence overseas, the 19th Party Congress will almost certainly follow the previous congress in stressing China’s maritime interests, and perhaps again explicitly refer to the need to “build China into a maritime power.”10 Although the latter statement certainly includes commercial and other nonmilitary maritime elements, it no doubt also refers to China’s need to build up military and paramilitary capabilities across the maritime reaches.

Finally, the 19th Party Congress is likely to repeat the need to also stress space and cyberspace security. These are now recognized as key elements in China’s foreign and defense policies, and the reference to cyberspace was unprecedented in the 18th Party Congress, as was the reference to space in relation to security.

MAJOR CHINESE FOREIGN POLICY INITIATIVES

In past party congresses, foreign policy–related statements have included references to specific policy initiatives designed to achieve the type of broad goals outlined above. These are not detailed descriptions of specific policies. Such details usually are unveiled during or just after the subsequent spring NPC meeting, which naturally focuses on government policies. However, the mere mentioning of individual foreign policy initiatives at a party congress usually guarantees their inclusion at the subsequent NPC. Some of these policies are long-standing and foundational, although many reflect a specific spin or new content associated with the paramount leader.

Since the 19th Party Congress will constitute the first major party meeting occurring entirely under the rule of the Xi regime, there is no doubt that policies or concepts associated most closely with Xi since the 18th Party Congress will be mentioned. These will likely include:

the Belt and Road Initiative, a Chinese-led effort to fund infrastructure and other projects throughout Eurasia
diplomatic relations with nations along China’s periphery
the ongoing search for a new type of great power relationship with the United States and other major powers
a variety of high profile multilateral events, including those that China has organized to promote Xi’s views on issues related to global governance and globalization
These four categories of diplomatic and economic initiatives, all closely associated with Xi Jinping, reflect his activist efforts to promote the previously outlined concepts and goals, from the China Dream to comprehensive security and “rights protection.”11 Hence, it would be surprising if the 19th Party Congress does not in some manner highlight or at least mention each of them.

Beyond these core policy initiatives, it is possible that the 19th Party Congress will also mention Sino-Russian relations, given the notable improvements in this relationship since the 18th Party Congress. However, it is not common for party congresses to mention specific foreign policy relationships (with the exception of invariably indirect references to the United States), so it would not be surprising if this does not occur.

Another question is whether the party congress will make any reference to the ongoing North Korea nuclear crisis. This is possible, yet again not likely. Despite the importance of this issue in Chinese foreign policy today, the leadership’s tendency not to mention such particulars at party congresses may mean that it will go unmentioned. However, it is possible that, given the urgency of the matter, the congress might indirectly refer to the North Korea crisis, and Trump’s thinly veiled threats to employ force against Pyongyang, by stressing the need for the peaceful resolution of current crises through negotiation and/or the avoidance of any use of force other than through common agreement in the United Nations.12

CONCLUSION

Overall, in the realm of foreign policy, the 19th Party Congress will exhibit considerable continuities with previous party congresses of the reform era; it will also doubtlessly highlight some new features most closely associated with Xi Jinping, namely the China Dream and rights protection (weiquan), as well as an expression of Chinese support for globalization and opposition to protectionism and the sort of narrow, me-first nationalism reflected in the trade policies of the Trump administration.

None of this will mark a clear departure from the generally benign and cooperative foreign policy elements of the past several decades. Indeed, Xi and the CCP leadership will almost certainly continue to recognize the necessity of maintaining generally positive relations with Japan as well as the United States and other Western countries. Unlike the current U.S. administration, Chinese leaders recognize that China will continue to profit enormously from the forces of global economic integration and also must cooperate with other major industrial powers to deal with serious transnational security threats such as climate change. They also know that—in order to make a stable transition to a new normal of lower, but still robust, growth rates; higher living standards; and lower levels of corruption and pollution—they must push forward with major structural reforms that will demand a continued focus on their domestic environment for many years to come. These imperatives will make them highly averse to any shifts in the regional or global order that could threaten stability and prosperity, such as a transition to a confrontational foreign policy toward the United States.

However, such realities do not preclude the possibility of greater tensions between China and the United States, its allies, and other Asian states over trade, investment, sovereignty rights, and a variety of activities involving Chinese and U.S. or Japanese military forces in the Western Pacific. There is no doubt that Xi and the Chinese leadership are seeking to more effectively use China’s growing international presence and influence to promote the nation’s interests in such sensitive areas. As a result, tensions with China will in fact likely increase, despite the many positive elements of the 19th Party Congress noted above.

The most serious of these tensions will almost certainly be in Asia, regarding sovereignty disputes and military activities occurring along China’s maritime periphery. Indeed, escalating crises in these realms could adversely affect overall relations between China and other countries, absent the adoption by all parties of new approaches to Asian security involving more extensive confidence-building measures and a series of mutual understandings regarding the major likely sources of conflict in the future, including the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, maritime disputes, and the relative military capabilities of and activities between China, the United States, and the latter’s allies.

The good news is that, rather than marking a turn toward confrontation between China and the West and Japan, the 19th Party Congress will likely signal a high level of stability and continuity in Chinese foreign policy. The bad news is that this continuity is unlikely to reduce the most serious challenges facing China’s relations with the United States and its allies.

The author offered an oral version of these remarks at Carnegie on October 6, 2017, as part of several presentations on the 19th Party Congress given by authors of the China Leadership Monitor, an online publication based at Stanford University. The author would like to thank Alexis Dale-Huang for her research assistance and Ryan DeVries for his editorial assistance in the preparation of this article.

NOTES

1 For examples of past party congress reports, please see the following: “Full Text of Jiang Zemin’s Report at 16th Party Congress,” China.org.cn, November 17, 2002, http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/49007.htm; “Full Text of Hu Jintao’s Report at 17th Party Congress,” China Daily, October 24, 2007, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-10/24/content_6204564.htm; and “Full Text of Hu Jintao’s Report at 18th Party Congress,” Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America, November 27, 2012, http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zt/18th_CPC_National_Congress_Eng/t992917.htm.

2 “The ‘New Normal’ of China’s Economy,” China Daily, October 10, 2014, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2014-10/10/content_18716671.htm; Ross Garnaut, “China’s New Normal Inches On,” East Asia Forum, July 10, 2016, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2016/07/10/chinas-new-normal-inches-on/.

3 Also see Stephen Fidler, Te-Ping Chen, and Lingling Wei, “China’s Xi Jinping Seizes Role as Leader on Globalization,” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-xi-jinping-defends-globalization-1484654899; “China, New Zealand Pledge Support for Free Trade to Counter Global Protectionism,” Reuters, February 9, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-newzealand-china/china-new-zealand-pledge-support-for-free-trade-to-counter-global-protectionism-idUSKBN15P058?il=0; Michael D. Swaine, “Chinese Views on the Trump Administration’s Asia Policy,” China Leadership Monitor 53 (Spring 2017), https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/research/docs/clm53ms.pdf.

4 For details on the content of this goal, see John Ross, “China’s Five Year Plan to Achieve a ‘Moderately Prosperous Society,’” China.org.cn, http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2015-10/30/content_36935303.htm.

5 Qiao Wei, “The Origins of Win-Win Cooperation Concepts,” CCTV, October 20, 2015, http://english.cntv.cn/2015/10/20/ARTI1445325120332760.shtml; Yu Hongjun, “China and the United States: Building New Relations Between Major Powers,” China Institute of International Studies, November 25, 2013, http://www.ciis.org.cn/english/2013-11/25/content_6486747.htm; U.S.-China Relations: Toward a New Model of Major Power Relationship edited by Rudy deLeon and Yang Jiemian, (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, February 2014), https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/ChinaReport-Full.pdf.

6 Please also see Laura Rosenberger, “Did Rex Tillerson Misspeak or Intentionally Kowtow to China?,” Foreign Policy, March 22, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/22/did-rex-tillerson-misspeak-or-intentionally-kowtow-to-china/; Feng Zhang, “Tillerson Speaks Chinese,” Foreign Affairs, April 4, 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2017-04-04/tillerson-speaks-chinese.

7 Also see “Full Text of Hu Jintao’s Report at 18th Party Congress” and “Quotable Quotes on China’s Major-Country Diplomacy: Global Governance,” China Daily, September 13, 2017, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2017-09/13/content_31933242.htm.

8 “Document: China’s Military Strategy,” USNI News, May 26, 2015, https://news.usni.org/2015/05/26/document-chinas-military-strategy; Ryan Martinson, “A Salt Water Perspective on China’s New Military Strategy,” RealClearDefense, June 1, 2015, https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2015/06/02/a_salt_water_perspective_on_chinas_new_military_strategy_107997.html.

9 “For a Vision of Common, Comprehensive, Cooperative and Sustainable Security,” China Daily, February 9, 2015, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2015-02/09/content_19530681.htm. The fullest exposition of the concept occurs in a lengthy document entitled “China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation” issued by the State Council Information Office in January 2017. See “Full Text: China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation,” Xinhua News Agency, January 11, 2017, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2017-01/11/c_135973695_2.htm.

10 Michael D. Swaine, “Chinese Views and Commentary on Periphery Diplomacy,” China Leadership Monitor 44 (Summer 2014), https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/research/docs/clm44ms.pdf.

11 “Xi Jinping zai zhoubian waijiao gongzuo zuo tanhui shang fabiao zhongyao yanjiang” [Important Speech by Xi Jinping at the Work Forum on Chinese Diplomacy Toward the Periphery], Xinhua News Agency, October 25, 2013, http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2013-10/25/c_117878897.htm; Paul Haenle, “What Does a New Type of Great-Power Relations Mean for the United States and China?,” Carnegie Endowment, January 15, 2014, http://carnegietsinghua.org/2014/01/15/what-does-new-type-of-great-power-relations-mean-for-united-states-and-china-pub-54202; Cai Mingzhao, “Quanmian keguan renshi dangdai zhongguo de zhongyao wenxian” [Important documents on a comprehensive, objective understanding of contemporary China: an introduction to The Governance of China by Xi Jinping], People’s Daily, September 29, 2014, http://theory.people.com.cn/BIG5/n/2014/0929/c40531-25757337.html; “Xi Eyes More Enabling Int’l Environment for China’s Peaceful Development,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, November 30, 2014, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/TopNews/2014-11/30/content_4554680.htm; “Goujian zhongmei xinxing daguo guanxi” [Building a new model of U.S.-China great power relations], People’s Daily, July 21, 2015, http://cpc.people.com.cn/xuexi/n/2015/0721/c397563-27337996.html; “Full Text of President Xi’s Speech at Opening of Belt and Road Forum,” Xinhua News Agency, May 14, 2017, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-05/14/c_136282982.htm; “President Xi’s Speech to Davos in Full.”

12 Chinese observers have made this argument repeatedly in private conversations with the author and other analysts since early August 2017.

End of document

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U.S. Policy in Afghanistan: Changing Strategies, Gains-ASHLEY J. TELLIS,  JEFF EGGERS

Posted by admin On June - 19 - 2017 Comments Off on U.S. Policy in Afghanistan: Changing Strategies, Gains-ASHLEY J. TELLIS,  JEFF EGGERS

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To protect the integrity of the Afghan state, U.S. policy should aim to end the conflict in ways that mitigate the threats of terrorism, instability, and regional conflict.

Although considerable security, political, and economic progress has been made in Afghanistan, much remains to be done to attain long-term stability and extinguish the Taliban insurgency. In this respect, while the conflict in Afghanistan is no longer consistently in the public eye, it remains of great importance to the United States. Going forward, U.S. policy should aim to protect the integrity of the Afghan state and, toward that end, attempt to end the conflict in ways that mitigate the threats of terrorism, instability, and conflict in the region.

The Current Situation
The security environment in Afghanistan is still precarious, evidenced by the uptick in violence in 2016 and the diminishing government control in rural areas.
Factions of the Government of National Unity remain divided, and a corrupt patronage system continues to impede reform.
Economic growth has shrunk since the drawdown of international forces, while the government remains heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Afghan-Pakistani relations have frayed due to widening differences on security at a time when regional competition in and over Afghanistan persists.
The United States’ willingness to indefinitely subsidize Afghanistan with some $23 billion per year is uncertain, especially when al-Qaeda’s core has been reduced to incoherence.
However, the combination of a weakening Afghan regime and an unchecked Taliban resurgence could lead to the catastrophic collapse of the Afghan government and state, resulting in either a return to anarchy or the recrudescence of terrorist groups.
The Paths Ahead
The United States needs to develop a strategy that protects the gains in Afghanistan while terminating the conflict.
Regional options—resolving the India-Pakistan conflict, creating a neutral Afghanistan, or squeezing Pakistan—are too difficult to rely on alone.
Unilateral options—either pursuing major escalation or a complete disengagement—are equally implausible because of their high costs and risks, respectively.
Only limited approaches—moderately expanding the current commitment, seeking a political settlement, or fostering a long-term counterterrorism partnership—are left. Since a counterterrorism-only solution is unlikely to be efficacious, the United States should prioritize reaching a political settlement with the Taliban while continuing to bolster the Afghan state and its security forces.
To be successful, Washington will need to empower the U.S. ambassador in Kabul to oversee the administration’s entire strategy in Afghanistan; persuade the Afghan government to begin a serious national dialogue on political reconciliation; engage in direct talks with the Taliban; target the Taliban shura, if necessary, while inducing Rawalpindi to constrain the Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan; and secure regional support for a political settlement in Afghanistan.
INTRODUCTION
(Ashley J. Tellis
Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs)

The conflict in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest-running war by nearly six years. Approximately 10,000 U.S. troops, and more than twice as many U.S. contractors, remain deployed in this war-torn state.1 Despite all the burdens borne, the United States and its allies have made considerable progress. The two-decades-long war that followed the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had resulted in the comprehensive destruction of its state institutions, armed forces, and national economy. Today, the Afghan state has been reconstituted, Afghan security forces have once again become a national institution, and the economy continues to enable human development improvements while experiencing slow but positive growth. Further, fifteen years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, U.S. and allied (including Afghan) forces have dismantled, for the most part, the terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan that attacked the U.S. homeland on that fateful day.

U.S. choices about its future involvement in the country remain arguably the most crucial external factor in the evolution of both the conflict and the Afghan state.
However, significant barriers remain to securing long-term stability and prosperity in the country: the political system is marked by deep cleavages; governance is handicapped by corruption and an inability to deliver law, order, and justice across the entire territory; the Afghan military as a whole is still not effective enough against a resilient Taliban insurgency; and the economy remains dependent on large infusions of foreign aid rather than indigenous sources of growth. These internal challenges, coupled with external pressures—the persistence of deepening Afghan-Pakistani animosity, the prevalence of ongoing regional rivalries in and over Afghanistan, and the potential for donor fatigue as the Afghan conflict continues interminably—could each and together lead to the unraveling of the security, political, and economic gains chalked up since 2001. Should such reversals lead to a tipping point, the survival of the Kabul government, if not the Afghan state itself, could be at serious risk.

This precarious state of affairs suggests that the United States and its allies—who together contribute more than $5 billion annually in civilian assistance to Kabul2—have to make important decisions on how best to support Afghanistan going forward. In fact, U.S. choices about its future involvement in the country remain arguably the most crucial external factor in the evolution of both the conflict and the Afghan state. Based on an internal assessment that his strategy was slow in generating progress, if not altogether faltering, former president Barack Obama jettisoned his long-standing goal of ending the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan during his tenure and chose instead to leave crucial decisions about future U.S. aims and the means for achieving them up to his successor. Donald Trump’s administration is undertaking a review of these issues, and it is likely that policy decisions regarding troop levels and the course of future U.S. involvement in Afghanistan will be announced soon. However, given the challenges facing this White House’s national security team and the time pressures of announcing a decision at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) summit in Brussels on May 25, 2017, it is unclear whether the present audit will be comprehensive enough.

An independent effort to assess U.S. strategy in Afghanistan could accordingly prove useful, and this paper is intended to explore the fundamental strategic choices facing the United States. While the issues related to troop levels and the character of military operations are undoubtedly important, these are properly the province of government. Thus, the focus here is on scrutinizing the larger aims of future U.S. and allied involvement in Afghanistan and the policy approaches that could achieve them—not on the minutiae entailed by the alternatives.

AFGHANISTAN’S CONTINUING TRAVAILS

The future of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan cannot be effectively assessed without a closer examination of Afghanistan’s current and evolving security, political, and economic landscapes—and their impact on U.S. strategic aims. There is a broad consensus among observers of Afghanistan today that (1) the security environment in rural areas is deteriorating while the urban areas and their lines of communication remain secure despite a growing Taliban threat; (2) the political situation at the national level is poor but relatively stable, although the pervasive corruption in governmental institutions continues to take a toll on the regime’s effectiveness and legitimacy; and (3) economic conditions are difficult—with growth rates contracting as a result of the reduced foreign troop levels in country—and are unlikely to substantially or rapidly improve.

(Jeff Eggers
Jeff Eggers is a senior fellow at New America, focusing on the behavioral science of policy decisionmaking.)
There is no debate that Afghanistan is experiencing a continuing downturn in security with more than 40 percent of its districts either under Taliban control or influence or in contest.3 In February 2017, General John W. Nicholson, the four-star commander of the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the conflict in Afghanistan reflected a “stalemate.”4 The 2016 “fighting season” prevented a repeat of strategic setbacks, such as the Taliban’s takeover of Kunduz in 2015. However, the 2017 fighting season began with one of the most lethal attacks in the war, when ten Taliban fighters killed more than 150 Afghan soldiers and civilians after infiltrating an army base near Mazar-e-Sharif.5 Pessimists highlight the nonlinear nature of this struggle, the ability of the Taliban to make gains in areas where they enjoy no ethnic advantages, and the possibility of accelerated deterioration without notice or warning. Optimists point to the Afghan National Army, which has remained engaged in fighting despite suffering heavy losses; the Afghan Special Forces, which have proven themselves to be extraordinarily competent despite suffering from overextension; and widespread support for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in part because of President Ashraf Ghani’s tireless efforts to enhance their morale and national standing. In contrast, the Taliban appear to be confident about their military position, yet lack the assurance of being able to secure the victories that permitted them to enjoy the near monopoly of power they had achieved in the 1990s—a consequence of both the complexities of Afghan domestic politics and the continued international support for the ANSF and the Afghan state.6

Regardless of how the security situation is assessed, the persistence of the Taliban insurgency is perhaps still the most debilitating challenge facing the country.
Regardless of how the security situation is assessed, the persistence of the Taliban insurgency is perhaps still the most debilitating challenge facing the country; despite the expensive and concerted efforts of the United States, its international allies, and the Afghans themselves, it is far from being extinguished. According to the United Nations, with more than 11,000 civilians killed or wounded, 2016 was the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2009 when reporting began.7 The ANSF, too, suffered extraordinarily high casualties, with 6,785 killed and an additional 11,777 wounded between January and November 2016.8 Notwithstanding the valiant efforts represented by such losses, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has reported that the Afghan government today controls less than 60 percent of the country when measured by area and a little more than 60 percent of the country when measured by population.9 Although the majority of the population still remains under government control or influence, the Taliban appear to be gaining traction thanks to poor local governance and service provision, an accessible safe haven in Pakistan, continuing weaknesses in the ANSF’s combat support capabilities, and the operational limitations of many ANSF components outside of the special forces.

In contrast, the internal political situation in Afghanistan at the highest level of state is generally stable, notwithstanding the disappointing performance of the Government of National Unity (GNU) as the salvaged outcome of the 2014 presidential election. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have yet to put aside their rivalry. They remain divided over appointments—often splitting along patronage lines—as well as over electoral and power-sharing issues. However, the two leaders’ policy differences—for instance, over support for a continued international presence and engagement with Pakistan—are comparatively few. Whatever its weaknesses, the GNU’s endurance has confounded those who predicted its collapse, and it arguably remains preferable to many other alternatives.

As a result of lagging reform, the basis for political legitimacy in Afghanistan remains an atavistic patronage system, fueled in large part by U.S. and international funding.
As a result of lagging reform, the basis for political legitimacy in Afghanistan remains an atavistic patronage system, fueled in large part by U.S. and international funding. In addition, governance remains highly centralized, with district and provincial governors appointed from Kabul. As a result, corruption remains ubiquitous despite Ghani’s commitment to an anticorruption agenda. Troublingly, the Taliban have exploited the fragility and ineffectiveness of the GNU, offering a more agile form of local governance with a reputation, deserved or not, for being less prone to corruption.

Afghanistan’s economy has contracted significantly with the reduction in the international presence, resulting in a recession and less than 1 percent economic growth in 2015.10 While growth is projected to rise to 2.4 percent in 2017 and exceed 3 percent by 2019, such performance hinges on both political stability and an improved security environment. Even at such levels of accomplishment, however, government spending is deficit-financed despite nearly all security costs and half of the nonsecurity expenditures’ being funded by the international community. The longer-term opportunities for sustained growth in Afghanistan have not yet come to fruition. For example, the country is admittedly rich in natural resources—especially metals such as iron, copper, gold, cobalt, rare earth metals, and lithium—but without internal stability and a durable legal regime that effectively regulates mining, the extractive industries that could contribute to the national exchequer have not matured.

Regional trade has been another victim of both the civil war and geopolitics. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA)—vital to Afghanistan as a land-locked country—is still too limited to be transformative. The agreement does not include India, the largest regional market; the administrative barriers to bilateral trade are still extensive; and the new China-Pakistan Economic Corridor potentially weakens the promise of the APTTA even further, leaving Afghanistan with fewer opportunities than is desirable.

U.S. INTERESTS AND OBJECTIVES IN AFGHANISTAN

The preceding assessment leaves little doubt that Afghanistan confronts serious challenges in all areas of national life. Although the country has been successfully revitalized after decades of war—an outcome aided greatly by more U.S. assistance to Kabul than was extended to Europe under the Marshall Plan after the Second World War—the question of whether such support can be extended on an ongoing basis will depend greatly on the worth of U.S. interests and aims in Afghanistan. Recognizing that the threats emerging from Afghanistan have changed considerably since Congress authorized the use of military force in 2001, it is reasonable to evaluate the extent to which the original objectives have been achieved and, if not, whether these objectives remain valid.

The unprecedented trauma of the September 11 attacks prompted the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, which was intended to decimate al-Qaeda and its protectors “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.”11 As a result of unrelenting U.S. and allied military operations since then, the core of al-Qaeda has been dismantled to the point of incoherence. Despite this achievement, however, the extremist ideology embodied by al-Qaeda persists across a more diffuse movement, and there are residual fears that the resurgent Taliban insurgency could reestablish a sanctuary for transnational terrorist successors to al-Qaeda, such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State, as well as formidable regional terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which could provoke major crises involving local nuclear-armed powers India and Pakistan (or even threaten the United States itself should LeT choose to operate further afield).

Permanently eliminating the possibility of such a sanctuary constituted the core objective of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of September 11. This aim had originally mandated the defeat of the Taliban, but as success on this count proved elusive, U.S. strategy evolved by 2010 to focus on transitioning the conflict’s resolution to be an Afghan responsibility, with Washington underwriting its financial costs. Given Afghanistan’s poor infrastructure, its weaknesses in state capacity, and the intensity of the insurgency, the other initial aim of stabilizing Afghanistan—through robust economic development and transformed governance—was increasingly seen as infeasible by the beginning of Obama’s second term. By the end of his presidency, both the open-ended conflict with the Taliban and Washington’s prolonged financial commitment to Kabul became suspect.

U.S. policy going forward should aim to protect the integrity of the Afghan state and, toward that end, attempt to end the hostilities with the Taliban on acceptable terms and in ways that mitigate the threats of terrorism, instability, and conflict in the region.
President Donald Trump thus inherited a U.S. policy toward Afghanistan that was focused on building Afghan security forces while maintaining a modest unilateral counterterrorism capability against transnational threats. Obama’s original strategy sought to complete the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan by 2014. Since it turned out, however, that the ANSF proved incapable of independently holding territory against the Taliban, prolonging the presence of U.S. combat forces in the country was viewed as necessary. Effectively, then, Obama opted to let his successor determine the future of the 9,800-strong U.S. troop contingent in Afghanistan.12 Whether to build up or further reduce the force fell to the Trump administration, but the viability of Obama’s own temporizing solution was unclear: the deployed U.S. detachment is costly to maintain in absolute terms and is large enough to be perceived by the Taliban as an occupying entity, yet it is insufficient to decisively change the course of the struggle on Afghanistan’s battlefield.

Despite these challenges, Afghanistan as a foreign policy issue—or as a national security priority—was seldom raised during the 2016 presidential campaign. Further, in his February 28, 2017, address to a joint session of Congress, Trump mentioned neither the conflict nor the country, and his national security cabinet nominees were scarcely asked about Afghanistan during their confirmation hearings.

Afghanistan’s absence from the political center stage obviously reflects the crowded and more complex foreign policy landscape that currently exists—encompassing difficulties that eclipse those faced during the U.S. intervention after September 11, 2001. In this climate, the Trump administration now has the responsibility to reject or modify the view of its predecessor and take a new approach to Afghanistan. Whatever the course of action it chooses to pursue, the worthiness of the strategy will be judged on how well it incorporates the lessons learned from the campaign thus far and whether it stands a reasonable chance of achieving the United States’ desired aims.

The challenge facing Washington and its international partners in this context is defining realistic goals for Afghanistan that continue to effectively ward off the worst dangers while permitting the consolidation of gains already achieved. Because much has already been accomplished in Afghanistan—though much also remains at risk—U.S. policy going forward should aim to protect the integrity of the Afghan state and, toward that end, attempt to end the hostilities with the Taliban on acceptable terms and in ways that mitigate the threats of terrorism, instability, and conflict in the region.

CURRENT REGIONAL PERCEPTIONS OF THE AFGHAN CONFLICT

Afghanistan: Afghan political elites lament what they see as a dissolving regional consensus on Afghanistan, with powers like China, Iran, and Russia beginning to hedge against perceptions of an ascendant Taliban. By and large, Afghans agree on the need for reconciliation as a consequence of their growing fatigue with conflict. Based on a recent survey, approximately 63 percent of Afghans support a peace process as a means of stabilizing the country—although fewer people report sympathies with the armed opposition groups and more people see them as exploiting power rather than seeking to influence Afghan politics.13 The Afghan government continues to hold out hope that reconciliation with the Taliban might be possible, but it perceives Pakistan to be the principal spoiler in this regard. Relations between Kabul and Islamabad have soured since the failure of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group peace process, an effort led by Pakistan to spur talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and supported by the United States and China as observers.14 Ghani invested early political capital in this process, against the odds, and his inability to deliver has left him politically exposed and hardened against Islamabad. Given the uncertain future of reconciliation, Afghanistan desperately seeks a resolute U.S. commitment to Afghanistan to provide economic and diplomatic support, as well as assistance for Afghan national security forces through continued training, the supply of more advanced weapons, and the provision of combat support.

Pakistan: Pakistan continues to believe that only a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government will end the war in Afghanistan, since it has no faith that the United States will muster the commitment and resources to defeat the insurgency militarily. Many Pakistani officials, civilian and military, contend that even if Washington were sufficiently resolute, the Taliban are unlikely to be conclusively defeated.15 In any event, Pakistan appears determined to preserve the sanctuary that the Taliban’s leadership—the Quetta Shura—enjoys on its territory, despite the Pakistan Army’s continued effort to convince Afghanistan and the international community that it has abandoned its former policy of allowing for a distinction between the “good” and “bad” Taliban. Pakistan’s rationale for effectively sheltering the Taliban leadership is complex: whether it seeks to compel an Afghan acceptance of the Durand Line as the permanent Afghan-Pakistani border, whether it desires a hedge against either a too-close Afghan-Indian partnership or an overly hasty U.S. exit from Afghanistan, or whether it strives for influence inside the Afghan government in a postconflict settlement, Rawalpindi seems to believe that protecting the Quetta Shura could advance its interests on all these counts. The Pakistani conviction that India’s true objectives in Afghanistan lie in promoting Baluch separatism and anti-Pakistani militancy in the frontier areas only intensifies its resolve to protect what it sees as its core national security interests.

India: India blames the perpetuation of the Afghan conflict entirely on Pakistan’s uncompromising support for the Taliban. In New Delhi’s eyes, the Taliban may represent a genuine Afghan protest against the Kabul central government post–September 11, 2001, but its endurance is entirely due to Pakistani support that is intended to coerce Afghanistan even as Rawalpindi plays a double game with the United States—accepting U.S. assistance in targeting transnational terrorism while effectively shielding the Taliban. In these circumstances, India sees its nonsecurity assistance to Afghanistan as helping to stabilize the country, demonstrating solidarity with the larger international effort, and assisting a weaker Kabul in standing up to a stronger Islamabad. Successive Indian governments have encouraged the United States to steadfastly prosecute the military campaign in Afghanistan. India contends that it will support whatever the Afghan government chooses in regard to reconciliation, as long as Kabul is not coerced, the integration of the Taliban takes place through a constitutional process, and all sections of Afghan society are comfortable with the terms of reconciliation. Since New Delhi judges that these conditions do not yet exist, it strongly supports current U.S. and Afghan military operations to prevent the Taliban from being able to negotiate from a position of strength.

China: China stepped up its engagement with Afghanistan in 2011 based on a perception that the United States was likely to leave the country before its situation was stabilized. Nonetheless, China’s interests in Afghanistan remain a relatively low priority and are focused mainly on mitigating the risk to stability in western China and to its Belt and Road Initiative. The broader Chinese policy of regional noninterference has resulted in Beijing’s taking a hands-off approach to the most difficult problems of peace and order in Afghanistan. It has relied on the United States to manage these challenges, while it focuses on exploiting the modest economic opportunities that Afghanistan may offer over the long term. China’s long-standing, all-weather relationship with Pakistan, however, has placed it in a position of opposing any initiatives that come at the expense of Pakistan’s interests. It has, for example, been far more sympathetic to Islamabad’s approach to counterterrorism than Afghanistan, India, and the United States have been; and it will continue to promote reconciliation terms that closely mirror Pakistan’s own preferences while in the near term encouraging the development of a regional consensus on opposition to the Islamic State.

Russia: Given the perceived failure of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group and the relatively low levels of U.S. engagement in the current reconciliation process, Russia has begun facilitating a significant regional dialogue on Afghanistan. Its April 2017 meeting, which the United States declined to attend, convened eleven nations.16 Russia has been largely skeptical about the prospects of a U.S. military success in Afghanistan from the very beginning—a view undoubtedly colored by its own experiences in the country. Moscow’s current interest in promoting a political dialogue in Afghanistan, however, is shaped by its expectation that the United States will not remain resolute in its commitment to Afghanistan, especially in the face of supposedly rising threats from the Islamic State in the eastern parts of the country.17 As a consequence, Moscow appears tempted to curry favor with the Taliban, engaging the insurgents as part of its strategy to checkmate the Islamic State and limit the latter’s capacity to expand its operations into Central Asia and eventually Russia itself. Other views of recent Russian actions are less forgiving: some see them as consistent with Russia’s more assertive strategy in Syria, where Moscow effectively intervened in order to back a preferred proxy and contain U.S. influence. In any event, Afghanistan has evoked relatively good cooperation between Washington and Moscow, despite their bilateral relationship deteriorating over the Ukraine crisis. At the moment, Moscow is likely waiting to see how U.S. policy on Russia might shift under the Trump administration.

Iran: Iranian policy on Afghanistan is principally based on hedging against both the Islamic State and U.S. policy toward Tehran. Because of the latter consideration, Iran tacitly supported the Taliban intermittently during the last decade, despite its distaste for the Taliban’s brand of Islam and determined political opposition to them during the late 1990s.18 Since hurting the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan was viewed—particularly by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—as a means of punishing the United States itself, some factions of the Iranian state provided low levels of support for Taliban operations, even though Tehran itself has been supportive of the Afghan state and its U.S.-led reconstruction after the September 11 attacks. As the vanguard of Shia Islam, the Iranian regime has been only mildly less opposed to the Deobandi-inspired Afghan Taliban than it has been to the ideological extremism of Salafi-based groups such as the Islamic State. The Iranians see the latter as part of a Saudi ideological project to counter Shia influence, so they are extremely resistant to Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council involvement in Afghanistan—although this remains a lower priority issue than other concerns, such as narcotics and water rights. In general, Iran is skeptical about U.S. success in Afghanistan, and while it might be willing to accept reconciliation as a solution in Afghanistan, much will depend on the terms and on the power any agreement may bestow on the Taliban.

U.S. POLICY OPTIONS GOING FORWARD

Given the continuing difficulties, there are a variety of alternative strategies that the United States could pursue in Afghanistan—some obviously better than others—if Washington is to achieve its minimal goal of protecting the Afghan state so as to mitigate the threats of terrorism, instability, and conflict in the region. The options iterated below, based on what frequently surfaces in public discussions, are summarily assessed and categorized with reference to their effectiveness and feasibility in advancing this objective.

Regional Approaches
A Regional Solution to End the Proxy War. If the Afghan conflict is viewed as a consequence of the India-Pakistan rivalry—one that cannot be solved without first engineering a rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad (not to mention Rawalpindi)—the United States ought to invest in achieving a permanent South Asian peace (as Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had originally intended). This solution, however, is misconceived: it fails to account for Afghanistan’s own territorial problem with Pakistan—whose roots predate the latter’s dispute with India—and, in any case, is too difficult to achieve in the short term in ways that would improve the current trajectory of the conflict in Afghanistan. Another version of this option is the concept of regional neutrality, wherein Afghanistan gradually exits its current security-based partnerships in favor of implementing a cooperative security agreement signed by all neighbors and near-neighbors. This solution, however, is more implausible than it initially appears, as Kabul—without assistance from Washington—would have difficulty enforcing such an agreement if it were violated by one or more of Afghanistan’s neighbors.
Pressuring of Pakistan to Squeeze the Taliban. This option derives from the view that the war in Afghanistan is perpetuated by the Pakistan Army’s policies—in particular, its search for “strategic depth”—which results in Rawalpindi’s support for a Taliban sanctuary within Pakistan’s borders.19 A solution aimed at pressuring Pakistan would accordingly require Washington to use all its levers of influence, persuasive and coercive, to compel Pakistan to either give up protecting the Taliban leadership or force it to negotiate with Kabul. The logic underlying this solution is straightforward: the history of counterinsurgency campaigns suggests that the presence of a neighboring sanctuary is one of the key factors accounting for either success or failure. Operationalizing this insight in the case of Pakistan, however, is exceptionally difficult, because it requires Washington to convince Rawalpindi to do something that it judges to be against its own interests, even as the United States—given the absence of alternatives such as Iran—remains dependent on Pakistan for the security of its ground and air lines of communication to Afghanistan. Consequently, pressuring Pakistan to squeeze the Taliban can only be part of a larger approach rather than an independent strategy for achieving even the current, more limited, U.S. aims in Afghanistan.
Unilateral Approaches
Major Military Escalation. Akin to what was favored by many U.S. military officers in 2009 during the first Obama term, returning to a fully resourced counterinsurgency campaign that could sufficiently debilitate the Taliban-led insurgency—thus allowing for expanded governmental reach and a security apparatus that could safeguard the state from Taliban remnants—would require a sizeable increase in U.S. and allied military forces deployed to Afghanistan and intensive operations that could last for many more years, if not decades. Such an effort would have to include confronting the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan far more resolutely than has been the case so far. Whatever the merits of such an effort in the abstract may be, its moment has now passed because of the strong American disenchantment with expensive foreign wars. Moreover, the demands of such a strategy are beyond what the international community can currently organize, and its past failures in shaping the sociopolitical environment in Afghanistan, ending local corruption, and revitalizing good governance suggest that the complementary factors for military success may lie beyond reach as well. These impediments may well be endemic and not simply the result of incompetence. At any rate, even the threat of resurgent Islamist terrorism in Afghanistan today is unlikely to motivate the United States to embark on a major escalation of the conflict when the demands of nation building at home are judged to be far more onerous in comparison.
Complete Disengagement. A strategy of complete withdrawal of military forces along with a sharp diminution of external assistance—gradually or suddenly—represents the polar opposite of major escalation. Such a strategy could be implemented if the administration were to recast its war aims, declare the primary goal of the original U.S. intervention—the evisceration of al-Qaeda—complete, and announce its intention to concentrate on terrorism at U.S. borders and internally, particularly given the homegrown threat. Such an approach, however, is risky because it could result in the catastrophic collapse of the Afghan government and state, leading to either a return to anarchy or the recrudescence of radical groups within the country. Proponents of this option would rather accept this risk than endure the costs of the status quo, given that the current course could produce eventual failure all the same but at a much higher expense. However, because complete disengagement could produce greater threats to the U.S. homeland over time and because path dependency often leads to an organic preference for the status quo, the administration is unlikely to countenance this course of action without some assurance of either a prospective political settlement or the option to quickly return to counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan should circumstances demand it.
Limited Approaches
Political Settlement. A strategy of seeking a political settlement in Afghanistan would require the United States to more concertedly pursue what it has not yet done: protecting the Afghan state and the gains achieved since September 11, 2001, by actively pursuing reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban in order to integrate them into the Afghan political system and thereby end the current civil war. It is conceivable, although it is not yet proven, that this approach could maintain and secure U.S. interests vis-à-vis transnational terrorist groups, whose relationships with the Taliban range from breakable (al-Qaeda) to opposing (Islamic State), as well as other regional terrorist organizations (LeT) that could precipitate major crises. Achieving this objective would require the United States to preserve some means of conducting counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, even as it pursues a political settlement with formidable operational challenges.
Status Quo Plus. This approach assumes that the current strategy is generally effective but requires more time and some material reinforcement. Pursuing this approach would entail a modest expansion in the U.S. troop presence in terms of both its overall numbers and authorities, especially in regard to permitting greater combat support for the ANSF; increased pressure on Pakistan to eliminate the insurgent sanctuary; continued financial support for the Afghan government and its security forces; ongoing encouragement of the Afghan state’s political, governance, and economic reforms; and opportunistic engagement with the Taliban in pursuit of reconciliation if and when conditions prove propitious. The status quo plus approach, in essence, would reinforce all the current international lines of effort vis-à-vis Afghanistan to enable further strengthening of the Afghan state and to allow new opportunities for success as time goes by.
Enduring Counterterrorism Partnership. The third limited option could be developing a long-term, open-ended partnership with Kabul focused predominantly, if not solely, on the United States’ primary issue of concern: counterterrorism. In this scenario, U.S. Special Operations Forces would continue to target global and regional terrorist groups from permanent U.S. bases inside Afghanistan. But, under this strategy, the United States would reduce all its other investments—military, economic, and diplomatic—for rebuilding the Afghan state, offering to the state only those benefits that arise from either the limited U.S. counterterrorism presence or the efforts aimed at targeting common enemies, including the Taliban. This strategic choice, obviously, would reduce the overall financial burdens of engagement with Afghanistan, except for those costs associated with sustaining the permanent, counterterrorism military presence, most likely at the Bagram air base.
ASSESSING THE STRATEGIES

No extended analysis is required to conclude that neither regional nor unilateral approaches alone would satisfy U.S. strategic interests at this juncture. No regional or unilateral strategy by itself would be sufficient to protect and strengthen the Afghan state either through conflict termination or a successful counterinsurgency effort.

The regional strategies are simply too difficult, too lengthy, too indirect, and too unpredictable, even if Washington were to invest heavily in them. For example, Islamabad has strong incentives to protect the Taliban in order to secure leverage over Kabul while simultaneously having the capacity to resist U.S. pressure as a result of Washington’s dependence on Islamabad for connectivity to Afghanistan. The only solutions that potentially could sever this Gordian Knot are a U.S. surrender to Pakistan, permitting its proxies free rein in Afghanistan at Kabul’s expense, or a confrontation with Pakistan by all means necessary, including military force. The former remedy would likely provoke a major regional crisis involving many of Afghanistan’s neighbors, whereas the latter would involve armed clashes between the United States and Pakistan. The different risks inherent in each solution, therefore, make them unlikely to be the preferred courses of action in Washington.

The unilateral approaches are just as problematic for other reasons. Today, there is little appetite in the United States for a major escalation in Afghanistan when it appears that much of the transnational threat from within the country has been diminished or displaced by homegrown dangers. The Taliban is undoubtedly viewed as a distasteful force, but summoning the will and the resources to defeat it militarily through a long, high-intensity counterinsurgency campaign seems beyond what the political climate in the United States can currently bear. Completely disengaging from Afghanistan, however, is equally problematic because it foregoes an opportunity to manage the risks to the homeland, however small they might appear today.

There is, however, an influential group of senior policymakers in the Trump administration who, despite the president’s highly publicized concerns about radical Islam, are inclined toward disengagement because the costs of the Afghan conflict are viewed as prohibitive at a time when the terrorist groups capable of targeting the United States have been marginalized. President Trump himself likely holds such views, if his 2012 remarks about Afghanistan being “a complete and total disaster” are any indication.20 Obviously, it is well recognized that the Taliban’s return to dominance might provide new opportunities for resuscitating inveterate enemies of the United States, but the issue boils down to the high costs of sustaining a campaign against a political foe that is unlikely to directly target the U.S. homeland and whether a more effective—and cheaper—strategy for protecting the nation can be identified. Because the latter cannot be guaranteed, and also due to the momentum of previous policy choices, those in the administration advocating for continued involvement could carry the day for now, but the larger trend is clear: the United States seems increasingly uncomfortable with spending approximately $23 billion annually—more than $5 billion in aid to Kabul with the remainder in support of U.S. military operations—to support an open-ended conflict.21 Consequently, the search for limited approaches will only grow in intensity over time.

The simplest of the more limited approaches is shifting toward a long-term presence in Afghanistan—one centered on counterterrorism. The advantages of such a posture to the United States are self-evident. Washington would enjoy an enduring presence in Afghanistan, which could be used for continuous targeting of current (and any future) militant groups that might threaten U.S. interests while advancing other U.S. regional objectives in an unsettled part of the world. And it would provide the Afghan state with the psychological benefits of a durable U.S. commitment, which could dissuade the Taliban from believing that they could wait out the U.S. and international presence that justifies spurning current Afghan offers of reconciliation. Moreover, such a posture would be much less costly and perhaps acceptable to those who chafe at the current burdens imposed by the Afghan war on Washington.

However, the disadvantages of this limited strategy are significant. For starters, the narrow focus would mean a sharp reduction in U.S. economic and political assistance, which would further weaken the Afghan government’s capacity to cope with the insurgency—thus making the objective of containing the Taliban even more difficult to achieve. The prospect of a near-permanent U.S. presence in the country, moreover, could further perpetuate the conflict at varying levels of intensity rather than work toward its resolution. These consequences would make a U.S. strategy anchored on pure counterterrorism unappealing for any Afghan government, which would perceive it as bringing major disadvantages for Kabul, whatever the benefits may be for Washington. The fact that a lighter counterterrorism footprint would not suffice to limit any serious Taliban advances—because the Americans committed to this mission would likely remain more focused on force protection rather than concerted terrorism targeting—would only intensify Afghan disenchantment with such an approach. Finally, although a counterterrorism-centered strategy is indeed cheaper than any other limited option, it would not be long before the U.S. political system tired of even such a moderately burdensome commitment if it neither protected the Afghan state effectively nor coped adequately with the terrorist threats in the region. The initial attractiveness of the counterterrorism strategy, therefore, evaporates when tested against the twin demands of credibility and feasibility.

If the foregoing arguments are persuasive, the limited approaches left for the United States in Afghanistan are some modified version of the status quo or a more concerted effort at securing a political settlement. Both strategies have important similarities but also significant differences. The status quo plus approach—which could turn out to be the default approach for the Trump administration if the president sticks to his campaign commitment to keep American troops in Afghanistan even though he would “hate doing it”22—requires a modest injection of additional troops into Afghanistan for an indeterminate duration. The principal mission of all U.S. forces would remain the training of their Afghan counterparts, but the provision of additional authorities would permit U.S. commanders to offer specific assistance in combat support, medical evacuation, and surveillance and targeting when required by Afghan contingents to arrest the loss of territorial control to insurgents.

Overall, this strategy would involve maintaining U.S. commitment to the transition plans agreed to at the 2016 Warsaw NATO Summit: the United States would provide military and economic assistance to Kabul through 2020, after which both its assistance funding and its troop presence would presumably decline. The key distinguishing feature of the status quo plus approach is that even if the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has not been entirely successful in defeating the insurgency and building a robust Afghan state, suitably bolstering the current course of action offers opportunities to repair present deficiencies and exploit new opportunities for political and military success. The risks associated with this approach are that the United States could be plowing more resources into a strategy that has not yet borne, and may never bear, full fruit.

The status quo plus approach includes space for seeking a widely acceptable political settlement that might end the conflict with the Taliban. It does not, however, prioritize reconciliation because of the expectation that a negotiated suspension of hostilities is currently implausible. The reluctance to emphasize peace talks is also colored by the fear that an early negotiation will redound to Kabul’s disadvantage if it is undertaken at a time when the current stalemate hurts the Afghan state more than it burdens the Taliban. The format of the existing reconciliation process does not serve to advance the effort either. To begin with, the Afghan government is formally the sole interlocutor with the Taliban, but the latter are contemptuous of Kabul and seek to negotiate only with Washington. Furthermore, Kabul has little incentive to seriously negotiate with the Taliban as long as it is assured continued U.S. economic, political, and military support; this support permits Afghan leaders to delay any efforts at rapprochement in the expectation that prospective military success will strengthen their negotiating hand. Finally, the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan has made Rawalpindi—backed by Chinese support—a critical intermediary in the reconciliation process, and Pakistani objectives here are far from benign: rather than compelling the Taliban to seek peace with Kabul, thereby bringing the conflict to an end, the Pakistan Army seeks to use the insurgents to extort concessions from the Afghan government to include limitations on cooperation with India and acceptance of what Pakistan sees as its legitimate security interests in Afghanistan.23

A widespread desire to end the war in Afghanistan, however, does not automatically guarantee an acceptable settlement.
Some of these handicaps could be mitigated by making a political settlement a critical line of effort for the first time in U.S. strategy, especially if the Afghan conflict could be resolved in a manner that also secures U.S. counterterrorism interests. A political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan has been discussed for more than a decade, but it has only gained momentum in recent years due to the international community and Afghans becoming increasingly tired of the conflict. In the past, reconciliation suffered because it was an ancillary element of allied strategy, not a purposeful goal. Making it the targeted, rather than incidental, objective of policy going forward may offer promise; the Afghan government’s recent deal with the Hezb-e-Islami militant group provides small but meaningful confidence that a political dialogue is possible.24

A widespread desire to end the war in Afghanistan, however, does not automatically guarantee an acceptable settlement. Success in this regard will require many elements of the status quo plus approach, including continued economic, political, and military assistance to the Afghan government; but these investments must be shaped by the ultimate objective of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and achieving a political settlement that is acceptable to all sides in order to protect the Afghan state. This strategy is plausible insofar as the Taliban are already in conflict with the Islamic State, have claimed a willingness to break formally with al-Qaeda, and appear interested in exploring reconciliation on the condition that it eventually results in the exit of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. The obstacles to any meaningful accomplishment, however, cannot be overstated. For starters, it remains to be confirmed that the Taliban’s strategic aims are focused merely on ending the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan as a prelude to peaceful integration into the Afghan polity. If they are, a feasible deal involving the Afghan government, the United States, and the international community could be crafted to allow for the eventual departure of foreign forces after the requirements of counterterrorism and enforcing a peace agreement are satisfied. If not, and the Taliban’s actual aim is to forcibly secure political control in the south and east or undermine or take over the Afghan state writ large, the prospects for a negotiated settlement are dim. Obviously, there is no way to confirm the Taliban’s intentions outside of negotiations, and in this sense, a deliberately targeted process—as an activity alongside strengthening the Afghan state—emerges as a sensible path.

If the U.S. administration chooses to reorient its strategy to prioritize a settlement, five specific actions should be undertaken. First, the U.S. government should revamp its decisionmaking processes to ensure that the totality of U.S. investments in Afghanistan—to include military operations—are oriented toward bringing the Taliban into the negotiating process. This will require the closest political coordination with the Afghan government as well as with the senior U.S. and NATO military commander in Afghanistan—a task that should be the formal responsibility of an empowered U.S. ambassador in Kabul enjoying all the appropriate authorities, resources, and staff necessary for success. Because accomplishing the goal of protecting the Afghan state by ending the conflict will require “high degrees of agility, nuance, and local understanding in a dynamic, complex, and competitive environment,”25 Kabul, rather than Washington, should become the locus for policy implementation, and the ambassador, as the “czar” overseeing all U.S. activity in Afghanistan, must enjoy the autonomy to make the decisions necessary to realize the administration’s objectives without micromanagement by Washington.

Second, Washington should press Kabul to begin a broad intra-Afghan dialogue on the aims and terms of political reconciliation with the Taliban. Although most Afghans seek some sort of settlement to end the current conflict, there are deep divisions among them about the stipulations that would govern reconciliation. Creating a consensus will be critical if a sustainable political settlement is to be achieved. This will require bringing together not only all the various ethnic groups represented in the polity but also key societal constituencies, such as women, ideally in a consultation process that encompasses the provincial, regional, and national levels. Such a conversation will provide an opportunity for ordinary Afghans to define the kind of peace they seek, clarify the kind of compromises they are willing to accept in any negotiation with the Taliban, and develop strategies to ensure that the reconciliation process actually delivers on its promises. Involving the entire range of stakeholders in multiple consultations that would eventually lead up to a loya jirga (grand assembly) that ratifies the consensus is essential to ensure the sustainability of any negotiated peace with the Taliban.

Third, Washington should acknowledge that it is an active participant in the conflict with the Taliban and, as such, prepare to enter into direct talks with the insurgent leadership for the purposes of ending the war and ensuring the success of the broader intra-Afghan dialogue. Engaging in direct parleys with the Taliban allows the United States to minimize the importance of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group’s efforts, which have diminished considerably in importance, while simultaneously driving a deeper wedge between the Quetta Shura and Rawalpindi to exploit their different interests.26 Any direct U.S. conversations with the Taliban, however, will require Washington and Kabul to coordinate much more closely to prevent their own differences, if any, from stymieing any genuine opportunities for progress. Moreover, given that the reconciliation dialogue should remain formally Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, continual negotiations between Kabul and Washington on the aims, terms, and limits of the settlement process will be necessary. Although the United States and Afghanistan are allies in the conflict with the Taliban, it is surprising how uncoordinated the two nations’ strategies have been thus far. If reconciliation is to offer a viable exit from the war, the chasm between Washington and Kabul will have to be bridged with alacrity.

Washington should acknowledge that it is an active participant in the conflict with the Taliban and, as such, prepare to enter into direct talks with the insurgent leadership for the purposes of ending the war and ensuring the success of the broader intra-Afghan dialogue.
Fourth, the United States will have to make difficult decisions about whether to target the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, even while engaged in a political dialogue. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. Thus far, the United States has resisted interdicting the Quetta Shura, except for former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was seen as implacably opposed to negotiations. Because there is no assurance that direct discussions with the Taliban will bear fruit, Washington should remain willing to target their leadership whenever required, thereby undermining the protection of their sanctuary to either push them to the negotiating table or compel them to stay there. The imperative of targeting the shura may in fact increase in urgency if the Taliban leadership concludes that their current military successes on the battlefield liberate them from the alternative of having to explore any reconciliation that may end up in a compromise with the Afghan state.

Fifth, any effort at seeking a political settlement in Afghanistan will require soliciting regional cooperation for success. All of Afghanistan’s immediate and extended neighbors will be content to support a U.S. effort at pursuing reconciliation with the Taliban so long as their own particular interests are protected. Thus, for example, Iran, Russia, and China would support a negotiated settlement with the Taliban as long as the ensuing agreement contributes toward both defeating the threat posed by the Islamic state and ensuring that the Taliban would not support (or offer succor to) radical Sunni groups intent on destabilizing their own countries. Even India could support reconciliation under such conditions, but because it is unclear how such restraint would be enforced, New Delhi would prefer that Afghan moderates control the process of Taliban reintegration (or, at the very least, that it occur through a constitutional process that most Afghans are comfortable with).

The main challenge to successful reconciliation, other than the Taliban’s preferences itself, will continue to be Pakistan. Rawalpindi would obviously support reconciliation in principle, but it desires an outcome that guarantees to its Taliban clients a share of national power through negotiation in the hope that this result would protect its strategic interests vis-à-vis both Afghanistan and India. Because this result is not at all guaranteed, persuading Pakistan to lean on the Quetta Shura to participate in reconciliation will prove to be an uphill task. While Washington should use more coercion to supplement the inducements long offered toward this end, U.S. leverage on Rawalpindi in actuality is quite limited. The only strategy that stands some chance of success in these circumstances is appealing to Rawalpindi’s self-interest: should the United States fail to secure a political settlement in Afghanistan with Pakistani cooperation, the possible U.S. exit from the country would further exacerbate the conflict in Afghanistan. This, in turn, would only deepen Afghan-Indian cooperation to Pakistan’s even greater disadvantage; further secure the Afghan sanctuary for extremist groups attacking Pakistan; and, by creating stronger incentives for all the regional powers to meddle in Afghan politics in order to protect their own interests, guarantee a much more turbulent western frontier—all with added burdens for Pakistan’s security. Since there is no assurance that Rawalpindi will be moved by even the threat of such outcomes—given that Pakistan can confidently count on China’s assistance for larger geopolitical reasons—Washington can only hope to mitigate Rawalpindi’s obduracy as best it can while it continues to pursue a political settlement in Afghanistan.

All these considerations collectively illuminate how difficult the path to political reconciliation with the Taliban will be. Furthermore, even if the strategy of prioritizing a political settlement is ultimately successful, it is unlikely to produce meaningful results in the near term. The process itself could go on for years and will experience considerable vicissitudes along the way. Significant oscillations are in fact inevitable because of the deep chasms that currently exist on many substantive issues. For example, can the Taliban’s insistence on the exit of all foreign forces be reconciled with the Afghan government’s desire for some long-term U.S. military presence to ensure Afghanistan’s geopolitical independence and to hedge against a resurgence of terrorism and a renewed Taliban insurgency? Can the Taliban’s vision of an Islamic emirate be subordinated to the Afghan polity’s desire to preserve an Islamic republic? Can the Pakistani desire for integrating the Taliban into the Afghan government as insurance for protecting its interests be reconciled with the Afghan determination to avoid strategic subordination to Pakistan at all costs?

The status quo plus approach thus provides a critical backstop to the political settlement process as well as a safety net should the attempts at dialogue fail.
These and many more substantive issues are certain to bedevil any reconciliation initiative. Some issues could be resolved by procedural solutions such as the proper sequencing of political commitments, the incorporation of conditional reciprocity, and even possibly the introduction of third-party mediation at the appropriate juncture. But the very real obstacles to success cannot be overlooked at a time when many states in the region have not only different views about what a successful political settlement should look like but also the capability to impede the outcomes desired by various factions within Afghanistan. For all these reasons, any approach centered on reconciliation cannot be pursued in isolation; a parallel effort to strengthen the Afghan state, especially its military capabilities, and to press Pakistan to change its current strategic behavior, will be essential. The status quo plus approach thus provides a critical backstop to the political settlement process as well as a safety net should the attempts at dialogue fail.

NOTES

1 Heidi M. Peters, Moshe Schwartz, and Lawrence Kapp, “Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Iraq and Afghanistan: 2007-2017,”Congressional Research Service, April 28, 2017, 4, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R44116.pdf.

2 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Quarterly Report to the United States Congress (Washington, DC: SIGAR, January 30, 2017) 4.

3 Ibid, 90.

4 The Situation in Afghanistan: Hearing Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 115th Cong. (2017) (statement of General John W. Nicholson, Commander U.S. Forces-Afghanistan).

5 Christina Lamb, “150 Feared Killed in Taliban Raid on Afghan Military Base,” Times, April 23, 2017, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/150-feared-killed-in-taliban-raid-on-afghan-military-base-lf6b07rzm.

6 Borhan Osman and Anand Gopal, “Taliban Views on a Future State,” New York University Center on International Cooperation, July 2016, http://cic.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/taliban_future_state_final.pdf.

7 UN News Center, “UN Renews Call for Protection of Afghan Civilians, After Casualty Figures Spike in 2016,” United Nations, February 6, 2017, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56113#.WRNWUhMrJhE.

8 SIGAR, Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, 98.

9 Ibid, 90.

10 World Bank, “Afghanistan Overview,” World Bank, accessed May 16, 2017, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/afghanistan/overview.

11 Richard F. Grimmet, “Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Response to the 9/11 Attacks (P.L. 107-40): Legislative History,”Congressional Research Service, updated January 6, 2007, 1–6, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22357.pdf.

12 Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan, “The U.S. Was Supposed to Leave Afghanistan by 2017. Now It Might Take Decades,” Washington Post, January 26, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/01/26/the-u-s-was-supposed-to-leave-afghanistan-by-2017-now-it-might-take-decades/.

13 Zachary Warren, John Rieger, Charlotte E. Maxwell-Jones, and Nancy Kelly, eds., A Survey of the Afghan People: Afghanistan in 2016 (Washington, DC: Asia Foundation, 2016), 7.

14 Catherine Putz, “Afghanistan’s Biggest Problem: Relations With Pakistan,” Diplomat, July 26, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/07/afghanistans-biggest-problem-relations-with-pakistan/.

15 Ayaz Gul, “Pakistan Rejects US Blame for Not Doing Enough to End Afghan War,” Voice of America, May 20, 2016, http://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-reacts-sharply-to-afghan-related-us-accusations/3338994.html.

16 “US Skips Out on Afghanistan-Taliban conference in Moscow,” Deutsche Welle, April 14, 2017, http://www.dw.com/en/us-skips-out-on-afghanistan-taliban-conference-in-moscow/a-38426486.

17 Lauren McNally, et al., The Islamic State in Afghanistan: Examining Its Threat to Stability, (Washington, DC: Middle East Institute, 2016), 1–24; and Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Missy Ryan, “Two U.S. Troops Die Battling Islamic State in Eastern Afghanistan,” Washington Post, April 28, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/two-us-troops-die-battling-islamic-state-militants-in-eastern-afghanistan/2017/04/27/14879ad8-2b55-11e7-be51-b3fc6ff7faee_story.html?utm_term=.d9c59903ed36.

18 Margherita Stancati, “Iran Backs Taliban With Cash and Arms,” Wall Street Journal,June 11, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-backs-taliban-with-cash-and-arms-1434065528.

19 An insightful discussion of Pakistan’s search for “strategic depth” can be found in C. Christine Fair, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 103–35.

20 Cited in Doug Bandow, “The Nation-Building Experiment That Failed: Time for U.S. to Leave Afghanistan,” Forbes, March 1, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2017/03/01/the-nation-building-experiment-that-failed-time-for-u-s-to-leave-afghanistan/#735f797065b2.

21 Amy Belasco, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” Congressional Research Service, December 8, 2014, 14, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf.

22 Donald Trump, interview by Bill O’Reilly, The O’Reilly Factor, Fox News, April 28, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/transcript/2016/04/29/donald-trump-on-his-foreign-policy-strategy.

23 Fair, Fighting to the End, 103–35.

24 “Afghanistan: Hezb-i-Islami Armed Group Signs Peace Deal,” Al Jazeera, September 22, 2016,http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/gulbuddin-hekmatyar-group-signs-afghan-peace-deal-160922093420326.html.

25 Christopher D. Kolenda, “Focused Engagement: A New Way Forward in Afghanistan,” Center for a New American Security, February 21, 2017, 13, https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/focused-engagement.

26 Halimullah Kousary, “The Afghan Peace Talks, QCG and the China-Pakistan Role,” Diplomat, July 8, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/07/the-afghan-peace-talks-qcg-and-china-pakistan-role/; and Abubakar Siddique, “Are the Taliban Falling Apart?” Gandhara, October 27, 2016, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-are-the-taliban-falling-apart/28078306.html.

(ABOUT THE TATA CHAIR FOR STRATEGIC AFFAIRS

The Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs focuses on the pressing international security challenges of the emerging world order, especially U.S. foreign policy and relationships in Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The Chair was established in April 2017 in recognition of Ratan N. Tata’s leadership on Carnegie’s Board of Trustees and his role in taking Indian industry beyond its national borders to create a global brand, emphasizing innovation as the hallmark of commercial success, and contributing to the building of U.S.-India ties.
http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/05/22/u.s.-policy-in-afghanistan-changing-strategies-preserving-gains-pub-70027)

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WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange ‘We Believe in What We’re Doing’-Interview Conducted by Michael Sontheimer

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2016 Comments Off on WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange ‘We Believe in What We’re Doing’-Interview Conducted by Michael Sontheimer
(FILES) This file photo taken on February 05, 2016 shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) addressing the media and supporters from the balcony of Ecuador's embassy in central London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faced another setback in his legal stand-off with Sweden Friday after an appeals court rejected his request to lift an arrest warrant for him over a 2010 rape accusation. / AFP PHOTO / Jack Taylor / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY Pia OHLIN

(FILES) This file photo taken on February 05, 2016 shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) addressing the media and supporters from the balcony of Ecuador’s embassy in central London.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faced another setback in his legal stand-off with Sweden Friday after an appeals court rejected his request to lift an arrest warrant for him over a 2010 rape accusation. / AFP PHOTO / Jack Taylor / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY Pia OHLIN

WikiLeaks is now 10 years old. SPIEGEL met with founder Julian Assange, 45, to discuss the whistleblower platform’s achievements and whether recent criticism leveled at the site is justified.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Assange, 10 years after the founding of WikiLeaks, the whistleblower platform is again being criticized. WikiLeaks is said to have put millions of Turkish voters in danger. What is your response?

Assange: A few days after the publication of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, an entirely false story was put out that we had published the names, addresses and phone numbers of all female voters in Turkey. It is completely false. And it was and is simple to check. Power factions fight back with lies. That’s not surprising.

SPIEGEL: Quite a few German journalists have long sympathized with WikiLeaks and also with Edward Snowden. But they aren’t impressed with the publishing of the DNC emails. Are you campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump?

Assange: Our publication of the DNC leaks has showed that the Democratic National Committee had effectively rigged the primaries in the United States on behalf of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. That led to the resignation of leading members of the DNC, including its president Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

SPIEGEL: People within the Clinton campaign have suggested that the DNC emails were given to you by the Russian secret service.

Assange: There have been many attempts to distract from the power of our publications. Hillary Clinton is the favorite to win. As always, most media aligns with the presumptive winner even though their claimed societal virtue is to investigate those in power.

SPIEGEL: The fact is, WikiLeaks is damaging Clinton and bolstering Trump.

Assange: We’re not going to start censoring our publications because there is a US election. Our role is to publish. Clinton has been in government so we have much more to publish on Clinton. There is a lot of naivety. The US presidency will continue to represent the major power groups of the United States — big business and the military — regardless of who the talking head is.

SPIEGEL: If someone submitted internal documents from the Trump campaign or the Republican Party, you would publish that as well?

Assange: Yes, of course. That’s what we do.

SPIEGEL: The German newsmagazine Focus has even has accused WikiLeaks of publishing NSA documents and other documents that have been forged by the Russian secret service. What’s your comment on that?

Assange: The claims are not credible. Even the US government had to come out and say that they have no evidence of a link to WikiLeaks. I exposed the same German magazine back in 2008 as having been extensively penetrated by the BND (Eds. note: Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German foreign intelligence agency). We listed the times and dates of 58 contacts that a Focus journalist had with the BND.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t WikiLeaks vulnerable because it isn’t possible for you to check and verify every single document submitted and to find possibly forged documents?

Assange: We have a perfect record in detecting forgeries and, unlike the traditional press, we publish every document so everyone else can check too. WikiLeaks is literally the worst place in the world to try and plant a false story.

SPIEGEL: Would WikiLeaks publish material about corruption in the Russian leadership?

Assange: Yes. In fact we have already published more than 650,000 documents on Russia and President Vladimir Putin, most of which was critical. A number of highly critical books were written using this material, like “The Mafia State” by the Guardian journalist Luke Harding. The documents have also gone on to be used in a number of significant litigations, including the Yukos case.

SPIEGEL: How can you prevent WikiLeaks from being taken advantage of in the global war of information?

Assange: Our editorial criteria are public and they have been the same for about eight years. If a source gives us material that is of political, diplomatic, ethical or historical significance that has not been published before and is comprised of official documents or recordings, then we will publish it. Is the majority of our material in English? Yes. But that is a resource constraint. Most of our submissions are in English because most of our readers speak English.

SPIEGEL: On Oct. 4, 2006, you registered the domain name www.wikileaks.org. What have you accomplished since then?

Assange: WikiLeaks has published over 10 million documents in 10 years. Most have been published over the last six years, during which time I have been illegally detained, without charge, in the United Kingdom.

SPIEGEL: You have received political asylum from the government of Ecuador, but have been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last four years. British authorities would like to arrest you and extradite you for interrogation to Sweden. Hasn’t this situation handicapped WikiLeaks?

Assange: While many of the established media make losses or go bankrupt, WikiLeaks has survived a major conflict with a superpower, including an unlawful economic blockade by its banks and credit card companies and the detention of its editor. We have no debts. We have not had to fire staff. We have never lost a court case related to our publishing. We have never been forced to censor. Adversity has hardened us. We’re 10 now. Just wait until we’re teenagers.

SPIEGEL: What has been WikiLeaks’ most important publication?

Assange: The most important publication of WikiLeaks is that it has published more than 10 million documents. The most important single collection of material we have published is the US diplomatic cable series. We started with 251,000 in 2011, but are up to 3 million now and have more coming.

SPIEGEL: What have been the shortcomings of WikiLeaks? What would you like to improve?

Assange: Resources. Has WikiLeaks been forced to do one thing rather than another in response to resource constraints? Yes. Constantly.

SPIEGEL: For example?

Assange: For example, resource constraints forced us to deal with politically compromised publications like the New York Times in order to harness their distribution networks.

SPIEGEL: Do you regret the fact that you no longer have a cooperation with established papers like the New York Times or the Guardian — and that WikiLeaks is even criticized by liberal papers?

Assange: We have subsequently worked with journalists from both papers. Liberal papers are not necessarily liberal. We have excellent relations and contracts with more than 110 media organizations from all over the world. We aggressively enforce our agreements.

SPIEGEL: Your source Chelsea Manning, a US soldier, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Edward Snowden is stuck in Moscow. And you are stuck here in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. How can whistleblowers come to terms with such setbacks?

Assange: Let us not compare Edward Snowden’s situation with that of Chelsea Manning or Jeremy Hammond, who is also imprisoned in the United States. As a result of WikiLeaks’ hard work, Edward Snowden has political asylum, has travel documents, lives with his girlfriend, goes to the ballet and earns substantial speaking fees. Edward Snowden is essentially free and happy. That is no coincidence. It was my strategy to undo the chilling effect of the 35 year Manning sentence and it has worked.

SPIEGEL: Given all the pressure that you and those you work with are facing, how do you keep going?

Assange: We believe in what we are doing. It’s very satisfying. It’s extremely interesting intellectually. Sometimes great moments of justice come out of it. In one case, a man falsely accused left prison thanks to a publication of ours. A lot of people who work for WikiLeaks have the same instinct as me: If you are pushed you push back.

URL:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-we-believe-in-what-we-re-doing-a-1114774.html
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-we-believe-in-what-we-re-doing-a-1114774-druck.html

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India tries to hasten US defense deals amid election uncertainty-Sanjeev Miglani and Rupam Jain

Posted by admin On October - 6 - 2016 Comments Off on India tries to hasten US defense deals amid election uncertainty-Sanjeev Miglani and Rupam Jain

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi following a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington June 7. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is trying to hasten a deal with the United States to buy Predator drone aircraft for military surveillance, one of several defense and nuclear projects the two sides are pursuing in the final months of the Obama administration.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi following a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington June 7. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
India’s request for 22 Predator Guardian drones made in June is in an advanced stage of negotiations. The two sides hope to make enough progress so only administrative tasks remain by the time President Barack Obama leaves office, government officials in New Delhi said.

“It is progressing well. The aim is to complete the main process in the next few months,” said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built personal ties with President Barack Obama, whose signature foreign policy move has been a strategic pivot to Asia from the Middle East.

The United States has dislodged Russia as the top arms supplier to India. New Delhi is also on the cusp of sealing a U.S. nuclear reactor deal worth billions of dollars.

In return, Washington has given New Delhi access to high-end military technology, such as a new system to launch planes off aircraft carriers, and leaned on other countries to give India membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime, which cleared the way for the sale of the unarmed Predator.

India’s military has also asked for the armed version of the Predator to help target suspected militant camps in Pakistan but U.S. export control laws prohibit such a transfer.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who visited India in April, is expected to make a final trip there towards the end of the year.

“The administration is eager to get as much done as is humanly possible. They believe the conditions and the personnel in both capitals are uniquely favorable at the moment, and are eager to consolidate and institutionalize the progress,” said Jeff Smith, director of Asia Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council.

“AMERICA FIRST”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy statements have raised questions in India and other Asian nations about a U.S. pullback from Asia.

Trump has said U.S. allies, such as Japan and South Korea, should pay more towards their defense. He told the New York Times in an interview in March he could withdraw U.S. troops from bases in Japan, and raised the idea of letting Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear arsenals.

“It is a serious concern, and may lead to Chinese pre-eminence in Asia far sooner than expected,” said Dhruva Jaishankar, a specialist on India-U.S. ties at Brookings India.

But Trump adviser Walid Phares, an American scholar and expert on Islamist radicals and counter-terrorism, said India had no reason to worry.

“With India, there is the ongoing partnership against terror and both countries have suffered from jihadi urban attacks. One can only project cooperation,” Phares said.

Modi’s office set up a six-member research group in July to help identify ways to engage with Trump, an aide said.

India’s diaspora in the United States, led by the Overseas Friends of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, has also opened a line to both presidential campaigns.

The comfort level is much higher with the Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said a member of the Overseas Friends of BJP who is based in New Delhi.

Manoj Ladwa, a London-based political strategist who served as communications director for Modi’s 2014 campaign, said Trump had sent contradictory messages to India.

“On the one hand, he says he values business relations with India, but then mimics Indian call centre workers, and disregards the competitiveness that a partnership with India could provide the U.S.,” he said.

“His unpredictability is worrisome in a world that requires steady and mature statesmanship.”

STRATEGIC PROGRAMS

The centrepiece of the military collaboration is the help the United States is giving India in developing its biggest aircraft carrier.

Washington has offered flight launch technology that is being inducted into its own carriers to fly heavier fighter planes off the deck, which could allow the Indian navy to leapfrog a generation of technology.

In June, the United States reached agreement on exchanging confidential information on development of carriers with India – its only non-treaty ally with such an arrangement.

“They have already started helping us on our first indigenous carrier, in terms of certification, quality testing,” said the Indian government official. “The challenge will be to sustain the momentum over the next decade.”

In August the Modi government signed a logistics agreement giving each country access to the other’s military bases, after 10 years of negotiations. Also on the table are two other defence agreements, one on securing communications and the other on sharing spatial data that Washington has been pushing for.

Modi has shown he won’t hesitate to “reach down and choke someone,” to get things done, Smith at the American Foreign Policy Council said, quoting a Pentagon official.

(Additional reporting by Paritosh Bansal in NEW DELHI, Emily Stephenson in WASHINGTON; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
http://atimes.com/2016/10/india-tries-to-hasten-us-defense-deals-amid-election-uncertainty/

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Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military-Cyril Almeida

Posted by admin On October - 6 - 2016 Comments Off on Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military-Cyril Almeida

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ISLAMABAD: In a blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning, the civilian government has informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state.

As a result of the most recent meeting, an undisclosed one on the day of the All Parties’ Conference on Monday, at least two sets of actions have been agreed.

First, ISI DG Gen Rizwan Akhtar, accompanied by National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua, is to travel to each of the four provinces with a message for provincial apex committees and ISI sector commanders.

The message: military-led intelligence agencies are not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action. Gen Akhtar’s inter-provincial tour has begun with a visit to Lahore.

Second, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed that fresh attempts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi antiterrorism court.

 

Those decisions, taken after an extraordinary verbal confrontation between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI DG, appear to indicate a high-stakes new approach by the PML-N government.

The following account is based on conversations with Dawn of individuals present in the crucial meetings this week.

All declined to speak on the record and none of the attributed statements were confirmed by the individuals mentioned.

Foreign secretary’s presentation
On Monday, on the day of the All Parties’ Conference, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry gave a separate, exclusive presentation in the Prime Minister’s Office to a small group of civil and military officials.

The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Sharif and included senior cabinet and provincial officials. On the military side, ISI DG Rizwan Akhtar led the representatives.

The presentation by the foreign secretary summarised the results of the recent diplomatic outreach by Pakistan, the crux being that Pakistan faces diplomatic isolation and that the government’s talking points have been met with indifference in major world capitals.

 

On the US, Mr Chaudhry said that relations have deteriorated and will likely further deteriorate because of the American demand that action be taken against the Haqqani network. On India, Mr Chaudhry stated that the completion of the Pathankot investigation and some visible action against Jaish-i-Mohammad were the principal demands.

Then, to a hushed but surprised room, Mr Chaudhry suggested that while China has reiterated its support for Pakistan, it too has indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan. Specifically, while Chinese authorities have conveyed their willingness to keep putting on technical hold a UN ban on Jaish-i-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar, they have questioned the logic of doing so repeatedly.

Extraordinary exchange
The foreign secretary’s unexpectedly blunt conclusions triggered an astonishing and potentially ground-shifting exchange between the ISI DG and several civilian officials.

In response to Foreign Secretary Chaudhry’s conclusions, Gen Akhtar asked what steps could be taken to prevent the drift towards isolation. Mr Chaudhry’s reply was direct and emphatic: the principal international demands are for action against Masood Azhar and the Jaish-i-Mohmmad; Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba; and the Haqqani network.

To that, Gen Akhtar offered that the government should arrest whomever it deems necessary, though it is unclear whether he was referring to particular individuals or members of banned groups generally. At that point came the stunning and unexpectedly bold intervention by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Addressing Gen Akhtar, the younger Sharif complained that whenever action has been taken against certain groups by civilian authorities, the security establishment has worked behind the scenes to set the arrested free. Astounded onlookers describe a stunned room that was immediately aware of the extraordinary, unprecedented nature of the exchange.

To defuse tensions, Prime Minister Sharif himself addressed Gen Akhtar and said that policies pursued in the past were state policies and as such they were the collective responsibility of the state and that the ISI DG was not being accused of complicity in present-day events.

PM’s strategy?
Several eyewitnesses to the incredible events of Monday believe that the foreign secretary’s presentation and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s intervention were orchestrated by the prime minister to stir the military to action, leading to the decision to dispatch the ISI DG on an inter-provincial tour.

Yet, according to the accounts shared with Dawn, the sparring between the ISI DG and civilian officials did not degenerate into acrimony.

Earlier in the meeting, ISI DG Gen Akhtar stated that not only is it the military’s policy to not distinguish between militant groups, but that the military is committed to that policy prevailing. The ISI chief did mention concerns about the timing of action against several groups, citing the need to not be seen as buckling to Indian pressure or abandoning the Kashmiri people.

Gen Akhtar also readily agreed to tour the provinces at the direction of the prime minister, issue fresh orders to ISI sector commanders and meet with provincial apex committees to chalk out specific actions that need to be taken in various provinces.

According to several government officials, Monday’s confrontation was part of a high-stakes gamble by Prime Minister Sharif to try and forestall further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. In separate meetings with the army chief, participants describe an animated and energised Mr Sharif, who has argued that Pakistan faces real isolation if policy adjustments are not made.

Government officials, however, are divided about whether Prime Minister Sharif’s gamble will pay off. According to one official, commenting on the ISI DG’s commitments, “This is what we prayed to hear all our lives. Let’s see if it happens.”

Another government official offered: “Wait till November to see if action will be taken. By then a lot of things will be settled.”

Military officials declined to comment.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2016
http://www.dawn.com/news/1288350/exclusive-act-against-militants-or-face-international-isolation-civilians-tell-military
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China is the winner in India’s surgical strikes at Pakistan-M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2016 Comments Off on China is the winner in India’s surgical strikes at Pakistan-M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

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An Indian army soldier keeps guard from a bunker near the border with Pakistan in Abdullian, southwest of Jammu, September 30. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta
In the current Indo-Pak flare-up, China has taken a mature stance. Also Beijing has begun replacing Washington as the pre-eminent influence over Islamabad. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has no option but to order a reboot of the normalization process with China, with the locus shifting away from obsessive competition to optimal cooperation

In geopolitics, the definition of beneficiary is fraught with ambiguity. It becomes an amorphous, shifting term, since realignments can produce strange bedfellows – and unintended beneficiaries.
An Indian army soldier keeps guard from a bunker near the border with Pakistan in Abdullian, southwest of Jammu, September 30. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta
India’s ‘surgical strikes’ across the Line of Control with Pakistan on September 29 put it in an ambiguous zone, because China becomes the unintended beneficiary.

This has profound significance for India’s foreign policies vis-à-vis a host of issues, especially its strategic posturing in the Himalayas and Indian Ocean.

The ruling elites do not yet grasp this. It needs some explaining.

Forty-eight hours down the line after the ‘surgical strikes’, Delhi is manifestly eager to ‘de-escalate’ – if only Pakistan will oblige. However, Pakistan will retaliate.

There is no shred of evidence that Pakistan fears, as the ruling circles in Delhi imagine, that India has a ‘different leader’ (Modi) today whom it should not trifle with. They do not understand that Pakistan’s threshold of pain is very high.

And that is more so now, because of Delhi’s decision to wade into the insurgency in Balochistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s August 15 speech from the ramparts of the Moghul citadel actually preceded the terrorist attack on the Indian base at Uri on September 18.

That Modi’s speech reopened old cauterized wounds in the Pakistani psyche over the vivisection of their country 45 years ago is something Indians blithely overlook.

Equally, Pakistan genuinely believes that India has already lost Kashmir. In the Pakistani calculus, payback time for 1971 (surrender of Pakistan in the Indo-Pak war leading to the creation of Bangladesh) is nearing. Therefore, Pakistan sees no sense in ‘de-escalating’ and letting India off the hook.

Kashmir, Afghanistan, Balochistan – this is India’s Bermuda Triangle. Suffice it to say, India is set to become a national security state for a foreseeable future.

The 13-year old ‘ceasefire’ on the LOC is no more valid. The dissolution of the ceasefire (in a formal sense) creates great fluidity in the security matrix impacting the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir which is witnessing a mass upheaval for almost three months.

Enter China. Since India’s western borders need much greater attention from now on, the steady military build-up on the disputed border with China to seek some modicum of parity with the overall Chinese presence will have to wait or be abandoned for the time being.

Does India move its formidable BrahMos missile system up to Tawang border town in the disputed Arunachal Pradesh region? Will India deploy more armor in the disputed Ladakh region? There are no easy answers.

India may have to settle for peace and tranquillity on the disputed border on China’s terms, handling ‘incursions’ tactfully and calmly, eschewing plans to create new facts on the ground.

Nonetheless, China would only see India’s strategic restraint as borne out of realism. The heart of the matter is that a terrible beauty is born in the post-surgical strikes regional security scenario, forcing India to make a realistic reappraisal of China policies.

In the current flare-up, China has taken a mature stance after careful deliberation. The visit by the chairman of India’s Joint Intelligence Committee R. N. Ravi to Beijing last week turned out to be a fortuitous happening. Ravi met China’s intelligence czar and Politburo member Meng Jianzhu.

Meng told Ravi, according to Xinhua, that “strengthened counter-terrorism cooperation between China and India was conducive to the interests of the people of both countries… (and) voiced hope that the two sides could put to action counter-terrorism collaboration and protect regional security and that of the two countries.”

On the other hand, Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar, Pakistani Special Envoy on Kashmir who arrived in Beijing after Ravi’s visit, was only received at the level of Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman later signaled that Beijing’s post-cold war era neutral stance on Kashmir is cast in iron notwithstanding present-day vicissitudes:

“Vice Minister Liu Zhenmin listened to Pakistani envoys’ briefings on the situation in Kashmir and Pakistan’s standpoint, and emphasized that China has been following the Kashmir situation and takes seriously Pakistan’s position on Kashmir.”

“China believes that the Kashmir issue is a left-over from history which shall be resolved by relevant parties through dialogue and consultation. China hopes that Pakistan and India will strengthen channels for dialogue, properly handle their differences, improve bilateral relations and together protect the regional peace and stability.”

These remarks might disappoint ‘hardliners’ in India (and the West) who subscribe to the thesis that China fuels India-Pakistan tensions and that China-Pakistan relations are essentially ‘India-centric’.

To be sure, Modi government’s hardening policy shift toward China, as evident for the past year and a half, is becoming unsustainable.

Three major vectors demand rethink. First and foremost, any ‘action plans’ by the Indian establishment on Tibet may have to be mothballed.

Simply put, Delhi may have to reconcile with the bitter reality that China will seize the upper hand to calibrate the transition in Tibet to the post-Dalai Lama era in a direction it chooses.

No matter the volatility of the situation in Tibet, a ‘hands-off’ policy may turn out to be the Indian establishment’s only remaining option.

Second, Delhi will have to be extremely wary of causing annoyance to China over the disputes in the South China Sea. This rethink is anyway overdue, given emergent realities in the region.

The ASEAN is reluctant to be drawn into face-off with China; US-Philippines alliance and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (two key underpinnings of US’ pivot to Asia) are in a state of drift; and, all indications are that Obama Administration is done with ruffling China’s feathers in the remaining period of the presidency.

India had gotten all dressed up but there’s really nowhere to go, as the assumption that it is much in demand as a ‘balancer’ vis-à-vis China in Southeast Asia turns out to be delusional. India needs to get real.

Third, most important, China will not brook India’s opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is one thing, from Beijing’s perspective, for India to stand akimbo apropos One Belt One Road, but it is an entirely different thing to try to undermine CPEC.

The CPEC is a crucial vector of China’s geo-strategy and Beijing will advance it with all the resources at its command. China will expect India to back off.

Suffice to say, while India’s “surgical strikes” on Thursday help Modi to regain his aura as a muscular Hindu nationalist leader and to address widespread public outrage within India over Uri attack, these could only be short-term gains. Whereas, prospects for medium and long-term escalation of tensions with Pakistan are very real.

Meanwhile, US’ capacity to moderate India-Pakistan tensions has significantly diminished in the recent years, while China has begun replacing US as the pre-eminent influence over Pakistan.

Modi has no option but to order a reboot of the normalization process with China, with the locus shifting away from obsessive competition to optimal cooperation.

Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for Asia Times since 2001.

(Copyright 2016 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company.
http://atimes.com/2016/10/china-is-the-winner-in-indias-surgical-strikes-at-pakistan/
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After surgical strikes, what’s next for India-Pakistan relations?-Dhruva Jaishankar

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2016 Comments Off on After surgical strikes, what’s next for India-Pakistan relations?-Dhruva Jaishankar

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Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, left, welcomes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore on a surprise stopover in December in the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan since 2004. (Indian Press Information Bureau)
In the wee hours of Sept. 29, Indian special operations forces slipped across the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and attacked sites where terrorists had gathered to infiltrate into Indian-held territory. The details of this operation, described as surgical strikes, are hazy, and more will likely emerge. Cross-LoC operations by India are not entirely unprecedented, but the apparent scale of the strikes and public acknowledgment by the Indian Army broke new ground.

India’s leaders and the public welcomed the strikes as a justified response to the Sept. 18 attack at Uri in Kashmir in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan has denied that India’s surgical strikes took place, saying only that two of its soldiers were killed in artillery shelling. Nonetheless, the announcement of the strikes by the Indian government will help assuage domestic Indian anger at Pakistan-based terrorism and send a signal to Pakistan. India also seems to have taken steps to minimize military escalation between the two nuclear-armed states by targeting non-military facilities and communicating the limited nature of the operations to the Pakistan army before even going public.

Violence swirls around de facto border between India and Pakistan Play Video0:55
Pakistan and India exchanged fire across the de-facto border between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir over the weekend, with Pakistan dismissing India’s assertion that its forces crossed over the border. (Video: Reuters / Photo: AP)
India’s surgical strikes represent part of a continuing turnaround in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy. Although expected by many to be a nationalist hawk when he was first elected, Modi invested considerable energy and capital in engaging Pakistan during his first two years in office. Among other things, he invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration ceremony in 2014, and last year visited Sharif’s home in Pakistan on an unscheduled stopover.

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But India’s attitude began to harden in July, when Pakistan tried to gain diplomatic and political mileage out of popular protests in Indian-administered Kashmir. Modi responded by refusing to condemn a devastating terrorist attack in the Pakistani city of Quetta in August. For the first time, he also raised Pakistani human rights abuses in Balochistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir in his annual Independence Day speech on Aug. 15. The Uri attack only set back relations further, hardening Indian resolve.

In the days that followed the Uri attack, Indian political, military and diplomatic leaders deliberated various options. In his first speech after the attack, Modi gave a firm but measured response and made a point to distinguish between Pakistan’s people and its leadership. India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, followed up with a sharp speech at the United Nations, which framed Pakistan-based terrorism as a global challenge — with links to recent attacks in New York, Brussels, Kabul and Dhaka — and stepped up Indian rhetoric on Pakistani human rights abuses in Balochistan.

India’s diplomatic efforts over the years and recent days seems to have helped put pressure on Pakistan. The U.S. response to the latest conflagration has been far more supportive of India than in the past. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states broke from past precedence and unequivocally condemned the Uri attacks. And Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh joined India in boycotting an upcoming summit of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was to have been held in Pakistan next month. On the other hand, China has continued to back Pakistan while Russia staged military exercises in Pakistan, much to the chagrin of its close defense partner India.
What happens next? Much will depend on how Pakistan chooses to respond to the Indian strikes. If Pakistan’s leadership were to take meaningful steps to stem cross-border infiltration, the Indian strikes and overwhelming international condemnation of Pakistan would have achieved their purpose. But given that another attack took place on an Indian military facility on Sunday in Baramulla, the immediate signs are not encouraging.

There are further reasons to be doubtful. The Pakistani army remains the predominant force in Pakistani national security. The abandonment of its longstanding policy of supporting militancy and terrorism would risk its privileged position in Pakistani politics. Moreover, Pakistan has been emboldened by unprecedented levels of economic and political support from China. The massive increase in Chinese investment to Pakistan as part of its One Belt, One Road initiative and a greater degree of political support from Beijing mean that Islamabad may now be less susceptible to international pressure to abandon its support for terrorism.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2016/10/02/after-surgical-strikes-whats-next-for-india-pakistan-relations/?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-c%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.3442904be442
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Behind the scenes of the cross-LoC surgical strikes-SUHASINI HAIDAR

Posted by admin On September - 29 - 2016 Comments Off on Behind the scenes of the cross-LoC surgical strikes-SUHASINI HAIDAR

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Operations launched after Pakistan refused to take action against terror launch pads, say officials

In the overnight operation of attacking terror “launch pads” in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, para-commandos of the Army, struck at as many as seven locations, possibly more, and exacted casualties in “double digits”, officials privy to the operations tell The Hindu. Photographs and videos of the operation will be released soon, sources confirmed.

According to officials present at one of several briefings given by the military, MoD and MEA in the course of Thursday morning, the Army was given the go-ahead for a “counter-terror operation” in the aftermath of the Uri attack.

“The government gave the Army a free hand to plan and carry out the attack,” a senior member of the government said. Even before the Uri attack, the Army was concerned by what they saw as a build-up at the terror “launch pads” just across the LoC.

“Despite repeated requests from the government to Pakistan’s High Commissioner, the warnings were not taken seriously,” MEA officials said. The government has pointed to 19 infiltration attempts in the past two months along similar routes in four sectors along the LoC, but say they met with no support from Pakistan.

“This was in response to specific intelligence inputs. No aerial strikes were undertaken. The Pakistan Army has accepted that they lost two of their soldiers and that nine were injured. Usually, the Indian Army fires from the Indian side of the LoC on such infiltrators after they cross over the LoC. The launch camps are temporary in nature, unlike training camps. It is where infiltrators gather before crossing over,” Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore told The Hindu shortly after the DGMO announced the strikes to the media.

Officials said heavy casualties were inflicted on the militants present in the terror camps. According to one source, some of the troops crossed the LoC on foot, while others flew in on Mi-17 gunship helicopters that also gave the Indian commandos cover from fire. However, Rathore denied the story, saying helicopters had not crossed the LoC and were not involved in the operation.

Meanwhile, with dawn and the safe return of the para-commandos, the government began to work the phones, DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh called his Pakistani counterpart to say that the strikes were over and India didn’t intend to escalate the conflict. The Prime Ministeri and the Cabinet Committee on Security were briefed, as were President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke to their counterparts in all Security Council member countries and key countries in West Asia to inform them of the operation.

According to Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khwaja Asif military spokesperson, two Pakistani soldiers were killed and 9 were injured. Pakistan’s DG, Inter Services Public Relations, said they hwere killed in crossfire at the LoC. “There has been no surgical strike by India, instead there had been a cross border fire initiated and conducted by India which is existential phenomenon,” the spokesperson said.

(with inputs from Puja Mehra)
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/behind-the-scenes-of-the-crossloc-attack/article9163217.ece?homepage=true

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India planning a ‘separation wall’ in Kashmir-Baba Umar

Posted by admin On September - 29 - 2016 Comments Off on India planning a ‘separation wall’ in Kashmir-Baba Umar

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Taking a cue from Israel’s proposed separation wall along the Jordanian border, India plans to build a similar but higher 179km long wall in the Indian-administered Kashmir to separate the southwestern portion of the disputed region from Pakistan.

Pakistan and rebel groups fighting in the disputed Himalayan region have, however, warned against such a move.

According to Indian officials, the wall would pass through 118 villages within the three districts of disputed Kashmir and would be 41 meters wide and 10 meters high to accommodate bunkers and check posts.

“It would be one of the most significant Border Guarding System in the country which has not been experimented or created in India before,” Dharminder Parikh a top official of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) told Al Jazeera.

The BSF official said the fence would help “stop the illegal crossing by militants” and the requisition of land was sent to the Indian-administered Kashmir government in 2012 but “we have come to know that they there is still some land which has to be bought from the villagers for construction purposes.”

Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region, is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan by a de facto border called Line-of-Control (LoC) and further in the Southwest by a serpentine Ceasefire Line which New Delhi calls the International Border with Pakistan.

The LoC has been coiled by India with several metres high double-row concertina-wire fencing to block armed rebels from entering and launching attacks on Indian soldiers inside Indian-administered Kashmir. The wall always remains electrified and is linked with what many believe are Israeli-made surveillance devices.

Both the South Asian rivals have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Muslim-majority territory and have yet to tackle the core issues of the Kashmir dispute, control and sovereignty of the Himalayan region.

India’s plan of construction of a concrete wall  on pattern of Berlin Wall is unacceptable.

– Shabir Shah, Kashmir pro-independence leader
Pakistan controls almost 33 percent of Kashmir, India about 45 percent and China the rest.

Muslim-armed rebels from almost 14 groups are fighting Indian soldiers in Kashmir since 1989 in a confrontation aimed at independence of Kashmir or merger of the territory with Pakistan.

New Delhi often accuses Islamabad of fomenting unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir – a charge Islamabad denies.

Pakistan says it offers moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris fighting against Indian rule.

Both countries have held the decade old ceasefire but sporadic skirmishes are common. Recently both countries traded blame over ceasefire violations along the de facto border in Kashmir.

On September 26, at least 12 people, including four policemen, six army personnel and a colonel were killed when armed rebels raided a police station in Kathua district and later an army camp in the adjoining Samba district. The attackers were believed to have snuck through the Ceasefire Line.

On October 23, Indian officials said Pakistani rangers fired at over 50 positions in the Samba sector, where the wall is coming up, which was “the most extensive ceasefire violation in one night in the past two decades”.

Thwarting infiltrations

Indian officials say they plan to dig a parallel trench along the wall and add a multi-tier screening system to thwart “infiltrations and ceasefire violations” in the area.

An official of Indian interior ministry confirmed to Al Jazeera that the barrier will come up because of security issues and the total cost is still under consideration.

“Security is the most important aspect of it [the fence]. It is a joint project of the Home Ministry, Defence Ministry and the government of Jammu and Kashmir. The total cost on the project is yet to be outlined,” said K S Dhatwalia, Additional Director General (Media) of the Indian Home Ministry.

An email questionnaire sought by Dhatwalia for more details on the project, however, elicited no response. But there are growing fears that farmers will be losing prime land to the fence.

“They have already built a fence on the zero line. Now they want to build this wall very much inside the Indian territory which will not benefit the farmers,” says Sham Lal Chowdhary, a pro-Indian politician in the region.

“The farmers have not been compensated for the lands under [existing] fencing and mining areas. They cannot grow crops. This embankment would further squeeze their earnings,” he added.

Replica of Israeli separation wall

The plan to erect an all-weather fence along the 740km long LoC that divides mountainous region into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Indian-administered Kashmir was also presented to then India’s Home Secretary R K Singh in 2012, according to defence sources.

That year, a top police officer – who visited Israel and observed the efficacy of the fence along Israeli-Palestine barrier – insisted that the replica of such a fence in disputed Kashmir was possible.

The Berlin wall fell like a pack of cards and occupation of Palestine has not made the citizens of ‘Israel’ any safer than before.

Abdul Majid Zargar, a Kashmiri columnist
“But the plan was disliked by the Indian army,” sources say adding, “Army officials present in the meeting raised concerns. Their point was that an all weather fencing would isolate villages permanently along the LoC and would also mean giving away large tracts of land along the border.”

Officials of the Indian army, sources say, had argued that the terrain and geography in Kashmir makes it much “tougher to replicate” the Israeli-Palestinian separation wall.

The new wall, which is coming on the largely flat areas of the disputed region, has, however drawn criticism from various groups including rebel groups and pro-independence political parties in the disputed Kashmir.

“India’s plan of construction of a concrete wall on pattern of Berlin Wall is unacceptable,” said Shabir Shah, a pro-independence leader in India-administered Kashmir.

Shah, who is also known as the “Nelson Mandela” of Kashmir for having spent over 25 years in Indian jails said, “The 21st century is not for building political walls along borders but to dismantle them.”

The chief of United Jihad Council (UJC) – an umbrella of 14 rebel groups fighting against New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir – Syed Sallah-ud-Din, in a statement, said that the move “aimed at converting Kashmir into a prison”.

“Construction of the wall along LoC is like the Berlin wall and is aimed to make the occupation of India permanent in Kashmir but the move will be opposed on all the fronts,” the group’s statement said.

Others have called New Delhi’s move a “regressive nostalgia”.

“India’s fresh bid to construct a long wall along the divided border is a sign of regressive nostalgia. History is replete with instances where walls have been built to preserve occupied lands but without any success. The Berlin wall fell like a pack of cards and occupation of Palestine has not made the citizens of ‘Israel’ any safer than before”, argues Abdul Majid Zargar, a Kashmiri columnist.

Pakistan too has warned that such a move by India will be a “unilateral” one. On Thursday, the Pakistan PM’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz said, “Any unilateral action in this regard by India cannot declare the LoC as permanent border.”

The state-run Radio Pakistan quoting Aziz said Pakistan has not received any information from India about the construction of a structure like the Berlin Wall along the LoC.

—Al Jazeera, 29-9-2016
Additional reportage by Wasim Khalid

Follow Baba Umar on Twitter: @Babaumarr

Source: Al Jazeera
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/12/india-planning-separation-wall-kashmir-2013121513811151676.html
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Balochistan, Asia’s blackest hole-Karlos Zurutuza

Posted by admin On March - 27 - 2016 Comments Off on Balochistan, Asia’s blackest hole-Karlos Zurutuza

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Every 27 March is a day of mourning for the Baloch. Karlos Zurutuza reports from an area which is largely overlooked by the international media.
It was hanging on the wall of one of the many hairdressers in West London

On a yellowed piece of paper in a frame, The New York Times reported that Kalat – the old kingdom which corresponds roughly to Pakistan’s Balochistan modern province – was an ‘independent sovereign state’ as of 12 August 1947.

‘We had a state of our own for eight months until Pakistan annexed our territory by force eight months later, on 27 March 1948,’ the barber said while he finished the job with his razor. I could not help thinking of the late Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, producing the Palestinian pound note that he would always carry with him as a proof of the previous political existence of the country under British rule.

I had, of course, heard of the Baloch but that slight man in his fifties was the first I had ever met. That encounter sparked my curiosity and a few months later I set foot on Baloch soil for the first time. It was June 2009 then.

In retrospect, I have to admit that during that trip to Balochistan I was barely familiar with the Bugtis, the Marris, the Mengals, and the rest of the clans that make up the Baloch tribal fabric, nor the history behind them. However, I was well aware that the Baloch story was likely to be the most difficult one to cover due to the media blackout enforced by the government. Foreign journalists need special permission to visit the area and permission is hardly ever granted. If journalists risk visiting without permission they’ll face deportation in the best case scenario.

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Fighters of the Baloch Liberation Army at an undisclosed location in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Karlos Zurutuza
But why is this such a sensitive area?

Other than being Pakistan’s biggest – yet least populated – province as well as the most neglected one, the Baloch in Pakistan share borders with their kin in both Iran and Afghanistan. The area also boasts enormous reserves of gold, gas and copper, as well as untapped sources of oil and uranium. In addition, it has an enormous strategic importance as a hub for future oil and gas pipelines and for its 620 miles of coast at the gates of the Gulf. Since the occupation of their land, ethnic Baloch insurgents have launched a series of armed uprisings against the central Pakistani government.

Islamabad’s response has come through constant military operations in areas where civilians are displaced, the funnelling of fundamentalist groups into Balochistan, or the so called ‘kill and dump’ policies directed against dissidents, which sometimes include school teachers and intellectuals, as denounced by Amnesty International in its 2015/2016 Pakistan report.

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It was only thanks to the help of local activists that I got to meet victims of torture and abuses by the Pakistani security services and the relatives of the myriad of missing Baloch – around 20,000 according to local sources. The situation is so desperate that many are seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Surprisingly, the UNHCR in Pakistan still doesn’t include the Baloch among its ‘people of concern’ list. I did ask the head of the mission in Kabul about this. He said I was the first journalist to ever raise the question and he labelled it as ‘a pending issue.’

 

Culture against all odds

The Pakistani Baloch refugees add to the Afghan Baloch which are scattered all across the country, but who still make the majority in Nimroz, the only province in Afghanistan which shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan. Zaranj, the provincial capital located 559 miles southwest of Kabul, lies within walking distance of the official border with Iran, across the Helmand River. For centuries, the local Baloch have lived on the banks of one of the country’s main water sources, but the droughts of the past 10 years have forced many families to leave their native land.

Life is doubtless hard in this remote province but, unlike those in Pakistan or Iran, the Baloch in Afghanistan don’t face persecution for their ethnicity, at least not from the government. This has led to a surprising cultural revival ran by volunteers with very little resources. Today, Balochi – their language – is taught not only at schools in Nimroz; there’s even a Balochi department in the University of Kandahar and Zaranj’s National Radio and Television continues to work unbothered on their daily program in Balochi.

Mir Mohamad Baloch, a Baloch from Zaranj who described himself as a ‘political and cultural activist’ told me that the main threat to their existence comes not from Kabul, but from Tehran.

‘The Iranian government is constantly trying to quell any Baloch initiative here as they consider us a potential threat to their security,’ he lamented.

Their neighbour’s presence was most visible in the Afghan Baloch villages that once found themselves lining up only too close to the Iranian border. Tehran started building a wall in 2007, which is preventing local farmers from attending their crops or meeting their relatives on the other side of the border, just a few hundred metres away. Surviving in this long forgotten part of the world gets even harder; people cannot make ends meet and villages become emptied one after the other.
A sit in for the disappeared in downtown Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. Karlos Zurutuza
‘Enemies of god’

A group of US geologists who visited the Iranian side of the border in the early 1970’s determined that the landscape was ‘the closest thing to Mars.’ Today, however, most roads are paved and schools and hospitals don’t look as derelict as those in Afghanistan, but the piece of land inhabited by the Baloch in Iran – Sistan and Balochistan province – is also the most neglected one in the country. Taj Mohammad Breseeg, a Baloch historian and university teacher whom I had-had the chance to interview in Quetta –Pakistani Balochistan’s provincial capital – told me that the region had been annexed to Iran in 1928. Repression by the central government, he added, resulted in a ‘mass exodus of the local population and saw virtually every Baloch place name changed to a Persian one.’

The evolution of the name used for the province is illustrative. Seventy years ago this province was called ‘Baluchistan’, which would later turn into ‘Baluchistan and Sistan’ before, and today is ‘Sistan and Baluchistan’. If we stick to the logic of past trends, in the future it may be called just ‘Sistan.’
The Baloch city of Duzzap, renamed as Zahedan by the Iranian authorities in the early 30’s, is the provincial capital of Sistan and Balochistan region. Karlos Zurutuza
The Iranian Baloch face a double handicap: they’re Sunni and non-Persian in a country which is ruled by the Persian-Shiite elite.

‘The Islamic Shiite missionaries sent by Tehran told us that we’d have no jobs, no schools and no opportunities unless we converted,’ Faiz Baloch, a London based journalist told me. He is just one among thousands of Baloch refugees who were forced to leave their homeland.

Amnesty International ranked Iran as the world’s second most executioner of people after China. Tehran’s most favoured argument to repress the Baloch is their alleged involvement in drug trafficking. More than half of the 1,000 executed in 2015 were accused of drug related crimes. A majority of them were also charged with being ‘enemies of god.’ Only last February, officials revealed that all adult men in one village had been executed for ‘drug offences’.

Despite the brutal policies inflicted on the Baloch by those who control their land, the world still knows very little about these people. Travelling to their remote areas can be not only exhausting, but also very dangerous. However, their diaspora is big and one can easily run into them within the world’s popular capital cities. Some may produce that same piece of news I saw at that barber shop. Even if it’s not the original copy, it does the job.
http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2016/03/24/balochistan-asias-blackest-hole/

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