TONS OF BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS NEXT LEVEL OF NORTH KOREAN THREAT?

The article originally appeared on India Today on 12 December.

“Microbes by ton”, that is how a Washington Post story describes the bioweapons threat from North Korea, the rogue regime that has recently acquired Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and has declared itself a nuclear power after claimed detonation of a hydrogen bomb.

But if the assessments of US and Asian intelligence officials are true, as the Washington Post and other stories on the subject in the global media quote, then a whole new chapter in North Korean threat to the world is about to begin, in extension of its regular warnings of launching nuclear attacks.

“North Korea is moving steadily to acquire the essential machinery that could potentially be used for an advanced bioweapons program, from factories that can produce microbes by the ton, to laboratories specializing in genetic modification,” the Post story writes.

There have long been speculation about North Korea developing weapons of biological warfare, after the country established in 1980s a biological weapons programme under Kim Il-Sung, current dictator Kim Jong-un’s father, but it never went beyond pathogens like smallpox and anthrax and even now there is no hard evidence to prove it.

But the way North Korea is moving these days, sending its scientists abroad to study advanced microbiology and acquiring machinery that can be used to produce biological weapons at large scale, analysts says “North Korea could quickly surge into industrial-scale production of biological pathogens if it chooses to do so.”

And the most horrible part of it, the intelligence agencies spying on North Korea may not find if North Korea actually has started producing biological weapons at military scale as they suspect North Korea is using civilian factories to conceal its programme. “If it started tomorrow we might not know it, unless we’re lucky enough to have an informant who happens to be in just the right place,” the Post story writes quoting an official.

Experts say genetic engineering to produce even more virulent strains of microbes or germs is another scientific breakthrough that North Korea might have been trying. According to a study, North Korea’s Biological Weapons Program, released in October by Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, North Korean and Chinese scientists jointly published a research paper in 2016 on producing new species of bacteria through genetic engineering.

Though the research paper writes that it is “it is highly unlikely that the typing of these genomes will provide know-how for biological weapons development effort,” the Post story says it is evidence of North Korea’s ambition to acquire cutting edge genetic and microbiological sciences. The ambition raises a valid doubt that it may be used to create even more potent germs, especially when North Korea’s proven ability and credentials to carry out such advanced scientific research have been limited so far. Attempts to produce such super-germs is not new and met with mixed success during the cold war era.

An analysis by Amplyfi, an artificial intelligence company, on North Korean efforts to acquire advanced genetic and biotech capabilities, in fact, has shown that search on topics like “gene expression” and “nucleic acid sequence” from North Korea has gone up voluminously in the last two years.

The Post report writes quoting Amplyfi co-founder Chris Ganje “There are worrying indicators of unintended support and it is obvious that the international community and larger institutions need to be cautious in providing seemingly benign academic scientific education and training to North Korea,” as to circumvent international monitoring, North Korea is trying to gain technological insights from academic institutions, NGOs and private organizations.

South Korea has warned in past that it may launch biological attack thorough its special operations forces (SOF), a Rand Corporation paper, The Challenge of North Korean Biological Weapons, says.

The paper that details submission before the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities of the United States House of Representatives in October 2013 writes, “Indeed, North Korea special forces are a likely means for delivering North Korean biological weapons. North Korea has some 200,000 special forces, a small fraction of which could deliver devastating biological attacks against South Korea, Japan, and even the United States.”

©SantoshChaubey

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SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY MAY WANT INDIA TO MOVE ITS EMBASSY TO JERUSALEM BUT MAHATMA GANDHI WAS EVEN AGAINST FORCED SETTLEMENT OF ISRAELIS IN PALESTINE

Subramamian Swamy may demand India to follow the United States and move its embassy to Jerusalem but it is against India’s principled stand of solidarity with the Palestinian cause that was against the forced settlement of Israelis in the Palestinian territory. Like the whole issue of Israeli settlement in Palestine, the issue of sovereign claims over Jerusalem, too, has been a contentious issue as the city is the ancient seat of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

The origin behind this principled stand can be traced back to Mahatma Gandhi, our Father of the Nation, who believed that Israelis could settle in Palestine only with the permission from Arabs and it was wrong for them to enter with the might of the British gun.

Writing in Harijan on November 26, 1938, Mahatma Gandhi says that his sympathies are with the Jews some of whom have been his friends since his days in South Africa. Thus, he knows about the age-long persecution of the Jews. He refers to the Jews as the untouchables of Christianity, like the untouchables of Hinduism and that religion is used in their persecution, as was happening then with the Jews in Germany.

But, he draws a line here saying his sympathy for the Jews cannot blind him to the requirements of justice.

He says in his write-up, The Jews, in Harijan, “The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me.” He says that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French and it is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”

Mahatma Gandhi says the settlement of the Jews in the Palestinian territory is akin to a religious act that rules out use of force, “The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs.”

In this article written in 1938, before the organized massacre of the Jews in the German concentration camps began, Mahatma Gandhi argues that the Jewish people are the citizens of the world and they should be treated as such, a Jew born in France as French, a Jew born in Germany as German. He advises the German Jews to use the civil movement through non-violence to take on the German persecution.

Though, we can see a change in approach in the later writings of Mahatma Gandhi on German persecution of the Jews after the German concentration camps massacred millions of Jews, his stand on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land remains the same.

In another Harijan article titled “Jews and Palestine”, written on July 21, 1946, after the Second World War and the German massacre of the Jews were over, he says, “I do believe that the Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world. “Ghetto” is, so far as I am aware, the name given to Jewish locations in many parts of Europe. But for their heartless persecution, probably no question of return to Palestine would ever have arisen. The world should have been their home, if only for the sake of their distinguished contribution to it.”

But in the next paragraph, he reiterates his long held stand on the forced Jewish occupation of the Palestinian land, “But, in my opinion, they have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism.”

And he held this view on the Palestine-Israel problem till his death, blaming Christianity for singling out and wronging the Jews, “Their citizenship of the world should have and would have made them honoured guests of any country. Their thrift, their varied talent, their great industry should have made them welcome anywhere. It is a blot on the Christian world that they have been singled out, owing to a wrong reading of the New Testament, for prejudice against them. If an individual Jew does a wrong, the whole Jewish world is to blame for it. If an individual Jew like Einstein makes a great discovery or another composes unsurpassable music, the merit goes to the authors and not to the community to which they belong.”

JERUSALEM CLAIMS

Swamy, the senior BJP leader, tweeted last night, hours after US President Donald Trump made his formal announcement to move US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, “Israel has international recognition of a part of Jerusalem as its territory; hence India should shift its Embassy to this part of the city.”

But the contention is about East Jerusalem that houses Islam’s third holiest shrine Al Aqsa mosque and Palestine and the whole Muslim world see Jerusalem as Palestine capital. While West Jerusalem has been Israel’s seat of government, it occupied East Jerusalem in 1967’s Six Day War.

Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has created outrage in the Muslim world amid the global concern that it will disturb status-quo in one of the most dangerous conflict theatres of the world where escalating tension may easily give way to a larger war involving many countries.

The issue has been so sensitive that almost no country so far had recognized Israel’s sovereign claim over Jerusalem and the global consensus has been that the issue must be resolved through negotiation between Israel and Palestine. Even the previous US presidents recognized it and that is why none of them thought to cross the line even if the US Congress had enacted a law in 1995, Jerusalem Embassy Act, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and had decided to move its Embassy there. The UN has also condemned the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem through the UN Security Council Resolution 478.

INDIA’S STAND

India’s has reacted cautiously on the development, “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.”

In fact, if it took 45 years after the independence for India to allow Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, as it always tried to maintain balance between its principled stand on Palestine and its geopolitical concerns that Israel could have addressed. India and Israel established full diplomatic ties on January 29, 1992 but it took another 25 years for India’s first ever prime ministerial visit to the nation in July this year. In these 25 years, Israel has emerged as India’s most reliable defence partner and India as Israel’s largest defence market, accounting for 41 per cent of its arms export.

©SantoshChaubey

PAKISTANI PROPAGANDA ACCUSES INDIA OF RUNNING A CELL TO SABOTAGE CPEC

The article originally appeared on India Today. 

Pakistan has long been accusing India of trying to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Top Pakistani politicians and army generals have been blaming India for staging attacks in Pakistan through its external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Obviously, all this has been without proof.

But now the Pakistani propaganda has gone a step ahead by incorporating figures like when India founded this so called anti-CPEC cell and how much fund was allocated to it. General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of Pakistan, while addressing an event in Islamabad today, charged India of running a cell to disrupt the CPEC.

“RAW established a new cell with a special allocation of over $500 million in 2015 to sabotage CPEC projects in Pakistan,” a Dawn report quoted him saying. While addressing an event in Islamabad, he further said, “India’s indirect interference in Pakistan is manifested in sponsoring Tehreek-i-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP), Baloch and other sub-nationalist outfits and many other terrorist groups.”

Now the world can see through such baseless allegations coming from a country that is seen as a safe haven for terrorists and is increasingly becoming isolated in the world for this very reason, especially when it is against India, the world’s largest democracy, a growing global power, both economically as well as militarily and a responsible geopolitical entity.

It is Pakistan, in fact, that has been giving shelter to India’s and the world’s most wanted like Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Masood Azhar, Dawood Ibrahim and is main terror exporter to India, a fact that major world powers including the US and UK have started accepting. How can the world forget that Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was in hiding in Pakistan for years before he was hunted down and killed? How can Pakistan convince the world that it is not home to the Taliban and Al Qaeda factions and the Haqqani Network?

While the ruling Pakistani elite have been brazenly lying about establishing peace in their country and browbeating their propaganda to the world to tell that they have wiped out every terror outfit, the fact is, this year alone, over 450 civilians and around 200 security forces personnel have lost their lives in over 100 incidents in the country, data from South Asia Terrorism Portal shows.

WHY INDIA IS OPPOSED TO THE CPEC

China’s One Belt One Road initiative aims to de velop economic corridors in Asia, Africa and Europe, something that India is opposed to as one of such corridors, the CPEC. India is opposed to CPEC because a part of it passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir that is legally India’s. For strategic reasons also, India doesn’t welcome a Chinese presence just across the border in a disputed territory that India considers its own.

CPEC, AN INTERNAL SECURITY NIGHTMARE FOR PAKISTAN

Pakistan sees the CPEC, a long term $75 billion project from Gwadar port in Balochistan to Kashgar China’s Xinjiang province, as the next big thing in the nation’s history that will transform it into of hub and economic activity in this part of Asia.

But the fact is, it passes through many restive regions of Pakistan including Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and Balochistan and terrorists groups that are hostile to China, including TTP and Al Qaeda, have threatened to attack Chinese investments in the corridor to avenge the so-called atrocities against Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang province.

Then there are ethnic people of areas the CPEC passes through who are opposed to it. A combine of religious groups in Gilgit Baltistan has demanded the complete removal of Pakistan’s Army from its soil.

Baloch people, who are fighting the Pakistani establishment for their freedom and have long been accusing Pakistan of exploiting their province, see the CPEC as yet another tool to exploit the Baloch people. Baloch nationalists blame Pakistan for forcefully acceding their province. Pakistani security forces are alleged to have killed thousands of Baloch people. Reports of rape, torture and disappearances are common. Baloch people say they are ethnically different from Pakistanis and are demanding freedom or autonomy to decide their own affairs.

How bad is the security scenario in the CPEC regions also reflects in the fact that Pakistan has raised a Special Security Division (SSD) of 15000 soldiers to protect some 7000 Chinese individuals and CPEC installations that are coming up. This is when the project has just begun. The CPEC was proposed in 2013 and an agreement between Pakistan and China was signed in May 2013.

©SantoshChaubey

PAKISTAN SUMMONS BRITISH ENVOY OVER FREE BALOCHISTAN SLOGANS

The article originally appeared on India Today on November 3.

Pakistan today summoned the British High Commissioner to lodge its protest against “Free Balochistan” slogans on London cabs by Baloch activists. Photographs of vehicles carrying “#FreeBalochistan”, “Raise Your Voice” and “Save Baloch People” are going viral on social media.

Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua kept Pakistani’ government’s stand in front of the British High Commissioner Thomas Drew and called such display of anti-Pakistan slogans, a direct attack on Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. They also reminded Britain that such “sinister and malicious campaigns should not be allowed on the soil of a friendly country.”

A release by Pakistan’s Foreign Office further told that Pakistan was also raising the issue with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Britain. Baloch nationalists had run a similar campaign in Geneva in September during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) which had seen similar protests from the Pakistani establishment.

The permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations had then written a letter to the Swiss authorities which said “The use of Swiss soil by terrorists and violent secessionists for nefarious designs against Pakistan and its 200 million people was totally unacceptable.”

HOW IMPORTANT BALOCHISTAN IS FOR PAKISTAN?

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least developed province. It covers almost half of Pakistan and is rich in natural resources like oil, gas, gold and copper. Out of 1.3 crore inhabitants, most of its inhabitants are Baloch. The province with the Gwadar port is of strategic importance for Pakistan as it shares border with Iran and Afghanistan. The proposed economic corridor between Pakistan and China, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through many areas of the province before its destination at the Gwadar port.

BALOCH TORTURE

Baloch nationalists blame Pakistan for forcefully acceding their province and exploiting its resources at the cost of Baloch lives. Pakistani security forces are alleged to have killed thousands of Baloch people. Reports of rape, torture and disappearances are common. Baloch people say they are ethnically different from Pakistanis and are demanding freedom or autonomy to decide their own affairs. They have also criticised the CPEC which they see as yet another tool to exploit the Baloch people.

©SantoshChaubey

NORTH KOREA WARNS OF ‘STRIKE BEYOND IMAGINATION ANY MOMENT’, SAYS US CAN’T SAVE PUPPET SOUTH KOREA

The article originally appeared on India Today.

Following Kim Jong-un’s declaration that North Korea is a “fully-fledged nuclear power”, the country has now warned that it may strike at any moment in its self-defense and the attack would be on an unprecedented scale.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop earlier in the day said she had received a letter from the North Korean dictator, addressed to different countries, which said, “It will be a big miscalculation and an expression of ignorance if US President Donald Trump thinks that he would bring North Korea, a nuclear power, to its knees through nuclear war threat.”

Blaming US and its president for pushing the world towards the Third World War by his foolish acts, a KCNA released said Trump is being seen as a ‘dangerous element’, has aroused worldwide derision and even his key confidants are dumping him.

“As the aggressors and provokers have become all the more undisguised in their hysteric war frenzy, the DPRK’s appropriate actions for self-defense will be taken any moment as a strike beyond imagination,” the KCNA release announced.

Targeting the joint US-South Korea naval drills, North Korea said its repeated tough offensives had put US in despair and horror dealing a heavy blow to the world’s only superpower and the US could no longer help the South Korean puppet forces.

“The South Korean puppet forces should clearly understand that already in hand are the toughest countermeasure of Korean style to cope with the US’ reckless military act,” the KCNA release further said. The war of words between US and North Korea has seen regular war rhetoric but its intensity has really gone up after North Korea’s successful nuclear capable ICBM test and hydrogen bomb detonation.

What has irked the Trump administration even more that North Korea did all this despite a clear warning that US would never allow the country to have an ICBM or a hydrogen bomb.

Reports have emerged that US has put its nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert to meet any emergency, a first since the Cold War days. Trump revealed in a Fox News interview yesterday, “You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are if we need to be.”

©SantoshChaubey

FROM KARGIL TO 2010 KASHMIR UNREST TO PRESENT: INDIA’S PAKISTAN NARRATIVE GETS SOME MUCH NEEDED CHANGE

It has been a much needed change in India’s diplomatic manoeuvres. The world’s largest democracy has finally broken the shackles of misplaced notions to emerge as a powerful voice in geopolitics.

And this change, if has surprised an arrogant and power blind China for its resilience, has completely decimated Pakistani propaganda in international circles, especially at multilateral platforms like the United Nations or the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

Pakistan has, for its own peril, made an anti-India stand its lifeline and has been trying to destabilize India ever since it came into existence in 1947 and what has been ironical that its propaganda even succeeded in outperforming India when it came to diplomacy and PR.

India was never outspoken in promoting its viewpoint and always lacked a sense of communication finesse to counter the Pakistani propaganda. If we go through the speeches delivered by India at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on occasions like the Kargil War or 2010 Kashmir unrest or the situation in Kashmir now, we can see this change.

To continue..

©SantoshChaubey

CHINA IS NOW FORCING UIGHUR MUSLIMS TO SURRENDER THEIR QURAN COPIES

According to Daily Mail, China has taken its crackdown on the ethnic Muslims of its border province of Xinjiang to a whole new level, targeting now even the personal religious space in the intimacy of their houses. The Xinjiang region, China’s westernmost province that borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, is home to some 11 million Uighur Muslims and other small groups of ethnic Muslims among Tajik, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Mongolian communities.

The Chinese authorities of the province are forcing the Muslims to handover the copies of Quran, Islam’s central religious text, and any other related religious symbol the Daily Mail report says.

What is more disturbing is the fact that the order also includes to surrender even the prayer mats that are used to offer Namaaz (prayer). The warnings are being issued in neighbourhoods, in mosques and through social media platforms like WeChat and non-compliance means harsh punishment.

Chinese authorities of the region earlier this year started a campaign ‘Three Illegals and One Item’ to confiscate illegal religious items. Quran copies more than five year old were being seized as authorities blamed them of having extremist content. And now this new order means a blanket ban on all Koran copies.

“Officials at village, township and county level are confiscating all Quran and the special mats used for Namaaz”, the Radio Free Asia (RFA) wrote on which the Daily Mail report based.

Dilxat Raxit, World Uighur Congress’ spokesman, told RFA that “reports have emerged from Kashgar, Hotan and other regions of similar practices starting last week that every single ethnic Uighur must hand in to authorities any Islam-related items from their own home, including Qurans, prayer mats and anything else bearing the symbols of religion otherwise there will be harsh punishment.”

China has already banned its civil servants in the region from taking part in religious activities, even if it means fasting during Ramadan, a ban that was extended to students as well. Muslim attire like veils and religious symbols like keeping beard are already banned and authorities regularly come up with lists of overly religious and splittist Muslim names for newborns to be banned.

In April this year, authorities came up with a “List of Banned Ethnic Minority Names” that asked the Muslim parents to desist from choosing names like Muhammad, Medina, Mecca, Islam, Quran, Imam, Hajj, Jihad, Arafat and Mujahid. The directive banned over two dozen such names which could be used to fan religious and divisive agenda.

The list further expanded the one notified in 2015 which banned names like Saddam, Hussein, Laden, Fatima, Amanet, Muslime among others. The directive didn’t stop at naming the newborns only. It further said, “If your family has circumstances like this, you should change your child’s name.”

The authorities at that time had issued a warning that the Muslim families not complying with this directive would not get ‘hukou’, the registration of their households that gives them access to state benefits of childcare, health, education and employment.

Xinjiang, China’s North-western province, that is also known as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, borders eight countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. It came on the radar of the Chinese authorities, especially after the widespread riots in its capital city Urumqi in July 2009 between the Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese that saw around 200 dead and some 2000 injured. Ethnic Han Chinese are around 40 percent of Xinxiang’s population.

China considers Islamic terrorism emanating from Xinjiang destructive enough to become a full blown separatist movement and does all to curb its spread, especially after reports that the Islamic State (ISIS) is eyeing the region to recruit fighters and expand its base.

According to Amnesty International, mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, shooting and torture followed the Urumqi riots. China maintains a strong vigil in the region with large rallies of security forces to intimidate the minds who dare to think otherwise.

©SantoshChaubey

NORTH KOREA CELEBRATES HYDROGEN BOMB DETONATION WITH A PUBLIC EVENT, LIKE IT HAD DONE AFTER ICBM LAUNCH

Like it had done after its first ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last month, that was surprisingly successful, North Korea organized a public event to celebrate its hydrogen bomb detonation on September 3 as well. Both the events were equally massive on scale, the available visuals show.

The hydrogen bomb test was North Korea’s sixth and till date most powerful nuclear test and like it had done after the ICBM launch, this time too, it didn’t forget to taunt the US and the world community by saying that more “gift packages to the US” were on the way.

Timing its first ICBM launch event with the American Independence Day on July 4 and the 45th anniversary of the July 4 statement, the first official communiqué on agreement between North Korea and South Korea on Korean reunification, North Korea then had said that North Korean ICBM was a gift to the US on its Independence Day. It had also warned the US and South Korea of heavy blows in the days to come.

North Korea’s official and only broadcaster Korean Central Television (KCTV) has released footage of the public event to celebrate the hydrogen bomb detonation, like it had done after the ICBM launch celebration, like it always do to push the North Korean propaganda.

We can see people lined up on both sides of roads waving and cheering a convoy of vehicles passing through a road and later gathered at the Kim Il Sung Square as part of the mass celebration event that also included song and dance by groups.

Here is one such footage available on the Twitter handle of the China Global Television Network (CGTN).

The video shows a jubilant North Korean anchor announcing that the “intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) mounting usage hydrogen bomb test was a perfect success” with a file footage of the possible hydrogen bomb detonation from the Korean Central Television (KCTV).

Another video footage here shows the song and dance sequence, huge public gathering the Kil Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.

And like it had done after the ICBM launch, North Korea felicitated the scientists involved in the hydrogen bomb detonation that produced shockwaves measuring 6.3 on Richter Scale, who, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state news agency of North Korea, vowed to attain the final goal of perfecting a North Korean nuclear force.

“The scientists visited the statues of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il on Mansu Hill to make a report about their success and vow to successfully conclude their research and development campaign to attain the final-phase goals for perfecting the state nuclear force advanced at the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (in May 2016), true to the guidance of respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un”, the KCNA release said.

In spite of facing stiff sanctions that have crippled its economy, North Korea has been moving ahead with its missile and nuclear programme. But the world community is a divided lot when it comes to action against North Korea on its latest advances missile and nuclear advances.

China, Russia and even South Korea, North Korea’s traditional rival and the US’s traditional ally, are not in favour of military action and are instead focusing on talks and sanctions. Russia has warned that the military hysteria around North Korea could lead to a global catastrophe. And even the emergency UN Security Council meeting held after North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test remained divided and failed to reach to a conclusion on a decisive action against the rogue nation.

©SantoshChaubey

TALIBAN DISMISSES US POLICY CHANGE, SAYS WILL TURN AFGHANISTAN INTO GRAVEYARD FOR AMERICAN TROOPS

The article originally appeared on India Today on August 22.

The Taliban has dismissed the US policy change on Afghanistan saying it was nothing news and has dared the world’s only superpower that it will turn Afghanistan into a graveyard for the US troops.

“If America doesn´t withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century”, an AFP report said quoting Zabiullah Mujahid, an Afghan Taliban spokesperson.

US President Donald Trump, in his much awaited Afghanistan policy review, made a clear departure from his earlier stand that US had to withdraw from Afghanistan. He, in fact, said that after deliberations he had reached to a conclusion that the US could not leave Afghanistan in a state that would make it a breeding ground for terror outfits quoting the Iraq example where a US withdrawal seen emergence of the Islamic State.

Showing a conviction to increase number of US troops in Afghanistan and giving them a free hand in their ground operations, Trump said, “One way or another, these problems will be solved — I’m a problem solver — and, in the end, we will win.”

Reacting on it, the Taliban spokesperson said there was nothing new in the speech and Trump was just wasting American soldiers. “As long as there is one US soldier in our land, and they continue to impose war on us, we, with a high morale will continue our jihad”, he added.

The US launched war in Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban government there after the 9/11 attacks which was planned by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan under the Taliban protection. But what began as an operation to overthrow a government has become the longest foreign war in the US history, now in its 16th years, and has cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars with around 2400 dead US soldiers and over 20,000 injured.

Afghanistan has been witnessing terror resurgence. Last year, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan General John F. Campbell had described the Haqqani Network as the most capable threat to the US and coalition forces. Also, Taliban is seeing a new surge. According to different analyses, it now controls 10 per cent of the Afghan territory and 30 per cent of its people.

©SantoshChaubey

WHY THE US POLICY CHANGE ON AFGHANISTAN MATTERS FOR INDIA

The article originally appeared on India Today on August 22.

As expected, US President Donald Trump has called for a greater Indian role in Afghanistan. During his address to the nation on US’ Afghanistan policy review, during which Trump made several departures from his established stand to withdraw the US from the war-torn South Asian nation like increasing the number of US troops there and giving the forces free hand to handle insurgents and not micro-managing then from the Washington, he clearly said that developing a strategic partnership with India was a critical part of US’ South Asia strategy.

His policy statement that the “India, the world’s largest democracy is a key security and economic partner of the US and it appreciates India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan and wants India to help the US more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development” is an extension to a last month report by the powerful US Senate Armed Services Committee report that advocated a trilateral arrangement between India, Afghanistan and the US. “The committee believes that the US needs to recommit to the fight in Afghanistan and that India, as a major defence partner of the US and a contributor to regional security, has a critical role to play in this effort”, the report said.

In fact, a greater Indian role in Afghanistan where it is already playing a big part in its reconstruction, will not only give India strategic advantage over its traditional rivals like Pakistan and China, but would also mean greater access to the oil and mineral rich Central Asian nations and opportunity for its industry to gain a larger share in the whole Afghanistan rebuilding business.

And this is coupled with the fact that the US review on Afghanistan has been extremely harsh on Pakistan with Trump describing Pakistan again as safe haven for terror groups. He warned that the US will no longer remain silent about it and pressed that it had to change immediately. Now that has huge implications for an increased Indian role in Afghanistan as it has been primarily Pakistan’s objection, a US ally in war on terror, that sees India’s rise in Afghanistan inimical to its interests. How frustrated the US is with Pakistan’s double-dealings becomes clear once again with Trump’s remarks that “the US has been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that US is fighting.”

INDIA’S GATEWAY TO CENTRAL ASIA

In July 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a historic visit of five Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and the main objective was ensuring India’s future energy security. For India, Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia and a stable Afghanistan with greater access will go a long way in fulfilling India’s objective.

GREATER LEVERAGE IN DEALING WITH TERROR GROUPS

A wider presence in Afghanistan will give India greater leverage in dealing with the terror groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State which are trying to establish their Indian footprint. There groups are currently using restive regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as their gateway opportunity to the Indian Subcontinent.

OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIAN INDUSTRY IN AFGHANISTAN’S RECONSTRUCTION

India has played an important role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction in post Taliban era spending around $2 Billion since 2002 on development projects including its parliament building and committed another $1 Billion last year. The Indian aid basically has been in infrastructure development, health services and military equipments like bullet proof jackets and convoy vehicles. But breaking the tradition of not giving lethal military equipments in aid, it gave Afghanistan four attack helicopters last year and is also training its soldiers.

Now with the US policy change, seeking an enhanced Indian role, coupled with the fact it seeks to limit the Pakistan’s presence there, Indian companies have an opportunity to invest more in Afghanistan, especially when the US wants to win the war on terror, its longest foreign war that is on for the past 16 years, at any cost. A drastic change in the US policy to crack down on Afghan terrorists with a free hand to security forces can effectively take care of the terror menace. How big the opportunity is can be gauged from the fact that the US has spent over $100 Billion of Afghanistan reconstruction yet it is just far from producing any tangible outcome and now that Trump has made it clear that there will be no more ‘blank check’ from the US, the door is wide open.

Also, Afghanistan in future can emerge as a big push for Make in India initiative for India’s nascent defence industry as the country would need a sustained military supply to handle not only its internal terror threats but also to secure its contentious borders with Pakistan, a terror exporter that has been destabilizing Afghanistan for the past four decades.

KEEPING PAKISTANI AND CHINESE DESIGNS IN CHECK

If Pakistan has used Afghanistan as its junkyard to push terrorists there to maintain its hegemony and export them to India at the same time, China, too, has been trying to increase its influence there owing to Afghanistan’s geographical advantage but so far has failed. A stable Afghanistan, which is fiercely against Pakistan, can in fact give India strategic advantage by providing a valuable military base in future, overlooking both Pakistan and China. It is important for India as reports indicate that China is going to establish its military base in Pakistan, most probably at the Gwadar port in India’s backyard.

©SantoshChaubey