In the first nine months of 2011, 352 pirate-related incidents took place across the globe (though it is worth mentioning that an estimated two-thirds of such incidents are slipped under the radar in order to duck the associated insurance raises and bad publicity), with close to 15% of these taking place in the waters of southeastern Asia. During the same period of the next year, only 233 ships were affected by piracy; regardless, the number of attacks recorded in the Asian region rose, now accounting for over 20%.
Jakarta, for a number of reasons, has both national and regional incitements to lead the anti-piracy effort.
Executed parallel to regular patrols and escorts, a strategy that ‘’has brought significant results’’ in the Gulf of Aden, encouraging economic growth in Indonesia, a member of the G20, would further reduce the number of altercations on the sea: studies relating mostly to Somali and Nigerian waters highlighted long-term decreases in piracy when local economies were boosted, although also noted higher rates preceding elections as unscrupulous candidates sought to fill their campaign chests. Given the new Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, is the first businessman to head his country, hopes are high that he will be able to reproduce the economic revitalization of his mayoral district at the national level.
Such an involvement, especially in ‘’the world’s most pirate-infested waters’’, is certain to increase Indonesia’s standing in the region, in which tensions periodically surge due to territorial disputes between China and various members of ASEAN, whose headquarters are in Jakarta. While solidifying its position as mediator for the aforementioned disagreements, flexing its naval might in a crackdown on piracy may avert a showdown with Beijing—similar to the symbolic 1996 naval exercise organised by Indonesia, which was perceived to have deterred Chinese attempts to hijack Western development of natural gas production—, whose ten-dash line map may or may not include the Indonesia island of Natuna Besar. Given the Indonesian navy proudly proclaims itself to be a green-water navy, disassociating itself from the blue-water navies which ‘’tended to be aggressors’’, an impressive response to the pirates roaming national waters may be the most powerful, yet plausibly deniable, statement of strength Indonesia can make.
Perhaps a more important question is why other nations would not take up this mantle; after all, the pirates between Yemen and Somalia are largely warded off by forces from NATO, CTF151, and EU Navfor. Somalia, however, has no functioning navy, contrary to the southeastern Asian states that refuse such foreign navies and armed guards.
Even if this were not the case, the competing interests of China, India and the United States make it unlikely any would succeed in gaining control of the operation. The crucial role the Malacca Straights play in the global shipping sphere, and the conflicting interests of the nations in question—China’s pseudo-Monroe Doctrine; India’s Look East policy; and the American non-confrontationist attitude and pivot to Asia—all mean political manoeuvring around this issue will be prickly.
Indonesia seems well-placed to fill this void; and perhaps the businessman who is to take office as Indonesia’s president in October will prioritize securing a region through which almost half the world’s trade is shipped.
The dengue virus, transmitted by mosquitoes and threatening over half the world’s population, is described by the WHO as ‘’a leading cause of hospitalization and death among children’’. Symptoms include a high fever, vomiting, swollen glands, rashes or muscle pains; however, the virus ‘’occasionally’’ mutates into severe dengue, adding bleeding gums, severe abdominal pain, and fatigue to the list. The next 24 to 48 hours of this stage may end with the death of the infected: no vaccine or specific treatment has been developed for the dengue virus, which can have a mortality rate of up to roughly 20%.
‘’Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries in Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, South-east Asia and the Western Pacific. […] Cases across the Americas, South-east Asia and Western Pacific [, the three most heavily-impacted regions] have exceeded 1.2 million cases in 2008 and over 2.3 million in 2010.’’ (again quoted from the WHO page relating to dengue fever) Almost 100 000 000 new cases are discovered yearly in the tropical regions, with over 40 000 deaths being tied to this disease.
In an innovative push to eradicate this disease, which today has spread to threaten Europe and the United States, four countries—Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam—will be releasing hordes of genetically-modified mosquitoes. With research beginning in the Australian University of Monash in 2008, it was eventually discovered that a bacteria taken from fruit-flies could severely hamper a mosquito’s ability to carry dengue fever.
This intracellular bacteria, dubbed Wolbachia, spreads amongst the mosquito population as they reproduce. If a contaminated male reproduces with a non-infected female, the eggs will be incapable of turning into larvae. However, if it is only the female who is infected, she will transmit the bacteria to the following generation. Wolbachia cannot be transmitted to humans.
Following tests in laboratories mimicking natural settings, Australian researchers released over 300 000 mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia in two northeastern towns. Four months later, 100% of the first town’s mosquito population and 90% of the second’s was infected with the disease. However, two weeks after that survey, rates had dropped to 95% and 81% respectively. Those responsible believe the dry season may have attracted external mosquito populations to the experiment towns.
That experiment equally proved that it is very rare for the virus to spread far beyond the release point: it appears infected mosquitoes were found outside of the towns on only three occasions. This should allay legal concerns, if two neighbouring political entities disagree on whether or not to use the genetically-modified pseudo-vaccine.
Recently, southern China has seen an explosion of dengue fever cases: the number of reported cases in Guangdong ballooned from 6 089 to 8 273 in three days, over 15 times the rates at this time last year. The provincial capital, Guangzhou, hosts 6 986 of those affected by the worst epidemic of recent history.
It also seems logical that China would attempt to distribute this genetically-modified weapon to various African nations threatened by the dengue fever: this fits with the emphasis on soft power China is giving Africa, most notably by serving as mediators in the South Sudanese civil war (although officially the mediators are continuing ‘’peace promotion work between South Sudan and Sudan’’, not intervening in another nation’s internal affairs) and preparing Benin to tackle a potential spillover of Ebola from neighbouring Nigeria.
Dengue fever is present throughout sub-Saharan Africa, or in regions worldwide between the latitudes of 35-North and 35-South and with an altitude below 1 000 meters. Members of the same genus include the West Nile virus, the yellow fever virus, or the tick-borne encephalitis virus; it is not clear if the techniques currently being employed by Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, or Australia are capable of counteracting these viruses as well.
Recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama since 1950, the Tibetan born as Lhamo Dondrub recently admitted he believed he should be the last to boast the religious and once-political title.
The quote, pulled from the English transcript of an interview granted to Welt am Sonntag on the 7th, reads: ‘’We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries. The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama.’’ His Holiness’s Office, however, was quick to refute the most common interpretation—that the Dalai Lama ‘reincarnation line’ was definitely coming to an end—, its own website underscoring the fact that while ‘’personally, [he] feel[s] the institution of the Dalai Lama has served its purpose”, ”whether the institute of the Dalai Lama remains or not depends entirely on the wishes of the Tibetan people.’’ They also repeated that this is not a novel statement on the part of Tenzin Gyatso (the religious name chosen by the Dalai), having allegedly been made clear as early as 1969.
Despite this, analysts (amongst others Richard Barnett, a Columbia professor and Tibet expert) are interpreting this as a kind of ultimatum to China: in the words of Barnett, ‘’negotiate with me before I die’’. Indeed, perhaps Beijing will find itself forced to conclude some kind of agreement with the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism as the seventy-nine-year-old ages.
If anything, however, independence (or greater autonomy, the stated goal of Gyatso) for Tibet seems even less likely than it did in 1959, when a failed uprising forced the current Dalai Lama into exile. In the Greater Tibet claimed by separatist groups, ethnic Tibetans have become a minority since the 1990s. This is due to massive influx of Han Chinese for the construction of infrastructure, as well as an alleged sterilization and infanticide campaign. Foreign journalists and human rights monitors are banned from the areas, complicating the painting of an accurate picture. Refugees having fled the country also bring tales of torture and forced labour, as well as arbitrary detention and disappearances following brutal crackdowns on manifestations.
In 1995, Tenzin Gyatso designated a young boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as Panchem Lama (a title ranked immediately under the Dalai Lama in the Buddhist hierarchy, the Panchem Lama plays an important role in identifying and recognizing the Dalai Lama’s newest reincarnation). Shortly after Nyima was recognized as the 11th Panchem Lama, the People’s Republic of China had him spirited away allegedly for his own protection. It is impossible to know the state of the boy or that of his parents. Since, a second, government-backed candidate has emerged: Gyaltsen Norbu.
Given both the spiritual and political roles played by the Panchem Lama, it is easy to understand the value his allegiance would have for the ruling Communist Party. The Dalai Lama, identified in part by the Panchem, is incontestably Tibet’s best-known ambassador and autonomy advocate, and while Beijing hijacking the lineage may immortalize the memory of Gyatso, the advantages of creating a puppet leader are very likely to far outweigh the inconveniences caused by the initial outrage. Despite the Dalai Lama devolving his political power to a democratic government, the prestige and influence the post holds could still go a fair way to advancing Beijing’s interests in Tibet.
Another action that could go a long way to discrediting the Tibetan government-in-exile would be to refuse to disclose Nyima’s date of death. When searching for a reincarnation, Tibetan Buddhists must find an individual having been born roughly as the previous incarnation died. Given the current Dalai Lama states their resurrections are likely to take place away from the now-oppressed land of Tibet—with no restrictions narrowing down the place of birth—, forgetting to mention the Panchem Lama’s passing would presumably render the search nigh-impossible.
Gyaltsen Norbu is referred to by Tibetans as Panchen Zuma, translating roughly to ‘false Panchen’. However, faced with an incomplete or inexistent religious structure—legitimate Panchen either imprisoned or unidentified, and legitimate Dalai reincarnated far away, unrecognized, or simply ‘gone’—in the following decades, it does not seem impossible that Tibetans will either grudgingly accept the replacements offered by China’s puppet leaders or will begin to abandon aspects of Buddhism.
Given the likely catastrophic implications of this for Tibet, I advance the theory that the Dalai Lama’s talks with China (which last took place in early 2010, with my tentative prediction for resumption to be around 2025, when the Dalai is due to consult Tibetans on his fate) would focus increasingly on the liberation of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the Dalai ages—likely taking a much softer stance on China and Tibetan independence as an end result of the eventually-successful negotiations—, and that he will strike the possibility of permanently leaving the planet.
According to the United Nations (2012), the International Monetary Fund (2013), and the World Bank (2013), Nigeria ranks 37th, 38th, and 23rd respectively in lists of world economies (however, one must note that Nigeria recalibrated its economy in 2014, hence after the surveys, for the first time since 1990). This is despite, again, 50% of the population having an income of under 732$ per annum. In order to take this fact into consideration, one should use the Human Development Index (HDI). Instead of using only the national GDP, the HDI index also considers life expectancy and educational standards. Using this measure, Nigeria falls to 152nd place.
This flagrant difference between the illusion touted by the politicians of Abuja and the reality inflicted on many of the Nigerian non-elite has allowed for the birth of a now thriving anti-state extremist group, Boko Haram. While the group may have its roots in religion, the perceived discrimination almost certainly plays a greater role in the group’s survival nowadays. In the words of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, ‘’nothing is more destructive than the gap between people’s perceptions of their own day-to-day economic well-being and what politicians and statisticians are telling them’’.
The same statement now applies to Indonesia, the world’s sixteenth-largest economy according to the three sources named above. Regardless, Indonesia ranks 121st on the HDI index. This is partially due to almost 12% of the 237.6 million strong population under the poverty line, with 50% of the population surviving on under 2$ a day. With the previous Indonesian administration having made headlines with corruption scandals, the frustration and distrust created by the clear distinction between classes can be exploited just as easily in southeastern Asia as it has been in Nigeria.
Rallies and meetings in support of the Islamic State (IS), previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have taken place across Indonesia, some even taking to the streets of the capital Jakarta. On the 31st of July, a new Youtube video worried many in the governmental circles: a group of young Indonesians, with their leader presumed to be a wanted Indonesian terrorist (Abu Muhammad), stood on Syrian soil and called for their countrymen to join the cause.
According to the Jakarta Post, the initial government response was weak to the point of being almost reluctant. In their words, it is ‘’only after mounting public pressure [that] the Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring order access to ISIL websites blocked[, having] previously said the ministry could not block the ISIL video without any prior complaints’’. The article continues, highlighting the fact that the ministry ‘’barely takes action’’ against websites advocating and advising on terrorism, even after security agencies highlight their existence, while proactively targeting websites hosting pornographic material.
The two largest Islamic organizations of the country, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have condemned the video, as has the Foreign Minister. On August the 4th, the Indonesian government also ordered a ban on supporting the Islamic State, repeating a warning against joining the group. The National Police has also targeted local supporters of IS, although it apparently remains unknown whether or not the suspects have been apprehended.
With Indonesia growing increasingly aware of the threat posed to it by this reemerging extremism, it seems likely that inefficient frontline officials such as the aforementioned Communications and Information Minister will be replaced, that security cooperation with nearby countries also combating religious extremism (notably Malaysia and the Philippines), as well as tougher restrictions on support for the IS. Given the fact that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, one would presume any laws attempting to target extremist indoctrination and propaganda would be specific to the IS, and not allow any sweeping surveillance of mosques or interventions. An intensified crackdown targeting the remnants of other terrorist groups, given the possibility of regrouping around the new caliph, may also be in order.
‘’To a large degree,’’ Russian parliamentarian Sergei Neverov said less than a fortnight ago, ‘’a ‘Cold War’ has been declared which is today expressed by devising sanctions.’’ While such statements are overly dramatic, Russia has indeed been growing increasingly unpopular in many European countries. This rejection by the West is likely to speed Moscow’s own pivot to the Asia-Pacific, seducing rising economies and expanding its diplomatic influence while consolidating its grasp on the weak provincial governments in resource-rich eastern Russia.
as an equal, while harnessing the unspoken energy threat so effective in Europe.
Developing the coastal RFE equally allows for trade with the Asia-Pacific region, imports being especially important now with the growing sanctions targeting Russia. Getting more deeply involved with the growing financial powers of the region may pull Russia’s fortunes up with them, or in the worst case, increase the chances of the next generation of financial powers being sympathetic to Moscow. The other important possibility ports (such as Sevastopol in the Black Sea) open is power projection, obviously a priority for Russia. However, this may lose importance given the perception that the East and South China Seas are more ‘turf’ for China than for Russia, and that Beijing is unlikely to take kindly to interference.
First, why Russia would be interested in gaining influence in North Korea. While the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not very interesting as an economic partner—as stated here, Russian businesses lack the incentive to invest in the DPRK while North Korea lacks the funds to purchase Russian goods—, diplomatic influence in North Korea will help Russia regain its place as a regional power.
Being able to influence Pyongyang’s actions would allow Russia to attempt stabilizing the political situation, in its interest if only because of the proximity of would-be wars. Russia may also, despite this seeming unlikely, be able to convince Pyongyang to slowly denuclearize with the promise of a Russian nuclear umbrella. However, in a more reasonable long-term goal, Russia could cooperate with China in getting North Korea back into ‘six-party’ (both Koreas, China, Russia, Japan, U.S.) denuclearization talks, and with Moscow being one of the implicated parties, again use its influence to increase the chances of negotiations holding. While not as relatively important as China, some nations may find it preferable (or necessary) to cater to Russia as well as China in order to modify North Korea’s course of action.
Having a certain level of understanding between Moscow and Pyongyang is also necessary for the construction of any commercial land-paths directly from South Korea into Russia. More specifically, if the DPRK cooperates, tri-party projects such as a trans-Siberian and trans-Korean railway dubbed the Iron Silk Road could lead to the cheaper transfer of products between Europe and the Koreas.
Russia, for reasons similar to China, also has a certain interest in
maintaining the current DPRK government system, a status quo needing protection and funding. Any transition away from the current government style is predicted to be both bloody and chaotic, leading to streams of refugees fleeing north. Even if China somehow absorbs the entire exodus, the many chemical and nuclear sites dotted across the map are of concern. While a Chernobyl-type incident, perhaps even willingly triggered by belligerents, would affect mostly Chinese population centers, Russian interests would certainly be damaged. Even postulating North Korea peacefully and flawlessly combines with the South, this leaves the possibility of a Western-aligned Korea pressed against Russian frontiers.
South Korea is hence more appealing to Russia, to the point where
Putin has made it clear he is prepared to ignore North Korea while working with Seoul. As recently as November 2013, the President himself has stated in Seoul that Moscow is ready to build an underwater pipeline transferring gas directly from Russia to South Korea despite the cost.
Trade, which in 2013 was over 250% of its 2009 value, seems to be the primary interest for both parties, although Moscow again benefits from influence with any party that can lower tensions in the region.
North Korea also stands to gain from renewing ties with Russia, despite Pyongyang’s attention to the issue having wavered since the leadership change. Since Soviet aid shriveled up following the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea’s economy has been floundering, surviving mainly due to Chinese trade and assistance. Other than the sheer economic benefits having an additional partner would bring, the DPRK leadership insures it has a counterbalance to Chinese influence by diversifying its income sources.
Tied to the aforementioned Iron Silk Road project is a Russian proposition to develop the North Korean port of Rajin, allowing an expansion of external trade. In September 2013, the Russian portion of the railroad was linked to Rajin.
Having Russia, a permanent UNSC member on poor terms with the West, as a strong ally will likely stem, if not entirely block for a time, UNSC sanctions targeting North Korea that China may otherwise let through for its own reasons. Even if the DPRK leadership can survive decades of a crippled economy almost unflinching, there are no reasons to invite additional sanctions.
As Western pressure on Russia increases, it seems likely the chances of a rapprochement between Russia and the Koreas would rise as well. North Korea may launch a missile or attempt another nuclear test as a statement that, despite Russia’s wishes it remains fully independent, although following the flare-up—presumably with rhetoric aimed solely at Japan or the United States, exempting South Korea—tensions will hopefully remain low.
Approving a sprawling amnesty bill before dawn on the 1st of November 2013, Thailand’s House of Representatives unwittingly sowed the seeds for the country’s eighteenth (the most used number) coup d’état since 1932. Critics and supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government together streamed onto the streets: the former appalled by what they saw as an attempt to clear the Prime Minister’s brother’s name from corruption charges, while the latter were outraged by the idea that those responsible for deaths during the 2010 crackdown on protests would walk uncontested.
Opposition members resigned to lead the protests, shaping the so-called ‘Yellow Shirts’ into a concerted anti-government force. As these Yellow Shirts accused Yingluck of serving as a political puppet for her brother (Thaksin Shinawatra, overthrown in a 2006 coup and voluntary expatriate seeking to elude Thai justice) and of abusing executive dominance, supporters of the Shinawatra politicians—mostly low-class urbanites and individuals from the countryside—coalesced under the umbrella of the ‘United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship’ (often referred to as the ‘Red Shirts’). Grossly speaking, the populist practices characterizing the Shinawatras’ time in office attracted the poorer masses of Thailand, while the pro-monarchy military officials and urban elite lobbed allegations of corruption and cronyism. Both tensions and stakes rose as the two sides clashed, culminating with the Red Shirts threatening to trigger a civil war if their Shinawatra champion was undemocratically removed from office a second time.
Near March, two legal hurdles with the potential to cancel her rule were presented to Yingluck: charges linked to a corrupt rice-subsidizing scheme the government had failed to sustainably maintain, and accusations of nepotism tied to Yingluck’s alleged brother-in-law (the familial relation being murky) replacing a senior security official in 2011. While the first has affected over 1.4 million rice farmers, pushing many to bankruptcy or suicide, it was the allegations of nepotism that convinced the Constitutional Court to remove ten officials, including the Prime Minister, from office on the 7th of May.
Roughly a fortnight later, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) imposed military law across the nation in an alleged attempt to smother the momentum of the protests. Many saw this as an ominous omen of the coup that came two days (22nd of May) later, given the clashes were taking place almost exclusively in the capital.
This move has been recognized as a biased transition by many, namely because the two bodies instrumental in Yingluck’s downfall—the courts and the army—are largely seen as operating in opposition to the Shinawatra family. The military junta has admitted that it regarded the Shinawatra family as being responsible for creating a rift in Thai society, and hence needed to be removed in order to heal the nation.
This explanation ignores the fact that Thailand’s coup-prone condition by far predates the Shinawatra politicians. Taken from this site (the date boxes and the vertical black lines are mine), the graph to the left shows the evolution of the budget allocated to the Thai military. As one can easily observe, the percentage of national GDP used for military purposes rises sharply following military coups—almost doubling, going from 85.93 billion baht in 2006 to 170.17 billion in 2009.
Simultaneously, one can observe a rise in corruption or in ‘extra-lawfulness’ when a civilian government is ousted by the military. According to the World Bank’s Control of Corruption Index, Thailand fell from the 54th percentile in 2005 to the 43rd in 2007. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index measured the drop comparatively, falling from 59th place worldwide to 84th between the same dates.
To add to this quantitative evidence, qualitative ‘proofs’: following the 2006 coup (as in 1991), high-ranking army officials were shoehorned into the seats of company leaders, benefitting from the governmental contracts subsequently funneled towards these companies; most appointed Senators from 2007 (previous to the 2006 coup, all Senators were indirectly elected) had ties to the military; 2006’s junta leader managed to, despite laws forbidding it, obtain land for construction inside a national park reserve; and, in 2009 (past the return to democratic rule), the military purchased almost 20 million dollars of machinery incapable of functioning.
While accusations of corruption justify and underpin the coup d’état, history has consistently seen military rule usher in purposeful mismanagement of state funds. There is little reason to believe this time will be any different.
There is little reason to believe there will not be another coup in the somewhat near future, either; the social rift leading to this intervention was spawned by opposition between a weak pro-Shinawatra majority, the rural poor and those from the countryside, and a strong pro-monarchy minority. No military intervention can permanently ease those divisions, and the kind of brutal military crackdown needed to repress dissent for generations does not mesh with the RTA’s behavior in the past decade. Furthermore, the current king is expected to soon be succeeded by his son, seen as a playboy unworthy of respect wooed over by Thaksin. If the revered monarchy loses the impartial power that has allowed it to calm tensions before, Thai society will only be rocked harder in the coming years.
Given the military will be even more empowered given the probable budget raise, and that the pro-Shinawatra protesters are likely to be energized by the new king’s support, the next coup d’état—likely less than a decade away—may surpass Thailand’s Black May as deadliest protests.
Since the 15th of June, 70 000 of Pakistan’s ‘’valiant armed forces have tasked to eliminate [Waziristan’s] terrorists regardless of hue and color, along with their sanctuaries’’, in the words of Pakistani Major General Asim Bajwa. The Pakistan army states that, in the first 15 days of the operation, almost 400 terrorists were killed. This claim cannot be independently verified given that journalists are not allowed to operate in the Waziristan regions, meaning the army is the only source of information about the operation. Given that the army also claims not a single civilian has been killed during this time, doubt is cast on these numbers.
A development long urged by Washington, this offensive into the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is unlikely to have the long-term effect sought.
Three factors support my claim, with the third being a reason for even greater worry.
First, the circumstances leading to this ground war. Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, is accused by critics of trusting too much in negotiations, to the point of foregoing any other options. For months, negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban had been ongoing, with few concrete results. Ignoring a vote in which most of the ruling party’s parliamentarians supported a military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban, followed the following day by a top official describing the country as being ‘’on a war footing’’ (events taking place respectively on the 27th and 28th of January 2014), Sharif announced the creation of a peace committee, trying yet another time to bring the militants in from the cold. While talks were losing steam, a brazen attack on Karachi’s international airport, responsible for over two dozen deaths, on June 8th precipitated the declaration of war.
While various negotiations between Taliban factions and governments have failed to stop the insurgency, Pakistan is in a prime position to understand that open war only escalates tensions. In 2004, ex-President Musharraf allied himself to the War on Terror, sending Pakistani troops into the FATA. In response, Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (the capital’s largest place of worship, the Red Mosque) became a center for protests against the ‘un-Islamic’ military action. On the 12th of July 2007, after the army was forced to besiege and storm the mosque, the Swat Valley Taliban declared war on the Pakistani government, becoming the militant group known as the Pakistani Taliban.
The Prime Minister’s reluctance to abandon the peace talks, coupled with fears of creating new anti-state extremist groups, may lead to the ongoing ground war not having the strength needed to deal a death-blow to the Taliban.
Related to this is the fact that Kabul refuses to recognize the Durand Line, the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan traced in 1893. Last year, now-outgoing President Karzai of Afghanistan reiterated that Kabul has never, and that his government will not, recognize this frontier. Fears that a stable government in Kabul would attempt to seduce Pashtun regions in Pakistan before annexing them into Afghanistan, the ‘’original home’’ of the Pashtun, support the claim that a strong Afghan government is not in Islamabad’s favor.
The Taliban have without a doubt managed to destabilize Afghanistan for close to two decades. By continuing support for terrorist groups targeting India or Afghanistan, either by warning members of imminent strikes or by using their influence in the military to veto certain targets, the anti-insurgent campaign will be undermined. However, it can also be seen as being sharpened: by allowing only anti-Islamabad groups to be struck down, the ISI protects national interests while advancing its version of foreign policy.
Third, the lull in Afghan security and stability. The FATA are aligned along the Durand Line, meaning that as Pakistani troops sweep through the territories, they will be pushing militants against the Afghan frontier. For various reasons, if only because the Taliban factions have been in effective control of the largely-ungoverned FATA, it is easy to suspect that the international border is too porous to stop any fleeing militants.
Pakistan has requested help from Kabul in sealing the frontier, understanding that the porous border is not the ‘hard place’ needed to smash the insurgent front. However, it is widely doubted that the Afghan army is truly ready to maintain national security independently, let alone surge into Taliban territory and decimate waves of insurgents crossing the border. Furthermore, training of this army had recently been suspended due to infestation by Talibanized suicide bombers. Due to the withdrawal of international forces, what remains of the ISAF coalition is mostly various aircraft, not the ideal tool for enforcing border control. Despite this, Washington has complained about being warned of the operation’s commencement only three days previous, leaving it too little time to mobilize an adequate border patrol.
The Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America, shortened to Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) is a binding agreement seeking to create a long-term bond between the United States and Afghanistan prioritizing Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and prosperity, while advancing their common goal of destroying al-Qaeda and like-minded organisations. More specifically, the United States will (amongst other promises), upon the signing of the SPA: be granted access to governmental facilities in Afghanistan post 2014; be allowed to station troops in Afghanistan with the goal of forming Afghan forces and eliminating the remnants of al-Qaida and like-minded networks; for the next ten years, annually seek Congress-approved funding for the support of the Afghan National Security Forces.
The SPA will hence aid United States personnel and intelligence in the targeting and elimination of extremists in Afghanistan, allowing Kabul to secure more of its land. However, the outgoing President Karzai has stated he will not sign this agreement, leaving whoever succeeds him to approve the partnership. While both remaining candidates have declared they would sign the agreement once inaugurated, allegations of massive fraud have led to a full vote audit. Even if over a thousand ballot boxes are verified per day, the new leader will not be designated until mid-August (roughly a month from today). Add to that the recruitment of observers by the European Union, considered particularly important for disproving rumors of American interference, and Afghanistan’s first national audit may well push the inauguration past the unofficial deadline.
Given the operation is expected to last only a few weeks, it seems likely that militants will abandon their strongholds in Pakistan for only as long as the army occupies the Waziristans, with minimal casualties in Afghanistan for reasons detailed above. The Taliban, as NATO forces have learnt, are of a slippery nature. Nonetheless, the sudden influx of militants pushed over the border by Pakistan’s storming of North and South Waziristan, during Kabul’s temporary weakness may prove too much for the fledgling government. However, its survival is important to two of the world’s powers: China and the United States.
The United States, having dragged countless soldiers from allies and
coalitions into two wars, will certainly be affected by the events in Afghanistan. The Iraqi and Afghan wars were, amongst others, meant to erect strong democracies in the two Asian countries. Iraq, with its sectarian head of state and international militant crisis, is difficultly definable as a success. If the Taliban succeed in re-conquering Kabul, reversing any progress made since the 2001 invasion, Washington’s international reputation will be damaged, despite the wars being sparked by a different President over a decade ago.
China, on the other hand, had tried and failed to form an alliance with the previous Taliban government. In exchange for diplomatic recognition and protection from UNSC sanctions, the Taliban would refuse to aid Uyghur militants in their separatist revolution. The failure of this alliance has likely convinced the Communist Party that it stands more to gain from a strong government capable of smothering international terrorism than from an Islamic dictatorship.
This year’s Ramadan opened on the 29th of June. Until the 27th of July, Muslims worldwide are to refrain from, amongst other activities, eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset. The benefits of fasting are multiplied during this holy period according to the Quran, and observance of the practice is one of the faith’s five pillars.
Despite this, on the onset of the month-long period, Beijing has imposed a region-wide ban on fasting for students in Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority province. Arguing that the ban is for health-related reasons, the Communist Party has also called on retired teachers to guard mosque entrances and refuse entry to any students. In the name of separating State and religion, officials were also ordered to continue their eating schedules.
Curiously, while Xinjiang is not the only Muslim-majority province, it is the
only area affected by the ban. Others, notably the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (while it is impossible to provide an exact number for believers of a given faith within the population, given that the atheist government gathers no such statistics, Muslims are considered to boast a heavy majority in Ningxia Hui), have been exempted.
While this difference could be explained by the population difference—Xinjiang is home to almost 22 million people, while Ningxia Hui counts just over 6 million—, other factors are often mentioned when debating restrictions placed on Xinjiang by Beijing.
The first is an ethnic divergence; much of China is inhabited by an ethnic group dubbed the Han, while the majority of Xinjiang’s population are ethnically Turkic, identifying as Uyghur. One may point to the massive demographic swamping, given the Han went from 6% of the population in 1949 to over 40% today, as proof that Beijing is attempting to assimilate the Uyghurs by sheer numbers. However, due to the fact that the Han immigrants had been directed by the government to largely uninhabited territories, the statistics hide the fact that Xinjiang is now divided into twenty prefectures roughly respecting ethnic majorities.
However, in the discriminatory line of thought, it is interesting to notice that while the Muslim Uyghurs have been targeted, Muslim Hui—found mostly in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Hui are similar to the mainland majority Han both ethnically and linguistically, with the main exception being religion—are not affected by any such restrictions on their practice of Islam.
The second is a nationalist movement which, since the conquest of Xinjiang—which translates roughly into new frontier—by the Manchu Empire in 1876, has twice managed to establish a distinct republic. While the East Turkestan Republic (1933-1934) and the Second East Turkestan Republic (1944-1949) had a combined lifespan of under a decade, they nevertheless sustain nationalist hopes amongst parts of the Uyghur population.
Today, reasons listed by separatist movements include: the reconstruction, ‘’literally brick by brick’’, of a 2000-year-old Uyghur quarter by migrant Han, amongst other imposed modernizations; widespread political imprisonment, torture, disappearances, executions and compulsory unpaid labor; a ban on minors attending mosques; growing Han-Uyghur and urban-rural (respectively) economic inequalities; restrictions on what copies of the Quran can be preached; criminalization of teaching the Quran to a child; and the aforementioned banning of Ramadan fasting for schoolchildren.
By increasing restrictions and security in Xinjiang, they, perhaps in a counterproductive manner, seek to pacify or cow Uyghur separatist movements into abandoning their violent campaigns. While Uyghurs are banned from owning firearms, there has been a recent surge in knife and bomb attacks. The most common targets used to be state-operated facilities such as police stations and road checkpoints, but the latest attacks have taken place in train stations or vegetable markets. The local population blames radicals streaming over the Pakistani and Afghan frontiers, bemoaning the collective punishment inflicted, while Beijing explains the phenomenon as a Talibanization of the Uyghurs.
Beijing’s interests in having solid access to Xinjiang are many.
Accounting for almost 17% of China’s landmass, Xinjiang—despite the fact that under 5% of it is habitable—is rich in natural resources such as oil and natural gas. Especially given the upcoming Manila-Beijing trial at The Hague (the Philippines has accused China of violating international law with its nine-dash map and has asked The Hague to review not only the area where Filipino and Chinese claims clash, but the 90% of the South China Sea included in the nine-dash map)—which China has refused to participate in or recognize—, China may face a united international front against its harvesting of the vast resources within the South China Sea, hence forcing it to turn to other sources. One of these sources is Russia, with which China signed a 400 billion dollar deal for natural gas in May 2014, but the difficult negotiations preceding the agreement may have underscored the advantage of using national resources. By reducing its dependency on oil, coal, and external energies, the increased use of alternative resources will both fulfill China’s growing energy needs while supporting the ‘’war on pollution’’ declared in 2014 by Premier Li Keqiang.
Politically, the possession of Xinjiang also allows easier access to Pakistan—China’s closest ally in the region—and Afghanistan, where Beijing has vowed to combat terrorism, simultaneously serving as a buffer zone against the ex-USSR states (parallels can be drawn between China’s insistence to keep Xinjiang and Russia’s response to Ukraine’s attempt to leave the ex-Soviet buffer belt). The diplomatic downside is that, combined with separatist movements in Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong, China has found itself pressured to support loyalist movements around the globe—a factor likely to explain China’s abstaining from, instead of opposing, a UNSC vote condemning its Russian ally for Moscow’s actions in Crimea.
While we can hence associate the periodic Ramadan student-fasting ban per se with a long-term assimilation effort being slowly ramped up, other religious groups have reported increased governmental pressure. While these include Taiwan’s Falun Gong and Tibetan Buddhism, the faith that will be my focus is the growing Christian community along China’s eastern coast.
Persecution of various religions has been observable in certain Communist nations. Mongolia, for example, during its Communist phase (1924-1990), murdered at least 18 000 Buddhist lamas and brought the number of Buddhist monks down to 110 from over 100 000, while North Korea routinely crushes religious rights. According to Yeo-sang Yoon (of the North Korean Human Rights Archives) and Sun-young Han (of the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights), who jointly interviewed 2000 refugees and defectors, 99.7% of the North Koreans believed they could not ‘’freely conduct religious activities’’ in their homeland. Furthermore, 98.6% said they knew of no legal churches in North Korea (an alleged three churches operate with governmental consent in the capital, and Pyongyang claims that legal house churches can be found in the provinces), but 99.1% of the respondents said citizens witnessing underground religious meetings risked heavy persecution: ‘’political prison camps, the harshest level of punishment in North Korean society, […] detention, death, disappearance, restriction on movement, or deportation.’’
According to Doug Bandow, a specialist in foreign policy and civil liberties at the Cato Institute, this is because the Kim dynasty ‘’does not recognize individual liberty of any sort’’, in part because Pyongyang ‘’understands the threat posed by belief in God’’. Communism and Christianity, as stated by a judge from the Third Reich’s People’s Court, resemble each other on only one count: for an individual to truly be faithful to the system, it requires their entire soul. If both Communism and Christianity—or any other religion—truly require a person’s full dedication, it is reasonable to understand that a person cannot be considered fully loyal to both simultaneously. It would hence be logical for a devout Communist regime to crush religious beliefs in order to strengthen their own ideological hold on the population.
While international humanitarian norms oppose such an operation, China can, given its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, block any concerted sanctions targeting it or North Korea. China also has a history of avoiding pointed accusations, reducing the chance that a serious condemnation could survive the UNSC.
The goal could be to slow, or even reverse, the rate of religious conversion. In a nine-page policy document obtained and reviewed by the New York Times, Beijing allegedly states it is attempting to camouflage ‘’excessive religious sites’’ and limit participation in ‘’overly popular’’ religious activities, but as examples names only Christianity and crosses. ‘’The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,’’ the decree continues. ‘’Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.’’
This cross-stripping campaign has already begun, with between May and March 2014 over a dozen churches in Zheijiang Province being told to either conceal their crosses or face demolition orders. Over sixty churches had suffered various interventions between January and June 2014, according to a list compiled by a Catholic news agency (Asia News). Many of these were in a port city by the name of Wenzhou, which has such a high Christian and church population that it has earned the nickname of ‘Jerusalem of the East’. Churches have also been demolished, with some reports stating between 1 000 and 1 200 buildings had been destroyed. Amongst these is the Sanjiang church, described as a symbol of resistance in the face of Communist oppression. Its destruction shocked many due to the church’s classification as a registered and approved place of worship.
An undated provincial policy paper, titled Working Document Concerning the Realization of Handling of Illegal Religious Buildings, stated that, due to the international scrutiny that would be mustered because of the targets’ nature, government officials should accuse the buildings of violating building codes. ‘’Be particular about tactics, be particular about methods. [It] is crucial to investigate and prosecute from the perspective of laws and regulations to avoid inviting heavy criticism.’’ This conspiracy gains credibility when one hears that a campaign allegedly verifying building permits, Three Rectifications and One Demolition, has only struck down churches. Some have indeed been illegal—house churches, clergy having sought blessings from the Vatican, preaching of unapproved versions of the Bible—but the Sanjiang demolition proves those are not the only targets.
This nation-wide prosecution (as opposed to the Ramadan ban, which targeted only Xinjiang), as well as Christianity being referred to as yang jiao (foreign teaching), point to fears of a ‘’cultural NATO’’, a concept advanced by IRGC Political Department Chief Javani. The 2012 document on campus evangelization states that the United States and American allies were the sole forces backing this religious expansion, suggesting Beijing deal with the problem by harnessing it: build churches, anoint priests, and create a Communized doctrine (Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement). By controlling both the spread and the doctrine of yang jiao, Beijing appears to be seeking to eradicate this new influence.
Previously, I’d stated the unknown was: why is Beijing backstabbing Christians, both friend and foe? The answer to that first question is ostensibly a purging of foreign influences in Chinese culture. The follow-up question, given that the betrayal is on too large a scale to be extemporaneous, is the cause behind this shift.
According to BBC, over seven million Chinese became university graduates in this month alone. Fifteen years ago, that number was seven times smaller. This is due to the explosive economic growth China has seen in recent years—a growth that will see it surpass the United States as economic superpower somewhere between 2016 and 2022—, combined with the rapid set-up of universitarian networks across the country.
Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at Hong Kong’s City University believes the actual numbers could be twice as high, meaning 2.3 million students from this cohort alone will be added to the country’s unemployed pool. However, to avoid dramatization of the situation, this article will use the 16% statistic.
The overall Chinese unemployment rate is estimated to be 9.6%. The group responsible for equilibrating the statistics are the blue-collar workers: those who have only primary education to their name have
an unemployment rate of only 4.2%. In fact, according to the same 2012 survey, the more years one has spent in educational institutions, the more likely one is to end up unemployed. This is likely due to the sectors that have powered China’s economic miracle: manufacturing, construction, and heavy industries are not prime sectors for white-collar university graduates.
Countries have, in recent history, collapsed because of a rapid educational and demotic expansion without the necessary economic boom to employ the inactive educated. Sami Aoun, author of Le Printemps arabe: mirage ou virage? (roughly translated as The Arab Spring: Illusion or Miracle?), puts the theoretical economic growth rate that may have averted the Arab Spring at approximately 10%. China’s growth rate for the first quarter of 2014 was below that, at 7.4% , with growth expected to slump to roughly 5% per year past the end of the decade. China is also placed amongst the countries most likely to suffer a banking crisis, further darkening the economic forecast.
Combined with the unusually passive character of the unemployed, this policy shift may avoid a Chinese Spring, with uprisings similar to 1989’s Tiananmen Square. Remaining calm despite their limited options, the idle graduates are described as lowering their expectations instead of raising their voices. However, Professor Cheng warns that a sudden economic downturn—perhaps a banking crisis—could trigger the transformation of these youth, for whom waiting has become their sole profession, into a united anti-government force.
Given the potential or veridical enmity and challenges rising from many sides (a Uyghur separatist movement growing more violent; pro-democracy petitions in both Hong Kong and Macau (the latter more half-heartedly); legal challenges from the Philippines over China’s expansionist policies; the now-independent spread of historically Western and Western-funded Christian doctrine; the creation of a growing unemployable class similar to the Arab Spring youth), Beijing may be tightening its grip on China, fearing a second counterrevolution that will topple the Communist regime.
Further restrictions being placed on perceived opposition groups and stronger, more threatening reactions to international incidents may hence be expected.
This article attempts to draw lines between three major events:
the Syrian civil war and Iran’s role
the creation of an Islamic caliphate by ISIL
demotic religious conscription in Hindustan (India)
July 2014 marked the 24th month of the Syrian civil war proper, the designation having been issued by the United Nations fifteen months after its beginning. In that time, various entities have flocked to both sides of the conflict: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah surged to the defense of the Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia, the West and al-Qaeda supported the armed opposition.
Since then, various governments and newspapers have picked up on rumours that the Islamic Republic of Iran was bribing Afghan refugees to support them in Syria: in exchange for 500$ per month, schooling for their children, and Iranian residency, the refugees would serve as loyalist soldiers. This implies the recruit being not only armed and trained, but flown the just-over-1400 kilometres from Tehran to Damascus. However, as an unnamed Western official stated, this allows Tehran to avoid human losses (from the slain members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and political fallout (from the stream of aforementioned bodies) without abandoning their role in their holy war against the largely Sunni rebels.
The most well-known of the rebel groups is doubtlessly that of the Islamic State (IS), previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The name change occurred following the creation of a
Sunni caliphate stretching from roughly Syria’s Aleppo to Iraq’s Baghdad. Despite struggling to crush resistance within the claimed territories, their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has already exposed a future goal: invade and destroy two of Shia Islam’s holiest cities, Karbala and Najaf, claiming they have ‘’scores to settle’’.
This threat has aggravated Shia-majority Iran, who has promised to, if necessary, defend the two shrines no matter the cost. The repercussions have been felt much further than Iran, however. An Indian organization regrouping Shia Muslims, Anjuman Haideri Hallaur, says over 30 000 of its members have already volunteered to travel to Iraq to defend the cities, and claims it can send over 100 000 fighters.
This project, however, will not be sanctioned or permitted by the Indian government, who has stated such travel would not be allowed. 46 Indian nurses are known to be trapped in Tikrit, one of the cities taken over by IS, while 100 others are believed to be in contested areas. Almost 10 000 Indian nationals work in Iraq, mostly in parts as of yet untouched by the fighting. Officials from the India’s Iraqi embassy had not yet stated whether or not such volunteers would be granted visas as of this time.
One Indian columnist, Saeed Naqvi, mocked the move as being ‘’sentimental’’ and ‘’foolish’’, asking if the ‘’bunch of nuts planning this journey’’ would travel by horseback. That may not be necessary, given Iran may be open to the idea of transporting these jihadists, who deplore IS’s twisting of the term. While diplomatic—especially economic—relations may suffer, bringing these Muslim volunteers to Karbala and Najaf would have the same impacts as the Afghan mercenaries: dilute the political and human losses inflicted by the insurgents.
The second problem that arises when one considers the Hindustani organisation’s proposed modus operandi: either ‘’form a human chain around the holy shrines of Karbala and Najaf [‘’with a million volunteers’’]’’ or ‘’fight [the IS] barehanded’’. When the horrors of the ISIL’s advance are contemplated—a tweet involving a soldier minus the body being called a soccer ball (with hashtags referring to the FIFA World Cup) comes to mind—, it is difficult to believe these tactics would lead to anything but the slaughter of the Hindustanis.
This fact is lost surely on neither the volunteers, regardless of their allegiance, or on the Iranians. In order to be of any use (and to survive, not a negligible benefit) in the event that IS reaches the two cities, the volunteers will need to be armed. Given the use of Afghan mercenaries, this would not prove a problem for Iran. Reports state that at least two of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force battalions have already been sent to Iraq, although the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman have denied the accusation (the Foreign Minister himself stated he ‘’frankly [had] no idea about that’’). Their presence, or the summoning of other military personnel, would then provide an ideal setting for the simultaneous militarization and radicalization of the Indian volunteers, both directed by Tehran. One could note similarities to accusations that Iran was funding and arming the Afghan Taliban in an attempt to defeat the Western incursion. By creating powerful Shia militias, Iran would continue to contribute to the heritage of the Islamic Revolution, as well as create opponents to Sunni expansion.
The same fear that today haunts Western nations—the return of radicalized citizens from overseas conflicts such as the Syrian civil war—would thus become much more relevant to India. A map of Shia/Sunni geographical majorities shows that Shia Muslims are most
common in the contested province of Jammu and Kashmir, near the ‘’red corridor’’ (a swathe of land along India’s eastern coast subjected to attacks from Maoist insurgents), and in the West Bengal province (found within the red corridor) allegedly lusted after by neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh. There is also a Shia population around the province of Uttar Pradesh, but the region is less restive than the others named.
Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority province, is claimed in part or in whole by four political groups: India, Pakistan, China and the Kashmiris themselves, divided between remaining united with India, joining Pakistan, or becoming sovereign. The presence of Kashmir within the Indian nation has led to the creation of a Pakistani terrorist group (Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks), is responsible for the 1947 and 1965 Indo-Pakistani wars, and multiple eruptions of unrest. Pakistan may be more inclined to facilitate transport of volunteers from this region, if allegations of Pakistan fomenting unrest in the region are as true as they were during the 1999 Kargil War, as veterans may attempt to detach Jammu and Kashmir from the other provinces of India.
As for the volunteers originating from the red corridor, stirrings of
nationalist or anti-India sentiments may lead to cooperation with the various Maoist groups in the region. Such alliances had been seen as during Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. Iran’s Communist Party, the Tudeh, had aided the Islamists in their revolution against the Shah before being cast down. The West Bengal Hindustanis could boast the same motivations, coupled to a desire of seceding from India to be integrated into Bangladesh (Indian journalists and politicians allege Bangladesh is behind some of the armed groups seeking such changes, as well as pointing out that massive illegal immigration could be an attempt to islamicize the regions and strengthen pro-Bangladeshi sentiments).
There have been fears that Indian Prime Minister Modi, having described himself as a Hindu nationalist, would attempt to pass laws targeting minorities—which could add to the reasons listed above—, but such concerns seem to be unfounded as of yet.
For these reasons, one can assume the Indian government will put in place stricter punishments for citizens traveling abroad for purposes of jihad, similar to measures put in place by Great Britain. Regardless, an increase in the number of Indian fighters in southern Iraq would not be surprising, with Iran being the most likely responsible.
Diplomatic developments in the south-eastern regions of Asia.