Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

The crisis in Iraq and an Afghanistan prognosis

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has rampaged through western Iraq. A few thousand kilometres away in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is withdrawing, with Americans contemplating less than 10,000 troops on ground.

The Iraqi and Afghan landscapes have festering ethnic and sectarian divides in common. In Iraq, the ISIL has crafted one of the best success stories for radical Islamists in recent history. Is a similar manoeuvre on the cards in Afghanistan?

The genesis of the crisis in Iraq has its roots in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s reluctance in exercising inclusive governance. The Kurds, 17 percent of the population, remained at the periphery – only to become more and more assertive. Further, Maliki never really made the effort required to draw Sunnis, who make up approximately 30 percent of the population, into the fold.

In Afghanistan, ethnic faultlines have proven, historically, more difficult to negotiate than sectarian divides. However, the Afghan parliament has a fair representation of ethnic groups. The army, though dominated by the Pashtuns and Tajiks, is quite representative.

India-Pakistan border flare-up a zero-sum game

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

At places along the Line of Control (LoC), barely a wire separates the Indian soldier and his Pakistani counterpart. The genesis of the recent flare-up was the killing of five Indian soldiers on the Indian side of the LoC. The media blitz in Delhi found more fodder with a spike in infiltration attempts and exchange of fire beyond the LoC at posts across the international border.

South China Sea: The zero-sum game

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The Chinese have shown far greater alacrity in resolving disputes over land boundaries with neighbours than in drawing lines across international waters that they claim. A nation with land borders with 14 countries has settled its disputes with 10 of them, but finds it difficult to resolve its problems in the South China Sea.

Opting for lean and mean armies

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The British army is being cut to size, or perhaps, being stripped to its bones. The British defence secretary has announced a 20 percent cut, reducing its strength to 82,000 combatants by the end of the decade.

Myanmar: The milestones ahead

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The latest craze amongst destinations for the diplomatic community globally seems to be Myanmar. The deluge started with Hillary Clinton flying down in November 2011. However, is all the enthusiasm, easing of sanctions and ambassadors being deputed going to enhance the avowed objective of the democratisation of Myanmar? Is there a possibility of reforms slowing down with too much being offered too early?

U.S.-Afghan agreement: Issues to be addressed

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The draft strategic partnership agreement between the U.S. and Kabul to address their relationship after the completion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal in 2014 has been arrived at after negotiations. The draft addresses the issues for ten years beyond 2014. A scrutiny of Afghan forces and the challenges they face highlights issues that merit inclusion in the agreement.

The hunt for Hafiz Saeed

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The $10 million bounty placed on Hafiz Saeed by the Americans may have been barely noticed in most capital cities but it definitely had an impact in New Delhi and caused a furore in Islamabad. India and Pakistan are the two countries most concerned with Saeed’s health and activities, although for different reasons.

Bangladesh reinventing itself

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

When Bangladesh’s neighbours woke up to the news of another aborted coup last month, the fragility of its democracy was vividly evident. In 1971, erstwhile East Pakistan had emerged as an independent, secular, democratic nation — Bangladesh. The transition had cost between 300,000 to 5 million Bangladeshi lives, by various estimates. Bangladeshi radicals had collaborated with the Pakistani army to enact a genocide that barely found adequate coverage in the West’s humanitarian reporting.

Gains seen for Taliban as post-ISAF era looms in Afghanistan

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

A fear embedded deep in the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche has always been that of a successful conventional military thrust by India from across its eastern borders. This is aggravated by their assessment that Pakistan lacks the geographical depth to absorb the onslaught; its logistics dumps being especially vulnerable on account of the inability to place them at an adequate depth. The answer, often articulated, is of a pliant regime in its western neighbour Afghanistan providing the strategic geographical depth that Pakistan needs.

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