May 20, 2017

Killing C.I.A. Informants, China Crippled U.S. Spying Operations

An honor guard outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last month. The Chinese government killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 C.I.A sources from 2010 through 2012.



MAY 20, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build.

Assessing the fallout from an exposed spy operation can be difficult, but the episode was considered particularly damaging. The number of American assets lost in China, officials said, rivaled those lost in the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, formerly of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., who divulged intelligence operations to Moscow for years.

The previously unreported episode shows how successful the Chinese were in disrupting American spying efforts and stealing secrets years before a well-publicized breach in 2015 gave Beijing access to thousands of government personnel records, including intelligence contractors. The C.I.A. considers spying in China one of its top priorities, but the country’s extensive security apparatus makes it exceptionally hard for Western spy services to develop sources there.

At a time when the C.I.A. is trying to figure out how some of its most sensitive documents were leaked onto the internet two months ago by WikiLeaks, and the F.B.I. investigates possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, the unsettled nature of the China investigation demonstrates the difficulty of conducting counterespionage investigations into sophisticated spy services like those in Russia and China.

The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. both declined to comment.

Details about the investigation have been tightly held. Ten current and former American officials described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.

Investigators still disagree how it happened, but the unsettled nature of the China investigation demonstrates the difficulty of conducting counterespionage investigations into sophisticated spy services.


The first signs of trouble emerged in 2010. At the time, the quality of the C.I.A.’s information about the inner workings of the Chinese government was the best it had been for years, the result of recruiting sources deep inside the bureaucracy in Beijing, four former officials said. Some were Chinese nationals who the C.I.A. believed had become disillusioned with the Chinese government’s corruption.

But by the end of the year, the flow of information began to dry up. By early 2011, senior agency officers realized they had a problem: Assets in China, one of their most precious resources, were disappearing.

The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. opened a joint investigation run by top counterintelligence officials at both agencies. Working out of a secret office in Northern Virginia, they began analyzing every operation being run in Beijing. One former senior American official said the investigation had been code-named Honey Badger.

As more and more sources vanished, the operation took on increased urgency. Nearly every employee at the American Embassy was scrutinized, no matter how high ranking. Some investigators believed the Chinese had cracked the encrypted method that the C.I.A. used to communicate with its assets. Others suspected a traitor in the C.I.A., a theory that agency officials were at first reluctant to embrace — and that some in both agencies still do not believe.

Their debates were punctuated with macabre phone calls — “We lost another one” — and urgent questions from the Obama administration wondering why intelligence about the Chinese had slowed.

The mole hunt eventually zeroed in on a former agency operative who had worked in the C.I.A.’s division overseeing China, believing he was most likely responsible for the crippling disclosures. But efforts to gather enough evidence to arrest him failed, and he is now living in another Asian country, current and former officials said.

There was good reason to suspect an insider, some former officials say. Around that time, Chinese spies compromised National Security Agency surveillance in Taiwan — an island Beijing claims is part of China — by infiltrating Taiwanese intelligence, an American partner, according to two former officials. And the C.I.A. had discovered Chinese operatives in the agency’s hiring pipeline, according to officials and court documents.

But the C.I.A.’s top spy hunter, Mark Kelton, resisted the mole theory, at least initially, former officials say. Mr. Kelton had been close friends with Brian J. Kelley, a C.I.A. officer who in the 1990s was wrongly suspected by the F.B.I. of being a Russian spy. The real traitor, it turned out, was Mr. Hanssen. Mr. Kelton often mentioned Mr. Kelley’s mistreatment in meetings during the China episode, former colleagues say, and said he would not accuse someone without ironclad evidence.

Those who rejected the mole theory attributed the losses to sloppy American tradecraft at a time when the Chinese were becoming better at monitoring American espionage activities in the country. Some F.B.I. agents became convinced that C.I.A. handlers in Beijing too often traveled the same routes to the same meeting points, which would have helped China’s vast surveillance network identify the spies in its midst.

Some officers met their sources at a restaurant where Chinese agents had planted listening devices, former officials said, and even the waiters worked for Chinese intelligence.

This carelessness, coupled with the possibility that the Chinese had hacked the covert communications channel, would explain many, if not all, of the disappearances and deaths, some former officials said. Some in the agency, particularly those who had helped build the spy network, resisted this theory and believed they had been caught in the middle of a turf war within the C.I.A.

Still, the Chinese picked off more and more of the agency’s spies, continuing through 2011 and into 2012. As investigators narrowed the list of suspects with access to the information, they started focusing on a Chinese-American who had left the C.I.A. shortly before the intelligence losses began. Some investigators believed he had become disgruntled and had begun spying for China. One official said the man had access to the identities of C.I.A. informants and fit all the indicators on a matrix used to identify espionage threats.

After leaving the C.I.A., the man decided to remain in Asia with his family and pursue a business opportunity, which some officials suspect that Chinese intelligence agents had arranged.

Officials said the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. lured the man back to the United States around 2012 with a ruse about a possible contract with the agency, an arrangement common among former officers. Agents questioned the man, asking why he had decided to stay in Asia, concerned that he possessed a number of secrets that would be valuable to the Chinese. It’s not clear whether agents confronted the man about whether he had spied for China.

The man defended his reasons for living in Asia and did not admit any wrongdoing, an official said. He then returned to Asia.

By 2013, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded that China’s success in identifying C.I.A. agents had been blunted — it is not clear how — but the damage had been done.

The C.I.A. has tried to rebuild its network of spies in China, officials said, an expensive and time-consuming effort led at one time by the former chief of the East Asia Division. A former intelligence official said the former chief was particularly bitter because he had worked with the suspected mole and recruited some of the spies in China who were ultimately executed.

China has been particularly aggressive in its espionage in recent years, beyond the breach of the Office of Personnel Management records in 2015, American officials said. Last year, an F.B.I. employee pleaded guilty to acting as a Chinese agent for years, passing sensitive technology information to Beijing in exchange for cash, lavish hotel rooms during foreign travel and prostitutes.

In March, prosecutors announced the arrest of a longtime State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, accused of lying to investigators about her contacts with Chinese officials. According to the criminal complaint against Ms. Claiborne, who pleaded not guilty, Chinese agents wired cash into her bank account and showered her with gifts that included an iPhone, a laptop and tuition at a Chinese fashion school. In addition, according to the complaint, she received a fully furnished apartment and a stipend

China 'dismantled' CIA spying operations and killed sources – report

Newspaper cites 10 current and former officials in report of serious intelligence breach caused either by a mole or hacking of covert communication system

Associated Press in Washington

Sunday 21 May 2017 02.53 BSTFirst published on Saturday 20 May 2017 23.04 BST

The Chinese government “systematically dismantled” CIA spying operations in the country starting in late 2010 and killed or imprisoned at least a dozen CIA sources over the next two years, it was reported on Saturday.

The New York Times cited10 current and former US officials, who described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

In an apparent attempt by China to intimidate serving or would-be spies, one source was reportedly shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building.

The report said US intelligence and law enforcement agencies scrambled to stem the damage – setting up an investigation into the crisis code-named Honey Badger – but were divided over the cause of the breach. Some investigators were convinced there was a mole within the CIA, while others believed the Chinese had hacked the covert system the CIA used to communicate with its foreign sources. 

Within the FBI, some agents reportedly suspected sloppy work by CIA handlers in Beijing might have been to blame for the losses. Former officials said that a restaurant used for meetings with sources had had been fitted with listening devices and staffed with waiters who were Chinese agents.

The debate over who or what was to blame for the breach remains unresolved, the paper said. The CIA, which declined to comment to the Times, also declined to comment to the Associated Press.

US accuses China of 'unprofessional' intercept of radiation sniffing plane


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The number of CIA assets lost in China rivaled those lost in the Soviet Union and Russia as a result of the betrayals by CIA officer Aldrich Ames and FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who were arrested in 1994 and 2001 respectively, the report said.


As many as 20 CIA sources were killed or imprisoned in China over a two-year period, the Times said, citing two former senior US officials.

Investigators suspected a former CIA operative of being a mole, but failed to gather enough evidence to arrest him and he is now living in another Asian country, the report said. Those who rejected the mole theory attributed the losses to sloppy American tradecraft in China.

By 2013, the FBI and CIA concluded that China no longer had the ability to identify American agents, the Times said.

Dangerous trends in Balochistan

Dr Noman Ahmed May 21, 2017Leave a comment

The high-sounding promises around expected windfalls from CPEC will remain elusive unless basic political issues are resolved

All is not well.



The attacks on the convoy of Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri in Mastung and labourers in Gwadar district on May 12 and 13 respectively show that all is not well in Balochistan. These tragic incidents almost coincided with the participation of the prime minister and chief ministers in ‘Belt and Road Forum’ in Beijing.

But during the past few years, hundreds of innocent citizens have been killed in targeted ambush and bomb attacks. With a less than desirable mechanism of law enforcement in the province, there seems to be no let-up in such incidences, which only add to the discontent in the terror-struck region.

The high-sounding promises around expected windfalls from China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will remain elusive unless basic political issues are resolved.

Ever since the controversial Balochistan army operation began in the 1970s, the Baloch polity has been feeling a sense of deprivation within the state structure of Pakistan. Scores of skirmishes, military actions, guerrilla struggle/resistance, and executions have marred the history of this turbulent province.

A sentiment that has recently developed among the political cadres is the sense of disenfranchisement. A dangerous trend in the Balochistan politics is emerging; that the rational, liberal and secular parties seem to be losing the support and sympathies of ordinary people. This can be seen in the form of criticism that the National Party and other parties receive at corner meetings and other public events.

The disgruntled Baloch and their supporters need to be brought into the mainstream for the removal of their grievances and political concerns. The provincial government, at present, is largely seen as puppet with its strings controlled from the centre. The entire provincial regime seems to be useless in terms of basic governance matters.

With the local government totally reduced to a by-stander in service delivery matters, the provincial government cannot be absolved of its responsibilities. Sufferings of the Baloch people during disasters and calamities could not be managed by the provincial government.

The Balochistan situation is now internationalised. One finds Baloch citizens whispering that CPEC, which is likely to initiate large-scale investment schemes in the real estate ventures and other development sectors, may not benefit the Baloch as the bulk of investors will be from outside of Balochistan.

A sizable population has been forced to live under the sky due to forced dislocations. Law and order has worsened to such an extent that even top political figures are not safe. The assassinations of Habib Jalib Baloch of Baloch National Party in 2010, scholar and teacher Saba Dashtyari in 2011, and many leaders of political parties a few years ago are proof.

The instances of sabotage, destruction, and killings are still there despite claims of security enforcement by the establishment. In the half-hearted attempts to bring normalcy to the province, the peculiarities of social and geo-physical structure of the province were largely ignored. Despite being one of the most thinly-populated regions, Balochistan possesses a diverse range of communities inhabiting its territories in a most traditional manner.

Knowing too well the conflicting interests of tribes and their chieftains, the colonial masters skillfully maintained administrative calm for a sizable part of their rule. Trouble began showing up soon after the partition when the sociological peculiarities were ignored.

Limited participation of local interest groups in the political administration and organisation of their own context generated a sense of deprivation. This could have been addressed only through an effective and open-ended political process, which was sadly missing for most of the post-independence history.

The discovery and subsequent utilisation pattern of natural resources further fueled this frustration. Sui remained a troubled area during the 1950s when attempts to bring order failed. The situation in other parts of the region was no different.

Exploitation of common people at the hands of tribal chieftains was another unending problem. To pursue their personal objectives, the sardars established linkages with the establishment at the cost of principled stand of their people.

Ensuing political fragmentation and factional fighting hardly allowed any worthwhile political force to emerge. Inter-ethnic and sub-regional dialogue could also not evolve. Major ethnic denominations, such as Pakhtuns in the north, Baloch in the central part of province and coastal natives in the Makran strip could hardly strike a political consensus to become a unified voice.

The previous government launched Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan with a great deal of pomp and show. However, it has failed to act as a remedy or even a ray of hope. The past attempts of federally-sponsored programmes have generated several controversies. Projects related to expropriation of land and resources by other communities and state agencies; marginalisation of mega development projects and plans for the construction of military garrisons in Sui, Kohlu, Awaran and Gwadar are key concerns cited by some factions of the Baloch leadership.

Sections of the local population also allege that the overt and covert roles of intelligence agencies are another cause of the simmering discontent. Thousands of people have disappeared, leaving behind question marks about the veracity of official claims.

The Balochistan situation is now internationalised. One finds Baloch citizens whispering that CPEC, which is likely to initiate large-scale investment schemes in the real estate ventures and other development sectors, may not benefit the Baloch as the bulk of investors will be from outside of Balochistan.

The locals argue that schemes with an instant impact on livelihood and possibility of creating small to medium scale service enterprises shall be effective to help the Baloch population.

An all-parties conference should be called to deliberate on the core issues. This approach can later be expanded to other key players. The trust of the people and power-wielding stakeholders must be restored in the political process launched by the government. This cannot be done without taking a few bold decisions.

In order to set the initiative rolling, the regime must announce amnesty and ceasefire. Release of political detainees and locating the missing persons can be the starting point to win over the other side. The best way is to provide political space to help evolve a feeling of participation amongst all political forces. No political group can become a security threat if genuinely accommodated in the normal political process

Modi's Approach To China Has Done Us Proud

Mihir Swarup Sharma

The Narendra Modi government's decision to not send an envoy to China's big Belt and Road Forum (abbreviated, incredibly, BARF) has been the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth in New Delhi. Given the fact that India is practically the only large economy to not be represented there - and that dozens and dozens of countries have sent representatives, many the heads of their governments - it has come across to some people as the Modi government deliberately choosing to isolate India. It has been criticised thus as stubborn opposition to an initiative that has seized the world's imagination.

Well, if Modi has isolated India on this issue, so be it. He and his foreign policy establishment deserve praise for taking a bold stand of dissent on grounds that are both principled and realist.

The government's thinking on this issue is unusually clear and well-articulated. The Ministry of External Affairs released a statement that "connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities." It is worth noting that India's legitimate objections to the path of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC - one of the sub-initiatives of One Belt One Road or OBOR - also got a mention, but were clearly rhetorically subordinate to the larger, principled objection about the sustainability issues involved. 

While India is the only large economy to not send a representative to BARF, it is not as if it has received universal acclaim among those who have gone. The Guardian reported that the European Union has abstained from some of the resolutions the Chinese expected them to sign up to, citing environmental reasons. Nor has the United States sent a senior official. So even the talk of "isolation" is not entirely true. Not every large country is willing to sign up to Beijing's vision of a Middle Kingdom-centric global economy, but India is the only major country willing to take a clear and visible stand on the subject, and of that we can be proud.

Let's be clear: this does not mean that Indian companies may not take advantage of OBOR connectivity, wherever it does get built. This is a free country and a (relatively) free economy, and nobody will stop an Indian manufacturer from using railway lines somewhere else in the world paid for by China, if it helps their business. The private sector is not the government. It is for the government, however, to take the long strategic view on what OBOR connectivity will mean for the world, our neighbourhood, and our own position in the global economy - and they have correctly decided that it will not, on balance, be beneficial. Nor is this about distrusting China in particular. India is more than willing to cooperate with China on infrastructure finance - witness its decision to sign up to the AIIB and BRICS Bank - and on the many issues being taken up in the BRICS and other forums. This is, presumably, because it does not believe that those forums inherently violate the principles that it believes OBOR, as currently structured, would fail to uphold.

This is, frankly, the first time that I have felt that the Modi government has taken a stand that the preceding government would have balked at doing. In almost all cases, the Modi government foreign policy has been an extension of Manmohan Singh's policies - which is entirely to its credit. Consistency in such matters is the sign of a mature nation. But one of the errors that the Singh government consistently made was to be extra-careful of Beijing's sensitivities. It failed, in essence, to reap any reward for that attitude: Beijing's foreign policy continued to be made with no thought of India's "core interests". Consider, for example, climate change, where India signed up to the Chinese agenda at the big conference of parties in Copenhagen during UPA-II, only to find that Beijing went behind its back to sign a bilateral pact with Washington on climate change a few years later. No doubt UPA-II would also have learnt in time not to do so - but that does not take away any credit from the Modi government for not being over-solicitous of Beijing's sensitivities.

By taking the lead in questioning the basic rationale underlying OBOR, Modi has done us proud. We should now ask, however: what next? A principled stand on a conference is valuable in and of itself, but it needs to be followed up.

There are some obvious next moves.

🔴 First, New Delhi must recognise that it is essentially, by objecting to OBOR, standing up for liberal policies and economics within various other countries. Thus India must now view itself as a leader of a market-driven, liberal democratic bloc that wishes to create an alternative view of the global economy to China's more authoritarian, state-driven view. The latter is increasingly dominant, especially as Trump's America turns its back on the world. We must stand up for market access, free movement of capital goods and people, and liberal political principles everywhere. This is both principled and in our real interests.

🔴And second, we must work with the Japanese - our biggest partners in this regard - to create connectivity belts that are not centred on China and which serve our mutual strategic interests as well as not disrupting local countries and economies the way OBOR might. Our cooperation with Japan - and Indonesia, Singapore and Australia - must be taken to the next level.

Modi promised foreign policy leadership. For the first time, he is beginning to deliver. He must keep going.

(Mihir Swarup Sharma is a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.)

How ISI is turning Balochistan into a mass grave

 News Details

Source: Scoop News

By Farooq Ganderbali

The notorious intelligence wing of Pakistan Army, the ISI, has been waging a brutal and relentless war against its own citizens in Balochistan. The killings and abductions of innocent Baloch men and women have been so rampant that it has become difficult to hide the figures and the anonymous graves scattered the biggest province of Pakistan. The repression—abductions and killings—have intensified once the Chinese came to the scene, demanding security and unbridled access to the natural resources of resource-rich province in the guise of building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese have literally hired Pakistan Army as their security outfit to ensure that the $45 billion corridor does not run aground.

But facts are startling and cannot any longer been suppressed.In August 2016, for instance, the DIG Investigations and Crime, Balochistan informed a committee of the Senate that 1,040 people were killed in Balochistan in the last two years.Since such data rarely comes from official sources, the numbers cited by the senior police official could be taken as a reliable reference point. The Baloch people, however, contest the official figures and argue that the number of abductions and killings have been quite high in the recent past, especially after the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project picked up.

In February this year, for instance, Baloch Republican Party spokesperson Mohammad Bugti alleged that `` the Pakistani Army’s continuous military operation throughout the past week has set a new example of brutality in history.`` He said the army had locked down DeraBugti and was using gunships to terrorise the people. Many have died or disappeared in the continuing operation.

In Geneva, another Baloch leader, Ahmad Mastikhan urged the UN to appoint a special rapporteur to probe the grave human rights violations being committed by Pakistan Army in Balochistan. He alleged that it was a far more serious crisis than what was happening to Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Baloch Republican Party member Abdul Nawaz Bugti, making a similar demand, that the UN intervention had become urgent and imperative after the discovery of a mass grave in DeraBugti in February this year. The grave only had women and children.

A widely respected lawyer and human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, expressing concern, called for a swift action in the region; she said: “For Balochistan, human rights question remains as it was in the past.”

This is not the first time such a brutal suppression of Baloch people have been unleashed. The Baloch have been subjected to state-sponsored repression ever since they had expressed their demand to be free of Pakistan. There was nothing common, be it the language, or culture, or history, between the Baloch and the Punjabi Pakistanis. The Baloch always consider themselves to be a separate nation of people, like the Pathans. They were however forced into submission by Pakistan Army with the West, Britain and US in particular, supporting the new occupier than the people. Since then, Pakistan has been trying, without much success, to convert Balochistan into a subsidiary province, more like a supplier of minerals, gas and other natural resources to Punjab and Sindh.

But the people of Balochistan have been opposing the state project tooth and nail. For that, they have been over the decades terrorised through brutal military means. Thousands have died in the battle for their honour but have refused to kneel down before the military might of Pakistan Army. The army has always viewed the Baloch suspiciously, calling them terrorists and `Indian agents` to justify its kill and dump policy. Thousands of men and women have been abducted and killed and their bodies dumped by the road side or outside their homes or in mass graves. These graves continue to be discovered in different areas of the province.

The last major offensive against the Baloch was carried out by General Pervez Musharraf who was incensed by the Baloch demand to punish an Army Major for raping a Baloch doctor. The despotic General not only refused to pay any attention to the truth of the army officer brutalising a young Baloch woman, he launched a massive military operation against a popular Baloch leader, Nawaz Akbar Khan Bugti. The Baloch did not want to fight and want to sit across the table to discuss their problems with the government. But Musharraf, drunk with power, was not interested in peaceful dialogue and he surrounded the homes of Baloch leaders with tanks and bombed them with military jets. Hundreds were killed and scores of villages and towns were razed to the ground, forcing the community to retreat into distant shelters.

The assassination of Bugti and his men created an international outcry with the West calling for a UN intervention and punishing sanctions against Pakistan. Since then, the army decided to change the tactics—from an open war against their own people, it made the war more covert. The media was banned from reporting the military operations and instead they were fed with information, false and misleading, about the military operations.

For the media, hailed otherwise as a courageous pillar of society in Pakistan, atrocities in Balochistan was not news. The Baloch were not victims but terrorists and soldiers were martyrs and the army protector of lives. This media management became even more blatant with the Chinese demanding security in Balochistan. It has been a no-holds war in Balochistan. In this war, even children and women are not spared.

While Pakistan cooks up false charges of espionage against an Indian businessmen who had strayed across the Iranian border, to deflect world’s attention from Balochistan, the atrocities against the Baloch people continue without any pause.

(The author is a Freelance journalist and columnist

Congress hired Pakistani Lawyer to represent Enron

Enforced disappearance in BALOCHISTAN

The struggle for Aleppo and the Syrian conflict: Geospatial data modelling insights

Thursday, 25 February 2016 by Hugo Foster

The Syrian conflict has been defined by the struggle for territorial control between multiple state and non-state actors as well as the catastrophic impact that this struggle has had on civilian populations and physical infrastructure. By the end of 2015, the Islamic State had lost approximately 15% of the territory it controlled at the start of the year. This statistic is taken from the IHS Conflict Monitor, a project that makes extensive use of open source intelligence (OSINT) to measure and map the footprint of the numerous armed groups active in Syria and Iraq. An area is defined as ‘controlled’ if our latest information indicates that a particular group is holding defensive positions, or appears to be the dominant military force in that area. The main ‘beneficiaries’ of Islamic State losses in 2015 were Kurdish forces, which increased the size of their territory by 15% through the acquisition of areas along the Turkish border in northern Aleppo and Raqqa provinces, and the Iraqi government, which re-secured territory in Anbar and Salaheddine provinces. These dynamics are once again in flux with the latest Syrian government and Russian-backed offensive to re-capture territory around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, in early February 2016.

Maps have always been an essential part of how we understand and analyse the strategic dimensions of conflict, and now maps are being augmented or even replaced by geospatial data. However, not all territory is equal, especially in the Middle East where demographic and economic distributions rarely align with political boundaries. As such, exclusive focus on a single indicator can be misleading. For example, notwithstanding the significance of the Islamic State’s territorial losses, much has been made of the nominal geographic size of its’ so-called ‘Caliphate’ – which media or policy makers have related to comparably-sized geographic entities elsewhere (e.g. the United Kingdom). In failing to account for the relative significance of places, this approach may distort our perception of the threat and even feed into IS propaganda.

One way of measuring the relative ‘significance of place’ is to look at how demographic and economic exposure is distributed between the various parties to the conflict. The UN’s global exposure database GEG-2015 is useful because it maps exposure at a high spatial resolution and factors in a variety of indicators focussing on the economy, built environment and population. When territorial dynamics are approached from this perspective, we see that the area controlled by the Islamic State at the end of 2015 accounted for 13% of the total economic stock of Syria and Iraq. This is still an alarming statistic but one that contrasts with the 24% of territory that the group controlled and is contextualised against the region’s overall fragmentation between multiple parties. This measure probably overlooks the Islamic State’s control of territory that is primarily of military value, such as key transportation nodes in the sparsely-populated Syrian interior that enable it to pivot in different directions. However, it does point to a central aspect of the conflict which is that the group’s core territory lies east of Syria’s centre of political gravity, the Aleppo-Homs-Damascus axis, and does not include any of the region’s largest economic or population centres. This is not to make light of the plight of the inhabitants of Raqqa, Mosul or other locations under Islamic State control, but the economic viability of the territory controlled by the various parties to the conflict is increasingly likely to feed into the decision-making of their foreign backers as the five-year long conflict enters what looks to be a decisive phase. It is notable in this sense that the Syrian government retained 32% of the overall economic stock in Syria and Iraq combined at the end of 2015, more than any other actor, and despite nominally controlling only 9% of the overall controlled territory in area terms.

Exposure datasets such as GEG-2015 are commonly applied to modelling the impact of natural disasters but can also be useful in analysing the impact of political violence on civilian populations as well as commercial assets and supply chains. War risks in particular – both interstate and civil – share similarities to some natural disasters in terms of their destructiveness and spatial dynamics –albeit over much longer time scales. What has been particularly notable about the Syrian conflict is the catastrophic level of physical destruction and loss of life compared with a broad range of other conflicts that IHS has collected data on. This can be explained in part by the convergence of fighting around major population and economic centres, which has fed into a succession of local humanitarian crises and broader dynamics such as the refugee crisis. Of more than 52,000 geocoded security incidents recorded by IHS Country Risk in 2015 in Syria and Iraq, 19% took place in Aleppo province, far more than in other regions of Syria or Iraq. The emerging prospect of the Syrian government’s encirclement of Aleppo city now threatens a humanitarian crisis on a larger scale than previously seen in other besieged towns, with an estimated 300,000 people potentially trapped in rebel-held areas. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the area of greatest contestation in recent years is also the most significant economic centre in the region, as represented on the vertical axis of the scatter chart which shows the overall economic stock by province. By contrast, regions that were wholly or partially controlled by the Islamic State at the end of 2015, such as Raqqa, Hasaka, and Deir al-Zour, have seen much less fighting but are also of much lower and economic importance.

Aleppo’s significance in the current context is about more than the city’s demographic and economic weight, but relates also to the strategic position of the province at large. Losing access to the Turkish border area in northern Aleppo province would constitute a major blow to the smuggling networks that supply the Islamic State’s land-locked Caliphate. Conversely, Kurdish control of this area would enable US-backed majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to connect substantial areas already under their control into a contiguous zone stretching hundreds of kilometres along the border with Turkey. That prospect in turn makes control of the area, directly or via proxies, a matter of critical importance to Turkey, and feeds into its own internal security dynamics in terms of the decades long conflict with the Kurdish separatist PKK.

For commercial or non-government operators concerned with managing the security and safety of assets and personnel in conflict zones, location-based analytics can be critical. IHS’ EPOP (‘Every Point on the Planet’) model measures war and other political violence risks globally at a high spatial resolution and enables users to identify aggregations of their own risk exposure to current or latent conflicts.

The above representation of the model, which compares the average war risk in each country with the standard deviation in war within the country, highlights the severity of the Syrian conflict but also shows that it is in fact atypical of war risks at large in the way that fighting has affected almost all parts of the country at some point over the past five years, resulting in a relatively low deviation. In many other contexts, IHS data and modelling suggests that loss of life and physical destruction as a result of war are likely to be highly geographically bounded. This can be because the underlying drivers for separatism and insurgency are concentrated (e.g. in Ukraine, where conflict has focussed on the Donbas region where there is a high majority Russian speaking population), or because of limitations in the military capabilities and objectives of aggressors (e.g. the bulk of Hizbullah’s destructive rocket capability in Israel falls within 50km or less of the Lebanese border). With Russian aerial support for government forces, the momentum of the Syrian conflict has changed, with the Aleppo area being an increasingly crowded focal point for an intensifying competition between opposing Syrian groups and their foreign backers. The future trajectory of a conflict that has been characterised by fighting across almost the entire country is likely to be decided by what happens in a relatively small, but increasingly important area. This intensification of competition for Aleppo has dire consequences for its people, but also significantly increases risk of unintentional escalation into a broader regional conflict.

Hugo Foster is a senior analyst with the Applied Intelligence team within IHS Country Risk
Posted on February 25, 2016

China’s New Commercial Airliner: Turbulence Ahead? – Analysis

 May 17, 2017

The first flight of China’s new C919 passenger jet is an important milestone in the country’s commercial aerospace business. Nevertheless, China faces an uphill battle when it comes to breaking into the international airliner market.

By Richard A. Bitzinger*

Earlier in May 2017, China’s answer to Airbus and Boeing, the Comac C919 passenger jet, took its first flight ever, live on state-run television. Not surprisingly, this event immediately prompted an outpouring of patriotism and self-satisfaction within the country. Local reporters gushed, and the state media celebrated the flight as “another fulfilment of [the China] dream”.

A Chinese aviation expert predicted that the plane would “rip a hole” in the Boeing-Airbus duopoly, and ordinary Chinese burst with pride. Even the foreign press heralded the accomplishment, the New York Times calling the C919 a symbol of the “industrial might of an emerging superpower”. So much hyperbole for such a rather workaday occurrence. Congratulations are certainly due to the Chinese aerospace industry for getting the C919 off the ground. But the future may not be as bright as it seems, though the West should not take this challenge lightly.

No Overnight Success

The C919 narrow-body jet, initiated in 2008, seats 150 to 200 passengers, which puts it roughly in the same category as the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. China has invested US$9 billion in the programme, and Comac, China’s state-owned commercial jet consortium, claims to have over 550 orders for the plane.

Nevertheless, it is a long way from a successful first flight to delivering a first-rate airliner that can take on Airbus and Boeing at their own game. Many other countries have tried before and failed to compete with these two aerospace giants. China itself has been down this road before, several times in fact, and not put a dent into this duopoly.

Back in the 1970s, for example, Mao Zedong backed a major effort to build the Y-10 airliner. The 178-seat Y-10 was basically a clone of the Boeing 707, one of the first large passenger jets. The Chinese acquired ten 707s in the early 1970s, and even if they did not totally reverse engineer it, they used the 707 as their model. The Y-10 was initiated in 1970, and the first prototype flew a decade later. And when it finally flew, at least one contemporary press account asserted that “one could no longer regard China as a backward country”.

And yet the project was quietly abandoned in the early 1980s. It was overweight and underpowered and there were considerable safety concerns. There were even rumours that it was poorly balanced, and that if it were improperly loaded it would fall back on its tail.

Undaunted, the Chinese in the mid-1980s undertook a major partnership with McDonnell Douglas, then the world’s second-largest commercial aircraft manufacturer. The Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corporation (SAIC) acquired a license to assemble the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 airliner, a 135-seat single-aisle airliner. Many MD-82 parts were manufactured in China, including the horizontal stabiliser, the nose landing and main landing gear doors, and other ancillary pieces. Other Chinese aircraft companies participated as subcontractors to SAIC; the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, for instance, built the nose section for the MD-82.

The first SAIC-built MD-82 rolled out in 1986 and flew later that year. Nevertheless, only 35 Chinese MD-82s (and two MD-90s, a slightly improved version) were ever built before the programme was cancelled. McDonnell Douglas was later absorbed by Boeing and disappeared as an independent company.

Sad Experience of the ARJ-21?

Lost in all the hype over the C919 is China’s 100-seat regional jet, the ARJ21. This jet was launched in 2002, and its maiden flight took place in late 2008. Intended first and foremost to meet China’s burgeoning demand for short-haul internal air transport, the plane has already secured over 300 firm orders.

The ARJ21, like the C919, looks good on paper, but it has had a rough time, raising serious questions about China’s ability to break into the international commercial airliner business. The ARJ21 was two-and-a-half years late in achieving first flight. In late 2010, the plane’s wing failed its predicted load rating during static tests; wing cracks as well as problems with the aircraft’s avionics and wiring also have been reported. The first ARJ21 was delivered only last year, and all in all this airliner is more than six years behind schedule.

The C919 is also behind schedule, missing its milestones for first flight by more than two years. In addition, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has refused to certify the C919’s airworthiness, making it highly unlikely that the aircraft will meet its 2016 deadline for starting deliveries. FAA certification is essential if the Chinese wish to sell the C919 to foreign airlines.

So far nearly all the orders for the ARJ21 and C919 have come from Chinese airlines, making it highly probable that Beijing has strong-armed these companies into buying these planes. The first airline to receive the ARJ21 was Chengdu Airlines, which is partly owned by Comac. Another airline, Joy Air, was purportedly established specifically to purchase and operate Chinese-made commercial aircraft.

Why This Time Might be Different

All these arguments aside, the West – and particularly Boeing and Airbus – should not be complacent. China has an infinite capacity to confound the naysayers. With regard to the C919, the country possesses two advantages. The first is size: the Chinese aviation market is growing by leaps and bounds; Boeing predicts that Chinese airlines would spend more than $1 trillion on new planes over the next two decades, totaling more than 6,800 aircraft.

The second advantage is commitment and money. President Xi Jinping’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, launched two years ago, is intended to make the country self-sufficient in several industrial sectors, including microchips, artificial intelligence, robots, electric cars, agricultural machinery – and commercial aircraft. China’s commercial aerospace interests will not end with the C919. Comac has plans for two wide-body airliners, the 300-seat C929 and the 400-seat C939.

So do not count China out as a commercial aircraft maker. That said, expect turbulence.

*Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. An earlier version of this Commentary appeared in Asia Times






Underneath the excitement for President Xi Jinping’s ‘project of the century’ lie dangers and risks not often discussed

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Belt and Road Summit. Photo: AP

The optics tell it all: a confident and smiling Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) stood in front of a giant landscape painting titled This Land is So Rich in Beauty and shook hands with more than 30 heads of state and international organisations lining up in the Great Hall of the People on Sunday night.

Broadcast live on national television, and repeated numerous times in prime-time newscasts over the weekend, those images encapsulated China’s growing political and economic influence on the world stage as it hosted the two-day summit on the “Belt and Road Initiative” last week.

In his keynote speech to the summit, the president hailed the initiative as the “project of the century” as he announced tens of billions of yuan in financing for the ambitious programme that has promised to transform the Eurasian and African infrastructure landscape as never before, and bring tremendous benefits in investments and trade for those countries involved.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and other world leaders at the Belt and Road Summit. Photo: Kyodo

By all accounts, the success of the summit further projects China’s rising political influence and its attempts to refashion a new economic order at a time of great international uncertainties caused by US President Donald Trump’s perceived moves to withdraw US leadership on global trade and the fallout of Brexit.

Equally, or perhaps even more importantly, the summit will also enhance Xi’s standing at home, where the Communist Party is boosting his already formidable authority as the “core” of the leadership ahead of a key congress in autumn this year when Xi will orchestrate a new leadership line-up for another five-year term.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech at the Belt and Road Summit. Photo: Reuters

On Tuesday, Xinhua hailed Xi’s growing influence as an ardent champion of globalisation and the architect of the grand initiative to better connect countries along and beyond the ancient Silk Road. With the G20 summit in Hangzhou ( 杭州 ) last year and the upcoming BRICS summit in Xiamen ( 廈門 ) in September, it quoted analysts as saying the past few years marked China’s transition from a player in global affairs to a leader of the global agenda. It said “Xi’s global prominence” was “on the rise” along with China’s rising international status.

The blanket coverage of the “Belt and Road” summit, saturated with stories of world leaders praising China’s plan and how China’s investments were welcomed in other countries, will no doubt stir national pride. It will also solidify Xi’s doctrine of “four confidences”, which urges Chinese to show confidence in the path, political system, theories, and culture of Chinese socialism.

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But underneath all that excitement lie dangers and risks which are not usually discussed and debated publicly and, if not handled properly, could impede China’s efforts to assert its global leadership on trade and investment. One chief danger is that optimism and excitement beget overconfidence.

The leadership’s suppression of doubts and dissent, in the rush to achieve its goals, could lead to risks and uncertainties being underestimated.

In 2012, former president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) first mentioned the “three confidences” of China’s own path, political system, and theories, shortly before handing the baton to Xi, who later added the fourth component – confidence in culture.

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This basically means that the leadership will boost its governance through autocratic controls while promoting economic efficiency after the country’s economy has become the world’s second largest.

But too much stress on the “four confidences” has its pitfalls. One is that while the leadership repeatedly emphasises the need for further reforms and opening up, many officials seem to believe China no longer needs to learn from the outside world, as the leaders of the world frequently come to Beijing to hear and learn “China’s plans, methods, and initiatives”. Such a mentality has played no small part in the country’s lack of meaningful reforms and many officials’ attitude towards foreign investment. And it will prove counterproductive at a time when China wants to be a global leader of a new economic order by seeking further integration with the rest of the world.

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Another pitfall is that by bolstering the “four confidences”, the authorities have been increasingly intolerant of any public dissent or disagreement about China’s major policy announcements, let alone its political system, as evidenced by the tightening controls on media and the crackdown on lawyers and civil rights activists.

The media centre for the Belt and Road Forum For International Cooperation at the National Convention Centre in Beijing. Photo: Bloomberg

Take the official media coverage on the “Belt and Road” summit, for example. Despite the blanket coverage, it is hard to find any intelligent article focusing upon the political and security risks and challenges involved in China’s plan to promise more than US$1 trillion in infrastructure in more than 60 countries.

China’s new Silk Road passes through many volatile countries where terrorism and other geopolitical risks are serious issues. In addition, China’s initiative will no doubt conflict with the national development plans of many countries, despite their best intentions of working together.

In fact, China has already suffered setbacks and encountered legal and political minefields in other countries. These are exemplified by controversies surrounding its investments in a port and an industrial zone in Sri Lanka and other projects delayed because of opposition from local residents. Of course, setbacks and controversies are inevitable for a project of this magnitude that involves so many countries, but failure to bring those issues to light for proper debate and discussion could leave many Chinese officials and businesses unprepared. 

Wang Xiangwei is the former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. He is now based in Beijing as editorial adviser to the paper

Gwadar's fisherfolk worry about how CPEC will impact lives

IANS |  May 20, 2017 01:22 PM IST

A stray dog snoozes under a red boat lying next to a rickety teashop at Sur Bandars quay. It is Friday, and the harbour front is very quiet compared to the one at Gwadar, some 20 km away, where a Chinese deep sea port is under construction, promising to transform the sleepy town into a global trading hub.

At Sur Bandar's quay the fisherfolk gather and chat over endless cups of a strong, sweet concoction they call "doodh-patti", or just watch the world go by. I ask some if they have heard of the much-touted China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), but all shake their heads.

CPEC is a 3,000-km corridor from Kashgar in western China to Gwadar in Pakistan on the Arabian sea. It slices through the Himalayas, disputed territories, plains and deserts to reach the ancient fishing port Gwadar. Huge Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, including road and railway networks as well as power plants, are being built along the way. Originally valued at $46 billion, the corridor is estimated at $62 billion today.

The port under construction at Gwadar is owned by the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) and operated by China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), which will run it for 40 years. For China, Gwadar is strategically perched close to the Strait of Hormuz, through which an estimated 40 per cent of the world's oil passes.

In Sur Bandar, though, the port development has brought only fear and uncertainty. Rumours are rife that it will bring an influx of fisherfolk displaced from Gwadar.

Saeed Mohammad, president of an association of Sur Bandar's fisherfolk, says he has heard that it will happen but does not know when. "But there is not enough space for their boats to berth here, it's not even enough for us," he exclaims.

There are about 7,000 fisherfolk with 1,000 or so boats in Sur Bandar, he says, while the number in Gwadar is easily three times more.

The GPA is constructing a jetty at Sur Bandar, which the residents suspect is to eventually accommodate the fisherfolk from Gwadar. The fisherfolk in Gwadar have also heard that they will be displaced to Sur. "We have been told several times by security agencies that we should leave the port and fish at Sur," says Dad Karim.

"We will not leave. This is the spot where we can fish all the year round; at Sur, there are three months -- June, July and August -- when fisherfolk cannot go to the sea due to high waves."

Gwadar, he explained, is naturally protected by a hammerhead-shaped peninsula, which forms two almost perfect semi-circular bays on either side.

"It will take us two hours by boat to reach Sur; because our homes are here," says Naseem Gajar, a fisherman with dark glasses fashionably perched on his head.

Not that the situation in Gwadar is much better, although they have heard many promises over the last dozen years.

On his visit last month, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had said 1,100 km of roads will be built within the city, bringing with it "progress and prosperity".

But at the moment the town -- situated in one of Pakistan's poorest provinces, Balochistan -- doesn't have even basic services. A local journalist, Behram Baloch, says healthcare is rudimentary, and for women it is almost non-existent. For childbirth complications women have to be taken all the way to Turbat or even Karachi, nearly 500 km away.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, not a day passes without someone from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) making a reference to CPEC or how it will bring prosperity to the length and breadth of Pakistan, and in particular to Gwadar. Yet the voices of the indigenous fisherfolk of Gwadar -- who make up 80 per cent of the district's 185,000 inhabitants -- have been snuffed out.

"In my own country, my own town and on my very own land, I am being welcomed as an outsider by someone who is actually the outsider," says 65-year-old Dad Karim. Speaking about a recent meeting he had with the Chinese delegation working inside the Gwadar port, he says, "They smiled warmly, shook our hands and asked us how they can help us since we were their guests! How would you feel, tell me?"

The Chinese company says the fisherfolk's livelihoods will not be affected and that once the factories are set up there will be no dearth of work. "They will all be absorbed in activities related to their own occupation be it fish processing, or value-addition," says Dadullah Yousaf, a local working with the COPHC as Deputy Manager.

But the fisherfolk do not feel reassured. With more and more skilled workers making their way to Gwadar, locals with fewer skills and no education are likely to be left behind. The fear among local people is palpable. "We do not know anything other than fishing", is a refrain you hear wherever you go.

But even if locals acquire skills, they will find it difficult to earn as much as they do now. In a week, the fisherfolk can make from Rs 20,000 ($188) to Rs 50,000 ($471). The wages of an unskilled worker at the port are not more than Rs 20,000 a month, and those of skilled labour, somewhere between Rs 28,000 ($264) to Rs 50,000 a month. In effect, their earnings may drop to a quarter of what they make now, or even less.

The heavy security around the port has made the fisherfolk more insecure. The military has trained a 30,000 strong security force to protect infrastructure and Chinese workers. "We are looked upon with suspicion and are asked to carry our national identity cards, a copy of our fishing licence and even a photo of our vessel… as if we are terrorists," snorts local resident Ilahi Bux.

Bux was badly beaten with by a metal rod last month after his boat crossed an imaginary line and found itself inside what the security people terms the "red zone", a two-km long water channel next to the port. On days when a dignitary visits Gwadar, an increasingly common occurrence, the fisherfolk are banned from going to the sea. "The day we don't go out to the sea, there is nothing to eat at home," Bux laments.

Some analysts suspect China is more interested in Gwadar as a potential naval base than a trading route through the Arabian Sea. Pakistani officials disagree. "It stands to reason that there is a naval interest in Gwadar, but there is a strong economic interest too," said Kaiser Bengali, former head of the Chief Minister's Policy Reform Unit of the provincial government of Balochistan.

At any given time, the port can berth two or three large ships with capacity of 50,000 DWT (dead weight tonnage). By 2045, the port will be able to berth 150 ships and cargo up to 400 million tonnes, and will have multiple logistics services, a huge storage facility and a nine-square kilometre industrial free trade zone (GPFZ). Phase 1 of the GPFZ will be ready by early 2018.

The town of Gwadar is no longer sleepy, but it isn't fully awake either. The Fish Harbour boulevard is lined with real estate offices. Developers and investors remain optimistic about the future and land prices have sky-rocketed here. But many locals say that they sold their land cheaply in the early 2000s. In this new wave, it is "outsiders" who are now selling property at very high rates.

In fact, other than the local fisherfolk, it seems everybody else is benefiting.

(In arrangement with Zofeen T. Ebrahim is Pakistan editor of Views expressed are those of Feedback at


CPEC to boost agriculture
Published: May 20, 2017
The writer served as executive editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014
Pakistan’s economy needs to grow at an annual average rate of 10-12 per cent for at least over a decade for the so-called trickle-down theory to prove its economic viability. Indeed, this is the kind of growth rate that is required to be sustained for at least 10 years at a stretch without any break to supposedly make any perceptible dent in the incidence of poverty in the country.
One way of accomplishing this is to go around the world again with a hat in hand. This we have been doing since independence, but have done nothing with most of the dole received so far, other than to create false affluence. More of the same is not going to make us behave differently.
Our border trade with our immediate neighbours — India, Afghanistan and Iran — has been held hostage since the very day Pakistan came into being to our self-destructive geostrategic compulsions. So much so that we have virtually bottled up the country, shutting down our trade outlets in the east with India, in the north-west with Afghanistan and the west with Iran while the northern outlet has remained too far away until the advent of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project and in the south we have a small little sea outlet, not enough for even our own limited export and import activity.
So what do we do now? Continue living with such a depressing scenario and suffer the imminent consequences or try looking for ways to break the shackles of the model in practice?
Now let us take a closer look at our comparative advantages: 1) We are an agricultural country; 2) We are a market of about 200 million people; 3) Pakistan is located at the crossings of trade routes from Casablanca in Africa to Kashgar in west China’s Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region and from Thailand in Southeast Asia to Turkey beyond the Middle East.
These advantages can be exploited to the maximum if we really turn our attention to agriculture and develop its down and upstream production chain not only for local consumption but also for export to four corners of the world and the region from the Hub.
Indeed, the recent media reports quoting CPEC’s Long-Term Plan(LTP) prepared by the National Reform Commission (NDRC), the People’s Republic of China and China Development Bank (Dec 2015) have revealed that it is the agriculture sector in Pakistan which is expected to get the immediate boost following the launch of CPEC.
The plan is said to outline an engagement that runs from one end of the supply chain all the way to the other. Chinese enterprises will also operate their own farms, processing facilities for fruits and vegetables and grain. Logistics companies will operate a large storage and transportation system for agrarian produce.
The plan purportedly sees its main opportunity as helping the Kashgar prefecture, a territory within the larger Xinjiang autonomous zone. The prefecture’s total output in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery amounted to just over $5 billion in 2012.
For the Chinese, this is the main driving force behind investing in Pakistan’s agriculture, in addition to the many profitable opportunities that can open up for the Chinese enterprises. The plan makes some reference to export of agriculture goods from the ports.
While welcoming this proposed initiative it would not be out of place here to recall the public apprehension voiced by our farming community and other stakeholders when it was mooted in 2009 to give thousands of acres of our agricultural land on lease to Saudi Arabia and Gulf companies for their use to ensure food security for their own countries.
These apprehensions would be raised again when the details of CPEC’s agricultural part are made public. The government would then be obliged to take all the stakeholders into confidence and reassure them that the project in question would not be allowed to undermine Pakistan’s own food security, come what may.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2017

May 19, 2017

Creating an Inclusive Burmese Peace Process

19 May 2017

By Vanessa Johanson for United States Institute of Peace (USIP)

Despite their important contributions to peace in Burma, women, youth groups, and civil society organizations have frequently been excluded from the official, elite-driven peace process. That’s not good, says Vanessa Johanson. Yes, the international community should support the multi-stakeholder political dialogues that began earlier this year, but it should also press for the direct inclusion of previously marginalized contributors in all formal committees and processes.

This article was originally published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on 8 May 2017.


Despite their important contributions to peace in Burma, women, youth groups, and civil society organizations have frequently been excluded from the existing elite-driven formal peace process.Nonetheless, numerous examples from conflict-affected areas underscore that the participation of groups typically excluded is key to influencing important aspects of the peace process and to effecting a durable peace.Multistakeholder political dialogues began in earnest in 2017. They may provide a space where more voices can be heard.The international community should support both parallel conversations but should also press for the direct inclusion of key stakeholders in all formal committees and processes.


The current phase of Burma’s peace negotiations, which started in 2011 and were relaunched by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in 2016, involves around twenty-one main ethnic armed organizations, eight of which have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The nonsignatory armed organizations are diverse in strength, interests, and alliances; some are in negotiations with the government and some are in deep conflict with the military, particularly in the northeast of the country. Simultaneously, a political dialogue mandated by the NCA has started, with the long-term (though contested) goal of changing Burma into a federal union in which the federal center shares power with regional centers, primarily reflecting the interests of ethnic minority populations. Progress toward ending violence and devising long-term solutions remains uncertain, feeding long-term trust deficits revolving around the inclusion of certain elite voices and the exclusion of others.

Women, youth groups, and civil society organizations (CSOs) have frequently been marginalized in the existing formal process despite their indispensable contributions to peace in Burma. These groups have vital experiences and insights to share that can strengthen the possibility of creating real and lasting peace. They represent constituencies whose buy-in to the process is essential. For these reasons, these groups should be given a larger platform going forward, both inside and outside the formal peace process.

Elite Versus Inclusive Processes

Burma’s peace process remains an elite one. The involved elites are not homogeneous but do tend to be largely male, older, military, and city-based. An end to fighting is the immediate goal, and that means that the armed actors who have fought each other dominate the initial conversation. Even if only the different military groups are counted, Burma’s peace process is already very complex. In a context with so many conflicting parties with diverse interests, it makes sense to have a carefully designed and well-managed process, but this should not mean an exclusive one.

The elite conversation in Burma has always run parallel to a broader political one about fundamental issues such as power and resource sharing and national identity, a conversation that needs to include all voices. A comparison of an elite negotiator with, for example, a female village head in a town in northern Shan who has been displaced multiple times and has successfully negotiated with both government representatives and nongovernmental armed actors on behalf of her community would quickly reveal who knows more about the realities of war. The contribution of women’s voices is also essential to addressing sexual violence in Burma’s war and other human rights violations. People who deal with conflict on a day-to-day basis are well qualified and even essential to delivering peace.

Inclusion and participation are important for both principled and pragmatic reasons. Pragmatically, peace processes are more sustainable if they are inclusive of a broad range of stakeholders. A study of 156 peace agreements showed that including women in a peace process increased the likelihood of peace lasting at least two years by 20 percent and increased the probability of an agreement lasting for at least fifteen years by 35 percent.1 Another study showed that CSO involvement in a peace process reduced the risk of a return to violence by up to 64 percent.2 As a matter of principle, particularly in a democratizing context, people have the right to be heard in a major process that affects their lives. As Margot Wallström, Sweden’s top diplomat, has said, “Inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”3

How Groups Are Excluded from the Formal Process

Burma’s peace process, like many elsewhere, is led by armed men, and thus largely excludes CSOs, women, and young people. This disconnect is not one way: most of the ethnic armed groups are still illegal organizations, making it dangerous for civilians to openly associate with them, even for peacebuilding purposes. Involving only the elite, on the other hand, is also unsustainable because it allows those with narrow short-term interests to dominate negotiations. The root causes of the war are manifold and largely invisible to, at least poorly understood by, a small elite subgroup. Finding appropriate policy solutions therefore requires much greater inclusion of those most affected—nonelite, unarmed civilians. A review of their participation in the peace process shows significant room for improvement.

Women: At the August 2016 Union Peace Conference (also known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference), the first key political dialogue meeting under the National League for Democracy government, women made up around 13 percent of the attendees. Women’s groups were invited as observers only and so did not have opportunity to present their views publicly to decision makers and constituents.4 Women make up only 18 percent of the government’s top peace negotiating team; with respect to the cease-fire monitoring structures, no women at all are in the union-level Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC). The ethnic armed groups do even worse on this score: the signatories’ and nonsignatories’ negotiating teams (the Peace Process Steering Team and the Delegation for Political Negotiation, respectively) include zero women. Civil society forums in the peace process do a lot better on gender inclusion and are proactive in this regard.

Civil society organizations: On a positive note, CSOs participate in both the military aspects of the peace process, through cease-fire monitoring, and the political aspects of the process, the political dialogue process. CSO participation in both is limited, however. Civilian (including some CSO) members hold six out of twenty-six seats on the JMC at the union level, and two out of twelve seats at the state-level JMCs. Consequently, civilian members are a small counterweight to military members in the nascent cease-fire monitoring process. CSOs are allowed to carry out a political dialogue that runs parallel to and potentially feeds into the formal process, but this is not part of the main Panglong dialogue process, and CSOs are not allowed to contribute to a discussion of crucial political and security matters. These restrictions are contested, and the CSOs plan to continue their own forums, on topics of their choice, where they can. Unfortunately, the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, the top-level committee in the political dialogue with the authority to change this structure, has no CSO members.

Youth: Young people have no formal voice in the peace process. However, a number of attempts have been made to recognize the voices of youth in the previous and current governments, and young people have organized forums of their own to raise issues of concern to them and their communities.

Gains to Be Realized Through Inclusive Participation

A peace process is only as good as its implementation, and the inclusion of marginalized groups can both energize and instill more faith in that process and produce greater societal investment in the outcome. In particular, an energized civil society sector could help engage the majority ethnoreligious (Bamar) population in the heartland, which remains largely disconnected from the ongoing conflict on the country’s periphery and inattentive to the peace process.

The participation of these marginalized groups aids the work of peacebuilding in six key ways:

Improved accountability. Civilian cease-fire monitoring by women’s and other civilian organizations (such as the Karen Women Empowerment Group and Gender Development Initiative) has provided needed ground truthing for the implementation of both the bilateral cease-fire agreements and the NCA, and has spurred a push for greater civilian protection.Leading from behind. Many of the key thinkers who have helped move forward processes from behind the scenes by, for example, conducting research and drafting agreements have come from CSOs and youth and women’s groups.Promoting advocacy and awareness. Advocacy by the Alliance for Gender in the Peace Process and the Women’s League of Burma has resulted in some of the clauses of the NCA and other key documents more directly and substantively addressing sexual violence in conflict and the need to include women in political dialogues and in public life more broadly.Expanding the debate. Youth organizations have led peace marches to move the peace process into the mainstream. They went out on a limb with sensitive talks about ethnic and national identity at a large forum in Shan state last year.Influencing negotiations. Some CSOs—in particular ethnically based ones—have a huge influence on negotiations, such as those between the government and the Kachin Independence Organization, owing to their legitimacy in the community and their ability to mobilize people.Facilitating and providing safety nets. Perhaps most important, these groups provide safety nets when the formal process falters, as it frequently does. For example, initiatives led by CSOs at the state level have for some time been creating space for multistakeholder dialogues on peace and conflict issues and gathering input on political dialogue processes. This tactic builds infrastructure for the long-term success of a society by mobilizing grassroots organizations and strengthening networking among them. In a fractious society, more people-to-people contact and dialogue help promote understanding and a real and lasting national unity, which can never be imposed from above, regardless of the success of any peace deal.

Moving Forward in Inclusivity: Recommendations

Achieving inclusivity in Burma's peace process is not straightforward, and work toward this end has been beset with difficulties. Efforts by CSOs and women’s and youth groups have at times been diffuse and difficult to coordinate. In part this situation reflects a healthy diversity among these groups, which are far from homogeneous; in part it reflects the complex and evolving process under way. Some groups have preferred not to be part of formal structures, either out of mistrust or because they feel they can be more effective working outside the main process and engaging in parallel activities. That is to be expected: many marginalized groups in Burma are skeptical of the NCA. However, the voices of those who are wary of the peace process are just as crucial to crafting a long-term, sustainable peace as is the role of those organizations that are fully aligned with the mainstream peace agenda. The point is not to instrumentalize civilian organizations to support one peace agenda but to encourage and validate their contributions, even on a parallel path.

Despite these challenges, a number of recommendations to increase inclusion and raise stakeholder engagement in the peace process can be made. More authority could be given to the civilian members of the JMC and greater participation afforded civilian members in the verification of cease-fire violations, perhaps even the ability to adjudicate on certain violations. Ongoing advocacy by women and gender advocates inside the many political dialogue committees is key to broadening these agendas, holding peace process actors accountable for making good on their commitments to inclusivity, promoting women candidates for key positions, and supporting male champions of gender inclusion.

The political dialogues that were launched early in 2017 make it possible for many more voices to be heard. Peace process actors should maximize the opportunity afforded by those dialogues by advocating for greater participation in them and for broadening the space of inclusion. For instance, if CSOs were allowed to participate in the high-level political dialogue, from which they are currently excluded, they would be able to formally debate any topic they wished, rather than being limited to topics that are currently approved by the leadership of the Union Peace Conference.

The international community should support these efforts, not only by funding and supporting parallel processes of the political dialogues but also by pushing for direct inclusion of key stakeholders in all formal committees and processes. The complex and long-term nature of Burma’s peace process underscores the need for greater inclusion of multiple voices, perspectives, and experiences to achieve a sustainable peace. A diverse array of stakeholders, including CSOs, women’s groups, and youth groups, has already proven indispensable to this process.


Laurel Stone, “Quantitative Analysis of Women’s Participation in Peace Processes,” in Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes, ed. Marie O’Reilly, Andrea Ó Súilleabhán, and Thania Paffenholz (International Peace Institute, June 2015), Annex II, This is a study of 156 peace agreements, controlling for other variables.Desirée Nilsson, “Anchoring the Peace: Civil Society Actors in Peace Accords and Durable Peace,” International Interactions 38, no. 2 (2012): 243–66.See Government Offices of Sweden, "Women must be included for a sustainable peace," December 7, 2016, from Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP) research show that the number of women involved matters less than the nature of their involvement—not just as observers—and the timing of their involvement—not last minute, spending enough time to prepare—that makes the difference.

About the Author

Vanessa Johanson is the United States Institute of Peace’s country director for Myanmar. She has previously held director-level positions with international organizations including Search for Common Ground, The Asia Foundation, BBC Media Action and Internews

Terrorist Use of Virtual Currencies: Containing the Potential Threat

May 2017

Will virtual currencies (VC) increasingly replace traditional methods of funding terrorism, including the halawa system? According to Zachary Goldman et al, extremists in the Gaza Strip have already used virtual currencies to fund their operations and members of the Islamic State have been particularly receptive to the new technology, at least at the local level. To prevent the spread of VC funding on a larger scale, our authors argue that counterterrorism communities should adopt three guiding principles to shape their future policies. Explore them here.

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AuthorZachary K. Goldman, Ellie Maruyama, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Edoardo Saravalle, and Julia Solomon-StraussSeries

CNAS Reports

PublisherCenter for a New American Security (CNAS)Copyright© 2017 Center for a New American Security (CNAS)