May 31, 2007

India and the Modern Islamist Terrorist

Even five years after the 9/11 terror attacks, India’s security forces haven’t learned anything about modern Islamist terrorists. In their zeal to safeguard one of Delhi’s showpieces the Delhi Metro, the CISF, which has the responsibility of its security, has rightly decided to introduce a series of tough security measures including profiling of suspicious passengers. They have already decided the target for profiling – “bearded youths wearing caps” (read: Muslim youth wearing skull caps).

After that what are we supposed to do? Cry or laugh?

The modern Islamist terrorist is completely different from the stereotypical image engrained in the minds of India’s security forces. They are highly educated and ambitious. They come from simple middle-class families who are not overtly religious or are secular. They are well acquainted with Western lifestyle. They are clean-shaven, suave looking and don’t sport anything that will give their identity away. They are intelligent, courteous and friendly. To their families and the outside world, they would be the last anyone would suspect of being Islamists.

It is once they come under the influence of jihadi recruiters looking out for the modern would-be jihadi, their life takes a 180° turn. They are imparted lessons in radical Islam and brainwashed into believing that Islam is in danger from the infidels. In India, the meticulously planned and executed Gujarat riots of 2002 - in the wake of the heinous Islamist terror activity of burning and killing innocent but boisterous Kar-Sevaks at Godhra - where the state BJP govt and the larger Sangh Parivar actively participated and perpetuated the pogrom for more than two months is today used by Pakistan's ISI controlled Indian Islamists to brainwash the young and impressionable Indian Muslims to indulge in anti-India terrorism. Apart from this, as Mullahs teach the faithful to be more concerned about their fellow Muslim in another country than the welfare of their country, the Islamists have many excuses like Palestine, Iraq, Bosnia, Kashmir, etc to motivate innocent Muslims into jihad. Killing them - even if that means fellow Muslims get killed in the process - is the only way to save Islam and establish it as the dominant religion in the world. They are further brainwashed into believing that if they die for Islam, they will be in paradise and rewarded with 72 virgins for non-stop pleasure. Their background helps them from giving away their new identity. Ultimately their passion for radical Islam and jihad turn them into Islamic zombies.

But that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the vices defined by Islam before their final act. This is what some of the 9/11 terrorists who were supposed to be pious Muslims did before they boarded the flights that changed the world: Some of them called prostitutes to their rooms and indulged in earthly pleasures before their encounters with the virgins waiting for them in Paradise, others watch pornographic movies, some others gulped down liquor, some visited strip clubs. After that surely Allah wouldn’t have been that pleased and cancelled their tickets to paradise.

So the question is: are the Indian security agencies going to update their notes on the Islamist terrorists or are they going to harass innocent Muslims while letting the modern Islamist terrorist through the green and yellow channels.

Related Link: Tavleen Singh on the movement to de-Indianise Indian Muslims by imposing an Arabic idea of Islam.

May 30, 2007

India Boosting Pakistan's Economy

For sometime now after the removal of quotas, Pakistan has been losing out in the world textile market due to superior products and offers from its main competitors like India, China, Bangladesh, etc. On one hand India is partly stealing Pakistan’s textile pie in the international market and thus reducing its foreign exchange earnings but on the other hand India is boosting Pakistan’s internal economy.

The popularity of Indian TV dramas among Pakistani women has lead to an increasing trend of attiring sarees, which has boosted the business of local saree manufacturers.

Popular Indian TV dramas such as “Kiunkay Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”, “Kahin Tu Hoga”, “Kumkum” and “Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki” have played a major role in setting a new fashion trend in the country.

This emerging fashion has had a positive impact on clothing and jewellery businesses in domestic markets and creating employment among the lower class people. On the other hand, imports and smuggling of Indian sarees has also surged notably in the country, owing to a soaring demand among female customers for this product.

Traditionally, married women belonging to Bihari and Hyderabadi families in the country prefer wearing Banarsi sarees in ceremonies and wear silk and shafoon sarees at home. But the rising fashion trend has breached all ethnic differences and age-limits among women for adopting saree in their culture.

A survey conducted by Daily Times at various big shopping centres and manufacturing areas of the metropolis revealed that the production and sales of sarees have increased following a rising demand among the women from elite and middle classes.

Scores of entrepreneurs, who have newly established their business with large stocks of this popular dress, have been generating profitable revenues while cashing in on the saree fever.

One of the saree retailers at Tariq Road in Karachi, Muhammad Sohail told Daily Times that the sale of sarees has increased tremendously since last three years.

He estimated that the business of every big saree emporium at Tariq Road has surged by four times in just two years and scores of saree shops have been opened in various shopping centres. “If one (shopkeeper) used to sell 20 sarees in a week, now he is selling around 100 sarees in the same period.

“The Saas-Bahu dramas have played a magnificent role as advertisement campaign for sarees, and provided a remarkable boost to our sales,” he said.

According to shopkeepers, the majority of the customers purchase sarees ranging between Rs 2,500 and Rs 5,000, whereas some also demand costly and exclusive sarees ranging between Rs 8,000 to Rs 15,000 per item, especially for dowry purposes.

Banarsi, silk and shafoon sarees are highly demanded by the customers. The local manufacturers design sarees with valuables embroidery and handiwork to imitate the Indian style.

Interestingly, the most demanded and costly sarees in the market are those, which look similar to the saree worn by Indian actresses in Indian TV dramas. Keeping this in view, the local manufacturers have adopted a simple technique to name their sarees after the popular characters in the dramas.

“Kumkum and Kashish sarees are very popular among young and unmarried customers,” Sohail said.

For instance, a saree similar to one worn by a popular TV character Kashish is available in the market for Rs 20, 000 under the name of “Kashish saree”. A saree worn by Kumkum –another famous TV character - branded as “Kumkum saree” is being sold at Rs 25, 000.

Besides, huge quantities of sarees are being imported from Dubai via India. It is also smuggled directly from India by some cloth merchants.

The surging fashion craze created by Indian TV dramas has not only boosted the business of cloth merchants, but has also increased profits of the jewellery industry.

Mangalsuther (necklace), bangles and earrings, similar to those worn in Indian TV dramas, have rose in demand.[Daily Times]

So once again India's Softpower rocks. One more reason for Pakistan to lift the ban of Indian News Channels - who knows what that can do to Pakistan's economy. One more reason to liberalise trade between the two countries - to put an end to smuggling and cut the middle-men of Dubai out. I am looking forward to know the reactions of the Pakistani political parties to this revelation. I am sure the Mullahs will be aghast at this news.

May 28, 2007

May 26, 2007

The Chinese Espionage Style

In the wake of the arrest and subsequent trial of Chi Mak, a naturalized Chinese-American accused of acting as an agent of the Chinese government and exporting military information, among other charges, Stratfor, examining the the testimony and evidence presented in this case, reports how the case provides an inside look at the methods the Chinese use in the United States to acquire cutting-edge technology and the U.S. government's efforts to counter them. Chi's wife, brother, sister-in-law and nephew are awaiting trial in connection with the case.

An Age-Old Problem

Espionage, often called "the world's second-oldest profession," has been practiced since the beginning of recorded history. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the launch of the global war on terrorism, however, the FBI redirected nearly all of its assets for foreign counterintelligence (FCI) programs into the counterterrorism effort. This meant that for the first time in the bureau's history, practically no counterintelligence efforts were taking place. Although the scope of the damage caused by this virtual FCI hiatus might never be fully appreciated, the October 2005 arrest of the Chi family was one sign that the pendulum was beginning to swing the other way -- that resources were being allocated to address the enormous problem of foreign spies.

While the FBI's limited FCI programs run up against the espionage efforts of dozens of foreign countries, no country poses a more aggressive or widespread intelligence threat to the United States than China.

The Chinese in many ways use the espionage version of the "human wave" attacks they employed against U.S. military forces during the Korean War. Due to China's size and the communist government's control of society, the Chinese can devote immense manpower to gathering intelligence. For example, the U.S. State Department issued 382,000 nonimmigrant visas and 37,000 immigrant visas to Chinese citizens in 2006. Additionally, more than 62,000 Chinese students were studying at U.S. universities last year. Granted, very few of these people were spies, though the number still represents an enormous pool of potential suspects to vet and watch, especially when one considers that there are only 12,575 FBI agents in the United States -- most of whom are assigned to tasks other than FCI, such as terrorism and white-collar crime.

The bottom line, therefore, is that it is very difficult to determine which of these visitors are in the United States to steal secrets and technology. Indeed, many serve in both capacities: They are legitimate students and part of the intelligence effort. Furthermore, not everyone who collects information for the Chinese government realizes they are doing so. By engaging in normal conversations with Chinese friends or relatives about all manner of things, including work, the average person can be providing these friends -- the real intelligence agents -- with critical information.

Additionally, in many cases, the activities of Chinese agents do not fit the legal definition of espionage. Scouring open-source material for new and emerging technologies, attending technology conferences and trade shows and hiring firms to look at new technologies are all legal activities -- and U.S. companies do this all the time. Some Chinese agents, then, are engaging much more in business intelligence than in true espionage. Given the blurred lines between civilian and government/military technology in China, however, the information gleaned can easily find its way into military applications.

The Chinese Style

The Chinese are renowned for their patient and persistent espionage methods, and for their technological reverse-engineering capabilities. They also are noted for taking an extremely long view of their political and military needs and of the intelligence required to meet them. Because of this, the Chinese pose the greatest intelligence threat to U.S. technology.

Aggressive efforts by the Chinese government to obtain critical technologies are no secret. The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, for instance, lists science and technology acquisition programs such as its National High-tech R&D Program (known as the 863 Program) on its official Web site. This program provides guidance and funding for acquiring or developing technology that will have a "significant impact on enhancing China's overall national strengths." Targeted technologies include those for civilian use in areas such as information technology (IT), biotechnology, agriculture, manufacturing, energy and the environment. Many of these technologies, however, also have military applications.

While the 863 Program calls for the Chinese to acquire or develop these technologies, it is far cheaper and quicker to acquire them -- and China has a long history of doing so. A great many of China's weapons systems have been developed either by stealing designs and technologies or by outright copying the entire system. In addition to copying small arms such as the AK-47, the RPG-7 and the Makarov pistol, Chinese military industries have even reverse-engineered fighter aircraft. The Chengdu F-7 fighter, for example, is a copy of the Soviet MiG-21. This crash technological advancement program is intended not only to close China's technological gap with the West, but also to leapfrog ahead of it.

To acquire critical technologies, then, the Chinese rely not only on traditional espionage, but also on collecting the needed information via open sources. Such open-source collection is both faster and easier than engaging in espionage -- and it is legal. In effect, the Chinese are exploiting the openness of the U.S. research and development (R&D) system. Such openness allows faster development of technologies in the United States because scientists and engineers from various institutions and companies can share ideas, and thus contribute to different aspects of the concept. The openness, however, also makes it easy for others to "eavesdrop" on the ongoing technological conversation.

Other countries, including Israel, France, India and South Korea, do the same thing -- though none has matched China in the amount of effort and resources devoted to this process. To obtain the desired technology, China is sending students, scholars and researchers to work and study in the United States and other industrialized countries. Some of these visitors then return to China to work in high-tech "incubator parks," where R&D takes place. Among this group, however, are real intelligence officers who are sent to steal critical technologies.

The Chi case provides insight into this process at work in the United States. According to the U.S. government, Chi was employed as a principal support engineer for Power Paragon, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications/SPD Technologies/Power Systems Group in Anaheim, Calif. Chi, who was born in China and became a U.S. citizen in 1985, was granted a "secret-level" security clearance in 1996 and worked on more than 200 U.S. defense and military contracts as an electrical engineer.

During the investigation into Chi's activities, the FBI performed a "trash cover" on him -- literally combing through his trash for evidence -- and found two documents containing instructions for Chi to attend more seminars and lists of the technologies he was to obtain. The lists had been torn up into small pieces, but the FBI was able to reconstruct and translate them. The FBI then performed surreptitious searches of Chi's residence and reportedly found documents pertaining to a number of the technologies listed on both documents.

Redefining the 'Company'

Efforts to collect sensitive technology are conducted not only by individual intelligence agents, but also by the many corporations established and controlled by the Chinese government. One such corporation is the Xinshidai Group, which was established by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and is one of China's two largest military hardware conglomerates. One of the armaments companies Xinshidai controls is Norinco, which is widely known in the United States for sales of light arms and ammunition.

While conglomerates such as Xinshidai are not officially part of the Chinese government, they were established solely to serve the needs of the PLA and the Chinese military-industrial complex. And one important need of the Chinese government is to acquire advanced defense technology. Many Xinshidai subunits, including Norinco, own subsidiary companies in the United States, and employees of these companies attend trade shows and technology conferences, and also meet with representatives from other companies. Of course, with so much information available online, much of this open-source collection can be accomplished from a desk in China

Many times, early technologies related to the defense industry are not yet classified and therefore not protected. These technologies often become classified only after the U.S. government has purchased them. Information on these emerging technologies, then, can be obtained during the early stage, when their developers are applying for patents or looking for venture capital, partners and/or customers.

The technology acquisition process more often crosses the line into traditional espionage inside China, where Chinese intelligence officers -- operating without fear of prosecution -- frequently steal sensitive documents or copy a target's hard drive. This situation is further complicated when one considers that many of the major U.S.-based corporations doing business in China or seeking to expand market share there also have lucrative contracts with the U.S. Defense Department or other federal agencies. Some of these companies are going beyond Chinese manufacturing and are establishing design and software development centers in the country, meaning even more technology and proprietary information must be made available there.

The expansion of foreign companies into China brings a host of potential targets right to the Chinese intelligence apparatus, allowing China to apply even more pressure to even more points in its quest for technology. Moreover, the techniques used against companies and travelers in China can be far more aggressive than those employed against similar targets in the United States.

In addition to the threat posed to U.S. national security, allowing China to close the technology gap through the acquisition of proprietary information -- legally or not -- ultimately will hurt U.S. multinationals as Chinese companies use the information to become competitors. This means U.S. companies wishing to remain competitive by operating in China or partnering with Chinese firms and their subsidiaries in the United States must maintain a high level of vigilance.[Stratfor]

An Insightful Look at US-Chinese Relationship

In an insightful and enlightening article Stratfor analyst Rodger Baker takes a deeper look into Sino-USA relations. He looks at the past, the present and the future of this relationship between the world’s sole superpower and a fast emerging China. This was published on the eve of the second biannual Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) between the two countries, which just concluded.

By Rodger Baker
Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi is in Washington to meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for the second of the planned biannual Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) sessions between the two countries. The dialogue brings together representatives of numerous ministries on both sides of the Pacific, covering finance, labor, trade, agriculture and the environment, among others. As the talks get under way, business and media attention is focused almost exclusively on two main issues: the Chinese-U.S. trade imbalance and China's undervaluing of the yuan.

The dialogue, however, is designed to integrate a much broader array of issues between Beijing and Washington, moving beyond trade to the larger matter of how the world's only remaining superpower deals with the rapid emergence of China on the international economic and political scene. For Washington, the dialogue is a tool to manage China's international relations as much as China's economic development. And for Beijing, the dialogue represents an attempt to shape relations with the United States in terms of economic cooperation, rather than strategic competition.

The economic framework for discussions seems to appeal to both Washington and Beijing, and the current dialogue, then, serves as a convenient tool for managing relations that sit on a much broader geopolitical framework. Still in its early stages, the SED reflects a changing dynamic in the management of U.S.-Chinese relations. From Beijing's perspective, the SED is a way to focus on the potential positive elements of U.S.-Chinese ties -- business and trade -- and reduce attention on questions of the "China threat" and the emergence of China as a military competitor to the United States.

The SED serves, in Beijing's mind, as one way of using the U.S. administration as a balance to the U.S. Congress. If the administration is looking at the broader strategic issues posed by China's global emergence, then it will be less likely to accede to congressional politicking on the China issue -- or so Beijing hopes. China sees the U.S. Congress as "unsophisticated" on China issues, and Capitol Hill as a place where short-term political interests, based to a large degree on electioneering and campaign contributions, drive periodic spurts of anti-Chinese rhetoric. However, during the past two decades, Beijing itself has grown a little more sophisticated in its understanding of U.S. politics, and has moved past dealing primarily with image management at the presidential and ministerial level to trying to shape U.S. political views from the ground up.

With the rapid rise of the Chinese economy in the aftermath of the Asian economic crisis and Beijing's entry into the World Trade Organization, China looked to both protect its growing economic connections and expand its international influence in the post-Cold War environment. With the Soviet Union gone and Europe failing to rise as a counterbalance to the United States, China set its sights on Washington as the biggest challenge to Chinese power -- and yet the best economic path to Chinese growth. Washington was headed for a presidential change, Beijing was dealing with increasing U.S. warnings of the China threat and the Chinese government was looking at its own upcoming leadership transition and the internal battle over best economic policies and security posture. For each of these issues, managing relations with the United States became the critical common factor.

In the late 1990s, Beijing ramped up a program of perception management in Washington, moving from trying to buy influence through campaign contributions to a more subtle approach of accelerating political and economic dialogue with U.S.-based think tanks, research institutes and academic institutions. Chinese scholars, both in the academic fields and in semi-government research institutes, embarked on numerous exchanges, dialogues and forums, sharing insights into policy debates and internal economic inconsistencies in China. At the same time, the state began releasing economic statistics that, through close examination, painted a picture not of a strong and unbreakable China, but of one that faced many of the same economic challenges and potential pitfalls as its Asian neighbors.

Through a carefully managed spread of information, China began shaping the perception of the key U.S. researchers on Chinese issues. Beijing seemed more open, more willing to admit mistakes and more receptive to suggestions for economic, social and even limited political reform. Discussions of the China threat shifted from a military concern to one of economics to one of potential Chinese collapse -- and the attendant ripples that would affect the international (and U.S.) economic systems. This information began trickling up to congressional aides, members of Congress and into the U.S. government bureaucracy and administration.

And Beijing is seeing a payoff, at least on the surface. When the current administration took power, relations with Washington were contentious to say the least. U.S. President George W. Bush came into office with a Cabinet that viewed China as the next strategic threat now that the Soviet Union was relegated to history. China's economic rise, and its military expansion that focused on new missiles and naval technology, was seen as a challenge to U.S. dominance of the seas, and thus to U.S. core national security. Now, the administration is pursuing strategic dialogue and cooperation with China, even if this is just a stopgap measure until Washington can free itself from Iraq.

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, Washington and Beijing came to a working arrangement. The United States would essentially leave China alone, and China would not present any direct challenge to the United States as Washington dealt with what it saw as a new strategic threat: al Qaeda and international Islamist militancy. Beijing welcomed the reprieve from the more contentious relations with Washington, which had declined precipitously following the collision that left a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft on a military runway in southern China.

At the time, Beijing was neither militarily nor politically prepared to square off against the United States. In fact, China was facing a major generational shift in leadership and needed the external buffer to allow Beijing to focus on internal issues. With the political transition completed, Beijing then shifted focus to economic and social stability -- and again used the minimal external pressure from Washington to give it breathing room while these issues took priority.

Internationally, Beijing used the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the North Korean nuclear crisis to try to raise the profile of international organizations such as the United Nations to counter the unipolar power of the United States. At the same time, it tried to raise China's profile and importance to Washington -- since, after all, the U.S. government could not face off against al Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea all at the same time.

By 2005, Washington was looking at longer-term involvement in Iraq than it had planned, and then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick made an indirect offer to Beijing for closer potential cooperation -- offering to treat China as a global player if Beijing proved a "responsible stakeholder." The offer appealed to Beijing, and China, cautiously at first but with increasing boldness, launched into a more open dialogue with Washington, making token trades on currency issues and offering its services in "rogue" nations such as North Korea and, more recently, Sudan in order to demonstrate its "responsibility" and keep real pressure from the United states to a minimum.

While the U.S. administration, particularly the Pentagon, was not all that reassured by China's behavioral change (as seen in early 2006 with a series of reports labeling China a strategic threat and culminating in a several-minute-long tirade by a Falun Gong activist at the White House reception for Chinese President Hu Jintao), Washington, with the exception of Congress, has taken a relatively relaxed approach to China. Trade issues dominate the headlines, as does the yuan valuation, but the administration pushes for more cooperative dialogue with Beijing rather than punitive sanctions or tariffs.

On Beijing's side, shortly after the first SED meeting in December 2006, China's Foreign Ministry launched the Center for China-U.S. Relations Studies at its research institute, the China Institute for International Studies. The center is designed to bring together top Chinese scholars on U.S. issues from across a broad spectrum of China (economic, international relations, security and others) and encourage increased exchanges with counterparts in the United States -- thus managing the perception campaign from a unified center. Earlier this year, China also appointed Yang Jiechi as foreign minister, calling on Yang's years of experience in the Chinese Embassy in Washington, his work with both sides of Congress and his long-standing ties with the Bush family.

The SED, then, provides both Washington and Beijing with a more centralized (and less random) point of contact for managing bilateral relations. But management and fundamental alterations are very different things. China's trade and economic policies will not be set with Washington's concerns as the top priority. Beijing's first concern is the maintenance of Communist Party rule, followed closely by the maintenance of social stability (which allows the party to remain in power). Economics are a tool, one that must balance domestic social pressures with international concerns. Furthermore, while dialogue can provide a channel for managing relations with the United States, China is not abandoning other tools for preserving its increasing economic vulnerabilities as its trade and energy requirements are internationalized.

China's anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) test in January was a clear reminder that China still sees the United States as the top challenge to Chinese economic security. China is a land power, not a maritime power. But China's economics have grown increasingly linked to longer and longer supply lines, particularly with energy imports. As such, Beijing sees a major vulnerability in its supply routes, as a large portion of its energy must pass through waters that, for all intents and purposes, are controlled by the United States. The ASAT test was intended to notify Washington that Beijing has ways to deal with the U.S. strategic dominance of the seas by threatening critical U.S. communications and guidance infrastructure.

China's vulnerabilities as a land power increasingly dependent on sea routes makes Beijing always extremely nervous about the United States, regardless of whether Washington intends to interdict Chinese trade and energy supplies. At the same time, China's expanding trade and political links around the globe are starting to rub up against U.S. strategic interests, particularly where China taps into energy resources Washington wants, or where Beijing's relations in places like Africa and Latin America challenge U.S. access to raw materials. But economic competition notwithstanding, Washington is loath to directly confront China, as attacking a land power in Asia is never wise or easy.

There is a standoff, then, between Washington and Beijing. Washington is heavily occupied with Iraq and Iran, and Beijing is taking advantage of this to expand its political and economic ties as broadly as possible. At the same time, China is obsessed with internal economic and social instability, and Washington can use these concerns to needle Beijing and keep China from taking too much advantage of Washington's limited bandwidth. Both see the SED as a useful place to manage this dance. Neither sees the SED as a real forum for a strategic partnership between China and the United States, or a place for drastic changes in the relationship.

There is something beyond the SED, however, that could start bringing Washington and Beijing closer together: the re-emergence of Moscow.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been rather manic since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. After Beijing's initial flirtations with Washington, China and the United States soon found themselves facing one another on the battlefields of Korea. China's ally at the time, the Soviet Union, largely sat out the conflict, leaving Beijing to ensure the communist revolution in Asia -- and letting China fight the United States while Moscow avoided the potential World War III feared by U.S. strategists at the time. Rather than using the opportunity presented by the Korean War to launch a simultaneous assault on Europe, Moscow let China fight, undermining the potential for any Sino-U.S. relations and tying China closer into the Soviet sphere of influence.

But by the late 1960s, tensions between Beijing and Moscow had risen to a fevered level, and significant border clashes broke out in 1969. Three years later, the mutually perceived threat from the Soviet Union brought U.S. President Richard Nixon to China to meet with Mao Zedong. The United States and China embarked on a new strategic relationship based on balancing the Soviet threat. This lasted until shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when China began seeking to expand its influence in East Asia and looked as though it were getting much more serious about war with Taiwan. In the late 1990s, China even flirted with the idea of establishing a strategic partnership with Russia to block the unipolar power of the United States, but never quite trusted its northern neighbor (and, for a while, Moscow had little to offer anyway aside from arms sales, which were already taking place). When 2001 rolled around, Beijing found new opportunities to deal directly with Washington.

But Russia has begun reasserting its influence around its periphery, and Cold War rhetoric is flowing from Moscow. On the surface, that would seem ideal for China, except that Beijing has been looking at Central Asia as a critical piece of its energy security puzzle, since Central Asian energy supplies never need to move by sea to China. As Moscow seeks to reclaim influence and control in its near abroad, China sees its potential role in Central Asia diminishing and its energy supplies challenged by the resurgent Russia. Add in Russian talk of reinvigorating the Russian presence in the Pacific, and China sees its energy and economic security once again challenged by its neighbor.

This could provide the impetus for a Beijing move closer to Washington -- to keep the United States focused on Russian threats rather than Chinese concerns. Beijing already has experience working with the United States to counter Russian influence, and keeping the current and former superpowers eyeing each other leaves China a less visible threat, and thus capable of continuing to deal with its own internal issues while facing minimal pressure from outside. As Beijing sees it, if a true multipolar world cannot be established any time soon, the hints of a return to a bipolar world order -- with Russia facing off against the United States -- could keep China out of the crosshairs and constrain U.S. actions. With the SED already in place, China has another pathway through which to shape its own image as cooperative, and perhaps drop a few hints of its concerns about Russia.[Strator]

May 25, 2007

Nasty Chinese Entertainment

Entertainment in the People's Republic:

....for your eyes only!

Link via "Serendipity"

May 19, 2007

More Stratfor Reports on Mecca Mosque Blast

Stratfor issued two more reports on the Mecca Mosque blast at Hyderabad which I am flagging here.

Tensions are high in Hyderabad, India, after an explosion during Friday prayers at the city's Mecca Mosque on May 18, in which at least five people were killed and 27 were injured. Many Muslims in the area, angered by the attack, reportedly are pelting local businesses and police forces with stones. The explosion took place far from the information technology business community in Hyderabad's northern suburbs, but businesses in the area should exercise caution.

While Hindu extremists in the area could easily be blamed for the attack, the bombing could well be the work of Kashmiri Islamist groups expanding their presence in southern India.

The idea of Muslims attacking fellow Muslims to incite riots is anomalous in India, though not completely unprecedented. In September 2006, a series of coordinated explosions killed 37 people and injured more than 125 in a Muslim cemetery next to a mosque in the northern town of Malegaon (about 180 miles northeast of Mumbai) in the state of Maharashtra. Most of those killed were Muslim pilgrims who were attending Friday prayers on the Shab-e-Baraat holy day. After a series of arrests and investigations, Maharashtra police reported that the attack was the work of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). India's Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) then reported in November 2006 that the main perpetrator of the attack, whose nom de guerre is Shabbir Batterywala, is a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who was working with SIMI member Raees Ahmad. Another member of SIMI, Noor-ul-Huda, reportedly admitted after his arrest that he organized the attack.

These militant Islamist groups have traditionally focused on Hindu targets to provoke extremist Hindu groups into retaliating against Muslims across India, along the lines of what happened in 1993 in Mumbai and 2002 in Gujarat when Hindu mobs went on violent rampages against Muslims, resulting in some of the deadliest communal riots in India's history. However, Indians have largely become inured to these militant attacks and have failed to provide the wide-scale, violent response the Islamist groups hope for.

The lack of a Hindu response could have led to a shift in thinking among the Kashmiri Islamist groups operating in India, who might have decided to risk alienating local support by staging attacks against Muslims in hopes of reigniting Hindu-Muslim tensions in locations that have a history of deadly communal violence. (It is important to note that these groups are rooted in Wahhabi doctrine, which justifies attacking mainstream Barelvi and secular Muslims.)

This strategy carries its fair share of flaws, however, as India's Muslim community is largely moderate and generally feels integrated within the Indian republic. Without much of a radical streak to draw from within India's Muslim population, the Kashmiri Islamist groups are likely to face a major popular backlash.[Stratfor]

Police forces were on high alert and security was tightened at potential targets in India on May 18 following the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED) at the Mecca Mosque in Hyderabad that left at least seven people dead and more than two dozen injured. Two more live IEDs reportedly were defused at the mosque, located in the Charminar area of Hyderabad's old city.

Although it is unclear who is behind the bombing, the attackers' poor tradecraft indicates it was the work of a relatively inexperienced militant cell, and not one directly linked to one of India's more established militant groups. Regardless, the attack is likely to fuel Hyderabad's already tense relations between Hindus and Muslims.

The IED exploded around 1:30 p.m. local time when the mosque was crowded with worshipers performing Friday prayers. The blast occurred near the Wuzukhana, a fountain inside the mosque entrance where worshippers wash their hands and faces before praying. The two other devices had been placed near the entrance to the mosque complex, though it is unclear whether the devices were meant to target arriving worshippers or first responders and fleeing worshippers following the initial blast.

The failure of the other two bombs and the timing of the explosion indicate poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers. Poor design or workmanship in the detonation mechanism, remote controls or the actual composition of the explosives could have been what prevented the other devices from detonating. Moreover, the bomber would have wanted to maximize the casualty count, and would have timed the blast to coincide with the worshippers' arrival at the Wuzkuhana. Instead, the explosion occurred during prayers, when most worshippers already had washed and moved away from the fountain. Indian officials said the bomb would have killed many more people had it detonated a few minutes earlier, before prayers started. Because the bomb was detonated remotely, the bomber likely estimated when the fountain would be crowded, rather than having eyes on the target before triggering the device.

The Mecca Mosque, built in the 17th century, is the main, established mosque in Hyderabad. Rather than catering to one of India's many Muslim offshoot sects, which are considered heretical by orthodox Muslims, the mosque draws its congregation from the city's mainstream Sunni community.

The attack, the third major bombing of a mosque in India in the past 13 months, follows the attacks against the Maani Mosque in Maharashtra state and the Jamia Mosque in New Delhi. In all cases, the bombs detonated during or after Friday prayers, when mosques generally are the most crowded. In many cases, attacks against mosques are followed by riots, reprisal bombings of Hindu temples, and communal violence between Hindus and Muslims.

Hyderabad has seen militant activity before -- and been the scene of some of the country's worst communal violence -- but this is the first major attack against a mosque. Within minutes of the bombing, crowds of angry Muslims threw stones at Indian police, claiming they failed to provide adequate security. The police responded by deploying tear gas and firing rubber bullets, reportedly killing four protesters. In response to the bombing and the subsequent police shootings, the Council for Muslim Unity, a mainstream Muslim group, has called for a general strike in Hyderabad, indicating the bombing will only add to the city's already high communal tensions.[Stratfor]

May 18, 2007

Stratfor on Hyderabad's Mecca Mosque Blast

Here is Statfor article on the Mecca Mosque bomb blast at Hyderabad.

Five people were killed and at least 27 injured May 18 when a bomb exploded in the historic Mecca Mosque in the Charminar area of the old city in Hyderabad, India. Two more live bombs reportedly were found in the vicinity and defused.

Mecca Masjid is the main mosque in Hyderabad, and thousands of people were gathered for Friday prayers when the bomb exploded around 1:30 p.m. local time. At least 7,000 to 8,000 people perform Friday prayers at the mosque and the fatalities would have been much higher if the bomb had exploded five to six minutes earlier, said Hyderabad member of parliament Asaduddin Owaisi, though he did not elaborate. The failure of the other two bombs to detonate and the low death toll indicates this was an amateurish attack.

The blast occurred against a backdrop of rising Islamist militancy in India's southern region by Kashmiri Islamist groups. The aim of the Kashmiri groups in the southern states appears to be focused on recruitment. These groups have had little success in radicalizing India's Muslim population, and so have been sending in teams to flare up religious fervor and reinvigorate the debate on Kashmir. The groups could be attempting to provoke Indian security forces to crack down on the Muslim population, thereby legitimizing militant groups' causes.

This appears also be the case in Karnataka, home of the high-tech city of Bangalore. Kashmiri Islamist group Hizbul Mujahideen recently issued a statement condemning the harassment of Kashmiri students in Bangalore, claiming such acts negate the claims of Jammu and Kashmir state Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad that no student would be harassed outside of Kashmir. The statement added that students and businesspeople working in other states are vulnerable. By bringing to light these alleged injustices against Kashmiris, these groups are attempting to draw more public support for their militant campaign against India.

Hyderabad has a large Muslim population, and this attack is likely to serve as a catalyst for communal riots in the area. A group angered by the attack already has begun throwing stones at nearby shops and police forces. As Hyderabad is one of India's major hubs for the information technology industry, businesses in the area should exercise caution.[Statfor]

NDTV's Deceptive Game

I loved this:

The stark disconnect of various presenters and guests, particularly on NDTV, from the dynamics, as it were, of the elections and the real people who voted was painfully palpable.
On NDTV, particularly, the debate anchored by Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt remained stuck in the street-smart rote of petty machinations and manipulations. With a few similarly myopic and dishonest politicians for support, they hopelessly tried to explain why their "intelligent" media representing the superior "English speaking universe" and their supposedly ultra sophisticated predictive models, totally failed not only to foresee what was coming but also to subsequently see what really happened.

The only thing Barkha Dutt saw, as she wrote glibly in the HT, was that the voters were smart!

I recall the exit poll results after the first phase of polling on NDTV. The image that remained glued to my mind was that of Prannoy Roy hyper-excitedly telling viewers like a schoolboy that the "Rahul Gandhi" factor was working exceptionally well, almost in the fond hope that such proclamations would influence voters to vote for the Congress.

This deception continued right till the very end even when all other exit polls were not half as gung-ho about Rahul's impact and the results started coming in. Psephology had obviously taken a backseat to the political agenda of the news channel. Even, when all was lost for the Congress, Roy and Dutt simply could not go beyond the usual brain-dead reasoning and the "analysis" of how the Congress was important to the BSP, particularly because of the Taj corridor case against Mayawati!

Not a word telling the viewers that Rahul Gandhi could get victory for his party in only six of the 108 or so constituencies he vigorously campaigned with virtually saturated media coverage. Such a huge investment of airtime and money wasted... they both seemed more devastated than the Congress for this loss and completely oblivious to the monumental significance of Mayawati's victory.[

Damaged Beyond Repair?

Now Tavleen Singh in an article titled "Damage may be beyond repair…" asks BJP the same question the Center Right has been asking them for a long time.

The last thing we need is for the party of Hindu nationalism to join the movement to radicalize Indian Muslims. And, yet this is just what the Bharatiya Janata Party is doing if its campaign in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election is anything to go by.

[.....] are we to understand the shamelessly divisive campaign that the BJP has run in U.P. in which Muslims have virtually been accused of being un-Indian because of their religion and culture?

A political party that seeks to rule India needs to understand that India's vaunted economic progress will come to an abrupt halt if the majority of our Muslims become radicalized. Once more we will face decades of political disturbance as we did when myopic and dangerous policies caused Punjab and Kashmir to explode. The eighties and the nineties were lost decades for India on account of these two political problems. If radicalization spreads among India's Muslims it will not be contained to two states. Is there nobody in the BJP who understands this?

When political problems take a violent turn economic issues invariably get pushed onto a backburner. At this point when the Indian economy is booming and we are looking at the possibility of a growth rate of 10% the last thing we need is for our largest minority group to start feeling that they are alienated from the fruits of this progress. ....

....if radicalization spreads in the Muslim community what we will certainly see is more jehadi terrorism and more support for the international jehad. This is not a Muslim problem, it is a problem for India. It is shocking that the BJP's senior leaders do not realize that what they are doing in U.P. has done as much to radicalize Muslim public opinion as jehadi propaganda has done. Someone needs to remind them that India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and they are here to stay much as Hindu fanatics might like to think they can wish them away.[Cybernoon]

When Two Mega-Stars Met made my day! A thousand thanks to Amit Varma for these pics of my most favourite mega-stars together. Always wanted one from the time I was a teenager. Anyways it is still not that late. I will cherish these pics forever!

aamir and cheeru

Report and Pics in/from Mid-day.

Cartoon Speak: When the Family Business Crashed

moma and baba

Courtesy: The Hindu

Why Can't BJP Change?

Sudheendra Kulkarni, LK Advani's speechwriter asks BJP why it can't be an all-inclusive party?

If Mayawati’s triumphant and praiseworthy concept of Sarvajan Samaj (all-inclusive society) has a place for Muslims, why is the BJP so queasy about accommodating Muslims in its own electoral strategy? Why didn’t the BJP field a single Muslim candidate in any of the 403 assembly constituencies in a state where Muslims constitute 18.5 per cent of the population? The party indeed has some justification in criticising its political opponents for Muslim “appeasement”, but is it practising its own precept — namely, “Justice for All” — when it neither takes up any just issues of Indian Muslims nor feels morally and ideologically obliged to give due democratic representation to such a huge section of Indian society? How can the BJP hope to govern India if it continues to have an emotional disconnect with Indian Muslims?Some leaders of the Sangh Parivar even go to the extent of haughtily saying, “We don’t need Muslim votes.” Well, democracy has a predictable way of punishing these bigots.

The BSP, a party of the Scheduled Castes, moved away from badmouthing brahmins to embracing them, thereby scripting a winning electoral formula without alienating Muslims. Call it soft Hindutva or anything else, but it has worked. Who then is preventing the BJP from similarly expanding its support base by moving away from its half-hearted, on-again-off-again attempts to reach out to Indian Muslims to making it a sincere component of its ideological commitment, political activism and election strategy? We know the answer: it is those who are urging it to adopt “aggressive Hindutva” in pursuit of non-existent, even counter-productive, electoral gains. [IE]

No wonder many of the dazed BJP supporters are calling for Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi being given charge of UP BJP! Havent these people learnt anything yet? Oh yes! it will take a long time for them to recover from the tight slap administered by UP voters on BJP 'face'.

May 17, 2007

The Errors Committed by Psephologists

Dipankar Gupta in an article tells us about the errors committed by the so-called psephologists while trying to decode the Uttar Pradesh voters.

The first error is that psephologists either don’t realise that there are far too many castes even in an assembly constituency than there are candidates. So even a die-hard casteist voter will, in all likelihood, have to opt for someone who does not belong to the same ‘jati’. There are roughly 20-25 such castes in each constituency and not an equal number of serious contenders for power. So rural voters have to eventually decide on a candidate on matters other than the caste to which he/she belongs. There is just no other option. It is hardly as if there is one candidate for every caste in every constituency.

Psephologists make their second error when they say that each caste issues a kind of whip commandeering its members to vote for one party or the other. According to them, the rural Indian cannot think independently and responds slavishly to the call of caste. This is a ridiculous idea. Anyone who is familiar with village India will know that not only is the bush telegraph more fiction than fact, but so is the idea of a bumbling rural idiot. The everyday village voter is not hopelessly tied to cultural genes. He considers other variables before approaching the ballot box.

As this point is missed out by psephologists, they see no problem in churning out figures like 21 per cent Lodhs voted for the Samajwadi Party and 50 per cent Brahmins for BJP. Even if one accepts these spurious facts, the psephologists should have logically gone on to inquire into whose arms have the remaining 79 per cent Lodhs and 50 per cent Brahmins fled? Why did they vote differently? Surely, these are good follow-up questions, but psephologists never ask them.

As a consequence of the first two errors, the psephologist commits the further mistake in believing that on account of the purity-pollution hierarchy, OBCs like Gujjars and Jats, or forwards like Brahmins and Baniyas, or Scheduled Castes, Harijans and Valmikis spontaneously strike a political accord. So if there is a caste correlation that appears to fit this mould even partially, no further explanation is required.

The truth again is very different. Gujjars are not the natural allies of Jats just because both are clubbed as OBCs rather generously by Mandalites. Jats hate Gujjars and this sentiment is reciprocated. There are Gujjar tales of Jat opportunism and Jats have popular fables of alleged Gujjar cowardice. Similar discords exist between Baniyas, Brahmins and Rajputs as between members of different Scheduled Castes. If there is a single feature that characterises caste relations across the board it is one of ‘mutual repulsion’.

Now we are ready to appreciate why the recent poll predictions were almost entirely in error. None of the psephologists predicted that the BSP would get an absolute majority simply because they fractionated voters minutely by caste. These pollsters would have done better if they had asked on what grounds members of different castes coalesce politically. As the UP election has shown, jati loyalty is not the key. The emergence of a degree of caste correlation with electoral outcome is because economic, social and structural considerations bring otherwise hostile jatis together in caste blocks or clusters.

Mayawati knows only too well that caste battles are fought on shifting sands. It is much better to seek partners who have common enemies and common aspirations, and hang prior enmities. As both upper castes and scheduled castes see the OBC threatening their lives and livelihood, it makes good political sense to get these traditional polar opposites together. This is a truth that Mayawati grasped easily but it escaped the psephologist who is burdened by elitist textbook readings of caste.
But psephologists need to reinvent themselves in a hurry. By insisting on the pre-eminence of caste round the clock during election time they are not only wrong, but also dangerous. Incorrect though they are on every count, they succeed, however, in a somewhat devious way. They are successfully able to pander to popular prejudice by continuously harping on individual caste identities. It is in this sense that they play a negative social role that borders on the subversive.

In the rest of the article he looks at the current situation in rural India.

As Indian society is just coming out of the natural economy of a stagnant village, there is still the hangover of the past in terms of occupations and secular opportunities. Scheduled castes who were not allowed to own land or train themselves in socially valuable skills are even today at the bottom of the heap. Their aspirations are, therefore, quite different from those of the Jats, Gujjars, Kurmis and Koeris.

These so-called ‘backwards’ still call the shots in rural India because they are educationally and economically better-off than the scheduled castes and, hence, better networked with state agencies and functionaries. As they have greater control over state resources, they corner a larger chunk of its largesse as well. Not surprisingly, they are also the primary sponsors of the pro-Mandal movement. It is widely known that some of the worst thugs in Uttar Pradesh come from the fold of the ‘backwards’, but what should be equally appreciated is that the village-based scheduled castes face the brunt of their violence.

Brahmins and Baniyas matter little to the poor rural Dalits. These so-called ‘forwards’ are physically scarce and politically insignificant in rural India. Land reforms and sub-division of holdings drove the traditional upper castes away from the village. They left behind a vacuum that was energetically filled by the ‘backwards’. It is, therefore, easier for the so-called ‘forwards’ to link with scheduled castes, and vice-versa, today because they have no secular interests that pit them against each other. If each of these three major caste categories, the ‘forwards’, ‘backwards’ and scheduled castes, are politically significant, as in this election, it is because powerful secular interests bind them together. It is caste blocks such as these that function as political actors and not fractionated entities like Lodhs, Kurmis, Brahmins, Baniyas, etc.

May 16, 2007

Breaking the Sound Barrier

An American Cobra helicopter breaking the sound barrier.

US Navy F-18 breaking the sound barrier.

Stratfor Examines a Post-Musharraf Pakistan

Here is Stratfor's article looking at a possible post-Musharraf Pakistan in full.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in an interview published Wednesday in the British daily Times Online, calls President Gen. Pervez Musharraf "a gone man." Sharif, who also is leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and was ousted from power by Musharraf in 1999, said Musharraf's "options are totally exhausted, and starting from today [his fall] is simply a matter of time." Sharif is not exaggerating -- with each passing day Musharraf appears to be losing his hold on power.

Musharraf's own constituency, the military, is beginning to show signs of concern -- even his close generals are now privately admitting things have gotten out of hand. There also are indications that the United States has begun to gradually move away from the embattled Pakistani leader.

The developing shift in Washington's attitude is notable, considering that the Bush administration has heavily depended on Musharraf being at the helm in Islamabad during the war on terrorism. But the United States has been preparing for a post-Musharrafian Pakistan for at least a little over a year. In the beginning, however, the U.S. move stemmed the need to move beyond reliance on a single individual leader and not because of any threat to Musharraf's hold on power.

Now that the political crisis has imposed a crisis of governance on the Musharraf regime, it is only natural that the United States now move from planning to actually preparing for the time when Musharraf will no longer be Pakistan's president. But the military establishment dominates Pakistan, and Musharraf being both president and military chief raises the question of who will replace him.

However, it is unlikely that one successor will hold both positions because the domestic and international situation precludes the possibility of a military takeover of the country. It should be noted that this assumes that Musharraf continues to try and tough it out, in which case the growing unrest and violence in the country could prompt the corps commanders and agency heads to force him to step down.

In such a situation, the chairman of the Senate, Muhammad Mian Soomro, would become acting president and an interim prime minister would be appointed to lead a caretaker government. Such a government would then be tasked with holding new parliamentary elections. The interim administration would be based more or less on a consensus between the political forces and the military. Such elections would lead to a coalition federal government likely composed of at least the two main parties -- the PML-N and the Pakistan People's Party -- with the latter being the senior coalition partner. The new parliament and provincial legislatures, which together constitute the Electoral College that elects the president, would install a new head of state who likely would be a consensus candidate of the parties in the coalition government.

Regarding the position of the chief of the army staff, it is likely that the current vice chief of army staff (VCOAS), Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hayat, would succeed Musharraf. This is assuming that, if current trends persist, Musharraf will be unable to hold on to power until October, when Hayat is expected to retire. Hayat has worked extensively with Washington in the past several years, especially since he assumed the post of VCOAS in October 2004.

Furthermore, though the current political crisis will lead to the ouster of Musharraf, the military establishment will remain in control of the state for some time. From the U.S. viewpoint this is important because it ensures continuity in policy on the war on terrorism. In the long run it is in Washington's interest to see the military come under civilian control because such a government allows for relatively smooth transitions of power. But in the current circumstances, such a political dispensation could create hurdles in the path of ongoing counterterrorism cooperation because elected regimes are answerable to the masses, which in this case resent U.S. foreign policy toward their region of the world.

Musharraf's exit certainly will represent a major shift in the Pakistani political scene, but it is one for which the United States has been preparing.[Stratfor]

Stratfor on the Peshawar Suicide Bombings

Here is Stratfor's article on the latest suicide bombings and unrest in Pakistan.

A bomb exploded about 12:45 p.m. local time May 15 in the ground-floor restaurant of the four-story Marhaba Hotel in the center of Peshawar, Pakistan, 110 miles west of the Pakistani capital near the Afghan border. This is the second suicide bombing in the North-West Frontier Province in the past three weeks. On April 28, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao was wounded in an assassination attempt in Charsadda, about 45 miles north of Peshawar. Sherpao survived, but 28 people died.

The May 15 attack could have been retaliation for the killing of top Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah. Additional attacks are likely and will add to the growing political instability and insecurity in Pakistan.

The timing and location of the attack indicate it was planned to cause maximum casualties. The locally owned restaurant is located near the centuries-old Mahabat Mosque in the crowded center of the city. It is famous for its Pashtun cuisine and is one of the most popular lunch spots among Afghan nationals in Peshawar. Because it is on the ground floor, the restaurant offered the attacker easy access. Because the Marhaba is a local establishment mainly catering to Afghans, security probably was not as tight as it would be at larger chain hotels catering to Westerners. During lunchtime in the middle of the city, the restaurant would have been crowded. The combination of easy access and a large concentration of people guaranteed a high casualty count.

The motive for targeting the hotel is unclear. Many jihadist suicide attacks target hotels frequented by Westerners or other foreigners, but the Marhaba's clientele is mostly Afghan nationals. Authorities picked up one of Dadullah's relatives from the hotel days before the Taliban leader's death in Afghanistan. The detained relative reportedly provided intelligence that led to the engagement that ended in Dadullah's death. Intelligence agencies the world over use hotels for source meetings and, given that such an encounter took place at the Marhaba with Dadullah's relative, the target for the attack could have been a source meeting.

The jihadists are watching the political temperature rise in Pakistan due to the ongoing judicial crisis and are trying to take advantage of the situation by increasing their own activity. Furthermore, Dadullah's death forced them to strike back. The Peshawar bombing, coupled with the May 14 attack on U.S. and Pakistani troops holding a meeting at a border checkpoint, constitutes the beginning of a fresh wave of suicide bombings in the country. These attacks, along with Pakistan's ongoing political unrest, could hasten the collapse of the President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's regime.[Stratfor]

A Border Shooting and Musharraf's Troubles

Stratfor on the killing of a NATO soldier after meeting with Pakistani and Afghan forces.

Service members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) held a flag meeting with Pakistani and Afghan forces May 14 in the Kurram tribal agency on the Pakistani side of the Pakistani-Afghan border. After the meeting, which was called to stem a border clash between Pakistani troops and Afghans that started the previous day, "unknown assailants" ambushed the ISAF members near Teri Mangal as the convoy traveled back to the Afghan side of the border, leaving one NATO solider dead and four wounded, according to a NATO statement.

Three to four U.S. soldiers and three to four Pakistani soldiers also were injured, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said, though Pakistan's GEO TV reported that one U.S. soldier and one Pakistani soldier were killed. Another senior Pakistani security official said a man disguised as a Pakistani paramilitary soldier had opened fire on the troops.

The Afghan government offered a starkly different account, however. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said that at the meeting, "A Pakistani officer rose up and fired at U.S. soldiers, resulting in the deaths of two soldiers and the wounding of two others."

Evidently, many different stories are circulating. But it appears that a group of jihadists fired at the NATO convoy after the meeting ended. A great deal of resentment is brewing among Pashtuns in the Kurram tribal agency, and it would be reasonable to assume that a NATO convoy would be vulnerable to an attack in the area, particularly after the killing of the Taliban's top military commander, Mullah Dadullah.

The attack and recent border clashes between Pakistani troops and Afghan troops follow an April 30 meeting between Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Ankara, Turkey, aimed at quelling hostilities between the two governments. Afghan-Pakistani relations have long been on the rocks because of Kabul's repeated allegations that Islamabad is dangerously undermining stability in the region by fueling the Taliban insurgency next door. Pakistani moves to build a security fence along the border have further inflamed tensions between Kabul and Islamabad, since the Afghan government views such an effort in an area that is essentially impossible to fence because of the terrain as a blatant attempt to seize Afghan territory.

Faced with a growing political imbroglio at home over the suspension of Pakistan's chief justice, Musharraf has decided to clear his plate a bit by making a concerted effort to improve relations with his Afghan neighbors. Though the two countries have deep-rooted Pashtun ties, Pakistan cannot afford to alienate the Afghan government too much for fear of losing influence in Kabul, contributing to the spread of Talibanization within Pakistan's own borders and giving longtime rival India an opportunity to cozy up to the Afghan government and team up against Islamabad.

Musharraf's meeting with Karzai did result in some notable improvements in the Afghan-Pakistani relationship, with both sides agreeing to share intelligence and quell the jihadist insurgency engulfing the region. The intelligence that led to the death of Dadullah might have been the Musharraf government's way of delivering on the promises it made to Karzai at that summit, though the Afghan government clearly is not ready to ease the pressure off the Pakistani leader any time soon.

By claiming that a Pakistani soldier simply stood up at the meeting and fired at U.S. soldiers, the Afghan government delivered a politically motivated message to Washington that Musharraf cannot be relied on to cooperate on the counterterrorism front, and that he cannot even control his own military. Though the NATO statement contradicted the Afghan story, the idea that Musharraf is gradually losing his grip on the Pakistani army could be gaining some ground in Washington.

The political crisis in Pakistan reached its tipping point May 12-13, when more than 42 demonstrators in the southern port city of Karachi were killed in clashes between pro-government and opposition protesters. The legal row over suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry's dismissal has so emboldened Pakistan's civil society and political opposition parties that everywhere Chaudhry travels massive street demonstrations follow in a show of support against the Musharraf government.

The Pakistani government attempted to quell the demonstrations by playing up militant threats against Chaudhry, urging him to not travel by car and to keep a low profile, but Chaudhry saw through the political ploy and has continued to catalyze mass protests throughout the country. By instigating violent protests, Musharraf and his advisers likely were hoping the ensuing instability would pressure Chaudhry into toning down his campaign and bring calm to Pakistan. But this appears to be yet another miscalculation by Musharraf, as the opposition protesters have only became more emboldened following the deadly riots in Karachi.

Pakistan's generals are watching closely as Musharraf's support is rapidly eroded, and they are now seeing it in their best interest to distance themselves as much as possible from the president. It appears that even the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of the military, has been told to back away from Musharraf. Though the director-general of ISPR has recently operated as Musharraf's press secretary and has often come to the defense of the president, routine journalistic inquiries addressed to the ISPR are now being directed to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In other words, the ISPR appears to have been issued a directive of some sort telling it not take a stand and to keep a safe distance from the political crisis.

The Karachi riots have backed Musharraf into a tighter corner, and if he wants to finagle his way out of this mess, he will have to make the appropriate concessions: reinstate the chief justice, stand down as army chief and strike a deal with the country's main opposition group, Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians (PPP-P) that allows PPP-P leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to save face for dealing with a president whose image has been severely tarnished.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Musharraf has been left with little choice but to yield to the demands of his opponents -- or else risk being pressured by the army generals to step aside in the interest of safeguarding the authority of the military establishment. The Karachi riots have created a scenario in which the best Musharraf can hope for is to be able to play a role in the transition from military to civilian rule during the early 2008 general election and negotiate to stay on as a transitional president, a post that could provide him a safe exit from power. If he does not move soon to quell this political crisis, Washington could need to seriously consider what it can expect from a post-Musharraf regime in Islamabad.[Statfor]