Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why do nations distrust/dislike China? 6 July 2014

Why do nations distrust/dislike China?     6 July 2014

Some people and nations appear to be suspicious of, or actually to dislike, China’s rise. I am wondering why. There are historical reasons: China was the major, unchallenged power in its region for thousands of years to which ‘lesser’ nations near and far—indeed, as far away as Hunza (now in northern Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir)—had to submit and pay tribute. China’s superiority and other kingdoms’ palpable inferiority entrenched two factors. First, strongly-held Chinese certainty—or arrogance, if you prefer—that the divinely-sanctioned Middle Kingdom should be paramount regionally and beyond. This was the natural order. Second, some of China’s neighbours have bad memories of being under Chinese suzerainty, which brought stability, but not necessarily freedom, mutual endearment or fraternity.

Things have changed dramatically since a popular revolution overthrew the Imperial Qing/Manchu dynasty in 1911. Thereafter, a divided China endured political, social and economic turmoil—and was weak. From the 1920s, Nationalists and Communists fought; in the early 1930s, Japan invaded Manchuria and created ‘Manchukuo’; from 1937, Chinese forces fought with the Allies in World War II. Following its 1949 victory, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) consolidated its control of China, often brutally. This included Mao Zedong-inspired actions such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—which were diabolical, not great. For non-Chinese, such destabilising actions beneficially kept China politically unstable, internally focused and economically weak. Even so, the CCP’s concurrently-held belief that Communism would inevitably triumph worldwide, plus the export of revolution to help this process, did not endear China to others. And, while nations like Vietnam benefitted from Chinese (and Soviet) support against the United States, the 1979 China-Vietnam war showed that, ultimately, national interests always trump ideology. Equally, as China’s neighbour, Vietnam has long sought to avoid Chinese domination.

Matters started to change with, and for, China in the 1970s. The United Nations recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the official government of China, after which the PRC obtained the General Assembly and permanent Security Council seats. In 1979, following Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking 1972 trip to ‘mainland’ China, the United States established full diplomatic relations with the PRC and severed relations with the Taiwan-based Republic of China. Most importantly, from 1978, led by the tenacious twice-purged Deng Xiaoping, China pursued a ‘socialist market economy’ that allowed capitalist practices and activities to flourish. China’s economic progress admirably has lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, with China now being the world’s second largest economy (although in GDP per capita terms, it lags). Arguably, ‘CCP’ now stands for the ‘Chinese Capitalist Party’.

In recent years, a rising China has been seeking to convert its economic strengths into strategic and foreign policy gains. Most analysts consider that China has ambitions to become a great power, an aspiration that reflects China’s history, self-perception and its so-called ‘Middle Kingdom’ syndrome. Certainly, many Chinese want their nation to be able to resist actions by Western ‘imperialists’, many of whom formerly obtained concessions or took significant portions of Chinese territory when China was weak. Contemporaneously, China also dislikes being encircled by aggressors or enemies, actual or potential, and is trying to break out, and free itself, from this military and maritime containment. Equally, the need to secure economic resources is a driving factor.

While China is emulating the actions of other rising powers that have sought to change or enhance their geo-strategic situation, it is the way that Beijing is going about instigating these changes that worries others. China’s economic rise is clear but its strategic ambitions are not. This situation relates to a significant Chinese strength and weakness: authoritarian rule. Since 1949, various CCP and PRC organs have controlled, manipulated or suppressed all Chinese citizens, not just Tibetans and Uighurs. Since 1978, this has allowed China to advance economically, a happy development for most Chinese. Politically, however, there has been no genuine or inclusive political debate, while dissent has been suppressed. While China has other political parties, they are weak, controlled and ineffectual. According to a friend of mine, ‘it’s easy to be a martyr in China—just publicly criticise the CCP’. The most publicised and negative example of China’s authoritarian rule was the harshly suppressed 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. Other examples of state heavy-handedness apparently have gone unreported.

The weakness of China’s authoritarian rule is that, because the regime itself needs to concentrate and retain power, it is excessively secretive, self-seeking, non-consultative, extensive, and often brutal. China’s rulers paternalistically pursue policies and national interests determined by them in camera and without broad consultation or genuine or popular agreement. Elite CCP rule is difficult to influence or bend, unless it chooses to bend itself—as China pragmatically did economically in 1978. Before 1978, such ‘about turns’ were difficult to anticipate and endure.

China’s inability to tolerate dissent stifles its citizens, their creativity and China’s greatness. This authoritarianism also appears to be a major reason why China currently is mistrusted. Nations of the world, particularly those used to the rough and tumble of consultative democracy—which now comprises many of China’s near and far neighbours—want to engage in a discussion or dialogue, and not be told, or compelled, to do things China’s (authoritarian) way or not at all. China’s current excessively aggressive stance to regain, as Beijing sees it (which is partially correct in relation to its dispute with Japan), sovereignty over disputed territories in the South China Sea is antagonising Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and others.

Ultimately, China’s authoritarianism makes China look like an oppressive, self-interested regime lacking altruism that domestically dominates its people and which internationally is aggressively trying to bully other nations. This hardline approach is not endearing China to others. Conversely, it is bringing nations together and inspiring them to strategically encourage the US to stay militarily engaged with Asia—factors clearly not in China’s interests. Given its past, its size, and its one-party dominated state, it will be exceedingly difficult for China to genuinely change this way of operating.

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
6 July 2014


Spying and Intelligence; 20 November 2013

Spying and Intelligence; 20 November 2013

The issue of spying is topical, with the United States recently exposed for tapping the phone calls of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Australia is currently in trouble with Indonesia because an Australian intelligence agency sought to monitor telephone conversations made by senior Indonesians, including President Yudhoyono. For both Merkel and Yudhoyono, these activities—which amounted, pure and simple, to spying—were repugnant and unacceptable, especially given that so-called friendly nations had undertaken them.

Spying is an activity undertaken clandestinely, with or without the knowledge of the person, people or nation being spied on. Certainly, anyone operating at a high political or bureaucratic level needs to assume that foreign intelligence agencies, probably hostile (although friendly nations also spy on each other), will attempt to monitor his or her activities and conversations. To think otherwise would be naïve; to act otherwise may weaken a nation’s security. I use the word ‘naïve’ because a quick Internet search on ‘Australian intelligence agencies’ reveals that Australia has six intelligence agencies. Indonesian authorities also could make such searches. Similarly, they should have informed Indonesia’s leaders to be diligent and prudent when talking in non-secure environments, on non-secure devices, and with foreigners.

Australia’s major intelligence agencies comprise:

  • Australian Secret Intelligence Service, which collects human intelligence overseas;
  • Australian Signals Directorate, which collects information electronically (and which allegedly, and almost certainly, has ‘monitored’ Indonesia’s senior officials’ activities);
  • Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, which collects imagery and geospatial intelligence;
  • Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, which collects and analyses intelligence about threats in Australia by Australians or foreigners, including diplomats;
  • Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO; for which I once worked), which analyses intelligence provided by other agencies, Australian and non-Australian, chiefly for a military audience;
  • Office National Assessments, which does similar work to DIO but at a higher level for Australia’s prime minister and cabinet.

Each intelligence agency has its own website, which discusses its supposed capabilities and operations. I say ‘supposed’ as intelligence personnel will only tell you what they want you know, not the whole story.

Other Australian intelligence operatives collecting and/or analysing material include civilian and military diplomats stationed overseas in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and intelligence bodies in the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force. There also are law enforcement-type intelligence agencies, including the Australian Federal Police (AFP), intelligence bodies in state and territory police forces, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Australian Crime Commission, and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC). Some of these, such as DFAT, AFP and AUSTRAC, also collect information overseas or from sources overseas.

To some extent, these abovementioned organisations engage in clandestine activities. This ‘spying’ may create intelligence, although not necessarily. Certainly, in my experience as an intelligence analyst in the 1980s—which was before the powerful Internet came into being—there was secret or classified intelligence that was not terribly useful. Much of what was obtained clandestinely could have been obtained through open, unclassified sources, particularly from an enterprising journalist with a wide and well-informed network. A lot of information also was just that … information, without the added analysis or inclusion of other details that might make it relevant.

Secret intelligence did provide two things, however. First, some otherwise-unobtainable phone intercepts: I recall reading the captured conversations of some South Asian leaders. While ‘juicy’, they were not really useful or informative. (Mr Yudhoyono may therefore possibly have little to worry about.) Second, timeliness. In my days, the large and sophisticated worldwide communications network that Australia and its intelligence partners (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand) possessed meant that we usually received advanced warning, only by an hour or two, of a major international event. DIO did have wire services, but these invariably reported events after the classified network. This advantage has probably now faded, given that communications have advanced significantly worldwide.

There are other issues with intelligence agencies. First, it is almost impossible for an outsider to determine whether these bodies are good, bad or indifferent. They are ‘closed shops’ not subjected to open parliamentary and media scrutiny. We therefore have to take on face value that these secretive entities are efficient, ethical and do good work. Hence their great fears when people like Ed Snowden leak ‘highly sensitive’ information that may show them in a poor light. This relates to the second point: paternalism and trust. Intelligence agencies tell us that we are at risk, but that they can’t tell us from whom or why, as this may betray their sources or compromise their operations. We therefore have to trust that what they say has veracity. This convenient, self-serving argument is difficult to counter. This relates to a final point: in my experience, intelligence agencies tend to over classify information. This adds to their mystique—and our inability to scrutinise them and their material.

One could get paranoid about all of this spying activity, particularly when realising that other nations, including Indonesia, have similar bodies. We all are being watched—possibly excessively. However, a point to remember is that intelligence agencies do not necessarily fully protect or save nations. Despite their worldwide reach and resources, the US’s intelligence agencies did not prevent ‘9/11’. (We may, of course, have been saved from other serious security or ‘terrorist’ threats, but intelligence agencies can’t, or won’t, tell us.) Despite its fearsome reputation, the Soviet Union’s KGB (Committee for State Security) failed to stop the USSR from totally disintegrating. Ultimately, a nation’s openness and transparency may be a far better defence than it being closed, secretive and choosing to engage in clandestine activities that antagonise its neighbours and cause them to retaliate—invariably clandestinely, of course.

Christopher Snedden
20 November 2013

Gilgit-Baltistan: decidedly odd—and devastating 24 June 2013

Gilgit-Baltistan: decidedly odd—and devastating                   24 June 2013

The attack early on Sunday 23 June against foreigners in the Diamer area of Gilgit-Baltistan in disputed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is decidedly odd—and devastating. The situation is not yet fully clear, but up to 20 ‘gunmen’ shot and killed eleven people, one Pakistani and ten foreigners, near the 8,126 metre Nanga Parbat peak. Some of the dead apparently were soon going to attempt to climb this Himalayan peak, which is the ninth highest in the world.

The gunmen were well organised and motivated. Because of the area of attack’s remoteness and rugged terrain, there are limited routes into, and out of, the Diamer (or western) face to Nanga Parbat. Indeed, to reach this location requires a helicopter flight or at least 18 hours trekking, both of which involve the requirement to be acclimatised. The attackers apparently wore the uniform of the local Gilgit Scouts. Taken together, these factors suggest that the gunmen were fit, resilient and well-equipped, that they had some sort of plan for entry and egress, and that they had some degree of local knowledge and support. One question is support from whom?

So far, the gunmen have not been found, a disturbing factor for some Pakistani and local tour operators who consider that this area, because of its isolation, could be cordoned and searched, with human movement from the air apparently relatively easy to spot, and the perpetrators possibly found.

It seems that the attackers may have been operatives from the Pakistan Taliban, as a spokesman from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban) claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was to obtain revenge against US drone strikes, including one that recently killed this organisation’s deputy chief, Waliur Rehman.

This revenge aspect is surprising. First, the Pakistani Taliban generally operates in north-western Pakistan. Second, possibly only one of foreigners killed was a United States citizen of Chinese descent and with dual citizenship, while two were from the People’s Republic of China, with which nation Pakistan has a strong relationship that Islamabad would not want to jeopardise. The other foreigners apparently were citizens from Nepal (one), Lithuania (one), Slovakia (two) and Ukraine (three). Of these nations, Nepal and China have never been directly involved supporting the United States, which is responsible for the anti-Taliban drone strikes that have afflicted the Af-Pak border area as part of its strategy to placate Afghanistan. Third, there were foreign targets, or places where foreigners frequent, that are much easier to attack than the remote Nanga Parbat area.

A further odd aspect of the attack is that locals and tourist operators have blamed unstated ‘enemies of Pakistan, who are “well-known” ’ to them. They believe that these ‘enemies’ are not from the Gilgit-Baltistan area given that some 250,000 people apparently rely on tourism and would not want to see its hampered locally (see

The term ‘enemies of Pakistan’ could refer to Indian forces who certainly would have the capabilities to mount such an attack. However, media reporting and public statements, plus the probable route used by the invaders, suggest otherwise. So too does the fact that foreigners were blatantly killed, which, to me, does not suggest direct Indian involvement. Such an operation would be too dangerous politically, diplomatically and militarily.

Reading between the lines and given that these ‘enemies’ are non-local, they possibly could be anti-Shia Sunni radicals ‘imported’ into the region and/or allowed to covertly live there who previously have engaged in some serious and unsavoury sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan, including by attacking Shia passengers on buses that ply major roads that traverse this region. Possibly, these elements may be under the tutelage and control of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and might be on standby for use against India in J&K. However, a conundrum is why they would be used in the way that they have been. One possible answer is that they went ‘rogue’ and undertook an unapproved mission of their own volition. It remains to be seen.

There are two devastating aspect of the attack. First, people involved in tourism in both Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan now will suffer a downturn in visitors. Visits to Nanga Parbat have now been suspended. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) already advises people considering travel to ‘Border areas with Afghanistan and India (excluding Lahore, Kasur and Narowal)’ to ‘Do Not Travel’. Indeed, at a time when moderate Pakistanis—who comprise the overwhelming bulk of the Pakistan nation—need to be embraced and empowered, politically, economically, culturally, socially and diplomatically, DFAT’s Travel Warning for Pakistan states: “We continue to strongly advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Pakistan overall due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, sectarian violence and the unpredictable security situation”. Many potential tourists now fear that Pakistan is far too dangerous a place to visit. This is very tragic. There are risks involved travelling to Pakistan, but this warning, which is typical of those of Western governments, suggest that the terrorists are winning in Pakistan.

Second, while Gilgit-Baltistan is not under Pakistan’s de jure control, it is certainly under Pakistan’s de facto control. This incident is a real signal to the new Nawaz Sharif-led Government that Pakistan has some major problems with anti-social elements, especially those located in remote areas, including in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan. For Islamabad, these various terrorists will take a sustained effort, much policy creativity and considerable time to defeat.


Christopher Snedden
24 June 2013



My suggestion to resolve the Kashmir dispute 18 June 2013

My suggestion to resolve the Kashmir dispute                      18 June 2013

As I see it, history tells us three things about the Kashmir dispute:
1) that the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)—or J&K-ites, as I call them—instigated the dispute over J&K’s status;
2) that J&K-ites have never been asked in any inclusive or meaningful way what international status they want for their state;
3) that India and Pakistan have not been able to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

In my book Kashmir: The Unwritten History (publication information below), I have detailed how people in J&K actually instigated the struggle over whether J&K should join India or Pakistan—and not outsiders as India and Pakistan have long claimed. These J&K-ites did so before the Maharaja of J&K acceded to India on 26 October 1947. This makes J&K-ites the first party to the Kashmir dispute, not the third. Certainly, J&K-ites are stakeholders in this dispute if only because it is actually over their lands.

Nevertheless, J&K-ites have never been consulted about J&K’s international status even though, after accepting the Maharaja’s accession in 1947, Indian officials proposed that there should be “a reference to the people” about this matter. In 1948, the United Nations resolved that a plebiscite should be held to enable the people of J&K to determine whether J&K, in its entirety, should join India or Pakistan. Officially, Pakistan still desires that this poll be held. Thus, at some stages, India and Pakistan have deemed that the people of J&K should be involved resolving J&K’s status.

The United Nations-supervised plebiscite for J&K-ites has long been ‘dead’. Pakistan couldn’t agree to its preconditions; India felt that it would ‘lose’. Equally, India and Pakistan have not resolved their dispute over possession of J&K. The only thing clear from their various discussions since 1947 is that both nations are prepared to divide J&K between them. The issue for them now is where this division should be.

The inability of India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute suggests that the involvement of a third party might be helpful. There are some useful historical precedents: the United Nations brokered the 1949 ceasefire that ended the 1948 India-Pakistan war; the World Bank helped India and Pakistan to agree their Indus Waters Treaty in 1960; the United Nations helped resolve the Rann of Kutch incident that preceded the 1965 India-Pakistan war, with this resolution occurring in 1968.

A feasible third party that could help resolve the Kashmir dispute is the people of J&K. Under Section 1.ii of the 1972 Simla Agreement, India and Pakistan agreed to “settle their differences … through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon”. Both nations therefore could “mutually agree” to allow J&K-ites, who certainly have sufficient knowledge and will, to try resolve the Kashmir dispute.

I call this process “Let the People Decide”. It is fully detailed in the Conclusion to my book. Essentially, it involves India and Pakistan allowing delegates from each of J&K’s five regions* that want to be involved, to cross the Line of Control as required and have meetings in various locations throughout J&K. The aim is for them to discuss the Kashmir dispute and, eventually, to offer a solution, or solutions, to resolve it.

*(J&K’s five regions are: Azad Kashmir; Gilgit-Baltistan; Jammu; Kashmir (the Kashmir Valley); and, Ladakh.)

There should be no timeframe for these discussions. Rather, J&K-ites’ representatives should take as long as they need to resolve the issue of their state’s international status. India and Pakistan should be kept informed about the discussions, and of any progress. J&K-ites should ratify any solution/s that are finally proposed. If J&K-ites’ representatives can’t resolve the Kashmir dispute, then it should to revert to India and Pakistan.

The term “Let the People Decide” comes from a speech with this title given by Jawaharlal Nehru in August 1952. He stated that “we will give [J&K-ites] a chance to decide [the future of J&K]. We propose to stand by their decision in this matter.” While Nehru was talking about conducting the UN plebiscite in J&K, the title and thrust of the speech are, I believe, still applicable.

The great challenge is to get India and Pakistan to agree to this approach. However, as noted, involving J&K-ites in resolving the Kashmir dispute is not a new idea. Rather, it is a lapsed proposition. Certainly, after almost 66 years, all parties to the Kashmir dispute would benefit from having this matter resolved. J&K could then become a bridge between India and Pakistan—rather than a bitter item of contestation and hostility. Let the People Decide!

(Kashmir: The Unwritten History was published by HarperCollins India in February 2013. It was first published by Hurst and Co., London, and by Columbia University Press, New York, as The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir. It was republished using this latter title by Oxford University Press, Karachi, in January 2013.)

Christopher Snedden
18 June 2013

Is generational change the key to resolving the Kashmir dispute? 11 June 2013


Is generational change the key to resolving the Kashmir dispute?    11 June 2013

Recently, I returned from New Delhi where I launched a book I have written called Kashmir: The Unwritten History (published by HarperCollins India). To my pleasant surprise, my book has been well received in India. Since its release, it has been on India’s ‘Top Ten Non-Fiction Best Selling List’, rating as high as three at one stage.

My book may be popular because it is controversial. Using primary sources, I have discussed how people in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) started the dispute over J&K’s international status (the so called ‘Kashmir dispute’) in 1947—and not outsiders, as India has long claimed and in which claim Pakistan surprisingly has acquiesced.

The people of J&K instigated the Kashmir dispute by undertaking three significant acts in 1947:

  • soon after partition on 15 August 1947, some Muslim ‘rebels’ living in the south-western Poonch and Mirpur areas of the Jammu Province of J&K mounted an uprising against the ruler of J&K;
  • in September-October 1947, residents of Jammu Province (‘Jammuites’) engaged in serious inter-religious violence throughout Jammu Province, as a result of which many people in all communities (Hindu, Sikh, Muslim) were killed, or were forced to flee to other areas;
  • Poonchi and Mirpuri ‘rebels’ created the Provisional Azad (Free) Government in those areas that they had successfully liberated or ‘freed’ from the ruler’s control, with this area quickly becoming known as ‘Azad (Free) Kashmir’.

Significantly, all of these three actions by the people of J&K (who collectively I call ‘J&K-ites’) occurred before the ruler of J&K, Maharaja Sir Hari Singh, acceded to India on 26 October 1947. Surprisingly, they have received scant—or even no—attention in most histories about the Kashmir dispute.

Nevertheless, these three actions importantly confirm that the people of J&K not only have long been stakeholders in the long-running Kashmir dispute, but also that they actually instigated this serious, ongoing, matter. This conflicts with the official Indian version that Pukhtoon tribesmen from Pakistan instigated all of the violence and troubles in J&K in 1947 when they invaded Kashmir Province on 22 October. Most Pakistanis also have ignored the significant events that preceded the embarrassing (for Pakistan) tribal invasion.

While some Indians have called me a rebel, or they think that I am pro-Pakistan, or that my ‘revision’ of history will empower Pakistan, many subcontinentals are pleased to hear that there is more to the Kashmir dispute than has been enunciated in Indian and Pakistani histories. In particular, J&K-ites have been pleased to see their forebears’ side of the story revealed in a comprehensive way for the first time. Some have informed me that they have found my book empowering.

One Indian reviewer believes that my book was based on a false premise: that the Muslim League and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were responsible for organising whatever negative (that is, anti-maharaja or anti-Indian) events happened in J&K in 1947. Interestingly, he did not provide a shred of evidence to support his position. This reviewer also stated that my book ‘flies in the face of historical facts’. I agree with him. Indeed, this was always my intention: to provide a more complete picture of what happened in 1947, rather than to selectively relate historical ‘facts’ advantageous to India (particularly) or to Pakistan.

Another reviewer claims that I have not accessed any Indian documents about these events. I did actually do so, including some that show that Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were aware in late September/early October of what was happening in J&K, including in the Poonch area, and, more pointedly, that they both knew that the Pukhtoon tribesmen were planning to invade Kashmir Province.

Interestingly, there seems to be a generational issue involved in people’s acceptance or rejection of my book. Many younger people—those under about 45 years old—appear more prepared to consider the book’s contents on its merits. People older than 45 tend to want to apportion blame for what happened in J&K in 1947.

This possibly suggests that, in terms of resolving the Kashmir dispute, a resolution may happen more easily when the older generation that directly experienced or that strongly remembers partition in 1947 has moved on. In Pakistan, most such people have passed away. In India, there are still many alive, with some serving in important political positions. This includes the current Indian President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister.

My sample has been small, but perhaps younger people in the subcontinent might be more amenable to resolving the Kashmir dispute than the older generation?

(Kashmir: The Unwritten History, published by HarperCollins India in 2013, was first published by Hurst and Co., London, and Columbia University Press, New York, as The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir. The title was changed to take account of the Indian Government’s sensitivity in relation to the use of the term ‘Azad Kashmir’, which region India considers to be under Pakistan’s ‘occupation’.)

Christopher Snedden

11 June 2013

A Positive Development in South Asia: Democracy                   3 June 2013

Many negative issues confront South Asian nations. Conversely, in the last decade, there has been one very positive development: the spread of democracy. All South Asian nations now are functioning democracies to some extent or another. While this political system is not yet entrenched, the trend is of increased democratic activity and systems.

India has long been a fully-functioning democracy, with its only blemish being the 21-month Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975-1977. Otherwise, elections have been held every five years, with power passing peacefully between political opponents. At the state level, New Delhi has, on occasions, imposed Governor’s Rule on a state having political difficulties, including where the ruling party (or parties) has lost its majority. This sometimes has been politically motivated. Next year, India must complete its next general election before June 2014.

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is another entrenched democracy, with national elections held even during the Tamil insurgency. One current ‘cloud’ is whether elections will take place later this year for the Northern Province, the former Tamil Tigers’ stronghold, due to supposed national security concerns. Unlike other South Asian nations, Sri Lanka has elections every six years, with electors directly electing their parliament and president. The next elections are due in April 2016.

Democracy has been Bangladesh’s political system since 1991, when a two-party system began solidifying. Beforehand, this nation often endured military ‘interventions’. Bangladeshis experienced an Emergency from January 2007 to December 2008 due to violence and instability surrounding the (postponed) 2007 election. This ended when elections were finally held in late December 2008. The next elections are due around December this year.

Nepal is a stalled multi-party democracy, with political parties unable to agree on a new constitution. Consequently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is administering Nepal via an Interim Government. In 2008, elections to a Constituent Assembly were held, after which the monarchy was abolished. New Constituent Assembly are due before December 2013, after which the new parliament must determine a new constitution. This will be important, given that Nepal had a civil war from 1996-2006.

In 2008, Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy with an elected 47-seat parliament. Under Bhutan’s Constitution, a two-thirds parliamentary majority can remove the king. Bhutanese have again been voting, with the first round of national elections completed on 31 May. A second round will take place on 13 July between the two largest parties.

The Maldives has moved from an autocratic to a multi-party presidential system, with the first presidential elections held in 2008 and Majlis (Assembly) elections in 2009. The presidential system is still frail, with the initial incumbent, Mohamed Nasheed, losing power in February 2012, possibly due to some untoward police involvement. The next presidential election is due in September 2013.

For half of its existence, Pakistan has endured military rule. In 2008, it moved from a being a ‘command’ democracy under General Musharraf’s tight control to a fully-fledged, elected parliamentary system. In May, the Pakistan Government completed its first full term in office ever, after which national and provincial elections were successfully conducted. Winning parties are now assuming office. An indirect presidential election is due for September.

In Afghanistan, elections were held in 2004 and 2009 (presidential) and 2005 and 2010 (parliamentary). The next are due in April 2014 (presidential) and 2015 (parliamentary). Importantly, these will take place as the International Security Assistance for Afghanistan significantly reduces its presence. Afghanistan also has a long tradition of holding Loya Jirgas (Grand Assemblies) in which tribal elders consult on issues of national significance.

Why has democracy been spreading throughout South Asia? The reasons vary. For Bangladesh and Pakistan, their militaries possibly have tired of having to rule difficult nations, and because this unpopular task distracts them from their primary task of defence. Bhutan’s development is due to some enlightened monarchs, with Nepal’s possibly the reverse: an unenlightened monarchy encouraged Nepalis to fight for democracy. In the Maldives, internal agitation, particularly by activists like Nasheed, succeeded. India also may have been a model for other South Asian nations to emulate.

In each nation, the increasing power of the media and the effects of globalisation led by democratic Western nations also have been factors. People are now more aware of their rights. Similarly, democratic forces in each nation appear to have matured as nations have stabilised. Equally, however, in each nation, the price of democracy remains eternal vigilance against non-democratic forces.

Christopher Snedden; 3 June 2013

The future of Afghanistan? 27 May 2013



Since late 1979, most Afghans have experienced enormous and extraordinary levels of violence, disruption and insecurity.  The biggest question now confronting this nation is how will it fare after the 50-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraws during 2014?  Will high levels of violence and instability continue, or will Afghanistan become stable?

In 2014, three major events will take place concerning Afghanistan.  First, on 5 April, there will be a Presidential election.  This could be a positive process, provided that campaigning and the elections are conducted in a free and fair way, a factor that many Afghans increasingly seemed concerned about.  Fear will be another factor, with many Afghans worried about participating in the next election either as a candidate or, more pointedly, as a voter.  (See The Asia Foundation’s ‘Afghanistan in 2012: A Survey of the Afghan People’.)  Similarly, all parties will need to accept the result.

Second, during 2014, the bulk of ISAF’s 100,000 forces will leave Afghanistan.  (Some will remain to mount special operations, and to support or train Afghan forces.) The 195,000-strong Afghan National Army (ANA) and the 157,000-strong Afghan National Police (ANP) will then be responsible for Afghanistan’s security.  However, non-Afghans will need to fund these security forces that ISAF has massively enlarged until Afghanistan’s weak economy can pay for them.  A huge risk for Afghans post-2014 is that the United States and other Western nations involved in ISAF will quickly lose interest in Afghanistan, like they did after the mujahideen defeated the USSR in 1989.  Afghans then endured considerable violence and instability until the Taliban took control in 1999 and established peace, albeit brutally, particularly for women.  It also was in this religiously austere and regimented environment that ‘terrorists’ such as al Qaeda flourished.

Post-ISAF, the Afghan security forces might struggle to control Afghanistan.  The ANA and ANP are ‘low tech’ bodies that lack ISAF’s significant military assets, including operational helicopters, night goggles, strong anti-explosive capabilities, heavy weaponry, and state-of-the-art medical evacuation facilities.  This differential partly explains why 2,986 Afghan military and 6,890 Afghan police have been killed between 2007-2012 compared with 3,261 ISAF personnel between 2001 and-2012.  (See Brookings ‘Afghanistan Index’, 19 March 2013.)  Both bodies also apparently suffer from high attrition rates, from some members being more motivated by having a job than by mounting security operations, and by corruption, nepotism and drug abuse.

Conversely, the Afghan security forces’ opponents, who potentially comprise an unknown number of both Taliban and/or warlord elements dispersed around Afghanistan, appear to be better organised, more mobile and more motivated.  These opponents, particularly the chameleon-like Taliban, also are battle-hardened.  Conversely, the ANA and ANP have not yet had to engage single-handedly in sustained security operations throughout Afghanistan.  These two bodies almost certainly will not be able to prevent Taliban retribution against Afghans perceived to have assisted ISAF.  They probably also will struggle against tough, capable Afghan warlords operating locally in their strongholds.  However, given that some 52 per cent of Afghans consider that, since 2001, Afghanistan has been moving ‘in the right direction’ and that the economy has developed, as a result of which many Afghans feel better off, the Afghan security forces will have strong Afghan support to prevent a full Taliban return to power.  Whether these forces have sufficient will to successfully oppose the Taliban will be a big test.

Third, regionally, there have been, or possibly will be, changes that will impact on Afghanistan, with post-ISAF Afghanistan likely remaining a ‘playground’ where foreigners feel the need to meddle.  China has new leaders, as does Pakistan.  The former will want stability in Afghanistan so that China can exploit Afghanistan’s natural assets, especially its minerals.  (One Afghan I know has mused that China will be the next ‘empire’ to invade Afghanistan and ‘bite the dust’ there.)  The latter will want to ensure that Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan is paramount and that India’s is minimal.  For Islamabad, this will mean supporting pro-Pakistan warlords, such as the Haqqanis or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Taliban.

Iran’s Presidential elections on 14 June and India’s general elections before the end of May 2014 also could be important.  The victory of more strategically strident candidates in either nation could impact on Afghanistan, plus make relations with Pakistan difficult.  Certainly, both (Shia) Iran and (secular) India will not want the (hardline Sunni) Taliban to return to power.  Both nations also will want to minimise Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan—as possibly does Kabul, with President Karzai recently giving New Delhi a military ‘wish list’. That said, all surrounding nations want a stable Afghanistan.  None really wants this nation to fail.

Post-2014, Afghanistan is likely to be unstable for some time.  Some Afghans seem to agree.  There is an increasing and significant movement of money and wealthy Afghans from Afghanistan to safer, more stable places.  ISAF personnel are not the only people choosing to leave Afghanistan.