Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Pakistani Godfathers of the Taliban

As Afghanistan reaches yet another turning point with the withdrawal of American and other international forces, Pakistan's role becomes ever more crucial.  I have littledoubt that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistan Army are calling the shots in Afghanistan (to the extent that any one calls any shots in Afghanistan) and that their control over at least the south of Afghanistan is fairly certain (though there is some Taliban presence in the north around Kunduz too, apparently, according to folks who know a lot more about this stuff than I do).  Here's a nice, brief essay by Adrian Hanni and Lukas Hegi in the Small Wars Journal on ISI and Pakistani links with the Taliban, going back to their origins.  Nothing dramatically new, but it puts together much of the story for a quick read.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Not exactly IR, more RM . . .

Another interesting essay I just read, by way of The Browser . . . 

I usually say something about the whole 'dark matter' controversy in my Research Methodology (RM) class.  I am no theoretical or astrophysicist, and any of you who know more on this (or not!!) are welcome to correct me or comment.  (Here's the Wikipedia link on dark matter).  But in simple terms, there is way more gravitational pull in space than is accounted for by the amount of matter available.  Since no one knows where the excess gravity is coming from, they simply call it 'dark matter' (. . . and they sneer at social 'science'!).  The problem is that no instrument has so far detected it.  But scientists who question the theory are cast out into the netherworld.  As Fry points out, "Astrophysicists who try to trifle with the fundamentals of dark matter tend to find themselves cut off from the mainstream."  Remember Kuhn's 'normal science'?  As Fry suggests, no one wants to say there is something wrong with the theory, because it will be too "drastic".  "Physicists could take non-detection as a hint to give up, but there is always the teasing possibility that we just need a better experiment."  I wonder how they would do in the social sciences!! 

Here's the link:

Hope you enjoy it.

Updated on May 2, 2013:

After I emailed some of my graduate students this essay, I had an exchange with one of them, Kasturi Moitra.  I am pasting the relevant part of our email discussion (with her permission) because it carries the discussion forward.

More Bad News from Afghanistan

I had written sometime back about the bad news coming out of Afghanistan.  My expectation is that Karzai and the Afghan National Army (ANA) would not fare well after the international forces pull out of Afghanistan.  Now comes a story in the New York Times that Taliban attacks are increasing and that the ANA is bearing the brunt of the attacks as the international forces increasingly leave their combat role.  It is not clear how the ANA is doing in these attacks, but the limited data in the story does not sound good.      More ANA soldiers seem to have died last year than the year before.

India, Russia and maybe even the US and Iran need to focus on rebuilding some opposing forces that can counter the Taliban when -- not if -- they take over.  The nucleus of a new Northern Alliance can be parts or elements of the current ANA, but unless this is done before the international forces withdraw, it will be quite difficult to do much.  But the political paralysis in all these capitals on the issue is a huge stumbling block.  The attitude appears to be to hope for the best and prepare for nothing.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On Reinhold Niebuhr

Will Inboden has a nice blog entry over at Shadow Government on Reinhold Niebuhr, the American Realist, a summary of the points he made at the recent International Studies Association convention.  I have not read enough of Neibuhr to make a critique of Inboden's points but I was curious about his final point about Neibuhr's opposition to pragmatism.  I had always identified Realism with pragmatism and as a key Realist, I would have assumed that this was a value that Neibuhr supported.  The essential point is that I need to read more Niebuhr to fully understand the relationship.

I would also particularly recommend one of the links in Inboden's essay to an essay by Paul Elie in the Atlantic a few years back on the Niebuhr.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review of Gilboy and Heginbotham's book on Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior

My book review of George J. Gilboy and Eric Heginbotham's Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior: Growing Power and Alarm has just been published by Contemporary Security Policy.  I liked the methodology and rigor of their research but it was let down by what I felt was their preconception about how China is blamed for behaviour that India gets away with, such as in military spending.  I felt that while they were not wrong about the similarity in Indian and Chinese strategic behaviour, the difference in the US attitudes towards the two is easily understandable because China is a much more powerful state and more likely to have adversarial relations with the US.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

On China . . .

A number of interesting essays over the last week on China that are worth reading.  Dr. C. Raja Mohan had an excellent essay on how India should approach China, arguing that “a healthy respect for China’s power . . . rather than romantic notions about building an Eastern Bloc against the West, must guide Indian diplomacy.”  Romanticism unfortunately dies hard in Indian foreign policy tradition, so we will have to wait and see how far his advice finds resonance in Delhi.