Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Vulnerable -- A woman walks across a railway track in a slum area in Jakarta. The World Health Organization says stigma facilitates leprosy transmission among vulnerable groups, including migrant populations, displaced communities, the ultra-poor and hard-to-reach population. (Tempo/-)

Against the backdrop of rising concern for the fate of our cities, urbanization has become one of today’s most talked about and politicized issues in government cabinets and boardrooms across the world. The future of our planet is debated as if it is centered exclusively on the issue of a rapidly urbanizing world, the primacies of great metropolitans and conurbations, and the race to create more livable spaces.

The UN has clearly stated that urbanization has significantly contributed to economic growth, while fostering development and improving welfare in many locations.

But urbanization also has contributed to challenges that include multi-dimensional poverty, environmental degradation and low disaster preparedness.

The new Urban Agenda, a 20-year program to define the narratives and future of sustainable urban development, planning and human settlements, will be decided at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, in October. The preparatory committee meeting hosted by Indonesia in Surabaya on July 24 to 27, will discuss suitable strategies prior to convening in Quito.

Indonesia is one of the UN bureau members for Habitat III together with Chile, Ecuador, France, Germany, Senegal, Slovakia and the United Arab Emirates.

Potentially the world’s fifth-largest economy in the next two decades, Indonesia’s role in the agenda will reflect its own preparation in embracing urbanization and sustainability issues within its own domestic context.

Sadly, it is not clear how Indonesia is going to seize this opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the agenda. The introduction of what may only be described as a rather rudimentary National Report issued by Indonesia earlier this year was a disappointment.

It is barely an elaboration of significant principle differences faced by bureaucrats, contrasted against an ideal development planning practice in Indonesia.

In reality Indonesia’s relatively stable macroeconomic fundamentals are still heavily overshadowed by disparities between its regions. Its vast area impedes uniform growth and distribution of resulting prosperity.

At the same time, the government has set a utopian target of “100-0-100”, or 100 percent access to sanitation, zero slums and a 100 percent potable water network by 2019! This target was launched at the eleventh hour of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration and has since been adopted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Cabinet in its development plans.

Setting such an ambitious target is not helpful to finding suitable policies to address these gaps. The government claims its water network stands at 67 percent coverage, with 60 percent accessibility to sanitation and slum areas at 12 percent.

This sounds like great progress, but the real problem is how those outcomes are distributed across cities and regions.

Many cities and towns are still struggling, where water is in crisis, open latrines a common view and slum areas are still dominating the landscape to varying degrees.

It is consistent the world across, with the World Health Organization reporting that in 2015 only 68 percent of the world’s population had access to satisfactory sanitation facilities, and 2.4 billion people still did not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines.

Access to drinking water is defined as a water source that is less than 1 kilometer away from its place of use and where at least 20 liters can be obtained per member of a household per day.

Water needs to be safe, with microbial, chemical and physical characteristics that meet WHO guidelines or national standards on drinking water quality.

The Indonesian National Report fails to reflect the necessary focus on the overwhelming disparities between regions, nor does it give fair consideration to the fact that strategic and supposedly fast-growth areas are not developing rapidly enough. Vision is clearly absent in our urban development

Development is dictated for the most part and indeed often measured by the sprawl of cities creating conurbations and interconnections — thus producing a mega-urban system.

Examples include the Greater Jakarta megapolitan with a population of 28 million, the Mebidangro system (Medan-Binjai-Deli Serdang) with 5 million in North Sumatera, metropolitan Bandung with 7.7 million, Surabaya Gerbang Kertasusila with almost 10 million, and the Maminasata area in Makassar of almost 4.5 million.

There is an absence of a strong national system-of-cities plan, leading to lack of coordination and imbalanced growth of metropolitans, big, medium and small cities.

A sharp decline in quality of life in urban areas due to “unproductive” urbanization will become more dominant if local governments are lacking the political will to ensure consistency in the implementation of master plans.

One of the most immediate concerns is the ongoing massive land conversion from productive agricultural land to non-agriculture, and from productive land to residential areas.

There are disparities between areas within small regions and intra-island locations, such as between the east and west coastal areas of Sumatra, the north and southern coastal areas of Java, and the remote border areas with neighboring countries.

Central and local governments need to implement a “business-not-as-usual” approach, including a focus on overwhelming common inter-region issues such as water resources, regional waste management, flood control and disaster management.

And bureaucrats must stop engaging in counterproductive activities that contribute toward a high cost economy, and rather concentrate on delivering much needed regulatory reforms to accelerate infrastructure development.

Indonesian cities need to identify innovative strategies to increase stakeholder engagement and boost investment. Several cities and regions have started to do so — witness initiatives championed by Makassar in South Sulawesi, Bandung in West Java and governments of South Sumatra to speed up private participation in roads, public utilities and mass transportation, transit-oriented development and water supply systems.

Habitat III is crucial to Indonesia and to President Jokowi if there is a desire to influence strategic direction and the global agenda. As a former mayor himself, President Jokowi is an asset, with the task of governing a strategic region of 17,000 islands with over 250 million people along the equator, addressing major disparities and creating more livable cities.

The Surabaya meeting provides a platform for Indonesia to redefine its agenda. It is an opportunity for the government to renew its political engagement in the urban agenda, embracing the voices of the young through applied technologies and connecting rural communities to growth centers.

Urban development needs to be measured against the need to protect and develop borders, infrastructure, productivity, environmental considerations, social inclusion, quality of life and good urban governance.

It is time for President Jokowi to promote his vision to develop inclusive, livable and sustainable Indonesian cities — cities for the people.

The writer Bernardus Djonoputro is president of the Indonesian Association of Urban and Regional Planners, and an advisory council member of the APEC Center for Urban Infrastructure Network headquartered at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Do You Trust Afghanistan's Anti-ISIS Fighters?

A short time ago in a part of Afghanistan far, far away, Islamic State wanted to establish a province of its dark empire, but a tribal force awakened to fight back. However, this tale of noble local fighters protecting their tribe from religious fundamentalists is more complicated than it appears on first sight, as the line between the light and the dark side begins to blur.

The bearded man looked as nondescript as the traditional guest room, furnished with simple mattresses and cushions, in a house in a slightly desolated village in Rodat District, close to the main road in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar. But when I met him in early February, he claimed to command a tribal fighting force of around 350 armed men in the nearby remote mountainous districts of Achin and Spin Ghar, bordering Pakistan’s tribal area.

Having already fought the Soviets in the 1980s, he and his men have once again taken up arms against an invader—this time the self-styled caliphate—after its disciples gruesomely executed ten of their tribal elders in Achin in October last year, by forcing them to sit on bombs before detonating them, he said. And this is just one of the unprecedented barbaric acts that ISIS has committed since it emerged in this faraway border region at the beginning of 2015, and that even shocked Afghans who, after a lifetime in a war-torn country, are used to atrocities.

Our host, who hails from Spin Ghar, explained that the execution only inflamed the uprising. According to him, locals from the Shinwari tribe already turned against Islamic State when, sometime in autumn 2015, the presumptive caliphate’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic rules clashed with tribal traditions, echoing al-Sahwa, the 2006 “Awakening” of Iraqi Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda. Interestingly, he mentioned the confinement of women to their houses, banning them from helping with the work on the fields as has been done for centuries in this subsistence-farming society, as one of the main reasons for the initial uprising against ISIS. In the beginning, tribal fighters routed the black-clad warriors, who fled to the mountains, he claimed. But the caliphate struck back and took bloody revenge on the tribal elders by literally blowing them to pieces, and again took over swathes of the Shinwari region in and around Achin.

“We want to attack Daesh, but the government does not let us, as they want to integrate the uprising into the regular forces first. But the situation is out of control and the government should not stand in our way,” the commander complained in early February. Accordingly, the tribal fighters were restricted to defending their approximately thirty outposts and bases, as well as patrolling where they could.

At that time, tribal elders were talking with the government in attempts to resolve the issue. And given the politics, it is a complicated issue. The Shinwari uprising is supported by Haji Abdul Zahir Qadir, the first deputy speaker of the national parliament, who is from Nangarhar but not himself a Shinwari. Known neither for moderation nor quietness, back in November last year Qadir openly accused Afghanistan’s National Security Council and “people within the government” of supporting Islamic State in one of his ranting speeches in parliament and displayed his actions as proof that a local resistance is needed. In return, his critics claimed that the “tribal uprising” is no more than Qadir’s attempt to establish a private militia to advance his personal gain.

But even within the Shinwari tribe, there are fractions. For example, one observer asserted that, while parts of the Shinwari support the government, one sub-tribe is linked to the Taliban, with yet another connected to ISIS. As another example, Haji Obaidullah, a leader of the Shinwari tribe and member of Nangarhar’s provincial council, said in his house in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, that because of the government’s lacking support, and in spite of plans to do so, the tribe has never risen up and that fighters in Achin were rogue militiamen whose activities have been stopped by the government according to the wishes of the people. Confronted with this, the commander sitting in Rodat retorted that Haji Obaidullah had never supported the tribal uprising, and that his allegations are all lies.

Some also argue that the tribal uprising might not be much better than ISIS. Given some remarks from the commander, this appears to be not entirely groundless. Unmoved, he recounted that at the end of December 2015, his men beheaded four captured fighters of the alleged caliphate, after Islamic State had done the same with four men from the uprising. In response, the government has arrested one of his men. But the beheading was not enough, and the men from the local uprising put the severed heads on small stone piles at a road checkpoint in Achin to warn others. In fact, the commander himself stated that as their enemy does not play by the rules, neither should they. “If they kill our elders, we should kill theirs,” he said nonchalantly. But in a place like Afghanistan, and in view of the devastating civil war of the 1990s, such an “eye-for-an-eye” approach is a dangerous prospect.

But there are probably more arcane reasons that concern the Afghan government. A local resident of Achin claimed that while the tribal fighters are not Taliban themselves, they have very close ties to the Taliban, as often a brother or other relative fights for the emirate, as the people in Nangarhar refer to the Taliban. In fact, the same man further alleged that the uprising would tightly cooperate with the Taliban, and that this is the real reason for the government’s reluctance to support the tribal fighters: it fears that once ISIS is defeated, fighters in the uprising would reveal their true colors and turn against the government to reestablish the Taliban emirate. Supporting this, another of the guests in Rodat later confided that, after having overheard nightly conversations between the commander, himself allegedly wanted by the government, and another local, he is convinced that the commander and his men are all Taliban.

Tellingly, back in Jalalabad, Mahmad Hoshim, a malek or tribal leader of the Shinwari tribe from Nazyan district, only answered hesitatingly to these accusations and failed to clearly dispel such worries. In fact, he acknowledged that since the Shinwari are a large tribe, there have been Shinwaris that supported the Taliban, and that they and maybe others, so far neutral or pro-government Shinwaris that have been disillusioned by the government’s lacking support, would rather join the emirate of the Taliban than the official Islamic Republic once the common enemy of ISIS is defeated. Given this, his assurances that the Shinwaris want to stand united with the government against the tyranny of the self-declared caliphate sound hollow—despite the likelihood that he really believes it.

In the meantime, the situation on the ground is changing. Government forces launched clearing operations against Islamic State on February 16, claiming to have retaken Achin two days later. According to officials, fighters of the local uprising cooperated with the government in recapturing the district. However, and although an article published by the Wall Street Journal states that certain local uprising groups in Nangarhar’s districts of Kot, Achin and Nazyan have been taken under the umbrella of the the government’s so-called People’s Uprising Program, when contacted by telephone in early April, locals asserted that friction between the uprising in Achin and the government had not been resolved, and that the government did not coordinate its operations with the tribal fighters. And while even the government qualified that Islamic State is still present in some areas of Achin, local sources were already alleging in early March that the caliphate had once again struck back, having reversed initial government successes and regained control of most of Achin, with government forces confined to the district center and its immediate surroundings. Therefore, although the current situation in Achin could not be independently verified, the story of the opaque tribal uprising against Islamic State seems to continue.

In any event, this episode magnifies a general problem in Afghanistan. In view of the fact that regular government forces are apparently not able to lastingly secure remote areas and—given that in the vast mountainous terrain of Afghanistan such areas are the rule rather than the exception—might well never be able to control large swaths of the country directly, the central government in all likelihood has no other choice than to cooperate with local forces. According to the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article, such cooperation is already being initiated in form of the People’s Uprising Program, corresponding more or less to the so-called Village Stability Operations advocated and conducted by U.S. forces in the past.

But if you can’t tell your friends from your enemies, this is a treacherous path to follow. In this regard, remarks that Abdul Qayum Rahimi, the director of the People’s Uprising Program, gave the Wall Street Journal imply that the government is aware of the danger of abusive pro-government militias, but might be willing to take the risk. However, and at least as far as it could be determined, there seems to be no public mention of the possibility that local uprisings could simply be Taliban that have opportunistically chosen to disguise themselves as tribal resistance fighters for the time being, in order to try to garner government support for their current fight against ISIS. If this has not already happened, especially given the story of the dubious commander in Rodat, this possibility should be strongly taken into consideration—not only by the Afghan government, but also by its international backers, in particular the United States, whose Central Intelligence Agency is allegedly financing the People’s Uprising Program.

This said, the Afghan government and its supporters face a likely double bind: on the one hand, they have to resist the temptation to support unknown elements that could well be abusive pro-government militias or, even worse, possibly disguised Taliban or groups linked to them, to secure short-term gains against the current threat from Islamic State (which would, however, fuel the insurgency in the long term). On the other hand, and especially in view of the phantom menace of ISIS, inaction or even only hesitating for too long can also have a devastating effect, as this might drive pro-government or neutral elements to the Taliban insurgency too, as hinted at by malek Hoshim.

So in the end, the Afghan government and its international backers might, in the absence of truly noble local warriors, be left with only bad options. However, having only bad options is not necessarily an excuse for doing nothing, just as urgency should not be an excuse for implementing hasty measures which might well result in backlashes. Or to put it otherwise: unlike in a galaxy far, far away, in Nangarhar it is hard to determine who is on the dark side of the Force, and one might wonder if there is a light side at all. But to paraphrase Yoda, contrary to the quick and easy path of the dark side, no one ever claimed that it is easy to do the right thing – especially not in a far, far away war-torn place like Afghanistan.

Franz J. Marty is a freelance journalist based in Kabul, Afghanistan, writing mainly on military and security issues. His articles are regularly published in Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy.


ASEAN’s South China Sea ulcer


Continued failure to address the South China Sea issue is not only a short term failure – it now represents a significant and ongoing risk to ASEAN’s health. The regional organisation should seek treatment, and stat. 

The just concluded meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Vientiane, Lao PDR, looked like it was going to be a high profile failure.  The fear was that the meeting would repeat the 2012 experience of being unable to produce a final communiqué in the face of Cambodia’s insistence that nothing was said that would criticise China over the South China Sea.

Four years later ASEAN may have avoided such a public display of disunity but the released communiqué, together with a Joint Statement between ASEAN and China on the SCS, suggest that nothing has been resolved.

The Joint Statement is an insipid document that does nothing to address the cause of the flaring tensions in the region. It is full of bland endorsements of the international legal principles that many have shown a flagrant disinterest in and calls for handling differences in a ‘constructive manner’. If the word constructive in this context is intended to cover the building of military landing strips, the placing of advanced weapons systems and aggressive military posturing, then even given ASEAN’s ability to obfuscate this is a linguistic feat to marvel at.

The Communiqué certainly contains more words on the South China Sea than does the joint statement, a whole eight paragraphs, but it is just as damning. Paragraph 174 notes that only ‘some ministers’ were concerned about ongoing issues (for which read, not the Cambodians). No mention was made of the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea which had so decisively rejected China’s claims in the region in favour of the Philippines.

Instead all states were called upon to work together to both implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and work towards building a Code of Conduct to better manage affairs. These are laudable in themselves but hardly helpful given the Declaration was agreed in 2002 and has conspicuously failed to curtail regional tensions and any Code of Conduct would seriously curtail China’s freedom of action in the region, which is completely unimaginable at this stage.

ASEAN’s continued failure to address the South China Sea in anything approaching an effective manner is not only a short term failure – it now represents a significant and ongoing risk to ASEAN’s health. This challenge will not take the form of a heart-attack, a sudden and existential shock to the system. Instead it is an ulcer, a constant pain in the guts that threatens, slowly but inexorably, to flood the system with bile. This challenge takes two forms.

First ASEAN from 1967 has always been about protecting the sovereignty of its members from the encroachment of great powers – as Alice Ba has memorably put it the ‘regional resilience’ of Southeast Asia. ASEAN was founded in the belief of regional self-determination – in the wake of colonialism and amidst the Cold War it was a call to ensure that Southeast Asian states remained in the driving seat of Southeast Asian affairs.

Today, with ASEAN member Cambodia serving as a surrogate for China against the interests of other ASEAN members, it no longer seems to be that the organisation serves the interests of the region.

Failure in the South China Sea to offer even the most tepid of support for member states claims against a rising China, especially the more moderate of those claims, strikes at the heart of what ASEAN was designed to achieve. If ASEAN cannot talk of member states sovereign claims against external great powers, what is the value of ASEAN to those members?

Second ASEAN’s own quest for centrality in Asia-Pacific security is revealed to be a fruitless quest when there is so much reason to question even ASEAN’s relevance to the most pressing of regional security issues. ASEAN has always sought to spread the norms of consensus decision making that it is supposed to follow internally across the Asia-Pacific as a way to exert some sort of pacifying effect on the great powers of the region. Yet if those same norms are now preventing ASEAN’s ability to engage in a meaningful way with China in what way can they be said to be positive and worthy of others following?

The South China Sea issue, then, is not an external threat to ASEAN, but an internal health risk – a sore that if not addressed will continue to leach its poison into the regional organisation and the faith that its members have in it.

The challenge is not a superficial one. It is not about whether ASEAN will unite in the defence of an American designed international order as was the wish of Obama at the Sunnylands Summit or whether it will continue to forge its own path.

The challenge is about whether ASEAN can continue to be valued by its members for the reasons it was created – whether it has the strength of purpose to defend its members from external interference, whether it can continue as a vehicle for regional self-determination rather than a generator of regional discord, and whether it can choose centrality over irrelevance.

As with any health risk, this challenge needs to be confronted sooner rather than later and with a coherent measured response, not a random assortment of lowest common denominator actions. I fear that the prognosis has just deteriorated.

Dr Mathew Davies is head of the Department of International Relations in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.


The uncomfortable truth: Why you should skip the orphanage tour in Cambodia - Many orphanages in Cambodia are profit-driven businesses that need tourists and 'orphans' to keep their operations going

For the thousands of Australian tourists who visit Cambodia each year, there is one stop on the tourist trail that continues to be popular: visiting an orphanage. Typically, a visit involves meeting and playing with the kids, walking through their living quarters and taking photographs. It can also include a short performance or dance routine by the children. Often there are opportunities to volunteer – for anything between a few hours and a few months. The visit usually culminates with a request for donations.

Cambodia's tourist orphanages

Cambodian orphanages are increasingly used to service a tourist industry that has sprung up around Westerners visiting them.

For Australian couple Linda and Geoff Foard, it was a chance to interact with local children and do their bit to help.

"I hadn't been to Phnom Penh before and I hadn't seen poverty on this scale," says Linda. "We were a bit overwhelmed by it all."

The dark underbelly of a Cambodian orphanage
In hindsight, Linda recalls a number of red flags that only later gave them pause for thought. "We were given carte blanche to wander around the orphanage and talk to the kids ... When we went out to buy some sacks of rice, some of the kids wanted to come with us. We were allowed to take half a dozen kids out of the orphanage. They had only met us an hour beforehand. We could have been anybody. They didn't know our names or anything – it was crazy."
 The Foard's experience is typical of many Australians who visit Cambodia. Orphanages are easily accessible to tourists, with visits often advertised by guesthouses or tour companies. Some orphanages even bring their children to popular tourist areas, handing out flyers and urging tourists to visit their orphanage.
An entire industry has grown out of thousands of these tourist visits. In the last decade, the number of known orphanages in Cambodia has doubled, with dozens more still being uncovered. This is despite the number of orphans in the country actually decreasing. The uncomfortable truth is, more than 75 per cent of children in Cambodia's orphanages have at least one living parent, while many more have other family members who could look after them with the right support.
Why are so many parents giving up their children? Mostly it's because orphanages are promoted to poor families as a better option for their children. For families struggling to survive, this can be convincing – a chance to give their children the education and opportunities they missed out on.
In truth, it's a case of supply and demand. Many orphanages in Cambodia are profit-driven businesses that need tourists and 'orphans' to keep their operations going. By visiting and supporting these orphanages, well-meaning Australians have inadvertently fuelled an industry that is separating children from their families and putting kids at risk of abuse and exploitation.
Australians have a clear role to play in putting an end to this practice. We need to reduce the demand of tourists wanting to visit and support these orphanages, in order to stem the supply of vulnerable children being removed from their families and communities.
Many orphanages in Cambodia are profit-driven businesses that need tourists and 'orphans' to keep their operations going. 
The Cambodian government must also continue to crack down on unregistered orphanages. Positive steps have been taken but close to half of the country's known orphanages have failed to register and there are no rules in place around who can have direct contact with children.
A ban on tourists visiting orphanages must be considered, if best-practice child protection standards are to be enforced – or at the very least, a requirement for formalised background checks. Without any regulation, children are at high risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
For the Foard's, their experience of visiting a Cambodian orphanage not only left them questioning the safety and wellbeing of the children, but left them out of pocket. Wanting to ensure an education for some of the children they met, they sponsored three children upfront at a cost of just over $1000. While the money was acknowledged as received, they never heard from the orphanage again, despite multiple enquiries spanning a year.
"It leaves a really sour taste in your mouth," says Linda. "In that 12 months, their website disappeared ... I got a report from somebody in Cambodia to say it was being updated, but it's never appeared. This was four years ago."
The business of orphanage tourism must end once and for all. For Australians wanting to help vulnerable children in developing countries like Cambodia, there are far better ways to provide support that will prevent more children being pushed into residential care.
If the significant amount of funding enjoyed by orphanages was more appropriately funnelled into community development programs, the impetus for poor families to place their children into institutional care would be vastly reduced. This is why organisations like ChildFund work with local communities to alleviate poverty and keep children safe – ensuring access to education, healthcare and proper nutrition for even the most vulnerable children and supporting parents with livelihood programs to boost household incomes.
Improving conditions for children within their own families and communities is always preferable to placing kids in institutions. Ultimately it's about providing the necessary support to ensure children can be safe, educated and heard, while enjoying their right to grow up within their own family.
Mark Kavenagh is child protection advisor at ChildFund Australia, a member of the ReThink Orphanages network. 

Why Vietnam might need to embrace ‘shamefare’ in the South China Sea

For those who were hoping that China and the Philippines might be able to move towards negotiations after Manila’s victory in the Hague over Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea — well, it seems China is back to its usual bag of tricks.

After the Philippines reacted with what I would consider praiseworthy restraint–and in complete contrast to China’s countless venomous statements — Filipino leaders seemed to offer Beijing what they have been craving most: bilateral negotiations with an eye towards a settlement. Manila is even ready to dispatch former President Ramos to talks with China as a special envoy, a role the former president has now accepted. However, at least for the time, those talks seem dead in the water, as Beijing won’t allow the ruling to be considered part of any negotiation — a pity that China won’t accept reality.

So, it seems, at least for the time being, China and the Philippines are at an impasse. What happens next, especially when it comes to the reaction of other claimants such as Vietnam, is now of greater importance. What will Hanoi do now that the ruling has been handed down and Beijing seems unwilling to back down or at least negotiate?

To be clear, in many respects, Vietnam’s reaction is almost as important as the Philippines. Hanoi has large, overlapping Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims with China when it comes to the extent of Beijing’s now illegal nine-dash-line — claims that extend over almost the entire length of Vietnam’s coastline. Then there is also overlapping claims in the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Indeed, Hanoi has much to win or lose when it comes to reacting to the Hague’s ruling.

My own sense is that Vietnam will take a very cautious approach to the ruling.  Having interacted with Vietnamese diplomats and scholars for many years now, my  personal feeling would be they would want to read over every line, every part of the nearly 500-page document to get a sense of its impact — away from the headlines and daily press reports. Whatever they decide, you can be sure it will be well thought out, pragmatic, and in what they feel is in their national interest.

However, Hanoi can’t be happy with China’s continued belligerence. Carefully produced photos of Chinese bombers travelling over Scarborough Shoal clearly demonstrate Beijing will not be deterred easily — essentially doubling down on its strategy to dominate the area or force negotiations on its own terms.

Here is where asymmetric strategies could come into play. A strategy that I have coined in these pages called shamefare might just be the best approach for Vietnam. If China continues on with its aggressive rhetoric and does not enter into negotiations with the Philippines by Oct. 1 — this gives China until at least after the G-20 summit, being hosted in that nation’s capital, as Beijing just might be on its best behavior until the summit is concluded and could be holding back more aggressive actions–Hanoi should respond with a carefully crafted shamefare strategy.

How Vietnam would use shamefare:

Shamefare itself is straightforward. As I have noted several months ago, it puts China on the defensive and shames Beijing in the media–especially social media — time and time again, for their now clearly illegal actions in the South China Sea. It might not be as sexy as building islands with military bases, but it does stand the chance, when combined with other methods, to make Beijing pay a heavy and near constant price for its actions, putting roadblocks in place that China would have to suffer massive reputational costs to remove.

How would such a strategy be employed? Simple. Hanoi would leak to the press that it is considering suing Beijing as well as also utilizing other non-kinetic measures if it does not work constructively towards compromise in the South China Sea. Assuming China stands pat, Vietnam would sue Beijing in international courts, what many have called lawfare, but in essence, would be the ultimate form of shamefare considering the media attention this would bring.

While the details of the suit could be very different than what I would suggest here, Vietnam could highlight the expansive nature of China’s now illegal nine-dash-line and the impact it has had on Vietnamese fishing, the various placements of oil rings in Hanoi’s EEZ, the near collapse of fisheries in the region due to overfishing, the environmental damage done by dredging on reefs throughout the area and various other challenges China will not recognize or negotiate over.

Then there is the more classic shamefare concepts that could prove very useful. UAVs or drones — provided by the United States thanks to the lifting of bans on military equipment sales — could be utilized to patrol and document Vietnam’s own challenges with China in the South China Sea and beamed in real time on social media in places like Facebook Live or Periscope. Hanoi would be able to show the extent and scope of Chinese fishing trawlers in areas of competing claims, document environmental damage to the region — all the while waging an asymmetric public relations campaign against China’s claims.

Vietnamese officials would be very careful in their comments to the media — they would explain clearly that this is an action they take with a heavy heart, however, efforts to negotiate with Beijing have failed and this was the least coercive option they had on the table. Officials would also make clear that if China was willing to sit down in either a multilateral or bilateral setting, free of any preconditions, then Hanoi would stop its shamefare tactics and be willing to pull its legal case if a clear settlement is reached. Vietnam would make clear talks and a settlement are the preferred option — but Hanoi would demonstrate it does have options to respond.

David’s Sling:

Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations that have various overlapping claims in the South China Sea face a classic problem stretching back all the way to ancient times: what do smaller nations do when a rising power challenges their national interests? Shamefare, using lawfare and leveraging the asymmetric capabilities of social media, could work to level the playing field and provide South China Sea claimants a capability to express their outrage and dispute China’s claims but also keep such disputes from becoming militarized. Considering Beijing is already worried when it comes to this strategy, it might be one Vietnam and other parties might need to take seriously in the months to come.

Harry J. Kazianis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest and Senior Editor for the National Interest Magazine.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Japan’s constitutional choice

It also includes the famous Article 9 ‘peace clause’ under which the Japanese people forever renounce ‘the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes’ and the maintenance of ‘land, sea, and air forces’ for that purpose.

How much the new constitution was one imposed by the United States and its allies and how much it was shaped by Japanese thinking and input is a matter of serious scholarly debate, but the right-wing in Japan have always viewed it as a constitution that was imposed on Japan by the victors.

Article 9 has been reinterpreted over the years, enabling the establishment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) but limiting the use of force to the minimum necessary level for national self-defence. More recently, a July 2014 cabinet decision and the introduction of security-related bills in September 2015 reinterpreted Article 9 to recognise the right of the SDF to exercise limited forms of collective self-defence. Yet never in the 69 years since it was enacted has a single word of Japan’s postwar constitution been formally amended.

Article 9 cuts to the heart of Japan’s postwar national identity.

On the one hand, it is the bedrock of Japan’s identity as a peace-loving nation. The military takeover of Japanese society in the 1930s inflicted great suffering on the nations Japan invaded as well as on ordinary Japanese themselves. The decision to enter and continue at all costs an unwinnable war with the United States led to defeat, occupation, and a loss of sovereignty from 1945 to 1952. The constitution and Article 9 were embraced by a majority of Japanese after the war as a source of great pride. With this document Japan could once again be accepted by the international community, maintain civilian democratic controls, ensure that history would never be repeated and move the nation toward peace and prosperity. Japanese soldiers have not fired a single bullet at another nation’s troops in the postwar era. And Japan was rebuilt from the ravages of war in record time overtaking West Germany as the second largest economy in the world in 1967, where it remained until it was overtaken by China in 2010.

On the other hand, ever since its establishment in 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has contained factions — now dominant under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — that have been determined to fundamentally revise the constitution. They emphasise that the constitution was humiliatingly imposed by a foreign military power, that it curtails Japan’s foreign and security policy autonomy, and that it contains alien provisions based on the Western theory of natural rights rather than an indigenous Japanese spirit. These factions also point to criticism of Japan for freeriding on the US security guarantee and engaging in ‘chequebook diplomacy’. Anxieties over Japan’s two lost decades of stagnant economic growth and the sheer size of China’s economic and military rise next door help garner support for this worldview. It is the same worldview that ignores or denies outright criticism of historical revisionism and aggravates relations with regional neighbours.

These conflicting conceptions of Japan’s national identity will shape the constitutional revision debate which is now emerging in the wake of the upper house election earlier this month.

The United States has long encouraged Japan to make greater contributions to the alliance and regional security. But there is concern that the security reforms that are justified by some in the name of strengthening the US–Japan alliance are also being advocated by those who espouse anti-US ‘escape-the-postwar-regime’ rhetoric and uprooting Japan’s postwar liberal democratic institutions.

A key obstacle for the LDP in implementing any constitutional revision will be strong public opinion that is opposed to it, as evinced by the tens of thousands who protested over the security-related bills last year. The LDP’s current proposal, released in 2012, ‘contains so many problematic changes — including enhancing the status of the Emperor, reducing the importance of the individual versus the state, increasing the power of the executive branch of government and ending the strict separation of church and state — that it is highly unlikely the public would swallow it whole’, explains Walter Hamilton. ‘A smarter approach, and one already gaining some momentum, would narrow the focus and include less controversial proposals’.

Another key obstacle to constitutional revision will be the need to come to an agreement with the LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, a political offshoot of the Nichiren Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai, whose history imbues it with pacifist values.

As Ben Ascione notes in our lead article this week, Soka Gakkai members ‘have (in the past) been willing to extend support to Komeito and qualify their absolute pacifist stance’ when the party agreed to the 1992 Peacekeeping Operation Law and to dispatch the SDF to Iraq in 2003 to carry out humanitarian operations. Komeito also ‘supported the Abe cabinet’s reinterpretation of Article 9 to permit limited forms of collective self-defence’. But this support has been justified within the framework of Article 9 as well as the context of compromises necessary ‘to exercise power and to continue to act as a brake on the LDP’s policy excesses’.

LDP leeway to pressure Komeito on a constitutional revision deal is limited by the two parties’ ‘electoral cooperation arrangement which sees Komeito voters supply between 5 and 20 per cent of the votes LDP candidates receive in single-seat districts in both houses in exchange for influence as a ruling party’. As Ascione explains, ‘many LDP politicians’ seats would be under serious threat if this deal came unstuck’.

There may be room for an amendment to Article 9 that explicitly affirms the constitutionality of the SDF and expands its international peacekeeping and disaster relief roles. But, as Ascione argues, ‘a revision that seriously alters the spirit of Article 9 or outright rescinds it would surely be a no-go for Komeito that would seriously undermine its loyal support base’.

Japan’s current LDP leadership may feel, as Hamilton suggests, that it is ‘one step closer to its glittering prize’ of constitutional revision. As the LDP pursues that goal during Abe’s remaining two years in office, however, the path forward will likely be slow, hard fought and contentious. Ultimately, the devil will be in the details. But it is evident that much work will have to be done to overhaul the 2012 constitutional revision proposal into something the public can get behind if the prize is to be won.

The EAF Editorial Group is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.


United States Sells Only Illusions of Success in Afghanistan

                          Confused US strategy, ever changing plans, bog down effort

Despite reports in major US newspapers regarding a successful phase of the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the country’s future continues to hang in uncertainty as do the prospects of a negotiated end to the war.  

More than anything else, the war continues due to confused US strategy, ever-changing plans with regard to “stay in” or “exit” from Afghanistan, and most importantly due to continuously changing the ways it views the Taliban.

The Taliban, as the official discourse shows unambiguously, have travelled from being “terrorists” to “insurgents” and now from “insurgents” to “foreign enemies.” Notwithstanding the fact that more and more people in Afghanistan are indeed turning against Taliban rule, treating them as “foreign enemies” is only turning a blind eye to the history of Afghan resistance and the way unemployed and disgruntled Afghan youth have joined the Taliban movement.  

Projection of the Taliban as foreign enemies, although it does signify the support they are receiving from regional countries such as Pakistan and Iran, also signifies that a negotiated end of the war cannot be reached in Afghanistan. Why engage in a dialogue with “foreign enemies” and why not just kill them all?

The change of discourse is being backed by systematic propaganda in Afghanistan regarding “phenomenal” success of the Afghan and US forces. The Washington Post claimed in one of its reports that “over the past four months, Afghan special forces have also killed more than three dozen senior and mid-level Taliban commanders in targeted airstrikes or raids.”

The report also quotes an Afghan official implying that the tables have been turned and the war is going better than expected.  

To an extent, it is true that some senior Taliban commanders, including the supreme commander, were recently eliminated. However, the “unexpected success” is not due to some magical war strategy (read: 5,500 Afghan security forces dead in just 2015, say US officials, far more than NATO lost in a decade of war; 3,500 Afghan civilians in the same period, mostly at the hands of the Taliban, says the United Nations) that the US and Afghan forces have suddenly invented and immediately implemented. Whatever the success they have achieved is due to the internal disunity of the Taliban as a movement that they have, ever since the death of Mullah Omar, been unable to overcome.

This disunity has led to infighting among the Taliban for leadership and resultantly fewer attacks on the Afghan and US forces.  However, this disunity has not, so far, translated into any loss of the gains they have made over the years. As a matter of fact, as the latest (2016) report of the new US commander in Afghanistan says, the Taliban continue to control more territory in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001.  

While the content of the report is secret, the decisions taken in the light of it speak volumes about the actual ground situation in Afghanistan. Not only has the US president sanctioned more drone strikes but also given the US military wider latitude to support Afghan forces, both in the air and on the ground.

As such, contrary to what the Washington Post claims with regard to the renewed US strikes as evidence of success, the strikes have been intensified due to the losses that Afghan forces have sustained. That the US has been forced into re-engaging its own forces also signifies that the dynamics of war have not actually changed. The only change that has occurred is that it has gone to worse from bad.

On the other hand, Afghan President’s idea of an “extended war” against the Taliban, although is in harmony with the idea of treating the Taliban as a foreign funded force, is a strong indication of the Afghan and the US forces’ consistent failure in recovering the ground they have lost to the Taliban in the past two years or so.

For many in Afghanistan, Ghani needs to extend the war to ensure his own stay in power. Were the US forces to leave Afghanistan, the aid it is currently receiving would dry out and the Taliban would be left completely unchecked in their bid to occupy the country.  

However, this idea of an “extended war” is only going to add more fuel to the fire. Since Omar’s death, the Taliban have consistently refused to engage in dialogue—not unless foreign forces are withdrawn.

The idea of “extended war” not only contradicts the policy of reaching a negotiated end of the war but also is based upon an extended stay of foreign forces in Afghanistan—a situation that the Taliban would continue to resist and fight against, said an Afghan veteran political worker from Kabul. Such a situation also suits the US interests. 

According to retired US Army Colonel, Lawrence Wilkerson, the US has to stay in Afghanistan for another 50 years, not because of the “war on terror” is expanding or that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are yet to be defeated. To quote him, “the war in Afghanistan has morphed; it’s not about al-Qaeda anymore, and it’s not about the Taliban anymore. It’s about China; Russia – the soft underbelly which is mostly Muslim of Russia; about Pakistan; about Iran; about Syria; about Iraq; about whether a Kurdistan is stood up or not; and ultimately about oil, water and energy in general. And the US presence in Afghanistan, I’ll predict right now, will not go away for another half-century… And it will grow, it will not decrease.”

According to a Pakistan security agency source, “Reading the US activities in Afghanistan, it appears more likely that US is bent upon dictating its own designed peace settlement to ensure retention of its politico-military hold on the country, even if at the cost of continuing disability in the country and in the region.”

It is instability that defines Afghanistan’s current ground situation and the strike that killed Mullah Mansour only added to it. 

According to well-informed sources, the Taliban rank and file and whoever is chosen as their new leader would not hold talks with the Afghan government, which is heavily dependent on the US military and economic assistance for its survival. The new Taliban ameer would have to follow the policies of the late Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar and his successor, Mulla Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, both of whom were against recognizing the pro-US Afghan government and holding peace talks with it. The new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is not only a hardliner but also known for his fatwas (religious pronouncements) to justify the Taliban insurgency.

Therefore, the advertised success not an actual success, nor is the Taliban’s disunity perpetual. There are already signs that they will eventually be able to form a united front. 

The Mulla Rasool faction—which had previously refused to acknowledge Mansour’s leadership – has already hinted that it could re-join the mainstream Taliban in case Mullah Yaqoob, Mullah Omar’s son, is chosen as the new leader. If this happens, the Taliban would re-emerge as a more united and stronger militant group that would be difficult to tackle for the other stakeholders in Afghanistan, and that would seriously debunk the ‘myth of peace and success’ in Afghanistan.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a Pakistani academic who recently travelled to Afghanistan to survey the situation on the ground and found it discouraging.