Sunday 29 May 2022 | 11:56 | SYDNEY

West Asia

Stability in Afghanistan: Why it matters

Hugh White is right to worry about the prospects of Sino-Indian strategic competition in Afghanistan, but I disagree with his argument that whether or not Afghanistan is a robust and stable state is immaterial to avoiding that outcome. We do have an interest in the future of domestic stability

Attacks on Indians: The numbers (not)

Last week Rory and I wrote a piece in The Australian arguing for a more transparent look at attacks on Indian students. As research for that article we asked (on 8 February) the Victorian Police and the Premier's Office for some stats. The police only got back to me on Tuesday the 23rd, but I

India smart naval power

India is smartening up its naval diplomacy in the great maritime game with China. New Delhi is showing signs of a new spirit of cooperation with Beijing in the Indian Ocean, offering to protect Chinese oil shipments or even cooperate with the Chinese Navy. This is not capitulation. It is

The great powers and Afghanistan

I like Michael's suggestion that Coalition strategic objectives in Afghanistan should address what we want to avoid rather than on what we want to achieve. People are often uncomfortable about negative statements of purpose, but in strategic policy they are often the simplest and most direct

Interview: The Dutch in Afghanistan

With the Dutch governing coalition close to disintegrating due to differences over Afghanistan policy, the Lowy Institute couldn't have picked a better time to host Dutch Major General Mart de Kruif, who until last November was NATO's military commander of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Let failure be our guide

So much of the recent discussion about Coalition strategy in Afghanistan seems to ultimately revert to how one defines success. The debate about the conditions of success tends to oscillate between the long-term ideal of a stable, non-corrupt, functioning state – which almost everyone admits is

Why Afghans fight

My colleague in Afghanistan has seen Rodger's post in reply to his first piece, and offers a rejoinder below.   A quick detail beforehand: I entirely agree with Rodger's point that it is unhelpful to 'try to view the Taliban as a homogenous group', but note that (1) that's not what my

Indian student linkage

Amid all the heat and worry over how the student safety crisis is affecting Australia-India relations, here are some angles that deserve more attention: The Indian Express, consistently one of India's sharpest newspapers, brings a few breaths of fresh air to the overheated Indian media debate,

But the Taliban don't play rugby...

I'm sorry to be so critical lately of others' posts, but if I disagree with a post on the blog about which I think I know something, I feel the need to speak out (hence my silence on economics, climate change, Asia etc). And so it is with Nick Floyd's post about the motivations driving your

Afghanistan: A revolutionary struggle?

A US Army colleague in Afghanistan (second tour) has circulated a letter in which he tells the story of an Afghan National Army soldier, whose tragic fate had just been announced by the Afghan Government:  Until today, most people will have never heard of or seen Naqibulah Adbul Wakhel. 

Victory in Iraq? It all relative

Far from 'dancing around' Chris Kenny's point that the surge set the military conditions for the orderly withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, I agree with him. My post had nothing to do with the merits of the surge, the success of which (along with other tactical and strategic levers that were

Reader riposte: Victory in Iraq

Chris Kenny writes: Rodger Shanahan makes clear his revulsion at the 'tragedy of the Iraqi adventure' and the audacity of anyone finding something positive to say about ongoing efforts to stabilise that country's future. But he dances around the one point I made about Obama's Iraq policy;

Middle East in 2010 (part 4)

Part one here; part two here; part three here. And finally, to the Levant. Hopes were high following the pro-West coalition's 'victory' in the June 2009 elections that Lebanon would stay in the Western camp and cease to be hostage to external actors, but most realistic observers of Lebanon

Middle East in 2010 (part 3)

Part one here; part two here. Iraq (remember that place? It used to be in the news quite a bit) is the one country in the Middle East which could see significant developments in 2010, but I'm not sure whether the net effect will be particularly good. Politically, the good news is that the

The problem of prediction in the Gulf

I can't believe it. Just a few weeks ago I was predicting the end of the fraught Arab-Persian diplomatic battle over the naming of the Gulf. The sleuthing Iraqi Foreign Minister seemed to have finally settled the issue with the discovery in some archive or other that it was actually called the

Israel Pacific charm offensive

My colleague Jenny Hayward-Jones and I have written previously about Iran's attempts to influence and reward the Solomon Islands for its UN votes. But Pacific micro-states' voting patterns are of equal if not greater interest to Israel. This week the presidents, foreign ministers and

Yemen hits al-Qa'ida, but how hard?

The unsuccessful bombing plot against an American airliner at Christmas, a plot which had its origins in Yemen, did what my posts on The Interpreter and my Lowy paper (co-authored with a real Yemen expert, Sarah Phillips from Sydney Uni) could not do — focus the media's attention on Yemen

Qatar makes its entrance, on a wing

Six months ago Sam wrote a post about Qatar's decision to purchase two C-17 cargo aircraft and how they would provide a good national advertisement in times of humanitarian crisis.  The Haiti earthquake has provided the Qatari Government with its first opportunity to dispatch aid in the very

Iran Air friendly skies

Flight Global reports that an Iranian jetliner ran off the runway in Stockholm after a burst of flame came from the left-hand engine. Amateur video below: Iranian commercial aviation is subject to international sanctions, making it very difficult to get parts for its Airbus and Boeing

A touch of Bollywood in Parramatta

Two events in the past few days – one positive, one negative – have the potential to act as circuit-breakers in the crisis over the welfare of Indian students in Australia. The negative event was the suggestion by the extremist Shiv Sena Party that Australian cricketers should be banned

Middle East in 2010 (part 2)

Part one here.  Ahh, the Middle East peace process. I really do think I'm on firm ground here when I predict that the MEPP will look the same at the end of 2010 as it did at the start — going nowhere. The reasons are pretty well summed up in some exchanges from last year. In May 2009

Turkey: Cool heads prevail in Israel

Sam's post yesterday on Israel's humiliation of the Turkish Ambassador reminded me how important diplomacy is in the Middle East.  I knew Turkish Ambassador to Israel O?uz Çelikkol well when I served at the Australian Embassy in Ankara a few years ago. He was then Turkey's Special

Mehta banished to Wellington?

Admiral Suresh Mehta (pictured, at a 2008 event at the Lowy Institute) has one of the wiser minds in the Indian strategic community. This speech last year was the most sensible and balanced piece of advice on Indian defence policy uttered publicly by a military officer. It has also been one of

Early entry for 2010 Madeleines

The 2009 winner of Graeme Dobell's Madeleine Award — for the best use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs — has only just been announced, yet I think I can say with some confidence that we already have a winner for 2010. At the very least, this entry will take some

Middle East in 2010 (in two minutes)

If there is one thing I've learned from following, living in and writing about the Middle East as an Australian it is that, while many of my countrymen say they find the region fascinating, it is fair to say most Australians believe it to be of peripheral concern despite our substantial economic

UAE gets big lift from cargo planes

Sam asked why a small country like the UAE needs the services of six (although other reports say four) C-17 strategic airlift aircraft. What could they possibly be used for? In the absence of any strategic planning document such as a White Paper, besieged by international arms manufacturers

India: Australia reputation suffers

Australia's reputation in India — and worldwide — has suffered greatly in the past week. The storm of outrage in the Indian media over the safety of Indian students in Australia has gone global. The catalyst for this furore has been the murder in Melbourne of a young Indian-born graduate.

Those perfidious Persians

My attention was drawn to an opinion piece in today's Australian that portrays the Middle East as locked in a modern-day Cold War pitting an expansionist, anti-Western Iran against a bloc of regional countries trying to valiantly resist the advances of the perfidious Persians. I agree with

The Gulf: Nothing succeeds like excess

While those of you who have returned from the coast or overseas are counting the cost of your holiday, spare a thought for the poor citizens of the Gulf Arab states, some of whom are forced to get by on an average per capita GDP of a little over US$70,000. The UAE's US$52,000 figure gives it

Afghanistan: Get serious, get moral or get out

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. Paul Kelly has written in defence of Prime Minister Rudd and his Afghanistan policy, acknowledging that the Australian contribution to Afghanistan is token. Kelly considers that the hardline stance against more troops shows '

Gulf of opinion

Is it a sign of the improving situation in Iraq that the Iraqi Foreign Minister has found the time to do some serious historical research into the true name of the Gulf? In what will likely be seen as a seminal contribution to historiography — and, no doubt, to regional peace building too

The long war with radical Islam

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. Sam Roggeveen and I appeared on ABC Local Radio's Nightlife on Monday night talking about Afghanistan. We each took our predictable positions on the subject but as the program progressed I kept thinking about why we are in

Afghanistan: One token after another

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. Rodger Shanahan is right — our response to Obama's Afghanistan surge is low-risk and low-return. But that characterises our overall response to Afghanistan. Our troops are still restricted in what they can do (though less so

Our low-risk, low-return Afghan surge

I argued in a previous post that sending more civilian advisors to Afghanistan and then restricting them to bases achieves little more than the rearrangement of bureaucrats' locations. Advisors who never get to interact with the locals outside the security of coalition bases are severely

Our new Afghanistan deployment

Prime Minister Rudd's announcement in Washington that Australia will 'surge' police and civil aid efforts in Afghanistan is sound policy. Much of the recent focus on Afghanistan has understandably been on President Obama's announcement about strategy and troop numbers. But although sound

Solomons: Transaction hiccup resolved

Following up on my post from last week on Iranian aid to Solomon Islands and the difficulties Tehran had in sending cash to Honiara, I see the two governments have found a clever way around the legal obstacle. After the ANZ Bank refused to transfer funds from Iran to the Solomon Islands

Buying UN votes Iranian-style

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth has reported that Iran has been bribing countries to vote against Israel at the United Nations. The report alleges that an Iranian offer of $200,000 of financial assistance to Solomon Islands prior to the visit in October last year of Solomon Islands Foreign

Interview: Extra troops for Afghanistan?

President Barack Obama is expected to make an announcement on a troop surge in Afghanistan on Tuesday, while the New York Times is reporting that allies are being hit up for an extra 10,000 soldiers.  I asked the Lowy Institute's Andrew Shearer — who has been involved in managing Australian

Singh and Obama: Of nukes and prawns

Culinary delights aside, I am still trying to work out what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the United States means for the implementation of the US-India nuclear deal. My impression, so far, is that the Indians are neither thrilled nor dismayed with whatever understandings President

Iranian regime sense of humour

Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari was detained in Iran's Evin prison for 118 days during which he was asked by an interrogator to explain his appearance in a Daily Show sketch (h/t The Lede). As he remembers it: I saw the flicker of a laptop monitor under my blindfold. Then I heard someone

Pakistan next generation: Feeling ill

The British Council has released a fairly depressing poll of Pakistan's youth. The New York Times summarises some of its findings below: An overwhelming majority of young Pakistanis say their country is headed in the wrong direction, the report said, and only 1 in 10 has confidence in the

Afghanistan: We need answers!

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. In response to Shanahan and Dobell, the reasons there is no debate of note on Afghanistan might be as follows: Australia is not doing much in Afghanistan. Our troop contribution is about 1.5% of the total foreign presence, our

Afghanistan: The costs of success

Graeme Dobell's post on the lack of Australian coverage, let alone debate, about Afghanistan paraphrases a question cited by Peter Cosgrove during his Boyer lecture: 'What would be the costs of failure?' I would be more inclined to ask about the costs of success, because success will not look

Felling the 'evil flowers'

This week's Wednesday Lowy Lunch featured the ADF's Brigadier Phil Winter speaking on efforts to counter the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices – IEDs, or what Afghans are now calling, with grim poetry, the 'evil flowers'.  As commander of Australia's Counter-IED Task Force, Brigadier

Afghanistan: Rudd highwire act

As Afghanistan tears at Washington and London, the bipartisan political consensus is holding in Canberra. Consider the relative silence at Peter Cosgrove's Boyer lecture conclusion on Afghanistan: I think we can confidently say we are losing this battle. The most famous soldier of the

Mr Rudd congratulated whom?

From today's Australian: Mr Rudd also spoke by telephone with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and congratulated him on his recent election victory. My colleague Anthony Bubalo recently made a strong case that we in the West have been too hard on Hamid Karzai. And I guess if we're going to

Australia and India: Time to declare

This is a big week for Australia in its relations with India. Cricket aside, the big news is Kevin Rudd's first visit to India as Prime Minister. As I argue in a new Lowy Institute policy brief, the bad headlines in Australia-India relations in the past year — especially over student welfare

Big trouble from little Yemen

Although in an earlier post I criticised Arab states for exaggerating Iranian activity in Yemen, Saudi security authorities nonetheless have every right to worry about the trouble emerging from its southern neighbour. After Saudi security forces effectively subdued its own al Qaeda affiliate, the

Does India matter?

Short answer: Yes. Slightly longer answer: Yes, but much less than China does and not as much as the 'Chindia' rhetoric would seem to imply. Australian-based answer: While it doesn't matter as much as China, India still matters a lot for Australian trade. India is now our fourth largest export

Small wars and big choices

Australia needs to worry a little less about the small problems it has with big wars, and address some of the big problems that it has with small wars. Don't judge a book by its cover but by its opening sentence. On that measure, Mark O'Neill's 'Confronting the Hydra' is a winner. It is an