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After Osama bin Laden

Eight points to consider.

Osama bin-Laden has been killed.  U.S. president Barack Obama made the announcement over an hour ago.  We have more questions than answers about the nature of the operation that led to his killing and what cooperation, if any, was received from other governments.  Some points for us to consider:

  1. The fact that bin Laden was killed outside Abbottabad (75 miles from Islamabad) is significant.  Abbottabad is reported to house several retired Pakistani army and intelligence officers.
  2. Mr. Obama’s mention of President Zardari, and not Gen. Kayani/DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha is equally significant.  We know that the operation was in the works since August 2010, and gained momentum over the last six weeks.  It is also important to note Mr. Obama’s  mention that the operation was entirely executed by the U.S. — this was not a joint operation with Pakistani special-ops forces.  It is not clear at what point the Americans informed the Pakistanis.  If it turns out that the Pakistani civil administration was informed days or weeks before the operation, this is a significant victory for the civil administration over the military-jihadi complex (MJC).  If the Zardari government was informed ex post facto, it will still affect civil-military relations in Pakistan, but on a relatively lesser scale.
  3. We cannot read too much into President Obama thanking Pakistan for its cooperation.  The U.S. president was speaking in general terms — lest we forget, there is still a battle raging in Afghanistan for which the U.S. requires Pakistan’s assistance.  There was not much else Mr. Obama could have said about Pakistan’s duplicity.
  4. Given the fact that U.S. Navy SEALs traveled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and executed the operation, it is likely that some level of Pakistani cooperation — whether direct, or indirect — was required.  If it turns out that cooperation was provided by Pakistan’s FIA and not the ISI, this is again, a significant moment in civil-military relations in Pakistan.
  5. If, in the remote possibility, any assistance was provided by Pakistan’s military/ISI, it only means that Osama bin Laden had become expendable to them.  The torch had been passed.
  6. Expect the battle between the civil administration and its goons, and the Pakistani military and its goons to play out openly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This will also effect the U.S.’s ability to move men and resources from Pakistan’s tribal areas  into Afghanistan.  This can be significantly consequential to the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan.
  7. The MJC will look to reassert itself as quickly and as decisively as possible.  It will set its sights on high-value targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan or even India.
  8. Critically, the Indian government needs to guard itself against possible terrorist activity in mainland India. ISI or al-Qaeda inspired attacks on Indian soil in the immediate future cannot be ruled out.  India is perhaps the most vulnerable target for the Pakistani MJC to counter-punch the Zardari government, which is ostensibly engaged in a “peace process” with New Delhi.

 

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The BlackBerry saga

Shoot the (BlackBerry) Messenger.

India’s pushback on the BlackBerry issue, along with U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia’s stance is challenging fundamental perceptions of electronic security and global commerce.  India and the Gulf countries, contend, and not without justification that they require the ability to intercept encrypted electronic communication in the interest of national security.

India’s history as perhaps the nation most victimized by terrorism has necessitated such a stance.  The Indian government has let it be known that it will ban BlackBerry devices in the absence of such an ability (the U.A.E. expects to enforce its ban beginning October 11, if no agreement is reached). At the core of this security dilemma is the uniqueness of RIM’s BlackBerry architecture, where its encrypted emails are stored in server farms in Canada.

There are two aspects to any government’s legitimate need to access encrypted emails — surveillance under warrant, and post-incident forensics.  As far as surveillance is concerned, governments should be able to intercept and read communication that they legitimately feel threaten the integrity of the nation and the safety of its citizens.  From a post-incident forensics standpoint, physical access to the servers that contain encrypted email will allow the state to control variables, establish a chain of custody and bring about successful prosecutions.

In the U.S., the National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to “snoop” electronic communication under court order.  During the George W Bush Administration, the NSA had the ability to intercept electronic communication without a court order in the days immediately following 9/11 (many suspect that this is an ability that the NSA retains).

India has asked to be given the ability to decrypt BlackBerry emails, if it feels they threaten its national security.  RIM has denied the request, stating that there are no master keys to decrypt BlackBerry emails.  There are two obvious fallacies with regard to this assertion.  One, knowing U.S.’s preoccupation with security,  it would have been impossible for RIM (a foreign company, for all intents and purposes) to operate commercially in the U.S., were this true.  Two, news reports indicating that the U.S. is in negotiations with India on resolving the issue makes me question why the U.S. would want to insert itself into what should rightly be negotiations between India and RIM (or Canada).

It is the legitimate right of any democratic government to intercept communication that threatens its national security, or to secure and use as evidence any information used to undermine it.  Any talk of a settlement whereby a third party or government (such as the U.S.) decrypts BlackBerry emails for India, upon request is unwelcome.  For one, it should be fundamentally unacceptable to GoI to allow custody of its citizens’ secure communication to a third country.

The government of India should therefore accept nothing short of access to RIM’s decryption keys and a server farm physically located in India.  Anything short of this will likely be a compromise of national security.  If RIM chooses to be unyielding, it is entirely their loss.  This blogger can think of a million reasons why they will be compelled to reconsider their stance.

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Course correction needed

Focus on India, please.

In the aftermath of the Lahore talks between S.M. Krishna and S.M. Qureshi, much was written in the press about the reasons why the talks failed and on Mr. Qureshi’s antics during and after the press conference.  The failure of the talks to yield anything substantial should have been a good opportunity for India to reevaluate what it is attempting to achieve vis-a-vis Pakistan and why, and determine whether its current strategy is working.  Sadly, barring a few exceptions, such a dialog does not seem to be occurring; at least, not publicly.

My INI colleague over at Pragmatic Euphony has an excellent blogpost with recommendations on steps India needs to take going forward,  laying out areas where the attention of India’s political leadership should be more focused.  From internal security to the delivery of social services, the blogpost argues that an internally stronger India will be able to negotiate with Pakistan on a better footing.

This argument can be further extended, particularly where internal security is concerned.  That Pakistan has no intention of abjuring terrorism against India is no secret.  In fact, if Mr. Qureshi’s bizarre comments at the presscon, equating statements made by LeT chief Hafiz Saeed to those made by Home Secretary G.K. Pillai are anything to go by, there is no reason not to believe that Pakistan will continue to encourage rhetoric and action against India — talks or no talks.  The aim of India’s internal reforms, then, should be to develop capabilities to deter Pakistan’s adventurism for sub-conventional warfare against India.

This requires refocusing on issues that have been highlighted previously on various platforms.  It means accepting the reality that internal security can no longer be a part-time job for the Home Minister, and moving forward with establishing a Ministry of Internal Security, with adequate funding and staffing.  It means significantly upgrading the capabilities of first responders to terror incidents — something that cannot be meaningfully achieved without police reforms.

It means fundamentally restructuring our intelligence agencies, their reporting structure, staffing, training, funding, information collection — at the local, national and international levels — and inter-agency coordination.  It means revisiting existing anti-terror legislation, to provide law enforcement agencies legal and political backing, and tools necessary to effectively deter or respond to incidents.  Finally, it also means equipping our agencies with the ability to challenge terrorism from whence it emanates.

Now, the argument can be made — and not without justification or precedent — that in a country that puts a premium on symbolism, expecting changes such as those highlighted above — which essentially call for a structural recalibration of the government — is far too radical.  It can be argued that no one in New Delhi will have the stomach for projects whose benefits may only become visible at some distant point in the future.  On the other hand, the exhibitionism we have come to expect from India-Pakistan “events” can be beneficial during election season, even if they did fail as spectacularly as Lahore, because India’s leaders went “out of their way” and “extended a hand of friendship” which was spurned by short-sighted politicians from across the border.  It is just the sort of altruistic, moral pompousness that wins elections.

But Dr. Manmohan Singh, more than anyone, can appreciate what structural reforms can do for this nation.  Indeed, reforms he instituted some twenty years ago have fundamentally transformed India’s economy and society.  With this transformation comes the need for institutions that can effectively govern and keep pace with the India of today.  This has not happened, however, and nowhere is the structural decay more telling than in institutions charged with India’s security.

Structural recalibration of India’s internal security is a long-term project whose benefits may only be realized in the distant future. But unless priority is given now, we will continue to flounder and stumble from one disaster to another while hoping that cosmetic fixes, finger wagging and rhetoric will conceal the structural decay of institutions charged with India’s internal security.  It will not help India either put an end to the insurgencies that plague it nor allow it to deal effectively with the threats that will continue to emanate from Pakistan.  Dr. Singh and his government must get to work: India’s internal security needs a 1991.

Focus on the India, please.

In the aftermath of the Lahore talks between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his counterpart, Pakistani Foreign Minister S.M. Qureshi, much has been written about the reasons why the talks failed and about Mr. Qureshi’s antics during and after the press conference.  The failure of the talks to yield anything substantial should have been a good opportunity for India to reevaluate what it is attempting to achieve vis-a-vis Pakistan and why, and determine whether its current strategy is working.  Sadly, barring a few exceptions, such a dialog does not seem to be occurring; at least, not publicly.

My INI colleague over at Pragmatic Euphony has an excellent blogpost with recommendations on steps India needs to take going forward,  laying out areas where the attention of India’s political leadership should be more focused.  From internal security, economic and labor reforms to education, public health and delivery of social services, the blogpost argues that an internally stronger India will be able to negotiate with Pakistan on a better footing.

This argument can be further extended, particularly where internal security is concerned.  That Pakistan has no intentions of abjuring terrorism against India is no secret.  In fact, if Mr. Qureshi’s bazarre comments at the presscon, equating statements made by LeT chief Hafiz Saeed to those made by Home Secretary GK. Pillai are anything to go by, there is no reason not to believe that Pakistan will continue to encourage rhetoric and action against India — talks or no talks.  The aim of India’s internal reforms, then, should be to develop capabilities to deter Pakistan’s adventurism for sub-conventional warfare against India.

This requires refocusing on issues that have highlighted on various platforms.  It means accepting the reality that internal security can no longer be a part-time job for the Home Minister — and moving forward with establishing a Ministry of Internal Security, with adequate funding and staffing.  It means significantly upgrading the capabilities of first responders to terror incidents — something that cannot be meaningfully achieved without police reforms.

It means fundamentally restructuring our intelligence agencies, their reporting structure, staffing, training, funding, how they collect information — at at the local, national and international levels — and how they coordinate with each other.  It means revisiting existing anti-terror legislation, to provide law enforcement agencies legal and political backing, and tools necessary to effectively deter or respond to incidents.  Finally, it also means equipping our agencies with the ability to challenge terror infrastructure from whence the emanate.

Now, the argument can be made, not without justification or precedent, that in a country that puts a premium on symbolism, expecting changes such as those highlighted above — which essentially call for a structural recalibration of the government — is far too radical.  It can be argued that no one in New Delhi will have the stomach for projects whose benefits may only become visible at some distant point in the future.  On the other hand, the exhibitionism we have come to expect from India-Pakistan “events” can be beneficial during election season, even if they did fail as spectacularly as Lahore, because India went “out of its way” and “extended a hand of friendship” which was spurned by short-sighted leaders from across the border.  It is just the sort of altruistic, moral pompousness that wins elections.

But Dr. Manmohan Singh, more than anyone can appreciate what structural reforms can do for this nation.  Indeed, reforms he instituted some twenty years ago have fundamentally transformed India’s economy and society.  With this transformation comes the need for institutions that can effectively govern and keep pace with an India of today.  This has not happened, however, and nowhere is the structural decay more telling than in institutions charged with India’s security.

Structural recalibration of India’s internal security is a long-term project whose benefits may only be realized in the distant future, but unless priority is given now, we will continue to flounder and stumble from one disaster to another while hoping that cosmetic fixes, finger wagging and rhetoric will conceal the structural decay of institutions charged with India’s internal security.  It will not help India either put an end to the insurgencies that plague it or allow it to deal effectively with the threats that will continue to emanate from Pakistan.  Dr. Singh and his government must get to work: India’s internal security needs a 1991.

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Control the narrative

GoI must arrest this trend of  surrendering control of the narrative to the Naxals.

Someone once said that al-Qaeda was now essentially a media propaganda machine, with a terror wing.  The same argument could also be made of the Naxalites in India.  As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media wing, has done a remarkable job in news content and propaganda delivery over the Internet — from the indiscretions of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, to disseminating audio and video propaganda from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to regional network stations.

The battle for the “hearts and minds” is a critical aspect of successful COIN campaigns and it is here that controlling the narrative becomes critical.  Propaganda campaigns such as those launched by as-Sahab serve as morale boosters to followers and as effective recruitment tools, far beyond the epicenter of the insurgency.  They are also effective in turning public opinion against COIN forces — both in the “besieged” countries as well as in those leading the COIN effort.  U.S. and Western allies have found it significantly difficult to counter this unrelenting propaganda in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Although the differences between the Af-Pak and Naxal insurgencies are plenty, there are lessons for India to draw from the American experience.  Indeed, even in the Indian context, one of the many aspects that makes the Naxal insurgency different from either Kashmir or Punjab is that the government has been so far unable to control the narrative of the conflict.  The leadership structure of the Naxals — which includes among its ranks, suave, highly educated and very eloquent men and women very adept at information dissemination — plays a significant role in denying the government of India monopoly over the Naxal narrative.  Hence the demands ad nauseum from “root cause” advocates and deliberate attempts to obfuscate differences between the treacherous objectives of the Naxals and the legitimate demands of the tribals.

This counter-narrative has also been adopted by some for political expediency, by self-styled “activists” and human rights groups, further diluting the central government’s version on the issue.  Controlling the narrative is important in any unconventional war — more so in one being conducted in remotest and poorest corners of the hinterland.  Public perception during  such operations is important.  But the nature and area of the Naxal conflict has contributed to public sentiment largely indifferent on the issue.  Dantewada, after all, is not Mumbai.

The Indian government has thus far not been capable of countering this insidious propaganda war, and has been religated to fighting on the backfoot. Campaigns such as those launched by as-Sahab and the Naxals aim to achieve one simple objective — demonstrate that the enemy (the U.S. and its allies, and India, respectively) is not morally infallible.  India has involuntarily assisted in partly achieving this objective, through instances of excessive use of police force on the tribals and through ill-conceived ventures such as the Salwa Judum.

To be sure, India’s success in defeating the Naxals depends on a number of factors, including availability and reliability of local intelligence, quality and capabilities of COIN forces, development and rehabilitation of tribals, better local governance, and a government (central and state) willing to see the operations through.  But the government will remain weak, and its objectives, discombobulated and confused, so long as public perception remains apathetic or cluttered.

The  full extent of the state’s resources must therefore be used to both counter existing propaganda and launch counter-offensives to regain control of the narrative.  No doubt, the Indian government will not be able to end the insurgency merely  though the use of media guile, but further losses of life and territory are almost assured if it is unable to arrest this trend of surrendering control of the narrative to the Naxals and their sympathizers.

http://pragmatic.nationalinterest.in/2010/05/12/confusing-considerations/
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