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Stepping up on Afghanistan

India must use its good offices to ensure that the U.S. and Afghanistan sign a bilateral security agreement.

If the world was in need of a preview of things to come in a post-2014 Afghanistan, it got one on Friday.  A Taliban attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant in Kabul claimed 21 lives. Those killed included the International Monetary Fund’s chief for Afghanistan, a senior political official at the UN and a British candidate in the upcoming elections for the European parliament.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of many of its citizens as well as those of NATO’s security forces.  But as the New York Times notes, attacks against foreign soft targets have been relatively less frequent.  The Kabul Hotel Inter-Continental was attacked in 2011; U.S. and Indian embassies have been hit in Kabul and in other parts of Afghanistan.  The more recent attacks have involved operations with the use of suicide bombers to breach perimeter security followed by commando-style assaults with the use of RPGs and assault rifles.

The Taliban have historically relied on suicide attacks against Western military targets, but the use of commando-style assaults in and around Kabul may point to a collaboration with Pakistan-sponsored groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, loosely referred to as the “Kabul Attack Network.”

The goal, ultimately, is to weaken the will of the West to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.  The U.S. and NATO winding down operations in Afghanistan will undoubtedly create a perilous security situation in that country.  Afghan president Hamid Karzai has refused to enter into a status of forces agreement with the U.S., even as the Afghan National Army remains ill-equipped to deal with a raging insurgency coupled with terrorist assaults on the capital.

Mr. Karzai is throwing caution to the wind by tying the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to the U.S. facilitating “peace talks” with the Taliban.  He may get neither.  The U.S.’s ability to facilitate a negotiation with the Taliban remains in question, particularly when the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan have been working towards the goal of ensuring a total exit of U.S. and allied forces from Afghanistan all along.  Mr. Karzai, whose presidency ends in April 2014, may have little to lose, but the burdens of his action or inaction will be borne by Afghanistan’s future governments.

Meanwhile, anyone in New Delhi still under the delusion that events in Afghanistan have no bearing on the security of India would do well to reach for their history books.  It is precisely the sort of Pakistan-supported, Taliban-operated environment that could prevail in a post-2014 Afghanistan that allowed for India’s surrender of Maulana Masood Azhar (who was languishing in an Indian jail) in Kandahar in exchange for passengers hijacked onboard IC-814 in 1999.

As a result of our capitulation, Azhar returned to Pakistan to regroup members of the terrorist group Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in 2000.  A year later, JeM attacked the Indian parliament, killing 12 civilians.  Our members of parliament, rather miraculously, escaped unharmed.

A similar situation may present itself when the U.S. departs Afghanistan.  Although many of us have called for India to deploy hard power in Afghanistan, or at least play a more active role in training and supplying weapons to Afghan security forces, New Delhi has chosen to only limit its involvement to economy and institution-building.  Laudable endeavors undoubtedly, but insufficient to ensure the security of India and her interests in that country.

India has already rebuffed Mr. Karzai’s request for weaponry during his December 2013 visit.  But if India is disinclined to deploy hard power in Afghanistan, it must, at the very least, ensure that a U.S. security presence remains in the country to prevent it from being engulfed in yet another civil war that could render twelve years of development and progress to naught.

Indeed, India is most uniquely positioned — as a friend to both the U.S. and Afghanistan — to use its good offices to ensure that a version of the BSA agreeable to both Afghanistan and the U.S. is signed.  Almost every other country is viewed with suspicion by either DC or Kabul.  Last week, U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan visited India to discuss the furture of Afghanistan.  U.S. intelligence officials also met an Indian delegation led by Joint Intelligence Chief Ajit Lal to urge India’s influence with Mr. Karzai to conclude the BSA.

There is no doubt that India is in the midst of domestic political upheaval.  The economy is sagging and political stewardship is found wanting in almost every aspect of governance.  However, facilitating a status of forces agreement between Afghanistan and the U.S. must become a national security priority for India.

A U.S.-Afghanistan BSA cannot prevent attacks such as the one this past Friday, but it may stave off a total collapse of the state to the Taliban.  Ultimately, it is simply not in India’s interests to see Afghanistan relapse into the laboratory of terrorism that it once was under Pakistan’s influence. (And on a separate note, New Delhi’s assistance in facilitating a BSA could also demonstrate that both India and the U.S. are committed to putting the very unseemly squabble over Devyani Khobragade behind them).

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U.S. hearings on the Lashkar-e-Taiba

Convergence of perceptions augurs well for Indo-US counter-terrorism cooperation.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing on June 12 on “Protecting the Homeland Against Mumbai-Style Attacks and the Threat from Lashkar-e-Taiba.“  As a precursor to the hearing, Peter King, chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, remarked that “The LeT is a terror proxy of Pakistan’s [ISI], which provides LeT with a safe haven and funding to train and prepare for terrorist attacks…”  Elected representatives of the U.S. would have hesitated in making such admissions even a decade ago, for fear of embarrassing Pakistan.

The LeT ceased to be an India-specific terror outfit after 26/11; its deliberate targeting of U.S., Western and Israeli citizens during the attacks in Mumbai meant that its orientation was now beyond targets only in India.  Thus, the convergence of common threat perceptions augurs well for Indo-U.S. cooperation on counter-terrorism and on the threats posed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Salient excerpts from the USHOR testimonials follow.

Stephen Tankel on the LeT training Westerners:

LeT has long had a policy of training Westerners. The majority of them are members of the Pakistani and Kashmir diasporas in the U.K., but the group has been training Americans since 2000.

The first Americans known to have trained with LeT were from Virginia and were part of a coterie of would-be jihadists that ultimately became known as the Virginia Jihad Network. Sajid Mir, the commander in charge of overseas operatives, arranged for several of them to provide assistance to a British LeT operative who traveled to the U.S. on multiple occasions from 2002-2003 to procure military gear for the group.

Precisely what LeT or elements within it planned to do with this information is unknown, though they clearly were interested in both surveillance and expanding the group’s networks in the U.S. In 2005, two men from Atlanta Georgia with ties to the ‘Toronto 18’ as well as to a British Pakistani
who acted as a talent spotter for LeT identified possible targets for a terrorist attack in the U.S.

LeT has trained others living in America since then, none more famous than Daood Gilani, who took the name David Coleman Headley in 2006 to help facilitate his reconnaissance trips in Mumbai and elsewhere for the group. He joined LeT in February 2002, participating in the Daura-e-Suffa that month. In August 2002 he went through the Daura-e-Aama and then in April 2003 the Daura-e-Khasa, LeT’s three-month guerrilla warfare training program….

Given the benefits Headley provided to the group, it is reasonable to assume LeT may have increased its efforts to recruit and train other Westerners or to find ways for Pakistani members to acquire citizenship or residency in Western countries. [USHOR]

Christine Fair on the re-branding of the LeT as a charitable organization, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), and continued support from the Pakistani MJC:

To facilitate LeT’s pro-state message countering that of the various Deobandi organizations operating in Pakistan and against Pakistanis (e.g. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Pakistani Taliban), Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and the armed force’s Interservices Public Relations appear to direct Pakistani and international media to cover the ostensible relief efforts of JuD and its other alias, Falah Insaniat Foundation (e.g. during Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake and the 2010 monsoon-related flood). The media coverage of this humanitarian work seemed far in excess of the actual relief activities conducted. Subsequent research has shown that the organization did not provide the relief that the various media proclaimed. In essence, this media coverage handed the organization a public relations boon they did not deserve.

In survey work that my colleagues and I have conducted in Pakistan, we have found that the various state and non-state efforts to rebrand LeT as JuD in Pakistan have been successful. During survey pretesting in Pakistan in 2011, we found that Pakistani respondents viewed the two organizations as being quite distinct and engaging in different activities with the latter being seen more often as providing public services.

As I argued in 2011, this strategy is important. By fostering public support for the organization at home, the Pakistani state can resist pressure from the United States and others to work against the organization. Under these varied guises, LeT/JuD can continue to recruit, raise funds and support its message of jihad against the “external kuffar” such as the Indians, Americans, Israelis and so forth. The continued official investment in the organization and expanding public presence suggests that the Pakistani state is ever more dependent upon this proxy for both domestic and foreign policy requirements. [USHOR]

And finally, Jonah Blank:

On the issue of dealing with a Mumbai-style attack, one thing we can do is take a lesson from the citizens of both Mumbai and Boston. The reason the attacks in these cities were so jarring was that they stripped away the illusion of safety. A few weeks ago, however, the citizens of Boston confronted an unspeakable evil– not with panic but with quiet, rock-solid resolve. That’s what the citizens of Mumbai did in 2008– indeed, at leas t half a dozen times in recent years. Unfortunately, that is what other citizens, in the U.S. as well as elsewhere, will be called on to do in the future.

The Mumbai attack had special meaning for me: I used to live in Mumbai, just a few blocks from the site of most of the attacks. I used to buy American newspapers from the Taj bookshop, stop by the Leopold Cafe for a cold beer, watch a movie at the Metro Cinema, take trains from the terminal that locals still call by its colonial-era initials of “VT.”

One of the victims of the Mumbai attack was a friend of mine. He was man without whom I wouldn’t have been able to conduct my ethnographic fieldwork. He was an elderly Muslim cleric, easily identifiable as such by his white beard and skullcap– but the gunmen still shot him at close range. [USHOR]

These admissions in earnest would have been unthinkable even a decade ago in a Congressional hearing.  The U.S. may be withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, but its threat perceptions are rapidly converging with India’s.  This is important at a time when the Pakistani establishment appears to be pitting its frankensteins against each other.

 

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Urdunama: Jihad-e-Hind

As representatives of every political hue deliver speeches to seek the support of the Pakistani voter in the nation’s general elections scheduled for May, Lashkar-e-Tayiba’s ameer, Hafiz Saeed was out delivering firebrand speeches of his own as well.  Addressing the Jihad-e-Hind Conference on April 9, 2013 at LeT’s Muridke headquarters in Punjab, Hafiz Saeed declared a war on India and warned of attacks inside Indian territory.

He also blamed Pervez Musharraf for supporting the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan and acquiescing to drone attacks along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  This is the second time since February 2013 that Hafiz Saeed has publicly called for jihad against India, while taking comfort over having “vanquished the retreating forces of America and its allies.” Excerpts of his speech, as published by Nawa-i-Waqt, follow:

Pervez Musharraf must answer for his involvement in the Lal Masjid attacks and U.S. drone operations that have resulted in the deaths of 7 lakh Afghan and 30 lakh residents of the border areas.  One can only pity Musharraf given his current state of affairs, but Pakistan is yet to learn its lessons from his misplaced policies.  Even today in Islamabad, there are people like Musharraf who, instead criticizing the U.S., India and Israel, denounce the mujahideen for being involved in “terrorism” in Pakistan.

The U.S., India and Israel are playing a dangerous game in Balochistan.  They aim to capture Gwadar so that they can control strategic routes to the Gulf and West Asia.  India must be made to pay the price for its continued occupation of Kashmir.  Pakistan is yet to avenge the losses of East Pakistan, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Junagadh.  Pakistan must also avenge the attacks on the Samjhauta Express and Babri Masjid.

Our leaders in Islamabad plan to grant India MFN status, while the Indians are conspiring with Sindh nationalists to create a Sindhudesh to further dismember Pakistan.  India’s media does a good job in covering up India’s many sins, while Pakistan’s media has done nothing to expose them.  India’s list of crimes is very long indeed.  We have incontrovertible proof of the atrocities India has committed over the years.

There are some misguided people in Lahore who have been fooled into believing that the people of Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab share a similar culture.  These people must think long and hard on whether this is indeed true.  We build friendships with friends, not with enemies.  Is India really our friend?  It has illegally occupied our lands.  It dams our rivers to destroy our agriculture and turn Pakistan into an arid desert.

Let India pay attention: “jihad-e-Hind” — a war against India — will be launched.  This war will be contested inside Indian territory and no one can save it from annihilation.  Even the RSS and BJP cannot save India from its fate.  The mujahideen have taken on and defeated the Americans and their allies.  India’s fate will be no different.  [نوائے وقت]

Little wonder, then, that there are now jihad-e-Hind billboards in Pakistan’s cities.

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Urdunama: Tehrik-e-Kashmir

Nazaria-i-Pakistan Trust’s annual Kashmir Solidarity Day conference was held in Lahore yesterday.  Speakers included the always-delightful Majid Nizami, chairman of the Nazaria-i-Pakistan Trust and Waqt Group, and the well-known pacifist and respected academic, Professor Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.  The theme of this year’s conference was clear.  The U.S. has been vanquished in Afghanistan.  India’s leverage over Pakistan is at an end.  The Kashmir issue is no longer on the back burner.  Freedom fighters are about to return to the Valley.  Excerpts of their speeches follow:

Majid Nizami: Kashmir cannot become a part of Pakistan without jihad.  I am willing to sacrifice my life for Pakistan.  We can win Kashmir only through arms, missiles and atom bombs, not through dialog or trade.  And until the issue of Kashmir is solved, Pakistan must not have any relations with India of any kind.

Hafiz Saeed: In the past, we have been unable to resolve the issue of Kashmir because our political and military leaders were disunited.  When Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998, India was despondent, and [prime minister] Vajpayee — whose links are with the BJP, which was recently identified as having terrorist affiliations by India’s Home Minister — rushed to Pakistan to save face.

Similarly, when it appeared in 1999 that India was about to lose Kashmir (and I am personally aware of what our position was in Kargil), India appealed to the U.S.  It was because of U.S. interference and our own internal differences that we were not able to win in Kargil.  But there is no need for pessimism. I propose that a committee be formed under Majid Nizami, which will examine the reasons for our past failures and propose future plans for the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

As a consequence of 9/11, the freedom struggle in Kashmir was negatively affected.  During the U.S.’s invasion of Afghanistan, India tried its best to cause harm to Pakistan.  India set up terror training camps along our border with Afghanistan and interfered in Balochistan.  But India’s ambitions in Afghanistan now have been severely hit with America’s retreat.

The issue isn’t just Kashmir.  India plans to stop the flow of river water into Pakistan; there is a project to build over 250 dams to prevent river water from flowing into Pakistan, of which 62 have already been built.  But India knows that it is failing in its designs against Pakistan.  It brings up dialog and “aman ki asha” when it realizes that its American friends have have been forced to leave the region.  We salute the Kashmiris for not having given up hope these 11 difficult years.

Pakistan’s priority must be to solve the Kashmir problem.  We can talk to India, because issues can also be resolved through dialog.  But on the condition that India stops its aggressive behavior towards Pakistan, withdraws its troops from Kashmir, and stops damming the rivers flowing into Pakistan.  Let India decide if it wants to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialog or through war.  Hafiz Saeed and those under his command are ready for jihad. [نواےوقت]

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