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Burning the Quran is a bad idea

Turn up the heat on Terry Jones.

News media in the U.S. is inundated with reports about Terry Jones, the pastor from Gainesville, Fla., whose church, the Dove World Outreach Center,  intends to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.  Visible support for Dr. Jones is limited (unsurprisingly) to the likes of Ann Coulter, who once said, “we should invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Thankfully, saner voices have come out in condemnation of what Dr. Jones and his church propose to do.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the pastor’s plans “distasteful,” while commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus advised against burning the Quran.  Even former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, who spent much of August 2010, campaigning against the construction of the Park 51 mosque near Ground Zero, asked the pastor to “stand down.” Social networking sites such as Facebook have been awash with supporters and opponents alike. Understandably, this is an emotive issue.

But the question here is not about freedom of expression.  Were it so, this would have been an open and shut case.    Dr. Jones’s objectives and the manner in which he seeks to execute them confirm that he is less keen on testing the boundaries of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms than he is on  inciting a particular community.

I do not disagree that Dr. Jones and his group have the “right” to burn the Quran.  I am also less interested at this point in the narratives of tolerance and morality. However, American citizens and the U.S. government ought to be concerned about how such acts will be perceived in the Islamic world.  Acts such as these, could potentially incite violence against U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, including its embassies and companies, in other parts of the world.  These could be perpetrated in countries where the U.S. is not directly engaged in war, and by people who would not normally be perceived by the U.S. as combatants.  There is no reason any of them should suffer on behalf of Dr. Jones or his political motivations.

This also has the potential to inflame passions against minority communities in the U.S. itself, similar to those incidents that occurred in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, where there was a spike in racially motivated attacks in the U.S.

The State Department has sent cables to U.S. diplomatic posts internationally instructing ambassadors to emphasize that the event, if it does go through, does not reflect the views of the U.S. government.  State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley hoped that these actions would be seen as those of “a small fringe group.”  News media commentators in the Islamic world, however, have no time for such nuances, largely because they would be against their own interests.  This event, if it goes through, will be painted as having been blessed by the White House — many in the Islamic world will not want to see a difference between Terry Jones and Barack Obama. In fact, as if on queue, Nawa-i-waqt already unleashed a preemptive editorial (اردو) on the issue.

In an offline conversation, my INI colleague JK pointed to me this quote from Heinrich Heine — “when they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.”  Very apt, I thought, and advise that Dr. Jones and his church will hopefully heed.

 

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Faisal Shahzad and the many like him

Washington should be concerned about the changing profile of the terrorist in the U.S.

As you read this, a hozing down operation is underway somewhere in Pakistan to eliminate any possibility of Faisal Shahzad — the Times Square Talib – being traced back to  the Military Jihadi Complex (MJC) in the fatherland. Mr. Shahzad was arrested by authorities at JFK while attempting to flee the U.S. after the events of May 3rd.

Some folks have chosen to see the lighter side of the matter — Flashpoint Partners’s Evan Kohlmann mocked the amateurishness of the “so-called bomb,” further adding that clocks setting off fireworks to ignite gas did not “exist outside of Tom and Jerry cartoons.” I trust the entertainment isn’t spoiled by this piece by Steve Coll:

At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual’s case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack—without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a “freebie,” the former officer said—if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done. [Think Tank]

Another, perhaps related aspect to this, of course, is the idea that “unaffiliated” Pakistani- or Arab-American citizens could carry out attacks in the U.S., either acting individually or in tandem.  This offers significant challenges to intelligence and counter-terrorism officials — monitoring communication channels may not be very useful in preventing such an attack.  If Mr. Coll is accurate about the handful of Pakistani-Americans having traveled to Pakistan for training, this should be of significant concern to authorities.  The potentiality for terror of the approximately 200,000 Pakistani-Americans (who have thus far largely avoided confrontations with the state) should worry Washington.

If terror inspired from Pakistan hits the homeland, how will the U.S. respond?

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Urdunama: Indian Misadventure

The Daily Ausaf has been fairly regular in the recent past in drawing attention to what it calls an “Indian conspiracy” in Pakistan and the need for Pakistan to counter it.  This theme, though not unusual in Pakistan’s vernacular press, has appeared more frequently recently than hitherto.  One wonders if there is more mischief at hand than meets the eye.

Below is the December 11 editorial from Daily Ausaf:

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that proof of India’s involvement in terrorism in Pakistan has been presented to the Foreign Affairs ministry so that the ministry may raise this issue in all international fora.  Malik said, “We have ample proof of India’s involvement in terrorist activities inside Pakistan”.

Weapons confiscated from four trucks in Bara had Indian markings.  He said his ministry was responsible for accumulating evidence, which is then passed on to the concerned institutions and ministries.

After 9/11, India has benefited greatly from America’s opportunistic wars. But what sort of peculiar logic is this, where Pakistan is forced to make the most sacrifices, while India reaps the most benefits.  This situation points to our weakness where our past leaders made policies only to satiate their own power.  Pakistan continued to sink as a result of this, and India fully exploited this situation.

On one end, India tried to sabotage the movement for Kashmiri independence, and on the other, it has created a situation of virtual anarchy in Pakistan by sending in terrorists through Afghanistan, in its quest for “Akhand Bharat.”

Despite this situation, the US not only  forgot Pakistan’s sacrifices in its war, but also tried to use India as an effective counter-weight to our ally, China.  This Indo-US friendship also includes the civil nuclear agreement between the two countries. As a result of the US’s friendship, India’s attitude is getting increasingly bellicose.  And India has been trying to avoid any further dialog with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

Even if firecracker bursts in India, their media blames Pakistan’s intellegence agencies, while on the other hand despite India’s support to terrorists in Pakistan, our leaders have been silent, and India has been making full use of our silence.

To promote its impure vision for an “Akhand Bharat”, India, via its agents, is trying to dismember and destroy Pakistan. It is also attempting a cultural invasion of our youth. Unfortunately, India’s cultural invasion of Pakistan is being helped by some of our own people.

Even Afghanistan’s external intelligence agency, RAMA, whose name sounds like “Ram”, was founded by India’s RAW.  India has increased its budget allocation for intelligence to facilitate RAW’s activities inside Pakistan.  India’s intentions are to encircle Pakistan — to that end it has established air bases in foreign countries.

With the ruse of helping reconstruct the airport in Jalalabad, India has deployed about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, whose job is to support activities against Pakistan.  Therefore, India’s espionage and terrorism in sevaral parts of Pakistan — from Wana and Waziristan to Baluchistan — is irrefutable.

Our media has reported India’s hand in several terrorist activities in Pakistan — from the attack on the Manawa training center to the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.  The question that needs to be asked is why India’s shameful and alarming acts haven’t been exposed to the world.

India’s politicians and media make it a point to sully Pakistan’s name, without proof, after every terrorist attack, but here, our politicians, despite beomg armed with concrete evidence of India’s terrorism in Pakistan, appear reluctant to present this to the world.

It is time to give India a befitting reply to its misadventures against Pakistan.

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26/11 and India’s response

It’s politics as usual in New Delhi, and no one seems to care

A year has gone by after the carnage in Mumbai that left over 190 people dead and hundreds injured.  In the immediate aftermath of 26/11, articles were written about the gaping holes in India’s internal security preparedness.

Recommendations put forth to the Indian government are all in public domain —  a tougher anti-terrorism law, a separate ministry for internal security, police reform, increasing NSG headcount and footprint, and enhancing India’s covert ops capability

Of the recommendations made, Manmohan Singh’s government chose to make the establishment of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) central to its response to the holes in India’s internal security preparedness.  To be sure, the establishment of the NIA was an important move, because it addressed Centre-State jurisdiction issues that hitherto plagued the CBI.

However, the NIA’s mandate notwithstanding, nothing in public domain indicates any significant activity in the NIA, until 11 months and two weeks after November 26, 2008, when the NIA belatedly sprung into action, based on inputs from the FBI on David Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

In addition, by virtue of design, the NIA mostly addresses post-incident investigation and forensics.  Manmohan Singh’s government articulated little by way of detective and preventive enhancements to India’s internal security preparedness.

The bigger picture that needs to be examined on the first anniversary of 26/11 isn’t necessarily about specific structural and organizational changes, but about the government’s willingness (confidence?) to make public aberrations in its response to the terror attacks and how these can be addressed.

In the year following the World Trade Center attacks in the US, the Bush Administration constituted the 9/11 Commission to examine aspects of US’s response to the attacks as they unfolded, and make recommendations on how the US should proceed, going forward.  The US Department of Homeland Security was born out of these recommendations.

India deserved its 26/11 commission with a limitless mandate to examine our response to the attacks in Mumbai. Key aspects of the events of 26/11 require independent review.

These include incident-specific issues relating to governance and leadership such as  (a) How long it took to notify key stakeholders, such as the Prime Minister, NSA, intelligence services and ministers of Home Affairs and Defense, (b) The time it took for the relevant stakeholders to coordinate and assess the situation, (c) How long it took to authorize deployment of anti-terror units to the scene, and (d) Crisis management — who was coordinating what aspect of India’s responses.

The second aspect of the commission’s review should have entailed structural and organizational changes and enhancements, including those previously discussed.  Sadly, this government does not have the gumption to constitute such a comprehensive review of its responses to the 26/11 attacks.  This isn’t an assailment of the the UPA administration, it is an indictment of India’s petty political environment.

There are critical aspects of the attack that require further analysis — aspects that India is still uncovering, including the roles of Headley and Rana — and questions that no one seems to be able to answer, such as how a bunch of semi-literate people alien to Mumbai, were able to negotiate their way through the city’s conspicuous and inconspicuous landmarks, without local assistance.

This cannot be accomplished by adhocism or through token responses, such as establishing the NIA and deploying the NSG in some cities. One would have thought that the time was ripe for such a bold response, faced as the UPA is, with an ineffectual, embattled Opposition. Sadly, barring a few cosmetic rearrangements, not much has changed in India, and no one, least of all Mumbaikars seem to care.

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