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Tag Archives | Al Qaeda

Hafiz Saeed under house arrest?

Is he is or is he ain’t?

Predictably,  in response to the Data Darbar attacks in Lahore, the government in Punjab made all the right noises about eradicating terrorism from the province.  Earlier, Interior Minister Rehman Malik traded barbs with Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif on his use of the term “Punjabi Taliban.”  The nomenclature did not sit well with the government in Punjab; the Taliban, they claimed, had no identity and references to Punjab hurt the sentiments of its residents.

Nonetheless, nominal steps were taken to curb extremism in the province.  A news report in the Jang elaborated:

The Punjab Home Department has “banned” 17 organizations; these include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed, Millat-e-Islamiya Pakistan, Islamiya Tehrik-e-Pakistan, Hizb-ul-Tehrir, Jamaat-ul-Ansar, Jamaat-ul-Furqan, Islamic Students Movement, Baluchistan Liberation Army and Jamaat ud-Dawwa.

This list does not include Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), despite statements made by Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, which indicate that the TTP and al-Qaeda have collaborated with Sipah-e-Sahiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Punjab.According to the Home Department, there are approximately 4,000 individuals with relations to these terror groups.  These individuals have been placed under surveillance, per Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and they have been banned from carrying out such activities. [جنگ]

Almost equally predictably, an editorial in the Jang’s sister publication, The News, went soft when news broke, contrary to previous reports, that the Jamaat ud-Dawwa had not been banned.  The editorial reasons:

The JuD and other organizations may not be behind direct acts of militancy. It is also a fact that they are engaged in many good works that bring solace to many everywhere. Hindu women in Sindh have recently demonstrated in their favour. [The News]

So Hindu women from Sindh demonstrating in JuD’s favor is reason enough to absolve them of the massacre of several hundreds of civilians in the name of religion and state?  Something to keep in mind the next time someone gives you the old “we’re both victims of terror” spiel.  While these events unfold, the federal and state civilian administrations are anxious to demonstrate their capacity for action against terror groups.  PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif called for a “national conference” on terrorism, which Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani has accepted.

But should it surprise anyone that Messrs. Gilani and Kayani are simply waiting for the storm to blow over?  Prior to this “national conference,” Mr. Gilani was busy ruling out military operations in South Punjab,  while Shahbaz Sharif went even further and denied the existence of the so-called “Punjabi Taliban.”

One wonders what the big purpose of this “national conference” is then.  Half the terror groups that should have been part of an offensive (including the TTP/ al-Qaeda affiliates and JuD) have already been given a clean chit and in any case, there’s not going to be any military action against the groups that did end up making it to the Punjab Home Department’s list of “banned” groups.

A month from now, everything will be forgotten and it will be business-as-usual.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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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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Pakistan’s Mojo

Counting your chickens before they hatch

Pakistan is awash with renewed optimism in being able to favorably influence political and structural rearrangements in Afghanistan.  Along with “brother countries” Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was able to both craft a proposition at the Istanbul Summit that called for negotiations and eventual reintegration of the Taliban into Afghanistan’s political foray, and also successfully lobbied to keep India out of the summit itself.  The icing on the cake for Islamabad was the broad endorsement of Pakistan’s plan at the London Conference, the following week.

Pakistan’s self-belief in its own indispensability and leverage over a resolution to the Afghanistan quagmire is mirrored in both official pronouncements from leaders of its armed forces and in its press corps.  At the NATO Commanders’ Conference, COAS Kayani enunciated his country’s need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, while raising concerns about India’s influence in Afghanistan.  Indeed, a Jang editorial one day before the London Conference called for all preparations to be made for dialog with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s army has also candidly put forth its position to the Obama Administration that India’s role in Afghanistan cannot go beyond development and infrastructural work.  Pakistan has also volunteered to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) to counter what many believe is a role best suited for the Indian Army.  In short, Pakistan apparently successfully executed a prima facie diplomatic coup-de-etat, while India played the proverbial “deer caught in the headlights” on the world stage.

Without a doubt, India’s position on the Taliban has always been untenable.  A blanket rejection of an ambiguous collection of disparate groups seemed convenient and excused our leadership from having to go through the exercise of evaluating the various equations at play in Afghanistan.  Over the course of the years, this stance by India has seen it wholeheartedly back the Karzai regime while not wanting to have anything to do with any Pashtun elements that it suspected of being engaged (at whatever level) with the ISI.  Rightly, India’s over-simplistic, “with us or against us” approach was rejected by the international community at large.

But Pakistan’s own influence in matters relating to Afghanistan has been overstated.  Indeed, going by recent pronouncements, Pakistan is counting its chickens before they are hatched and the mirage of indispensability will unravel sooner than later.  Not being able to dictate the modularities of counter-insurgency operations within its own sovereign territory, it is unlikely that it can wield the magnitude of power it believes it enjoys in relation to India in Afghanistan.

So what must India do? The London Conference has already invalidated India’s over-simplistic approach to the Taliban, so the first course of action is apparent.  India must begin to engage with those Pashtun elements who seek reintegration into the existing political foray in Afghanistan.  In actuality, there isn’t a significant divergence of opinion between the United States and India on the issue.

India’s real apprehensions are centered around the possible reintegration of  Mullah Omar’s group — the so-called Quetta Shurah.  This is entirely consistent with the US’s own position.  India’s apprehensions on al-Qaeda elements and Haqqani network are also shared by the US.  This essentially leaves a rag-tag group of warlords who are all too small anyway to individually impact power dynamics in Afghanistan. India can begin by opening up communication channels with these groups.

India must also work with other important regional powers who share similar apprehensions versus the core Taliban group.  Indeed, the alliance of yore between Iran and India, who share common concerns of the spread of wahabbism in the region, and Russia must be resurrected.  Russia has articulated its clearest position to date on its willingness to “help rebuild” Afghanistan and Iran has shared India’s concerns about the spread of radical Sunni Islam in the wider region.

Over the last nine years, India has very naively bought into the argument that the dramatically altered equation post US’s invasion of Afghanistan was permanent, and that its reliance on “soft power” alone could very safely ensure maximized gains in Afghanistan without having to actually assume an overt presence in Afghanistan.

The situation in Afghanistan today, with Western forces working towards a withdrawal deadline, and Pakistan growing increasingly assertive, demands that India adopt a more proactive role, working in concert with the US and regional powers to ensure that the power equations that eventually shape up are largely in India’s favor. The question is, what is Manmohan Sigh’s government planning to do about it?

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All I want for Christmas is Kashmir

Solving a 63 year old problem to solve an 8 year old problem is no solution

‘Tis the season of giving and Jeffrey Stern wants India and Pakistan to “give peace a chance” in Kashmir.  Jeffrey is the international engagement manager at the National Constitution Center and has apparently spent much of the last two years traveling around South Asia.

But his sojourn to South Asia has left him none the wiser on matters relating to the Kashmir issue.  Jeffrey presents the same tired, blitheringly idiotic arguments on Kashmir that many before him have presented.  There are two main themes in his article — first, he highlights what he calls “Wahhabism…sweeping through the valley..” and second, draws attention to the need to “resolve” Kashmir so that Pakistan can begin to be the “partner the US needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies..”

During his field trip to Kashmir, Jeffrey based his understanding of the conflict and of the people’s aspirations by speaking with “former militants” and separatists, most prominently Maulala Shaukat Shah of the Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees. Most in India will remember Shah as central to the uproar on the Amarnath Shrine Board last year.  By any measure, the Jamiat plays a prominent role in Kashmir, which has a support base of 1.5 million followers and is patron to 600 mosques and 150 schools.

But by focusing almost entirely on the Jamiat, Jeffrey has either intentionally excluded other actors in what is a complex and sensitive issue, or has been entirely blindsided by them. Although the situation in J&K remains fluid, developments are afoot outside the realm of the Jamiat that could fundamentally alter the dynamics of the issue.

Quietly, Manmohan Singh’s government has proceeded with back-channel talks with moderate members of the Hurriyat, with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq clearly emerging as the international face of the Hurriyat contingent for talks.

These talks come at an advantageous time  for India.  Despite an increase in ceasefire violations by Pakistan, terrorism in J&K is at a five year low.  The insurgency is not what it once was. The people of Kashmir defied separatists’ calls and militants’ threats to vote in the state elections in December 2008 (Voter turnout was 62%, with 55% in Kashmir Valley. Contrast this against the 42% voter turnout in Mumbai, in the country’s first general elections post-26/11).  India today, is able to dedicate political and economic bandwidth on the Kashmir issue.

Manmohan Singh’s government is in the process of implementing a series of confidence building measures to signal its intent at quiet diplomacy. Chief among these include amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSP) and withdrawal of some para-military forces from the state, with gradual transfer of responsibilities to state police.

But importantly, significant progress on talks with separatists and consequent reorganization of Centre-J&K relations are happening at a time when Pakistan is mired in conflict and is unable to dedicate sufficient bandwidth to stall or retard such progress.  If and when the time does come for an Indo-Pak “settlement” on the Kashmir issue, Pakistan may not find itself in a very advantageous bargaining position.

There is clearly more at work in Kashmir than Jeffrey knows about or wants you to believe.  His second issue dealt with resolving Kashmir to allow Pakistan to focus on al Qaeda. Readers of The Filter Coffee will know how poorly conceived this idea is. Kashmir is only a symptom of the myriad complexes the Pakistani state suffers from vis-a-vis India, which kinder folks attribute to the postpartum trauma of Partition.

Jeffrey writes:

Broadening [the definition of mutual US-Pak trust] will mean a holistic approach to Pakistan, acknowledging that Taliban militancy on the border with Afghanistan is not Pakistan’s most pressing concern even if it is the United States’. It will mean acknowledging Pakistan’s grievances with India.

Redefining the relationship will mean moving towards a workable resolution to Kashmir. Only then can Pakistan begin to be the partner the U.S. needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies, buttress Western efforts in Afghanistan, and to keep Kashmir itself from exploding.

In other words, Jeffrey wants Obama to solve a 63 year old problem as quickly as possible so that he can spend  the next two years trying to solve an 8 year old problem. Jeffrey’s ideas on resolving Kashmir confront the same cul-de-sac as other such prescriptions — there is no mention of just how Obama or anyone else can go about “resolving” Kashmir.

Mercifully, for every Jeffrey Stern there are the Lisa Curtises and Stephen Cohens who try to keep insanity at bay. The United States would do well not to muck around in Kashmir. Despite being impoverished and politically and economically stunted for decades after independence, India managed to stave off international pressure on entering into disadvantageous compromises on Kashmir or readjusting its borders along the LoC with Pakistan.

Today, given its economic and political leverage in the world, India acquiescing to such a compromise is even more unlikely. The United States will need to very carefully consider the negative repercussions of  any overt involvement in the dispute on the future of the Indo-US strategic partnership.

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