Tag Archives | Iran

Bloodbath in Egypt

The House of Saud picks a side.

There is chaos in Egypt.  The Muslim Brotherhood and their leader Mohammed Morsi were ousted from power by the Egyptian military in a soft coup last month.  The Brotherhood hasn’t taken kindly to being deposed from power.  This week has seen violence of an unprecedented scale in recent history in Egypt.  Over 750 civilians have been killed since Wednesday.  Without the active intervention of the U.S. and regional powers, that number will rapidly increase and the possibility that Egypt will descend into a long, protracted civil war isn’t far-fetched.

What we’re seeing is a battle between the Old Guard and resurgent Islamist groups in Egypt.  The military-security apparatus’s decades-long dominance is being challenged and neither the Islamists nor the Old Guard are ready to back down.  The victims of the ensuing confrontation are, unfortunately, the ordinary Egyptians.

In the midst of turmoil, Saudi Arabia appears to have picked a horse:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has called on Arabs to stand together against “attempts to destabilise” Egypt.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people and government stood and stands by today with its brothers in Egypt against terrorism,” he said in a statement read on state TV on Friday, backing Egypt’s military leadership.

“I call on the honest men of Egypt and the Arab and Muslim nations … to stand as one man and with one heart in the face of attempts to destabilise a country that is at the forefront of Arab and Muslim history,” he added.

Saudi Arabia “has stood and stands with its Egyptian brothers against terrorism, deviance and sedition, and against those who try to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs… and its legitimate rights in deterring those tampering with and misleading” its people, he said. [al-Jazeera]

The House of Saud’s endorsement of the Egyptian military may appear odd given Saudi Arabia and the Brotherhood’s commitment to conservative strains of Islam.  However, it is important to distinguish between Wahhabism as a religious and philosophical movement that the Saudis promote (for example in Afghanistan or Pakistan) and the political movements that draw inspiration from Wahhabism.

The Saudis are happy to promote Wahhabism, but have always been very cautious about political Wahhabism.  It should not surprise us then that they are very uneasy with the Brotherhood because they see the movement as a threat to monarchy in the Gulf.  Other Gulf monarchies also endorse the distinction.  The UAE, for example, arrested 30 Egyptians and Emiratis in June on suspicion of ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This also explains why Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have ensured that the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t gained the kind of foothold in the Gulf that it has in Egypt and the Islamic maghreb.  The absence of the Brotherhood’s mass participation in the politics of the Gulf is not by accident, it is by design.  None of the Gulf monarchies are eager to see the Brotherhood operate in their neighborhood.

Further, where Egypt is concerned, the Saudis have always been among the military-security establishment’s most important supporters.  Gen. Nasser and Mubarak drew strength from Saudi Arabia’s backing.  In fact, it should be surprising that Saudi Arabia’s endorsement of the military-security establishment wasn’t made apparent sooner.

In India’s neighborhood, similar parallels can be drawn with regard to Pakistan, though for different reasons.  The Saudis are likely to always back the Pakistani army over political parties such as the JUI (that draw inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood).  This is unlikely to change as long as the Saudis see nuclear Pakistan as a bulwark against Iran.  Of course, the Saudis will continue to support the proselytizing of puritanical Wahhabism by religious jamaats in Pakistan, but not to the extent that they begin to pose a challenge to the Pakistani army’s primacy in dictating policy in that country.

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India and the Golan Heights

India’s peacekeepers are at risk as the security situation deteriorates amidst UNSC’s squabbling.

Things aren’t looking all that great in Syria.  The UN now estimates that 93,000 people have been killed in the two year-old civil war.  The Alawites and their allies, propped up by Iran and Russia, and the various Sunni Islamist factions are butchering themselves to oblivion.

But the prolonged bickering in the UN Security Council and the Council’s inability to pass a resolution to bring this war to an end and prepare for an inevitable post-Assad Syria is extending the political and humanitarian crisis in that country.  The U.S. drew “red lines” for intervening if the al-Assad regime used chemical or biological weapons against its people.  But when it turned out that Bashar al-Assad had ordered the use of sarin on rebel forces, the U.S.’s response was muted: it held joint military exercises with its ally in Jordan along the Syrian border.

Russia, other the other hand, has consistently threatened to veto resolutions at the UNSC to enforce a no-fly zone.  So the UN has been ineffectual and bodies like the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference have done little more during this period than underscore the irrelevance of their existence.

Meanwhile, the  risk of the war spilling over into the Golan Heights along Syria’s border with Israel has increased.  The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has historically been supported by contingents from the Philippines, India and Austria charged with maintaining the peace in the buffer zone, has come under attack from Syrian rebel forces. Peacekeepers from the Philippines were detained (and subsequently released) by Syrian rebels in March 2013.  But the very structural composition of the UNDOF, as envisioned in the 1973 UN Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces is problematic under the circumstances (emphasis added):

The function of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) under the agreement will be to use its best efforts to maintain the Ceasefiie and to see that it is scrupulously observed. It will supervise the agreement and protocol thereto with regard to the areas of separation and limitation. In carrying out its mission, it will comply with generally applicable Syrian laws and regulations and will not hamper the functioning of local civil administration. It trill enjoy freedom of movement and communication and other facilities that are necessary for its mission. It will be mobile and provided with personal weapons of a defensive character and shall use such weapons only in self-defence. The number of the UNDOF shall be about 1,250, who will be selected by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in consultation with the parties from members of the United Nations who are not permanent members of the Security Council. [United Nations]

Effectively, this means that non-UNSC members are entrusted with maintaining the peace in a volatile region while having no influence in bringing about conditions for peace.  The Austrians have already withdrawn their contingent from Golan.  The Indian contingent is the second-largest in the Golan Heights (after the Philippines), with about 200 peacekeepers. The Philippines has already warned that it may pull out its peacekeepers as well.

With the security situation deteriorating and no end to the UNSC’s internal squabbles, it is time we considered a full pullout or at the very least, a substantial reduction in our footprint.  This will not, in and of itself, hasten the UNSC to act decisively in Syria, but there is no need for India to put its troops in harm’s way while the situation deteriorates in the region.

 

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Guestpost: Stuxnet and India

[This is a guest blogpost by Srikanth R., Senior Research Associate at the Takshashila Institution. In this blogpost, Srikanth provides context to the Stuxnet Trojan and highlights preventive measures India can take to minimize collateral damage.]

News on the impact of what has come to be known as the Stuxnet Trojan on Iran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz and Bushehr has generated a considerable amount of media and academic interest on its origins.  In a briefing to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sean McGurk, director of Homeland Security’s national cybersecurity operations center, described Stuxnet as a “game changer.”

According to the Siemens product support site, Stuxnet affects Microsoft Windows PCs with WinCC and PCS 7.  The malware spreads via mobile data carriers, for example USB sticks, and networks. The Trojan is activated solely by viewing the contents of the USB stick.  The website also suggests that Stuxnet was not developed by a hacker but “with the product of a team of experts who must have IT expertise as well as specific know-how about industrial controls, their deployment in industrial production processes and corresponding engineering knowledge” and “This means that the malware is able, under certain boundary conditions, to influence the processing of operations in the control system.”

There is a procedure to clean a system infected with Stuxnet, but the Trojan can be activated by plugging in a USB device that has been infected, and cleaning a network of infected machines cannot be done without disrupting all activity and shutting down the entire network. As explained in the support website:

It deliberately searches for a certain technical constellation with certain modules and certain program patterns which apply to a specific production process. Stuxnet is obviously targeting a specific process or a plant and not a particular brand or process technology and not the majority of industrial applications. [Siemens]

Indeed, Iran’s centrifuge program had to go through a shutdown and restart process to cleanup its infected system, delaying its schedule. The implications of the Trojan for the India’s own nuclear program have thus far been unreported.  Since the Trojan’s target is system-specific (WinCC and PCS7), the impact is likely minimal unless India employs the same software to program its spinning machines.  However, it is still conceivable that similar SCADA systems are used in Indian industry for a variety of other purposes and could potentially be vulnerable to Stuxnet-like attacks in the future.

Given the inherent vulnerability of WinCC-based processes to such attacks, it is prudent to take precautions and design processes to ensure that no unverified software can be loaded onto the system, either over the Internet or via USB memory sticks.  Industries that are currently vulnerable to such attacks must consider moving to non-WinCC systems in the long run.

What Stuxnet tells us is that a malignant organization or country can put together a team of experts to create Stuxnet-like Trojans to target SCADA systems in India or elsewhere.   While cybersecurity policy makers assess the long term implications of Stuxnet-like Trojans, short term precautionary measures are necessary to prevent further collateral damage.  Sites operating such systems should segment their different SCADA systems in different isolated subnets to ensure that infection of one system does not spread to others. Furthermore, it may be useful to institute security protocols to prevent the ingestion of USB devices into any machine in the network. USB devices of unknown origin must be forbidden from being used.

It is also advisable to move towards more secure Unix-based platforms for Industrial Control systems, where the security architecture is more robust than those in Windows-based SCADA systems. Windows-based systems are affected by about 2 million known malware, with Linux a distant second with 1,178 vulnerabilities.

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Responding to Michael Scheuer

Let us not rationalize irrationality.

The Diplomat carried an article by Michael Scheuer entitled “Coming Nuclear Flashpoint” on the India-Pakistan equation as it relates to Afghanistan.  Mr. Scheuer is a foreign policy critic and former CIA Station Chief of Bin Laden Issue Station (aka Alec Station).  He is noted to have strong views on U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and on the “Israeli lobby” in D.C.

The gist of Mr. Scheuer’s article is essentially this — that India has unwisely chosen to involve itself in Afghanistan.  This has caused uneasiness in Pakistan, which may in turn result in a nuclear confrontation between the two neighbors.  Mr. Scheuer attempts to substantiate his “bells of doom” theory for India by making several arguments that have no sound basis.

The first has to do with the concept of Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  This term is a particular favorite of folks in Rawalpindi and employed to sell gullible visiting U.S. and NATO generals on why Pakistan’s influence must be unchallenged in Afghanistan.  Let’s be clear about what this “strategic depth” really is.  It isn’t meant to be, as some might imagine, a last refuge for a retreating Pakistani army in the face of an invading Indian army.

The term “strategic depth” is a euphemism for territory that Pakistan wants to use to attack India and Indian interests. This has precedence:  while many in the West might have forgotten, the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999, executed by Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, is still fresh in the minds of many in India.  The idea therefore, that India ought to somehow be sympathetic towards such nefarious designs is ridiculous.

Second, Mr. Scheuer attacks India’s investments in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, suggesting that there is more than meets the eye as far as India’s intentions go.  Specifically, he draws attention to India’s work on the Zaranj-Delaram project, which he feels can be used by Afghanistan to trade with Central Asia by bypassing Pakistan; Mr. Scheuer feels that this was deliberately designed to hurt the Pakistani economy.  Here, it would not be imprudent to ask, “what Pakistani economy?”

At the very least, this argument presupposes that India gains from an economically battered Pakistan — if this were the case, India’s contribution to such a situation would matter little;  successive Pakistani governments have themselves been single-minded in their pursuit to loot their country and destroy its economy.

Third, on Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer suggests that the mujahideen have not forgotten India’s support for Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the repercussions for this support will be apparent once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  Certainly, the mujahideen have been anti-India (supported as they are by Pakistan’s ISI) but it is wrong to think that they are representative of the people of Afghanistan.

A 2009 poll ( PDF) conducted by BBC/ABC/ARD indicates that 71 percent of the Afghans polled had a favorable opinion of  India — the highest for any foreign nation — as against unfavorable opinions of Pakistan (81 percent), the Taliban (89 percent) and Osama bin Laden (91 percent).  The same poll also showed that 56 percent of Afghans in 2009 indicated that they had access to improved road infrastructure, while 50 percent believed they had access to better medical care — two areas of significant Indian contribution.

Next, an area where I agree (if only in part) with Mr. Scheuer is on India’s exclusive reliance on soft power in Afghanistan.  Many of us at INI and other platforms have argued that over reliance on  soft power will be detrimental to India’s interests in Afghanistan.  Over at Pragati, many have made the case for India to match its soft power in Afghanistan with hard power, viz. deploying troops. Some of us have even argued that the very least India ought to do is commit to train the Afghan National Army at a time when Western forces are seeking to wind down their own commitments.

The difference between our arguments and Mr. Scheuer’s is that while we argue that soft power alone cannot be the basis of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer argues that no Indian influence — whether soft or hard — is acceptable in Afghanistan.  Given the obvious implications of a security vacuum in Afghanistan to India’s internal security, such a position is not only untenable but unacceptable.

Mr. Scheuer is right that Indian interests in Afghanistan will be increasingly targeted once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  However, the  solution to this is not for India to flee from the scene, with tail firmly between its legs.  India must counter Pakistani influence by working with like-minded countries, such as Russia and Iran and yes, even the U.S. to deny ground to the Wahhabi brigade that turned Afghanistan into a festering swamp of extremism in the ’90s.

Finally, perhaps the biggest mistake Mr. Scheuer commits in his article is trying to rationalize the Pakistani establishment’s deliberate irrationality.  While on the one hand articulating Pakistan’s hysteria with great clarity, he almost inexplicably accepts this institutional irrationality as valid, and appears irritated that India does not.

Let us be clear — India’s actions in Afghanistan have as much to do with its desire to help rebuild a war-ravaged nation as they do with mitigating national security risks.  India need not apologize — to anyone — nor back down from doing everything it can to protect its people and its interests.  Now Pakistan’s interests may be incompatible with this, but that’s unsurprising, given that the Pakistan military-jihadi complex’s position is antithetical to the existence of India.  Giving credence to such irrational positions is an exercise in appeasement that will come back to haunt the rest of the world and India.

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