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Tag Archives | pakistan army

On Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden report

Nolnah’s Razor: Ascribing incompetence to that which can be adequately explained by malice.

The report of the Abbottabad Commission, which was set up to investigate the May 2011 raid by U.S. special forces that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden and his couriers, was “obtained” and published online by al-Jazeera today.  News reports tell us that the 337-page report makes “scathing reading.”

It attributes “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” in Pakistan’s apparent inability to identify that bin Laden was living in a villa located less than a mile away from the Kakul military academy for at least five years and its inability to detect the special forces contingent that traveled from Jalalabad, Afghanistan to Abbottabad to execute the mission to kill or capture bin Laden.

There are a few ways to look at the content and timing of the “leaked” report.  First, the report may be scathing in its criticism of government incompetence, but it barely entertains the possibility that official connivance played a role in bin Laden’s ability to evade U.S. pursuit for ten years.  Official denials don’t really mean much under the circumstances.  For years, Pakistani leaders claimed that bin Laden wasn’t in their country.  Gen. Musharraf claimed bin Laden was dead in 2002.

Pakistan has also, for years, denied that Mullah Omar was living in Pakistan.  Yet, multiple reports suggest that he is living in Quetta and under the protection of the ISI.  The truth will most likely be revealed once the U.S. and its allies leave Afghanistan in 2014, following which Mullah Omar will emerge triumphantly from parts unknown.

Of course, most people in India are accustomed to hearing how persons of interest to them — Dawood Ibrahim, for example — are most certainly not living in Pakistan.  For those of us on this side of the barbed-wire fence, the incompetence defense stretches credulity.

There are other interesting parts to the report.  On page 337, it concludes (emphasis added):

But finally, no honest assessment of the situation can escape the conclusion that those individuals who wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making bear the primary responsibility for creating the national circumstances and environment in which the May 2, 2011 incident occurred.  It is unnecessary to specifically name them because it is obvious who they are.  It may be politically unrealistic to suggest “punishments” from them.  But as honourable men, they ought to do honourable thing, including submitting a formal apology to the nation for their dereliction of duty.  It will be for the people of Pakistan in the forthcoming elections to pass collective political judgement on them. [al-Jazeera]

The last sentence of the concluding paragraph of the report is curious.  It apportions blame to those who “wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making,” but concludes by saying that it was for the people of Pakistan to pass a collective judgement on them in the elections.  Great, but Pakistanis don’t get to vote for their COAS or DG-ISI.  But they do cast votes on their civilian leadership.  From where this blogger is standing, the blame being apportioned here almost certainly targets Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP, rather than the Pakistani military establishment.

The other items for consideration pertaining to the release of the report are the timing and source of the alleged leak.  The leak occurs at a time when the U.S. is trying to negotiate an honorable exit from Afghanistan with the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Qatar. That the report was leaked by al-Jazeera, a news agency fully owned by the al-Thani family, which, as it happens, also rules Qatar may not be a coincidence.

This “leak” could effectively mean two things.  If the U.S. is sufficiently encouraged by the momentum and direction of the talks, it may be well-disposed towards bailing out the Pakistani military establishment from the embarrassment it has had to endure since 2011.  The discrete leak of a document via a news agency owned by a U.S. ally, which blames incompetence rather than connivance (the lesser of  two evils) while also criticizing a now mostly-irrelevant and ousted political party works well under such circumstances.

If, on the other hand, things aren’t going so well in Doha, the release of a classified report may have been viewed as necessary by some to coax Pakistan into action.  It will, of course, embarrass and anger the Pakistani military establishment.  More importantly, it will also most certainly complicate relations between Pakistan and Qatar.

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‘Tis the season for hacking

Cyber-security asymmetries 101: Hacking is easier than defending.

Indian and Pakistani hackers are out defacing websites of each others’ countries.  On the second anniversary of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, an Indian group calling itself the “Indian Cyber Army” (ICA) carried out an attack on 36 Pakistani websites, including the websites of the Pakistani Navy, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In response, a group called Pakistan Cyber Army (PCA) launched an attack on about 200 Indian websites, including the CBI (littering it with trash-talk that should, quite frankly, embarrass the hackers more than the compromise should, the CBI).  The very next day, Indian groups retaliated by hacking Pakistan’s Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and a Pakistani Army recruitment website.

A review of the list of 200 websites hacked by the PCA reveals that a majority of sites were private small-business websites.  Embarrassing perhaps, but of low strategic value.  The goal of any large-scale defacement is to hurt the reputation of the victim.  If PCA’s victim was the Indian state, then its targets were poorly chosen.

Yes, websites owned by Indians were hit, but they are hardly representative of the Indian state in the same way that the government or the military is. This could indicate that the attack itself was poorly planned and motivated more by a desire to show that Pakistani hackers could retaliate quickly, by hitting out at low-hanging fruit, than an orchestrated attempt to deliver the same quality of response as ICA did on 26/11.  By all measures, compromising the website of Khanna Constructions isn’t remotely of the same strategic value as defacing the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

But the world of cyber-security is faced with certain asymmetries.  Hacking is easier than defending.  For any government to be able to defend its “universe” of websites requires it to have three things — an appreciation for the challenge it faces, determination to address the challenge, and good counsel on how to address the challenge. If the first two are absent, the third is almost irrelevant.

It is no secret that the first two are almost entirely missing in India. In an apparent response to the hacking of the CBI website, we were given this bit of information from DRDO, via PTI:

Close on the heels of hacking of the CBI website, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Sunday said it was developing a mechanism to make websites hacking-proof. “It is always better to use indigenously developed systems than using others’ designs,” he said. The DRDO chief expressed optimism that its engineers could certainly develop hacking proof devices. [NDTV] (Credit: Parth Bakshi)

That’s just brilliant. Not only do they not know what they are talking about, they also don’t know what hit them nor how to defend against it.

And pray, what is a “hacking-proof” website?

Based on the attack on the CBI website, we know that a vulnerability management program isn’t in place right now.  The CBI attack was a standard SQL-injection exploit.  Out-of-the-box solutions (some, even free) exist today that assess whether websites are susceptible to SQL-injection and other attacks.  Even a basic vulnerability management program would have detected and alerted those responsible for security about the existing vulnerability.

That dovetails nicely into my closing question: who owns the security of India’s websites and supporting infrastructure, across the Centre and State? The answer is no one. And everyone. The blind lead the blind. With that being the case, there really is no reason not to believe that Indian websites will continue to get hit over the coming days and months, just as they have over the past many years.  Cyber-security is uphill battle to begin with. With the current levels of apathy and ignorance to such issues prevalent in our government, we should be prepared for nothing less.

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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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Giving Kabul a leg up: My article in Pragati

In the January 2010 edition of  Pragati, I argue that it is in India’s national interest to invest in training the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).  There are two aspects to this proposition — the first is protective, i.e., denying the Pakistani army and ISI strategic depth in a vassal state to further their ambitions against India.  The second is aspirational — loosening India’s self imposed shackles and allowing it to project its power beyond its own shores, as it must as a regional power.

India must offer to train ANA military personnel through programmes in both Afghanistan and India. India has several COIN schools such as the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) and specialised training centres like the High-Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Jammu and Kashmir.

The CIJWS already draws international participation of military
personnel from the United States, United Kingdom and other Central Asian states. Further assistance can be provided by augmenting logistics and communications infrastructure to aid the ANA and providing essential
military supplies to the country.

India can also assist in augmenting ANA’s air defence capabilities. Training can be provided to ANA Air Corps’ pilots; specific requests for training on Mi-35 helicopters (the air corps operates a handful) have previously been made. Indeed, further opportunities for Indian assistance exist even in the medium to long run, as the ANA Air Corps seeks to induct light multi-role attack/air superiority jets by 2015.

Read more about it on Pragati ( PDF; 1.7 MB)

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