New Age Islam Edit Bureau
January 8th, 2016
Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Conundrum
The fear of a rising Iran
By Uzair M Younus
On Trump, Islamophobia and hate speech
By Dr Madiha Afzal
Pakistan’s anti-terror conundrum
January 8th, 2016
Peace in FATA will be a significant step to bring peace and prosperity in Pakistan. To do so, a multipronged strategy should replace the culture of introducing ad-hoc relief strategies and the leadership’s focus should be futuristic
While terrorism is a global phenomenon, Pakistan happens to be the first line of defence and has made a large contribution in the ongoing War on Terror (WOT). Indeed, it is hard to escape the conclusion that terrorism is the biggest hurdle in the progress of Pakistan. Over the last 15 years, a number of operations and peace deals were undertaken in an attempt to curb the menace of terrorism from Pakistan — especially from FATA, which has become the hub of terrorists.
However these efforts largely failed because Pakistan was lacking a major counter-terror strategy which includes both short and long term reforms. In fact, it took more than a decade to formulate a cohesive counter-terror policy on a federal level. Between 2013 and 2015, some steps were taken in this regards by the government, which include setting up the National Internal Security Policy (NISP), National Action Plan (NAP) and National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA).
Previously, counterterrorism policies formulated by the government failed because they lacked national consensus. However, with operation Zarb-e-Azb we see for the first time that all national and international stakeholders have come together and this consensus has lead to its success. It is clear that since the start of the operation, the number of terrorist attacks in the country has dropped significantly.
By contrast, NAP, which was seemingly approved by all political parties, is yet to be properly implemented. NAP requires Pakistan to use both soft and hard power to eradicate terrorism, however due to the following four reasons it has not become successful. First of all, there is no effort being made to get to the root causes of terrorism. Military operations and peace deals are fine but it is equally important to address the issues of development, poverty, religious and legal reforms. Secondly, Pakistan has still not given up on its “strategic interests” in the region which leads to the concept of “Good” Taliban versus “Bad” Taliban.
Another major hurdle in the progress of counterterrorism policies is the long lasting civil-military rift. Both civilian and military leaderships have different mindsets and contradictory perspectives through which they see the counter terrorism strategy for Pakistan and thus both actors want that their perspective to be followed. On the one hand, the military feels that antiterrorist strategy should be formulated in such a way that it may address terrorism as a national security issue, which includes breaking both the internal and external links of terrorists. On the other hand, the civilian government places antiterrorism in the context of law and order. Whenever the military, by examining terrorism through its own perception, tried to launch an operation against the terrorists the civilian leadership instead tried to use its own strategy to cope with this evil (for example, the Nawaz-Taliban peace talks right in the beginning of his tenure).
The final problem has been the failure to collectively take ownership of the WOT. Since 9/11 a number of governments tried to develop a national consensus in public on the ownership of WOT. But we see in Pakistan, a number of political parties including JI, JUI-F and PTI are of the view that this is not our war but that of the US. A negative narrative was developed that claimed that the Pakistani Army was fighting on the behest of US thus making the WOT a war against Islam. For example the Amir of JI, Munawar Hassan, negated the martyrdom of Army personnel who were fighting in FATA. Due to this perception of the politicians, the public’s sympathy was with the Taliban and the terrorists got time to strengthen themselves to the extent that they have started challenging the writ of state.
Even after the passage of more than six decades, FATA remains isolated from the mainstream national politics. As a result of this isolation, people in FATA are far behind the rest of the country. Therefore FATA is still underdeveloped and this distance has made it a safe haven for international terrorist organisations and local militant groups to carry out their highly undesirable activities that have a serious impact on the security and stability of Pakistan, both at internal and external fronts.
Socio-economic damage which FATA has faced will take a long time to be compensated. None the less, the so called ideologies of terrorists don’t represent even the minority of population in FATA. Terrorists and militants have used the local culture of FATA for their own benefit which not only damaged the image of the FATA but also created a sense of aggravation in the Pashtun society via religious organisations.
The people of this region need special attention of the state, as peace and development is also their right. They also deserve to live a respectable and secure life; they need schools, colleges, health facilities and economic opportunities to become the responsible citizens of the state. Only practical implementation of an effective strategy can ensure the achievement of these goals and also act as a bulwark against the rising tides of extremism and militancy. Geographical location of tribal areas should not become a problem for local population rather it should be used as an opportunity for prosperity of this region.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb and military’s efforts will hopefully curb militancy from FATA as it was the main epicentre of terrorists. But the real issue is that, the terrain, environment and culture of the area will remain the same even after the operation, so there are chances that the terrorists may again get opportunity to return in the region. To counter that threat we have to look into the root causes of terrorism and address them, only then we can get rid of this menace. The perpetual efforts at rehabilitation, reconstruction and rebuilding are not only required at material level but it is equally important to take these steps at social constructivist level of analysis. This is responsibility of the state or the government
The success of any policy depends upon ‘compliance,’ which is dependent upon the ability of indigenous institutions to effectively introduce policy change. The complexity of directives however may lead to misinterpretations and contribute to delayed compliance. Then there are administrative shortcomings that hinder full compliance, especially in the areas like FATA where administration is hard-stretched due to lack of resources.
Peace in FATA will be a significant step to bring peace and prosperity in Pakistan. To do so, a multipronged strategy should replace the culture of introducing ad-hoc relief strategies and the leadership’s focus should be futuristic. The military operations can only be an emergency strategy, rather than a permanent socio-political solution. Once FATA is cleared from terrorists there is a need to formulate long and short term policies for its permanent stability.
Nazia Parveen is a freelance columnist
The fear of a rising Iran
By Uzair M Younus
January 8th, 2016
The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia and subsequent events, including the burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, have put to rest any doubts about the escalating conflict embroiling the Middle East. Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Iran, Bahrain followed suit, and the UAE has announced a “downgrading” of relations with Iran. The US, Russia, and China, recognising that this escalation could quickly come to blows, have called for restraint. With both sides already engaged in proxy wars in the region, the stakes could not be higher.
In his epic history of the Peloponnesian wars, Thucydides wrote that what drove Athens and Sparta to a prolonged conflict was “the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable”. In the Middle East today, the rise of Iran, after years of crippling sanctions, is causing a tremendous amount of concern and fear in Saudi Arabia.
We can look upon the war in Iraq as a turning point in the balance of power in the region: Saddam Hussein, that thorn in the side of the US, was an even greater problem for the Iranian regime. With his demise, a government close to Tehran has ruled over Baghdad. Within just a few months, the Saudi Arabia had a pro-Iranian government on its northern border.
The Arab Spring ushered in further chaos, engulfing Egypt on the eastern, Bahrain on the western, and Yemen on the southern periphery of Saudi Arabia. The only outlet to sea was the UAE in the Persian Gulf and Oman in the Gulf of Oman, where Iranian naval forces have the ability to choke off traffic. If you were sitting in Riyadh in 2011-12, your neighbourhood was in turmoil, and your enemy, already in Baghdad, was making moves in Cairo, Manama and Sana’a. To ensure that Saudi Arabia wasn’t encircled, something had to be done.
Saudi planners were able to hit back as the Assad regime in Syria, a long-term ally of Iran, lost ground in the Arab Spring. A strategic partnership with Bahrain successfully helped crack down on protests in that country. In Egypt, the Morsi government collapsed, allowing Saudi Arabia to pump billions of dollars to cement its ties with the dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Over time, the conflicts in Syria and Yemen became a quagmire for both powers. The Saudis have failed to defeat the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, despite months of bombings. In Syria, Iran stumbled to the aid of the Assad regime. Despite an influx of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah militants and ultimately Russian reinforcements, the Syrian war rages on.
By early 2015, the geopolitical situation from both sides’ perspective was a draw, the Saudis were looking in decent shape and their counter-measures had thwarted Iranian efforts to encircle Saudi Arabia. Tehran had also gained ground, achieving a lot during a period of diplomatic and economic isolation. For this, its strategists deserve respect.
And then came the nuclear deal. The signing of the deal in July 2015 upended the delicate balance of power in the region. It set off alarm bells in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, and rightfully so. If Iran could achieve so much in the region while being isolated, it could achieve a lot more as it normalised its relations with the world and got its economy back on track. A new approach was needed to counter Iran. As if the Iran nuclear deal was not enough, collapsing oil prices, coupled with an expensive war in Yemen, saw Saudi Arabia run a budget deficit of over 15 per cent of GDP. With oil prices at below $40 a barrel ($100 is needed to balance Saudi budgets), and no sign of recovery, the government has been forced to cut back on subsidies and raise the price of petrol by 50 per cent. The IMF recently estimated that if current trends continue, the monarchy will run out of cash in five years’ time.
For Iran, oil at $72 per barrel balances its budget, and the country can survive an era of cheap oil for almost a decade, according to the IMF. The nuclear deal also opens up new avenues for trade and investment, and over $100 billion of Iranian assets will be unfrozen in the coming months. All of this only supercharges a regime that has learnt to grind it out during tough times.
Iran rising. The Saudis fearing. Thucydides, centuries later, proving his point.
What is most dangerous about this escalation is that the status quo has been stretched to the limit. The Russians have already made their move, angering Turkey in the process. Ankara had already been infuriated by the rising power of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish militias, leading Erdogan to abandon the peace process with the PKK and initiate a military campaign against the group in Turkey.
The US and the European Union, alarmed by the refugee crisis and the rise of the Islamic State, do not see the Assad regime as the immediate enemy, at least for the time being. This situation could lead to an Iranian victory of sorts in Syria, while the conflict in Yemen drags on. In 2016, Iran could emerge as the stronger of the two regional powers.
All of this brings us to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, which has angered Iran and has drawn it into a direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia. Saudis are still economically and militarily more powerful, at least on paper. Iran is surely going to come closer to achieving economic and military parity with Saudi Arabia in the near future — might as well draw it into a conflict before that happens.
Not only does Riyadh have the military advantage, but it could, using its extensive PR network, paint Iran as the provocateur and try to isolate Tehran diplomatically. For obvious reasons, Saudi Arabia will also have Tel Aviv and Ankara on its side — both sides would want Assad out and Iran weakened for their own national security interests.
The Iranians seem to have recognised this ploy, and President Rouhani unequivocally condemned the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Iran is not taking the bait, at least for now. How long this lasts for remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure — the theme of 2016, at least in the Middle East, will be the fear of a rising Iran.
Uzair M Younus is a graduate of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He tweets @uzairyounus
On Trump, Islamophobia and hate speech
By Dr Madiha Afzal
January 8th, 2016
The writer is an assistant professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal
Since the November 13 attacks in Paris, hate crimes against Muslims have gone up threefold in the US, relative to the monthly average of 12.6 in previous years. It is no coincidence that at the same time, the Republican party’s leading candidate is stoking xenophobia and Islamophobia at unprecedented levels. There’s a political and a public reaction, and both are in some degree responses to attacks by terrorists in the name of jihad. But they also feed off each other: politicians give in to the basest fears of the most extreme sections of their base, and hate-filled political speech drives the public’s hatred. We know from recent history that hate speech can have devastating consequences. In Rwanda in 1994, hate speech on the radio drove regular people to engage in violence against Tutsis and moderate Hutus, in a genocide in which between half a million to a million people were killed.
Closer to home, there is no shortage of examples. Last year in Kot Radha Kishan, a local mullah declared that Shama and Sajjad had committed blasphemy. This was transmitted through the town via the mosque loudspeaker; it incited a mob to beat the couple and then push them into a brick kiln. In Afghanistan this year, all it took was the caretaker of a shrine to announce that Farkhunda Malikzada had burnt the Holy Quran — she hadn’t — before a mob beat her to death.
In all these cases, the state bears responsibility at varying levels. In Rwanda, the genocide and the propaganda that contributed to it were both backed by the state. We all know the problems that some of Pakistan’s regressive laws have along with a lack of prosecution of violent vigilante mobs.
Obviously that’s not where America is. But it is a step closer, thanks to the Republican campaign mainstreaming Islamophobia, and Donald Trump’s outrageous policy prescriptions like limiting entry of an entire religion to the country. That the Republican party is so afraid of losing Trump’s potential voters that it does not unequivocally shut him down is shocking — Speaker Paul Ryan denounced him only to say that he would vote for Trump over any Democratic candidate. For the love of America, he should vote for any Democratic candidate over Trump.
The Obama Administration has made laudable efforts to counter this tide of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim sentiment over the last few weeks by convening Muslim Americans at the White House for discussions, and with President Obama giving a speech at a naturalisation ceremony of new American citizens, originally from the Middle East. Individuals have also spoken out against intolerance and engaged in random acts of kindness with Muslims. But the state needs to prosecute hate crimes against Muslims at the fastest possible speed and with great urgency; that will serve as the most important disincentive against such crimes.
Three other trends worry me. First, we see US politicians giving in to the basest instincts of human beings. In other contexts, this does not end well. In Pakistan, for example, the institutionalised legal discrimination against Ahmadis has led to violence against them and has had a disastrous impact on the country.
Second, two weeks ago in Virginia, an entire school district was shut down in response to children writing the Shahada as part of their geography class exercises. Exposure to other religions and cultures should, in regular times, increase tolerance. In this instance, it resulted in disproportionate outrage laced with hatred. A mother from that school district wrote about the classwork: “This evil has been cloaked in the form of multiculturalism.” Calling the other “evil”, maligning an entire religion and an entire minority has never ended well.
Third, the media — especially American cable news — have played a part in how things are unfolding. The media engages in selectivity in reporting, problematic rhetoric and sloppy use of terms like Islamic terror. It covers the Islamic State incessantly, when it is a non-existential threat to the US. It even treats American and non-American terrorists differently. Consider Rizwan Farook, the male San Bernardino shooter, who was born, bred and educated in the US; or the Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Dear. Both terrorists’ backgrounds and motivations have received less attention than Tashfeen Malik’s. It is time for the Republicans to end this streak and let America return to its true values.