New Age Islam Edit Bureau
December 2nd, 2015
• Pakistan’s perspective in countering extremism
By Khurram Minhas
• A ceasefire in the war on drugs?
By Jonathan Power
• Paris carnage and terrorism
By S P Seth
• The Middle East at a crossroads
By Humayun Shafi
• Police, devolution and terrorism
By Imtiaz Gul
Pakistan’s perspective in countering extremism
By Khurram Minhas
December 2nd, 2015
According to the Oxford dictionary, the word extremism means political, religious and social ideas or actions that are extreme and not normal, reasonable or acceptable to most people. Though there is no consensus over the definition of extremism among scholars but there is agreement over the reasons that lead to extremism. These include ideological and cultural inclinations, distortions and/or inhibitions, the perception of political deprivation, lack of even playing ground for socio-economic development and external intervention. In the regional context, common factors leading to extremist inclinations may be poverty and exploitation, natural calamities, inter-state tensions and non-resolution of core disputes, hegemonic policies of external state actors leading to intervention, and threat to the sovereignty of smaller nation states.
Scholars have also put extremism into two categories: non-violent extremism and violent extremism. There are several reasons given for adopting violent methods by a community. Among them are to create high profile impact on the public with the goal of undermining public confidence in their own government, to make routine social activities difficult, to inflict as much damage as possible, to seek vengeance, to create physical pain and to inject negative psychological emotions such as panic, chaos, unrest, fear, paranoia, anxiety, anger, grief and a sense of tragedy in society.
Pakistan is extremely concerned about the rising extremism in the world generally and on its own soil in particular. It considers extremism an international phenomenon that requires international cooperation. Pakistan has always condemned terrorism and extremism in all its forms and manifestations. After 9/11, Pakistan aligned itself with the international community in general and the US in particular to fight against terrorism and extremism. Pakistan arrested and handed over to the US over 700 suspected al Qaeda members. Pakistan has played an effective role in countering and combatting extremism and terrorism at the national, regional and global levels. It has voted in the affirmative for all UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions to combat terrorism and is in compliance with all such resolutions and other instruments on this subject.
Pakistan has divided its counter-extremism strategy into two parts to fight the menace of extremism and militancy. First of all, it has launched numerous military operations in militant infected areas including Operation Rah-e-Rast, Operation Rah-e-Nijaat, Operation Khyber-I, Operation Khyber-II and the most recent Operation Zarb-e-Azb; all this to try and prevent terrorist threats from reaching urban centres. Meanwhile, the government had tried to approach some Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions for negotiations. The negotiations’ process lasted for four months but failed because of the inflexible attitude of the militants and their continued acts of terrorism. In fact, this dialogue was used by the militants as a tool to gain time to regroup. Many local level agreements and commitments were broken by the militants as and when they felt strong enough to do so. Therefore, military operations remained the last resort against those militant outfits. Secondly, the government has tried to undertake development activities in the troubled northwest of the country, hoping to prevent the people there from militant influence by addressing their economic grievances.
Pakistan firmly believes that conditions such as prolonged unresolved conflicts including the Kashmir dispute, discrimination at the regional and international level, political exclusion and socioeconomic marginalisation based on ethnicity, nationality, gender and religion or belief need international commitment and special measures by the international community to be addressed. Furthermore, Pakistan believes that acts, methods and practices of violent extremism in all their forms and manifestations are activities aimed at the destruction of human rights, fundamental freedoms, threatening territorial integrity, security of states and destabilising legitimately constituted governments. The international community should take the necessary steps to enhance cooperation to prevent and combat violent extremism.
Pakistan is also focusing on strong engagement with members of local communities to counter the violent extremist narratives that can incite acts of terrorism and is addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of violent extremism, including empowering the youth, women, religious, cultural and educational leaders, and members of all other concerned local communities to counter recruitment to this kind of violent extremism and promote social inclusion and cohesion. Pakistan also believes that extremism should not be associated with any religion, nationality or civilisation.
Pakistan has achieved great success in countering violent extremism. Therefore, on the basis of the experience that Pakistan has so far gained and the success it has achieved in its efforts towards containing and defeating the scourge of violent extremism, the country is prepared to contribute to all genuine and comprehensive efforts on the bilateral, regional and global levels. Cooperation on all these levels is imperative for defeating violent extremist organisations including the TTP, Islamic State (IS), al Qaeda and their affiliates because they represent a global threat that jeopardises not only local communities but also those located far from the centres of these crises. It is hoped that regional and global stakeholders will sooner rather than later recognise this imperative and engage with Pakistan in this collective endeavour.
Khurram Minhas is a freelance columnist
A ceasefire in the war on drugs?
By Jonathan Power
December 2nd, 2015
Not that long ago in Britain Sherlock Holmes could quite legally sit by the fire with his pipe and sniff cocaine. If friends wanted to join him they could, without fear of a police raid, smoke marijuana. Opium was used for those in unbearable pain and could be bought without a doctor’s prescription. Alas, most people in very poor countries then and today have never been able to afford any pain relief. Too many die in agony.
Historically, it is the British who have the worst record on drugs. When the British controlled India they became the largest drug traffickers the world has ever seen, transporting opium from India to China, forcing Chinese ports open so they could win addicts among the mass market of the poor.
These days, when it comes to alcohol and tobacco, in most societies the degree of control is subject to fierce debate and when it comes to drugs banning them seems to be the majority conviction. But have we got our priorities right? In the US, hundreds of thousands of young black men languish behind bars for long sentences convicted of possessing quite small amounts of drugs. At long last President Barack Obama is having some success in ending this policy that shoots the US in its own foot.
The leading health problem in the UK and the US is alcohol, not drugs. “There is no other drug that is so damaging to so many different organs of the body,” writes Imperial College neuro-psychopharmacology professor, David Nutt, in his book, Drugs Without Hot Air. In a study he made, alcohol came out top as the drug that causes the most severe damage. Heroin is a much lower second. Cocaine and methyl amphetamine are much lower down the league table than heroin. Tobacco comes next followed by cannabis. Ecstasy rarely causes damage. Neither do LSD, khat and mushrooms.
In our hospitals one finds only small numbers who have overdosed on drugs. But the perpetuators and victims of car crashes pour through hospital doors and many are there because the driver was intoxicated with alcohol. Our tax money often pays the bill. Smokers with their cancers fill many hospital wards and we the people pay the billions of dollars it costs. Nutt also points out that each year tobacco kills five million people across the world and alcohol 1.5 million. In comparison, illicit drugs kill 200,000. Public education on smoking including bans on advertising and increased taxes have seen the proportion of British people who smoke fall from 40 percent in 1978 to around 20 percent today. The same is true of other richer countries. Even policies in the Third World are changing. Many airlines in Africa have banned smoking.
Should that not be the way we treat drugs: make them legal but use every tool to cut down consumption? It is their illegality that has created the black market and the monster of drug gangs that intimidate whole societies, as in Mexico and Columbia, with their killing sprees and corruption of governments. Hundreds of thousands would no longer be incarcerated for a minor offence. Governments would receive a large revenue from taxation to pay for their public health programmes.
Alcohol in the US today is legal. Prohibition in the 1920s was counterproductive. If you had money you could get it and gangsters like Al Capone ruled the roost. In 1933, Prohibition ended. But you can argue today that alcohol is too cheap and too easily available. How should we deal more effectively with freely available alcohol? In Sweden, even the smallest amount of alcohol is prohibited for drivers. In the UK, taxes are being raised. A good idea would be to make drinkers and smokers pay their own hospital bills, even if they have insurance.
Under Obama, marijuana consumption is now permitted for medical purposes. Even conservative Ireland, which still forbids abortion, permits some consumption of heroin as long as it is injected under medical supervision, in so-called “shooting galleries”. Consumers know that this way they will get clean needles and immediate medical help in case of need. Seven countries in Europe have “shooting galleries”. Also Australia and Canada. In Sydney, the policy has reduced the number of ambulance call-outs for overdoses by 80 percent. There is no evidence that these galleries increase the habit.
Unfortunately, no country to my knowledge has a policy of providing pure heroin to anyone who walks in; usually consumers have to bring their own illegally bought heroin off the street, which often can be impure. This undermines the attempt to destroy the drug gangs who thrive on illegality. At last some countries are beginning to experiment with providing pure heroin.
The so-called ‘war on drugs’ should be called to a halt. As The Economist editoralised this month, “a ceasefire” is needed. It is time overdue for a more sophisticated approach.
The writer has been a foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune for 20 years and author of the much acclaimed new book, Conundrums of Humanity — the Big Foreign Policy Questions of Our Age. He may be contacted at email@example.com
Paris carnage and terrorism
By S P Seth
December 2nd, 2015
The succession of recent terrorist acts, from the downing of the Russian passenger plane in Sinai, Egypt, the suicide bombing in Beirut and the carnage in Paris, can be interpreted in more than one way. The first, an Islamic State (IS) franchise of sorts by a Sinai militant group, was clearly an act of revenge for Russia’s bombing of extremist targets seen as supportive of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The second was a sectarian act against Hezbollah, a Shia militant movement with a strong hold in south Beirut, which is actively engaged against Assad’s enemies in Syria. As for the carnage in Paris, France is supposed to have committed multiple sins from its intervention in Mali, the Charlie Hebdo caricatures (its aftermath with 17 people killed in violent terrorist reprisal) and its forceful participation in bombings targeting IS positions. The multiple methods used made IS warn that it would use its own array of violent means against its enemies to fight this unequal warfare to turn its weakness (in terms of weaponry) into strength, which is to terrorise, where possible, the civil societies of their enemies.
The Paris carnage is a perfect example of this: an expanded version of the ‘lone wolf’ attack, which too would be deployed as circumstances permit. An IS video, issued after the Paris attacks, put it quite succinctly. It reportedly said, “We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day, God willing, as we struck France in the centre of its abode in Paris, then we swear that we will strike the US at its centre in Washington.” In other words, IS will use a mix of methods designed to create maximum terror among civilians to create the optimal impact and thereby build up resistance among the affected societies to their governments’ ‘crusade’ against Islam. IS considers itself fighting for all the Muslims of the world.
A recent edition of the IS English language magazine, Dabiq, unfolds IS strategy to confront its enemies. Carrying the byline of the British journalist, John Cantile, taken hostage in Syria three years ago and on their mercy for his dear life, the article says that IS will “continue to expand the borders of the caliphate throughout the region…” and, “They goad the west into launching an all-out ground attack, thereby setting the scene for the final battle between Muslims and the crusaders…[IS] conducting an operation overseas that is so destructive that the US and its allies will have no alternative but to send in an army. This [operation] would have to be something on the same scale, if not bigger than, 9/11.” In other words, IS will now call the shots and “what happens over the next few years is more up to [IS] than any exterior force”.
It would appear that IS believes, as put forth in the Dabiq article, that they have put the west on the defensive both on the battlefield [of their choice] and the propaganda front. And this image of a so-called Islamic caliphate settling scores with the ‘crusaders’ for real and imagined humiliations inflicted on Muslims is a kind of clarion call for all the disaffected and alienated Muslim youth in the world, with particular resonance for those in the west.
There is an explanation that these kinds of random terrorist attacks are in fact an indication that IS is on the defensive after being pushed back in some strategic areas. That might be so but if it manages to create spectacular impact, like the Paris carnage, out of its weakness, it is likely to win more youthful adherents, especially among the alienated Muslim youth in the west.
How to deal with this “death cult”, as Australia’s former primer minister, Tony Abbott, called them? His answer, in an Australian newspaper, is to put boots on the ground to beat them. Many in the US, especially in these politically charged presidential election times and more so among the Republican presidential hopefuls, are vying with each other to smash IS, if necessary, with committing American troops on the ground. It is not that this is not already happening. For instance, there are 3,500 US special operations forces on the ground in Iraq in all sorts of roles and their numbers are likely to go up. In Syria, the US has committed what looks like a first installment of about 50 special operations commandos/operatives and that might just be the beginning. However, the Obama administration is resisting the pressure to get deeply involved on the ground with the painful experience of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Such caution is sensible, considering that deeper engagement in military warfare in far off countries is best avoided without an exit strategy to avoid getting into a ‘quagmire’, as happened with Afghanistan and Iraq, which is still pulling the US into it. For an exit strategy to be formulated and put into practice at an appropriate time, the US and its allies need local allies on the ground with some popular base, as well as local level administrative structures, that might step in to avoid a dangerous vacuum from subsequent withdrawal or thinning out of foreign forces. In other words, it is important to avoid the general impression that external forces operating in the relevant war theatre are an occupying force, as happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time, regional allies, like Saudi Arabia, will need to create cohesive strategies that do not undercut a shared objective, which is to defeat IS.
Here, there are serious problems on two levels. First: Saudi Arabia’s single-minded commitment is to keep Iran out of any constructive and meaningful role in the shared strategic goal of defeating and possibly destroying IS. It does not want Iran to have a foothold in regional Middle Eastern politics and will do everything to sabotage this. Second: Saudi Arabia is the fountainhead of the extreme Islamic ideology of Wahhabism that it has been promoting and practicing at home and abroad through the funding of madrassas (seminaries), mosques, militant rebel groups of varied descriptions, provisions of arms and in other ways. It is promoting the idea, whether wittingly or unwittingly, of an underlying clash of values between Islam and the west but is still its strategic ally. Although this contradiction is so apparent, it is and has been consistently ignored in the west.
As Kamel Daoud writes in an opinion piece in The New York Times (translated from French), ‘Black Daesh [IS], white Daesh [Saudi Arabia]’: “The former slits throats, kills... The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. [One is] the Islamic State, [the other] Saudi Arabia.” He adds, “In its struggle against terrorism, the west wages war on one but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial and denial has a price”, which the world is paying.
S P Seth is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia.
The Middle East at a crossroads
By Humayun Shafi
December 2nd, 2015
Present events in the Middle East portray a rather tragic picture and there does not appear to be any sign of a hopeful situation at the moment. Attempts to contain Islamic State (IS) have proved futile; in fact IS has adopted the means and mobility to evade detection by the intelligence apparatus many a time. Events such as destruction of the Russian passenger aircraft over Sinai, the suicide strikes in Beirut and Paris, and, more recently, against security personnel in Tunis, in rapid succession, illustrate the rapid acquisition of infrastructure. The military options exercised so far have resulted in many a counter offensive by IS and with the passage of time such strikes get more deadly. The recent attacks in Paris, taking the lives of 134 people show the reach of IS and its capacity to attack. Each passing day, governments around the globe show their resolve in degrading IS yet it continues to grow and inflict damage. The major powers seem to be clueless about limited strategic options.
IS assumed its present shape in Iraq in 2012. The government of ex-prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, ignored IS armed militants in Fallujah protesting against the government’s policies throughout 2012, which later took the shape of armed resistance against the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government was weak by way of corruption and poor governance. Under these circumstances IS gained strength, established itself and managed to make Fallujah in Iraq its headquarters. It was neither challenged nor hindered by the weakened Iraqi state. Corruption in governments gives rise to extremist organisations and that is what happened in Iraq.
The US’ (and UK’s) occupation of Iraq in 2003, which ousted Saddam Hussein, pushed the already delicate sectarian balance of the Middle East into an irreversible tailspin. Due to corruption and political instability in Iraq the world woke up in the June 2014 to an IS that had seized large territories in Iraq and major cities like Mosul, Arbil and Tikrit, and later Ramadi. The new Iraqi army in the post Saddam era, raised and equipped by the US after 2003 at a cost of $ 35 billion to the US government, just vanished before a militia of some 2,000 IS fighters. These facts of governance do not absolve IS of its actions. It is these circumstances created by governments that were responsible for the rise of IS.
Aerial bombings as the main component of the strategy by the US-led 60-nation coalition since September 2014 to contain the insurgency has been called ‘smoke and mirrors’, a public relations exercise. The US air force’s bombing of Afghanistan in 2001 never helped contain the insurgencies; in return it caused large damage to innocent, unsuspecting populations. France has committed its nuclear powered aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean as a manifestation of President Hollande’s “merciless response” to the Paris bombings. The situation is far more complicated to be easily resolved by single isolated measures carried out by countries individually.
A realistic assessment of the role of Middle Eastern countries in the fight against IS was given by US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter recently. He criticised the Gulf countries for their eagerness to “build show-horse air forces”, and commended Iran for being “in the game, on the ground”. The initiative for countering IS with force on the ground in Iraq and Syria is logically with the Middle Eastern countries themselves. The countries in the Middle East have not committed their ground forces in either Iraq or Syria; probably they do not want to get involved in a war. As a substitute the Middle Eastern countries have started relying upon proxies, with recruitment from as far as Colombia. These proxies are basically aimed at removing President Bashar al-Assad. These proxies cannot match the infrastructure of IS.
The Kurds in Iraq and Syria, who are a reliable and credible fighting force, are not trusted by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. They have been able to defend themselves against IS and have been able to retake the towns of Kobani and Sinjar with the help of the US air force, intelligence and US military trainers. Iranian militias in Iraq have been a contributory factor in Kurd advances in Iraq. With all this mistrust and diplomatic deadlock, IS gains from these differences.
There is also the issue of priorities with the major powers in the Middle East. The insurgency in Yemen occupies more importance with Saudi Arabia than Iraq or Syria. The situation in Iraq and Syria is far more serious and existential in nature than that in Yemen. The insurgency in Yemen is a political situation and Houthi rebels have shown a willingness to negotiate. It is IS that should occupy centre stage in the Middle East.
The issue of containing IS is becoming more complicated. IS now gradually is assuming global proportions. The powers in the Middle East must realise that they have to put up a forceful resistance to contain IS. Time is of the essence; with low oil prices and large budgetary deficits countries are likely to face a challenging economic situation. Unemployment among the youth of the Middle East is running high. The ensuing discontent is being exploited by IS. Nigeria is one country that has taken up the fight against militancy by first cleaning its government of corruption. This approach will certainly bring big success elsewhere.
A myriad of militant organisations is entrenched in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, coastal regions of Libya, Mali and Sudan. Such a spread of militant organisations will require broad based strategy utilising the Arab national armies and their air forces. The present manner of containing the militants has not produced many conclusive victories and they continue to overawe many a state in the Middle East for whom they pose a huge existential and immediate threat. The militant organisations are well entrenched and require tackling both militarily and on issues of governance. To defeat militancy in the Middle East and North Africa would require deploying efficiently disciplined national armies but will also require good, honest purposeful governance and equal economic growth opportunity for the population. These are the basic requirements and many more steps in governance will be required. At the moment, this does not appear to be happening. There does not appear to be very much time and the consequences of delaying can be rather difficult to accept for the Middle Eastern countries.
Humayun Shafi is a former member of the police service of Pakistan.
Police, devolution and terrorism
By Imtiaz Gul
December 2nd, 2015
Around the middle of November, I initiated an email correspondence with two differententities. One was addressed to the chief of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) police. The other directed at the current head of an institution that is supposed to be flourishing under the aegis of the National Action Plan. The result of the correspondence was both surprising and shocking; surprising because the K-P police chief not only responded himself to the communication, most of his district police officers (DPO) personally followed up on requests for cooperation with respect to individual letters of interest (LoI). Not only this, the staff of the respective DPOs followed up their emailed letters by calling to make sure that the LoIs had been received.
In a sharp shocking contrast, we did not receive any written response to our request from the other institution for nearly two weeks. This, despite the fact that we had met with the current head of the institution a day after sending out the written request, explained to him the objective and sought a meeting with him early next week. As of December 1, we still await a reply.
In both cases, I was dealing with highly respected police officials. I know them both. But their reaction to requests has been stunningly different. This reminded me of a similar situation back in 2012 when it took a senior official of the ministry of foreign affairs at least 10 days to get back to us on a letter we had sent.
What can we make of these contrasting responses? Is it devolution in K-P and the operational autonomy that the police there currently enjoys or is it the leadership of the provincial police force, or both that resulted in such efficiency? Probably both; the police in K-P is largely autonomous, and independent in hiring, firing and managing close to 75,000 police and special forces personnel.
The region’s close proximity to Fata, and the existence of several sleeper cells and pockets of support for terrorist outfits place unusual responsibilities on the K-P police. Fulfilling those responsibilities with relative ease and success in odious circumstances required unusual operational latitude. The K-P police currently enjoys that latitude — easily measureable in the way its leadership is responding to crises.
In Islamabad, most security institutions remain under the overbearing shadows of the Ministry of Interior. They also keep looking at the direction the establishment is moving towards. An accompanying impediment is the conceptual confusion on ‘what really ails Pakistan’ and what constitutes ‘existential threats’ to it. In addition, we have the prime minister and the interior minister holding a string of routine meetings and wanting all relevant officials to be around whenever they convene such meetings. We also see bondage of the subsidiary to the principal i.e., affiliated institutions possibly don’t have the liberty to act on their own and perhaps lack the requisite courage to take even the smallest of initiatives.
Quite an apt explanation for the slow response from within Islamabad’s power corridors came from Ziad Bashir, executive director of Gul Ahmed Textile Mills: “The major difference is the attitude of our government and the governments of regional countries. The response time in Pakistan is too slow,” he told this paper last week.
Bashir is on the mark in his diagnosis of the reasons behind the slow responses in places where power is multi-layered but concentrated in a few hands. The dysfunctional governance currently visible across Pakistan is the obvious consequence.
What is needed is devolution of power. Devolving governance functions and thus staggering responsibilities to the lower levels creates space for independent decisions, involves the community and serves as a much stronger pressure pool on the bureaucracy than a centralised governance regime. The panacea to many of our challenges i.e., terrorism, extremism and organised crime, as well as lack of accountability of public representatives and the bureaucracy lies in devolution of political power and operational autonomy to institutions that serve as the first point of contact for the public at large.
Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate