Musings on Trump’s victory

So the ‘outlier’ has done it. Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America. Here was a candidate who did not behave like a conventional politician. He was abusive, in your face and curt. He raised politically incorrect questions. He had a ‘terrible’ past. He was intolerant of dissent and behaved like a boor. Very few actually gave him a chance. Yet he managed to do the unthinkable, Why and how could he do it? Here are some of my 2 paisa musings/rumblings on this Trump victory;

Firstly, to my amusement there is a lot of disappointment especially in the Liberal left of this country. I can see and hear their lamentations. “Oh America, how could you do this!”, “Oh Americans, how you have failed us!”. This would really be pathetic if it was not so hilarious. I found the lamentations of the Indians especially offensive, laced as it is with a deep sense of ethnocentrism and may I add hypocrisy. I did not see the same liberals left whining with the same ferocity crying “Oh Siwan! what have you done”, when it elected a Sahabuddin again and again or with, “Oh Bihar! what have you done” when it elected 142 Member Legislative Assembly with criminal records of rape, murder and extortion or when West Bengal elected107 MLAs with criminal records. Is it because left liberal morals are relative and some crimes/criminals are construed less reprehensible because they serve as instruments of so called larger goals of keeping so called communal forces out?

And then what ethnocentrism? Are the American voters some gold standard for so called rational political behaviour and voting? Do they really mean that while so called ‘lesser democracies’ could be condoned for selecting boors and criminals but how could America do it? Bah!!

Secondly, the liberal left seeks to provide simplistic explanations to the complex phenomenon of Trump’s triumph. The left liberals have been harping that he won because of racism and hate. This in my humble opinion is too simplistic an explanation and is also not borne out by facts.  If it was only about racism how is it that he did five points better than Mitt Romney amongst black voters and two points better amongst Latinos? It is now reported that majority of the white women too voted for him. How do you explain that when you accuse the man of being a misogynist? Why is it that in the swing states which voted for the first African American President twice in the last two elections by huge majorities, suddenly became racists? And if they indeed had become racists what explains, as per some reports, the high approval ratings that President Obama still enjoys in these states?

The real story for me is not that Trump won this election but that in the oldest democracy of the world nearly fifty per cent of the eligible voters were apathetic enough not to vote. There exits around the world today a deep resentment against the professional political class and America is no exception. Why should it surprise anyone that a rank political ‘outsider’ has been elected when the US Congress as per the latest Gallop poll has an approval rating of 13 per cent? I was in the USA for about a month in September/October and could see the anger amongst ordinary Americans who were looking for ‘change’. Amongst the candidates it was Trump rather than Hillary whom they thought could be this agent of change.  People knew his failings but were ready to overlook those. They were sick and tired of the politically correct conventional politics of the east coast elites anchored in Washington DC and New York (Like Indians were in 2014 with politics anchored in and around Lutyens Delhi). Trumps victory is a revolt against the opaque world of political compromises and lobbying. Ordinary Americans had enough of those thought leaders who ‘talked at’ them rather than ‘talked to’ them. Their value laced oratory did not enthuse them anymore. In a way it was the vernacularization of politics where people were ready to repose their trust in those leaders who empathise with them. Trump raised issues of those classes/groups of people like veterans who felt they had become completely voiceless in the political system while Hillary was caught calling them ‘deplorables’.

This election also proves the fact that is ultimately about economy, jobs and livelihoods. Address these and you win elections and keep getting re-elected. The leaders who keep winning elections (incidentally who are hated by the liberal left and are branded as dictators) like Erdogan, Putin are all people who inherited troubled economies and then put their nations into high growth trajectories.  Perhaps there is a lesson here for PM Modi. A single minded pursuit of economic growth, job and livelihood creation for the people of India will ensure that he keeps getting re-elected. Globalisation has created winners and losers and those that have been left behind are very vengeful and angry. There is a huge group (probably the largest economic group in the USA) in the USA which sees itself as a victim of globalization having been pushed out of permanent ‘cushy’ manufacturing jobs to back breaking and temporary jobs in the services sector where they are paid hourly. There is a deep seated feeling in this group that it had no voice in the system and Trump campaign tapped into their anger effectively.

Though it is too early to say that globalization is in retreat but nationalism has definitely made a comeback.  What is also back is (what for the want of a better word), I would define as ‘an imagined core value’ of a nation which is a value of the majority and has hegemony over them. You might call it exclusivist or majoritarianism depending on where you stand, but sadly such values are gaining ground.  Who are we as a nation or what defines us is also a question which is gaining currency, not only in the USA but around the world. While it is still too early to declare political correctness as dead, politically incorrect questions which were till sometime back considered taboo or impolite will now be asked (may be with hushed tone in the beginning). I was in NY when the explosions happened in September. While the mainstream media was quite ‘muted’ and ‘mature’ in its coverage, many people on the street I met were Islamophobic. Questions like why do they refuse to integrate? Why does a refugee from a war torn country who gets a much better life in our country do this to us were questions which were being asked if not so in public places but within the confines of homes and offices. While this may be a politically incorrect to write here but the truth is that a great deal of Islamophobia is sweeping round the globe, and America is no exception. While it may be right to accuse the non-Islamic world of being biased, there is also a need for the Islamic community to ponder as to why the world thinks of them as it does. Externalizing their problems and blaming the whole world for their state of affairs will solve nothing. And it is here that the Muslim community of India needs to act as a role model and take leadership. In an Islamic world riddled with turmoil, the peaceful Indian Muslims stand out like a beacon of hope for the world. I am reminded of the statement President Bush made to Secretary Rice, “150 million Muslims, and no Al-Qaeda? Wow!”. During the infamous Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union, Muslims from every country, except two, had congregated to fight the Jihad and these were India and Oman. There is a need for Indian Muslims to nurture and celebrate the syncretic Islam rooted in the Indian civilizational ethos rather than getting swayed by the sterile Salafi Islam which is completely alien to our syncretic civilizational ethos. Needless to say there is a need for the majority community too in this country to see that they reinforce this syncretism and unity by their actions and not destroy it.

One thing which always surprises me is the ability of the liberal left in this country to cast things in stone. They are experts in background checking and after that, it is ‘freeze frame’. A day is too long in politics and politicians do not have the liberty to be caught in a time warp. Yes, leaders say and do terrible things but the beauty of democracy and demands of governance is that it does give you a chance to change (or forces you to change). Trump might have done and said extremely reprehensible things in the past but being President Trump would restrict him from doing many such things now. And to those who say he will change the character of the USA I say, what can he do? Can he change the checks and balances as prescribed in the constitution of USA? Can he change the rights of the states? Can he abolish the constitution of the USA? Of course he will implement his agenda, but then in a democracy that is what the winner of the mandate is expected to do.

Leaders have to be judged not on the basis of what they did or said in the past but on their present actions. If India had stuck to holding people to what they said or did in the past, we would have prevented rebel leaders from joining the political mainstream. Should we have condemned a Laldenga when he joined the Indian political mainstream because of his past of having led a rebellion against the Indian state? What should our reaction be hypothetically speaking, if Syed Salahauddin or the Hurriyat leaders decide to abandon separatism and context elections in Kashmir? Should we keep harping about their past statements and deeds or welcome them in the political mainstream?

This election also has lessons for the Americans and the American establishment. Democracy demands that people’s verdict be respected universally, whether it is the United States or the Middle East. If today America can live under the shadows of a conservative leadership having facets of illiberal democracy, why should the USA intervene when a Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in some state in the Middle East through a free and fair electoral system? While some values may be universal, these values can and do get modified as per the genius and culture of the societies in which they are exist. Different societies have different historical experiences, are at different levels of societal development and so the flowering and maturity of these ‘values’ has to be organic and at a pace that is dictated by these societies. Any outside interfere is a sure recipe for chaos and disaster. We should not forget that the erstwhile USSR had all right ideas and values that it sought to promote in Afghanistan i.e. equality, women’s rights, education for all to name a few, but the Afghan society thought of it as an interference in their social and cultural ethos and the rest as they say is history.

And of course, how can one forget the mainstream media (MSM). It did get some real egg on its face, and deservedly so. This is a huge wakeup call for them, having got all their predictions wrong. This is what happens when coverage and reportage are not based on facts but their political prejudices. The mainstream media has forgotten that its main job is to report the truth ‘as it is’ and not as they ‘would like it to be. By peddling their preferences, they had become cheerleaders/activists and had lost their right to be called journalists. Editing a newspaper or writing articles does not qualify one as a journalist. Just because Uddhav Thackeray is the editor of Samna should we call him a journalist?  Gandhiji also was the editor of Hind Swaraj and wrote prolifically, so instead of calling him a great political leader we should start identifying him as a journalist?

Social media has become an important tool of communication and was extensively used even in the American elections. This social media also has its detractors and one of the favourite pastime of many ‘doyens’ of MSM today is social media bashing, especially on being trolled and abused. While no body in his right senses can condone the virulent abuses being dished out in the social media space (especially on Twitter) but what really surprises me is the naivety of those people who are surprised and angry at being trolled. Sorry Sirs, but what did you expect when you joined a medium which has the advantage of anonymity and whose idiom is conversational? Do these ‘doyens’ not know how an average Indian on the street talks? Expletives like bc, mc form the regular vocabulary of an ordinary Indian (sometimes also of elites). Apart from the social media, was MSM not at the forefront (and rightly so) of defending the right of Anurag Kashyap to use ‘relentless’ gallis (swears) in his film Udta Punjab? Was Pahlaj Nihalani not chastised (rightly so) using the same argument that this is the way average Indians talk, and was he not contemptuously mentioned as a ‘sanskari’ censor? Now what are they, ‘sanskari’ journalists, who speak and want to be spoken to in Queens English by a teenager from Bhatinda who uses swear words in practically all the sentences he speaks?

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Shri Kanahiya Kumar: Brilliant speech, great connect but vacuous in content and all sophistry.

A new star is born. Shri Kanahiya Kumar, the President of Jawahar Lal Nehru Students Union, has emerged as the new poster boy of the Indian left. A brilliant orator, a great communicator he has managed to establish a new connect with the people and put life back in the moribund left. The ham handed manner of his arrest and the despicable physical assault on him have given him a new halo. His speech in JNU and his subsequent interviews after his release on bail has been hailed by many. Listening to his speech I could not but admire his oratory, but analyse the contents and it sounds vacuous and rhetorical. I will try to analyse the main themes/points of his speech.

Communism and Dr. Ambedkar.

Shri Kanahiya Kumar said, “We have full faith in Babasaheb… We have no faith in the deep rooted caste system in this country… we want to trash the traditions of exploitation, Jativad, Manuwad and Brahmanvad…In this country casteism is the biggest issue..speak against casteism”

No right thinking India can dispute the depravity that caste system has perpetuated in this country. For all right thinking Indians Dr. Ambedkar is a venerated figure. However, when Shri Kanahiya accuses other parties of Brahmanvaad, it is but natural that the Communist party, of which he is a representative, be subjected to the same scrutiny.

First, we need to understand what Babasaheb thought of Marxism as a philosophy. Babasaheb had studied Marxism and rejected it in favour of Buddhism. In his writing “Buddha or Karl Marx”, Babasaheb says, “liberty, equality and fraternity can only co-exist if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one (equality) but not all.” In the same essay he questions the ends adopted by the Marxists. He writes “Can the Communists say that in achieving their valuable end they would not have destroyed other valuable ends? They have destroyed private property. Assuming that this is a valuable end, can the communists say that they have not destroyed other valuable ends in the process of achieving it? How many people have they killed for achieving their end? Has human life no value?”

On the communist state utopia (which so many of my communist friends still believe in and aspire for) he had this to say, “At any rate (they) have no satisfactory answer to the question what would take the place of the State when it withers away, though this question is more important than the question when the State will wither away. Will it be succeeded by anarchy? If so the building of the communist state is a useless effort. If it cannot be sustained except by force and if it results in anarchy when the force holding it together is withdrawn what good is the communist state? The only thing that could sustain it after force is withdrawn is religion. But to the Communists’ religion is anathema…The Russians are proud of their Communism. But they forget that Buddha established communism as far as the Sangh was concerned without dictatorship…a miracle which Lenin failed to do.”

So before any attempt is made to project Baba Saheb as a Communist or even a Communist sympathiser there is a need to read and reflect on his views about Marxism.

Second, there is a need to reflect on the treatment meted out to Babasaheb by the then Communist Party of India (CPI).  In the 1952 elections from Bombay Central (which Babasaheb lost to Congress candidate NS Kajirolkar), Communist Party of India (CPI) founding member and leader Shripad Amrit Dange had instructed his supporters to waste their ballots rather than vote for Babasaheb. In fact, Babasaheb attributed his loss to the communist campaign against him. The communists had sufficient influence in Girangaon and had they not launched that visceral campaign against Babasaheb, he may have won.

Forget about the past, let us see what those seeking to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar have to offer to the dalits in the present. Shri Kanahiya has publicly stated his admiration for Rohit Vemula who lost his life in extremely tragic circumstances. In his article in Hindustan Times (Lal Salam to Jai Bhim: Why Rohit Vemula left Indian Marxists) Rohit’s friend Jashwanth Jessie talks of the disillusionment of Rohit Vemula with the Student Federation of India (SFI), affiliated to CPI (M), of which once he was a firebrand leader. SFI comrades instead of valuing him subjected him to humiliation. Jashwanth writes, “His disillusionment with the communists happened when he discovered that the boys and girls who had given up their faith in God could not bring themselves to abandon their faith in the caste system. He quit the SFI after he was discriminated for his caste…After his unsavoury stint with the communists…He became acutely aware of not just the Brahmanical tendencies of the individual CPI(M) activists but the theoretical flaws of the left as a whole in understanding the Indian social order.’’

Third, has Shri Kanahiya reflected on the composition of the highest decision making organs of the Communist parties i.e. their Central Committee and the Politburo? Why is it that none of these parties have never had a Dalit in these decision making bodies in the last 50 years and remain a preserve of the upper castes? It is interesting to note that even the Central Committee of the extreme left (CPI (Maoist)) who claim to be at the forefront of the fight for tribals is heavily dominated by the Andhraites and hardly has any tribals.  While Shri Kanahiya can brand it tokenism, at least the so called right wing brahamanical reactionary party in his eyes, the BJP, is being led by an Extremely Backward Caste person in the Prime Minister.

It is also interesting to note the caste composition of the Left Front ministry under Shri Jyoti Basu. Between 1977 and 1982 the ministry comprised of 35 per cent Brahmins, 31 per cent Kayasthas, 23 per cent Baniyas and a paltry 1.5 per cent dalits[1]. This when West Bengal, as per the 1991 census, had the highest concentration of Scheduled Caste population in the country (24 per cent).

Fourth, it was also under the Left Front government’s watch that the largest massacre of Dalit Namasudras in the history of this country happened in Marichjhapi, Sundarbans in 1979. Some scholars and journalists have branded the massacre of these Dalit refugees from Bangladesh as a ‘genocide’ with reports of 3000 to 17,000 deaths. All this after Jyoti Basu himself had supported the relocation of these refugees from the inhospitable Dandkarnaya to Sunderbans. Its support for the refugees from East Bengal was one of the major reasons for the Left’s ascent to power. In January 1978, soon after the Left Front government ascended to power in West Bengal, minister Ram Chatterji of the Marxist Forward Block and Ashok Ghosh of the All India Forward Block visited the refugees and assured them that “Five crore Bengalis will welcome you back to Bengal extending 10 crore hands.” Alas instead of the extended hand what the refugees on their relocation to Sunderbans got was the iron hand of the ruthless government and its cadres. Branded squatters, Dalit Namsudra men, women and children were mercilessly blockaded and starved, their hutments burnt, women raped, elderly and children killed and their dead bodies thrown in the rivers for crocodiles to eat.

Sadly, while the left leaning NGO’s and environmentalists are at the forefront to protest violations of any and every human rights in India, in case of Marijhapi they have maintained a deafening silence. The brute reality is that for the liberal left, tigers and tourism triumphed over the interests of hapless Dalits.

I hope Shri Kanahiya Kumar and other young communists will reflect on what Periyar, another stalwart of dalit movement had to say about communism. Delivering a speech in Trichy on 21 February 1943 he said, “All the talks on communism in our country is bogus. Our youth must be kept away from such talks. ..So I appeal to the youth to be aware of these communists. Communism here, as it is, is a sugar coated pill. Beware!”.

Indian nationalism

One of the confusing arguments I heard from Shri Kanahiya was “I am a patriot but not a nationalist.” “Nationalism is a European concept. India is a land of diversity – she has no one uniform identity”.

Well if nationalism is a European concept, so is Marxism and Socialism. So are Democracy and Fundamental Rights. Should a concept be discarded just because it originated outside India or should it be embraced if it possesses intrinsic value and be adapted to the genius of the land and its people? The problem with Indian communists is their failure to adapt to Indian genius and instead remain hostage to sterile dogmas. While it is true that Indian nationalism remains a work in progress and it is easy to mouth homilies about diversity of India and challenge assumptions underlying Indian national identity, it is plain disingenuous to believe that no fundamental principle underlines Indian nationalism. Except the separatists who seek a divorce from the Indian nation, the ‘lowest common denominator of Indian nationalism’ on which both the ‘religious right wing nationalism’ and the ‘official secular Nehruvian nationalism’ agree on is the sanctimony of India’s ‘territorial nationalism’ and this has acquired sufficient political and mental hegemony in India. Both believe in India’s ‘sacred geography’ and India’s ‘ancient heritage’. As Ashutosh Varshney writes, “These ..have yielded two principal imaginations about India’s national identity – the secular nationalist and the Hindu nationalist. The former combines territory and culture; the latter religion and territory.” 

This is why the abominable slogans about the breakup of India in JNU evoked such passionate reactions. While the privileged students of JNU in their gated community may appear ‘surprised’ at the reaction and may swear by the ‘freedom of speech’ argument, talk to the people on the street and there are few takers for this kind of freedom of speech argument. A friend of mine remarked that people in Munirka who draw financial benefits from JNU by giving their rooms for rent to JNU students are ready to forgo these benefits and do not want them in their houses. As Varshney writes “Therefore, just as America’s most passionate political movements concern freedom and equality, India’s most explosive moments concern its “sacred geography”….Whenever the threat of another breakup, another partition, looms, it unleashes remarkable passions in politics. Politics based on this imagination is quite different from what was seen when Malaysia and Singapore split from each other in 1960’s, or when Czech and Slovak Republics separated in 1992. Territory not being an inalienable part of their national identity, these territorial divorces were not desecrations. In India, however, they are desecrations of sacred geography”.

While Indian nationalism has seen challenges in form of separatist nationalist movements (Dravidian movement, Punjab, Kashmir, Naga etc.) it has remained flexible and adaptable enough to adjust and appropriate these sub national identities within the larger Indian identity. Devising ingenious mechanisms like the grant of special rights and status to regions, linguistic reorganisation of states and federalism etc. the streams of sub nationalism were accommodated within the river of larger Indian nationalism. So what if India was a land of ‘diversity’, this diversity could flourish within the ‘unity’ of India. So one could be a good and proud Tamilian or a Kashmiri or a Sikh or a Muslim and yet remain a proud Indian. Naipaul summarized it well when he wrote “India is now a country of million mutinies..But there was in India now what didn’t exist 200 years before: a central will, a central intellect, a national idea. The Indian Union was greater than the sum of its parts.”

One can however understand where Shri Kanahiya’s statement is coming from when one understands how divorced the left is from the Indian ethos, mind and genius. It is their flawed understanding of the national question which in the past made them support the demand for Pakistan and today leaves them bemused or derisive when India is referred to as ‘Bharat Mata’. PC Joshi, one of the tallest leaders of the Communist Party of India wrote about the demand for Pakistan, “We held a series of discussions within our party and came to the conclusion in 1941-1942 that it (Muslim League) had become an anti-imperialist organization expressing the freedom urge of the Muslim people that its demand for Pakistan was a demand for self-determination… A belief continues to be held that League is a communal organization and what Mr. Jinnah is Pro-British. But what is the reality? Mr. Jinnah is to the freedom loving League masses what Gandhiji is to the Congress masses. They revere their Qaid-e-Azam as much as the Congress does the Mahatma. They regard the League as their patriotic organization as we regard the Congress. This is so because Mr. Jinnah has done to the League what Gandhi did to the Congress in 1919-1920 i.e., made it a mass organization.” (Congress and the Communists, PC Joshi, People’s Publishing House Bombay, p 5).

Now to the question of patriotism. Since Shri Kanahiya does not believe in Indian nationalism, it begs the question if he believes in ‘sub-nationalism’ or ‘separatist nationalism’? So he is ‘patriotic’ to whom? To what does he owe primary and highest allegiance? To ‘sub nationalism’ within India or to ‘separatism’? Or as a member of the ‘vanguard’ party, does his allegiance to his ‘party’ triumph over his allegiance to everything else? Remember, in China the primary loyalty of the Communist party member is to the Chinese Communist Party and not to the Chinese Nation. The Chinese Armed forces, i.e. Peoples Liberation Army, as an arm of the party, does not fight for the Chinese Nation but for the Party. Is his the same kind of patriotism?

The right wing government’s inadequate allocation of resources for social sectors

Shri Kanahiya Kumar lamented the cut in the education budget. He stated “The government has cut the higher education budget by 17 per cent. Our hostel has not been built for four years. We haven’t wifi till date.”

While it is no body’s call that sufficient funds should not be allocated for education in the country, judging educational growth simply by how much government funding is being provided for education is a very simplistic way of analysing the efficacy of education being imparted. Let us take the example of Kerala. It has been touted as a state to be seen as a role model of social development worthy of emulation by other states. Scholars like Amartya Sen have constantly eulogised the Kerala model and the Left is especially proud of its near universal literacy and high social indicators which many attribute to its ruling the state for long. Now for some reality check. A study by the Centre for Socio Economic and Environmental Studies (CSES), Kochi titled “Kerala’s Education System: From Inclusion to exclusion?” highlighted the following:

  • The government’s subsidy policy covers only the fees which forms a small component of the private fees and the disadvantaged sections have to bear several other costs like examination fees, cost of reading and writing materials, study tour etc.
  • More than 80 per cent of Engineering colleges, Pharmacy colleges, nursing colleges and schools are in the self-financing sector. Similarly, most of the management courses, medical courses (allopathy, Ayurveda and homeopathy) are also in the self-financing sector.

The Communists also take great pride in the other social indicator i.e. provision of quality health care in the state. However as per the report released by the Health Ministry, (National Health Profile 2015 by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence) people in Kerala spend the maximum amount from their own pocket on health care expenses. People in rural Kerala spend Rs. 244 per month on health care (national average Rs. 95.18) and Rs. 275 in urban areas (national average Rs. 145.71). As per reports, the health and education spend of Kerala has continued to hover around 1 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). So before the leftists condemn other governments about their lack of commitment for social sectors, there is also a need to have a relook at policies and actions in states where they are in power.

As regards the crib about hostels and wifi in JNU, sorry Shri Kanahiya but you sound extremely elitist and ‘we are special’ kinds. Have you ever compared the hostel and hostel rooms available per capita in JNU with other universities of the country, say an Allahabad or a Patna? It was also interesting to see all Ivy League Universities jump to JNU’s support but I did not see resolutions in support of JNU coming from any of the nearly 480 odd publicly funded Universities in India. If they identify so much with JNU why are no vocal agitations going on in these Universities of the hinterland? Classic case of ‘elites’ standing with the other ‘elite’.

If the gated community of JNU is not a bastion of privilege what is? Is it not true that the Indian government spends approximately Rs. three lakhs per student in JNU and the University has one of the best teacher student ratios in the country.  As regards academic freedom in JNU, well I was listening to a podcast of Bhanu Pratap Mehta in which he was being interviewed by Mosharraf Zaidi (https://soundcloud.com/howtopakistan/episode-04-pratap-bhanu-mehta) and he stated that he had decided to leave Harvard (where he was teaching) and come and teach in JNU. He was soon to be disappointed with the way things were in JNU and decided to go back. And this is the experience of an acknowledged intellectual of this country who cannot be accused of being a right-winger.

Capitalism is rapacious and exploitative

Shri Kanahiya laced his speech (as all communists do) with the exploitation that capitalism brings. Now let us critically evaluate the communist commitment to communist economic precepts when they are in power. The whole world acknowledges that post 1991 reforms, absolute level of poverty has declined in the country. Government resources have increased and so has social spending. It is another matter that the communists refuse to accept it.

Let us look out how the states of Kerala and West Bengal have fared on unemployment and inequality. As per the Economic Review of Kerala, (state ruled for a long period by the Left Front government) at 7.4 per cent Kerala has the highest unemployment rate amongst the big States in the country and only Nagaland and Tripura (another left ruled state) fare worse than Kerala. The unemployment rate of Kerala is three times the national average (2.3 per cent). Incidentally women unemployment is worse with a rate of 47.4 per cent as compared with 9.7 per cent for men.

As per the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), Kerala was also one of the most unequal states in India having a Gini coefficient of 0.35 in rural areas in 2011-12. Similarly, for the urban areas, Kerala was amongst the nine states which showed the widest rich-poor gap since 1973-74.

The Socio Economic and Caste Survey also brought out a startling fact that the level of agricultural landlessness was 72 per cent in Kerala and 70 per cent in West Bengal. The story of deindustrialization of West Bengal under the communists is too well known for me to repeat. In terms of the per-capita income, Bengal under the left front witnessed a sharp decline in relation to other states. While on per capita terms it ranked 5th nationally in 1980-81, by 2000-1, its rank had slipped to tenth.

Further, if capitalism was so rapacious and exploitative why did the Left Front do a U-turn in 1994 and bring out a new industrial policy welcoming investment from foreign firms and domestic private sector? Why was a special 11-member committee headed by Shri Somnath Chatterjee created to win over the industrialists? Why did the industrial policy of 1994 acknowledge that there was growing sickness and stagnation in the economy and the state was starved for investments? Why did it acknowledge that the interest shown in Bengal by NRIs and MNCs was a ‘welcome development’?

The history of communism in this country is a history of U-turns and subsequent expression of regret whether it is on the support of Muslim League in the creation of Pakistan or the support by CPI to the imposition of Emergency. It reminds one of Munir Niazi’s couplet, “Hamesha der kar deta hoon mein”.

Communist sophistry has no parallels. They can speak and sound convincing about anything. It is only in communism that oxymoronic words like ‘democratic’ and ‘centralism’ can be combined together and be elevated to a principle and mantra. But the genius of India is that it finally rejects sophistry and accepts leaders with sincerity. Gandhi was no great orator but this country is yet to produce a greater mass leader than him.

(The writer is an independent analyst. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

[1] http://www.ambedkar.org/books/tu2.htm

India supporting and sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan? Pakistani lies exposed!

Sartaj-Aziz-Pc-Isb2

Sartaj Aziz with the Pakistani dossiers 

So the truth is finally out. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on foreign affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz confessed that the dossier on the so called Indian involvement in promoting terrorism in Pakistan given to the United Nations and the United States did not contain any ‘material evidence’ but instead contained ‘patterns and narratives’ of Indian involvement. This was stated in response to the demands of the members of the committee that the dossier and the evidence of Indian involvement be shared with them. Sartaj Aziz refused to share with them the dossier and stated that ‘The dossiers have been meticulously prepared, but material evidence cannot be shared for the sake of protecting the sources’.

The so called dossier was initially prepared by Pakistan for handing over to the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA), Mr. Ajit Doval during the meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan (as was agreed to in the meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Ufa, Russia).  It was reported (Economic Times, July 14, 2015; Pakistan PM’s NSA Sartaj Aziz says to hand over dossier on alleged Indian ‘interference’) that the Pakistani Establishment had told ET that this dossier had ‘solid evidence’ and had already been shared with some countries. Since the meeting was subsequently cancelled, the so called dossier was later presented to the UN Secretary General by Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and by PM Nawaz Sharif to John Kerry, US Secretary of State. This dossier was never shared with any Pakistani journalist or analyst and this is what a pro-establishment anchor Dr. Shahid Masood had to say about the dossier. Have a look:

 

 

Even the United States refused to acknowledge the dossier or the charges mentioned therein. Spokesman for the United States Department of State, John Kirby stated that he was not aware of the receipt of any such dossier. John Kerry (who is generally considered to be a Pakistan sympathizer), upon his meeting with the Pakistani PM, made no mention of the dossier and tweeted that he and PM Sharif discussed ‘security, regional and global issues’.  America further snubbed Pakistan and asked it to put in ‘additional effort to target all terrorists in its territory.’

 

Pakistani Accusations:

Of late the Pakistani establishment has been crying hoarse over Indian involvement in supporting terrorism in Pakistan. It accused India of funding the Pakistani political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) led by Mr. Altaf Hussain, supporting and funding the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), Pakistan and the Baloch Nationalists. The so called dossier was said to have been prepared as conclusive evidence of these involvements. The Pakistani establishment picked up the story of India having funded the MQM with a view to promote terror in Karachi from a report about the confessional statement of MQM leader Tariq Mir who was stated to have confessed before the London Metropolitan Police of having been provided funds by Indian agencies. The existence of any such confessional statement (as shown in the Pakistani media) was denied by Alan Crockford, the spokesman of the London Metropolitan Police who stated that ‘no such document is part of the record’. Interestingly, initially the story of Indian funding to MQM was broken in a BBC report by Owen Bennet-Jones. This story by Mr. Bennet-Jones remains in my eyes one of the shoddiest and most one sided works done by BBC and undermines its credibility and reputation. Here is how the (so called) expose begins, ‘Officials in Pakistan’s MQM party have told the UK authorities they received Indian government funds, the BBC learnt from an authoritative Pakistani source.’ So the entire expose rests on an ‘unnamed’ Pakistani authoritative source and the source from MQM. No cross verification of facts needed from the London Metropolitan Police! Since the latter denied it, the whole expose falls flat. You can have a look at the report and judge for yourself:

 

 

Pakistan has for long accused India of supporting Baluch nationalists who are waging a war for independence from Pakistan. It has accused the Indian consulates in Afghanistan of being conduits to support this war. To any student of international politics, it would appear preposterous that the Iranians would allow the Indian consulate in Zahedan to be used to foster an independence movement in Pakistani Baluchistan for this would invariably have a collateral impact on their restive Sistan Baluchistan province. Much hue and cry was made in 2009 over a statement by Dr. Christine Fair as proof of Indian support to Baloch terrorism wherein she had said (in the Foreign Policy roundtable), ‘Having visited the Indian Mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as their main activity.’ Masters as they are in the art of distorting facts, Pakistanis picked upon this statement as proof that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan through Iran. In an interview to Outlook magazine subsequently, Dr. Fair categorically denied that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan. She said, ‘I never said there was active support for terrorism, that is something that the Pakistanis attributed to me.’

Similarly, during the sidelines of the Non Aligned meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2009 when the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his then Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistani media went on overdrive reporting that a Pakistani PM had provided a dossier to Manmohan Singh on the Indian involvement in Baluchistan. It was reported that it was this dossier and the proof provided therein, that had forced the Indian PM to acknowledge the Indian involvement. It was because of this that Balochistan had found a reference in the joint declaration issued after the meeting. This joint declaration was much criticized in India. Later on though it was acknowledged by none other than the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that no such dossier had ever been given to the Indian PM. In an interview to the Outlook magazine he stated, ‘No we didn’t (hand over a dossier). Actually, we flagged the issue of Balochistan. We asked for a positive attitude and asked for non-interference inside Balochistan.’

It is worthwhile to note that Baloch separatist leaders like Hyrbyair Marri have repeatedly and categorically stated that Baloch people are not in favour of seeking Indian help for Baloch independence (Dawn, October 10, 2015; ‘Will never seek help from India: Hyrbyair Marri). He stated “I have never sought help from them, nor will I in the future.” Interestingly while Pakistan was preparing the so called dossier (in August), Brahmdagh Bugti, the Chief of Baloch Republican Army (BRA), announced his decision to open a dialogue with the Pakistani government. He stated that he was ready to negotiate with the Pakistani establishment and was ready to coexist with Pakistan. Here is what he said in his BBC Urdu interview:

 

 

If India was controlling these Baloch nationalists, how could it allow Brahamdagh Bugti to negotiate with Pakistan with a view to bring peace to Balochistan, especially when the relationship between the two countries is at the moment close to its lowest? Is it any secret as to what Pakistani agencies end up doing to Hurriyat moderates who show flexibility and willingness to negotiate with India? What happened to Abdul Majid Dar and Abdul Gani Lone?

The most preposterous claim made by the Pakistani establishment is that India supports the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP), Pakistan. Post the tragic attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, General Asif Bajwa, the Chief Military Spokesman accused India of funding the TTP. That the Taliban had been created and supported by Pakistan has been acknowledged by the then President of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf and is now on record. In an interview to the Guardian (13 February 2015, Musharraf: Pakistan and India’s backing of ‘proxies’ in Afghanistan must end), he stated that Pakistan supported the Taliban to undermine President Karzai. That the TTP is rabidly anti India has been stated time and again by the spokesmen and chiefs of Taliban themselves. In an interview to The News, (December 23, 2008), the Chief of TTP, Baitullah Mehsud had committed that ‘thousands of our militants are ready to fight alongside the army if war is imposed on Pakistan (by India)’. Hassan Abbas, the former Pakistani security officer in his book, The Taliban Revival writes that in November 2008, post Mumbai attacks, fearing surgical strikes from India, Pakistani intelligence had declared Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah, both senior commanders of TTP as ‘patriotic’ at a special confidential media briefing. He writes that leading Pakistani journalists were told by the Pakistani intelligence, ‘We have no big issues with the militants in FATA. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.’

Similarly, after an attack on the Pakistani side on the Wagah border (November 2014), TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan tweeted that India was as much a target for them as Pakistan and threatened to attack PM Modi.  See here:

 

 

Why the Pakistani insinuations?

Why is it that the Pakistanis have now suddenly ratcheted up the insinuation that Indians are involved in terrorism in Pakistan without any conclusive evidence? In the eyes of this author, there is method to this madness. Here are the reasons:

First, is the issue of ‘equivalence’. Pakistan seeks equality with ‘Hindu’ India in all spheres. As India has, much to the chagrin of Pakistan, successfully managed to convince the international community of being a victim of Pakistani sponsored terrorism, Pakistan wants to paint itself as a ‘victim’ of Indian sponsored terrorism so as to develop a false moral equivalence between the two countries. Unfortunately for Pakistan, there are not many takers of this argument and it is still seen by the international community as principally a ‘sponsor’ rather than a ‘victim’ of terrorism.

Second, Pakistan remains deeply concerned about the developing strategic relations between India and the United States. Pak PM Nawaz Sharif expressed concern during his US visit (September 2105) that American support to India was affecting the strategic balance in South Asia and requested the United States to side with Pakistan against India and to pressurize the latter to negotiate on Kashmir.

Pakistan’s ambivalent attitude towards terrorism and its selective targeting of terrorists has gradually changed the narrative in the United States which now has started to look at Pakistan more as a part of the problem than the solution. Mention should be made here of the candid admission by Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan should not target those militants who do not threaten its security. ‘Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies?’ he asked in an interview to BBC Urdu in November 2014. ‘Some of them are dangerous for us and some aren’t, so why should we make enemies of them all?’ he asked while speaking of the Haqqani network.  Though the US establishment is still to get over its old habit of seeking to ‘buy’ off better behavior from the Pakistani establishment, more and more voices of the futility of this approach are now being heard. A corollary to this is that India receives a more sympathetic hearing to its narrative of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism. USA has been pressurizing Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and also against the D Company.

Third, the Pakistanis believe that since the mid of this year, the geo-strategic and geo-political situation/ dynamics had gradually and irretrievably turned in their favour. Their all-weather friend China had recently announced an investment of 46 billion dollars in Pakistan and President Ghani of Afghanistan had gone out on a limb to repair the relationship with Pakistan reversing many of his predecessor’s so called pro-India policies. President Ghani had not only decided to put on hold Karzai’s request for Indian weapons to fight the Taliban, but had also sent six Afghan army cadets to Pakistan for training, visited the Pakistan army HQ (November 2014) and signed an agreement with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to combat terrorism. In return it was expected that Pakistan would use its influence to reign in the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. The United States and China too were supportive of Pakistan in the belief that it could help in a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. All this helped create a mistaken sense of bravado and arrogance in the Pakistani establishment that they were indispensable to the achievement of the geo-strategic objectives of major powers and so could adopt a more belligerent attitude towards India. (That the subsequent events like the failure of the Murree talks and the Kunduz attack by the Taliban made Ghani realize the futility of his outreach to Pakistan and the limitations of Pakistani influence on the Taliban itself is another story.)

Fourth, is the oft repeated Pakistani establishment’s strategy of ‘externalizing’ its internal problems. Since the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, incidents of terrorism have gone down in the country but there still have been some spectacular terrorist attacks by the TTP like the unfortunate attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar (December 2014) in which 132 innocent children were killed and the attack on the Air Force Base in Badaber (September 2015) in which 29 people were killed. Dr. C. Christine Fair in her book ‘Fighting to the End: Pakistan Army’s Way of War’ mentions that in the face of internal threats and challenges, the Pakistani Army seeks to externalize (mostly successfully) these threats to the enemies (India) who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn not only brings the focus back to India but also buttresses the Pakistan army’s role as the premium institution in meeting these threats. As mentioned earlier, it is not for nothing that the DG, ISPR Gen. Bajwa was quick to blame India after these attacks.

Fifth, is the personality of the present Army Chief of Pakistan General Raheel Sharif. He is a hawk on India. He hails from a family of ‘martyrs’ and his brother Rana Shabbir Sharif was killed in the 1971 war with India and is the only recipient of both the Sitara-e-Jurrat and the Nishan-e-Haider. In fact, on his elevation to the post of COAS many analysts argued that he got the position only because of his family legacy. He was not in a command position as Lt. General but was serving as Inspector General, Training and Evaluation (DG, T&E). He was also not the senior most but third in the list of Generals to be considered for the position after Lt. General Haroon Aslam and Lt. General Mehmood. Taking a firm anti-India line always helps consolidate one’s position amongst skeptics in Pakistan. Further, like Nawaz Sharif, he too is a Kashmiri. So any one in India having any illusion that the General will be accommodating towards India is in my opinion day dreaming.

Sixth, the change in government in New Delhi and the new hardline but pragmatic policy of the present government has disoriented the Pakistani establishment. Used to the old ways of the earlier governments, Pakistan finds the belligerent statements of the present NSA and ministers disconcerting. It does un-nerve the Pakistani establishment when India’s defense minister goes on record to state ‘kaante se kaanta nikana’ (use a thorn to take out thorns) and that ‘we will neutralize terrorists through terrorists only’. Pakistan understands that India does have the ability to respond to Pakistani terrorism in kind (but has as a policy refrained so far from doing so) as was demonstrated during the days of the Punjab insurgency when RAW (India’s spy agency) had created a Covert Intelligence Team X (CIT-X) and a Covert Intelligence Team J (CIT-J) to target Pakistan and Khalistani terrorists.  For some unknown reasons and in the mistaken belief that it will earn Pakistani goodwill, these covert teams were closed down under the orders of the then PM, Mr. I. K Gujaral. Pakistan believes that if it raises sufficient hue and cry about Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan (even without any evidence), it could pressurize India to refrain from such covert activities/operations.

Seventh, with the international pressure it was subjected to after its state sponsoring of the Mumbai attack, Pakistan was forced to reign in some of its proxies created with the express aim to give effect to its doctrine of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts.’ Further, under domestic pressure post the attack on school children on Peshawar, it started taking action against anti-Pakistan militant organizations like the TTP and some sectarian organizations. While some terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are pro-Pakistan to the hilt and would in no circumstances countenance an attack on the Pakistani state, other terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Badr, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc. share an ideological affinity with the militant Islam professed by groups like the Taliban. Recently, there were reports that bodies of 71 Al-Badr militants killed in a drone attack in Afghanistan were returned to Pakistan, pointing to the ideological affinity and relationship between these militant organizations. The Pakistan establishment fears that these militants may soon declare the Pakistani state and army as apostate and may turn against them by aligning with anti-Pakistani militant groups. A belligerent stance against India not only helps in shoring up Pakistani reputation in the eyes of these militant groups (for as mentioned earlier, these groups remain firmly anti-India) but also helps to keep public opinion firmly in its favor.

Last but not the least, the narrative that India is supporting and funding groups like the TTP helps remove any skepticism from the minds of the Pakistani troops and officers in the justness of their fight against these groups, who claim to fight for Islam and the Sharia. It is no secret that the Pakistani society and the Armed forces have become deeply Islamic post Zia’s Islamization programme. During the Afghan Jihad, many in the Pakistani armed forces developed close contacts and life-long associations with the Mujahadeen. Brig. Sultan Amir (Colonel Imam) has been a legendary figure in the Pak army and a supporter of the Taliban till his assassination ironically by the latter. Khalid Mehmood, a technician with the Pakistan Air Force was convicted and hanged in an assassination attempt on Parvez Musharraf. Similarly, the attacks on PNS Mehran Naval Base in 2011 and Karma Airbase in 2014 were attributed to insiders. With such divided loyalties amongst the armed forces, the official narrative that TTP is funded by and so is a stooge of ‘Hindu’ India is a convenient psy-op devised to foster unity amongst the armed forces and to remove all skepticism from their minds of the righteousness of the cause of taking up arms against these groups.

It can thus be seen that while the establishment of Pakistan does realize that it does not have any substantive proof of Indian involvement of terrorism in Pakistan, it is convenient and useful for them to keep carping about it. I conclude by quoting Cyril Almeida, a well-known Pakistani columnist on the dossier (Dawn, October 4, 2015, ‘One country, Three policies’); ‘Some familiar with the contents thought it lucky the Indians weren’t willing to receive the dossiers…Because, had the Indians been embarrassed into receiving them, they may have gleefully splashed the contents around the world — so shoddy being either the work of the dossiers’ compilers or, worryingly, of the intelligence-gatherers themselves.’ So can we say that the drama of the cancellation of NSA talks was enacted not by Pakistan because India insisted on discussing only terrorism, but because they were too afraid and embarrassed to hand over these so called dossiers with proofs to the Indians?

 

 

Why did Al-Baghdadi proclaim Caliphate and not Bin-Laden or Taliban?

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On June 29, 2014 at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramzan (Ramadan), a group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) (also known as ISIS), declared the establishment of an Islamic ‘Caliphate’ in the areas controlled  by it in Iraq and Syria. The Caliphate was subsequently rechristened ‘Islamic State (IS)’ and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed ‘Caliph’. Questions are being asked as to why it was the ISIS which proclaimed the Caliphate and not Taliban or Osama-bin-Laden? This is more intriguing considering the fact that the avowed goal of the Al-Qaeda (reading its literature) is the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the Muslim lands.

Here is my take on the issue.

Timing of the proclamation of Caliphate

As to the question of timing of the proclamation of Caliphate by Al-Baghdadi, I would like to draw the attention of the readers to the writings of the Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein. He spent time with Al-Zarqawi (the mentor of Al-Baghdadi) in prison and soon gained access to the Al-Qaeda inner circle of which Al-Zarqawi was a part then. Al-Zarqawi paid nominal allegiance to the Al-Qaeda, though the relationship was difficult from the outset. He was later disowned by the Al-Qaeda for his ruthless ways. Fouad Hussein brought out a remarkable book in Arabic called “Al Zarqawi- Al Qaeda’s Second Generation.” (This unfortunately has not been translated into English). Loretta Napoleoni in her book “Insurgent Iraq- Al Zarqawi and the New Generation” has made references to Fouad Hussein’s work.

Based on Fouad Hussein’s book Yassin Musharbash, writing in the German newspaper SPIEGEL Online (The Future of Terrorism, 12 August 2005) states that the ‘insurgent network hopes to establish the Islamic Caliphate’ in seven steps;

  • The first phase from 2000 to 2003 was characterised as the “Awakening Phase”. The aim in this phase was to provoke USA into declaring war on the Islamic world, thereby awakening the Muslims. 9/11 was a part of this strategy.
  • The second phase from 2003 to 2006 was defined by Hussein as the “Opening Eyes,” whereby Muslims of the world would be made aware of the western conspiracy against them. The insurgents believed that their organisation would develop into a movement in this period.
  • The third phase from 2007 to 2010 was described as the “Arising and Standing up” phase. During this period there was to be increased focus on Syria and attacks on Israel.
  • The fourth phase from 2010 to 2013 was when the insurgents would aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The power vacuum so created would strengthen the hands of the insurgents.
  • The fifth phase from 2013 to 2016 was the point when “Islamic Caliphate would be declared”. They believed that by this time the Western influence on the Islamic world would have reduced and no resistance would be feared.
  • The sixth phase from 2016 will be a period of “Total Confrontation.” With the declaration of the caliphate the “Islamic army” will instigate a “fight between believers and non-believers.”
  • The seventh or the final phase will be completed by 2020 and will lead to “Definitive Victory” and the success of the Caliphate. The rest of the world would be beaten down by “one and a half billion Muslims.”

Going strictly by the seven phases described above the proclamation of the Caliphate coincides with the time period as provided by Al-Zarqawi and his followers. Al-Baghdadi who proclaimed himself the Caliph was a close confidant and follower of Al-Zarqawi.

Al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden and Al-Zawahriri instead believed that the caliphate could only be declared only when certain criteria are met, the most notable of them being the liberation of all Muslim lands. In its latest newsletter Al Nafir, Al Qaeda details the occupied Muslim lands to be liberated before the caliphate can be declared. These include Palestine, Chechnya and the Caucuses, Kashmir, Spain, East Turkestan, Afghanistan, Arab World, Pakistan and Afghanistan. So the capture of some rump territory cannot be the basis for the proclamation of the caliphate in the eyes of Al-Qaeda.

Modalities of the choosing the Caliph

Al-Qaeda believes that post the liberation of the Muslim lands, the Caliph would be chosen by a ‘Shura’ or thru a consultative decision making process. This process of consultative decision making process has been prescribed in the Quran and has been practiced by the Prophet (PBUH) himself. Upon the Caliphs selection by the ‘Shura’, the Muslims would proclaim their allegiance (bay’a) to him, thus making him the legitimate Caliph. In the eyes of Al-Qaida, Al-Baghdadi is a pretender for he was not elected by a ‘Shura’, instead he self-proclaimed himself as Caliph. In his sermon at Mosul Al-Baghdadi said, “I have been appointed caliph over you, even if I am not the best or the most morally excellent amongst you.” This goes against the grain of not only of how Caliphs were selected but the hallmarks of the rightly guided Caliph’s i.e. their high standards of humility, wisdom and morality.

In 1996, his followers did proclaim their allegiance (bay’a) to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar after he donned the cloak of the Prophet (PBUH), but he took upon himself the title of Amir-ul-Mu’minin (Commander of the faithful) and not the Caliph. The reason in my view was that his vision was limited to the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan and the Taliban had no global jihadist ambitions. It is worthwhile to mention here that Taliban rule in Afghanistan was based not only on the Islamic Sharia but also on the Pashtun code of conduct called ‘Pashtunwali,’ a unique tradition prevailing only in Afghanistan.

Further, the first four caliphs called rightly guided caliphs all claimed descent from the Quraysh tribe. Neither Bin Laden nor Mullah Omar could either claim kinship to the Prophet (PBUH) or the Quraysh tribe. It is no surprise then that to reinforce his claim as the Caliph, Al-Baghdadi has assumed the title of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Al-Husseini Al-Qurashi, reiterating his descent from the Quraysh tribe.

Establishment of a proto-state

The establishment of the Caliphate in Iraq in my view is not only a religious exercise but also a political enterprise. The ISIS, which subsequently renamed itself as the IS and proclaimed itself as the Caliphate seeks to establish a proto state in the western and northern Iraqi areas captured by it. By proclaiming itself as the Islamic State it seeks to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunni Muslims around the world. This also helps in establishing its identity as distinct from other Muslim ‘movements’ like the Al-Qaeda and hopes that groups proclaiming allegiance to them would switch loyalties to the IS. In The Hindu (Battling for the Islamic Space, Imagination, 9 July 2014), Talmiz Ahmad wrote “As of now, ISIS enjoys several advantages over al-Qaeda: while the al-Qaeda leadership is located in the remote inaccessible areas of Afghanistan, ISIS has placed itself at the heart of the Arab world.”

Reports from the areas controlled by it indicate that the IS is a pragmatic exercise. Mushreq Abbas wrote in Al-Monitor (Why Al-Qaeda is no Islamic Clone, 23 July 2014) that the IS is “striking alliances with Baathist groups and tribal factions. Some former Baathist figures have been appointed also to managing posts in the city. The invasion of Mosul and most of the other Sunni cities entails economic and managerial plans, including the provision of fuel, food supplies, distribution of land and the search for funding resources from oil wells — the newly exploited and operating ones and those that remain under geologic studies.”

Many disparate groups like the ex-Baathists, Salafists, Naqshabadis, ex-Iraqi army of Saddam Hussain came into a coalition of convenience against the sectarian policies of Noori al Maliki and joined hands with ISIS to create the IS. They have different ideological orientation and affiliations. Also it should be noted that Iraqi nationalism is pretty fragile. Unlike Afghanistan where despite ethnic differences, there is a general consensus amongst all ethnic groups be it Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks or the Hazaras that Afghan state should remain united, Iraqi territorial nationalism (created by Sykes Picot agreement) has been under challenge from various ethnic groups like the Kurds and now the Sunnis. In my opinion Al Baghdadi probably believes that the proclamation of a Sunni caliphate is the glue that would hold these groups together. Mullah Omar faced no such challenges in dealing with Afghan nationalism.

I would conclude by saying that while scholars may argue about as to why Al Qaeda and the Taliban did not declare the Caliphate early and why did the IS declare it now, the need of the hour is to see the clear and present danger that these organisations pose to both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. The videos of IS brutalities are blood curdling and destruction of Shia holy sites has the potential to fan a wave of sectarianism around the world. IS provides safe havens for terrorists with dangerous ramifications for global peace and security. The need of the hour is a unified response by the global community to meet the challenges posed by these forces.

 

Proclamation of Caliphate by ISIS: Challenges for India

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“The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas”- Abu Muhammad al-Adnani

On June 29, 2014 at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramzan (Ramadan), a group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) (also known as ISIS), declared the establishment of an Islamic ‘Caliphate’ in the areas controlled  by it in Iraq and Syria. The Caliphate was subsequently rechristened ‘Islamic State (IS)’ and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed ‘Caliph’.  The group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in a statement, ‘He is the Imam and Khalifah (Caliph) for the Muslims everywhere,’ and asked all Muslim groups around the world to pay allegiance to him.  ‘It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to (him) and support him…The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the Khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas,’ the statement added. Earlier in June, in a lightening advance, ISIS had captured areas in western and northern Iraq and amalgamated them with areas of northern and eastern Syria that had been under their control for nearly two years.

Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre, considers the announcement of the restoration of the caliphate as the most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11. The rise of ISIS and the proclamation has raised serious concerns not only in the Middle East but also around the globe.

How do these events affect India? Do we need to be concerned? In this blog post I try to address these questions.

Nostalgia of caliphate and international jihad

The idea of caliphate evokes a deep nostalgia for Islam’s glory and power in the minds of Muslims around the world, Indian Muslims being no exception. This coupled with the present state of the Muslim Ummah characterised by political instability, economic and technological backwardness and perceived domination of  Muslim regimes by the west, fuel a desire to ‘revert’  to the ‘golden’ age of the caliphate amongst many Muslims. Many Salafist theoreticians, prominent amongst them being Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb in their writings have proclaimed the establishment of the caliphate as divinely ordained. They also lay down the ‘divine’ plan for the establishment of the caliphate. These Salafists divide history into two parts, the period of ‘jahiliyyah’ (ignorance) and the period of ‘Islam’. The present world is the world of ‘jahiliyyah’ which will be followed by the world of Islam. To achieve the world of Islam, ‘jihad’ has to be carried out in three stages, the first being the strengthening of one’s faith (adherence to Salafist Islam), the second ‘hijrat’ (moving from ‘infidel’ communities to ‘faithful’ communities) and third ‘jihad’.  It is not surprising then that the ISIS has been using social media and YouTube as propaganda tools that show Muslims from around the world congregating in the areas controlled by it, burning their passports (hijrat), pledging allegiance to the caliphate (IS), and eulogizing jihad. The video posted shows these jihadis from foreign countries threatening their country of origin with jihad once they return.

The virus of international jihad has not affected Indian Muslims much to the chagrin of international jihadist organizations like the Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has generally failed to win recruits in India; so much so that an Urdu video posted on As-Shabab (media wing of Al-Qaeda) featuring the militant cleric Maulana Aasim Umar, in June 2013 asked the Indian Muslims in frustration, ‘Why is there no storm in your ocean?’ As per a newspaper report (‘Al- Qaeda’s Indian dilemma’, Tufail Ahmed, 27 June 2013, New Indian Express), ‘in the years after 9/11 only three Indians reportedly got entangled in international jihadi networks: Kafeel Ahmed, a Bangalore-born Muslim who was raised in Saudi Arabia, died carrying out a car bombing at the Glasgow airport; Dhiren Barot aka Abu Musa al-Hindi, a Vadodara-born Hindu who got radicalized in Britain, converted to Islam and is imprisoned over his role in jihad; Mohammad Niaz, who was arrested in Paris and is believed to have ties to the Students Islamic Movement of India. These cases of jihadi radicalization occurred abroad (not in India).’ However, the situation may have changed recently with some Indian nationals having joined the Al-Qaeda. Indians have been seen training with other Al-Qaeda terrorists in the propaganda videos released by As-Shabab.  Following the arrest of alleged Indian Mujahideen operative Yasin Bhatkal last August, investigators found evidence of two youths from Azamgarh in UP having gone to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda and ‘fighting in Afghanistan-Pakistan border’.

The aim of the IS caliphate is to establish Islamic world domination of which India forms a part. The map released by the IS shows India under the ‘Islamic State of Khorasan’ which comprises areas of Iran, the Central Asian republics, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would be worthwhile to mention here that the region of ‘Khorasan’ holds a very important place in the idea of Jihad and is rooted in ‘faith’. It is said that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prophesized that ancient Khorasan would be the initial theatre of war for the ‘End of Times’ battles. This initial battle ground also incorporates ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’, or the battle of India. Syed Saleem Shahzad in his book ‘Inside the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban’ argues that it is because of this belief that Al-Qaeda, despite being an Arab organization chose South Asia and Afghanistan as the areas to start its  jihadist struggle. He writes, ‘It is part of Islamic faith that the Prophet’s predictions will come to pass, and once the Muslim armies have won the battle of Khorasan and India, they will march to the Middle East to join forces with the promised Mahdi (the ultimate reformer), and do battle against the Antichrist and its Western allies for the liberation of Palestine.’

Radicalization of Muslim youth

The establishment of IS has raised genuine concerns in the Indian security establishment about the radicalization of Indian Muslim youth. The New Indian Express (Intelligence fears Iraq conflict tremors in India, 6 July 2014), quoting intelligence sources reported that ‘Indian agencies have also warned of Al-Qaeda al-Hind (AQAH) penetration and alleged tie up with SIMI and Indian Mujahadeen (IM) to carry out terror activities in India. An offshoot of Al-Qaeda, AQAH is said to be involved in recruiting terror cells in IM’s fertile ground in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan to carry out Jihad in Syria and Iraq.’

There have been reports of Indian nationals fighting with the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. A Tamil Nadu born Singapore resident,Haji Fakkurudin Usman Ali was reported to be fighting for the ISIS in Syria. Ali is believed to have been radicalised by another man from Tamil Nadu called Gul Mohammad Maraikar, who was deported to India recently. The Times of India (June 9, 2014) reported that Indian agencies were monitoring the activities of 18 Indian youth currently based in Iraq and Syria over their suspected involvement in sectarian violence in these countries. Similarly Indian Express (July 14, 2014), reported that four youths from Mumbai had joined the IS to wage jihad. Though the figures may not be large the government is wary that these youths, on their return may unleash violence in India.

As an on and off reader of Urdu newspapers, I find the attitude of the Urdu press to the IS generally ambivalent if not ‘favourable’. They have generally projected the IS in a favourable light. The comment by one of the nurses who returned to India wherein she said that they were treated well by their captors was given prominent front page coverage. However, reportage on the excesses of the IS, like killings of the Shias, destruction of their mosques and atrocities committed on minorities were generally muted and found limited news space. Such articles and op-eds may end up giving further legitimacy to the IS in the eyes of the Indian Muslims especially of the majority Sunni sect.

Jihad in Kashmir and cross border terrorism

The rise of IS may give a fillip to the jihadi forces in Kashmir and cross border terrorism. There are historical linkages between ISIS and Pakistani terrorist organisations. ISIS traces its origins to Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ) and later Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), founded by Abu Musab-al Zarqawi.  Zarqawi is said to have moved to Pakistan at the age of 23 to participate in the Afghan Jihad and lived in Hayatabad area of Peshawar. He was hosted by Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ) and is said to have trained their cadres in his training camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. It was in Pakistan that he came in touch with Al-Qaeda leaders and also adopted the fundamentalist Salafist Islam. Later he developed differences with the top Al Qaeda leadership of Zawahiri and Bin Laden. They disowned him for the indiscriminate killings of Muslims in Iraq. During his stay in Pakistan (till 1999), is said to have deeply influenced the cadres of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ). No wonder on his death by drone strike (7 June 2006), Jamat-ud-Dawa (renamed LeT) held a funeral meeting for him in absentia. (10 June 2007). The current leader if IS, Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi, is a disciple of Al-Zarqawi.

A study of the social media feeds of radical Sunni organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Janghvi of Pakistan reveal that they are supportive of the IS. A splinter group of Taliban, Tehrik-e-Khilafat of Pakistan has already pledged allegiance to the IS and has promised to raise the Islamic flag in South Asia and Khorasan. The Chairman of the United Jihad Council (UJC), Syed Salahuddin has sought help from Al- Qaeda and other transnational jihadi organisations in their struggle to liberate Kashmir. ‘If Al-Qaeda, Taliban or any other organisation extends a helping hand to the Kashmiris, we will welcome it’, he said, accusing the Indian army of running a ‘reign of terror’ in Kashmir. Though the IS was not overtly mentioned, reading between the lines and the timing of the statement makes it clear that the exhortation was as much to the Al Qaeda/Taliban as to the IS.

Sectarianism and Shia Sunni conflict

The ISIS is a rabidly sectarian Sunni organisation. Post the takeover of major towns in western and northern Iraq, ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani pledged to transform Iraq into a living hell for ‘the Shia and other heretics’ and called upon the destruction of Shia holy sites of Najaf and Karbala. In response Ayatollah Sistani; Iraq’s highest ranking Shia cleric gave a call to arms to all able bodied Shias to protect these holy sites. This qualifies as his most radical fatwa to date. Ayatollah Sistani had urged restraint to his followers even during the US occupation of Iraq, his commitment unwavering even during the attack on Al-Asqari mosque in the Shia holy city of Samara.

Intelligence agencies fear that the ripples of this sectarian conflict may soon be felt in India. On June 19, 2014, Shia and Sunni youths clashed in the Sadatgunj and Talkatora areas of Old Lucknow over the activities of ISIS in Iraq.  Uttar Pradesh Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) reported that Shia organisations in several districts in UP were trying to persuade young boys to fight in Iraq by offering them monetary benefits. Times of India reported (June 26, 2014) that ‘an organization called Anjuman-e-Haideri has started recruiting volunteers pledging to protect Shia holy shrines in Iraq. Hasan Haider, an executive member of the group claims that more than 20,000 people have registered so far from all over India and, if granted visas, will go and serve in Iraq.’ Such sectarian conflicts do not augur well for peace in India.

Impact on Indian economy

Middle East is extremely important for India geo strategically; its stability in India’s core national interest.  India depends on the Middle East for much of its energy requirements and any increase in global oil prices may put a severe strain on India’s current account deficit and lead to inflationary pressure. India also has a large diaspora in the Middle East which remits nearly 30 billion dollars.  Any instability in this region does not augur well for India. So far, much to the relief of Indian policymakers the conflict remains confined to the Iraqi theatre. However the situation could change.  There are disturbing reports of ISIS participating in the current Israeli Palestinian conflict in Gaza. If the theatre of conflict expands and other countries drawn into conflict, Indian economy may be impacted negatively.

In conclusion it can thus be said that the rise of the IS poses major challenge to India’s internal security and economic interests. Indian security agencies need to adopt a proactive approach in responding to these security challenges. To check radicalization of the Musim youth, authorities have to initiate a dialogue with every sections/sects of the Muslim society. The Ulemas and elders of the Muslim community have a responsibility to check the growth of these radical tendencies. Thankfully, none of the Muslim leadership /Ulemas in India has supported the announcement of Caliphate by IS. India also needs to diversify its crude basket and remain engaged with the governments of the Middle East so that its energy supplies are not disrupted and the Indian diaspora remains safe.

 

 

 

Operation Zarb e Azb: Will it end terrorism from Pakistan?

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“Pakistan’s policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan has been proven wrong and the country now needs to focus all its strength on dealing with the militants”- Hillary Clinton

The Pakistani armed forces launched a military offensive christened ‘Zarb-e Azb’ (sharp and cutting strike), against the Pakistani Taliban and local and foreign militants based in North Waziristan on 15 June 2014. Pre-dawn airstrikes were launched by the armed forces in which 105 terrorists were alleged to have been killed. North Waziristan is one of the tribal agencies in Pakistan which borders Afghanistan and was seen as the most important sanctuary for Al Qaeda, Pakistani and Afghan insurgents. The operation was launched in the backdrop of the daring attack on the busiest international airport of Pakistan, the Jinnah International Airport at Karachi. Ten militants of TTP and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) attacked the airport on 8 June 2014, killing 36 people.

The Americans and the Afghan government had been calling upon the Pakistan government to launch an operation in this area for long as this area was considered the epicenter from which militants launched operations against the ISAF and Afghan forces.  Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend’ China, had also expressed concern over the sanctuaries of the East Turkestan Movement in the area. Pakistan though was reluctant to carry out any military offensive in North Waziristan since this was the base of the ‘good’ or the pro-Pakistan Taliban like the Haqqanis’ who were being used to further Pakistan’s geo-strategic interests in the region. The government of Nawaz Sharif in March had sought to engage the Taliban in peace talks which collapsed with the brazen attack on Karachi airport.

Describing the operation, the military spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, characterized the operation as the ‘beginning of the end of terrorism in Pakistan’. He further added that the military would not discriminate between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban and that ‘for military, there is no discrimination among different Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) groups or the Haqqani Network’. ‘Army will crush them all.’

Several questions however remain in the eyes of skeptics. Firstly, will this operation achieve its objective of eliminating terrorism from Pakistan? Secondly, has the Pakistan state really debunked its desire for strategic depth in Afghanistan and ceased to use terrorist groups as an instrument of state to achieve its geo-strategic objectives in the region? Thirdly, does the operation have unstinting support of the general populous and how long will this support last? My blog post is an assessment and answers to these three questions.

1. Will Zarb-e-Azb end terrorism in Pakistan?

According to this author the answer is an emphatic no. The Pakistani state lacks a strategic vision and strategy to deal with the issue of terrorism confronting it. Its counter terrorism instruments and institutions are either weak or dysfunctional and the country lacks consensus amongst its politico- military leadership on the most effective methodology to tackle terrorism.  The state thus adopts ‘tactical’ rather than ‘strategic’ approach to tackle terrorism.

Owning the operation

In any war it is not only the armed forces but the ‘nation’ that goes to war. To succeed, every instrument of state i.e. the government, political parties, civil society, media etc have to be on the same page and endorse the strategy adopted. It seems however that consensus still eludes the nation on the question if force should be used against the militants based in North Waziristan. Though the military in its press release claimed that it was acting on the direction of the government and had ‘launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan’, subsequent statements revealed that not all political leadership/parties were on board or fully briefed. The provincial governments of Sind and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) complained that they had not informed before the launch of the operation.  Shabbir Ahmed Khan, the provincial Secretary-General of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a part of the ruling coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said ‘The Federal government did not take the provincial government into confidence.’ Similarly, Senator Farhatullah Babur of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stated that the Sind government of PPP had received no prior intimation about the operation. While Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has lent grudging support to the operation, the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) has opposed it. The Chief of JI and Finance minister of KPK, Shiraj ul Haq lashed out at the Federal government for not finding a way to avoid the operation.

The Federal cabinet also seems divided on the issue. While Khwaja Asif, the Defence Minister is said to be in support of this operation, Chaudhary Nisar, the Interior Minister is opposed to it. This lack of consensus amongst political parties and government ministers, who serve as important builders and mediators of public opinion, may seriously compromise the achievement of objective as set out by the operation.

Weak/dysfunctional counter terrorism institutions

In February 2014, the Nawaz Sharif Government brought out the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) which envisaged developing multi pronged strategies to meet the challenges of terrorism. However, there are reports that NISP was prepared without the participation of an important stakeholder; the armed forces of Pakistan. So far not much work has happened on the provisions of the NISP.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Act was passed in March 2013,but as Ansar Abbasi wrote (The News,  June 18, 2014) ‘not a single meeting of the authority’s high-powered board of governors, headed by the prime minister and comprising all the key government players including spymasters has been held as yet. This board has a key role in implementing the NISP which promises capacity building of criminal justice system, police, civil armed forces and other law enforcing agencies for border management besides setting up of a key institution to be called the Directorate of Internal Security (DIS), which would be established under the NACTA to coordinate intelligence and operational work of all the civilian and military agencies to effectively counter terrorism.’

International experience in fighting terrorism shows that professional and motivated police forces supported by effective intelligence agencies are the best instruments in fighting terrorism. However in Pakistan police are hardly in ‘the lead’ in fighting terrorism as this role has been ‘usurped’ by the military. Though they make some perfunctory noises from time to time, this author believes that the Pakistan army has a vested interest in checking the growth of an effective police force as it compromises its image of being the ‘sole’ provider of security in the country. An Asia Society report (edited by Hassan Abbas) on Police reforms in Pakistan stated, ‘Pakistan’s police system suffers severe deficiencies in a number of areas, including equipment, technology, personnel, training, and intelligence capability. Moreover, the political will needed to address these issues is largely missing. Besides a poor public image, both the police leadership and the rank and file appear to lack a sense of accountability to the public they are meant to serve. Moreover, the system simply is not structured to reward good behaviour, as merit-based opportunities for professional advancement are scarce, low pay is the norm, and a lack of support and resources compels even many well-intentioned officers to misuse their authority in order to survive.’

Another weakness noticed in the police force is Pakistan is the lack of women police officers. In a report prepared by the Institute of Inclusive Security (March 2014) it was stated, ‘Policewomen improve the operational effectiveness of these forces by building trust with local commu­nities, more effectively de-escalating violence, and collecting vital intelligence that men could not. Due to prohibitive norms, only women in the police can serve as first responders to care for female victims of terrorist attacks. Additionally, female civilians are more likely to report cases of gender-based violence to women officers. These roles help cultivate a more collabo­rative relationship between the police and citizens, who otherwise typically see the country’s police forces as corrupt and inefficient.’ Statistics released by the National Police Bureau of Pakistan in 2011 revealed that out of 453,901 members of the police forces, only 4,027 were women. This repre­sented only 0.89 per cent of the total police strength of Pakistan. Most of them served in lower ranks, from constable to inspector level. Only 85 of these policewomen served in higher ranks, and the majority were from Punjab.

Similarly, the convictions of captured terrorists remain low. While the conviction rates in countries like the United States is close to 95 per cent, in Pakistan it remains a dismal five per cent. In a report titled ‘Anti Terror Laws, Policing and the Criminal Justice System: A Case Study of Anti Terrorist Efforts in Punjab’ it was stated that out of 1,015 cases pending before the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) in Punjab, only 506 were adjudicated with 136 convictions only. The report calls for a holistic reform of the criminal judicial system in Punjab.

2. Has the notion of strategic depth/terror as an instrument of foreign policy been debunked?

It is no secret that Pakistan has created, nurtured and supported many of these terrorist and sectarian groups to achieve its perceived geo-strategic interests in the region. Groups like the Haqqani Network, based in North Waziristan were supported with a view to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan while anti-India groups were supported to wage a proxy war against its eastern neighbor. With the launch of Zabr-e-Azb, has Pakistani state ended support to these groups and are all terrorist groups being targeted by the Pakistan armed forces? The reports emanating from the field do not give much hope to such assertions.

Distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists

Reports emanating from North Waziristan suggest that most of the ‘good’ Taliban had already left the area before the launch of the operation and moved into Afghanistan. This included the Haqqanis and Hafiz Gul Bahadur. A BBC news report (M. Ilyas Khan, 30 June 2014) read, ‘Recent evidence suggests that most of these groups have already left the regions around Miranshah and the other main town in North Waziristan, Mir Ali. The most prominent among these are the Uzbek fighters allied to the TTP who claimed the 7 June assault on Karachi airport, and are believed by many to be one of the two major targets of the current operation, along with the TTP.  They are mostly believed to have slipped into Afghanistan’s Khost province after Pakistani troops left a section of the border unmanned for a couple of weeks prior to the operation.’ This fact was also corroborated by Saifullah Mehsud of the FATA Research Centre speaking to Ejaz Haider on his programme “Beylaag” on Capital TV on 1 July 2014. It seems to be a redux of the earlier operation in South Waziristan of 2009, Rah-e-Nijaat, where the leadership of the terrorists groups had managed or were allowed to escape before the launch of the operation. Analysts believe that Pakistan militarily still believes that it would need the support of these ‘good’ Taliban post the withdrawal of ISAF forces in 2014 to counter its arch-rival India in Afghanistan. So much for the burial of the concept of strategic depth!

Punjabi and Karachi Taliban

The militants based in North Waziristan have developed organic linkages with other terrorist and sectarian groups based in other regions of Pakistan especially in Punjab and Karachi. In his seminal work ‘Punjabi Taliban’, Mujahid Hussain (page 38) writes, ‘Today the greatest number of organisations and groups indulging in extremism, sectarian and jihadi activities in the region are located in the different cities and towns of Punjab. Except for certain militant groups that are active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal Belt, the centre of all jihadist and sectarian outfits are situated in Punjab. It is also worth mentioning here that the greatest supply of cannon fodder of the militants to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal areas comes from Punjab. According to a conservative estimate, more than fifty percent of the militants active in these areas, hail from Punjab. After the US invasion in Afghanistan the majority of terrorsits of Al-Qaeda and Taliban have taken refuge in Punjab. The prominent operatives of Al-Qaeda like Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, Abu-Zubaida and Abu Khalifan were all arrested from big urban centres of Punjab and Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Gujarat whereas hundreds of other terrorists were captured from different cities of province.’ Is it any surprise then that Osama bin Laden was living in Abottabad?

Karachi has an ethnic Pashtun population of around four million which provides a ‘safety net’ to the militants of FATA. These linkages go back to the 1990’s when Taliban had established its first office in the areas of Sohrab Goth and Pashtunabad areas in late 1994 which were only closed down when Pakistan recognised the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 1996.  Zahid Hussain in his book ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ writes (page 5), ‘The port city of Karachi, a teeming metropolis of 18 million people in the Arabian Sea, has become a main hub of radicalism, offering the militants sanctuary as well as funding and a steady flow of new recruits from the thousands of madrassas spread across the city. It was in Karachi that Faisal Shahzad (the Times Square bomber) made contact with those who helped him make his way to the tribal territory of Waziristan for training in bomb making.’

Karachi has also emerged as the ‘purse’ of militancy in Pakistan with militants engaging in extortions, kidnappings for ransom and also bank robberies. As per police estimates nearly 65 per cent of bank robberies in the city can be traced back to various Islamist groups, particularly the TTP. A large number of sleeper cells of various militant outfits exist in Karachi. During the period 2010-2012, nearly 300 TTP activists/financers have been arrested from the city. (Imtiaz Gul, ‘Pakistan before and after Osama, page 144-5).

Unless action is taken against all militant groups in all parts of the country, chances of a terrorism free Pakistan will remain a chimera. So far the state has shown no inclination of desire to curb the activities of these terrorists groups. I have not mentioned the sectarian outfits here for have already written about them in my previous blog post here.

3. Public support for the operation?

For any operation to succeed, unstinting public support to the armed forces is a prerequisite. It is more so from the people of the region who suffer the most. Right now going by reports it seems that the Pakistani population in general supports the operation (barring the extreme right-wingers). However, whether  this support will last if the operation drags on and there are blow backs in the form of increased instances of terrorism and suicide bombings in the heartlands of Pakistan is any body’s guess. Taliban have threatened increased acts of terrorism in Pakistan. Sahidullah Shahid, the spokesman of TTP stated ‘we want to make it clear to the rulers of Pakistan that you are killing tribal children, and, by God, we will soon shake your palaces in Islamabad and Lahore and burn those to ashes. We are eyeing victory with the help of God, and you will become a joke for the world.’ There are reports that in order to meet the challenge of the expected blowback, government is mulling invoking Article 245 of the Constitution to summon the army to all major cities in the country to guard and protect important public installations.

Taliban spokesman further warned that ‘Foreign investors, airlines, and multinational companies should cut off business with Pakistan immediately and leave the country or else they will be responsible for their damage themselves.’ Heeding  the call, Cathay Pacific announced the suspension of its Pakistan operations from 29 June 2014. If more multinationals decide to exit Pakistan, the already teetering economy may take another hit leading to higher inflation and unemployment. The cries then for ‘talks’ with Taliban rather than ‘operation’ could gain momentum.

For the residents of the tribal areas, the experience of both Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Nijaat suggests increased hardships. Since the Pakistani army uses aerial bombings, heavy artillery and other area weapons in its counter terrorism operations, not only do they become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the economy of the area is also destroyed. Bombings destroy the agricultural economy of the area and blown up bridges and roads affect  transportation and communication. Latest reports in the newspapers suggest that  about seventy five thousand IDPs are facing hardships in the relief camps set up by the government.

Paradoxically while the operation has been launched with the expressed objective of ending terrorism in Pakistan, it may instead be achieving  the exact opposite. Ayesha Siddiqa, writing in Tribune (Spilling the Beans, July 3, 2014) states ‘Latest reports from Bannu suggest that militant and religious outfits like the JuD, the JI and the JeM dominate welfare activities in the area. The services provided thus, will pave the way for recruitment of more jihadis from amongst the IDPs or build greater sympathy for these outfits amongst the displaced people. This is not an ethnic issue — the IDPs are physically, psychologically and emotionally vulnerable, which makes them easy targets for exploitation. Intriguingly, non-religious NGOs are finding it comparatively difficult to set up base. This pattern certainly does not indicate a reversal of the ‘strategic depth’ policy.’

In conclusion it can be said that the final outcome of the operation Zarb-e-Azb may be no different from the earlier operations Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Nijaat. The operations may lead to the army establishing its presence in the area and some writ of the state being enforced; the top leadership of the militant outfits will, however not be eliminated. The state does not seem inclined to launch counter terrorism operations against the Punjabi Taliban or clamp down on sources of finance of the extremist groups who continue to gain strength. The doctrinal overhang of ‘strategic depth’ and ‘terror as an instrument of state policy’ though muted survives. All in all, the objective of the operation is more ‘tactical’ than ‘strategic’.

 

 

 

Who runs the internet?

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“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”- Eric Schmidt

How does the internet run? Who governs it?

The internet is a giant global network of connected networks. There is no government or body or individual that decides how it should be run or what policies are to be followed so e.g. there are no globally applicable policies on issues such as intellectual property, privacy, internet freedom, net-neutrality, e-commerce and cybersecurity. From the technical point of view, it works because there is a Domain Name System (DNS) and an IP addressing system managed by the ICANN and standards and protocols such as TCP and IP developed by the IETF.

The DNS is really the heart of the internet, the “phone book” that lets us type domain names in the address bar (like yahoo.com), then translates them to IP addresses so that the correct servers can be reached and the correct pages loaded. A domain name is itself made up of two parts, the part on the right of the dot, such as “com”, “net” and “org” is called a “top-level domain” or TLD. Each TLD is handled by a company called a registry (e.g. VeriSign for .com and .net). The part before the dot is the actual domain name registered by the domain owner with a registrar such as Godaddy or Tucows. ICANN regulates the use of TLDs and creation of new TLDs through contracts with registries and accreditation of registrars.

ICANN is governed by an international board of directors, however, the U.S. Department of Commerce has final approval over changes to the DNS root zone (the master database of all top-level domain names). This arrangement is a historical legacy because the US Department of Defense developed the network technology from which the Internet evolved. ICANN receives inputs from governments too through a Government advisory committee (GAC). The GAC advises ICANN on public policy issues but its advice is not binding.

In March this year, US announced that it will not extend ICANN’s contract with the Department of Commerce which is due to expire in 2015 unless a transition plan is not in place. In other words, US would relinquish its control over the internet. But the US is clear it will not hand over the levers to any organization that can be controlled by any other country.

So what’s broken?

Most of the debate over internet governance has revolved around ICANN even though in recent memory other issues have gotten mixed up with it. ICANN has been criticized broadly on two fronts- one is that it is not transparent on policy issues; the other is many nations feel that the U.S. government holds undue control over the DNS because of its legacy role and technological prowess.

Let us look at the first one. In 2011 E.g., ICANN approved the creation of a new TLD (.xxx) for adult websites despite heavy opposition from conservative religious groups and the GAC over the impact of pornography; again in 2011 ICANN approved a programme under which hundreds of new TLDs have since been introduced into the DNS such as .museum, .plumbing and such like. ICANN has defended its actions on grounds of due process having been followed and adequate safeguards being in place and more competition, choice and innovation being available to consumers. But it is not that simple- organizations that have felt compelled to buy .xxx domains at steep prices simply to prevent misuse of their name argue this was just meant to benefit the registrar industry which are the main source of ICANN’s revenue. Similarly the proliferation of new TLDs has raised fears that fraudsters will be able to register scam websites that appear similar to genuine ones. Trademark holders fear they’ll not be able to protect their brand names online, recently France expressed anger over the planned launch of .vine and .vin TLDs.

The other criticism stems from the fact that a single nation controls key Internet functions. E.g. the U.S. government could potentially decide that certain countries don’t deserve to be on the internet because they repress human rights or sponsor terrorism and kill the country specific TLD records through their control of the root zone file. Indeed in the last few years, USA has seized hundreds of domains registered with American and even foreign registrars under a programme called “Operation in our sites” targeting sites believed to be hawking counterfeit goods. Since foreign registrars are not bound by US laws, this is achieved by serving court orders on VeriSign, the American company that controls the all-important .com and .net addresses. It may be noted- ICANN has never contracted a non-American registry.

More recently, after Snowden’s revelations of mass surveillance both in the U.S. and abroad, criticism over the U.S.’s credibility to oversee DNS objectively has intensified tremendously. Even though it has become somewhat of a lightning rod for critics, it should be noted that NSA surveillance does not amount to abuse of the DNS, neither is it related to the functioning of the ICANN. NSA snooping has been made possible for two main reasons- one most of the world’s data passes through US servers. Why? Because most web content is hosted on American servers. Just look at our addictions to our respective Gmail, Youtube, Netflix and Facebook- all American companies. Indeed, roughly 25 % of the world’s internet traffic is accounted for by Google. Two, US has been directly tapping fibre-optic internet cables through tie-ups with several countries as part of a programme called RAMPART-A, revealed in the latest Snowden revelations.

Multi Stakeholder approach

So, after ICANN, what? There is no clarity on this issue. Broadly speaking, there is a tussle on the amount of leverage governments will exercise in the new body. There is a perception that an intergovernmental body will enhance the ability of authoritarian regimes like China and Russia to heavily censor and filter the internet. In my view, too much is being made out of the US ceding control over the ICANN. ICANN manages the technical aspects of the internet only and it has no say in e.g. what content Chinese citizens can or can’t access in their country. Despite ICANN being a multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization, different degrees of repression of internet freedom is practised in many countries of the world. China’s “Golden Shield” (aka the Great Firewall) blocks foreign websites and filters domestic content frowned upon by the authorities. Posts on online media are routinely taken down on government orders. As many as 40 countries practise some form of internet repression.

The real reason why internet governance has become a hot issue is the NSA surveillance. The revelation that USA has been looking at virtually all the data of the world has made other nations insecure, apart from lending some legitimacy to the existing repressive practices of authoritarian regimes. Brazil, whose President found her phone records being tapped, has already taken baby steps to bypassing US-eavesdropping- it wants all data related to Brazilians to be stored locally, it plans to create a US-free network by laying undersea cables linking Brazil directly to Europe and other South American countries, it plans to build more Internet exchange points to divert Brazilian traffic away from possible interception and it is planning to build an encrypted email service to reduce dependence on Gmail and suchlike. Other nations too may follow suit.

How far these plans are successful remain to be seen- they’ll cost a huge amount of money and may involve diversion of precious resources from developmental projects, apart from the fact that Brazilians will probably be able to circumvent these controls just like netizens in repressive countries do presently (proxy servers). Whether the USA will be able to tap these new undersea cables in the face of opposition also remains to be seen since presently it does have tie ups with several countries for that purpose. A move away from US-based services like Gmail may impact American business bottom lines.

The other aspect of course is that the NSA controversy may embolden repressive regimes to increase control over the internet within their national borders.

India’s position seems to be neither here or there. In 2011, at the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) summit, India proposed a UN committee of 50 states- a setup that would place governments in a decision making role and other stakeholders in an advisory role which is a reversal of the present model of governance. At the NetMundial (meeting of the Internet governance forum) in Brazil earlier this year, its position was that it wants strong state presence in internet governance since the internet is used for core civil, economic and defence transactions, at the same time it wants unfettered access to knowledge.

There is indeed a case for national governments to have a say in internet freedoms within their borders given the ubiquity and powers of this medium, however most governments have been up-to no good when it comes to the internet and are rightly distrusted by netizens and other stakeholders. Reconciling these conflicting interests is virtually impossible and an interesting battle lies ahead.

Sectarian violence in Pakistan

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“Yeh jo dehsatgardi hai, iske peeche wardi hai”: Slogan by Shia Hazara protestors against killings in Kohistan.

In another case of unending sectarian killings in Pakistan on 9 June 2014 nearly 30 people were killed and many more injured in a suicide attack on Al Murtaza hotel hosting Shia pilgrims in Taftan, a district bordering Iran. A suicide bomber purportedly belonging to the banned Sunni sectarian outfit Jaish-ul-Islam entered the hotel and detonated the explosives strapped to his body among the Shia pilgrims returning from their pilgrimage to their sacred shrine in Iran. Newspaper reports (Express Tribune) suggested that intelligence agencies had warned of possible attacks on pilgrims one month ago, but the authorities had failed to put in place adequate security to thwart Sunday’s attack. While threats to Pakistan’s security from terrorism unleashed by organizations like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al-Qaeda etc make regular headlines across the globe and bring expressions of concern, the rising tide of sectarianism in Pakistan poses no less a threat to the stability to that beleaguered nation.

The rise of sectarianism in Pakistan had both an internal as well as external dimension. Internally, sectarian differences in Pakistan were set in motion by General Zia’s controversial Islamization programme launched in 1979. Shias resisted General Zia’s policy of introducing Islamic Sharia laws based on a radical brand of Sunni Hanafi system of jurisprudence. When Zia’s regime sought to implement Sunni laws of inheritance and Zakat (the obligatory alms tax) in 1980, it was vehemently opposed by the Shias. An important Shia cleric, Mufti Zaafar Hussain argued that if Pakistan was to have Islamic laws, Shias should be allowed to follow their own jurisprudence (Jaafariya fiqh). On 5 July 1980, Shias openly defied martial law and congregated in Islamabad, virtually shutting down the government. Faced with strong Shia protest Zia capitulated, granting Shias exemption from all Islamization rules which contravened Shia law. This ‘defeat’ though, was not taken kindly by the military and the ruling regime. The formation of the Shia outfit Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan (TJP), it’s militant student wing the Ithna Ash’ariya Students Organisation and the rise of charismatic ‘Khomeini-like’ leaders amongst the Shia’s- notably Allamah Arif Hussaini also made the military regime uncomfortable. In 1983 much to the discomfiture of the regime TJP joined Benazir Bhutto’s Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Externally, the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979) had filled the Shias of Pakistan with a new self confidence and ‘set in motion, first, a power struggle between the Pakistani State and its Shia community, and later a broader competition for power between Shias and Sunnis’ (Vali Nasr).

To check this Shia assertiveness the military regime of Zia began investing in strengthening various Sunni institutions and organizations. It poured money into the existing Sunni madrasas (seminaries) and set up new ones. Madrasas were strengthened in those areas where the threat was perceived to be the greatest i.e. in the areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Baluchistan bordering Iran. Military governors of Punjab, KP and Baluchistan assisted the elite intelligence agency ISI, in creating and organizing Sunni sectarian outfits to tackle the so called ‘Shia problem’. With state support radical Sunni organizations like the Sawad e Azam Ahle Sunni, Anjuman e Sipah e Sahaba, Sunni Tehrik, Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-e-Muhammadi, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc were created and allowed to flourish. The founder of Sawad e Azam Ahle Sunni, Maulana Salemullah Khan in 1980 demanded that Pakistan be declared Sunni state and that Shias be declared non-Muslims. This demand was later reiterated by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhanghvi of Anjuman e Sipah e Sahaba. Concerned with the growing influence of Iran in the region and seeking to limit its politico-religious influence in Pakistan these Sunni sectarian outfits were supported externally by Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Afghan Jihad being waged by Pakistan in the 1980’s also resulted in the free flow of arms, money and training for Sunni Islamists. Pakistan soon emerged as the battleground for the proxy war of influence between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. These groups acquired further legitimacy and power when they and their off shoots became the instruments of the Pakistani state in its proxy war with India in Kashmir.

As these sectarian groups gained ascendancy since the 1980s Pakistan began witnessing the scourge of sectarian violence which targeted various ethnic groups, minorities, professionals and even women and children. Sectarian violence involved groups on both sides; however, anti-Shia violence has now become more prominent. Other minority groups like the Hindus, Christians, Ahmediyas and Sufis have also been at the receiving end of the Sunni extremist outfits. Muhammad Amir Rana, Director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) was quoted in the Washington Post (January 15, 2014) as saying, “We are on a very dangerous trend where sectarian violence is increasing, and it is starting to take the shape of structural violence. We are now seeing sectarian tensions triggered not only by terrorism incidents, but average clashes within the sectarian communities.” As per the report of PIPS, 687 people were killed in sectarian violence in the country in 2013, which represented an increase of 22 per cent over 2012. Similarly, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region, Pakistan’s death toll from sectarian violence last year was the highest since the organization began tracking the statistic in 1989, when 18 people were killed.

The question then arises is why does the Pakistani state allow these groups to survive or even flourish when all round instability is being created by them in the country? Several reasons can be attributed to this. First is the nature of the Pakistani state and its nationalism. These groups draw legitimacy from the ‘ideology’ of the Pakistani state which legitimizes faith and sect based discrimination.  The Objective Resolution of 1949, the Second Amendment act of 1974 (which declared Ahemdis as non-Muslims) and anti-minority laws like the blasphemy laws (Article 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code) institutionalize these discriminations.  The latest US State department report on religious freedom states that Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi sect has become the target of rising sectarian violence, with its burial grounds, mosques and homes coming under assault. According to Islamabad based Centre Research and Security Studies (CRSS), since 1990 at least 60 people have been killed outside the Pakistani justice system in cases related to blasphemy.  During the period 1977 to 2012, 327 blasphemy cases were registered and 19 people are serving life sentences.

The official school text books promote intolerance containing blatantly anti-religious minority, anti western material. “Such textbooks try to create and define Pakistani nationalism in a very narrow sense. It tries to define it in term of an Islamic identity,” says Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a well-known historian, activist, and former physicist. When these text books were partially revised in KP under the government of Awami National Party (ANP), the newly elected government of Pakistan Tehriq-e-Insaf (PTI) and its coalition partner Jaamat-e-Islami (JI) decided to restore violent Jihadist contents in school text books.  In a press conference on August 21, 2013, Shah Farman, KP’s minister for information and culture said that the government would rectify the holes and mistakes in the existing text books published by the previous secular ANP government. “What kind of sovereignty, freedom, and Islamic values is this when Islamic teachings, jihad, and national heroes are removed from textbooks?” he reportedly asked. Is it then any surprise then that radicalization and sectarianism have taken deep roots in Pakistani society and Pakistani public opinion demonstrates considerable support for the world view of radical Islamic and sectarian organizations?

Secondly, sectarian groups (especially Sunni) have been receiving active patronage by institutions of the state like the army and political parties. The Pakistani military has been using these groups as an arm of the state to wage proxy wars against Afghanistan and India. In 1988 the Federal government allowed the Sunni activists to raid the town of Gilgit, the only Shia majority province of Pakistan in reaction to their uncooperative attitude in the Afghan Jihad. Nearly 150 Shias were killed, their houses burnt and shops looted. Sunnification of the Northern areas was also a part of the military’s strategy to use Sunni Secterianism in Kashmir war. Groups like Harkat ul Ansar (later renamed as Harkat ul Mujahideen), who fought the proxy war in Kashmir were the offshoots of the Sipah a Sahaba. The Hizb ul Mujahadeen formed in 1989 was the armed wing of the Jamat i Islami of not only Jammu and Kashmir but also of Pakistan. Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish e Mohammad and Harkat ul Jihad ul Islami drew members from various Deobandi sectarian groups. Shia (Hizbul Momineen) and Salafi (Tehrik ul Mujahideen) sectarian groups were also drawn into the proxy war in Kashmir by the Pakistani army. The influence that these sectarian groups now wield can be gauged from reports that when GHQ of the Pakistan Army at Rawalpindi was attacked in December 2009 by Tehrik e Taliban, Pakistan (TTP), Maliq Mohammad Ishaq, one of the founder members of the LeJ, Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the chief of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil, the ameer of Harkat ul Mujahideen, and Mufti Abdul Rauf, the younger brother of Maulana Masood Azhar who is also the acting ameer of Jaish-e-Mohammadwere specially flown on chartered planes to negotiate with the members of the TTP who were holding some military officials hostage.

Besides the military both the mainstream political parties of Pakistan i.e. the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) have from time to time courted and taken support from these sectarian outfits to further their political interests. PPP tied up with the Sipah e Sahaba, Pakistan (1993-96) in the province of Punjab giving them ministerial positions to get their support. In 1994, it formed a tacit alliance with Sipah e Mohammad, the radical Shia group to check its earlier alliance partner TJP with whom it fell out after the local elections in the Northern Areas in which the latter got more seats than PPP and demanded to lead the coalition. In the by-polls held in Jhang district of Punjab in 2010, the then law minister of PML (N) government in Punjab, Rana Sanaullah was openly seen campaigning with Maliq Ishaq of the SSP and LeJ. In its budget of 2013-14, Punjab government of the PML (N) provided funds of 61 million rupees to the Jamat ud Dawa, the front organisation of the Lashkar e Toiba.

Thirdly, the capacity constraints of the law enforcement agency, archaic anti terrorism laws and sympathetic judiciary have all contributed to the strengthening of these organisations. Members of these groups maintain active links with the intelligence agencies and there have been reports of interventions for their release by these agencies when they are apprehended by the law enforcement agencies. The criminal justice system in Pakistan fares poorly when dealing with these secterain groups and their members are often acquitted by the courts for the lack of evidence. In May 2014, Maliq Ishaq who was named a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the U.S. State Department was acquitted by an anti-terror court in Pakistan for the lack of evidence despite his open admission to journalists that he had killed over hundred Shias.  A report published in Dawn (13 October 2013) quoting an official government report revealed that since 2007, 1,964 alleged terrorists have been released by courts of which 722 had rejoined terrorist groups and 1,197 were active in anti state activities. The virus of radicalization has also pervaded the judiciary  as can be seen in the photographs published in several newspapers where Justice Sauqat Aziz Siddiqi, recently appointed as the judge to Islamabad High court, in his earlier avatar as a lawyer was seen kissing the murderer of Salman Tasser (the then Governor of Punjab), Mumtaz Qadri.

It can thus be seen that the virus of sectarianism and radicalization has pervaded the entire body politic of Pakistan, infecting both its society and organs of the state. This virus can only be cured with a complete reorientation of the ‘ideology’ and ‘nationalism’ of Pakistan which is based on radical Islam and institutionalized discrimination of minority groups and the ‘other’. Unless that happens Pakistan would continue to be plagued by sectarian violence and terrorism.  The spread of sectarianism in Pakistan not only threatens the stability of Pakistan but has the potential to spill over to its neighbors, destabilizing the entire region. This is so because many of these sectarian groups have developed linkages with pan-Islamic terrorist organizations like the Al-Qaeda and subscribe to its ideology. Pakistan’s neighbors like Afghanistan, Iran and India need to watch out.

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