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


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


“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.




Recipe: Sookha Handi Chicken


“Cooking is about passion, so it may look slightly temperamental in a way that it’s too assertive to the naked eye.”- Gordon Ramsay

Yesterday was another evening when the cooking bug got the better of me. Wanted to cook something easy to make, but also wanted to give it a different touch. Handi chicken is an easy to make recipe, and I just thought how would Handi chicken taste if it had no gravy? So here is my experiment with the recipe which I daresay christen ‘Sookha Handi Chicken’!!!

Here is the recipe. In case you like it, kindly leave a message.


1. Chicken: Half a kg

2. Onions: 3 medium sizes chopped

4. Garlic: 4 cloves chopped

5. Cumim seeds: 1 tsp

6. Coconut paste: 1 tsp

7. Poppy seeds: 1 tsp

8. Green chillies: 3-4 pieces

9. Oil: 7-8 tsp

For marinating the chicken:

1. Ginger paste: 2 tsp

2. Garlic paste: 2 tsp

3. Kashmiri chilly powder: 2 tsp (depending on how chilly you want)

4. Turmeric: 1 tsp

5. Cloves: 4-5 pieces

6. Curd: half a cup

7. Salt to taste



Marinate the chicken mixing all the ingredients and keep aside in the fridge for about an hour.

In a wok, heat oil, add the cumim seeds and let it crackle. Then add the chopped onions and fry till the onions turn golden brown. Add the chopped garlic and fry. Then add the marinated chicken with the marinate and fry for about 5-6 minutes on low heat. Add chopped chillies, coconut and poppy seed paste. Mix will and keep frying on low heat till the water dries up and the chicken leaves oil. In case chicken still remains to be done, add little water and cook till done.

Serve hot with parathas.



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


“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’.




Recipe: Hyderabadi Lagan ka Murg


“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all” – Harriet van Horne

Yesterday evening was like any other evening, dull and quiet and as I plonked on to my beanbag in a posture no doctor would recommend, with a book in my hand pretending to read. It had been a long and a pretty tiring day. It was one of those days where you feel as if you were on a treadmill; you kept walking but reached nowhere. The need of the hour was to do something to lift my spirits. The experiences of last couple of years have taught me that being happy is not an end, but a process. And like any process, it can be worked upon. The formula is simple. Pursue those activities ‘ruthlessly’ which you enjoy doing. This will distract your mind from all your painful or negative emotions.

So the thought of cooking this strange sounding chicken called ‘Hyderabadi Lagan ka Murg,’ struck me. Cooking these days is my stress buster. (Writing this blog has been another, but more of that later). I have discovered that the heat of the kitchen, the smell and fragrance of the spluttering spices in oil/ghee, the changing shapes of the veggies and fowls/meat in the wok have a kind of therapeutic effect on me. So yours truly headed straight into the kitchen virtually taking it over much to the chagrin of my help. He is an old cooking aficionado and does not take kindly to yours truly, whom he believes to be a neo-convert and whose love for cooking in his eyes are nothing but a passing fad.

The Hyderabadi Lagan Murg took about an hour to cook. As it was getting cooked, the aroma of spices lifted in the air, elevating my mood too. Yes, you can be happy if you work at it.

The best part of course was the wholehearted approval of the dish, both by the old cooking hand and the high-command!!!

So here goes the recipe of the “Hyderabadi Lagan ka Murg”. Try it, and if you like it, leave a comment.


  1. Chicken: 1 kg
  2. Onions: 4 medium size diced
  3. Ginger garlic paste: 2 tsp
  4. Tomato: 2 medium size diced
  5. Kashmiri Degi Mirch (Kashmiri red chilly powder/red chilly powder): 1 tsp
  6. Coriander powder: 1 tsp
  7. Cumin  powder: 1 tsp
  8. Green Chillies:  5-6 (moderate on how spicy you want)
  9. Oil/Ghee: Half a cup
  10. Curd: 1 cup
  11. Garam masala powder: 1 tsp
  12. Milk: 1 cup
  13. Poppy seeds: 2 tsp
  14. Cashwenuts: 5-6
  15. Pistachio: 10
  16. Coconut powder: 1/3 cup
  17. Salt: To taste


1. In a flat pan roast cashew, pistachio, poppy seeds over low heat. When they turn slightly brown, remove them from heat. Allow it to cool and then mix these in a cup of milk and blend it into a fine paste in a blender. Your Hyderabadi Lagan paste is ready. Keep it aside.

2. Heat a thick bottomed kadhai/wok. Add oil/ghee. After the oil gets heated, add the diced onions and fry till golden brown. Take out one fourth to use as garnish in the end. Add ginger garlic paste, diced tomatoes, the Hyderabadi lagan paste, garam masala, Kashmiri chilly powder, green chillies, cumin powder and cook for about 4-5 minutes. Now add chicken, salt and curd and mix well by stirring.

3. Cook on a low flame till all the water dries and oil separates.  When the ghee/oil floats on the top, then your chicken is done.

4. Sprinkle fresh green coriander leaves and serve hot.

The Hyderbadi Lagan Murg goes best with Parathas. Yesterday however tried it with Roomali Roti and it turned out to be a great combination. How would you like to enjoy it?

PS: To enhance your cooking experience in the heat of the kitchen in this summer of soaring temperatures, I suggest that you keep a chilled bottle of Heineken beer by your side and keep sipping it. I finished two pints as I cooked and let me assure you, it felt great!!!

Who runs the internet?


“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


“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.

Book Review: Fighting to the End, The Pakistani Army’s Way of War

Fighting to the end

 “Pakistan is international migraine” – Madeline Albright

It is a popular saying that while other countries have armies, in Pakistan the army has a country. Dr. Christine Fair, in this scholarly and well researched masterpiece of Pakistan’s defense literature brings out the strategic culture of the Pakistan army. Since the Pakistan army is the most organized and powerful institution in Pakistan, this strategic culture is the dominant strategic culture in Pakistan.  The book organized into eleven chapters deals with every aspect of this strategic culture; its genesis and evolution, ideological underpinnings, instrumentalities of operationalization, its regional and international ramifications as well as the foreign policy rhetoric and choices pursued by the state.

Dr Fair begins by describing Pakistan as an insecure state which views India as ‘its eternal foe that not only seeks to dominate Pakistan but to destroy it’. The genesis and the evolution of this strategic culture can be traced to the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the subsequent events that followed. For Pakistan the process of partition was unfair with a ‘moth eaten’ Pakistan created in 1947. Territories like Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir were denied to Pakistan by Indian perfidy and British conspiracy. Constant references are made to the award of seven Muslim majority tehsils in Punjab by Radcliff (insistence of Mountbatten influenced by Nehru), especially of Gurdaspur which allowed India land route to Kashmir thereby facilitating its ‘occupation’.

Dr. Fair argues that Pakistan’s fear of India though couched in terms of security are not so. It is ideological. Pakistani army sees itself as the defender of Pakistan’s ideological frontier i.e. the two nation theory and its Islamic identity vis-à-vis ‘Hindu’ India. It believes that Pakistan is equal to India and seeks parity with the latter despite being much smaller geographically, demographically and economically. The conflict with India is defined in ideolological and civilizational terms making it incumbent upon the Pakistani army to resist what it perceives as Indian hegemony in the region and also India’s global rise. Interestingly, because of this victory and defeat at the hands of Indians is seen differently by the Pakistani army. Even after an outright defeat as in 1971, Pakistani army considered itself victorious because it survived to fight/challenge India another day. Defeat for the Pakistan army would thus be the day it accepts the status quo and Indian supremacy. It is this belief which propels Pakistan to take calculated risks for changing the status quo periodically but regularly. Apart from initiating three regular wars with India and the Kargil misadventure, Pakistan has constantly supported insurgencies in India (Naga, Mizo, Sikh) and waged proxy war in Kashmir. Interestingly while the American’s were training Pakistanis in guerrilla warfare to suppress and defeat insurgencies in the 1950’s, the then Pakistani defense literature was glorifying Vietnamese resistance and also ‘interested in understanding how Pakistan could wage one’. Operation Gibraltar in 1965 and Kargil intrusion in 1999 bear testimony to this thinking.

Pakistan has pursued a policy of strategic depth to limit Indian and Russian (also erstwhile Soviet) influence in Afghanistan.  Unlike the generally held view that the concept of strategic depth was enunciated by General Aslam Beg, Dr. Fair posits that this idea of strategic depth in Afghanistan is a colonial legacy which was carried forward by the successor state of Pakistan, even though it did not possess the resources of the Raj. To facilitate covert operations against the Doud government of Afghanistan, training camps were established by Bhutto to train Afghan Mujahedeen as early as 1973. This also explodes another oft repeated myth by the Pakistanis that the Mujahedeen were created by the US to further its own geo-political interests in Afghanistan.

The instruments used by Pakistan to seek strategic parity with India and to resist its rise has been to seek alliances and court international benefactors like United States, China and Saudi Arabia, nurture non-state actors and use terror as an instrument of state policy. Though the USA has been the largest largess provider for the Pakistani state, in Pakistani defense literature USA is portrayed as a perfidious ally. Pakistan constantly harps on the USA failure to overtly support Pakistan despite being an ally in the 1965 and the 1971 war with India, the sanctions imposed under Pressler Amendments (incidentally the passing of this amendment was hailed as a victory for Pakistani diplomacy) and turning its back on Pakistan after Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. No reference however is made of the differing geo-political objectives of the two nations. While Pakistan purportedly became an ally of the US to challenge communism, its goals remained purely India centric. Failure to get active US support in its conflicts with India has been a constant sore point with the Pakistanis. In contrast to the USA, China is projected as an all weather friend. Chinese failures to support Pakistan’s objectives and goals are generally glossed over.

With the overt nuclearization of the subcontinent, Pakistan has pursued a policy of Jihad under the nuclear umbrella against its adversaries. It has supported terrorism against India from its soil and sought to undermine US strategic interests in the region. The possession on nuclear weapons has facilitated nuclear risk taking by Pakistan. By keeping its nuclear doctrine ambiguous and not defining its nuclear threshold it has achieved its twin objectives of deterring India from escalating the conflict as well as drawn international actors like the USA into limiting the conflict. It also rightly believes that being a nuclear power restrains USA from completely abandoning Pakistan.

The question then remains is can the strategic culture of the Pakistani army be changed? Scholars have argued that with the strengthening of democratic institutions in Pakistan, this narrative would be challenged. Some (Ahmed Rashid, Raphel) have argued that a grand bargain with India through the resolution of the Kashmir dispute (to Pakistan’s satisfaction) may facilitate such a change. Dr Fair appears to take a pessimistic view and does not foresee any change happening in the near or distant future.  Dismissing the grand bargain theory she describes Pakistan as a ‘purely greedy state’ which is defined by Charles Glaser as a state ‘fundamentally unsatisfied with the status quo, desiring additional territory even when it is not desired for security.’ Any appeasement of this ‘greedy state’ might aggravate the problem rather than solving it. She further argues that even if Pakistan undergoes a permanent democratic transition it does not obviously follow that ‘civilians will abandon the persistent revisionism with respect to India. This is because of the deep presence of army’s strategic culture, based on the ideology of Islam and two nation theory, within Pakistan’s civil society, political culture and bureaucracies’. A case in point is the Abbotabad attack by USA, which provided the civilians an opportunity to assert some control over the army, instead they chose to rally around the latter. Some scholars argue that the India centric doctrine of the Pakistani army has now changed and it has acknowledged internal threats as the main challenge. While Pakistani army may at times acknowledge internal threats but it successfully ‘externalizes’ those threats to the enemies (India) of Pakistan, who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn brings the conventional focus back to India for the army and also buttresses its role as the premium institution in the country which can manage these threats.

One interesting and novel fact brought out by Dr. Fair is the changing recruitment pattern of the army. Her research shows that in 1972 the army officers came from only few districts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), but by 2005 practically all districts of Pakistan were producing officers. Her field work suggests that many of these officers do not share the ‘core values’ of the Punjabi dominated strategic culture of the Pakistani army with the same intensity. How this changes the nature of the discourse of this strategic culture in future remains to be seen.

The book provides important policy prescriptions for both India and United States. She argues that USA should stop ‘attempting to transform the Pakistani army or Pakistan for that matter. It is unlikely that the United States can offer Pakistan any incentive that would be so valuable to Pakistan and its security interests that the army would abandon the varied tools it has developed to manage its security competition with India, much less consider a durable rapprochement.’ The realities for India are starker. ‘The Pakistan army will continue to weaken India by any means possible, even though such means are inherently risky. In the army’s eye, any other course will spell true defeat.’ It is time that the Indian policy planners stop being wooly eyed about Pakistan and face facts.

This book is a must read for all policy planners in India and the United States. This would help them shed many of their illusions and accept realities howsoever uncomfortable.

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