Saturday, September 19, 2009

The new axis of evil

SEEDS OF TERROR, How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Gretchen Peters, Thomas Dunne Books
A shepherd from Afghanistan's Nimroz province, Haji Juma Khan or HJK, it is believed, had 200 houses in Pakistan and Afghanistan and "palatial residences" in four other countries. Even by the most extravagant of lifestyles, HJK was a rarity. Three wives, scores of girlfriends, a lover of music and dancing and a connoisseur of "alcohol-drenched parties hosted by Russian and Turkish prostitutes", and a keeper of the "most handsome boys", HJK's citadel in Zaranj (the otherwise barren capital of Nimroz), guarded by dozens of armed men, "dwarfed even the provincial governor's mansion across the street".
HJK was the "kingpin" of the Afghan drug empire, trading as much as $1 billion a year in opium and heroin. Similar in his excesses to Pablo Escobar, "the Colombian kingpin who packed jetliners with cocaine and maintained a private zoo", HJK was different in at least one respect: he was the principal source of funding, for several years, of the vanguard of the Islamic jihad. These included the most puritanical and fundamentalist Islamic movement led by the Taliban, the most deadly global terrorist organisation, the al Qaeda, and the ruthless Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
According to General Ali Shah Pakitiwal, a senior Afghan police official, "Juma Khan's forces are terrorists. He pays them to protect his drugs. Mullah Omar, Tahir Yuldeshev, Osama bin Laden. They all work for him." Omar is, of course, the one-eyed supreme leader of the Taliban, Yuldeshev is the "radical mullah" who founded the IMU with Juma Namangani ("a former Soviet paratrooper in Afghanistan who defected to the Mujahideen") and Osama is, well, Osama. And all of them have, over periods of time, been linked to and been supported by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate of Pakistan. It is in establishing this "new toxic mix of jihad and dope" (to use the words of journalist David Kaplan), with hard evidence and credibility, that Gretchen Peters' frightening and fascinating story counts for more than reports emerging out of interior ministries the world over.
Journalists, some self-indulgent hack once said, produce the first draft of history. In reality, most reporters write books that have the life of an untreated wooden shelf ridden with termites. Peters, an ABC News reporter, in contrast, has produced a painstaking account that blends brilliant investigative reportage with serious research. Seeds of Terror is not a perfect book, the prose could have been crisper; the references clutter the main arguments; but this is a book that will be read and re-read as much by concerned citizens as by spooks in intelligence agencies, even as it sends chills down our spine and we fear, as did Peters, for the future our children will inherit.
Unearthing this "axis of evil" between drug traffickers, terrorists, and powerful elements within the establishments in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Gulf that backs them, demystifies as much the so-called jihad in Afghanistan, but it is an equally strong indictment of American follies in Afghanistan. While in the early years of the Mujahideen resistance against the Soviet Union, the Americans just didn't care about narcotics in Afghanistan, the Bush administration recognised the need to end drug trafficking only much much after 9/11. But "instead of intensifying efforts to go after the traffickers and money-launderers behind the insurgency, the Bush administration pushed for a broad scale aerial spraying of poppy fields". Unfortunately this played "into the hands of traffickers and terrorists", as it drastically increased the prices of opium and increased profits for the drug dealers and the Taliban.
Indian readers will have a special interest in particularly one section of the book. It was in a Dubai café, "drinking cappuccinos" with one Riaz that Peters learnt, "how the boss of South Asia's underworld launders millions of dollars in Afghan drug money". This "undisputed crime lord" is Dawood Ibrahim, and Riaz laundered money for him for over a decade. Dawood, wanted in India for the 1993 Mumbai blasts and accused in narcotics smuggling, has the dubious distinction of being the only person Washington has designated both a "global Terrorist Supporter" and a "Foreign Narcotics kingpin".
After the 1993 blasts, he took refuge in Karachi "reportedly under the protection of the ISI". It was then that the D-company began working in the region's opium trade. Dawood travelled to Afghanistan "under the protection of the Taliban" and brokered a "financial arrangement to share smuggling routes with bin Laden". A former senior CIA official told Peters, "If you want to understand what Osama bin Laden is up to, you have to understand what Dawood Ibrahim is up to."
According to Riaz, all that the D-company does now is "launder drug money" through front companies established in the UAE. For less than $20,000, Riaz could set up a totally fabricated company which would move millions of dollars into the UAE every year. These earnings would then be pumped into the stock market, where they come out clean. Another place to launder money was probably the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE). For instance, in 2006, "$120 billion was pumped through the KSE, a year when the country's economy totalled only about $130 billion" and Dawood is believed to be "spending most of his time behind the high walls of a Karachi mansion", probably monitoring the KSE.
As Peters concludes, "Eight years after 9/11, the greatest single failure in the war on terror" is not that bin Laden is at large or that the Taliban may come back to power or "that the al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan's tribal areas and probably planning fresh attacks on the West, it is the spectacular incapacity of Western law enforcement to disrupt the flow that is keeping their networks afloat". Remember it cost al Qaeda only $500, 000 to finance 9/11. These days, terrorist groups, as Peters reveals in her extraordinary book, earn that from dope in about a week.
 (Source: India Today, 19/09/09)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Inside the terror lab

THE Al-QAEDA CONNECTION, The Taliban and Terror in Pakistan's Tribal Areas,Imtiaz Gul, Viking
The British Empire had only one answer for the problems of the tribal areas of the North West Frontier: leave them alone, as much as possible. A political agent, with a minimalist agenda, relied on the malik and occasionally the mullah to ensure that the tribal agencies were virtually sovereign within, but insulated from much of the outside world.
The combination of Pakhtunwali (tradition) and Shariah (Islamic laws) that prevailed was documented by serious anthropologists in research studies and civil servants in imperial gazetteers and often alarmed liberals. But until recently, the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) were a no-go zone, a Wild West. Until the implosion in these areas, few even in India’s strategic elite knew of the complexities of the FATA.  
Gul’s masterly account is important not just for sketching in fine detail the manner in which Al Qaeda found a fertile ground in many of these areas, but also for profiling each one of the seven agencies of FATA and six pockets known as the Frontier Regions. The agencies are, of course, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Khyber, Kurram, Bajour, Mohmand and Orakzai. And the regions are Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. So for all those instant Pakistan experts, here is a chance to read Gul’s book and become a real expert. 
Gul documents, with painstaking detail, how many of these areas fell victim to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban after the latter were forced out of Afghanistan. A combination of big money, the
seductive power of radical Islam and the de facto
patronage of elements of Pakistan’s establishment created the conditions for Al Qaedism to find roots in FATA.  
But there are three other parts of Gul’s extraordinary study which demand attention. First is the growing nexus between most militant groups operating in Pakistan and Kashmir with the Taliban and the Al Qaeda. It is the tribal areas which serve as a perfect sanctuary. For instance, after Lashkar-e-Taiba came under pressure in Punjab, they moved a number of their camps to Waziristan and Mohmand agencies, “where they lived close to the compounds of the Arab Al Qaeda, whose ideological leanings — the Sunni Wahabist version of Islam — they shared.” 
Gul’s book also examines the continued linkages between the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and many of these groups, including the Taliban.
As is well known, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the ISI used American and Saudi money to train and motivate many of these groups. But even after 9/11, the relationship is far from over. The ISI, many believe, is convinced that the West will abandon Afghanistan in a few years,
and then these “strategic assets” will need to be reactivated.  
For instance, as Gul states: “after their retreat from Afghanistan, the majority of foreigners had settled down in the North and South Waziristan and Bajaur region, where networks operated by Afghan war veterans Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbudin Hekmetyar became instrumental in securing shelter for bin Laden’s surviving fighters. Haqqani and Hekmetyar also acted as the umbrella group for the reorganisation of the Al Qaeda.” Both Hekmatayar and Haqqani are still considered to be ISI’s important assets with the latter blamed for the bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan.  
Finally, Gul documents, somewhat sketchily, the game being played by other powers, including by the Americans, the Saudis and the Indians. 
But what is the way out? Can Afghanistan be stabilised as a precursor to stabilising the tribal areas? King Nadir Shah of Afghanistan said in 1931: “In my opinion, the best and most fruitful policy that one can imagine for Afghanistan is a policy of neutrality. Afghanistan must always entertain good relations with its neighbours as well as all the friendly powers that are not opposed to the national interest of the country. Afghanistan must give its neighbours assurances of its friendly attitudes while safeguarding the right of reciprocity. Such a line of conduct is the best one for the interests of Afghanistan.” In other words, the only way out is for Afghanistan’s neighbours and the great powers to guarantee its neutrality.
As Karl Inderfurth wrote a few months ago: “Such a package would give all the participants something of value. Pakistan would secure Afghan recognition of its border and assurances that India would not be allowed to use Afghan territory to pressure or destabilise Pakistan’s volatile border regions. India would be free to pursue normal relations with Kabul, including direct trade and commercial ties. Iran would receive assurances that the international community recognises its legitimate interests in Afghanistan and that the US military presence on its eastern border is not permanent. The United States and its allies would be able to depart, leaving behind a society at peace with itself and its neighbours.”
But until that happens, Imtiaz Gul’s frightening and fascinating book, which blends reportage with genuine scholarship, is essential reading for all those who care for the region.
 (Source: The Indian Express, 05/09/09)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The New Fizzle Debate

The nuclear debate in India, after a brief lull, promises to become stormy over the next months. The contest is once again, after over a decade, in essence over the merits and demerits of India signing the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty or CTBT. A former senior official of the Defence Research and Development Organisation has proved to be the catalyst and a whistle-blower. At a closed-door seminar in the capital, where the Chatham House Rules were flouted with impunity, the official declared that the thermonuclear test India conducted in 1988 was a fizzle. A fizzle, in nuclear jargon, is another term for a test that has not delivered, at least not in terms of the expected yield. The implication was clear: India should not consider signing the CTBT because we still need to conduct further tests to ensure the credibility of the country’s nuclear deterrent. While the government has sought to distance itself from the controversy, it is clear that this is an issue that cannot be swept under the carpet. What is needed, therefore, is an independent panel of scientists and analysts who can address the issue of the thermonuclear test and the wider implications for India, its nuclear deterrent, and its engagement with the CTBT. All this needs fleshing out.
The CTBT was adopted by the United Nations general assembly in September, 1996. About 150 States have ratified the CTBT and another 32 States have signed but not yet ratified it. But the treaty cannot come into force unless the 44 States listed in Annex 2 of the treaty have ratified it. Nine of these States have not ratified the treaty, including India, China, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States of America. During the Bush years, the CTBT was not an issue: the Republican administration believed more in direct action than in multilateral arms control, and the treaty was pushed into cold storage. The Obama administration is, however, different.
At Prague in April, Obama committed himself to radical steps on arms control and disarmament; it seems his administration has decided to make the ratification of the CTBT a cornerstone of its foreign policy. In other words, Washington will begin exercising serious pressure on the non-signatories, even as they build a consensus on ratification domestically.
The India story, however, is, as usual, more intriguing. On September 10, 1996, at the UN general assembly, India’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Arundhati Ghose, and a bhadramahila with a greater spine than most Indian diplomats, said: “Mr President, I would like to declare on the floor of this august assembly that India will never sign this unequal treaty, not now, nor later.” The reasons, on the face of it, were simple: India had been included in Annex 2, without its consent, the draft had been negotiated outside the conference on disarmament (where India blocked a consensus) and that the treaty was not explicitly linked to a plan for disarmament which India had demanded. But there was a deeper, less diplomatic, reality. India needed time: to be able to conduct nuclear tests at an opportune time when the international backlash could be contained, so essential to build a credible nuclear posture. This happened less than two years later.
On May 11 and 13, 1988, India conducted five nuclear tests at Pokhran. All the tests were then declared totally successful. Recall the statement issued by the official spokesman on May 11: “The tests conducted today were with a fission device, a low yield device and a thermonuclear device. The measured yields are in line with expected values. Measurements have also confirmed that there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere.”
India quickly declared a unilateral moratorium on further testing, and New Delhi’s back channels seriously discussed signing the CTBT (as a way of normalizing relations and getting sanctions, imposed in the wake of the tests, lifted) with their American counterparts, but the Clinton administration was beset with its own problems. Then came the trouble-free Bush years. In March this year, however, the prime minister’s special envoy, Shyam Saran, said at a conference at the Brookings Institution at Washington: “It is also our conviction that if the world really moves categorically towards nuclear disarmament in a credible timeframe, then India-US differences over the CTBT will probably recede into the background.” Why are we then witnessing this hullabaloo? For at least three reasons.
First, many consider thermonuclear or hydrogen weapons essential for building a credible deterrent. While this is debatable in terms of Indian nuclear deterrence strategy, there has always been scepticism about the thermonuclear claim. Days after the test, both the Central Intelligence Agency and the international scientific academic community expressed reservations. The well known nuclear-seismologist, then at the University of Arizona, Terry C. Wallace, openly rubbished India’s claims on the basis of detailed seismic analyses. In India, P.K. Iyengar, a former chief of the department of atomic energy, also doubted the official claim.
In response, the Indian atomic science establishment published its findings. Key figures of the atomic energy establishment, S.K. Sikka, Falguni Roy. and G.J. Nair, argued - in a referred paper — rather naïvely it now seems — that large variations in the seismic magnitude were because of the “cancellation and superimposition of signals from these explosions separated in space by about 1 km”. The DRDO official’s assertion implies that Sikka et al were, at the very least, magnifying their achievements.
But we must not overlook the traditional rivalry between institutions and individuals. All nuclear States have had rivalries within driven by personal idiosyncrasies and institutional loyalties. The famous rivalry between Edward Teller (the father of the hydrogen bomb) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (the leader of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic weapons) is legendary and irretrievably divided the two main American nuclear labs: Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. When Oppenheimer opposed the hydrogen bomb, Teller accused him of being a Soviet spy.
In India, the rivalry between the atomic energy establishment and the DRDO is well known. Raja Ramanna openly expressed his uneasiness at the elevation of a well known rocket scientist to a high position. In the Atomic Energy Commission itself, nuclear scientists have looked down upon nuclear engineers — the traditional innovators’ contempt for mechanics. Two chairmen of the AEC, Raja Ramanna, a nuclear scientist, and Homi Sethna, a nuclear engineer, had always had an uneasy relationship.
Finally, of course, there are institutional interests. No organization will seek to undermine its own raison d’être. In the US, when the Clinton administration sought the support of the nuclear laboratories for the CTBT, they had to be almost bribed. As the physicist, Richard Garwin, described it: “What could they get? Sandia got the microelectronics research center, which had minimal relevance to the CTBT. Los Alamos got the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility. Livermore got the National Ignition Facility— the white elephant eating us out of house and home.”
The fact is that we need oversight by an independent authority. In the US, there were at least two panels which, in recent years, addressed issues related to the CTBT and inter-institutional rivalry. In 1995, an Energy Advisory Board Task Force on Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy National Laboratories was set up. The panel concluded that while some of the finest scientific research in America was done in the national laboratories, “the current system of governance of these laboratories is broken and should be replaced with a bold alternative”. An earlier committee, which remains a model, is the bipartisan JASON committee, consisting of top research and industrial scientists. One of its most important reports was on safety, reliability, and performance margins of nuclear weapons in the wake of a possible CTBT. We need to recognize that the nuclear question is too important to be left to scientists or the armed forces alone. It concerns us all.

-Co-authored with Rajive Nayan, IDSA
(Source: The Telegraph, 03/09/2009)

Pakistan policy: Sharm-el-Sheikh and after

It has been clear for some years now that India is unable to fully comprehend or address the complexities of a changing Pakistan. Not surprisingly, New Delhi’s policies have floundered, if not failed. Strident debates in the Indian media — frightening in their Manichaean simplicity — reflect a lack of appreciation of the intricacies of the Gordian knot of bilateral relations. Unlike much of the establishment, however, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — by pinning Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to a joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh and then by warning the Chief Ministers of Indian states of the dangers of a terrorist attack from Pakistan-based groups — may have addressed part of the core problem: there are multiple Pakistans all of which demand Indian attention. Robust if differentiated, focussed but flexible, multitrack responses must now define India’s policy towards Pakistan’s fragile and fragmented political and social structure.
Not only the deep cleavages within Pakistan’s society but also — surprisingly — the overwhelming popular desire now for better relations with India are revealed in two recent surveys of public opinion in that country, conducted by Gallup Pakistan and by the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Project which included 24 countries (including Pakistan) and the Palestinian territories. The findings should also serve as a warning to New Delhi of the dangers of “outsourcing” its Pakistan policy to Washington.
Three findings from both surveys stand out. First, as expected, is the high level of anti-Americanism among the Pakistanis. In the Pew survey, 68 per cent of the respondents have expressed a negative opinion of the U.S. Only 16 per cent have a positive view, and 64 per cent consider the U.S. more an enemy than a friend. American President Barack Obama receives the lowest ratings in Pakistan among all 25 nations surveyed as part of the Pew project. The Gallup Poll too reveals the all pervasive nature of Pakistani sentiment against the U.S. Fifty-nine per cent consider the U.S. the greatest threat to the country. Not surprisingly, American policy in Afghanistan receives very little support.
Secondly, both surveys suggest that there is a strong public desire for better relations with India even among those sections which consider their eastern neighbour a major threat. The Gallup Survey suggests that only 18 per cent consider India the greatest threat, and interestingly the figure is the highest among those likely to vote for either the MQM or the ANP and lowest among Sindhi speakers. Women are more likely to be anti-American than anti-India. According to the Pew survey, 69 per cent of the respondents do consider India a major threat, but two-thirds believe it is important for relations between Islamabad and New Delhi to improve. Over a third of those polled believe that having good relations with India is very important. Apprehensions about India are the highest in Punjab, where 70 per cent cite India as the greatest threat to the country, while a majority in Sindh and the NWFP consider the Taliban a bigger threat.
Finally, it seems that there is a process of deep churning within Pakistan’s multiple “societies,” which seems to translate, at the moment, into almost schizophrenic responses on key issues of identity. This is most clearly reflected in attitudes towards the al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and “severe laws” associated with these groups. For instance, in the Pew survey, there is little support for the Taliban and the al-Qaeda. Fifty-seven per cent consider the Taliban and 41 per cent consider the al-Qaeda a serious threat to the country. Forty one per cent in the Gallup poll support military action against the Taliban. And yet there is also considerable support for the harsh punishments imposed by these extremist groups. Seventy-eight per cent favour death for those who leave Islam; 80 per cent support whipping and cutting hands for theft and robbery; and 83 per cent favour stoning adulterers. And yet, 87 per cent of Pakistanis believe that it is equally important for boys and girls to be educated, in contrast to the Taliban’s thinking. The poll finds that support for suicide bombing remains very low. In terms of credibility of institutions, the army, the media and the judiciary receive high approval while the Inter-Services Intelligence, the police and the national government get much less support.
These findings need to be studied carefully but if they are indeed reflective of real trends, they suggest what has always been intuitively obvious: India’s Pakistan policy has not succeeded because, while remaining a prisoner of past dogmas, it has been unable to respond to the multiple political and social forces in Pakistan that need to be understood and addressed.
The strategic community in India has traditionally been overwhelmingly in support of a policy of aggressively countering Pakistan. These are the Subedars. Only a minority, the Saudagars, has wanted to ignore and benignly neglect Islamabad or integrate it economically. A microscopic few, however, want New Delhi to be proactive in promoting peace, even to the extent of making unilateral concessions. These are the Sufis.
But these strands cannot afford today to remain in opposition to one another. The need of the hour is for the Subedars, the Saudagars and the Sufis to come together and shape a new Pakistan policy. At a time when it has become risky to invoke Mohammad Ali Jinnah, it is still important to recall his original design for the state: Muslim, Moderate and Modern. It is this Pakistan that an Indian strategy must systematically work towards constructing. In the present scenario, Indian policy must have at least the following strands.
First, India needs to build strong defensive and offensive capabilities to deter “asymmetric” attacks by non-state actors which may have the backing of elements of the Pakistani establishment. Nuclear weapons, at the end of the day, will only deter nuclear weapons and, at best, a full-scale conventional war. Doctrines like Cold Start will, however, remain in cold storage until they are able to explicitly demonstrate that diplomatic, political and military benefits outweigh the costs.
Secondly, India must reach out and strengthen all those who have a stake in better India-Pakistan relations and an interest in regional stability through unilateral gestures that do not demand reciprocity. These would include specific initiatives for civil society actors, as well as many others within the business and political community. For instance, New Delhi should consider constructing a preferential trading regime that offers Pakistan’s handicrafts and other local products almost unfettered access to the Indian market. Such a gesture, with some short-term costs, could have far-reaching long-term benefits for India and the region. Similarly, New Delhi could begin by offering a thousand scholarships to young men and women in Pakistan willing to study the humanities or social sciences in India at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Thirdly, India must systematically seek to weaken, delegitimise and isolate those who are enemies of a moderate Pakistan and, by implication, of a stable subcontinent. This can be done unilaterally or in conjunction with allies. It is unfortunate that sub-continental Islam, built on an ethos of multiculturalism and tolerance, has not been projected with the robustness needed in these difficult times. This “soft power” of South Asian Sufi Islam remains the best weapon against extremism.
Fourthly, Indian policies must be carefully distanced from the present American role in Pakistan or the larger U.S. Af-Pak policy. In the Pew survey, more Pakistanis expressed a willingness to trust Osama bin Laden rather than Mr. Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. Ultimately, we need to understand that India-Pakistan relationship, over the last 62 years, has been about almost everything that matters: history, memory, prejudice, identity, religion, sovereignty, ideology, insecurity, betrayal and much, much more. Ironically, a troubled Pakistan, confused about its identity and its place in the world, may offer a real chance to move beyond conflict and towards real reconciliation. It is an opportunity to finally cut the Gordian knot; a chance India cannot afford to miss.

(Source: The Hindu, 03/09/09)