Monday, January 26, 2015

What Pakistan needs to do for effective and sustainable counterterrorism - Herald (January 2015)

Measure for measure: What Pakistan needs to do for effective and sustainable counterterrorism
By Hassan Abbas, 
Herald, January 2015 Annual edition

“Extremis malis extrema remedia,” is how a famous Latin saying goes, expressing the idea that “extreme situations require extreme remedies”. This sounds logical on the face of it but in reality it is a myth. Over the years, I have heard from so many Pakistani friends with various backgrounds that “Pakistan needs an Imam Khomeni”, implying that nothing short of a bloody revolution, which may take thousands of lives, is going to work for the country. Those who make this argument know little about the causes that led to the Islamic revolution in Iran – or for that matter the factors leading to the French or Russian revolutions.

The idea of military courts to tackle terrorism is a similar notion based on the fallacy that the use of hard power can deliver goods under all circumstances. Military means can indeed be – and, perhaps, must be – part of the solution when it comes to counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan but the nature and extent of the terrorism problem in the country requires a much broader, comprehensive and long term solution.

In the same vein, the government’s newfound zeal to execute those convicted of terrorism is a sop to those asking for extreme remedies. Death by guillotine has never been an effective counterterrorism tool and it never will be. Radicalisation and misdirected religious zeal need a different set of solutions. Simply put, an extremist state of mind that took decades to nurture and develop cannot be cured overnight through quick-fix measure such as hangings and military courts.

Dynamics of a counterterrorism policy

It is true that Pakistani policymakers are far clearer today about the roots and dynamics of terrorism in the country than before, and denial of reality is less of a serious challenge now than it was earlier. Still, it will be a while before this developing consensus against terrorism can mature into policies and strategies that really can rid the country of terrorism. Military operation in North Waziristan targeting the infrastructure of Pakistani Taliban – as important and critical as it is – is only a tactical maneuver. Similarly, the public pronouncements after the Peshawar school tragedy are the beginning of a potential transformation in policy. On their own, these statements do not yet a coherent policy form.

For a counterterrorism policy to be effective, the government must realise that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its lacklustre approach in facing militancy head on for too long. The security and intelligence sector, too, has been quite unimaginative when it comes to its core mission of safeguarding the country from internal threats. Its overly imaginative concerns about external threats have sapped its energy and professional capabilities. In defence circles any interpretations that point out these gaps are deemed unpatriotic and unworthy of any serious consideration. Only exposure to other narratives and open mindedness can treat this fixation.

While the eyes must be focused on future, a clear understanding and recognition of past mistakes is necessary. An open national dialogue on the subject, which is slowly taking shape thanks to electronic and print media, must continue without fear or favour.

Pakistan’s current counterterrorism resolve, indeed, has the potential to transform into an effective policy but for that to happen the country’s leadership – both political and military – will have to adjust their priorities and make some compromises. The key components for any effective counterterrorism policy to come together are public awareness about what has been going on so far as well as the possible consequences of what many happen in the future. Given that rampant insecurity in the country with negative consequences for the economy may have already started galvanising people behind a robust policy to root out terrorism, such awareness creation is likely to find a ready audience. The most important stepping stone for such an awareness campaign should be the creations and propagation of a strong narrative on who the Taliban are and why they are the enemies of both the state and the society.

*Knowing the enemy

The genesis of the Pakistani Taliban owes a great deal to the history of lawlessness, tribalism and Pakistan’s perennial neglect of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA]. Genuine political and economic grievances, coupled with Pakistan’s controversial role in the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, have turned out to be the defining impetus. Their fake claim to religious knowledge allows them to bend religion the way they want, and mixing Islam up with their tribal cultural values has made it a successful enterprise…

Despite their capacity to conduct attacks anywhere in the country, including on the most sensitive of security targets, the Pakistani Taliban are not a mainstream force and are unable to develop into a wider political movement. While they face certain fractures due to the making and breaking of tribal alignments in FATA, their strength also lies in having foreign warriors, especially Arabs and Uzbeks, in their ranks. The Punjabi Taliban, which also recruit from among retired security officials and educated urban professionals, have added a lethal capability to the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban fit perfectly into the category of ‘terrorist organization’. Joining the battlefield in Syria is a new craze among its followers…

Despite some differences in approach and outlook, the various Taliban factions in Pakistan and Afghanistan share information, logistics and (at times) manpower resources. They rent weapons to each other and coordinate recruitment of suicide bombers. They also coordinate the targeting of those who challenge their ideas. Attacks on peace jirgas and assassinations of progressive elements on both sides of the Durand Line are now the norm in the area. Tribal ethos, Pashtun ethnic chauvinism, radical religious doctrine and political-cum-economic grievances provide a bond for this new generation of warriors.

The common thread running through the various Taliban factions is their strategy, which relies heavily on the perception of inevitability and a lack of time constraints. The funding streams of the Taliban – private donors in the Gulf, the illicit drug economy and extortion rackets in major economic hubs such as Karachi – provide them with a sustainable basis of support that not only enhances their capacity for insurgency and terror, but also connects them across the region….

Streamlining counterterrorism strategy

Along with narrative creation and awareness raising, the government must take concerted steps to streamline sectors such as judiciary and policing. Many other states have gone through terrorism related challenges and Pakistan should not shy away from learning from them. One document that can provide a broad outline for an effective counterterrorism policy is the Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector. This memorandum was developed in a February 2012 meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a multilateral “platform that focuses on identifying critical civilian [counterterrorism] needs, mobilizing the necessary expertise and resources to address such needs and enhance global cooperation”. The forum comprises 29 countries, including Pakistan.

As a participant in the Rabat Memorandum, Pakistan should diligently put into practice the following recommendations by the forum:

1. Protect victims, witnesses, informants, undercover agents, juries, investigators, prosecutors, defence counsel and judges in counterterrorism cases.

2. Encourage cooperation and coordination among domestic government agencies that have responsibilities or information relevant to counterterrorism.

3. Provide a legal framework and practical measures for electronic surveillance in counterterrorism investigations.

4. Provide for the lawful exercise of pre-trial detention of terrorist suspects.

5. Develop practices and procedures to encourage international cooperation in counterterrorism matters.

One thing that these guidelines make clear is that there is no shortcut to developing a sound counterterrorism strategy. Military and intelligence services can play a vital role in supporting the civilian law enforcement organisations in following these guidelines. But, as a Rand Corporation study, titled How Terrorist Groups End, states, effective police and intelligence work, rather than the use of military force, deliver better counterterrorism results.

By following a policing and judicial system that according to reputed think-tanks and global forums, are necessary for counterterrorism, Pakistani government can set the ball rolling for bringing about peace in the country. At the same time, however, it will have to focus on five additional critical factors that can enable it to devise a functional and sustainable counterterrorism policy. These factors are as follows:

1. The roots of militancy and extremism in Pakistan are inextricably linked to regional conflicts and, therefore, there is no denying the fact that any effective policy will have to cater to regional dynamics as well. Pakistan, however, must start by setting its own house in order. The terrorism problem in Pakistan is the most serious one in the region.

2. Pakistan’s military establishment arguably is now more focused in achieving its counterterrorism objectives than it was in the past and, in the process, it is trying to stop distinguishing between “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban”. The political and bureaucratic elites, which have developed their own priorities likewise to remain relevant to the domestic power politics, will also need to make such a shift.

3. In parallel to countering terrorism through criminal justice system, deradicalisation programmes through economic and, especially, educational measures will be critical. There is no readymade formula available for the Pakistani situation. The government will have to invest in scholars and researchers from the relevant fields to figure out the most suitable model. Only professionals should lead deradicalisation projects.

4. Pakistan will need international support in this endeavour and the area where this international support is needed the most is forensics. The government must send its law enforcement officials to international training institutes for the purpose at a scale at least similar to what is available to the armed forces for training opportunities abroad.

5. Merely arguing that Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) are distorting Islamic teachings and beliefs is insufficient for counterterrorism purposes. A counter narrative crafted by progressive and educated religious scholars, challenging the credibility and devious messaging of extremists, is another urgent task awaiting state support.

Bureaucrats – both civilian and military -- have a tendency to assume that they have answers to every situation provided they are given the authority and resources. That has been a bane of Pakistan. For developing and promoting a counter narrative to extremism and bigotry, the fields of art, culture and literature are far more powerful mediums than bureaucratic and administrative measures. Pakistan has no dearth of talent in these fields.

In the religious sphere also, many poetic and literary works of Sufi saints are available that can pose serious theological challenge to the extremist narrative. It is ironic how Pakistan has failed to utilise such treasures not only to defeat extremism but also to promote pluralism and religious harmony.

*An excerpt from the author’s book, The Taliban Revival

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ISIS Eyes Influence in Pakistan ?

Policy Brief: ISIS Eyes Influence in Pakistan: Focus, Fears and Future Prospects
Jinnah Institute, December 21, 2014
By Hassan Abbas

The rapidly expanding militant force in Iraq and Syria known globally by its Arabic acronym Daesh (al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham) or in English ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is neither a myth nor does it appear to be a fleeting phenomenon. Tragically, it is real and has historical roots. The militant group has succeeded in rapidly taking control of a large tract of territory in Iraq, as well as erasing parts of the border between Iraq and Syria, conceptually establishing its writ in a way that is more than a sanctuary but insufficient to place it in the category of a state. At best it is a fluid state at the moment – with its foundations soaking in blood and its architecture being constructed on the pillars of brutality, fear, oppression and distortion of Islamic principles. Its genesis in the contemporary context is not organic in nature but arguably a product of mistaken and misdirected global policies. History too has played its hand but the recent turmoil in Middle East, sectarian proxy wars, and confused handling of the Arab spring, have all influenced this state of affairs. The Al-Qaeda narrative has also contributed to this rise as an effort to establish an ‘Islamic State’ with military objectives and expansionist ideals. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self appointed ‘caliph’ of the ISIS lacks any religious credentials and doesn’t even have support of major extremist Muslim groups around the world – but he has what none of them have – direct control of territory where around 8 million Muslims live. The five-year ISIS expansionist program is evident from the map that it purportedly released showing Pakistan as part of its ‘Khurasan’ province.3

For complete brief (pdf) click here

India - Pakistan Relations After Modi

Indo-Pak Relations: A Window of Opportunity that has Almost Closed
Economic & Political Weekly, Vol - XLIX No. 51, December 20, 2014 By Neeti Nair

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government, with its massive majority, presents a real window of opportunity to interrogate and deepen processes already at play between India and Pakistan. However, the recent resurgence of Hindutva over governance amounts to letting go of this opportunity.
Neeti Nair ( is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, United States. She is the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, Harvard and Permanent Black, 2011.

Scholars, foreign policy analysts, and journalists focusing on Indo-Pak relations have long described these relations as “intractable”.[i] Even those analysts who have highlighted the recent “unprecedented initiatives taken by individual policymakers” have been guarded against such optimism; they have noted the “dictates of state-level pressures” and “political and institutional opposition in both countries”.[ii] They refer, in particular, to the pressures exerted by allies and the opposition on weak coalition governments — the norm in India for the last two decades. This essay contends that the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government, with its massive majority, presents a real window of opportunity to interrogate and deepen diplomatic processes already at play between India and Pakistan. However, the recent resurgence of Hindutva over governance amounts to letting go of this opportunity.

Writing on the eve of the 16th Lok Sabha election results, Pranay Sharma, foreign editor at Outlook magazine, said that it is likely that regional parties would be part of the coalition at the centre. He also highlighted the attendant opportunities and difficulties that such an arrangement would entail for the crafting of a new foreign policy.[iii] The BJP hardly needed any allies to form government: with 282 seats, they had won over half the seats in Parliament. Commentators who tried to read between the lines of BJP’s electoral campaign and Narendra Modi’s new pan-Indian appeal argued that this was a mandate for development and governance, not Hindutva.[iv] This much was clear: the newly formed government had a solid majority to take significant steps towards transforming Indo-Pak relations.

Squandering Away the Opportunity

The Modi government’s early days suggested precisely this possibility. For his swearing-in ceremony, Modi invited all of India’s neighbors, including Pakistan. The symbolism of the shawl and sari that were exchanged between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi (for the former’s wife and the latter’s mother) garnered much attention in the media and raised hopes of a new beginning in Indo-Pak relations. Some journalists also pointed to the fact that it had not been easy for Nawaz Sharif to ride roughshod over the army’s objections and come to India.

The tide began to turn later in the summer, after Modi took charge. There was heavy cross-border firing, which reportedly resulted in the death of five civilians and one Indian constable, across the LoC between India and Pakistan in October-November 2014.

For complete essay, click here

Yale Press Blog: 'Inside the World of ISIS — The Arab Taliban'

Inside the World of ISIS—The Arab Taliban
 Yale University Press, December 11, 2014
By Hassan Abbas

During my recent travels to Iraq, I heard first hand stories about the genesis and rise of Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS), also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh (al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham). The rapid expansion of this deadly militant group over a significant chunk of Iraq materialized through sheer brutality, oppression, and tyranny. A large section of the Syria-Iraq border region has evaporated in the process enabling collaboration and synergy among battle hardened militants from the Syrian warzone—an incubator for the new generation of terrorists. These militants are made up of Salafi strategists; foot soldiers from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Jordan (financed largely by wealthy donors in Qatar, Kuwait & Saudi Arabia); and fighters belonging to Zarqawi inspired “Al-Qaeda in Iraq.” In the case of Iraq, old Baathists (who are careful to wear masks during ISIS parades) also jumped in the fray in hopes of reclaiming at least some part of their lost power and prestige. Credible media reports maintain that militants from over 80 countries— including Western states—are represented in the conflict theatre. Leading this dynamic and diverse bunch of thugs is Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the mysterious leader of ISIS, who is the self-proclaimed “Caliph” of this so-called “Islamic State”—a fluid state at best which, in reality, is a professionally guarded and well equipped sanctuary of terror. Massacring Muslims and non-Muslims alike and beheading any Westerners that they can get their hands on are the trademarks of ISIS.

The idea of ISIS is neither new nor unique. Their tactics are modern but their ideology borrows from an extremist strain within the Muslim discourse. In more ways than one, the group is a byproduct of modern Muslim Wars. This includes internal conflicts as well as violent regional rivalries ranging from Iran versus Saudi Arabia to the Israel-Palestine clash. Many observers in the Middle East I talked to also blame the Western powers for their unconditional support and arming of “rebels” in Syria who ultimately grew into ISIS.

Shia versus Sunni is yet another lens through which this crisis is being viewed, but an astute Iraqi-American scholar told me that within Iraq many Shia political leaders view the ISIS onslaught primarily as a Sunni versus Sunni encounter inspired by regional oil politics. Turkish over-enthusiasm to expand its regional influence muddied the waters too.

For complete article, click here

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Daish Expanding Tentacles in Pakistan

IS recruiting thousands in Pakistan, govt warned in 'secret' report
Mubashir Zaidi, Dawn, November 8, 2014

KARACHI: The provincial government of Balochistan has conveyed a confidential report to the federal government and law enforcement agencies warning of increased footprints of militant organisation Islamic State (IS), also known by the Arabic acronym Daish, in Pakistan.

The ‘secret information report', a copy of which is available with DawnNews, is dated October 31, and states that IS has claimed to have recruited a massive 10 to 12,000 followers from the Hangu and Kurram Agency tribal areas.

"It has been reliably learnt that Daish has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wai Jamat (ASWJ) to join hands in Pakistan. Daish has also formed a ten-member Strategic Planning Wing," the report from the Home and Tribal Affair Department of Balochistan says.

The report states that the IS plans to attack military installations and government buildings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in retaliation to the army-led Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan and also plans to target members of the minority Shia community.

The Balochistan government called for heightened vigilance and security measures in the province as well as the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to prevent and pre-empt such attacks.

It has moreover called for sensitising law enforcement agencies on the issue and an increased monitoring of LeJ members.

The warning comes days after six top commanders of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including its now defunct spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, have announced their allegiance to IS's caliph Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi Al Qureshi Al-Hussaini..

The Taliban spokesman said he, along with TTP chief for Orakzai Agency Saeed Khan, TTP chief for Kurram Agency Daulat Khan, TTP's Khyber Agency chief Fateh Gul Zaman, TTP’s Peshawar chief Mufti Hassan and TTP’s Hangu chief Khalid Mansoor, have announced their allegiance to Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi.

Earlier in the week, Shahidullah Shahid was replaced by Mohammad Khurasani as the new TTP spokesperson

The Islamic State's presence has not been officially established so far.
Perceived threat?

Security expert Dr Ejaz Hussain believes that Pakistan faces a perceived threat from the IS but it can mature into a real threat if they succeed in aligning themselves with the splinter groups of mainstream militants groups, including the TTP.

“If the Pakistan security apparatus fails to check their footprints, it could be a setback for them in future. It appears that the IS wants to focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly the time when US forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan. If not checked, IS will pose a major threat to South Asia and the Persian Gulf,” Hussain told Dawn.

IS, which is led by Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi, is currently based in Iraq and Syria and occupies border areas. It is accused of killing hundreds of Muslims and some American and UK citizens, which include journalists and aid workers.

Wall-chalking has also begun to appear in support of IS in some cities of Pakistan, including Karachi and Khanewal.

ISIS Makes inroads in Afghanistan & Pakistan - Foreign Policy South Asia Channel, Sep 30, 2014

Taliban - ISIS Links in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Theatre

Pakistani Taliban likely to send more fighters to Iraq and Syria
The Pakistani Taliban has pledged support to militant groups fighting in Iraq and Syria; a move that should be taken seriously as the number of "Islamic State" sympathizers is rising, analyst Hassan Abbas tells DW.

Pakistani Taliban militants offered help to radical Muslim groups fighting in Iraq and Syria, according to a statement marking the Muslim holy festival of Eid al-Adha on October 4. Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah addressed the fighters in the Middle East as "mujahideen brothers" and vowed to support them. "Mujahideen fighting in Iraq and Syria are our brothers and we are proud of their victories. We are part of them in moments of joy and sadness," said Fazlullah, according to the news agency dpa. "We are with you in these troubles and will help you in whatever way it is possible for us," he said.

The statement also called for unity between the different jihadist groups, coming even as its own group faces deepening internal divisions. "Islamic State" (IS), which controls vast swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, has been attempting to gain a foothold in South Asia.

Hassan Abbas, Chair at the National Defense University in Washington and author of the book The Taliban Revival, says in a DW interview that while there is still little evidence of IS activity in South Asia, the jihadist organization or other similar groups will attempt to expand their area of influence, should the security situation deteriorate in the region.

DW: How seriously should the international community take this pledge of allegiance by the Pakistani Taliban to IS?

Hassan Abbas: This development should be taken very seriously. The Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan grew out of a wedlock between Pakistani militants and al Qaeda, so regional and global networking is not new to them.

More recently, the Pakistani Taliban have also found their way into the Syrian conflict and the latest declaration is a product of the new networking process taking place around the battle for Syria. This was bound to happen but in the West we fooled ourselves into believing otherwise.

Is there any evidence if IS presence in South Asia or of efforts to spread its influence in the region?

There is very little evidence of direct IS activity in South Asia at the moment but the number of South Asian sympathizers is on the rise. Some propaganda materials from the group such as pamphlets were distributed in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Karachi in the past few weeks.

But more than the Pakistani Taliban themselves, it is sectarian terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) who are likely to spearhead the IS agenda - such as targeting Shia Muslims and also Sunni Muslims inclined towards Sufi thinking - among other things.

How would the Pakistani Taliban be able to support IS?

They can provide more foot soldiers - a few hundred are already operating in Syria and Iraq. More dangerous will be the ideological impact. At present, while IS is triggering the disgust of common Muslims in South Asia, extremists are very much cherishing the rise of the militant group as it gives them the idea that the Islamic state of their dreams is being realized.

What is the Pakistani government's stance on IS?

Given that the development is very recent, there has been little response so far. But it has become evident from the widespread terrorist attacks in recent years that the government of Pakistan is usually very slow in comprehending emerging security threats.

How could IS benefit from the current rivalries between the different Taliban groups both in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the impending foreign troops withdrawal from Afghanistan?

This can be a golden opportunity for IS. This is substantiated by the fact that even al Qaeda under its current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been trying to keep its membership intact by reframing its agenda and establishing a new branch of al Qaeda in South Asia. They are worried that IS may lure their supporters away.

In the case of a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan or parts of it, IS or other similar groups will attempt to expand their area of influence. IS will likely pass on that task to the Pakistani Taliban who are looking for such a task.

What could both local governments and the international community do to prevent this from happening?

There are both short term and long term remedies we should think about. In short term, civilian law enforcement and military should collaborate on understanding the nature of this emerging threat scenario and also engage the public in terms of creating awareness in South Asian states, especially Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, successful political transition - which is already taking shape - will be critical. In the long-term scenario, investing in deradicalization strategies and public education will bear fruits.

Hassan Abbas is Professor and Chair at the National Defense University in Washington and author of "The Taliban Revival" (Yale University Press). The statements are his personal opinion.

Also see:
'The Costs of America's Imperial Hubris' - Review in Dawn, September 15, 2014

Saturday, November 08, 2014

'The Taliban Revival' profiled by 'Daily Show with Jon Stewart' - August 27, 2014

For complete Interview click here

Book Reviews: Survival, IISS (October - November 2014)
South Asia - By Teresita C. Schaffer
The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan–Afghanistan Frontier
(Hassan Abbas. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014. £18.99/$30.00. 280 pp.)

Hassan Abbas is a former Pakistan police officer who teaches at the US National Defense University, and has also held positions at Columbia and Harvard univer- sities. His analysis draws on extensive interviews in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is informed by his police background. There are many books on the Taliban, but this one stands out for the way it weaves together the tribal, governmental and national aspects of this movement, and its Pakistani and Afghan wings.

The heart of the book starts with the return of the Taliban from its near-death experience after the fall of its government in Afghanistan in 2001. Abbas recounts unsparingly how the ambivalent views of the Musharraf government and the Pakistani army created the space that permitted the movement to revive, with a more militant presence in Pakistan than it had ever had before. He recounts the 2004–07 negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, in which Islamabad repeat- edly sought a kind of non-aggression pact, only to discover that the Taliban had no intention of being hemmed in by such agreements. The parties to these negotiations had no common ground. Pakistan sought to preserve peace and governmental control, at least outside a recognised geographic area; the Taliban did not accept the ‘idea of Pakistan’ outside the framework of their goal of an Islamic emirate.

This problem has plagued efforts to arrive at reconciliation – or even a truce – for decades. The Pakistan government has repeatedly expressed confidence in its ability to fine-tune relations with the Taliban and related insurgents operat- ing in its territory. In fact, as Abbas recounts with skill and in detail, Pakistani governments – civilian and military alike – have systematically deluded them- selves (as well as their outside friends), hoping to retain the services of the ‘good Taliban’ to ward off the threat they most fear, from India.

The most valuable part of Abbas’s account deals with contemporary Pakistan. As he notes, the Pakistani Taliban directed the bulk of its 2013 election vio- lence against the more secular parties, going relatively easy on Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Once in power, Sharif pushed for negotiations with the Taliban, and eventually discovered that it was not interested in returning the favour. Once again, the Pakistani authori- ties failed to recognise that the Taliban was not interested in a modus vivendi: it was fundamentally challenging the state of Pakistan. The same kind of blind spot, Abbas argues, affects Pakistan’s analysis of Afghanistan. Members of the Afghan Taliban are not only divided: they are also, like other Afghans, deeply suspicious of Pakistan, and their approach to dealing with more powerful forces is to play them off against one another.

This last point should not surprise anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Afghan history, and yet the newspapers are filled with example after example of outsiders – Americans, Pakistanis and others – expecting linear logic to govern their dealings with Afghans. What makes Abbas’s message so powerful is the spotlight he shines on the illusions that, tragically, keep Pakistan’s leaders engaged in a conspiracy game that threatens the country itself.

Other Reviews of The Taliban Revival:
Foreign Affairs Reviewed by John Waterbury, Nov 2014.
Express Tribune Reviewed by Lamia Zia, October 17, 2014.
Interview with VOA with Jim Stevenson, October 6, 2014.
London Review of Books by Owen Bennett Jones, September 2014.

Monday, July 28, 2014

C-Span Book TV Features 'The Taliban Revival'

From C-Span Book TV
July 27, 2014

JULY 15, 2014: Book Discussion on The Taliban Revival - Carnegie Endowment 

Hassan Abbas talked about his book, The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier, in which he discusses the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He said that after being kicked out of power in 2001 by U.S. and NATO troops, the Taliban scattered around Afghanistan, but they eventually regrouped and had retaken large portions of the country. Professor Abbas spoke at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.

For video, click here

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Excerpt: 'The Taliban Revival' - Asia Society

Book Excerpt: 'The Taliban Revival' by Hassan Abbas

June 26th, 2014 by Asia Society

In 2001, when NATO forces entered Afghanistan in their offensive against Al-Qaeda, they also aimed to eradicate the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalists who had lent help to Osama bin Laden. The Taliban were flushed out of Afghanistan's major cities and a new, interim government under Hamid Karzai was established. However, a new book by Dr. Hassan Abbas shows that the Taliban, rather than disappearing, instead persisted and regrouped to the point where they were once again a significant security threat.

In The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier (Yale University Press, 2014), Abbas chronicles how the Taliban managed to not only survive, but spread as an insurgent movement. Furthermore, he writes, understanding the causes of this seemingly mysterious "Talibanization" is essential for reversing its resurgence in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Drawing on research and interviews in the area, The Taliban Revival presents a comprehensive account of the Taliban's fall and resurrection, beginning with Pakistan's volatile Pashtun frontier, weaving through the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and leading up to current U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan.

Hassan Abbas is Professor and Chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs in Washington, D.C. He is also a Senior Advisor at the Asia Society and was an Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow in 2010. Below is an excerpt from his book.


In theory, a negotiated settlement with the insurgents is a necessary prerequisite for an end to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. But the million-dollar question is: at what cost? Reconciliation with the Taliban is an issue that affects more than just Afghanistan. It has regional implications: the interests of all neighbouring countries need to be taken into account before any major political adjustments can be made. The reality is that the Obama administration was initially very reluctant to pursue a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban, though President Karzai had already reached out to them for "reconciliation." After 2008, Pakistani intelligence also made a case to its U.S. pursuing talks with the Afghan Taliban, and it even offered to mediate. On the ground in Afghanistan, there was an important initiative from German diplomats to talk to the Taliban in 2010.

The problem is that the Afghan Taliban are no longer a hierarchical organization, with leaders who are easily identifiable. A range of localized insurgent groups with different agendas and grievances are operating in the field, as are criminal networks and organizations that are semi-independent Taliban affiliates, such as the Haqqani group, which uses Pakistan’s tribal areas as a base from which to conduct and coordinate its activities in Afghanistan. American defense officials believe that 10-15 percent of insurgent attacks inside Afghanistan are directly attributable to Haqqani group warriors. Pakistan is capable of bringing the Haqqani group to the table — and presumably others from the inner circle of Mullah Omar — but it is doubtful whether the Taliban sitting in Pakistan could negotiate on behalf of all Taliban insurgent leaders operating inside Afghanistan.

No major communication breakthrough with the Taliban leaders was in sight when former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major policy speech at the Asia Society in New York in February 2011, in which she set out three conditions for the Taliban if they wanted to come to the negotiating table — sever relations with Al-Qaeda, renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution. For the Taliban, this was a non-starter. But they had little inkling that Secretary of State Clinton was moving in this direction after having overcome stiff resistance from the other important power centers in Washington. For Pakistan, it was a welcome development, though Islamabad believed in a slightly different approach, suggesting to the U.S. that the three preconditions could be converted into the end goals of a negotiated deal. Washington agreed in principle, and Pakistan was given the go-ahead to play its part in making this happen.

At the time, Pakistan was itself under tremendous pressure from the TTP — the local faction of the Taliban — which was constantly on the offensive, targeting major military and intelligence infrastructure counterparts from inside Pakistan. For Pakistan, an accommodation between the Taliban and Kabul would ease the pressure and also reinstate Pakistani influence in Afghanistan to balance the inroads India had made there.

Karzai, who was running his parallel reconciliation efforts via the "High Peace Council," led by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, wanted to control the process, but Pakistan was not inclined to trust him, and opted rather to communicate direct with the U.S. in this regard. The Afghan approach — enshrined in a document entitled "The Peace Process Roadmap to 2015" — emphasized an "Afghan-led" and "Afghan-owned" process that would ensure the freedoms and liberties of all Afghans. The assassination of Rabbani at the hands of Taliban (whose spokesman claimed responsibility) in September 2011 was to be a blow to the Afghan reconciliation effort.

Meanwhile the bold U.S. operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May 2011 to eliminate Osama bin Laden, followed in November 2011 by the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers and officers at the hands of NATO forces at Salala, a checkpoint on the Pakistan–Afghanistan border, changed the atmosphere in Pakistan and led to a deterioration in U.S.-Pakistani relations that froze the planned negotiation initiative.

The situation only improved in mid-2012 after some "give and take" that led to a resumption of Pakistani efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Over two dozen Taliban militants languishing in Pakistani intelligence "guest houses" (or in some cases in the "protective custody" of local militant groups) were advised to return to Afghanistan. In official U.S.-Pakistan discussions on the subject, Pakistani military and intelligence officials continued to emphasize that there were no "guarantees" and that they only promised "facilitation."

The opening of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, in June 2013 for talks with the U.S. and the Afghan government was an important step. The initial agenda included the issue of Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the removal of some Taliban leaders from the UN sanction lists.

The plan foundered, however, when the Taliban erected a plaque outside the office that read "Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" and hoisted the Taliban flag — despite a categorical objection from the U.S. According to an American insider, it was all a misjudgement on the part of the government of Qatar, which acceded to the Taliban request. Anyway, President Hamid Karzai was not amused. He conveyed his displeasure to Qatar, and that led to cancellation of the whole process.

The whole episode exposes a debilitating disconnect, caused by mutual apprehensions on the part of all the sides involved in this sensitive and controversial enterprise. Soon afterward, a senior Pakistani diplomat asked me: "Are the Americans really serious in negotiating with the Taliban, or is this only a tactic to force Pakistan to show its hand?" The inference was that perhaps the U.S. is indirectly attempting to drive a wedge between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban leaders. This perception explains Pakistani skepticism about U.S. interests and its long-term commitment to the region.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

What Does Modi's rise mean .....

What Does the BJP's Big Win Mean for India? Experts Weigh In
by Joshua Rosenfield, Asia Society, New York, May 16th, 2014

In the wake of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s resounding victory in India’s elections, Asia Society reached out to our network of fellows and experts in a variety of fields for their reactions to the vote. What do the election results mean? And what developments should observers watch for and expect as Narendra Modi is seated as Prime Minister and begins to implement the BJP’s agenda?

Hassan Abbas
Senior Advisor, Asia Society; Author of the forthcoming book The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan–Afghanistan Frontier

Though in India, the political rise of Narenda Modi and the revival of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is being projected as the victory of common man, Pakistanis recognize him more as a right-leaning politician who was hands-in-gloves with elements who orchestrated the brutal killings of Muslims in communal violence in Gujarat in 2002.

Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif called Modi to congratulate him on BJP’s landslide election victory and invite him to visit Pakistan, hoping to fully revive the peace process which Sharif had initiated with India in early 1999 when another BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister of India. Sharif, like many other leading Pakistani politicians, is now convinced that peace with India is a must for Pakistan’s progress. The question is whether Sharif can “help” Pakistan’s military establishment in overcoming their concerns and inhibitions in the matter. Pakistan’s right-wing political forces are also ever ready to obstruct any talk of peace with India.

On the brighter side, one earnestly hopes that soon-to-be Prime Minister Modi will follow what he said about relations with Pakistan in early May in an interview with The Times of India: “Both countries faced a common enemy in widespread poverty which they could tackle to together if a new trust could be established.”

Alyssa Ayres
Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations

Mr. Modi has campaigned on an economic growth and governance platform. That’s likely good news for resolving many of the U.S.-India economic frictions, such as FDI limits, tax predictability, and openness to greater trade in general. American companies are looking forward to getting back to business with India.

Surjit S. Bhalla
Columnist, The Indian Express; Chairman, Oxus Investments; Senior Advisor, Zyfin

This election will be a significant departure from history. While the curtain has not yet been dropped on caste politics, we are near to that dream reality. It is poetic justice that Narendra Modi, a lower caste OBC, and one who has never played the caste card and indeed vehemently argued against it, should be the one to provide a death blow to Mandal politics. What has also nearly ended is Communist politics. The Left parties managed to obtain only 10 seats, half their 2009 amount, and ended their masquerade as a national party.

But the real political story of this election is the near complete decimation of the Congress party. The party has had two humiliating defeats in the past: the first in the old India of 1977, and the second in 1999. Election 2014 is witness to the Congress hitting its lowest ever seats, 45. The reality is that the Congress as we know it, and have loved and hated it, is destroyed, and it is the political death of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. When a 130-year-old national party obtains less than a twelfth of the total seats on offer, and barely makes it as the second-largest political party, regional or otherwise, it cannot, should not, and for its own survival must not remain the same.

Marshall Bouton
Interim Director, Asia Society Policy Institute; Senior Fellow, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania

From a politics of scarcity to a politics of aspiration—that is the central meaning of the historic Indian election so resoundingly concluded today. Over the last 15 to 20 years the Indian people have discovered that with economic growth comes the possibility of better lives for themselves and their children. No longer is the struggle about who gets what slice of an unchanging chapati, but how growth can afford more opportunity for many. And those young Indians for whom this was the first time to vote have never known the politics of scarcity and will accept nothing less than a positive vision based growth and opportunity.

Nor is the new narrative of Indian politics just an urban phenomenon. Exit polls showed the BJP and its allies winning almost as decisively in the rural areas as in the cities, despite the UPA Government’s multiple schemes to shower goodies on farmers and rural labor.

Somehow the Congress Party missed the emergence of a new India that is optimistic about the future. Perhaps lacking true political leadership, it has been imprisoned in the mindset that elections can be won by framing “rights” and implementing poorly designed welfare schemes.

For all the credit due to Mr. Modi—and yes, this was a Modi wave election—he faces the enormous challenge of somehow fulfilling the high expectations of renewed growth, more jobs, subdued inflation, improved infrastructure, and less corruption that the Indian people have placed on him and his party. If he strays from the pursuit of growth and opportunity that he has promised, and especially if he allows the agenda of the Hindu right to distract his government and the country, he will in time be held equally to account.

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