Sunday, August 23, 2020

Dynamics of Countering Violent Extremism in Pakistan and Beyond: A Conversation with Professor Qamar-Ul Huda

Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University - August 2020

In the fifth segment of NESA South Asia Interview Series, Professor Hassan Abbas interviews Professor Qamar-ul Huda who is a non-resident fellow at The Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C and an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a senior policy advisor to the U.S. State Department Secretary’s Office.

HASSAN ABBAS: Congratulations on your recent publication “A Critique of Countering Violent Extremism Programs in Pakistan” (Center for Global Policy, July 2020). What are the core findings from the report that are crucial for CVE practitioners today? What are your top 3-5 findings?

QAMAR-UL HUDA: I think the top five findings from the policy report are the following:

1. In Pakistan – a frontline state in the war of terrorism- Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) policies and programs are still fundamentally controversial, misunderstood, and strongly criticized by local human rights groups and religious leaders. Pakistan state institutions and civil society organizations have implemented a variety of CVE programs but there have been no measures of the programs’ effectiveness or impact analysis, and this raises concerns about the fundamental nature of CVE programs.

2. One area I discovered in researching for the report was that Pakistani NGOs and civil society stakeholders raised serious concerns regarding CVE thinking and assumptions on radicalization and extremism because they felt these ideas were imported by the global community of researchers. These assumptions were never debated internally by Pakistan’s academic research community. The notion of radicalism was not contested but there were repeated opinions on whether there could be a more nuanced local cultural understanding. That is to say Pakistani NGO organizations and CVE workshop participants repeatedly expressed having grievances against inept, oppressed governments or government policies or international actors which did not explicitly make them radicals. Also, there were tremendous amount of push-back on the fact that Pakistani CVE programs over-emphasized religious figures or religious organizations, and this approach’s primary focus on religion lacked a comprehensive scheme.

3. CVE Programs were designed and implemented with a heavy emphasis on counter-messaging to the propaganda of the violent extremists. Strategic communications to interfere, manipulate, and disrupt the extremists’ propaganda meant supporting religious leaders to counter new narratives but there was never a strategic plan in place to monitor or evaluate the effectiveness of the counter-messaging or an understanding of its impact. This report discovered project evaluations but there was no single database or single institute supervising the monitoring or evaluations of CVE counter-messaging to inform better practices.

4. As “CVE” became more mistrusted and tainted in Pakistan, NGOs and civil society groups were put at risk for taking part in these activities and receiving international aid. NGOs implementing CVE programs – whether sponsored by Pakistan government or by international donors – risk falling under suspicion of contributing to ethnic, religious and sectarian conflicts. CVE funds received by NGOs were questioned by intelligence on how they were able to access CVE funds and how much of the funds were actually used for CVE activities. The suspicion undermined the credibility of NGOs who were attempting to bring grassroots leaders to learn about CVE counter-messaging.

5. Within the global CVE research community there is a consensus, for over eight years, that any successful CVE policy will be based upon multidisciplinary approaches and multi-agency cooperation. Attempts to combat the totalitarian nature of violent extremist groups require a holistic understanding of local sectarian grievances and structural issues such as energy, access to water, housing, quality of education, healthcare services. But, in Pakistan’s CVE policy and/ or programming, the report did not see multiagency cooperation or international funded program coordination. However, Pakistan has a unique opportunity to correct its course by building and developing upon its original national strategy.

HASSAN ABBAS: The report appears to be cautioning CVE experts not to play with religious narratives and argues that engaging religious scholars to challenge and condemn violent extremism may not in reality be an effective or appropriate CVE practice. Kindly elaborate this point further as most Muslim states are heavily engaged in this exercise.

QAMAR-UL HUDA: Even before the White House Summit on CVE in February, 2014, the global CVE research and policy community were intent on finding and funding “moderate Muslim religious networks” (Rand Report), “supporting non-violent jihadi Salafi groups” (Graeme Wood), “to collaborate with global Salafism (William McCants and Shadi Hamid), and leverage the rising middle class Shi’ites in the Middle East against the Hezbollah movement and the ‘Ulama of Iran (Vali Nasr).

The role of religion in countering violent extremism — especially during the peak of Daesh’s rise after the capture of Mosul, Iraq, in 2014 — was tied to an abstract computation of funding a religious leader’s organization, building trusted networks, and supporting the dissemination of CVE messaging about peace and pluralism. Considering religious engagement as an aspect of security was problematic to some, but others argued that the stakes were too high to ignore the role of religious actors in CVE activities.

For complete interview, click here

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Role of Police during the Pandemic and Public Health Emergencies: Global Best Practices

Policing the Pandemic Worldwide: Best Practices for Law Enforcement Agencies 

Center for Global Policy, July 16, 2020 by Hassan Abbas

The unprecedented global challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic is testing the resources and capabilities of government services. Law enforcement personnel, who are at the forefront in the fight against the disease and are among those at a high risk of becoming infected, have been particularly affected. The changes triggered by these challenges show that police institutions require major reforms to serve their communities better, including adopting new training curricula, establishing links between police and health institutions, investing more in community policing, fighting cybercrime, and increasing transparency in decision-making processes.

Examples of global pandemic-era crime trends from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, South Asia, and Singapore can provide lessons for practitioners and policymakers on how to prepare and invest in police institutions for better security and handling future threats. With shutdowns, travel restrictions and work-from-home limitations, reported crimes (such as theft and burglary) have declined considerably, but there has been a spike in domestic violence and cybercrime. The brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis added another layer of complexity to the situation as it galvanized anti-racism and anti-police protests across the United States and in several other countries. The full scope of the impact of the pandemic on crime and security is still unclear. Criminals have clearly adopted new ways to exploit the situation, and police have to be a step ahead of them to be effective. Police professionalism and resilience is going through a severe trial in the process.

A New Kind of Policing Challenge

COVID-19 compelled police forces across the world to alter their operational strategies and adjust their resources. In France, over 100,000 police and gendarmes patrolled streets to enforce lockdown and fine residents who left shelter without legal reason. Police stopped over 70,000 people and fined around 4,000 the first day of the lockdown. In Italy, police checked 700,000 citizens in just one week in March, over 40,000 of whom were in violation of regulations.

For complete article, click here

Law Enforcement Best Practices Can Help Halt the Spread of COVID-19 by Keeping People Out of Jail - Vera Institute for Justice 
Policing During the Coronavirus Pandemic - Center for American Progress
Domestic abuse: get help during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak - UK
The Role of Police Foundations During the Pandemic - International Association of Chiefs of Police 
Global Policing Symposium: Challenges and Lessons Learnt - International Association of Chiefs of Police 
Policing the Pandemic of 1918 - National Law Enforcement Museum 

Have Taliban Changed Ideologically? - An Interview with Afghan leader Omar Zakhilwal

Peace, Taliban and Cricket in Afghanistan: A Conversation with Afghan Leader and Diplomat Dr. Omar Zakhilwal

Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, July 2020

The third installment of the NESA South Asia Interview Series is with Dr. Omar Zakhilwal hailing from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province served as finance minister (2009-2014) under President Hamid Karzai and later was appointed as Kabul’s ambassador to Pakistan (2015-2018). He holds a PhD in economics from Carleton University in Canada and has also consulted for various international organizations including the World Bank and UNDP. He also served as Chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board. He tweets @DrOmarZakhilwal

HASSAN ABBAS: It may come as a surprise, but my first question is about Cricket! You served before as head of the Afghanistan Cricket Board and your team has greatly impressed cricket lovers across the world. Please tell us how Afghanistan has pulled off this remarkable feat in the midst of all the challenges that it faces. To me it is a story of Afghan resilience and hope that is often missed in media coverage.

OMAR ZAKHILWAL: Cricket, yes indeed! In fact, I was the founder of the Afghanistan Cricket Board and also accepted to be its first Chair. To be honest, before my involvement in Cricket I was not much into this game and rarely watched it. One day in the Spring of 2009 when I was the Minister of Finance, players of our national team came for a meeting explaining their impoverished backgrounds, the difficulties in which they had learned and practiced Cricket, the vision and the sense of purpose they saw in cricket for themselves (proving to the World that, if given the right circumstances, Afghans could excel in almost anything and this in return could bring much needed smiles, hope and inspiration to the Afghan people). However, they didn’t have the minimum of the very basics of what they needed. That motivated me tremendously and I decided to be part of their journey. To make a provision for them in the national budget I founded the Cricket Board and then as per the players’ insistence I accepted to be the first voluntary Chair of the Board as well. I am proud of what we achieved in the first three years in terms of structure and infrastructure that set the stage for Afghan Cricket team’s subsequent rise and the rest is history.

HASSAN ABBAS: Moving now to the security dynamics in Afghanistan, do you believe that the Taliban have changed or transformed politically and ideologically over the years? Can they be part of a democratic Afghanistan as a political stake holder?

OMAR ZAKHILWAL: Ideological change is a big expectation. However, for peace, we don’t need to look for that change but rather for a change in their understanding of the internal and external environment as well as their end objectives. Based on my knowledge of the Taliban, I believe they have the following understanding: Afghanistan and its people have come a long way in the past two decades. While they overwhelmingly want peace with a complete withdrawal of foreign forces and a state that is Sharia compliant, they also won’t accept peace at the cost of their basic rights – educational, political, social and others. They also know that even after the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the international community may not remain as indifferent as in the 1990s. Therefore, I believe they know that monopolization of power, and ruling by force is a thing of the past and they will have to compromise not only on the nature of the state but also on power structure.

For complete interview, click here

Monday, July 13, 2020

Inside India Today: Politics, Security and Rivalry with China

Inside India Today: Politics, Security and the Rivalry with China – An Interview with Professor Christophe Jaffrelot
NESA South Asia Interview Series # 2 (June 27 2020)

This is the second engagement of NESA’s South Asia Interview series. NESA Distinguished Professor Hassan Abbas interviews Christophe Jaffrelot who is Avantha Chair and Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King’s India Institute and also the Research Lead for the Global Institutes, King’s College London.
Professor Christophe Jaffrelot 

Hassan Abbas: Welcome Professor Jaffrelot. I am borrowing language for my first question from the subtitle of your recent book on India: Tell me “How Hindu nationalism is changing India.”

Christophe Jeffrelot: To summarize a book in few sentences is not easy, but I can list the subjects scrutinized by the contributors under two large rubrics: national-populism and ethnic democracy. While BJP could never win a majority in the Lok Sabha before Narendra Modi took over power in the party, Modi has brought something new to it: a national-populist repertoire that combines the Hindutva ideology of the Sangh Parivar and a new style as Modi relates directly to the people in a very effective manner (he’s a good orator in particular), claiming that he comes from the people because of his plebeian origins. This populist style finds expression in a constant use of emotions (including the fear of the Other) and a systematic rejection of the establishment (associated with the Congress and its leaders in his discourse). But populism is also conducive to authoritarianism: as the leader claims that he epitomizes the people, he concentrates power at the expense of his ministers, his party, the parliament, federalism… and there is very little space left for the opposition, as all the other political forces are seen as illegitimate and depicted as anti-national. Hence the objective of a “Congress free India”. In some states, even when Congress won the elections, they lost power after sometime when some of his elected representatives defected for various, opaque reasons to the BJP, the new hegemon.

For complete interview, click here

Monday, July 06, 2020

The Making of the Doha Deal with Taliban and the Future Prospects

Afghanistan Between Negotiations: How the Doha Agreement Will Affect Intra-Afghan Peace
By Andrew Quilty Sunday, July 5, 2020, LAWFARE Blog


Trump entered office promising to end the war in Afghanistan, but former military generals serving on his national security team convinced him to change course. In his August 2017 South Asia Strategy, he vowed to throw the full weight of U.S. military, economic and diplomatic power into bringing an end to the war. The rate of U.S. airstrikes spiked immediately, and in both 2018 and 2019, the U.S. Air Force conducted more airstrikes than in any other year since 2001. The Taliban suffered severe personnel losses countrywide.

The pressure may have prompted a February 2018 open letter from the Taliban calling on the United States to reassess its policies toward Afghanistan. Although by no means a surrender, the letter offered renewed hope for diplomacy.

For complete article, click here

Also See:
Despite Bloody Week In Afghanistan, U.S. Pushes Taliban Peace Talks Forward - NPR
Afghan Negotiators to Taliban: Let’s Start the Peace Talks - USIPA Failed Afghan Peace Deal - Seth Jones, Council on Foreign Relations

Governance, Counter-terrorism and Policing in Pakistan

Pakistan: The Politics of the Misgoverned
Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Washington DC - June 2020

Welcome to the first installment of NESA’s South Asia Interview series with NESA Distinguished Professor Hassan Abbas. We will interview practitioners, politicians, diplomats and scholars from South Asia. These engagements will include NESA alumni from the region as well as US South Asia experts.

Hassan Abbas: What are the three biggest governance challenges faced by Pakistan today?

Azhar Nadeem: The authoritarian mindset in conjunction with the patronage system which has led to the emergence of extractive institutions in Pakistan is the root of all problems. The second plague Pakistan suffers from is the larger than life presence of the garrison and theocracy in the corridors of power and influence.

A direct consequence of these ills is the chaos in the education, health and justice systems. In education, there is a disconnect between the curriculum for the elite and the common man. Healthcare is fraught by problems leading to complete depravation of essential services in rural areas. The justice system is in shambles, where the influential and the rich can go scot free.

Hassan Abbas: The civil-military tensions have remained a permanent feature of Pakistan’s political landscape. It appears that it is somewhat resolved for the time being with the rise of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Do you believe a permanent solution to civil-military rivalry for political power has been achieved?

Azhar Nadeem: The civil-military power struggle has been the main problem of this country since its inception. Those who are under oath to protect and preserve the constitution have been responsible for frequent constitutional abrasions for the last 5 decades. Having PM Imran Khan at the helm of affairs does not offer a permanent solution to the problem, rather it exacerbates the situation where the military appears to be calling the shots in all important affairs.

From a constitutional perspective, the military should have no role in king making. The permanent solution calls for a national debate to ensure that all state institutions, including the military, stay within their constitutional parameters. However, the civilian leadership should give serious consideration to the proposals of the armed forces in defense matters.

For complete interview, click here

Roundtable on Advocacy for Police Reforms - National Initiative against Organized Crime Pakistan


Need for a Global Police Reforms Agenda: A Center for Global Policy Event - July 25, 2020


Tuesday, June 09, 2020

How to Reform Policing in America ?

When police officers are told they’re in a war, they act like it
A CIA officer turned cop speaks out.
By Ezra Klein@ezraklein Jun 2, 2020, Vox

Patrick Skinner spent a decade running counterterrorism operations overseas for the CIA. He worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Jordan; met with kings and presidents; rose through the ranks. But he came to believe he was part of the problem, that the very premise of the work was flawed. So he came home, and joined the police force in Savannah, Georgia, where he grew up.

I first learned about Skinner in a New Yorker profile. Then a friend mentioned his Twitter feed to me: There, Skinner reflects, in a thoughtful, continual stream, on the work of policing, the importance of treating your neighbors like neighbors, the daily work of deescalation, and the behavior of his menagerie of pets.

Skinner has been particularly outspoken in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. “We have to change our profession,” he wrote. “We aren’t warriors. We aren’t at war with our neighbors.”

I spoke with Skinner by phone on Sunday. He emphasized that his views are his own, and he wasn’t speaking on behalf of his department or all police. But what he has to say is, I think, important. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.
Ezra Klein

What did you see when you watched the video of George Floyd’s death?
Patrick Skinner

A murder. No semantics. No justification. They just killed that guy. I drove home and in a six-minute commute, I was in tears. And it was that I saw the other cops in the video. One of them even looked like me. They were stopping the bystanders, telling them to get back. It’s not just that this cop did this. The other cops stopped anyone from stopping him.
Ezra Klein

What should they have done?

For complete article, click here

ALSO SEE: Further Resources on the subject

The Role of Policing in America: Charles Koch Institute
Reformning Policing in America: Equal Justice Initiative
How to reform American police, according to experts: As protesters demonstrate against police violence, here are eight ideas for reforming law enforcement in the US.
10 things we know about race and policing in the U.S. - Pew Research Survey
Policing in America: The Posse Comitatus Act and Police Militarization - Joint Force Quarterly, National Defense University 

Monday, June 08, 2020

Protests and Policing in America Today: Five Critical Lessons

By Hassan Abbas
Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington DC
June 5, 2020

The widespread protests across the United States in the aftermath of the tragic killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, at the hands of a police officer raises important questions about police professionalism and rule of law. Police organizations across the world and in the US are already under severe stress due to the Covid – 19 challenge. The ongoing protests bring to the limelight how ordinary Americans are registering their anger and frustration at poor policing practices that are being seen as a regular law enforcement feature in certain areas. It is a sensitive issue with implications for racial harmony.

It is important to learn lessons from this unfortunate development and ponder over effective responses. In principle, protests are a sign of a healthy democratic order. Protests are a political tool for sure, but at the core these are also about justice and human dignity. Here are the five critical factors to consider:

1. A crisis can quickly turn into chaos if people lose hope in rule of law system. From a law enforcement angle, the most effective way to nurture hope and public confidence in rule of law is to utilize a community policing model. The essence of this idea revolves around building trust between police and ordinary citizens. It is about serving people, resolving conflicts peacefully, and helping people feel secure.
2. Peaceful protests as a reflection of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are a way to strengthen democracy. Protests emphasize the importance of accountability. Use of force to quell protests always backfires as evident from many examples across the world.
3. The fundamental police principles as framed by Sir Robert Peel, father of modern policing, offer highly valuable lessons for policing challenges today: ‘winning public approval requires hard work to build reputation, enforcing laws impartially, hiring officers who understand community and using force as a last resort.’
4. The 8 principles of Rule of Law explained by former British judge Tom Bingham are worth internalizing today for all and sundry. The most relevant today of these perhaps is ‘equality before law.’
5. Freedom of speech and assembly should not be construed as freedom to create chaos or commit crimes. Still, it is unfair to expect those grieving and protesting to ensure that no one takes law into their own hands. This is indeed a collective responsibility, but more importantly state institutions are the ones primarily responsible to ensure that protests are not used by criminal elements for their own ends.

The need for institutional police reforms, especially through introducing community policing protocols in basic police training and ensuring adequate gender and racial representation across law enforcement institutions, is more urgent today than ever before.

References and Sources:
Sir Robert Peel’s Policing Principles
Tom Bingham’s Principles of Rule of Law
Understanding Community Policing: A Framework for Action, U.S. Department of Justice:
Why So Many Police are Handling the Protests Wrong
Policing Protests: Lessons from the Occupy Movement, Ferguson and Beyond: A Guide for Police