August 11, 2017

BNM Conference in Berlin

41st Anniversary of Dr Subramanian SWAMY's dramatic appearance in Rajya Sabha

Today is 41st Anniversary of Dr Subramanian SWAMY's dramatic appearance in Rajya Sabha on 10th Aug 1976 inspite of arrest warrant during Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi suppression Human Rights, Dr Swamy opposed The Emergency (1975-77) and worked in India & abroad to propagate democratic values and resistance against Autocratic Indira Gandhi rule which ultimately led to Janata Party Govt formation under PM Morarji Desai in March 1977

August 09, 2017

What Does Victory Look Like in Afghanistan?

https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2017/8/9/what-does-victory-look-like-in-afghanistan

What Does Victory Look Like in Afghanistan?

Adam Wunische 

 August 9, 2017

More U.S. troops are likely headed back to Afghanistan soon, while the Trump Administration is also now considering withdrawal. Before either option––or anything in between––is considered, the U.S. needs to decide what version of victory it wants before it can decide on a strategy.

One of the most shocking statements I’ve heard on Afghanistan in sometime was that the official U.S. policy is to force the Taliban into a negotiated settlement. This statement came from a highly respected scholar of U.S. foreign policy and military strategy. I wondered what veterans like myself should think of such a policy. Almost 17 years of fighting, over 2,000 killed, and countless others wounded or otherwise affected, and our strategy is now to accept peace with the Taliban and see them holding legislative seats in Kabul and contributing to governing Afghanistan?

To be fair, the statement above was somewhat of a misstatement. What he intended to say was that this is the actual policy being pursued by the U.S., if unofficially and inconsistently. It is an unofficial policy because it would be highly unpopular with the domestic audience in the U.S., and it is inconsistent because presidents have been unwilling to commit the political capital necessary to sustain such a policy. Since a possible troop increase was announced in June, journalists and analysts (and Trump’s advisors) have been debating the strategy to which the U.S. should commit itself. However, these debates often consider strategies in isolation, and this is a mistake. Strategies must be judged relative to the realistic alternatives. This article categorizes the most common recent arguments, considers their limitations, and makes an argument for the least bad option, a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.

MILITARY ENGAGEMENT WITHOUT A COHERENT POLICY SHAPING THE STRATEGY BY WHICH THE CAMPAIGN IS CARRIED OUT IS LITTLE MORE THAN ORGANIZED SLAUGHTER.

One potential strategy considers the possibility of a post-World War II arrangement, leaving a permanent contingent of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to keep the Taliban and others at bay and influence other countries with interests in Central Asia. Unsurprisingly, many considering this possibility find the prospect unsustainable and possibly unachievable.

Another strategy considers the complex regional dynamics of the situation and suggests increasingly forceful engagement with neighboring countries, specifically Pakistan. Use of Pakistani territory sustains and strengthens Taliban operations in Afghanistan and the Pakistanis have been notoriously difficult partners for the U.S. and others.

Still another approach considers the folly of sending more troops before a coherent strategy, or even policy, has been agreed upon. Almost 200 years ago, Clausewitz asserted, “War is a mere continuation of policy by other means.” Military engagement without a coherent policy shaping the strategy by which the campaign is carried out is little more than organized slaughter.

A final take on the situation defines victory as an Afghanistan fully restored via so-called nation-building. This argument suggests less reliance on the military and more on civilians and the State Department. Otherslike Gary Dempsey, argue the costs so greatly outweigh the benefits that the U.S. should simply cut its losses and withdraw. Withdrawal arguments usually suggest that after ground forces have left the U.S. should send targeted operations into Afghanistan whenever violent non-state actors set up shop again, but this assumes the political will and legal justifications will hold indefinitely––which isn’t a safe assumption.

The problem with all of the above arguments is that they only consider one possible form of victory, or take the form of victory as a given. This can be effective when advocating for certain policies, but it also comes with significant limitations. As an alternative, I will present a variety of potential victories––each different in some critical way––and assess the prospects for achieving each and what they mean for U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR A TOTAL VICTORY?

It is first necessary to assess the most common assumption for victory and the current state of that possibility. The early stages of the war in Afghanistan were entirely directed at removing the Taliban from power and going after al Qaeda's central structure. This gave Operation Enduring Freedom a specific counterterrorism focus. Therefore, the early objectives necessary for victory were limited: end or degrade al Qaeda and the Taliban. This mission was accomplished, and surprisingly quickly. However, the mission then shifted from counterterrorism to ambitious state-building as the security situation deteriorated and the Taliban began to push back into the country from their sanctuary in Pakistan. NATO troops pushed out from Kabul and sought to extend the new central government’s authority throughout the country.

ASSUMING ANOTHER MILITARY VICTORY OVER THE TALIBAN COULD BE ACHIEVED, THE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT WOULD STILL NEED TO ESTABLISH CONTROL OVER A TERRITORY THAT FEW CENTRAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE EVER BEEN ABLE TO CONTROL SINCE MODERN AFGHANISTAN WAS FOUNDED AROUND 1747.

If we assume these more ambitious statebuilding objectives to be the standard by which victory is now measured, each of the following would have to happen before that victory could be considered won: the Taliban would have to be beaten back militarily, the Afghan government would need to establish control over the overwhelming majority of the country, and the U.S. would have no more than a small contingent of trainers and advisors on the ground. Given the length of the effort in Afghanistan thus far, it’s inconsistent progress, and the present trend, this outcome seems unlikely.

Assuming another military victory over the Taliban could be achieved, the Afghan government would still need to establish control over a territory that few central governments have ever been able to control since modern Afghanistan was founded around 1747. Afghan expert Thomas Barfield argues that attempts to extend control over the whole of Afghanistan like other modern states do is a fundamental flaw in U.S. strategy and is simply not possible in a country like Afghanistan. Instead, Barfield has suggested a “Swiss cheese” model should be used. That is, control the vital areas (the population centers) that can be controlled and ignore the areas that cannot. Unfortunately, this isn’t even a realistic model for Afghanistan today, since the holes in government control would undoubtedly be used as safe-havens for any number of armed anti-government and anti-U.S. groups operating in the country. Such a strategy can only work if sustainable and enforceable treaties can be negotiated with the various armed groups.

An Afghan farmer works in a poppy field on the outskirts of Jalalabad, the capital city of Nangarhar province. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty)

Furthermore, even if the government were able to reestablish control over all its territory, the government has a myriad of high-grade issues that significantly inhibit the its ability to exercise and maintain control and authority over said territory. Corruptioninhibits the government’s ability to deliver goods and services. Opium continues to flourish in Afghanistan and fund numerous individuals and organizations beyond the control of the central government, criminal and otherwise. Afghanistan’s relationship with its neighbors is complicated, and contributes to the instability. Afghanistan is also plagued by a persistently weak economy that is unlikely to improve to a sufficient level to contribute to stability or even pay the government's bills without foreign aid.

This path to victory also hopes the Afghan government can be encouraged to reform; it cannot. For many non-trivial reasons, it is unreasonable to expect the Afghan government to make the necessary reforms, even if pressured by the U.S. or the international community. Several scholarly articles attempt to explain this phenomenon. Generally speaking, it is clear the interests of the Afghan government will always diverge from those of the U.S. government. Afghan officials will be more interested in crushing coup attempts before they happen or paying off their political rivals; reforming government agencies, especially in the security sector, is more likely to encourage coups and embolden their enemies. No one should hope for government reforms as the path to peace in Afghanistan.

In sum, this vision of victory is unrealistic. Too many variables are too unlikely to be achieved for any reasonable person to think that all of them can be achieved, and at a reasonable cost.

CAN THE TALIBAN BE BEATEN (AGAIN) MILITARILY?

Taliban defeat on the battlefield is given special consideration here. Some might assume victory over the Taliban today should be as easy as it was in 2001. However, the posture and disposition of the Taliban today is very different than it was in 2001. They have been contesting and controlling territory, and that territory could be retaken if subjected to an effort similar to the one in 2001. However, their underground networks and sanctuary support are much more robust than they were. When pushed back from their territory in 2001, it took the Taliban about five years to build the infrastructure of insurgency and push back into Afghanistan. Today, the Taliban wouldn’t skip a beat if denied their territory.

Therefore, all of the issues mentioned in the above section would have to be remedied before the highest possible version of victory could be achieved, and this assumed the Taliban could be defeated anew, which also doesn’t seem likely. A series of unlikely conditions are necessary to sustainably defeat the Taliban. First, total cooperation with Pakistan, who would need to establish control over their own western provinces where these groups are currently afforded safe-haven, would be necessary. Second, Afghanistan would need a robust and functioning security apparatus, which it doesn’t have. Emphasis has been placed on building the Afghan military, but militaries are better at taking and holding territory than they are at defeating insurgencies, which is only step one in a campaign against the Taliban. Furthermore, evidence suggests that terrorist groups are mostly defeated by police and intelligence forces of local governments, not militaries.[1]

An Afghan soldier during an anti-Taliban operation in eastern Kunar provice. (AFP/BBC)

There is a surprisingly positive trend in the use of Afghan police and intelligence forces to pressure and dismantle the Taliban. Increases in Afghan National Army regular forces have essentially flat-lined. On the other hand, the Afghan government plans to increase the number of special forces commandos exponentially, as shown in the chart below.[2]Commandos have the tools and training to effectively go after non-state actors like the Taliban, but there are still significant barriers to defeating the Taliban via these means. First, the feasibility and effectiveness of doubling the size of commando forces isn’t certain. New recruits are drawn from conventional forces, so current special forces capabilities wouldn’t necessarily be reduced. However, whether they’re able to effectively train, equip, and support such a large force remains to be seen. Second, the Taliban would still be able to launch attacks from Pakistan; Afghanistan would still need to improve policing capabilities; and social and economic conditions would need to improve so unemployed youth couldn’t be convinced or paid to carry out attacks for the Taliban.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that the vast increase in commando power will go unnoticed by successive governments. As explained above, corrupt governments tend to weaken their military to hedge against coups.

WHAT DOES A MITIGATED SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?

With a long list of limitations preventing more ambitious victories, it is important to consider what lesser forms of success might look like and whether they are worth pursuing. A mitigated success would at least contain but not defeat the Taliban and focus on areas of higher strategic value, disregarding areas of lesser strategic value (as in the Barfield Strategy). This version of victory would even allow the Taliban to rule certain areas, or establish a power-sharing agreement in those areas not vital to the Government of Afghanistan. Such an approach could achieve core U.S. national interests at lower costs. For example, this would eliminate Afghanistan as a terrorist safe haven, and if Afghanistan were to revert to a safe haven in the future, the circumstance could be addressed more easily in these circumstances. Furthermore, with no powerful armed group opposing it, the Afghan government would be much less likely to collapse and potentially destabilize Pakistan, which is important for keeping nuclear weapons from proliferating into non-state hands.

Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul on May 4 after signing a peace deal with the Afghan government. (Reuters/Parwiz)

This strategy would solve one of the weaknesses in Barfield’s strategy by establishing peace with armed groups in exchange for control of their local areas, but how likely is it these armed groups will successfully reintegrate into the legitimate political process? Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the violent political party Hezb-i-Islami, recently attempted this exact transition. There are also reasons to believe some within the Taliban organization are at least willing to consider what is being offered in negotiations. This is perhaps why the members of ISIS in Afghanistan are mostly disaffected Taliban members. There is no way to know for sure why the former Taliban members defected, but several factors indicate that a willingness to negotiate for peace was important.

IF THE TALIBAN ARE TO BE INTEGRATED INTO THE POLITICAL PROCESS, BOTH THEY AND THE AFGHAN PEOPLE WILL NEED TO FIND A PATH TO RECONCILIATION.

The Taliban have attempted negotiations several times since 2001. Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in April of 2013, but top commanders kept it a secret. Writing under Mullah Omar’s name, these top commanders struck a conciliatory tone, advocating for an inclusive Islamic government in Afghanistan. In October 2014, five to six top commanders of the Taliban defected and subsequently pledged loyalty to ISIS. Predictably, the Taliban command claimed they were expelled from the group. Nine months later, the Taliban called for peace talks again. Therefore it seems reasonable that some attribute the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan to disgruntled former Taliban hardliners, and a willingness to negotiate is a likely source of these sentiments.

As is clear by the many failed attempts by the Taliban to negotiate peace, there are limitations to the feasibility of this move for many of the violent groups that forms its ranks. Consider some analogous circumstances. The most powerful violent insurgency group in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), recently negotiated a peace deal with the government. Successfully transitioning to peace will be difficult, as many Colombians are still scarred from the violence they carried. Similarly, the Basque Homeland and Liberty (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA) separatist in Spain is attempting the same move, and the legacy of their violence is also an issue. Likewise, many Afghans remember the part Hekmatyar took in the shelling of Kabul during the civil war following the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Many Afghans will not soon forget the pain suffered at the hands of the various violent groups that fall under the aegis of the Taliban.

If the Taliban are to be integrated into the political process, both they and the Afghan people will need to find a path to reconciliation. It is theoretically possible to achieve a deal without this reconciliation, but whatever peace is achieved without it may be tenuous at best. Again, analogy might be useful. Rwanda is engaging in a justice and reconciliation process to deal with the legacies of their genocide. South Africa set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with the legacies of apartheid. Alternatively, Indonesia has set up no such commission or process, and their resultant peace has been much more tenuous and fragile.

It is also important to consider domestic opinion in the U.S., where the divergence between its interest and that of Afghanistan is perhaps clearest. Even if the Government of Afghanistan could reconcile with the Taliban, precarious as this would be given the support the U.S. must provide to sustain it, any negotiated settlement would be hugely unpopular domestically. Many would see it as surrendering to the enemy, leaving open a cynical but clear political opportunity. The unpopularity of working with the Taliban was on full display when the Obama Administration announced a prisoner swap with the Taliban that retrieved captured U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. It is unlikely current or future U.S. presidents will be willing to expend the political capital necessary to make a negotiated settlement with the Taliban possible, especially considering the uncertainty of success.

IS A MITIGATED FAILURE WORTH CONSIDERING?

Considering all of the limitations of the above strategic alternatives, it should be considered what a mitigated failure would look like. A mitigated failure would probably include some or all of the following outcomes. First, traditionally Pashtun lands would be conceded to the Taliban, and the central government would maintain a tenuous control over other territories. The Taliban are strongest in Pashtun regions, but they have shown an ability to reach beyond these areas. Regions under strong Taliban control would be relatively peaceful, but fighting would remain intense in disputed areas. Pakistan would be keen to avoid this, much like the Turks wanting to resist an independent Kurdish state.

Pakistan’s position in Afghanistan has always been to maintain as much influence over their neighbor as possible. Prior to 9/11, the intelligence and military establishment in Pakistan had established close ties with Mullah Omar and the Taliban. However, Pakistan post 9/11 has been forced to align reluctantly against the Taliban. The Taliban now has bases of operation in Pakistan and it is not certain that a peaceful relationship could be established if they gain some control in Afghanistan at the expense of the government. The possibility of the Taliban gaining power in Afghanistan and looking for more influence east of the Durand Line is too great a risk.

WHAT DOES ABJECT FAILURE LOOK LIKE, AND HOW IS IT AVOIDED?

That leaves one final possibility: abject failure. This could happen if the international community loses patience with Afghanistan and cuts its losses, like the Trump Administration is perhaps considering. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time Afghanistan has been cut loose; there has been a pattern of countless such abandonments throughout history, like the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Importantly, though, the international community has always decided to return. Afghanistan’s strategic importance to the rest of the world is significant, and modern forms of terrorism have compounded the effects of this strategic importance. This significance is evident in the many times that multiple empires have attempted to conquer it. Afghanistan is at the crossroads of the Middle East, Southern Asia, and Central Asia, and it continues to be a vital transit area for land-based commerce and gas and oil pipelines. There is no doubt that cutting strategic losses today might result in a strategic need to return a few decades, or even a few years, later.

CONCLUSION

Previous attempts to define victory in Afghanistan, and therefore advocate a strategy, have often considered various types of victory in isolation. However, the ideal end state for Afghanistan should be considered relative to the alternatives. A total victory is ideal, but needs to solve numerous enormous problems resulting from seemingly endless systemic conflicts. It would also require the greatest degree of political will sustained over the long-term. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the Taliban can be beaten militarily like they were in 2001. The government of Afghanistan and its allies could regain lost territory, but it is already a robust insurgency and terrorist organization; and these types of movements are rarely defeated militarily. Abject failure would be cost efficient in the short-term, but the resultant problems would increase costs over the long-term and would undermine U.S. national interests. A mitigated failure would likely have all the negative costs of abject failure, but with greater U.S. losses on the path to failure. Ultimately, total victory is ideal but highly unlikely. Abject and mitigated failures have long-term costs and endanger U.S. national interests. This leaves us with mitigated success and a negotiated settlement with the Taliban as the most prudent option.

A negotiated settlement would come with high political costs to whichever U.S. president decided to pursue it. However, these political costs would be lower than those required for a total victory. Furthermore, negotiations have mostly failed because there is no concerted effort or strategy to achieve it, just periodic opportunism. There’s no doubt this strategy would be highly unpopular and downright offensive to many Americans––especially veterans of the war. However, the question shouldn’t only be about its popularity; it should also be about its feasibility to bring about the end of America’s longest war.

The path of least resistance in Afghanistan is to contain the Taliban over the long-term. This starts with a continued focus on the building of commando and police capacity while reducing resources for the conventional Afghan National Army, because the Taliban are the problem rather than external invasion. The maintenance of a strategic alliance with the government of Afghanistan to deter foreign military interventions will allow the central government to focus on internal state building and reconciliation. The encouragement of smaller insurgent groups to negotiate transitions into the political process will enable reconciliation. Finally, seeking avenues to allow for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, and integration into the political process if necessary, are critical.

The other victories mentioned above are certainly possible, but not at acceptable costs. A total victory––while appealing––would require extensive resources, in both blood and treasure, expended over an indeterminate amount of time. In 2012, a majority of Americans wanted to speed up the pace of the 2014 withdrawal. When the war started in 2001, about 90% of Americans said starting the war was not a mistake. Today, that number has decreased by about 40 points. No politician will have the political capital to commit the resources to a total victory. Other types of victories are more ideal and would be more popular, and despite the sentiment against the option, a negotiated settlement is not only more likely to happen in our lifetime, it’s also the most feasible outcome for success.

Adam Wunische is a U.S. Army veteran who has deployed twice to Afghanistan. He is also a PhD student at Boston College and a contributing analyst at Wikistrat

Newsmaker: Meera Baloch

Meera Baloch, 23  who gave interview to media, condemning Pakistan at Hind Baloch Forum organised  Rakshabandan event. She is one of the few Baloch women who tied Rakhis to Indian brothers.

August 08, 2017

How Pakistan recruits for the Taliban

Note: This article is based on sources on-the-ground in Pakistan. There are embedded images associated with the article which may not survive email transport, but can be seen by clicking the link http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/detail/how-pakistan-recruits-for-the-taliban?f=must_reads

In addition, a Reuters article today, cited in the text, confirms the Pakistani terror network about which I have written in a number of previous articles, also cited in the text..

How Pakistan recruits for the Taliban

by LAWRENCE SELLIN, PHD August 7, 2017

In Panjgur, Balochistan, there are three mosques and madrasas that produce Jihadis for Pakistan's proxy wars.

According to local sources, the leader of the whole Jihadi network in Panjgur is Abdul Hai, who recruits Balochi young men to fight in Afghanistan via the Madrasa Khair ul Madaris Mahmoudia in the Sordo-Sarikoran area of Panjgur (GPS coordinates 26.976668  64.140607). At least three of his recruits were reportedly killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan: Jaseem son of Ashraf, a resident of Sordo; Abdul Malik; and Zafar, a resident of Sarikoran.


Mullah Abdul Ghani is currently living and teaching in the Madrasa Molana Ehtisham ul Haq, officially known as Madrasa Arabia Siraaj ul Uloom Farooqia located in the Chitkan area of Panjgur (GPS coordinates 26.955285  64.104428). His permanent residence is in the Mashkai region of Awaran district. Mullah Abdul Ghani fought in Afghanistan with the Taliban for whom he now recruits. Local sources say, from his Madrasa, Hamid son of Hassan Jan was sent to Afghanistan and survived. Another recruit, known as Habibullah son of Mohammad Essa, resident of Chitkan, Panjgur, was killed in Afghanistan.


The titular head of the Madrasa Jameh Masjid Umar is Nadeer son of Faqeer Mohammad, but the day-to-day operations are now run by his deputy Jabbar son of Mohammad Raheem. The madrasa is located in the Gramkan area of Panjgur and the GPS coordinates of its associated mosque are 26.995038 64.122847. According to local sources, Jabbar works closely with Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, and has allegedly been involved in government-sanctioned weapons trafficking for Jihadi training.


Others reportedly recruited in Panjgur to fight for the Taliban include: Taqdeer son of Seth Saleem, resident of the Essai area; Shakeel son of Nadeel, from Parom in Panjgur district; and 14-year-old Dad Jan son of Mol Dad, also from Parom, who returned from Afghanistan just a month ago.

Those are only three of the hundreds of Taliban and other Jihadi recruiting centers in Pakistan.

In a Reuters' article published today, the confession of a Pakistani teenager who was captured moments before carrying out a suicide attack gives an insider's view of the Pakistani network which supports terrorism.

The man who oversees the network is a former Pakistani intelligence services (ISI) asset named Shafiq Mengal, now presumed leader of the Islamic State in Pakistan about whom I wrote in detail here and here.

The Pakistani terrorist network can be traced back to political can militant groups nurtured by the ISI such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Initially Punjabi in origin and operating mainly in Kashmir, they have now spread throughout Pakistan and provide the backbone of Pakistan's use of radical Islam or Islamic nationalism to suppress ethnic separatism and as an instrument of its foreign policy.

Pakistani police say that Shafiq Mengal has 500 to 1,000 Jihadis working for him in a network that spans both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

One link in that Pakistani Jihadi network is Kharan JuD and LeT district chief Mohammad Altaf Mullazai, who has been connected to Mengal and the ISI.


According to the Reuters article, former Baluchistan chief minister Naseer Mengal, father of Shafiq, claimed "Shafiq has not given shelter to any terrorist outfit and their activities."

That is not true, according to local sources.

Saleemullah, also known as Sheik Saleem, a leading member of JuD and LeT originally from Kharan is reported to be living with Shafiq Mengal in Wadh, Balochistan.

It is important to note that Saleemullah was trained in a fourth radical madrasa in the Bonistan area of Panjgur.


China is wrong on Sikkim-Tibet boundary

The Chinese claim that the Sikkim-Tibet border is already settled is disingenuous

Srinath Raghavan
Source: Livemint, India

The Doklam standoff at the trijunction of India, China and Bhutan was triggered after Chinese troops attempted to construct a road in the region. Photo: AFP

The standoff between Chinese and Indian troops in the Doklam area, at the tri-junction with Bhutan, is accompanied by competing narratives: attempts to clarify, justify or rationalize their positions. These are aimed at multiple audiences, especially third countries that know little about the details of the problem. The Chinese have been far more active with a series of official statements, which have been getting progressively tougher towards India.

The nub of the Chinese position, set out at length in their latest statement, is that Indian troops have crossed a settled international boundary and entered Chinese territory. This needs some historical perspective. Is the Doklam area assuredly Chinese territory? Hardly. China claims the area, but it is disputed by Bhutan. And the two sides have had 24 rounds of talks.

The Chinese are right in stating that the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet was defined by the Anglo-Chinese convention of 1890. This is the basis of their claim that India has violated a settled international boundary with China. There are two aspects to this issue. First, since Bhutan was not a signatory to this treaty, is the tri-junction between Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan—which is also the eastern extremity of the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim—binding on Bhutan? Second, how solid is the Chinese claim about their preferred tri-junction?

In 1890, the British government could not presume to speak for Bhutan in the same way that it could for Sikkim. Following the Treaty of Titalia signed between the ruler of Sikkim and the East India Company in 1817, the British government of India assumed the power of paramountcy vis-à-vis Sikkim—a relationship akin to that with other “princely states” of India. Hence, Britain’s ability to negotiate the Sikkim and Tibet boundary with China.

By contrast, the Treaty of Sinchula signed between Britain and Bhutan in 1865 did not lead to a similar relationship. In fact, the Treaty of Punakha concluded in 1910 modified the provisions of the Sinchula Treaty and added the following: “The British Government undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan. On its part, the Bhutanese Government agrees to be guided by the advice of the British Government in regard to its external relations.” So, the 1890 Anglo-Chinese convention is not at all binding on Bhutan. The tri-junction remains to be fixed after tripartite negotiations.

The Chinese claim that Gipmochi (Gymochen)—mentioned in Article I of the 1890 Convention as the eastern extremity of the Sikkim-Tibet boundary—should automatically be the tri-junction is problematic for yet another reason. Article I states upfront: “The boundary of the Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the Waters flowing into Sikkim Teesta and its affluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet.” Only then does it identify Gipmochi as the starting point. The principle of defining the boundary therefore was the highest watershed: the highest line of mountains separating the rivers flowing on either side. This is the most logical way of drawing a boundary in mountainous regions.

However, subsequent surveys showed that Mount Gipmochi is not on the highest watershed in the area. The latter is the line running from Batangla to Merugla to Sinchela and then down to the Amo Chu river (known as Mochu in Tibet and Torsa in West Bengal). A glance at survey maps will confirm this. The Gipmochi peak is at 14,518ft above the mean sea level, while Merugla and Sinchela (both passes) are respectively at 15,266ft and 14,531ft. The Batangla-Merugla-Sinchela line is undeniably the highest watershed in the region. Hence Bhutan claims it as the boundary line with Tibet and regards Doklam area as its territory. Hence too, India’s claim that Batangla should be the tri-junction.

Again, if these issues were not in contention, why should the Chinese have entered into negotiations with India on the Sikkim boundary as well as with Bhutan? In May 2006, India stated in a non-paper that “both sides agree on the boundary alignment in the Sikkim Sector,” that is, on the principle of the highest watershed. The following month, the Chinese replied in their non-paper that based on the 1890 Convention, both sides may “verify and determine the specific alignment of the Sikkim sector and produce a common record.” As the external affairs minister told Parliament, the Chinese subsequently made a proposal to finalize the Sikkim boundary, calling it an “early harvest”. After follow-on negotiations, the two sides agreed in 2012 both on the “basis of the alignment” and on the need to fix the tri-junction in consultation with Bhutan. In short, the Chinese claim that the Sikkim border is already settled is disingenuous. Equally untenable is the claim by the Chinese deputy chief of mission in India that the 2012 understanding is immaterial to the current situation.

There are only three facts that matter to the current situation. First, China’s construction of a road in violation of an understanding with Bhutan to maintain status quo. Second, China’s attempt to create facts on the ground about the location of the tri-junction. Third, the presence of Indian troops on territory disputed between Bhutan and China. Restoration of status quo ante will require all sides to undo their actions.

All said, it is in India’s interest to press for an early resolution. The assumption that this could be a prolonged standoff like the one in Sumdorong Chu in 1987 may be dangerous whistling in the dark.

Srinath Raghavan is senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

August 07, 2017

Marketing to Extremists: Waging War in Cyberspace


04/08/2017 Andrew Byers Social Media

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 9 July 2017.

Online, the Islamic State is a technologically savvy, sophisticated, and nimble organization that learns from its mistakes and from the actions of the Western intelligence services and NGOs that have sought to counter it. It is no secret that past and current efforts to reach potential terrorists before they can become radicalized and committed to a path of jihad and terrorism have proved inadequate. To use the language of online marketers, countering ISIS’s online activities will require quality content disseminated on a massive scale, with careful product placement. Placing counter-messaging products into platforms and forums that extremists frequent will increase the chances of potential terrorist recruits coming into contact with narratives outside of ISIS’ control.

ISIS’s cyber efforts have paid off; the FBI told Congress in July 2016 that “the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago.”[i] The number of foreigners who have been inspired by the Islamic State’s online propaganda to travel to Syria and Iraq (or elsewhere) and participate in the fighting is unclear, but most estimates place the tally at more than 20,000. Others have been set on the path of radicalization by ISIS’s online propaganda and have become “lone wolf” attackers in the United States or in Europe.[ii] Demographically speaking, the people who ISIS is most interested in targeting for recruitment came of age in the twenty-first century as “digital natives”; they have lived their entire lives surrounded by ubiquitous online communications and have embraced it in technologically sophisticated ways.[iii] ISIS knows how to appeal to these potential jihadis. Reaching them with counter-messages will require a sophisticated and multi-faceted approach.

America’s public and private sectors must commit the resources needed to carry out this counter-messaging, though we must understand that such an information war cannot be won in a short period of time, but rather, must be carried out resolutely and patiently, even in the absence of quantitative metrics of success. For example, how will we assess our effectiveness, when one measure of success is how many potential jihadis did not decide to carry out lone wolf attacks or travel to Syria? This is an entirely new and different kind of fight from any we have been engaged previously. Even without quantitative measures of effectiveness fully fleshed out, we can use scale, quality content, and product placement to improve current efforts to shape–and hopefully win–the online propaganda wars to come.

Understanding Our Options

In terms of quality counter-messaging content, the State Department–the lead U.S. agency in this fight—has already acknowledged its past failures in content production. Notably, it has acknowledged that it may not be the voice best-suited to convince Middle Eastern or Muslim recruits to turn away from the path of terrorism. The State Department’s Global Engagement Center has pivoted away from producing content, and instead now supports the efforts of localized “proxies,” thereby supporting other voices that understand the context, culture, and push/pull factors that resonate within Muslim communities.[iv] It is not only government entities involved in this struggle; various NGOs also participate in counter-jihad content creation, drawing upon former extremists, notable academics, and a multitude of languages.[v]

The West’s efforts to date have mostly created a series of reactive, ineffective counter-narratives that potential jihadis dismiss. We advocate for precision messaging; for example, past efforts by State Department entities have mined public social media data to identify individuals who may be susceptible to extremism and then pay for YouTube ads that counter extremist messaging. But we don’t need to mine public data to put counter messaging into the world of potential recruits. The United States must become aggressive and proactive in its anti-Islamic State online activities: it must immediately move to hijack the group’s own narratives and create alternatives.

When it comes to scale, the current efforts by the United States and its allies are merely a drop in the ocean of ISIS’s material. If ISIS posts nearly 100,000 messages each day, as the British House of Commons Defence Committee stated in 2015,[vi] then countering their content will take a significant amount of internet traffic or else we risk being drowned out. This component cannot be ignored or understated. Current counter-messaging efforts are not achieving enough volume to warrant a response by would-be extremists, let alone to spark an actual conversation or debate among extremists. If we have quality content and we know where to put it to reach potential recruits, we still cannot reach enough people without massively increasing the current volume of counter-messaging efforts.

When it comes to proper product placement for the counter-messaging, the best way to decide where and how to reach recruits is by watching ISIS itself. ISIS has had to transition from various platforms throughout its years of recruitment, including Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram. ISIS’s supporters take an active role in finding new platforms, spreading propaganda, and shepherding others along to new sites and procedures. It is not uncommon for followers to post specific instructions on where to post or how to manipulate different platforms’ terms of service to remain undetected or prevent accounts from being shut down. As they communicate best practices to each other, they create a trail for analysts to follow and instructions for counter-messaging units in order to put counter content where recruits will see it, even if this sometimes results in informational “misfires.”

The opportunities afforded by focusing our efforts on these approaches are manifold. If we are able to effectively erode the Islamic State’s ability to use propaganda to inspire self-directed attacks in the West, it would be forced to expend its resources and personnel on directed attacks in the West if it wishes to continue such operations. Sending Islamic State operatives into the West to carry out attacks there is a much more difficult and costly proposition, and one that is vulnerable to the West’s traditional strengths in intelligence and counterterrorism.

A Starting Point

We have compiled a list of some of ISIS’s known recruitment practices, along with specific recommendations for ways that counter-messaging organizations could take advantage of them. This list is not meant to be comprehensive or static, but rather to serve as a starting point that could be executed immediately and without excessive cost or effort.

Keeping Followers as Twitter/Telegram Accounts are Shut Down: As Twitter has improved its process of shutting down Islamic State accounts, its supporters have devised strategies to maintain their network of followers from one account to their next. The most popular method is to simply add a number to their Twitter username and then to increase that number each time they are shut down and begin a new account. Thus, for example, followers of @Muslimah6 could find her on her new account @Muslimah7 after Twitter shut down her account. This method of maintaining followers has been adapted for Telegram as well. The Islamic State’s unofficial news channel “Khilafah News” is left public, meaning that new users can always find it. But this also allows Telegram to shut it down at any time. The administrators of Khilafah News add a number to the end of their channel’s invitation link and increase this number every time the previous channel is shut down by Telegram. It is important to remember that Islamic State recruiters want to be found in order to effectively recruit new members. This nomenclature pattern allows them to do just that. But more importantly, it creates an opportunity for those creating alternative narratives to put their content on a Telegram channel or a Twitter account that they know Islamic State supporters will follow. New iterations of the Khilafah News channel could be created, knowing that once Telegram shuts down the last Khilafah News channel Islamic State supporters would follow the new fake channel, believing it to be authentic Islamic State channels and increasing the likelihood that a recruit would be exposed to counter-messaging.

The Islamic State’s Hashtags: Since it began disseminating propaganda on social media, the Islamic State has embraced the power of hashtags. In 2014 it famously hijacked World Cup hashtags in English and Arabic in order to spread its propaganda and shock social media users who may not have been previously exposed to such messages. The group has also advertised hashtags for supporters to use when tagging and finding new propaganda. Just as the Islamic State hijacks popular hashtags, counter-messaging teams can utilize the group’s own hashtags when posting content on social media. This will put alternative narratives in the same social media conversation as the Islamic State’s propaganda and will increase the chances that a recruit would receive facts about the group. The U.S. government has begun to take tentative steps in this direction, but such efforts could be vastly expanded.

Promotion and Marketing: The Islamic State disseminates small propaganda pieces daily, but its larger propaganda pieces take more time. In order to build hype, the Islamic State typically advertises with multi-lingual “trailers” for large upcoming pieces. Dissemination of the pieces generally occur days later, but there is no set schedule. Upon dissemination, the group posts its videos on YouTube, social media, and various self-publishing sites. Teams that produce content to counter the Islamic State must have videos ready for dissemination at all times. Then as new Islamic State’s trailers begin to appear on social media, the counter-content can be disseminated first under the same name as the propaganda that the Islamic State is advertising and it must be placed on all of the sites that the group uses. Recruits will be checking frequently for the release and the Islamic State will actually be advertising and promoting pieces that could pull recruits away. This would effectively drown out the Islamic State’s content while increasing the likelihood that recruits see alternative narratives.

Take Advantage of Platform Restrictions and Features:Not all of the Islamic State’s content is violent and grotesque; it produces some content that does not show any violent images or videos whatsoever. This allows the content to be played on news programs and for it be posted on YouTube. Knowing that the Islamic State works to keep its content available on major publishing sites, counter-narrative agencies must do the same. If a recruit searches for the name of a popular propaganda video on YouTube or an equivalent site, counter-content should appear with the same name. Video creators can even pay to promote their content so that it tops a search list. A greater understanding for how various platforms choose the order of their search results would help counter content receive just as many hits, if not more, than Islamic State propaganda.

Maintaining YouTube Channels: The Islamic State has a carefully structured propaganda structure. It has central marketing agencies that run video content, radio broadcasts, and written publications. These “federal” programs are represented within each wilayat, or province, as well. Each wilayat produces its own multilingual videos and publications that are often featured in publications from the central agencies. Islamic State supporters have advanced this model even further. There are several known propaganda groups that support the Islamic State but are not run by official Islamic State employees. Supporters make their own content and publish it on YouTube, Twitter, Telegram, and various other social and self-publishing sites. Like the Islamic State’s agencies, they have their own calligraphic logos and follow predictable but evolving patterns. “Al-Haqq” is one such Islamic State-affiliated group that runs its own Telegram channels and YouTube accounts. It would be simple to create a YouTube account called “Al-Haqq,” utilizing the group’s logo and publishing content that appears to be Islamic State videos. In reality, these videos could contain counter-messaging content with the same names as known extremist productions.

In adopting these methods, even potential jihadis who are adept at hiding their identities or degree of radicalization would come into contact with alternative narratives that may cause them to question the narratives ISIS feeds to its supporters.  It is important for analysts who study ISIS’s dissemination of propaganda to remain in constant contact with those working to counter ISIS’s messaging, helping the latter to evolve along with ISIS and other extremist groups. While we are currently scrambling to combat ISIS’s propaganda campaigns in the cyber domain, learning to develop the necessary approaches now will allow us to excel in future cyber wars with other extremist groups. Without a new strategy for winning the information war, the West will always be reactive and on the defensive as it struggles to compete with the Islamic State for the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world. Most importantly, if we can create an adaptive and empowered cyber effort now, we will be better equipped for the terrorist groups that will learn from and advance the work that the Islamic State is doing now. Future jihadi organizations that come after the Islamic State can be expected to be even savvier users of social media and similar communications venues. Unless the West learns to use social media with the same level of sophistication, it will continue to lose the information war and fall further behind.

End Notes

[i] Michael Steinbach, executive assistant director for the FBI’s National Security Branch, testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, United States Senate, July 6, 2016, https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/subcommittees/investigations/hearings/isis-online-countering-terrorist-radicalization-and-recruitment-on-the-internet_social-media.

[ii] Daniel Byman, “How to Hunt a Lone Wolf: Countering Terrorists Who Act on Their Own,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 96, No. 2 (March/April 2017): 96-105.

[iii] Marc Prensky,” Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” On the Horizon vol. 9, no. 5 (October 2001): 1-6.

[iv] Joby Warrick, “How a U.S. team uses Facebook, guerrilla marketing to peel off potential ISIS recruits,” Washington Post, February 6, 2017,https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/bait-and-flip-us-team-uses-facebook-guerrilla-marketing-to-peel-off-potential-isis-recruits/2017/02/03/431e19ba-e4e4-11e6-a547-5fb9411d332c_story.html.

[v] Representative NGOs include the Counter Extremism Project, Families Against Terrorism and Extremism, and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. For examples of their work, see “Counter Extremism Project Unveils Technology to Combat Online Extremism,” Counter Extremism Project, June 17, 2016,https://www.counterextremism.com/press/counter-extremism-project-unveils-technology-combat-online-extremism; “Watch & Share,” FATE, http://www.findfate.org/en/watch-share/; Jonathan Russell, “Helping Families to Safeguard from Extremism,” FATE, http://www.findfate.org/en/helping-families-to-safeguard-from-extremism/; “One to One Online Interventions: A Pilot CVE Methodology,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue, April 2016, http://www.strategicdialogue.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/One2One_Web_v9.pdf.

[vi] UK Parliament, “The Situation in Iraq and Syria and the Response to al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAESH),” February 5, 2015,https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmdfence/690/69008.htm.

About the Authors

Andrew Byers is a visiting assistant professor of history at Duke University who has served as an intelligence and counterterrorism analyst and is a co-founder of the Counter Extremism Network.

Tara Mooney is a counter-violent-extremism analyst and co-founder of Talon Intelligence. She is also a co-founder of the Counter Extremism Network

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