Category Archives: ISSSP Reflections
ISSSP Reflections No. 51, March 18, 2017
Author: Niveditha RM
During last month, there were a series of terror attacks in Punjab, Khyber Paktunkhwa and Sindh, claiming more than 100 lives.
Print and Social media were full of opinions on what the problems are in Pakistan and how could they be addressed. This commentary focuses on how the Pakistanis perceive terrorism, violence and the fallouts. What do they consider as the major cause and what do they see as a possible solution?
Afghanistan and Pakistan border problems: A major cause
Most in Pakistan consider failure to address the Afghanistan issue as a primary problem for violence and terror inside Pakistan.
A section consider that Afghan policies of Pakistan and supporting militants in the past as a reason for the recent attacks. A section also question the efficacy of the National Action Plan A commentator wrote: “For decades- dating back to the Mujahideen – our (Pakistan) chief export to Afghanistan has been militancy. The Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, whether by neglect or more likely design, were low on our list of priorities. Yet we managed to summon up outrage over the leadership of TTP finding safe refuge in Afghanistan. As ye sow, so shall ye reap?”
A section within Pakistan is worried about the policies being pursued by Pakistan to address the issue. This section considers that there are no new steps and what is being done currently is the repeat of the past. This perception also underlines the failure of National Action Plan in a comprehensive manner.
A section questions the distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militant groups have prolonged the strategic decisions.
Another section looks at the failure in developing a stable diplomatic relations with Kabul. This section propagates that the army has conducted multiple military operations internally but has failed to establish friendly ties with Afghanistan. The civil and military establishments both have failed to develop effective and productive cooperation . A section also considers that the Afghan indifference terror attacks in Pakistan as another major problem.
A section also feels the growing strength of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) in the Afghan-Pak borders as a primary reason for the recent surge in violence. Of course, there are multiple strains within this thought process. While a section considers that the geography is conducive for this TTP presence in the border regions, another section accuses Afghanistan for either not taking action against the militants or coluding with them. Most in Pakistan believe that the sanctuaries and safe haven that TTP have in Afghanistan is a primary reason for the continuing attacks.
The India Factor
Few in Pakistan also consider India as a factor behind the recent surge. They project the following reasons for India supporting terrorism in Pakistan.
Undermining the CPEC: There is a general perception in Pakistan that India is unhappy with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and has been trying to sabotage it. Pakistan Foreign Office spokes person Nafees Zakaria urged the international community to take action against India, blaming for the terror attacks in Pakistan. Pakistan Muslim League-N Central Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan commented that India has carried out the attacks fearing the CPEC progress. And Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah claimed India’s hand behind the attacks. This section considers that the CPEC would help Pakistan’s economic progress which India wants to undermine.
India using Afghanistan as a Proxy: Many within Pakistan consider that India is using Afghanistan as a proxy to destabilize the country. India is held responsible for the sour relation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This section considers that India wants to use Afghanistan as a proxy on Pakistan’s western border and continue sot support terrorist attacks. This section also claimed that the RAW is trying to impose on Pakistan using terror as a tool.
Bringing bad reputation to Pakistan: A section in Pakistan also consider that India support terrorism to bring bad reputation to the country. This section consider that a series of encouraged by the RAW are engaged in creating this bad image at the international level. Few even linked with the Pakistan Super League’s final to be held in Lahore at that time – that India wanted to undermine that!
Of course, not every one in Pakistan blame the outsiders for their internal problem. Some consider militancy problem in Punjab as an issue, which is yet to be acknowledged by the political leaders. PML-N has not focused adequately and not provided institutional support to counter the militant threat. A section criticizes government’s opposition to military operations in the region.
Few criticize the NAP; they consider it has goals, objectives and vision but lacks plan. According to them, the number of terrorists killed and refugees deported is impressive but is meaningless. It has become reference point for every counter-terrorism action.
Small sections do consider that the problem is being externalized. For this section, the policy challenges need to be focused on long term benefits.
Will Pakistan look inward as well to counter terrorism and combat future attacks? Or will it continue to blame the outsiders?
About the Author
Niveditha RM is a Research Intern with ISSSP, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. She can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ISSSP Reflections No. 50, March 14, 2017
Author: D Suba Chandran
Did the civilian administration of Pakistan during Zardari’s tenure gave intelligence information to the US on Osama bin Laden’s presence in the country, leading to the latter’s killing? Was the Pakistani military establishment kept out of picture in this Islamabad-Washington collusion? Did Husain Huqqani, then the Pakistani Ambassador to US facilitate this?
In his recent commentary published in the Washington Post, Husain Huqqani former Pakistani Ambassador to the US during 2008-11 (Obama-Zardari period) has touched a raw nerve that is likely to echo within Pakistan and in the policy circles elsewhere in the next few weeks.
There is nothing astonishing in his claim that he forged a relationship during Obama’s campaign itself (Huqqani was at the Hudson Institute in Washington and teaching at Boston before he was appointed as Pakistani Ambassador) helping him to build a closer cooperation between Pakistan and US. But what follows is a chocker; he claims, “These connections eventually enabled the United States to discover and eliminate bin Laden without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military, which were suspected of sympathy toward Islamist militants.” (emphasis added) According to Huqqani, the US and the civilian administration in Pakistan could manage tracking OBL without the help of the ISI or the military, through the stationing of “US Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan.”
Huqqani also reveals that the US kept Pakistan “officially out of the loop about the operation…when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.” If the above is true, then one can conclude the military operation against the OBL was owned and executed by the US without the knowledge of the civilian and military establishments of Pakistan. But it also underlines another important point: the civilian administration may not be aware of the OBL operation, but was well aware of the hunt for Osama. According to Huqqani, the civilian administration in Pakistan in fact helped it, by facilitating the presence of the Special Operations and intelligence personnel of the US in Pakistan.
The above facilitation leads to another interesting question – if the civilian administration in Pakistan and its Ambassador to the US had worked closely with the Americans in finding Osama, why blame only Dr Shakil Afridi, who is now in prison for doing the same? (Dr Afridi is now in prison for helping the CIA to locate OBL through a vaccine programme)
Why did Zardari and Huqqani decide to work closely with the US? And why did they keep military outside the loop?
For Huqqani, the need to work with the US was crystal clear. According to him, he was appointed by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who had “wanted to end Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, improve relations with India and Afghanistan, and limit the role of Pakistan’s military intelligence service in defining the country’s foreign policy”. (Emphasis added) In return, “they sought generous US aid to improve the ailing Pakistani economy.”
The above pursuit of the PPP government clearly underlines its original objectives, intended road map and possible threats. More than ending the support for the Taliban and improving relations with Kabul and New Delhi, for Islamabad the primary objective then should have been to restart the US civilian aid to Pakistan. Perhaps, this should have led Zardari, Gilani and Huqqani to work closely with the US. President Obama was willing to open the civilian aid, provided Pakistan addressed American concerns – action against the Taliban, improved relations with India and Afghanistan, and intelligence against the al Qaeda leadership, especially Osama bin Laden.
It was no coincidence that the drone programme led by the CIA, peaked during this period. The drones were effectively used by the US in the FATA region targeting and neutralizing militants belonging to the Taliban and al Qaeda during Zardari-Obama tenure. Though the drones were in operation even during Bush-Musharraf period, it peaked subsequently under the Obama administration.
The crucial question in this context – if what Huqqani claims is true, why did the Zardari team decide to work with the US, keeping Gen Kayani outside the loop? There could be two explanations; first, the Zardari team did not trust the military and its ISI in reshaping Pakistan’s support to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Second, perhaps the PPP government wanted to use the opportunity to undermine the role of military in Pakistan’s decision making process.
To be fair to Pakistan’s military, it did help the CIA in pursuing militant leaders within Pakistan – especially belonging to the al Qaeda and its affiliates. Raids did take place all over Pakistan and numerous al Qaeda leaders were either nabbed or killed in those operations. However, this was more a tactical move, than a strategic shift in Pakistani military’s approach towards Taliban and al Qaeda. While they were willing to work with the US, it was a limited cooperation; on the other hand, the US expected a complete turnaround in Pakistan’s approach towards these groups.
The larger reason for the Zardari team’s attempt to build a strategic link with the US administration should have been internal political equation within Pakistan. The military establishment and its ISI never trusted the PPP; certainly not Zardari. The latter was a shrewd politician to be aware of this and realize that the long term challenge for the PPP will always come from the khakis. However, to undermine or even limit the role of military in decision making – there is neither political consensus with other major parties, nor a public support against military intervention in politics. Zardari would have wanted to use the American support to keep the military away from crucial decision making process.
Perhaps such a thought process got further strengthened in the immediate aftermath of Osama’s killing in Abbotabad. Zardari and Huqqani would have calculated that Osama’s presence close to a military installation and the American raid deep into Pakistani territory would have shamed and undermined the predominant role of Pakistan’s military and the public perception towards it. The “Memogate” episode (where Huqqani was supposed to have authored a memo for the Americans to support the political process in Pakistan by undermining the military) post OBL killing underlines the above.
Unfortunately for Zardari and Huqqani, the public perception did not go fully against the military. The latter did not get “shamed” as was expected with OBL’s presence and the American raid. Rather, the ghairat brigade in Pakistan went after the Americans for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty. Huqqani was subsequently made the villain and was forced to resign for colluding with the Americans.
So, what has changed?
Of course, much has changed since then. There is a new Prime Minister in Islamabad and the government is led by the PML-N and not the PPP. There is a new Army Chief in Pakistan; Gen Bajwa has replaced Gen Sharif who had earlier succeeded Gen Kayani. There is a new Pakistani Ambassador to the US; Huqqani had to resign following the “Memogate” though he is continuing in the US as an academic and is persona non grata in Pakistan. More importantly, there is a new President in the White House.
But, do these changes mean anything substantial to the ground relations and issues? Though there would be a new foreign secretary in Pakistan, the foreign policy vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan will be shaped more by the GHQ. There has been an emphasis within Pakistan to reshape its approach towards Afghanistan and militancy; it did not take place during Gen Sharif’s period and is too soon judge on how Gen Bajwa would respond.
The military is well entrenched in political decision making; if the civilian establishment has to consider taming the military through external support it would be a futile approach, as Huqqani would have realised by now. Neither can the Parliament bulldoze the military through political strength, as Nawaz Sharif attempted in the late 1990s. The media is vibrant and so is the civil society; if the liberal and democratic section is getting stronger, the other side is also equally active and politically powerful, especially on the streets.
The military is unlikely to give up its predominant position. The political parties should attempt to strengthen themselves, by expanding their popular support and the interactions between them both in the Parliament and outside it, through a democratic culture. The jalsa politics, especially led by Imran Khan is disruptive and is unlikely to strengthen the position of political parties and the Parliament. The Panama politics now and the Islamabad agitations in 2014 would reveal that the problem lies elsewhere. And it cannot be addressed by getting the American support.
The civil-military relations in Pakistan will have to evolve from within. The military may have an edge to take outside support, or use external environment to strengthen its position. The civilian institutions will have to look inwards to strengthen their position. For the political parties, support and strength come from their people; that is where they should aim at.
About the Author
Dr. D. Suba Chandran is Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. He can be reached at <email@example.com>
ISSSP Reflections No. 49, February 27, 2017
Author: D Suba Chandran
Tehmina Janjua, when she takes over the Foreign Secretary in March 2017, will become Pakistan’s first woman Foreign Secretary. Her challenges are numerous – both within Pakistan (especially vis-a-vis foreign policy decision making structure) and outside – especially with big powers such as the US and immediate neighbours – India, Afghanistan and Iran. Besides the above, she will also have to face rest of the international community – in addressing Pakistan’s negative image.
There seems to be an extra focus (though unfair) in the media on she being the first “woman” foreign secretary. Perhaps, it may have played a role in the decision making, as an image building exercise at the international level. There is likely to be a series of changes in the next few weeks. Pakistan’s serving foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry will be replacing the present Ambassador to the US. Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner was expected to replace Aizaz, but the Prime Minister seem to have opted for Tehmina Janjua.
Tehmina’s track record is substantial; she is a highly experienced diplomat with so much understanding at the international levels. She has worked extensively with the United Nations and currently she has been Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. She was earlier the spokesperson for the external ministry and has served as Ambassador to Italy from December 2011 to October 2015.
There have been women diplomats in Pakistan, highly decorated, efficient and successful, for example Maleeha Lodhi. Maleeha, though not a career diplomat, is currently Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York; earlier she has served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK and Ambassador to the US.
Tehmina may not have served as an Ambassador in the region, but has enough international experience. The real issues however, for Tehmina will not be related to whether she has served in the neighbourhood or not. There are serious domestic and international challenges that she would be inheriting. Especially the domestic challenges that would restrict her functioning, is the focus of this short commentary.
It is not easy to be a Foreign Secretary in South Asia in the first place. Given the political decision making process, role and actual position of the Prime Minister/President and bilateral relations with the neighbours and big powers – the position of foreign secretary in the region has always been challenging. In India, the situation has been improving since the 1998 nuclear tests; starting from Shyam Saran, there have been a series of Foreign Secretaries, who have been able to discharge the functions expected of the external ministry.
In Pakistan, there are additional challenges to the Foreign Secretary. First and foremost is the decision making process and the actors involved in it. Though in a democracy, Parliament and elected representatives led by the Prime Minister is expected to play a predominant role in shaping country’s foreign policy, this has not been the case in Pakistan. The military has been playing a powerful role not only in foreign policy decision making, but also on Pakistan’s strategic assets and their developments. Shaping the relations with the neighbourhood and the big powers – especially the US and China has remained more with the GHQ than with the Parliament and External Ministry.
Second, the GHQ would prefer complete control over foreign policy especially vis-a-vis Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood. Perhaps, that could be a reason also to choose Tehmina, as she has enormous international exposure, than any substantial experience in the immediate neighbourhood. For Tehmina, the above would be the biggest challenge, which her predecessors also inherited.
Third, added to the above restriction is the absence of a full time foreign minister. Nawaz Sharif for reasons best known to him has not appointed a full time foreign minister and has been running the external relations through Special Advisors, in this case Sartaj Aziz.
Though Sartaz Aziz is extremely capable, he is not the “Foreign Minister” chosen from one of the elected representatives of the Parliament. Special Advisor may enjoy a cabinet position, but it is not equivalent to being a Foreign Minister. The protocol conscious diplomatic community should be well aware of the difference.
One could also argue, foreign minister in Pakistan is more symbolic. Hina Rabbani was the last foreign minister of Pakistan and the media, especially social media was highly critical of her.
Finally, the biggest domestic challenge with huge international ramification – militancy and militant groups. While the foreign ministry in Pakistan may have no access, leverage or control over the militant groups within Pakistan, the diplomats will be at the receiving end at the international level – both fire fighting and image building. Even for the Pakistani Ambassador to China, with whom they share an “all weather relationship” that is “higher than the Himalayas” and “deeper than the Oceans” (and now “sweeter than honey”), it would not be an easy task to defend Pakistan’s image and policies relating to militancy.
Worse, for the foreign ministry of Pakistan, they would not be privy to the larger interaction between the political leadership, military and ISI on the use and abuse of militant groups as a strategic asset on Pakistan’s eastern and western borders. As a result, their envoys serving in New Delhi, Kabul and Tehran may not be fully aware of the larger calculations behind actual developments along the borders. The foreign secretary, at times may know about the border developments and Pakistan’s response from his or her envoys in the neighbouring countries than from his or her own Parliament!
All the best Tehmina Janjua. Given the inherent limitations, we sincerely wish, you take proactive measures to stabilise the LoC, strengthen it further with pursuing the earlier agreements between two parts of J&K, and normalise Pakistan’s relationship with India. Hope you bring a new perspective and a change as well across the Wagah.
About the Author
Dr. D. Suba Chandran is Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. He can be reached at <subachandran[at]gmail.com>
ISSSP Reflections No. 49, August 01, 2016
Author: D. Suba Chandran
The last time I spoke with Ambassador Arundhati Ghose was in April 2016. A team from the ISSSP at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) including Prof. Rajaram Nagappa and Prof. S. Chandrashekar were to visit New Delhi to discuss few projects with the government and think tanks in Delhi. Amb. Ghose, being a part of the NIAS, we approached her to be a part of the ISSSP delegation. She responded with a short note informing about her cancer. After reaching Delhi I called her to enquire about her health without realizing that it would be my last correspondence with an Institution.
An Institution – she was. Those who worked with her in the MEA and other senior scholars who interacted with her in the various seminar circuits would vouch for it. And more importantly, for those young scholars, who had the opportunity to know her, listen to her and interact with her. I was one of those fortunate ones.
While she was known for her “Not Now, Not Ever” crisp remark about India not signing the CTBT and her strong diplomatic projection of India’s interests, she was also a great human being, scholar and a mentor.
I met her first, when I was a part of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS); I had the privilege of working closely with her. She took part in the seminars and conferences that I organised on nuclear issues, was a regular part of the workshops especially for young scholars, and also the track-II dialogues we held.
She was thorough and very methodical in her approach. She would always come prepared for her lectures, with a detailed and elaborate written note. In advance, she would check how much time she would have for her presentation – and ensure that she sticks to the time allotted – whether 8-10 minutes as a part of a panel, or a full length lecture in 20-30 minutes. She would be precise and ensure she covers her ground.
If only she had picked up a teaching assignment after her retirement, she would have become a great teacher and mentor to many young scholars. However, she compensated for it by taking time to be with them, whenever we organised workshops for young scholars. She was a regular faculty for those 3-5 days nuclear workshops we organised; she ensured that she spent enough time with the young scholars. One could see the students and scholars surrounding her during tea and lunch/dinner. Her lunch and dinner tables will always be crowded with the young scholars during those workshops and the only thing that would distract her would be her urge to smoke.
Many of us wished and even spoke about her smoking. She would give us a pat on our shoulders, wink at us and pretend that the question was never put to her. Or, she would change the subject. Diplomat, wasn’t she?
There were few occasions that we had to request her to be a discussant for the draft essays of young scholars, including an intern. She would always be willing and spend the same amount of time, which she would otherwise spend with the seniors. She would take every work seriously; who has authored it – junior or senior would not matter. A thorough professional.
More than that, she was a great human being. Inside the conference/meeting halls, there would be a serious debate and disagreement, but she would never let those academic differences affect her personal relationships. Outside the conference table, she would be friendly and smiling, of course politely telling that she did not agree.
She was also fond of her pets. She would not let me referring “them” to dogs or cats. It is always a “he” or a “she”, and would refer they by the name. She would even be willing to skip the lunch, if she has to take her pets to the veterinarian.
We all will miss you. Ma’am.
About the Author
Dr. D. Suba Chandran is Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. He can be reached at <subachandran[at]gmail[dot]com>
ISSSP Reflections No. 48, July 27, 2016
Author: Vishakh K. Valiathan
As history has shown us time and again, technological advances have had a huge impact on the conduct of warfare. This can be traced back from the adoption of saddle and stirrup for the cavalry, to the invention of gunpowder, to the present day automatic machine guns and development of nuclear weapons. Realpolitik demands that in order to survive in an anarchical world, a state needs to build up its military and economic power.
Technological prowess therefore is crucial in giving the country that slight edge over its adversaries. This has been the reason that countries and companies have relentlessly pursued development (R&D) of newer technology and invested time and money into research and development in the security sector. Innovation is important for sustainable development and it brings in new processes, services and systems that show the essential investment in any area. Israel’s investment into R&D has catalysed the growth of its civilian and defence industries which have in turn complemented its emergence as a technologically modern and prosperous nation. It can be noted that countries view spending on Defence Research and Development (R&D) as an investment for the future and a guarantor of their security.
Israeli Spending on Defence
From the time the state of Israel was created in 1948, it has experienced various security challenges. The geo-political situation in Israel’s neighbourhood has been hostile to say the least. The country from its experiences acknowledged that its continued existence could be secured only through a strong military, economy and pursuit of technological prowess. Israel’s small geographical and demographic footprint – as compared to other countries in the region – also resulted in Israeli political leadership giving importance to technical education and achieving technological superiority. Israel, in the present era, is known for its R&D in defence equipment and products. Some of the companies of Israel are the best in developing hi-tech innovative products for the defence sector complementing the civilian sector.
As Dov Dvir and Asher Tishler recount in their book The Changing Role of the Defense Industry in Israel’s Industrial and Technological Development, from the 1950s onwards (see Chapter 10), Israel has been playing a pivotal role in the innovation of defence products and equipment, focus on aerospace, cyber and naval systems. These developments have benefited the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), have created valuable friends and allies and earned much needed foreign exchange. Given the fact that Israel is not well endowed with natural resources, it chose to bank upon its highly educated population and steered its economy into a self-sufficient one, based on employment of high-end technologies. Innovation and creation of hi-tech industries accelerated the path for the Israeli defence sector to become global leaders in R&D beginning from the 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s witnessed an influx of high technology into the civilian industry and paved the way for defence R&D in the areas of sensors, electro-optics, information gathering systems etc. The flow chart in Figure 1 below shows the different phases of Israeli defence industry since the mid-1950s.
From Figure 2 below, it is clear that the Israeli government spends highly on military expenditure, which has been seen as a necessity given its multifarious security threats. Military expenditure accounted for 14.1% of total government expenditure in 2013, grew to 14.9% in 2014 and came down to 13.2% in 2015 which is similar to 2012 figures. Over the years, Israel has spent a fair share of its total government spending in beefing up its defence. This has resulted in the development of many innovative products, especially in the small arms industry, lasers, radars, drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) and personal equipment. Israel is also the world leader in surface bound equipment.
Israeli Investment into R&D
The Gross Domestic Product of Israel in 2015 was US$ 296.075 Billion. The economy is expected to grow at 3.4% in 2018 as compared to the present rate of 2.82% in 2016. Israel is among the world’s top ten countries partly also due to the quality in its R&D and innovation. The provision of basic R&D and venture capital is largely dispensed by the Academic and Research Institutes. Hi-tech industries and defence firms too have played their part in the development process. They accounted for 37% of the industrial product in 1965, which grew to 58% in 1985 and has currently reached close to 70%. In 2014, Israeli Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D was US$ 10,358 Million.
Israel is amongst the top countries in the high income OECD list in terms of R&D investment with a 4.1% R&D share of GDP in 2014. From Figure 3 above, it can be seen that there is a high demand for research and technology in the nation.
Israeli Defence R&D: Focus Areas
Research & Development efforts carried out by Israeli defence firms result in development of products which are useful for both civilian and defence sectors. Using the SIBAT-International Defence Cooperation 2015-16 defence directory it is possible to glean the major products and areas of R&D in Israel’s defence industry. The major focus areas are:-
- Aerospace: Aircraft manufacturing, maintenance, Upgrading and Retrofit, Avionics and Airborne Equipment, Simulation and pilot training solutions, helicopter upgrading, Electronic Warfare and countermeasures, Drones, Space Technology and Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).
- Naval Forces: Naval craft and shipborne equipment, Naval defence and attack systems, Sonar systems, Simulation and training.
- Land Forces: Tanks and armored combat vehicles, force protection-active protection, personal protection gear, border protection, artillery, Electronic warfare and counter measures, infantry equipment, Dry storage, Military vehicles, Small arms, Demolition, Explosive Ordnance disposal and mine cleaning, Air Defence (AD) systems, aerostat systems.
- Unmanned Systems & Robotics: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Unmanned Ground Vehicle, robots.
- C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computing& Intelligence): Military Communications-Systems and Equipment, C4I, Intelligence.
- Optronics: Day/Night E.O. Systems and Lasers, Missile components, Airborne E.O. Pods, Thermal Imaging.
- Electronic Components & Sub-Systems: Navigation.
- Services: Defence Consultants &Training, Design, Engineering & planning.
It is very apparent from Figure 4 above, that the Israeli efforts in R&D have given the country and its firms a technological and competitive advantage. Majority of the military products and equipment that are exported, especially sensors, missiles and aircraft, have received sizeable inputs from R&D efforts. Israel is also a major exporter of defence services. Indo-Israeli defence cooperation has been growing in recent years, with India becoming one of the main importers of Israeli defence products in addition to setting up joint ventures with Israel.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been confronted with multiple security risks, which has resulted in the country’s leaders giving a lot of attention to R&D in the defence and hi-technology sectors. Statistics from the OECD and SIPRI illustrate the technological prowess that Israel has successfully achieved since the late 1970s. The investment into R&D has also contributed to the country’s economy by way of higher defence exports. This technological edge has offset Israel’s disadvantages emanating from its limited geographical landmass and population. The Israeli nation has invested a large amount of financial and human resources in building up military and technical competence to shield itself from the internal and external security threats.
About the Author
Vishakh K. Valiathan is a Post-Graduate Student pursuing his Masters in International Relations from the School of Social Sciences and International Studies, Pondicherry University. He can be reached at <vishakh94[at]gmail.com>
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Bangalore, July 26, 2016
The news about the demise of Ambassador Arundhati Ghose came as a rude shock for all of us in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. Ambassador Ghose had shared with us that she was not well and was undergoing treatment. Nothing however, can prepare one for the deep sense of loss and pain one suffers after the loss of a close friend and confidant.
Ambassador Ghose had a long and distinguished career in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) having joined the IFS in 1963. However, what she is most remembered and idolised for was her leadership of the Indian delegation as India’s Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament during the CTBT negotiations. Our stand on signing the CTBT was taken in the PMO when Deve Gowda was PM, and communicated by her in her immortal words: “Not now. not ever.” Her steely resolve and courage to withstand the enormous global pressure and commitment to protect Indian national interests during the CTBT negotiations earned her the well deserved moniker of ‘Calcutta Kali.’
In December 2015, she had been gracious enough to pen her reflections on this important chapter in India’s modern diplomatic history in her address to senior scientists from various Indian scientific establishments at the NIAS-DST Training Programme on “Policy for Science and Science for Policies” held at NIAS, Bangalore on November 19, 2015. The text of this lecture is available on the ISSSP website.
Very early into her career as a Foreign Service officer, Ambassador Ghose was also posted to Kolkata in the Branch Secretariat of the Ministry of External Affairs to liaise with Bangladesh leaders in Mujibnagar during 1971. She worked in various capacities in the Embassies of India in Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium ; and as Ambassador of India to the Republic of Korea, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to UNESCO; Ambassador of India to Egypt ; Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to UN Offices in Geneva, and the Conference on Disarmament. She was in charge of Economic Relations in the Ministry of External Affairs in 1990-91. During her illustrious career, she was also Member/Chairperson, UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament (1998-2001); and Member of the Union Public Service Commission (1998-2004). She was a member of Pugwash India, and was on the editorial board of Disarmament Times (New York) and Faultlines (New Delhi). She was recently elected member of the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
An Adjunct Faculty of NIAS, Ambassador Ghose was a true well wisher of NIAS and more than a friend to all of us at the ISSSP. We could rely on her for sound and sagacious advice and benefited from her feedback on more than one occasion. Amb. Ghose visited NIAS, probably for the first time during the two day National Workshop on “Changing Contours of Indo-US Relations” held at NIAS on February 9-10, 2006. She also visited NIAS as member of the Task Force on Non-proliferation and Disarmament chaired by the late K. Subrahmanyam. In April 2011, Ambassador Ghose delivered the inaugural (full text of lecture) K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture on ‘Emerging India: Strategic Challenges and Opportunities’ at NIAS on April 13, 2011. She also seeded the idea of holding the National Workshop on Advanced Techniques in Environmental Monitoring at NIAS on September 25-26, 2014 and ensured that representatives from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) participated in the Workshop.
More than anything else Ma’am, we will miss your acerbic wit and infectious laugh that would fill up the entire room.
All of us at ISSSP pray for the peace of the departed soul. Rest in Peace.
It is a sad day – for me – Got to know her only after I came here – she came for the NIAS organized workshop on the Indo US Nuclear deal – got to know her then – came as a part of the K.Subramanian committee to NIAS – made a presentation on our work – later learnt that she had supported our programme and contributed to our initial funding – she became a good friend – wise and sagacious – helped us do the workshop on detection of nuclear events – Also read about how she dealt with the CTBT negotiations in Geneva – there is a UNIDIR publication that documents the negotiations in detail – got to admire her courage integrity and guts in standing up to the superpowers of the world.
I will miss her and her indomitable spirit.
Prof. S. Chandrashekar, JRD Tata Chair Professor, NIAS
Arundati’s representation of the Indian position is already the stuff of folklore. One salutes her as a powerful diplomatic asset, patriotic without a trace of jingoism.
Vice Admiral R.N. Ganesh (Retd.), Adjunct Faculty, NIAS
Saddened to hear this – Arundhati was a sharp thinker and a very successful diplomatic representative who astutely defended our country in international fora for many years – may her soul rest in peace…
Prof. Onkar Marwah, IAS (Retd.)
Very sorry to know about Ambassador Arundhati Ghosh’s passing. I was fortunate enough to have met her. Will forever remember the special UN General Assembly Session on the CTBT in 1996. I was sitting with the US delegation. So, watched her from the other side. She showed extraordinary courage and poise under the circumstances. R.I.P.
Prof. Subrata Ghoshroy, MIT, USA
Ma’am, you will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace.
Gururaj Pamidi, USI
I will miss her very much. Both us had mutual professional respect for each other of the highest order.
Dr. Pallava Bagla
Like scores of younger scholars, Ambassador Ghose was someone I looked upto and was inspired by. I have learnt immensely from my interactions with Amb. Ghose over the past decade or more. I will sorely miss her counsel and her acerbic wit.
Dr. Arun Vishwanathan, NIAS
ISSSP Reflections No. 47, July 14, 2016
Author: R.N. Ganesh
China’s claims in the South China Sea are based on its “9-dash line”, which claims virtually the whole of the South China Sea. The 9-dash line is itself based on an ‘11-dash line” published by the Republic of China in 1947, (i.e., before the creation of the Peoples’ Republic of China), which has no valid historic, logical or legal basis. This claim predates the UNCLOS by several decades, and most of the countries of the SE Asian region were not even independent states at the time. China claims sovereignty over the South China Sea and has used military force to interfere with legitimate fishing and oil exploration activity by regional coastal states. From 1970 the PRC reiterated its demands more aggressively when the Philippines began oil exploration off its coast. The Philippines began oil production in 1984, and today its offshore oil meets nearly 15% of its national requirement.
UNCLOS: Scope of Authority
The UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, to which the parties to the disputes in the South China Sea are signatories, lays down the principles based on which the living and non-living resources of the sea bed may be exploited by coastal state. As modified by the lay of the continental shelf and various other factors, it prescribes a limit of 200 nautical miles (approximately 360 kms), as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the coastal state. The Scarborough Shoal, the Spratley islands and the Paracels lie well outside this limit from China. In any case, where the EEZs of two coastal states overlap, they have to be negotiated and agreed based on certain formulae.
The UNCLOS does not rule on issues of sovereignty or national or territorial borders. Rather, it prescribes methods for use of the sea and the exploitation of the resources in and under it, outside of national boundaries. It also lays down how the limits of the EEZ are to be defined and the use and limits for the exploitation of the Continental shelf by coastal states. An important law in the Convention is that rocks and features that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. This is an issue that is particularly relevant in the case of the South China Sea.
South China Sea Disputes & the Case of Philippines
Taiwan and the coastal states of the ASEAN have 9 different points of dispute concerning maritime boundaries. Of these 7 involve China, and at least 5 states are affected in all but 2 of the disputes with China. China is averse to multilateral discussions and insists on dealing with each state separately so that it can extract the most advantage.
In the absence of any progress of its efforts to resolve the problems with China and the economic loss caused by inability to exploit its rightful maritime resources, the Philippines took its case to Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague in January 2013. The case dealt with 15 separate complaints about violations of international law by China in the South China Sea. Beijing responded by saying that it would not participate in any proceedings at The Hague, and that the PCA had no jurisdiction in the matter. The PCA undertook a detailed examination of China’s submission and in October last year it published its determination that the case fell within its jurisdiction. It accordingly proceeded with 7 of the 15 issues raised by the Philippines. These dealt with the following aspects:
- Role of historic rights
- Source of maritime entitlements
- Generation of maritime entitlements by certain maritime features
- Unlawful activities by China that were in violation of the Convention
Findings of the PCA
- China’s Historic Rights: The Court ruled that the provision of comprehensive and exclusive rights by the UNCLOS had extinguished historic rights as they were incompatible with the concept of exclusive economic zones.
- Chinese Control over S. China Sea Waters: There was no historical evidence of Chinese control over the South China Sea waters or its resources
- Nine-Dash Line: There was no legal basis for claiming resources within the Nine-dash Line
- Maritime Features and Maritime Entitlements: The Court found that some reefs had been heavily modified by construction and land reclamation. None of the features were capable of sustaining inhabitation in their natural state; therefore they could not have an EEZ, but only a 12-mile territorial limit.
- Within Philippine EEZ: As some areas were outside any possible entitlement of China, the Court could declare that these are within the the EEZ Philippine EEZ
- Unlawful Actions by China: The Court found that China had violated Philippines rights by interfering in with its fishing and oil exploration, constructing artificial islands, and allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippines EEZ. China had also caused great harm to the marine environment by destroying reefs and depleting endangered species such as sea turtles. The Court found that China’s actions were incompatible with the the obligations on a while dispute resolution proceedings were going on.
Implications of the Findings of the Court of Arbitration
China has clearly suffered a setback with the Court of Arbitration so explicitly declaring it a violator of the UNCLOS, and upholding Philippines position. It is quite evident that the dashed lines have no validity and that seems to knock the bottom out of China’s case.
This does not mean that China will resile from its present claims in the South China Sea. Its whole aim there is to acquire the rights to exploit sub-sea resources, particularly offshore oil, and its likely reaction can be predicted. It will harden its position, condemn the Arbitration proceedings and reject the findings (which it has already said it would do) and adopt a tougher and more belligerent posture in its dealings with the USA and the ASEAN, which is already dubious about long-term security support from the US. It may respond to its legal and diplomatic failure with military bravado. It may well become more hard-nosed in its dealings with India, for instance in the border issue and in trade. Such a reaction will be of a kind with its method of international policy, such as its aggressive postures with Japan over the Senkaku islands, or the ordering of the ADIZ over East China.
The softening of the US towards China has in a sense contributed to matters reaching near-crisis. America has been aware for more long about the construction and land reclamation in the South China Sea, but its response has been muted, as it is not ideally placed to demand adherence to the Arbitration Court’s findings, not having itself ratified the UNCLOS.
China’s long-term aspiration, however, is to gain status and assert its place at the global “head table.” This it cannot do if it continues to behave like a maverick. It has to return to its professed policy of a “harmonious rise” This will only happen if the world community takes a firmer stand on its conforming to international agreements.
About the Author
Vice Admiral RN Ganesh (Retd.) has commanded a diesel submarine, a nuclear submarine and the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. His last appointment was as the Director General of the Indian nuclear submarine programme which he continued to head after retirement from active service till 2004. He is adjunct faculty, ISSSP, NIAS.
ISSSP Reflections No. 46, July 07, 2016
Author: Harsh Vasani
On the 21st of May, in a new propaganda audio message released by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s media arm al-Furqan, the group’s spokesperson, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, urged sympathisers in Europe and the United States to launch lone wolf attacks on civilians in their home countries if they are unable to travel to the caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Adnani encouraged lone wolf attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which starts early in June, “to win the great award of martyrdom”.
This is not the first time the group has called for such attacks, and neither are these threats empty. Recent attacks in Orlando, Paris, Brussels, London, and California have proved that Western society is not beyond the reach of ISIS and that the threat of another such attack on western soil remains very real. ISIS has a history of calling for its sympathisers to not wait for direction, rather undertake lone wolf attacks in their own countries. The mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the murder of Lee Rigby near army barracks in London in May 2013; the hostage crisis in Sydney; the San Bernardino attack or the Boston marathon bombings affirm the danger of this resurgent form of terrorism.Add
So what exactly are “Lone Wolf Attacks” and why are the terrorists using it? Among the Islamists, the concept of lone wolf attacks can be traced back to 2003 when an article posted in the extremist internet forum – Sada al-Jihad (Echoes of Jihad) – encouraged sympathisers of Osama bin Laden to take action without waiting for instructions. In 2004, Abu Musab al-Suri (or Mustafa Setmariam Nasar), a dual citizenship Spanish-Syrian who was in the inner circle of Osama Bin Laden, but fell out with him after 9/11, published an article titled “Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistance” on the Internet which called for the next stage of jihad, characterized by terrorism created by individuals or small autonomous groups. In 2006, al Qaeda leader Abu Jihad al-Masri followed suit with a call to arms, titled “How to fight alone”, which was circulated widely in jihadist networks.
Although, Jeffrey Simon, security consultant and visiting Professor at the Department of Political Science, UCLA, has conceptualised “lone wolf terrorism” very well in his book Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat, it is important to note here that no single definition of lone wolf attacks or lone wolf terrorism exists. Jeffrey Simon, in his book, states that there are five basic types of lone wolves — secular, religious, single-issue, criminal, and idiosyncratic – although some lone wolves fall into more than one category. Indeed, classification and categorisation of lone wolf attacks is complex. The challenges of lone wolf attacks confronted by law enforcement agencies has increased very recently and there is a need for a comprehensive definition in order to combat this new kind of challenge and assess the response and propose innovative ways to combat this phenomenon.
For the benefit of better understanding and clarity, lone wolf attacks can be defined as any act of violence undertaken by an individual or individuals without any material support, orders, direction or assistance of any organisation and intended to create panic or terror in the society to spread a political message or coerce the government to undertake certain political action. As a report prepared by the National Security Critical Issue Task Force, Georgetown University, points out:
“absent violence or the threat of violence, the individual may hold extremist or radicalised views, but he or she is not a terrorist. Absent political motivation, an attack would more closely resemble traditional forms of crime, organised violence, or hate crimes. Absent the individual acting alone, the attack would fall under the traditional definition of terrorism that encompasses violence conducted by organised terrorist groups.”
A comprehensive survey of past Lone Wolf Attacks indicates that self-radicalisation using the internet is a recent phenomenon. In the past, radicalisation used to take place through jihadist literature, books and other propaganda material. The lone wolves usually driven by perceived injustice and looking for a larger calling in life, are attracted to online chat forums, blogs, videos or social media where they can find propaganda and radical material using which they end up radicalising themselves. Along with anonymity, the internet provides potential Lone Wolf Terrorists (LWTs) with instructions on obtaining weapons, building explosive devices from easily-obtained materials, and names and descriptions of potential U.S. owned targets.
For instance, the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, highlights how Oman Mateen, the perpetrator of the shooting, was motivated by ISIS propaganda on the internet, along with the neighbourhood mosque, and driven by hate for the LGBT community, even though he was himself believed to be a regular to the gay nightclub and reportedly used quite a few gay dating apps. In an issue of its online magazine, Inspire, dedicated to “open source jihad” the group outlines for the “aspiring mujahideen globally” how to make the bomb from “household goods and without using metal components that would show up in airport security checks.”
Even though the number of lone wolf attacks and people killed in these attacks is still quite low, the ability to create panic by these attacks is very high. Imagine a beheading, or a mass shooting by a lone wolf in Trafalgar square of Time square? A 2013 study by Sarah Teich points out an increase in the number of countries targeted by lone wolves from the 1990s to the 2000s with the highest level of attacks occurring in the United States, followed by the U.K and Germany, and that there is an increase in the number of people injured and killed by lone wolves. According to her findings, the number of attacks has grown exponentially since 9/11 and the war on terror. Whereas there were nine injuries and five deaths due to lone wolf attacks in the decade preceding 9/11, the number of injuries and deaths rose exponentially to 54 and 33 respectively in the decade 2000-09. Further, the increase in the number of lone wolf attacks has been consistent with 275 injuries and 15 deaths due to such attacks since 2010.
For the law enforcement agencies, a lone wolf terrorist is more difficult to trace as he/she is not physically affiliated to any terrorist organisation. Lone Wolf Attacks are different from conventional terrorist attacks given that they are carried out without any help or direction from any larger organisation and are therefore difficult to predict as intelligence gathering about such attacks is also comparatively difficult.
Also, these lone wolves access propaganda and radical content over the internet, but doing so is not a crime in western society. Surveillance may alert security agencies of individuals accessing such content or sympathising with terrorist organisations, but these agencies cannot take action against these individuals because they are not breaking any law by browsing through such propaganda material.
Although Al Qaeda has recently urged Muslims in India to mount lone wolf attacks and “follow the example of youths in Europe and strike against Indian police and senior officials, holding them responsible for communal violence,” so far the countries facing the biggest threat from LWTs are largely Western liberal democracies. ISIS has also called for its sympathisers to undertake LWAs against western societies and encouraged lone wolves in the US to “attack servicemen and women as well as other key landmarks such as Times Square and Las Vegas strip.”
According to a law enforcement bulletin prepared by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange, Islamic State fighters have increased calls for “lone wolves” to attack U.S. soldiers in America in recent months, citing one tweet that called for jihadists to find service members’ addresses online and then “show up and slaughter them.” Additionally, the US remains the primary target among western states for LWAs. Ramon Spaaij, in his book Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism: Global Patterns, Motivations and Prevention, states that of the 198 LWAs carried out between 1968 and 2010 across the US and fourteen other predominantly western countries, 113 occurred in the United States, representing fifty-seven percent of all attacks.
This begs the question that why is it that the western society is more vulnerable to the lone wolf attacks. Numerous studies have concentrated on the question of the integration problem the second generation Muslim immigrants face in the west. Can it be the discrimination they face, socially as well as economically, that drives them to a perception of injustice and eventually radicalisation? Fenella Fleischmann, in her work on second-generation Muslims in European societies, points out how popular and political interest over the presence of Islam and Muslims in Western Europe skyrocketed with major terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid and London, which were followed by a number of realised and attempted attacks all over Western Europe. She states that “Muslims in Europe are commonly devalued as a group which is unfit or unwilling to integrate; which places religious values such as the honour of the Prophet above core principles of Western liberal democracies such as the freedom of expression (the most prominent example here being the so-called “Danish cartoon crisis”); which oppresses women; and which aggressively tries to dominate European public spaces, for instance through the building of highly visible mosques with minarets. ”
On the other hand, Robert Leiken in his book Europe’s Angry Muslims: The Revolt of the Second Generation points out that it is the uncritical official tolerance that has bred conflict. For instance: while the British government embraced multiculturalism, encouraging Muslims to form separate enclaves, some of which fostered hostile extremism and even terrorism, France rejected multiculturalism, encouraging Muslims to assimilate. Less terrorism ensued, and the riots in recent years involving young French Muslims have had little to do with Islam or jihad and instead have been responses to unequal access to education and employment.
Whether or not the threat of home-grown lone wolf terrorists can be addressed by reversing the perception of injustice and discrimination among second-generation Muslims is a question of immense importance. However, worryingly, it should not be forgotten that most lone wolves terrorists are likely to display some form of psychopathology as well as social ineptitude, which poses a unique challenge to the security and intelligence agencies.
About the Author
Mr Harsh Vasani is a Postgraduate Research Scholar at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, Karnataka. He can be reached at <harsh.vsn[at]gmail.com>
ISSSP Reflections No. 45, June 08, 2016
Author: Nazrin Huzzain
The second round of agitations has started in Nepal. There seems to be a new game plan from the Sanghiya Gathbandhan or Federal Alliance and getting back into the agitation mode? How is the government likely to react?
The Madhesi Agitation: New found support
The Janajati and Madhesis have joined forces and formed a Federal Alliance known as the Sanghiya Gathabandhan to protest together in Kathamndu. The Madhesis seem to be striving forthe recognition of all the marginalised ethnic groups in Nepal.
The new coalition seems to be getting support, as they are seen fighting for a just cause. A federal state is not just the demand of the Madhesis, but the majority in Nepal. The constitution demands dividing Nepal into seven federal units. There is no basis on which this division has been made. If this proposal moves forward then people belonging to the same ethnic group will be split into different units. This is something which is opposed by all the ethnic groups.
The Madhesis have been successful in mobilising the support of other ethnic groups. This is not because the ethnic groups in Nepal are sympathising with the Madhesis, but the demands of the latter resonate with their own. Unlike the blockade earlier, the new agitations that have started in May 2016 are not the demands of the Madhesis alone; it is a call for recognition by all the marginalised ethnic groups in Nepal. Is the government listening?
Protesting in Kathmandu: A foolproof plan
The decision to move the protests to Kathmandu have been a stroke of genius. It has produced the outcome that the Madhesis had wanted – mobilise support and increase momentum for the movement. Now that the Madhesis are not alone in their cause, utmost caution is required moving forward. They should stick to their demands and not let the success to undermine their larger goal. There have been recent reports that the majority of the Morcha allies have threatened to withdraw from the alliance because, some leaders are seen as using it for their political interests disregarding the concerns of the Morcha allies. Divisions within the alliance will have a larger impact on the movement and result in its failure. This could gravely affect the momentum that the movement has picked up during May 2016.
The Gathabandhan should also be careful and ensure that the protests do not turn violent. Also, the movement should work towards avoiding another blockade. A blockade would increase the problem of black marketing that is right now on the rise in Nepal. Prolonged violent protests and blockades would seriously affect the support that the Madhesis have gained. Recommencing dialogue with the government would be a good idea at this juncture, when the movement is enjoying such popular support.
The government’s response
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa announced during February-March 2016 that the government would be conducting local elections soon. This is the second time this year that such an announcement has been made. Conducting elections without resolving the constitutional issues could have serious implications. If elections are held, demarcating the territory will prove difficult. This decision has been criticised heavily by the Madhesi parties. The government is trying to distract the people with false promises instead of dealing with the major issue at hand- the Madhesi movement.
The movement is clearly on the rise, the government cannot afford to remain silent any longer. Prime Minister Oli should stop blaming India and concentrate on resolving domestic issues. Talks have been held between the government and the Morcha, 36 times before, yielding no result. The government should start taking the talks seriously. Dialogue is the only way that the issue can be resolved. If the Gathbandhan refuses to even attend these talks owing to the insincerity of the government, the problem could take a grave turn. If the protestors turn violent, the issue could get out of hand. Another blockade could prove fatal to Nepal’s economy, which is licking its wounds after a massive earthquake and a blockade imposed by the Madhesis earlier.
If the government fails to address the demand of the Federal Alliance now, their demands would only get stronger. The alliance is planning to move the protests to Birjung and Pokhara later. This could lead to more ethnic groups joining forces with the Gathbandhan. The government would be at a complete loss if the Madhesis along with the other ethnic groups in Terai start demanding for a separate state. The Tarai being referred as the granary of Nepal, can cause seious repercussions, if the region starts contemplating on those terms. Such a process will neither help Nepal nor its minorities within. Nor will it help the region, especially India and India-Nepal relations. The government should get more serious about this issue.
About the Author
Ms. Nazrin Huzzain is is pursuing M.A. in International Studies at Stella Maris College, Chennai. Views are personal.
ISSSP Reflections No. 44, June 06, 2016
Author: Sourina Bej
The string of blogger deaths in Bangladesh, since August 6 2015, has raised several questions. What picture does the attack on a small group of writers paint? What is the response of the government to these attacks? Is secular identity of Bangladesh under siege?
Who are the attacked and attackers?
Targeted in public place under broad daylight, hacked with machetes on the head or neck ensuring immediate death and roughly one victim every month; the pattern in the target killings of secular bloggers, liberal academicians and activists in Bangladesh is striking. Dhaka is riffed with conspiracy theories over the killings and government’s handling of them. Washiqur Rahman, who was killed in March on his way to work, used only a pen name for his blog. Yet the attackers identified and located his home. It is not only the writers but also the publishers who are killed. After the death of Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto Mon, his publisher was hunted down in his office.
The number of deaths may be small but it has heavily jolted the ‘still wounded’ memories of many from the closing days of liberation war. In 1971, around 200 writers, professors and secular-minded intellectuals were abducted from their homes by al-Badr supported by Jamaat-e-Islami party. Jamaat-e-Islami has been accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army to stifle the liberation warriors.
In 2008, as Awami League established a war-crimes tribunal and executed a senior Jamaat leader Mohammad Kamaruzzaman couple of years later, Jamaat launched a violent protest. The trials dictated popular support and captured the imagination of urban, middle-class youth who advocated the hanging. The line of secular, liberal values and public justice blurred as bottled-up religious nationalism slowly overwhelmed a section of Islamists.
On May 2010, along with the protest against the trials, a simultaneous voice rose demanding the hanging of atheist bloggers and secular activists. It echoed dissatisfaction between the Islamists and Liberals.
Hefajat-e-Islam, a banner combining several religious fundamentalist groups, published a list of 84 bloggers accusing them of blasphemy. Five bloggers, whose name appears in the hit list, have been killed in a month’s gap earlier last year.
Bangladesh has been witnessing attacks on free speech, which escalated under the military rule but no one common person was targeted for their different beliefs or their sexual expressions until now. In the initial stages of the freedom movement, political parties had liberty to organise and the press could still publish with fewer censorships. Bengali nationalism, socialism, communism of various hues – all found expression in print with a mix of agnostic, atheist, socialist, and liberal discussions. With the onslaught of Pakistani military, newspapers were closed and journalists killed. After Bangladesh won independence new publications emerged and freedom of speech was ungagged, but even that space was unstable, falling prey to one-party rule and dictatorships.
In 2007, Bangladesh saw its own cartoon crisis. Alpin, the cartoon magazine associated with the daily Prothom Alo, was shut down and the editor knelt before the imam of the main mosque in Dhaka. The cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, was jailed. Consequently, the government banned the Eid supplement of Shaptahik 2000 for carrying a personal essay by Daud Haider who had been exiled in mid-70s for blasphemy.
New age technology fuelled newer means of expression. With blogging, several atheists and liberal thinkers found a platform to criticise the acts of intolerance propagated by a section of Wahabi-influenced fundamental groups. The young zestful bloggers, incensed by crimes committed in the name of Islam worldwide, have rejected (this sect) their religion with sharp offensive words. The repercussions to these blogs have are not been a counter blog post or rallies but now violent deaths and threats.
Government in a limbo?
Bangladeshi police suspect Ansarullah Bangla Team, a domestic militant group, of the murders. Eight members of the group were convicted last year for the murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider. The Bangladesh police department, but last week, has concluded that the spurt in killings coincide with the hanging of the war criminal hinting at the groups (in this case Jammat) dissatisfied with the trial to be behind the murder. However, the families of the victim tell a different tale. Rafida Ahmed, wife and eye witness for the murder of Avijit Roy, said her statement is yet to be recorded.
Prime Minister Sheik Hasina was flanked for condemning the bloggers for their posts instead off stepping up the investigation to nab the culprits. The situation worsened when Awami League government’s adviser asked the bloggers’ to refrain from writing foul about Prophet Muhammad as it might be blamed on the government’s secularism business. The inability to ensure a relief from fear to voice opinion has placed the party in a limbo. Simultaneously the party’s secular ideology came under siege ever since it failed to lift the clause declaring Islam as state religion of Bangladesh. The controversy over Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006 has done little to save the beleaguered party. BNP-Jammat maintains an equivocal silence on the death and is criticizing the government for using the trials as weapon to punish the opposition.
An attack on secularism?
Bangladesh is a secular country in principal. Its secularism doesn’t essentially mean absence of religion from public space but coexistence of plural religions, sects without affecting the other. The attack on the bloggers and liberal academicians hints at a dichotomy in the expression of the country’s pluralistic religious identities.
Islam, the dominant religion in Bangladesh, has been regionally informed. The Bengali vision of Islam forges the conscious of the nation and it transcends the differences among many Muslim sects. Extreme Jamaat-e-Islami party, Tablighi to Sufism speak the same Bengali language and the people pride in their Bangla ethnicity, its liberal values.
Induced by this liberal value, a section of people in Bangladesh especially its academicians, activists or now bloggers have remained vocal and critical in their social endeavour. The bloggers have denounced the extremist expression of Islam as parochial and have called it not their own Islam. Infuriated by the foul and extreme expression of the bloggers, the killers have drawn swords. But the hacking of university professor in Rajshahi and LGBT editor reveals that the killings are not restricted to bloggers but has also extended to liberal activists who may or may not have a view on religion. The secular template can be distorted if the diverse opinion is not respected and caught in between the extreme voices.
About the Author
Ms. Sourina Bej is pursuing M.A. in International Studies at Stella Maris College, Chennai. Views are personal.