1 April 2016

+++Understanding the Islamic State's Retreat from Palmyra The Islamic State’s recent setback is not yet cause for celebration.

By Jacob L. Shapiro 
March 28, 2016 

Summary The media is awash with triumphant stories of Bashar al-Assad’s regime retaking Palmyra from the Islamic State. The only problem with this narrative is that according to multiple sources, Palmyra was not retaken so much as it was given up. According to the BBC, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, IS withdrew from the city in the face of superior numbers and firepower, and saved the bulk of its force in the city to fight another day.

Palmyra is a strategically important town for both the Assad regime and IS, but not because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. If there were more Roman ruins in Raqqa, the IS capital, no doubt the rest of the world would be more outraged over IS control there. For the Assad regime, Palmyra means strategic depth: if forces loyal to Assad hold Palmyra and can project force around the city, the major population centers of Hama and Homs are no longer on the front lines with IS. For IS, Palmyra is important because a strong force could use it as a base from which to cut east and separate IS forces in Syria from Iraq

This is only the second time that the Assad regime has taken the fight to IS. The last time was in a regime offensive in Aleppo province last November, when, with Russian support, Assad’s troops were able to lift the IS siege on Kuweires air base. That victory was to be part of a larger operation that enabled Syrian regime forces to gain the upper hand against the rebels in Aleppo province. Now, the Assad regime is taking advantage of the (relative) quiet of theceasefire with the Syrian rebels to take the fight to IS at a strategically significant point.

** Counterterrorism and Jihadist Capabilities Islamic State’s capabilities warrant much more scrutiny than its ideology.

By Kamran Bokhari 

Summary The media and online sources are increasingly filled with details on how the Islamic State and other jihadist groups are able to continue to operate with near impunity. Despite this growing wealth of information, the public debate suffers from a poverty of thought on the capabilities of IS – in part because of the disproportionate amount of focus on its intent and ideology. IS and other such groups should be treated like intelligence agencies who have to avoid detection. And since IS has established a state, it has more resources than similar groups like, al-Qaida.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, a great amount of energy has been expended trying to prevent jihadists from carrying out attacks, especially in the West. There has of course been considerable progress in ensuring that attacks on the scale of 9/11 do not occur again. Those were much harder to pull off to begin with, and in the post-9/11 international security climate, their probability has gone down even further. But just as those engaged in counterterrorism have made progress in the past 14 years, those in the business of terrorism have also experienced a significant learning curve.

Jihadist organizations have opted for less ambitious attacks at a greater volume and frequency, instead of a few large-scale attacks. They also benefit from the fact that they have far more targets to choose from than they could actually attack, while security forces cannot possibly protect more than a handful of targets. Our recent article, The Cycle of Terrorism, elaborated on how security forces go on high alert after a terrorist attack, while terrorists go to ground and wait, and eventually states naturally lower their guard, presenting opportunities for terrorists to seize and start the cycle all over again. To break this cycle, intelligence agencies must infiltrate groups such as IS because detecting attack plans from outside is extremely difficult.

*The Playgrounds of Pakistan

MARCH 29, 2016

A mother whose child was injured in the bombing attack in Lahore, Pakistan, being comforted on Monday.CreditB.K. Bangash/Associated Press

Not far from the house where I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, there was a children’s amusement park. It sat on top of a hill, its slides and swings beckoning children from the houses below. As summer vacations dragged on, my brother and I would hear the gleeful screams of other children, and we begged my mother to take us. It wasn’t an easy sell. “The swings are so rickety,” she would say one day. “Aren’t you afraid you will fall out of the spinning wheel?” she would say on another. We were a little afraid, but we ached to go. That park was the only one we knew, and if it was shabby, its toy horses and pretend cars worn and weary, it still held the promise of exhilaration.

Like children everywhere, we were drawn to being a little scared. That, after all, is the pull of the amusement park: small thrills ordered and anticipated, and then conquered, fear confronted and overcome. When we did get to go, our hearts pumped wildly at the crazy height of a swing, our breath raced as our bodies were flung about; all of it made us wild with joy. Like everywhere, there were small dangers: grim grown men who sat at the periphery, watching giggling children with beady eyes; boarded-up or broken rides, like ominous warnings of thrills gone wrong; beggars who beseeched us for the coins we clenched in our fists. But the heedlessness of childhood worked its wonders; the swings and the slides blurred them into the background.

* Pakistan and the Threat of Global Jihadism: Implications for Regional Security

Husain Haqqani
April 30, 2016.

This essay traces the creation of Pakistan’s Islamic identity and examines its influence on the country’s foreign and security policy, especially through the use of Islamist groups as key levers.

Main Argument

The first section of this essay analyzes how Pakistan is connected to global jihadism through its ideology. Pakistan’s national narrative and identity have been built around Islam. The country’s need to explain its foundational idea as “a laboratory of Islam” for South Asia’s Muslims has led it to incorporate religion into its foreign and domestic policies. The second section then considers implications for countries in the region, especially Afghanistan, India, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Finally, the essay concludes by discussing the challenges facing Pakistan and offers policy prescriptions for both Pakistan and other countries.

Policy Implications

Ideologically motivated policies are sometimes presented as pragmatically driven and based on national security considerations. But the consistency of Pakistan’s commitment to pan-Islamism and Islamic nationalism indicates that the country is unlikely to abandon jihadism without a fundamental reorientation of its core ideology. 
While many Pakistanis might be troubled by the violent ramifications of global jihad within the country, broad sympathy in Pakistani society for jihadis remains a reality. Most Pakistanis support sharia rule, an Islamic caliphate, and an Islamic state, even if they disagree on the definition of those concepts. 
The state is willing to crush jihadi groups that engage in violence against Pakistani citizens and security personnel but has no qualms about the mobilization of jihadis that target other countries, particularly India, Afghanistan, and even the United States. The problem with this policy has been that jihadi groups do not make the distinctions made by the government and often collaborate with each other on the ground. 

Husain Haqqani is Director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute.

* India’s Nuclear Concerns: Obama Responds #NSS2016

My dear Prime Minister Modi ji,


I trust my letter finds you well. I look forward to welcoming you to Washington for the fourth Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). With the cherry blossoms blooming across the city, it is an excellent time to visit.

The NSS process, which began in 2010, has been an interesting journey. As a result of this process and the commitment shown by world leaders like yourself, the number of countries ratifying the International Convention on Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) and the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM/A) has gone up. In addition, the global stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in the civilian sector have also come down. International effort as part of this process has also resulted in the installation ofnuclear detection equipment at over 300 international border crossings, including airports and seaports, to detect smuggling of radioactive material across international boundaries. All of this has made the world a much more secure place. Needless to say, this has been possible due to the result of collaborative efforts with like-minded partners such as India. The Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) established by your country will be a great platform for exchange of knowledge and cutting-edge research in nuclear energy and security. Let me therefore place on record our grateful appreciation for your efforts to improve the overall level of nuclear security in your country and across the globe.

* Is the International Community Out of Ideas to Combat Terrorism?

MARCH 30, 2016 

After every attack, officials cry out for more intelligence sharing and hard security measures. Maybe it’s time for something else. 

A slew of Islamic State attacks, from Paris to Turkey to Brussels, is shaking confidence in the international community’s approach to combating terrorism and has prompted a new look at what critics call a failing strategy that relies too heavily on law enforcement, intelligence gathering, and military operations — and not enough on winning hearts and minds.

It has been nearly 18 years since the United Nations was first asked to support the budding U.S. war on terror with a Security Council resolution calling on states to cooperate in pursuing those behind the Aug. 7, 1998, attacks on two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.N. built an industry of counterterrorism panels and committees that has documented the spread of militant organizations across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The world body has pressed countries to rewrite laws, share intelligence, and criminalize terrorism.

India May Rent a Second Nuclear-Powered Sub From Russia

March 30, 2016

India may lease second nuclear submarine from Russia — official

Russia is ready to cooperate with India also in matters related to the building of frigates of Project 11356, as well as the construction of submarines at Indian enterprises
Submarine of Project 971

QUITOL /India/, March 29. /TASS/. There are prospects for the transfer to India on lease of the second Russian nuclear-powered submarine, deputy head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Vladimir Drozhzhov told journalists on Tuesday.

“I’d rather not discuss this issue now, it’s premature, but the prospects exist,” he said at the Defexpo India 2016 exhibition, answering a corresponding question.

Associate Fellow in the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

March 24th, 2016

Dear Mr. President,

Greetings from India!

I welcome the dynamic role that the Nuclear Security Summit process has played in raising awareness concerning threats to nuclear security. It has significantly stimulated national actions and international cooperation for mitigating the risk of terrorists gaining hold of nuclear weapons and related materials. The success achieved has reinforced my conviction that India and the United States share the common objective of developing a robust nuclear security regime and will continue to be committed towards consistent improvement of nuclear security, domestically and internationally.

Without any complacency, the Government of India has approved the establishment of the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP), as committed at the first Summit in 2010. The GCNEP is a dedicated centre of excellence on nuclear security, with participation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other foreign partners. Its primary mission is to develop a robust nuclear security culture by building a system that is intrinsically safe, secure, sustainable, and proliferation-resistant. The GCNEP (presently under construction) has already started conducting off-campus courses in training. It is also investing in research and development on issues such as physical protection, design basis threat, safety-security interface, and the security culture that permeates India’s nuclear establishment. The GCNEP is a signature of India’s assurances on its high and effective standards of nuclear security.

Gold in India A tarnished appeal

India’s government tries to curb imports of gold—again Mar 26th 2016

Bonds are no substitute

A SMALL room on the eighth floor of Mumbai’s former cotton exchange is where jewellery goes to die. At the Master Bullion Assaying & Hallmarking Lab in the heart of the gold district, superheated crucibles melt elaborate bangles and earrings into bars a central banker might recognise. This alchemy is being promoted by the government under a new “monetisation” scheme designed to reduce India’s imports of gold: the melted bling can be traded for a bond which will return the same amount of gold several years down the line, with interest of up to 2.5% in the interim.

Gold is the bane of India’s exchequer. Indians vie with Chinese as the world’s biggest consumers, buying just under 1,000 tonnes a year and stashing it in anklets, safe-deposit boxes and Hindu temples. As all but a few bangles’ worth is imported, only oil accounts for a bigger share of India’s trade deficit. To put it another way, the imports cost India more dollars every year than it attracts from foreign institutions investing in stocks and bonds, points out Ajit Ranade, an economist.

Opinion: The drama over Pathankot is an utter, bizarre and counterproductive waste of time

The joint probe is one more in the series of high-profile non-events to offset comprehensive and abysmal security and foreign policy failures. 

It would be reasonable to expect that commentary on the Indo-Pakistan joint investigation into the Pathankot terrorist attack should wait till its outcome is known, but let me go out on a limb and declare without qualification that this is an utter, bizarre and counterproductive waste of time; that it will bring us no closer to securing justice against the planners and architects of this act of terrorism; and that its only gain will accrue in terms of greater legitimacy and cover of “credible deniability” to Pakistan, as it projects itself as a reasonable state acting in good faith to bring terrorists to book – without, in fact, doing anything tangible in this direction, as in the case of the 26/11 investigations and prosecutions.

Assessing the justifications

Nevertheless, it is important to assess the specific justifications advanced from the Indian side for the joint probe. The most apparently persuasive argument is that this would put pressure on Pakistan to act against the terrorists responsible. An unnamed official of the National Investigation Agency is quoted in the media as stating, “There’s very little we need to actually know from Pakistan... We are armed with the actual identities of the perpetrators, their connections to the handlers, and a mass of evidence... What we would like to know is what they were planning to do.”

Iran, China and the Silk Road Train

By Sudha Ramachandran
March 30, 2016

The freight train from China that pulled into Tehran a little over a month ago created history by becoming the first train to revive the ancient Silk Route between China and Iran.

Ferrying 32 containers of cargo, it left Yiwu in China’s eastern Zhejiang province on January 2, snaking its way through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan before entering Iran. It took the train 14 days to cover the roughly 10,399 km long journey to Tehran.

Part of the overland component of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, the Yiwu-Tehran rail link slashes travel time between China’s east coast and Iran. Its arrival “in less than 14 days is unprecedented,” the head of the Iran Railways company Mohsen Pourseyyed Aqai said. Ferrying cargo via the sea from Shanghai, which lies 300 km north of Yiwu, to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas takes 45 days in comparison.

Why China Should Not Worry About Japan’s New Security Laws

March 31, 2016

Two contentious security laws went into effect this Tuesday in Japan. The laws were passed six months ago by the Upper House of the Japanese Diet–Japan’s parliament–based on a July 2014 Cabinet resolution reinterpreting article 9 of Japan’s pacifist constitution. The laws lift a decades-old, self-imposed ban on collective self-defense.. Tokyo is now allowed to defend allies, even when the country is not under attack itself.

The new so-called “Permanent International Peace Support Law” and the “Legislation for Peace and Security”–the former facilitating the deployment of Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) logistical support assets abroad, the latter providing the legal foundation for the reinterpretation of the constitution based on the amendment of ten existing laws—have caused some states (e.g., China and South Korea) as well as the Japanese public to openly fear a resurgence of militarism in the country.

However, as I explained in a piece for BBC News last year:

Bob Woodruff: What Happened When I Went to the Alleged ISIS Breeding Ground in China

Mar 29, 2016

As we drove through the streets of Yarkand, a desert oasis town in China’s far western province of Xinjiang, police and counter-terrorism forces line almost every corner. Our cameras are kept close to our chests, out of sight, because despite official laws allowing journalists to travel here freely, if Chinese authorities would stop us, they will follow us for the rest of our trip.

Beijing’s fears in the region have been accelerating in recent years because of a spike in attacks by the local Muslim Uyghur population against the Han Chinese, the majority in the rest of China.

Since 2009, hundreds of lives on both sides have been swept up in the violence.

In May 2014, after a series of high-profile terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and across the country, China launched a "People’s War on Terror" within its own borders and Xinjiang is the frontline.

We were in Yarkand because one of the deadliest incidents happened just outside of town.

Are We Misreading the Capabilities of the Chinese Military?

Wendell Minnick
March 29, 2016

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A new paper by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) warns of misreading Chinese tea leaves, such as the tendency of US-based China-watchers to use mirror imaging, ignore China’s lack of transparency and use of subterfuge, and the fact that the Chinese military advocates no differentiation between peace-time and war-time use of cyberwarfare.

Exporting Jihad The Arab Spring has given Tunisians the freedom to act on their unhappiness.

A few miles northwest of Tunis, with its sidewalk cafés and streets lined by rows of manicured ficus trees and its avenues named after European cities, there is a poor suburb of eighty thousand people called Douar Hicher. The streets are narrow and rutted, with drains cut through the middle, and the houses cluster close together, as if to keep out strangers. In the first days of 2011, thousands of young people from Douar Hicher and other suburbs poured into downtown Tunis to demand the ouster of the country’s corrupt and autocratic leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Within two weeks, he had been overthrown, in what became known as the Jasmine Revolution. This sudden change was soon celebrated around the world as the first sprout of the Arab Spring.

In the new Tunisia, freedom brought tumult as well as joy. Douar Hicher became the scene of preaching, protesting, and, at times, violence by Islamists. Before the revolution, Tunisia had been kept rigidly secular. Now the black flag of radical Islam flew over many buildings, and hard-liners known as Salafis—the word refers to the original followers of the Prophet Muhammad—took advantage of the new openness and tried to impose Sharia in their neighborhoods. Some of the Salafis belonged to an organization called Ansar al-Sharia, the Defenders of Sharia, which opposed electoral democracy and wanted to set off an Islamist insurrection. The group began attacking Tunisian security forces, and in October, 2012, a Salafi imam was killed when he joined an ambush of a national-guard post in Douar Hicher. In 2013, faced with a state crackdown, the Salafis went underground, and young men and women began disappearing from neighborhoods like Douar Hicher.

You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia

Alastair CrookeFmr. MI-6 agent; Author, ‘Resistance: The Essence of Islamic Revolution’ 

BEIRUT — The dramatic arrival of Da’ish (ISIS) on the stage of Iraq has shocked many in the West. Many have been perplexed — and horrified — by its violence and its evident magnetism for Sunni youth. But more than this, they find Saudi Arabia’s ambivalence in the face of this manifestation both troubling and inexplicable, wondering, “Don’t the Saudis understand that ISIS threatens them, too?”

It appears — even now — that Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite is divided. Some applaud that ISIS is fighting Iranian Shiite “fire” with Sunni “fire”; that a new Sunni state is taking shape at the very heart of what they regard as a historical Sunni patrimony; and they are drawn by Da’ish’s strict Salafist ideology.

Other Saudis are more fearful, and recall the history of the revolt against Abd-al Aziz by the Wahhabist Ikhwan (Disclaimer: this Ikhwan has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood Ikhwan — please note, all further references hereafter are to the Wahhabist Ikhwan, and not to the Muslim Brotherhood Ikhwan), but which nearly imploded Wahhabism and the al-Saud in the late 1920s.

Many Saudis are deeply disturbed by the radical doctrines of Da’ish (ISIS) — and are beginning to question some aspects of Saudi Arabia’s direction and discourse.


The Coming ISIS–al Qaeda Merger

March 29, 2016

REUTERSA flag belonging to the Islamic State fighters is seen on a motorbike after forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate in this handout picture provided by SANA, March 27, 2016.

“You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on—into the dustbin of history!”

Thus in 1917 Leon Trotsky consigned the Mensheviks, the non-Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, to perennial insignificance—a fate from which they never recovered. Only five years ago, al Qaeda’s downfall appeared similarly imminent. Its founder and leader was dead. A succession of key lieutenants had been eliminated. And the region was transformed by theArab Spring. Civil protest, it seemed, had achieved what terrorism had manifestly failed to deliver—and al Qaeda was the biggest loser. As John O. Brennan, then deputy national security advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and assistant to the president, told an audience gathered at a DC think tank in April 2012, “For the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and envision a world in which the al Qaeda core is simply no longer relevant.” Less than a month later, on the first anniversary of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s killing, U.S. President Barack Obama proudly proclaimed that, “The goal that I set—to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild—is now within our reach.”

How completely different it all looks today. In February, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper painted a singularly bleak picture of a newly resurgent al Qaeda alongside an ambitiously expansionistIslamic State (ISIS) in his annual worldwide threat assessment.

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The UN's Role in the Sieges in Syria

March 29, 2016

Syrian Army soldiers monitor residents who said they have received permission from the Syrian government to leave the besieged town as they wait with their belongings after an aid convoy entered Madaya, Syria, January 14, 2016.

Besieging civilians—cutting them off from food, supplies, and fuel—is a war crime. It is also a strategy that several parties to the conflict in Syria use, chief among them the Syrian government. Estimates of the number of Syrians currently living under siege vary widely, according to who is doing the reporting. For example, last December, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Damascus communicated back to theUN secretary-general’s office that 393,700 civilians were besieged. For the same period, Siege Watch estimated that the real figure was more than one million.

The disparity seems related to OCHA’s desire to stay in Damascus, which requires that it stay in the good graces of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That pandering to the Assad regime can also be seen in changes OCHA made to its 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan after a review by the Syrian government. Presumably based on Syrian objections, Yacoub El Hillo, OCHA’s resident coordinator, and Kevin Kennedy, OCHA’s regional coordinator, deleted every single reference to “siege” or “besieged” populations. From its base at the five-star Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus, OCHA decided that an area is merely “hard to reach” rather than besieged if it has received an aid convoy in the last three months, regardless of whether the supplies are sufficient for one month, let alone three.

One doesn’t need to travel far from Damascus to see how little a distinction there often is between a “

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Russia to Test New Mobile Robot at Upcoming Strategic Missile Force Drill

March 31, 2016
Russia’s Strategic Missile Force will field-test a new mobile robot system designed to guard and defend strategic missile facilities during an upcoming nuclear weapons drill, TASS reports based on information supplied by the press service of the Russian Ministry.

Next to combat robots, around 4,000 military personnel and about 400 pieces of military equipment will participate in the nuclear weapons exercise to test the operational readiness of Topol-M ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“What makes the exercise due soon in Russia’s eastern-most division of the strategic missile force so special is the use of the most complex robots for resistance to groups of saboteurs. The exercise will help evaluate the capabilities of the robot system’s fire module to track down and monitor drones,” the defense ministry reveals.

Belgium, Turkey and Islamic State's Strategy

By George Friedman 
March 22, 2016 

The recent attacks strike at the heart of two potential threats to IS. 

The attacks in Belgium and Turkey must be considered together. They are attacks in the symbolic heartlands of two potential enemies of the Islamic State, Europe and Turkey. The attacks are meant to destabilize each country and recruit potential operatives from each country’s pool of possible jihadists. 

There have been two attacks this week, both apparently by the Islamic State, first in Turkey on March 19 and then today in Belgium. The close sequence of the two attacks might simply be a coincidence, but IS tends to be more strategic than other terrorist groups and has the ability to coordinate attacks. Therefore, why would they choose Belgium and Turkey for their attacks? 

One answer is that they have operatives in both countries. Turkey is a Muslim country, and IS is able to recruit Turks and move other operatives into Turkey if needed. Belgium has a substantial Muslim population, which IS can target for recruiting and inserting operatives. But of course, that is true of many countries.