“Good fences make good neighbors”?

Writing about her visits to the West Bank, the author shares with us her impressions of the separation wall.

By Margaret McKenzie, 5th July, 2014.

It will have been a decade on July 9 since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) passed its advisory opinion saying Israel must cease construction of the Wall and dismantle sections, compensate for damage caused; and, return Palestinian property or provide compensation if restitution is not possible. The Wall has always been contentious with radically polarizing opinions, exemplified by the many different terms for the Wall depending on who you speak to – “Separation Fence”or “gader hafradeh” in Hebrew, “Apartheid Wall” or “al jidar al azil” in Arabic, are just a few terms used to describe the Wall separating the West Bank from Israel. The Wall depicted in the photos below around the West Bank is illegal under international law.

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Jihad 2.0: How Social Media Supports Islamist Agendas in Syria

Based on primary information from forums, communiqués and social media activities, this article offers an insight into the online activity of political jihadists and shows how online platforms are being used to support the jihadist cause in Syria.

By Camille Maubert, 4th September, 2013

The notion that the internet is a strong asset for international terrorist groups is not new. Forums have long been acknowledged as the main channel for Al Qaeda to reach out to its followers and articulate its goals and ideology. However, changes in the online environment and the fast development of social media as a preferred way of communication have altered the nature of the jihadi activities online.

Despite complaints by some ideologues that forums are being abandoned by their followers in favor of other medias, these platforms remain an essential part of jihadi media strategies. Some of them, such as Shumukh al-Islam and Ansar al-Mujahedeen, have been active for years and thus benefit from an great credibility with their audience. They are also direct links between AQ central and its supporters, featuring messages from famous jihadi writers and clerics the most prolific of which include Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi, Sheikh Abu Basir al-Tartusi, Abu Ubaydah and of course AQ’s current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Aside from official propaganda, forums enable groups and individuals alike to diffuse contents, post comments and share links with other bloggers in a relatively safe environment, ensuring cohesion within the jihadi community. However, developments in the Syrian crisis have created new needs which forums could not fulfill. As a matter of fact, Syria has been described as the first Youtube war, where every unfolding event is reported live by individuals using camera phones and posting images and videos online instantly. Such level of democratization and reactivity cannot be replicated in forums which are by definition restricted to members and censored by an editorial board. As a result, militants have turned to other platforms, namely Twitter and Facebook.

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A Mantle of Illusion – The Drone Program and President Obama

The drone program has considerably intensified under the Obama administration. As the American press and congress are only now waking up to this fact, the silent response from the White House shows the president is not quite the peacekeeper he projects himself to be.

By Gulshan Roy, 26th February 2013

Drones. You hear about them spying from everywhere though you can never see them. At last, however, you may now luckily read quite a lot about them in the written press. On February 6th, The New York Times revealed that air-strikes conducted in Yemen came from unmanned armed vehicles (UAVs) from an American military base in Saudi Arabia. Since, every hawk and every dove of every state in America made sure to have their screeching and cooing heard on the issue, drowning the debate in their deafening staccato. Why so much agitation, you may ask?

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Deja vu: The French Intervention in Mali

On January 11, 2013, French President François Hollande sent a military expedition to rescue Dioncounda Traoré’s government from the “imminent terrorist threat”. Camille Maubert, a security analyst, explores this turn of events. 

By Camille Maubert, 16th January, 2013

Five days after the French “surprise” intervention in Mali, it is – to say the least – not clear what operation Serval is all about. Brandishing UN Article 51 (which proclaims the individual and collective right to protect a member subjected to armed aggression), French President François Hollande sent a military expedition to rescue Dioncounda Traoré’s government from the “imminent terrorist threat”.  750 ground troops, 30 tanks and several Rafale combat planes have thus been mobilised to strike Islamist strongholds in the North and West of Malian territory, making, according to “security sources”, important damage to the groups’ bases and leadership.

However, doubts are rising as to what the ins and outs of the intervention are in a context where reliable information is scarce. Indeed, most of the information publically available relies on two sources. On the one hand there are the official communiqués published by the various actors’ communication outlets which are often politically biased, and which are therefore unreliable and/or contradictory. For instance, while French defence spokesperson announces 60 terrorist casualties, the Malian army increases their number to “hundreds” and Islamic groups refuse to make any statements. On the other hand, the local press predominantly relies on witness accounts from the population and “local officials”. The weakness of such sources is patent, as they are based on what people saw, or think they saw, and therefore produces subjective and incomplete interpretations.

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Is Mali the ‘next Afghanistan’?

This article is a re-publication of a piece by Andrew Lebovich on his website, al-Wasat.  It analyses the popular attitudes on the security situation in northern Mali to look at the potential risks to international security and the risks that are, at present, overstated.

Mr. Lebovich is a contributor to the popular foreign policy blog The Washington Note, and his work has appeared at ForeignPolicy.com and The Atlantic Online. He also writes a formerly weekly, and now twice-weekly brief with Foreign Policy on legal issues in the struggle against terrorism, the Legal War on Terror (LWOT).

By Andrew Lebovich, 13th June, 2012.

The title of this post is a question I’m seeing more and more, and it reflects the growing concern in Washington, Paris, and African capitals that the security situation in northern Mali is spiraling out of control. In this kind of environment, bad news tends to echo loudly and quickly. The most recent example of this is the strong reaction in the international press to an interview Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou gave to France 24 this week, in which he said that Afghans and Pakistanis were in Mali training fighters, in addition to confirming that French hostages held for nearly a year and a half by AQIM were in “good health” and still alive. This news has garnered quite a bit of attention, especially in the Francophone media, though it should be noted that RFI reported the presence Pakistani trainers in Timbuktu and in Kidal a month ago, to considerably less attention. Still, this and other signs of the degradation in the security environment in northern Mali and the growth of AQIM have spurred speculation about whether or not northern Mali was becoming a “West African Afghanistan“, a new Somalia, or a jumping-off point for terrorist attacks elsewhere.

While I think some of this concern is warranted, I think some of this language and concern may be, for the moment, a bit overwrought, as I will explain in this piece. This post is my attempt to sort through some of the current popular attitudes about the security situation in northern Mali, the very real risks to regional and international security that may be looming in the north, and the equally real constraints on militant groups attempting to impose shari’ah in northern Mali or project force beyond Mali’s already porous (or nonexistent) borders.

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Disarmament is more practical than we are conditioned to think

In this article, the authors build on a recent piece appeared on Open Democracy titled ‘Restarting Disarmament’. Disarmament, the authors claim, is more practical than we are often conditioned to believe.

By Dan Plesch and David Franco, 14th May, 2012

In a recent article on the progress of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament talks now under way in Vienna, Rebecca Johnson notes that the newly formed coalition of pro-humanitarian states has the potential to become a game changer. Of all that has happened thus far in Vienna the most exciting news is the statement ↑ by a coalition of 16 non nuclear weapons states, including Switzerland and Norway – an ally of the nuclear weapons states, that nuclear weapons and programmes have catastrophic humanitarian consequences and that they should be abolished.

This initiative is the first involving western states to apply to nuclear weapons the thinking that has moved humanitarian disarmament on land mines, cluster munitions and the arms trade. President Obama’s ↑ cry for nuclear disarmament in Prague in 2009 may have had more effect than skeptics and critics believe. But more needs to be done as disarmament has long suffered from some kind of lethargic paralysis. Paraphrasing Richard Moyes and Thomas Nash, if disarmament were like an old PC it would need to be restarted. Indeed, restarting disarmament is a must, and not only at the nuclear level. The consequences would be immense, including a boost to democratic development as highlighted by Andrew Lichterman ↑ .

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Heyns, the Final Straw for AFSPA in India?

In this article, the author discusses the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 of India, which has been used in the North Eastern states of India, and Jammu and Kashmir where counter-insurgency operations were carried out in the past several decades. This Act has come under heavy criticism from human rights advocates.

By Rithika Nair, May 1, 2012

Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings described India as “a living document … [of] human rights jurisprudence respected worldwide.” This extolling statement preceded his review of the country after brief visits to New Delhi, Gujarat, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and West Bengal. His detailed report on the issue will be submitted before the United Nations Human Rights Council only in 2013.

In a press release after his visit, he expressed concern regarding unlawful killings by State actors and non-State actors, delay in prosecution and lawful impunity. He touched upon the disproportional and unnecessary use of force by the police, encounter killings, custodial deaths, the death penalty, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, communal violence, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, violence against women, and most significantly measures of impunity and rewards instead of prosecution.

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Can the American and Pakistani Positions on Islamic Militancy be Reconciled?

In this article, the author delves into the relationship between the United States and Pakistan in context of the Islamic Militancy in the extended region of Afghanistan-Pakistan. 

By Camille Maubert, 10th April, 2012

In 2001, Pakistan allied itself with the US on the grounds that it would assist in the War on Terror’s effort to tackle terrorism. At the time, the two countries’ interests seemed to coincide, as they had a common target – Al Qaeda and foreign fighters. Yet, from 2003 onwards, the expansion of the American war against the Taliban and its increased pressure on Pakistan to act against the Islamic militants who use the Afghan-Pakistani border to provide the Taliban with safe havens put the Pakistani leadership in a difficult situation. The unpreparedness of Pakistan to answer the US’s demands to repress these groups led to the current diplomatic standoff whereby there seems to be no alignment of strategic interests, let alone coordination between the US and Pakistan, and their respective policies remain fundamentally adversarial.

The premise of this study is to challenge the current understanding of the situation, which is overwhelmingly based on perceptions and representations rather than real insight into Islamic militancy.

Islamic Jihad or Pakistani Nationalism?

Despite the consensus on the decisive role played by militant organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network in providing safe havens, logistical support and training to Taliban fighters, important questions like “who are the militants, who is supporting them and why?” are overlooked.

There is a strong argument that the reason why Islamic militants have such an overwhelming presence in the Afghan-Pakistani border region is because of the radicalisation of the population by madrassas and its sympathy for the jihadi ideology. Such an approach is flawed as it conveys a stereotypical understanding of the militant reality, and overlooks the deeper psychological and political fault lines underpinning it. Indeed, Islamic militants are fighting a revolutionary jihad for ideological purposes, to reform the state and impose a radical version of Islam. Conversely, most Pakistanis practice a more moderate version of Islam and thus do not support radical groups out of sympathy for their ideological agenda. Rather, those who join militant groups put forward reasons that stem from collusion, misinformation, support for the Afghan jihad and, mostly, Pakistani nationalism. Indeed, invasive American actions (drone strikes) have propped up support for militant groups out of patriotic sentiment. In other words, militant organisations have hijacked the nationalist concept of jihad as used during partition, and widely supported by Pakistanis, to justify violent action (against American infringements on Pakistani sovereignty and denounce the subordination of Pakistani leaders to American will (A 2009 Gallup Survey reveals that 59% of Pakistanis consider the US as the biggest threat, while only 11% chose the Taliban). As a result, support for Islamic militants spreads more easily through the various layers of Pakistani society, as they claim to act in the defence of the Muslim nation from external domination.

Therefore, it is the failure of Western analysts to make the distinction between ideologically motivated militants and nationalist Pakistanis that makes cooperation difficult. In the US, the post 9/11 environment and the need to mobilise people against terrorism promoted an unsophisticated understanding of what Islamic militancy is about by having the media “fuse shots of Osama Bin Laden, veiled women, (…) and riots in Kashmir and Palestine, thereby lending the visual impression that the West is confronted with a crazy, irrational faith” (Majid 2010:101). This securitisation of Islamic militancy is intrinsically flawed because it promotes an all-encompassing understanding that merges ideological and nationalist agendas into the same threat, making its targeting indiscriminate and, ultimately, counter-productive. Conversely, the Pakistani approach to Islamic militancy recognises that some elements – the Pakistani Taliban – do represent a threat, but it also acknowledges that it cannot crack down on those organisations as most jihadi groups historically enjoyed state sanction to wage jihad against the state’s enemies in the name of Islam and the Nation. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the relationship between the Pakistani state and Islamic groups in order to understand its reluctance to implement direct military action against them.

Islamic Groups as Pakistan’s Strategic Asset

Were the Pakistani civilian government willing to cooperate with the US, such commitment would only be a shallow promise if it proves to be unable – or unwilling – to convince the military and Inter-Services Intelligence to abide by its will. Not only is Zardari’s government unable to do so – given the historical weakness of Pakistani civilian governments – but it will not, as this would undermine the Pakistani strategic doctrine as a whole. Indeed, Islamic militants have been and remain the most reliable linchpin for Pakistan to project power where it matters; Kashmir. Since Partition, Islamic radicals and the army have teamed together to construct and secure Pakistan’s sovereignty and identity through the tactical use of guerilla warfare in Pakistan’s border regions.

Therefore, the reason why Pakistan does not – and will not – act against Kashmiri-based groups is that its whole foreign policy is founded upon issues of (Muslim) national identity, meaning that it uses militancy to challenge the Indian regional domination. Since this discourse informs Pakistan’s very identity narrative and exercises a powerful hold on the national imagination, it is impossible for Pakistani leaders to renounce it, especially as its influence has been reinvigorated by the fight for (Muslim) freedom in neighboring Afghanistan.

Similarly, Afghanistan is an aspect of Pakistan’s Indian policy. Indeed, Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan are determined by its entrenched fear of encirclement and the necessity to limit Indian influence at its Western flank. Successive governments have therefore maintained strategic links with Islamic groups in Afghanistan and supported a proxy war aimed at undermining Indian assets. Interestingly, the post 2001 security environment increased the links between Kashmiri and Afghan groups, thereby strengthening the legitimacy of local groups and undermining the ability of the state to identify and target specific individuals.

However, this apparent predicament serves Pakistani interests in the long term; Aware of the need to preserve strategic depth against India and a friendly government in Afghanistan, Pakistan has no interest in withdrawing support to Afghan Islamic militants and the Pakistani groups that prop them up.

Questions like “how much support these groups truly get from the army and the ISI, and how much of it is provided by independent individuals”, remains unanswered. Yet what is clear is that the problem to which Pakistan is confronted with regards to Islamic militancy is one of control. Pakistan is in a situation where the state created organisations on the basis of identity for (geo)political purposes but has lost control over them as they were reinforced by traditional values and developed a life of their own. In effect, not only are Islamic organisations attractive to some sections of the population, they also are ingrained in the state apparatus – they recruit retired personnel from and have relatives working for the army. Given the kinship base of the Pakistani society, this makes them extremely difficult to root out. Consequently, Pakistan understands that disarming the militants would cause more damage than turning a blind eye, as it may lead to an internal conflict of interests within the army between pro-Western and nationalist elements. Such situation, it has been argued, would provoke the collapse of the only strong institution able of holding the state together.

Furthermore, the areas in which militancy is highest are those where the state doesn’t exert authority or governance – North West Frontier Province, Balochistan, Kyber-Pukhtoonkhwa. In these areas, the pre-eminence of Islamic organisations is all the more important that they fill the power vacuum and provide the population with social services that the state is failing to supply. The most notable example is that of LeT’s charity wing Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). After the 2005 earthquake and 2010 floods, JuD provided immediate relief to the population and further integrated itself at the grassroots level. As a result, LeT has been increasingly able to act independently from state sponsor, another reason for Pakistan not to provoke any rupture. What is needed, therefore, is a solution that acknowledges the structural weaknesses of the Pakistani state, the strength of its society, and promotes negotiation rather than coercion.

A Path to Reconciliation?

The difficulty with both US and Pakistani positions is that they are directly reliant on the states’ narratives. In that sense, finding a solution implies that they would have to compromise on those narratives. This is unlikely to happen since, on one hand, the American demands are based on the deeply entrenched ideological principles of the War on Terror, and, on the other hand, the Pakistani reluctance to comply is rooted in the certitude that militants are necessary to its regional strategy – and to an extent its national identity.

These discursive incompatibilities are reinforced by the process of securitisation at play. By framing Islamic militancy as a security threat, the US – and some pro-Western Pakistani civilian leaders – has promoted a military solution, which limits are becoming more visible. The protests steered by drone strikes and the backlashes met by the Pakistani army in Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province demonstrate that the use of force is ultimately inefficient as it increases anti-Americanism, steers sympathy for militants, and further disturbs Pakistan’s unstable political landscape.

As observed above, the reason why cooperation has so far failed between the two allies is the mismatch of each other’s vital interests. While the US demands are informed by the short-term requirements of its Afghan strategy, the Pakistani position is determined by a long-term approach to militancy and regional security. In addition, the securitisation process has led to a situation where the US promotes an all-encompassing definition of the militant threat which pushes for the elimination of all organisations linked to Islamic militancy. But what it fails to understand is that Islamic militancy is deeply rooted in the Pakistani society and state apparatus and, as such, it cannot simply be isolated or suppressed.

Therefore, any solution to the problem posed by Islamic militancy would have to acknowledge that it is not only a security threat but rather a socio-economic and nationalist phenomenon. Additionally, it would have to recognise Pakistan’s structural weaknesses and its lack of capacity to impose its will on some sections of the population. Pakistan is a negotiated state, which means that coercive measures from the top-down are unlikely to be successful if they are not supported by local stakeholders. In finding a solution, Pakistan itself has a role to play, as it would have to acknowledge its need for a consistent strategy against its home grown militants – which it lacks so far – to ease cooperation with the US and start to positively engage the militants.

There is a growing understanding that soft power is ultimately more likely to successfully change militant behaviours and counter the growth of violent extremism as it impacts directly on the grass roots level. Indeed, long-term American engagement in issues like education and development would decrease its perception by the population as a security threat and help diffuse more positive representations. Tactical attempts have mostly proven to be successful, as shown by the American help in flood relief in 2010. However, this policy so far happens to be unsuccessful on the strategic level as its positive contribution in winning Pakistanis’ hearts and minds is outbalanced by the negative impact of drone attacks. Therefore, in order to decrease the scale of Islamic militancy, Pakistan would have to restore its sense of sovereignty, which means that the US would have to cease its activities across the border. At the time of writing, such evolution is yet to happen. This is due to the intense climate of mistrust that characterises the relationship between the US and Pakistan, whereby neither side seems to be willing to tone its rhetoric – and demands – down for fear of being thought to make concessions on its narrative.

Islamic militancy highlights the complexity of the US-Pakistan bilateral relation by confronting their intrinsically different strategic and identity narratives. One demands a rapid military solution, the other prioritises its long-terms interests, and both are informed by domestic pressure and ideological discourses. Only when those uncomfortable realities are acknowledged will dialogue be possible. Ultimately, the militant challenge puts the ability of the two allies to engage in a long-term partnership to a test as it will show whether conflicting demands can be complemented by common goals.

The Israeli Embassy Vehicle Attack in New Delhi – Reactions in India

In this article, the author explores the reaction among the media, the government and the people over the attack that took place on the Israeli Embassy vehicle on the 13th of February, 2012. 


By Siddharth Singh, 15th Feb, 2012

In the aftermath of the bomb blast targeting an Israeli embassy car in central Delhi, the reaction of the people and the press has largely revolved around three themes: one, outrage that yet another attack has taken place in India and the condemnation of the current government over its inability to stop such attacks. This perception is strengthened by the “weak” verbal responses by the concerned Indian ministers. Two, pointed criticism that the government couldn’t prevent an attack which is a stone’s throw away from the Prime Minister’s residence. Three, surprise – by people mostly – that Iran is in any way related to this attack. Bomb blasts in India have so far been popularly and officially blamed on home grown terrorist groups and those supported by or originating from Pakistan.

The First Theme: Outrage over the attack and ridicule of the official response

The near-universal condemnation of the United Progressive Alliance government under Dr. Manmohan Singh is a recurrent theme that follows every bomb blast in a big city in the country. While it is true that India is a rather large country with multitudes in a politically and socially unstable neighbourhood, it is equally true that the government can do a lot more to improve the security situation in the country without resorting to the controversial measures such as the U.S. government has. Indeed, the government has failed to put in place effective counter-terror and law-and-order mechanisms.

For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs is overburdened with non-security related tasks such as “implementation of the official language” – Hindi – and welfare of freedom fighters from the pre-Independence era. The long proposed Internal Affairs Ministry has not been set up yet, even though it is an idea accepted by officials on Raisina Hill. Comprehensive police reforms too haven’t seen the light of the day in spite of being on paper for several years.

Additionally, the establishment of an Internal Security University – which would provide long term research and analysis on the internal security scenario in India, apart from providing better trained policemen and administrators – has not been established yet, in spite of being passed by the Cabinet years ago. Currently the officials in the ministry are over burdened with day-to-day crisis management and do not have time to research and plan for the longer run.

The image of the government as an ineffective unit, however, largely comes from the lack of effective communication from the government, in particular its ministers. While the government response is typically greeted with disdain, this time around, it was met with ridicule. One of the reasons is that unlike previous attacks, this one did not result in deaths, making mockery acceptable. The people and media resorted to ridiculing the government over what they referred to as a “cliched, disinterested and monotonous” official statement. This time around, they got to see on their favourite prime time news shows on TV – in the form of Israeli ministers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu – give decisive statements on how such attacks cannot be tolerated and the perpetrators will be hunted down. The Israeli administration was also hasty in blaming Iran for the attack, at a time when the Indian officials were sticking to the story of an “incident” caused due to “unknown circumstances.” The reaction to the blame on Iran will be addressed later in this article.

While this author does not believe that hawkish statements are constructive in the aftermath of such bomb blasts, it is true that the government’s reaction is often trite, and are often replays of every official reaction after every major attack the country has seen in the past many years. This fits into the popular narrative of the government, which lacks effective communicators at the top of the administrative setup. The leader of the political coalition – Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister, among others, are not exactly known for their oratory skills. In a hyperactive news TV era, this has become a burden on the political establishment. The media and people in India yearn for effective communicators who can sell governance as much as they can effectively govern in the first place. Even though transparency has been legislated via the Right to Information Act and other instruments, there seems to be opacity in the verbal communication at the top of the administration.

This narrative is popular and cannot be easily undone by the government without a major cabinet reshuffle. It is an issue the government will have to accept and work around.

The Second Theme: Outrage over the location of the attack

The second theme of the reaction has been specific to this incident: the bomb blast took place on one end of Aurangzeb Road, which is a posh neighbourhood in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (where all the ministers, officials, parliamentarians and chiefs of military reside) in New Delhi. The location of the attack was a stones throw away from the Prime Minister’s official residence at 7, Race Course Road.

Unsurprisingly, this became a talking point, and many commentators and the general public have lamented about the lack of security even in such a high profile area. One news TV host in partcular was at his hyperbolic best when he commented that even the Prime Minister could hear the bomb blast (adding later that it would have been possible only if the Prime Minister was home. The police eventually revealed that the blast wasn’t a loud one).

The Prime Minister’s residence is on the Race Course Road, which is open to the general public. Pedestrians freely walk along the sidewalks on the road, and motorists are free to use this road for their daily commute. This fact once brought praise by a friend from a subcontinental neighbour who lamented that common people in his country couldn’t even step in the neighbourhood of the most important ministers.

The entire Lutyens Bungalow Zone is fully accessible to the public, as it rightly must be. However, this also means that it is easy for a motorist to – say – bring explosives in close proximity of the Prime Minister’s home. The PM, of course, is safe in his multi layered security setup. In fact, he uses a different road (which is fully secured) from the other side of his home for his daily commute.

Lutyens Delhi cannot be made exclusive to the residents of the area. Not only does this area house the representatives of the people, it has the headquarters of the political parties, and several markets where the poor find employment. There is no practical way to fully secure this area. Commentary on this theme of the location of the attack is hence misplaced. The location is immaterial here: that it happened at all is the issue at hand.

The Third Theme: Surprise and confusion over Iran’s involvement

What has been more interesting, however, is the sense of confusion among people and a few reporters about Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack. The only foreign nation Indians are used to hearing get linked to attacks has been Pakistan. (To a much lesser extent, Bangladesh was once on this list too, but now makes headlines for partnering India in its fight against militancy).

Natanyahu’s assertion that Iran had a role in the attack even before the Indian authorities could confirm that it was an “attack” rather than an “incident” came as a surprise to many. Many in the media termed this as a hasty reaction without credible evidence to back the claim. A few in the public commended such naming tactics, recommending India do the same with Pakistan.

Importantly, however, this holds important implications on India’s foreign policy. In case Iran’s role is directly or indirectly established, it would mean that India will have to re-draft its policy in the region, which has so far been fairly neutral so far (barring for a few strategic decisions against Iran on the nuclear issue and the Iran-Pakistan-India Natural Gas Pipeline).

Historically, Iran has an image of a cultural “ally” in India. In recent years, the Ahmedinejad administration has brought criticism of official Indo-Iranian relations among those who advocate a more realist foreign policy. However, there is a general acceptance of Iran as an energy supplier nation which can help India meet its growing energy demand.

Indians are in general unaware of the growing tension between Iran and Israel. Reports on the stand off between Iran and the United States are often buried deep inside new papers and have nearly no mention on TV. For these reasons, the very mention of Iran has caught many by surprise. People still don’t fully grasp why India has emerged as a battlefield in the Iran-Israel stand off. The set of challenges for policymakers are profound, and it will be interesting to observe how the foreign policy and security discourse evolves from here.

What is Happening in Nigeria? Blood and Oil (Subsidies)

In this article the author looks at the current wave of political and economic turmoil sweeping Nigeria.  With a potential oil shutdown sending waves of panic across Brent Crude prices and terrorism forcing the closure of the borders the state is facing its largest crisis since its return to civilian rule in 1999.


by Jack Hamilton, 14 Jan, 2012

In 2010 the BBC released the controversial docudrama: ‘Blood and Oil’. It depicted a Nigeria crippled by corruption, protests and terrorism and was slammed for the tropes of endemic sleaze and violence. Executions, inhumane oil politics and the collusion of leading politicians in these atrocities were seen to reflect the Nigeria of the past. This is now the Nigeria of the present and it could be about to get a lot worse.

Occupy Nigeria

Naija Rising

This week the country closed its borders following counter-terrorism advice from the UN and a popular strike threatens to entirely shut down oil and gas production (accounting for over 90% of the export market) on Tuesday if demands are not met. There have been two crucial ultimatums:

1. Boko Haram has threatened to kill all Southerners (read: Christians) in the north if their demands of religious reform are not met. The attacks have already begun.

2. Occupy Nigeria has threatened to grind Nigeria’s export economy to a halt if their demands to maintain the fuel subsidy are not met. The deadline has been extended until Tuesday.

Facing a potential civil war and economic collapse, the Federal Government of Nigeria must act decisively.  There is no quick-fix.

There Might Be Blood – Subsidy Strikes

Who is Drinking Nigeria's Milkshake?

Nigerian oil and gas workers have threatened to shut down the Nigerian oil market, deepening the strikes against the withdrawal of petrol subsidies.  The government and unions are locked in talks which have been extended by two days as of today.  This leaves the government until Tuesday to find a solution or face economic meltdown.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (Pengassan) have put all production platforms on red alert in anticipation of a shutdown. This demonstrates the lack of optimism in resolution being reached in time.

The crisis in Africa’s largest oil exporter has already had an international impact. Oil prices have already risen in anticipation of the shutdown and Nigeria’s export reserves would only last for six weeks.

Brent Crude prices have risen by $1 per barrel in a single day and in a global crude market already shaken by conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, a shutdown in Nigeria could have expansive ramifications. In an election year the last thing a US incumbent would like to see is a pinch at the pumps.

While the true international impact of the crisis is yet to be fully realised, it has already had a devastating impact domestically. The price of fuel has already more than doubled and the prices of other goods, including food, are skyrocketing. People are struggling to get to work, to put food on the table and to run their electricity generators. If the strike turns violent it is these people who will suffer.

Subsidies are seen to be the only benefit most Nigerians receive from the vast oil riches of the country. The argument for their removal is that they cost the state $8 billion per year in funds that could be better used on infrastructure and development. In a country in which government corruption is rife and the trust in the state is dangerously low it is clear that the people would like to see the money conferred through subsidies rather than pilfered by the ‘1%’.

The subsidy involved a huge amount of corruption but its removal does not equate to the removal of the corruption. It is merely a relocation.

Spreading Terror

The north of Nigeria is ‘sliding towards a full-blown guerrilla war’ according to The Economist. Boko Haram bombing campaigns have intensified since the Christmas Day attacks and acts of retribution have been carried out in the Christian south. The burning of a mosque in Benin City, southern Nigeria, demonstrates the dangerous roadmap the northern insurgency could instigate.

Fears abound over the potential links between Boko Haram, a small cult whose primary objective is the removal of secular education, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  Assertions of a broader terrorist network were originally purported by sources in the American military (AFRICOM) and the Algerian Government but on Tuesday this fear was also echoed by the United Nations.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has stated that ‘concerns will increase’ as the popularity of Boko Haram grows. The alleged sophistication of the attacks, especially the bombing of the UN in Abuja, has provided some substance for these assertions but the most recent activities reflect burgeoning brutality, not capability.

Goodluck Jonathan has responded to the fears of a vast terrorist network by closing the borders of the country. Nigeria’s international borders are now operating on high alert as the latest measures demonstrate the degree of force the Federal Government is willing to use to achieve peace and stability across the country.

Elevated force does not necessarily provide a solution for the state.  They are fighting a guerrilla organisation, galvanised by support from those who fear the encroachment of an over-zealous central government.  Memories of egregious state violence mean that heavy state mobilisation is likely to increase rather than diminish the allure of the Boko Haram message to those who feel alienated from the state.

Will Things Fall Apart?

The Occupy Nigeria protests and Boko Haram attacks are entirely separate movements with the common theme of opposing the Federal Government of the country. With opposition to government threatening the security and the economy of the nation questions abound over the future of Nigeria.

Jonathan has announced palliative measures the mass production of buses to ease the transport issues in the country as well as reducing government salaries by a quarter (although they remain obscenely high in such an impoverished nation).

The most recent response to Boko Haram has been a change in language. Jonathan has acknowledged that the support base may be more than purely criminal. In his speech on Monday he admitted that there may even be members of his government that identify with the organisation.

Talks with Occupy Nigeria have been extended by two days but there is a general lack of optimism for a rapid resolution. Boko Haram are intensifying their attacks and flickers of retribution have begun in the south. At present neither crisis shows signs of abating and the Federal Government is floundering.

Nigeria is being plunged into a future which looks ominously similar to its past. In this scenario ‘Blood and Oil’ appears rosy.


For more on the recent crises in Nigeria and terrorism across West Africa see these articles on InPEC:

The State of Terrorism in Nigeria: The Rising Threat of Boko Haram

Photo Essay: 6 Reasons Terrorism is Gaining Momentum in Northern Nigeria

Securing Emptiness: The Sahara Desert and the Global War on Terror

The State of Terrorism in Nigeria: The Rising Threat of Boko Haram

In this article the author assesses the rising threat of the Nigerian terrorist organisation, Boko Haram.  The most recent spate of bombings and executions has raised questions over the unity of the Nigerian state and the future of security on the continent.  It is therefore necessary to understand why Boko Haram is increasing in popularity as their attacks become increasingly barbaric.

By Jack Hamilton, 14 Nov, 2011

Unchecked Massacre

Brutal attacks in Nigeria over the past week have left over 100 people dead.  A single small religious group has transmogrified into a dynamic terrorist organisation capable of rapidly changing tactics and targets in a pattern of violence responsible for over 1000 deaths in northern Nigeria since 2009.

Last week the gunmen wandered around the northern town of Damaturu killing any Christian who could not recite the Islamic creed on the spot.  Nigeria’s Defence Minister Bello Halliru Mohammed has stated that the security forces once again have control and that there is nothing to fear but his words have assured few.

The fact remains that there is still no coherent strategy to combat Boko Haram.

Rising Intensity

The nature of recent events has shocked many, even in regions where Boko Haram attacks are frequent.  Residents expressed rage at the ease with which gunmen were able to take over the city and leave bodies littering the streets.  Police stations, mosques and churches were reduced to rubble before the security forces mobilised a response.  At that point members of the group engaged in gun battles across the city that lasted for hours.

The situation in northern Nigeria is degenerating rapidly.  International observers fear that Boko Haram may already have links to al-Qaeda and al-Shabab and that the campaign of terror shows no signs of abating.

In order to understand Boko Haram it is first necessary to look at who they are, what they want and how they believe they can achieve it.


Boko Haram colloquially translates as “Western education is forbidden”.  It is a claim to reject all things Western from the theory of evolution to Western-style banking.  This has manifested itself in different tactics since the emergence of the group in 2002.  Before 2009 there were no signs that the group desired the overthrow of the state and rather preached to withdraw from the institutions of the non-Sharia Nigerian nation.  It was a law banning the riding of motorbikes without helmets that would prove to be the catalyst for violence.

In July 2009 the central government sought to enforce the law on helmets.  Boko Haram flouted the legislation and was subjected to police brutality which in turn set off an armed uprising in Bauchi, later spreading to Kano, Borno and Yobe.  By the time the army had suppressed the situation over 800 people were dead across the north of the country.

Since 2009 the group has spread rapidly.  The majority of the attacks have taken place in Borno state but Boko Haram have also expanded to the northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto as well as the attacks on Abuja and threats against Lagos.  In addition to the geographical spread there has been a change in tactics from the localised skirmishes to strategic suicide bombing campaigns and massacres directed not only at Nigerian security forces but also international targets such as the UN.


Boko Haram have changed their tactics over the years.  Under their previous leader, Mohammed Yusuf, the group staged mass uprisings against the police and suffered hundreds of casualties.  After Yusuf’s death at the hands of security forces in 2009 they began using tactics more in line with jihadist terrorism including the first suicide bombings in Nigeria’s history.

The attack on the UN may have been an attempt to pressure the international community or perhaps it was simply to embarrass the Nigerian state but it succeeded in drawing global attention to a burgeoning problem.  Boko Haram may be diffuse but it is expanding geographically with increasing tactical sophistication.


As Boko Haram expands the questions over their composition complicate.  According to Paul Lubeck, an expert on northern Nigeria, Boko Haram is not a single group but a collection of splinters banded under one name by the Federal Government.  One section appears willing to negotiate while others remain determined to intensify the bombing campaign.

Some statements reflect a strict adherence to Islamic law while others cite a determination for a smaller Nigerian state as their raison d’être.  If the group is as amorphous as Lubeck claims it will make it very difficult to negotiate with let alone combat.



The structural issues of northern Nigeria have allowed Boko Haram to thrive in recent years.  In addition to acute poverty the region has a high birth rate and 50% of the population are below the age of 30.

Inequality, unemployment and industrial stagnation have exacerbated the perception that the north has been marginalised by the liberalisation of the Nigerian economy.  The question of who owns the land has not been answered since independence and the Federal State seems too far away and blighted by corruption to deal with such issues.


Grievances in the north were compounded by the election of a southerner, Goodluck Jonathan, as President earlier this year.  Jonathan assumed the office following the death of the northern Muslim President Umaru Yar’Adua and many northerners believe Jonathan should have stepped aside to allow another northerner to take Yar’Adua’s place.  This would have been in line with the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that the Presidency should rotate between the north, the south-west and the south-east every two terms.


The administration is treating Boko Haram as a security issue rather than tackling the divisive subject of poverty in the north.  Abuja’s response has been to flood the north with heavy-handed military and police forces that now stand accused of human rights violations against civilians.

Politicians in the north have begged for the numbers of security forces to be reduced as police corruption has become rife.  For many in the north the police are the face of the central government.  The people feel alienated from a force they perceive to be corrupt.

Responding to Boko Haram

For many the heavy military presence in the north is the single most important hindrance in securing any negotiated peace.  The failed attempt to destroy the group in 2009 was the greatest recruitment drive Boko Haram could have hoped for, especially the controversial extra-judicial killing of the leader Mohammed Yusuf.

The current strength of Boko Haram is largely a result of such poor foresight by the Nigerian state.  As a result there is now a security vacuum in the most heavily militarised region of the country.

Flagrant myopia has created martyrs and swelled the ranks of the guerrillas.  The legal response to the killing of Yusuf is a good first step but it does little to combat the issues of poverty and corruption that are integral to Boko Haram’s recruitment.

Opposition leaders in the north claim that the government has failed to understand the amount of support Boko Haram has amongst the population.  By stating their opposition to central government and corruption the group has grown far beyond their initial religious doctrine and the government will need to find a response to the structural inequalities in Nigeria if the terrorists are to lose their supporters.  It does not appear as if this is going to happen any time soon.  It is possible that Boko Haram may actually be growing beyond the borders of Nigeria.

The Anti-Social Network?

Many experts have questioned whether the increased tactical sophistication of Boko Haram is evidence of the group branching out to international terrorist organisations, especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  A change in tack to target international organisations with large high-tech bombs has caused concern.  General Ham, head of US Africa Command, believes that the worst case scenario already exists and that Boko Haram are working in tandem with AQIM and al-Shabab in a “loose” partnership.

Hard evidence for any such link is still to be produced.  The geographical distance between AQIM, Boko Haram and al-Shabab make such a partnership unlikely and the possibility remains that the increased military technology may have come from within Nigeria itself.  Alex Thurston, an expert on terrorism in the region, has posited that it is more likely the sophistication came from disaffected Nigerian soldiers than any international training.

The Future State of Nigeria

The failure of the government reactions have meant that Boko Haram has been successful in achieving one of their primary goals: the weakening of the legitimacy of the state.  Attacks on international organisations have created increased pressure on Jonathan to find a solution to the problem.  The short-term solution of heavy military deployment may eventually yield similar successes to those against the militant groups in the Niger Delta but it would also undermine the cohesion of Nigeria.  This would also act to provide momentum for Boko Haram.

The failure to develop a clear strategy to combat the small Islamic group in 2009 has forced the Nigerian state to face up to the larger structural issues concerning the north.  A solely military solution is no longer feasible.

Iranian-American Relations: Explaining the Recent Allegations against Iran

US agents state that a "significant terrorist act" linked to Iran which would have included the assassination of the Saudi US ambassador Adel al-Jubeir (seen here seated with former US First Lady Laura Bush and King Abdullah) has been foiled recently.In this article, the author argues that the recent allegations against Iran have been largely shaped by America’s perceptions of, and prejudices against Iran, which were shaped by the changes in their relations post-1979.

By Aryaman Bhatnagar, 19 Oct, 2011

The most recent American allegations against Iran accusing it of plotting the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and the Iranian dismissal of such allegations as being baseless have once again revealed the endless cycle of blame that characterises Iranian-American relations. This latest round of allegations and subsequent denials originates from the perception that America has of Iran.

The Quds Force (QF), a special branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has been accused by the United States of America and Saudi Arabia to have been part of the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. However, Iran’s alleged complicity in this plot has met with strong scepticism within the diplomatic community and from foreign analysts specialising in Iran. Moreover, the lack of evidence to indict the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini or the Revolutionary Corps in this plot does not help America’s claims. Despite this, the Americans are adamant that the plot had been sanctioned by the QF or directly by Khameini himself. The Americans are calling upon the international community to strengthen sanctions against Iran and have not completely ruled out the military option as retaliation for Iran’s “flagrant violation of international law”.

This has not been the first time that Iran has been accused by the Americans without any concrete evidence. Iran had been accused of bombing the American embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which was home to American troops at that point. Years of investigation failed to prove Iranian involvement but even this has failed to dispel American suspicions, who continue to believe otherwise. Similarly, Iran has been accused of providing aid to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in order to destabilise American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although, there has been evidence to suggest that Iranian weapons have been used by insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is nothing to prove that this is part of a deliberate policy. However, such allegations have been used by America to exclude Iran from all the major projects concerning the region.

The reasons for the continuous demonization of Iran in America can be traced back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a watershed for American-Iranian relations. The revolution changed the image of Iran from a modern ‘westernised’ ally of America to one of America’s most formidable foes in the Middle East, which was ruled by ‘Mad Mullahs’. The Islamic Republic’s use of ideology in its foreign policy and an alternate vision for the world social and political order were seen as a threat to the American-led world order. It was the hostage crisis of 1979, which shaped the image of Iran as an irrational actor and left a lasting impact on the American impression of the Islamic Republic. From this date onwards, Iran became synonymous with worldwide terrorism and the source of all evil. Thus, irrespective of where terrorism was committed, the finger was automatically pointed at Iran. Even if there was lack of evidence, it was assumed to be something that Iran was capable of doing and were, thus, condemned for it.

Such a negative perception of Iran has become institutionalised in the political culture of America. As a result, the US policymakers have found it extremely difficult to shed their prejudices against. This is most evident in case of America’s response to Iran’s nuclear programme. Although, there is strong evidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is meant for peaceful purposes, America is convinced that it is meant to cause harm to them. A nuclear weapon in the hands of religious fanatics is believed to be dangerous for the entire world. It is interesting to note that America had been instrumental in starting the nuclear programme in Iran prior to the occurrence of the revolution. Their paranoia then clearly is an outcome of their perception of the nature of the Iranian regime than the actual dangers posed by the nuclear weapons.

The US’ differences with Iran are also motivated by their different strategic interests as both want to establish their primacy over the Persian Gulf region. Moreover, USA’s alliance with Israel and the bitter Iran-Israel relations also act as an obstacle for normalising the Iranian-American relations. But USA has managed to work around such issues and resolve its differences in the past with other countries. It is the perpetuation of the perception of Iran as an inherently anti-American nation, which is always looking for an opportunity to subvert them that has not only prevented USA from reconciling with Iran but also encourages speculations about its intentions.