Monday, December 11, 2017

How Afghan Jihad triggered insurgency in Kashmir?

Generals Musharraf and Kayani.
In Pakistan, there are three distinct categories of militants: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants; and foreign terrorists including the Arab militants of al-Qaeda, the Uzbek insurgents of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Uighur rebels of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The foreign, transnational terrorists number only in a few hundreds and are hence inconsequential.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly comprised of Pashtun militants, carries out bombings against Pakistan’s state apparatus. The ethnic factor is critical here. Although TTP likes to couch its rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity and language that enables it to recruit Pashtun tribesmen who are willing to carry out subversive activities against the Punjabi-dominated state apparatus, while the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants have by and large remained loyal to their patrons in the security agencies of Pakistan.

Although Pakistan’s security establishment has been willing to conduct military operations against the TTP militants which are deemed a security threat to Pakistan’s state apparatus, but as far as the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Afghanistan-focused Quetta Shura Taliban, including the Haqqani network, are concerned, they are still enjoying impunity because such militant groups are regarded as ‘strategic assets’ by the security establishment.

For the half of its 70-year-long history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the security establishment kept dictating Pakistan’s foreign and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971; during General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists; and during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under Washington’s pressure and declared a war against the Pashtun militants that ignited the fire of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Although most political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist general, Zia-ul-Haq, responsible for the jihadist militancy in the tribal areas; however, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia; all the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

A strategic rethink in the Pakistan Army’s top brass took place only after the 9/11 terror attack, when Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State during the Bush administration, threatened General Musharraf in so many words: “We will send you back to the Stone Age unless you stop supporting the Taliban.” Thus, deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it has been a well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution. The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and aggressive approach to foreign affairs and security-related matters. Therefore, as a matter of principle, military must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.

Regarding the Kashmir dispute, there can be no two views that the right of self-determination of Kashmiris must be respected in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions on the right of plebiscite for the Kashmiri people, and Pakistan should lend its moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri cause; but at the same time, the militarization of any dispute, including Kashmir, must be avoided due to colossal human suffering that violence anywhere in the world inevitably entails.

The insurgency in Kashmir erupted in the fateful year of 1984 of the Orwellian-fame when the Indian Armed Forces surreptitiously occupied the whole of Siachen glacier, including the un-demarcated Pakistani portion. Now, we must keep the context in mind: those were the heydays of the Cold War and the Pakistan Army’s proxies, the Afghan so-called ‘mujahideen’ (freedom fighters), were winning battle after battle against the Soviet Red Army, and the morale of the Pakistan Army's top brass was touching the sky.

Moreover, Pakistan’s security establishment also wanted to inflict damage to the Indian Armed Forces to exact revenge for the dismemberment of Pakistan at the hands of India during the Bangladesh War of 1971, when India took 90,000 Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war. All the military’s top brass had to do was to divert a fraction of their Afghan jihadist proxies towards Kashmir to ignite the fire of insurgency in Kashmir. Pakistan’s security agencies began sending jihadists experienced in the Afghan guerilla warfare across the border to the Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s; and by the early 1990s, the Islamist insurgency engulfed the whole of Kashmir region.

Here, we must keep in mind, however, that an insurgency cannot succeed anywhere unless militants get some level of support from local population. For example: if a hostile force tries to foment an insurgency in Punjab, it wouldn’t succeed; because Punjabis don’t have any grievances against Pakistan. On the other hand, if an adversary tries to incite an insurgency in the marginalized province of Balochistan and tribal areas, it will easily succeed, because the local Baloch and Pashtun populations have grievances against the heavy-handedness of Pakistan’s security establishment.

Therefore, to put the blame squarely on the Pakistani side for the Kashmir conflict would be unfair. Firstly, India treacherously incorporated the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir into the Dominion of India in 1947, knowing fully well that Kashmir has an overwhelming Muslim majority, and in accordance with the ‘Partition Principle’ agreed upon between the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress on the eve of the independence of India and Pakistan, Kashmir should have been included in Pakistan.

Even now, if someone tries to incite an insurgency in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir, it wouldn’t succeed, because the Kashmiri Muslims identify themselves with Pakistan. The Indian-administered Kashmir has seen many waves for independence since 1947, but not a single voice has been raised for independence in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir in Pakistan’s 70-year-long history.

Secondly, India re-ignited the conflict by occupying the strategically-placed Siachen glacier in 1984. Pakistan's stance on Kashmir has been quite flexible and it has floated numerous proposals to resolve the dispute. But India is now the new strategic partner of the US against China, that's why India’s stance on the Kashmir dispute has been quite inflexible, because it is negotiating from a position of strength. However, diplomacy aside, the real victims of this intransigence and hubris on both sides have been the Kashmiri people and a lot of innocent blood has been spilled for no good reason.

Finally, after losing tens of thousands of lives to terror attacks during the last decade, an across the board consensus has developed among Pakistan’s mainstream political parties that the policy of nurturing militants against regional adversaries has backfired on Pakistan and it risks facing international isolation due to the belligerent policies of Pakistan’s security establishment. Not only Washington but Pakistan’s ‘all-weather ally’ China, which plans to invest $62 billion in Pakistan via its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, has also made its reservations public regarding Pakistan’s continued support to jihadist groups.

Thus, excluding a handful of far-right Islamist political parties that are funded by the Gulf’s petro-dollars and historically garner less than 10% votes of Pakistan’s electorate, all the civilian political forces are in favor of turning a new leaf in Pakistan’s checkered political history by endorsing the policy of an indiscriminate crackdown on militant outfits operating in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s military establishment jealously guards its traditional domain, the security and foreign policy of Pakistan, and still maintains a distinction between the so-called ‘good and bad Taliban.’

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Terrorism and Islam: Correlation is not Causation

Saleh, King Hussein, Mubarak and Saddam.
Since the time immemorial, it has been an article of faith of every Muslim that suicide is ‘Haram’ (prohibited) in Islam. There is a well-known Islamic precept that whoever commits suicide will go straight to hell. But the Takfirists (those who declare others as heretics) have invented a new interpretation of Islam in which suicide is glorified as ‘martyrdom’ and suicide bombing is employed as a weapon to cause widespread fear.

Historically, suicide bombing as a weapon of war was invented by the Tamil Tigers during the eighties in their war against the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Tamils are a Hindu ethnic group of northern Sri Lanka who were marginalized by the Buddhist majority and they led a civil war in the country from 1976 until they were defeated by the Sri Lankan armed forces’ Northern Offensive in 2009.

Among the Muslims, suicide bombing as a tactical weapon was first adopted by the Islamic Jihad in the Israel-Palestine conflict during the Second Intifada that lasted from 2000 to 2005. Then the transnational terrorists of al-Qaeda adopted suicide bombing as a weapon of choice in some of their audacious terror attacks in the US and Europe. And after that, all the regional militant groups – including the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – have also adopted suicide bombing as a tactical weapon in their rebellions against regional adversaries.

The phenomena of militancy and insurgency anywhere in the world has less to do with religious extremism and more with the weak writ of state in remote rural and tribal areas of the Third World’s impoverished countries, which is sometimes further exacerbated by deliberate arming of certain militant groups by regional and global players.

The Afghan jihadists of today, for instance, are a legacy of the Cold War when they were trained and armed by the CIA against the former Soviet Union with the help of Pakistan’s security agencies and the Gulf’s petro-dollars. Similarly, the Islamic State’s militants in Syria and Iraq are a product of Washington’s proxy war in Syria in which Sunni militants were trained and armed in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shi’a-led government in Syria in order to contain the Shi’a resistance comprised of Iran, Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, which constituted a threat to Israel’s regional security.

In order to empirically prove the point that militancy anywhere in the world has less to do with the professed ideology or religion of militants and more with geo-political factors, here is a brief list of some of the recent non-Muslim insurgencies around the world:

First, as I have already described, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka who invented suicide bombing as a tactic of war were Hindus.

Second, the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India’s north-east that has been raging since 1967 and has claimed tens of thousands of lives has been comprised of Hindus.

Third, the insurgency of the FARC rebels in Colombia that lasted from 1964 to 2017 and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives was a conflict among the Christians.

Fourth, the Northern Ireland conflict that lasted from 1968 to 1998 and claimed thousands of casualties was a dispute between the Protestants and the Catholics.

Fifth, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army that operated in Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo since 1987 were Christians and animists.

Sixth, the Nuer rebellion led by Riek Machar against his former ally President Salva Kiir’s Dinka tribal group since December 2013 in South Sudan which has claimed tens of thousands of lives has been a conflict among the Christians.

Seventh, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict that led to the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives was also a conflict among the Christians.

And last, all the belligerents of the Second Congo War that lasted from 1998 to 2003 and claimed millions of fatalities were non-Muslims.

Keeping all this empirical evidence in mind, it becomes amply clear that Islam as a religion is just as peaceful or ‘violent’ as Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism; and taking a cursory look at the list, it also becomes obvious that the common denominator among all these disparate insurgencies has not been religion.

Since most of these insurgencies have affected the impoverished and underdeveloped regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America, thus the only legitimate conclusion that can be drawn from this fact is that militarization and weak writ of impoverished, developing states has primarily been responsible for breeding an assortment of militant groups in their remote rural and tribal hinterlands. That’s the only common denominator among these otherwise unrelated list of insurgencies.

The root factors that have mainly been responsible for spawning militancy and terrorism anywhere in the world are not religion or ideology of militants but socio-economics, ethnic diversity, marginalization of disenfranchised ethno-linguistic and ethno-religious groups and the ensuing conflicts; socio-cultural backwardness of the affected regions, and the weak central control of the impoverished developing states over their territory, which is often exacerbated by deliberate training and arming of certain militant groups that were used at some point of time in history as proxies by their regional and global patrons.

After invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq and when Washington’s ‘nation-building’ projects failed in those hapless countries, the US policymakers immediately realized that they were facing large-scale and popularly-rooted insurgencies against foreign occupation; consequently, the occupying military altered its CT (counter-terrorism) approach in the favor of a COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy. A COIN strategy is essentially different from a CT approach and it also involves dialogue, negotiations and political settlements, alongside the coercive tactics of law enforcement and military and paramilitary operations on a limited scale.

Finally, excluding large-scale insurgencies, even if we take a cursory look at some individual acts of terrorism, the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007 that claimed 32 lives was perpetrated by a South Korean Seung-Hui Cho, then a Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik shot dead 77 students on the island of Utoya, Norway, in July 2011, after that, Adam Lanza carried out the Sandy Hook Elementary Schools massacre in December 2012 by killing 27 people including 20 children, and more recently, Stephen Paddock committed one of the worst mass shootings in the US history by killing 58 people in cold blood at the Las Vegas Strip in October.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Battle of Al-Bukamal: Al-Baghdadi’s Last Stand

Last week, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, reportedly fled across the border from the town of Rawa in Iraq to the last bastion of the Islamic State in Syria, the border town of Al-Bukamal. On Thursday, the Syrian government and allied militias announced victory in Al-Bukamal, but by late Friday, the Islamic State mounted a counter-offensive and recaptured the northern neighborhoods of the town.

A question would naturally arise in the minds of curious observers of the war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq that why would al-Baghdadi leave the relatively safer region of Anbar in Iraq for Al-Bukamal in Syria which is being heavily contested between the Syrian troops and the Islamic State jihadists? The Syrian troops and allied militias are mercilessly shelling the town and the counter-offensive of the jihadist group is equally fierce, with a large number of VBIEDs (vehicle-bound improvised explosive device) being used against the advancing troops.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this suicidal gambit by al-Baghdadi is that the self-styled caliph of the Islamic State has become tired of living the life of a fugitive on the run and has decided to fight to death in the last major stronghold of the so-called caliphate that spanned one-third of Syria and Iraq only a couple of years ago, in order to die as a martyr and a create a legend around his persona even after his death.

Regarding the composition and command structure of the Islamic State, although al-Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor, but two of the closest aides who have emerged as his likely successors over the years are Iyad al-Obeidi, his defense minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, the in charge of security. The latter had already reportedly been killed in an airstrike in April in al-Qaim region on Iraq’s border with Syria. Thus, the most likely successor of al-Baghdadi would be al-Obaidi. Both al-Jumaili and al-Obeidi had previously served as security officers in Iraq’s Baathist army under Saddam Hussein, and al-Obeidi is known to be the de facto deputy [1] of al-Baghdadi.

More to the point, excluding al-Baghdadi and some of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. Reportedly, hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy. Thus, apart from training and arms that have been provided to the Sunni Arab militants in the training camps located in the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, the only other factor which has contributed to the astounding success of the Islamic State from early 2013 to August 2014 is that its top cadres are comprised of professional military and intelligence officers from the Saddam era.

Moreover, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology play an important role in the battle, and well informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in the battle. Looking at the Islamic State’s astounding gains in Syria and Iraq from early 2013 to August 2014, a question arises that where does its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

The Syria experts of foreign policy think tanks also appear to be quite ‘worried’ when the Islamic State overran Mosul that where did the Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as ‘the Technicals’ among the jihadists? According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [2] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training in the training camps located in the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks can easily travel to the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center known as the Military Operations Center (MOC) based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Notwithstanding, in order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on the present, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside. In the case of the creation of the Islamic State, for instance, the US policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government.

Similarly, the war on terror era political commentators also ‘generously’ accept the fact that the Cold War era policy of nurturing al-Qaeda and myriads of Afghan so-called freedom fighters against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy. The corporate media’s spin doctors conveniently forget, however, that the creation of the Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the Bush administration as it has been the legacy of the Obama administration’s policy of funding, arming, training and internationally legitimizing the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East region.

In fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni Arab militant groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria. The border between Syria and Iraq is highly porous and poorly guarded, and Washington’s policy of nurturing militants against the Assad regime in Syria was bound to have its blowback in Iraq, sooner or later. Therefore, as soon as the Islamic State consolidated its gains in Syria, it overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014, from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

Friday, November 10, 2017

‘Dawn Leaks’ and the ouster of Nawaz Sharif

In a momentous decision on 28 July, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from holding public office by the country’s Supreme Court on the flimsy pretext of holding an ‘Iqama’ (a work permit) for a Dubai-based company. Although it is generally assumed the revelations in the Panama Papers, that Nawaz Sharif and his family members own offshore companies, led to the ignominious downfall of the prime minister, but another important factor that contributed to the dismissal is often overlooked.

In October last year, Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, Dawn News, published an exclusive report [1] dubbed as the ‘Dawn Leaks’ in Pakistan’s press. In the report titled ‘Act against militants or face international isolation,’ citing an advisor to the Prime Minister, Tariq Fatemi, who has since been fired from his job for disclosing the internal deliberations of a high-level meeting to the media, the author of the report Cyril Almeida contended that in a huddle of Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, the civilians had told the military’s top brass to withdraw its support from the militant outfits operating in Pakistan, specifically from the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

After losing tens of thousands of lives to terror attacks during the last decade, an across the board consensus has developed among Pakistan’s mainstream political parties that the policy of nurturing militants against regional adversaries has backfired on Pakistan and it risks facing international isolation due to the belligerent policies of Pakistan’s security establishment. Not only Washington but Pakistan’s ‘all-weather ally’ China, which plans to invest $62 billion in Pakistan via its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, has also made its reservations public regarding Pakistan’s continued support to the aforementioned jihadist groups.

Thus, excluding a handful of far-right Islamist political parties that are funded by the Gulf’s petro-dollars and historically garner less than 10% votes of Pakistan’s electorate, all the civilian political forces are in favor of turning a new leaf in Pakistan’s checkered political history by endorsing the decision of an indiscriminate crackdown on militant outfits operating in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s military establishment jealously guards its traditional domain, the security and foreign policy of Pakistan, and still maintains a distinction between so-called ‘good and bad Taliban.’

It’s worth noting that there are three distinct categories of militants operating in Pakistan: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants; and the transnational terrorists, like al-Qaeda, which number only in a few hundreds and are hence insignificant. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly comprised of Pashtun militants, carries out bombings against Pakistan’s state apparatus. The ethnic factor is critical here.

Although TTP likes to couch its rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity that enables it to recruit Pashtun tribesmen who are willing to carry out subversive activities against the Punjabi-dominated state apparatus, while the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants have by and large remained loyal to their patrons in the security establishment of Pakistan.

Although Pakistan’s security establishment has been willing to conduct military operations against the TTP militants which are deemed as security threat to Pakistan’s state apparatus, but as far as the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Afghanistan-focused Quetta Shura Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, are concerned, they are still enjoying impunity because such militant groups are regarded as ‘strategic assets’ by the security establishment.

Therefore, the Sharif administration’s decision that Pakistan must act against the jihadist proxies of the security establishment or risk facing international isolation ruffled the feathers of the military’s top brass, and consequently, the country’s judiciary was used to disqualify an elected prime minister in order to browbeat the civilian leadership of Pakistan.

Historically, from the massacres in Bangladesh in 1971 to the training and arming of jihadists during the Soviet-Afghan war throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and then launching ill-conceived military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas under Washington’s pressure, which led to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, the single biggest issue in Pakistan has been the interference of army in politics. Unless Pakistanis are able to establish civilian supremacy in Pakistan, it would become a rogue state which will pose a threat to the regional peace as well as its own citizenry.

For 33 years of its 70-year-long history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the security establishment has kept dictating Pakistan’s foreign and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971; during General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists; and during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under Washington’s pressure and declared a war against the Pashtun militants that ignited the fires of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Although most political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist general, Zia-ul-Haq, responsible for the jihadist militancy in tribal areas; however, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia; all the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

A strategic rethink in Pakistan army’s top brass took place only after 9/11, when Richard Armitage threatened General Musharraf in so many words: “We will send you back to the Stone Age unless you stop supporting the Taliban.” Thus, deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it has been a well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution. The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and aggressive approach to foreign affairs and security-related matters. Therefore, as a matter of principle, military must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.

Finally, the rule of law, more than anything, implies the supremacy of the law: that all institutions must work within the ambit of the constitution. The first casualty of the martial law, however, is the constitution itself, because it abrogates the supreme law of the land. All other laws derive their authority from the constitution, and when the constitution itself has been abrogated, then the only law that prevails is the law of the jungle.

If the armed forces of a country are entitled to abrogate “a piece of paper,” known as the constitution under the barrel of a gun, then by the same logic, thieves and robbers are also entitled to question the legitimacy of civil and criminal codes, which derive their authority from the constitution.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Gender Identity as a Social Construct

The distinction between male and female genders is based less on their physiological traits and more on their respective mindsets. These mindsets, in turn, are a product of social expectations of behavior in a cultural milieu. It is expected from male members of a society to behave in a supposedly manly fashion and it is similarly expected from female members to act in a purportedly feminine manner.

But this emphasis on binary distinction of genders in a rural-agrarian setting served a purpose: the division of functions between male and female members, where women were expected to do housekeeping and nurturing children, while it was expected from men to produce food for the family. Although this distinction is still maintained, to a lesser or greater extent, in urban and industrialized societies, but a distinction based on division of functions is a hypothetical imperative: as means to achieve certain ends and not an end in itself.

Moreover, it would be normative to contend that in primitive tribal societies, women had the same social status as men. The nomado-pastoral and agricultural eras were the age of hunting-gathering, farming and strenuous physical labor, and it is a known fact that women are physically a weaker sex, that’s why we have separate sports and athletics events for men and women.

Women attained the status of equality after the onset of industrial revolution and a shift to mechanized labor, when the focus shifted from physical labor to intelligence and information; and when it comes to cognitive faculties, women are just as intelligent as men, if not more so.

Notwithstanding, instead of taking a binary approach to classification of genders, modern feminists now favor to look at the issue from the prism of a whole spectrum of gender identities. The way I see it, it should not be about being manly; rather, it should be about being human, which is the common denominator for the whole spectrum of gender identities.

When we stress upon manliness, it’s not manliness per se that we are glorifying, but the presence of feminine attributes in the socially-elevated male gender is something that we, as agents of patriarchal structure, frown upon. But such machismo is not a natural order of things, because more than the physical attributes, the rigid segregation of genders is a product of social constructions that manifest themselves in artificial cognitive and behavioral engineering of male and female mindsets.

In our formative years, such watertight gender identities and their socially-accepted attributes are inculcated in our minds by assigning gender roles, but this whole hetero-normative approach to the issue of gender identity is losing its validity in a post-industrial urban milieu, where gender roles are not as strictly defined as they used to be in the medieval agricultural societies.

More to the point, what are the virtues that are deemed valuable in women separately from the ones that are deemed desirable in men? If meekness, diffidence and complacency are disapproved in men, then why do we have double standards for separate genders? Self-confidence, assertiveness and boldness should be equally encouraged in both genders without discrimination.

However, the dilemma that we face is that the mindsets of individuals and gender roles are determined by culture, but if the society itself is patriarchal and male-dominated, then it tends to marginalize and reduce women to a lower social status. Therefore, a social reform is needed which can redefine "virtue" and the qualities that are deemed valuable in human beings should be uniform and consistent for both genders.

Regardless, if we study the behavioral patterns in the animal kingdom, a tigress is as good a hunter as a tiger; in fact, the females of most species are generally more violent than their male counterparts; because they fight not only for food, but also to protect their offspring. But how often do we find a violent woman in human history and society?

Excluding a handful of femme fatales like Cleopatra, bold women are a rare exception in human history. Thus, even though by nature, women are just as assertive and violent as men, but the patriarchy-inspired nurture and male-dominated culture have tamed women to an extent that they have unlearnt even their innate nature.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this fact: first, that it’s always nurture and culture which play a more significant role in determining human behavior compared to some far-fetched concept of essential human nature; and second, that essentially human nature is quite similar for both genders, it’s only the behavioral process of social construction of gender identity that defines and limits the roles which are deemed proper for one gender or the other.

Additionally, regarding physiological distinction between male and female genders, evolutionary biologists are of the opinion that such differences only have a minor importance. Even if we take primary reproductive organs, for instance, clitoris is regarded as a rudimentary penis in females and nipples in males are regarded as rudimentary breasts, a fact which proves beyond doubt that specialization of male and female reproductive organs is merely a mechanism to keep genetic material unimpaired by preference for meiosis division over repetitive and harmful mitosis reproductive division.

Moreover, it is generally assumed about males that due to the presence of testosterone, they are usually more aggressive and competitive than females. If we assess this contention in the light of global versus local character traits theory, however, testosterone only promotes a specific kind of competition: that is, competition for mating. When it comes to competing for food, however, males and females of all species exhibit similar levels of aggression and competition.

Therefore, it would be reductive to assume that the distinction between male and female attitudes and behaviors is more physiological and hormonal than it is due to the difference of upbringing and separate sets of social expectations of behavior that are associated with the members of male and female sexes.

Finally, there is no denying the fact that testosterone is primarily responsible for secondary sexual characteristics in the males of all species. Through the process of natural selection, only those males that have succeeded in mating are able to carry forward their genes, which proves that males with higher testosterone levels do have a comparative advantage in competition for mating, but its effect on attitudes and behaviors of animal species, and particularly in human beings with their complex social institutions and cultures, is tentative and hypothetical, at best.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fingerprints of Islamic State on New York Attack

Sayfullo Saipov.
Eight people have been killed and more than a dozen injured after a truck mowed down people on a bike path in Lower Manhattan. FBI is treating the incident as an act of terrorism and the driver of the vehicle has been shot by the NYPD and taken into custody alive.

The suspect has been identified as a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, which is a Russian variant of the Arabic name Saifullah Saif meaning the sword of Allah. It’s worth noting that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in mid-2015, is one of the most fearsome affiliate of the Islamic State in the Central Asia region because its recruits have been motivated to fight to death.

What lends credence to the theory that the atrocity has been perpetrated by the Islamic State’s recruit is the fact that handwritten notes pledging allegiance to the Islamic State and the terror group’s flag have reportedly been found near the vehicle. Moreover, when the driver of the truck exited the vehicle, apart from shouting Allahu Akbar, he was also brandishing imitation firearms.

Thus, this truck-ramming incident bears all the trademarks of the Islamic State-inspired terror attacks as is evident from the recent spate of shootings, bombings and vehicle-ramming attacks in Europe during the last couple of years. It bears mentioning that via its Amaq news agency, Islamic State has directed its followers to always shout the battle cry of Allahu Akbar to let their affiliation with the Islamic State be known and has also instructed its recruits to wear fake suicide vests and brandish imitation firearms so that they are not captured alive.

In order to understand the motive for the atrocity, we must bear the context in mind: the Islamic State has recently been routed from its de facto capital Raqqa in Syria which it had occupied since 2013. The so-called “Islamic caliphate” that once spanned one-third of Syria and Iraq has been reduced to a few small pockets in both these countries, and it is only a matter of time before the jihadist group is completely routed. Therefore, it is only natural for the Islamic State to use all means available at its disposal to seek revenge for its battlefield defeats at the hands of the US.

More to the point, we should also bear the background of the Western foreign policy in the Middle East during the recent years in mind. The six-year-long conflict in Syria that gave birth to scores of militant groups, including the Islamic State, and after the conflict spilled over across the border into neighboring Iraq in early 2014 has directly been responsible for the recent spate of Islamic State-inspired terror attacks against the West.

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to June 2014 when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional allies and Sunni militants of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis. In accordance with the pact, Sunni militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shi’a-led Syrian government.

This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Sunni jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014, when the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, after the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian government in September 2015, the momentum of Sunni militants’ expansion in Syria and Iraq has stalled, and they now feel that their Western patrons have committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause, that’s why they are infuriated and once again up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.

If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the recent spate of terror attacks against the West has been critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, the Obama Administration began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism took place on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks, the March 2016 Brussels bombings, the June 2016 truck-ramming incident in Nice, and this year, three horrific terror attacks have taken place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months, and after that the Islamic State carried out the Barcelona attack in August and now another truck-ramming atrocity has taken place in Lower Manhattan that has all the trademarks of the Islamic State.

Regarding the argument that how Washington’s foreign policy of lending indiscriminate support to Sunni militants against the Shi’a-led government in Syria has been responsible for the recent wave of terror attacks against the West, remember that Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-led Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab World. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by the Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the northern border of Israel.

Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional Sunni allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Shi’a Iranian axis comprised of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Finally, although the Sunni states of the Middle East and their jihadist proxies still toe Washington’s line in the region publicly, but behind the scenes, there is bitter resentment that the US has betrayed the Sunni cause by making an about-face on the previous regime change policy in Syria and the subsequent declaration of war against the Islamic State.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Erdogan’s insomnia and NATO’s H-Bombs in Turkey

Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen.
Recently, Pravda newspaper of Russia has reported that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been suffering from serious sleep deprivation and that he was yawning and dozed off during a press conference with the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko while on a state visit to Kiev, and the video of the incident has been going viral over social media.

Though this might appear as a minor diplomatic gaffe but bear in mind that insomnia is a serious psychiatric disorder, cognitive functions of sleep-deprived individuals are severely hampered, and such people are prone to committing rash and reckless acts.

Moreover, readers who have been keenly watching Erdogan’s behavior since the July 2016 coup plot must have noticed in his recent TV appearances that his facial expressions have become quite bland lately, he has been lacking in any warmth even when he is hugging and kissing children for public relations’ photo ops, and he has the look of a madman in his eyes.

In order to substantiate this subjective psychoanalytical evaluation of Erdogan’s attitude and body language with concrete evidence, I would draw the reader’s attention to quite a few rash and impulsive acts committed by the Erdogan administration during the last couple of years.

First, the Turkish air force shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet on the border between Syria and Turkey on 24 November 2015 that brought the Turkish and Russian armed forces on the brink of a full-scale confrontation in Syria.

Second, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated at an art exhibition in Ankara on the evening of 19 December 2016 by an off-duty Turkish police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, who was suspected of being a Muslim fundamentalist.

Third, the Turkish military mounted the seven-month-long Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria immediately after the attempted coup plot from August 2016 to March 2017 that brought the Turkish military and its Free Syria Army proxies head-to-head with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and their US bakers.

And fourth, the Turkish military has recently once again invaded Idlib in northwestern Syria on the pretext of enforcing a de-escalation zone between the Syrian militants and the government, despite official protest from the latter that the Turkish armed forces are in violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Regarding the July 2016 coup plot, instead of a serious attempt at overthrowing the government, the coup plot actually was a large-scale mutiny within the ranks of the Turkish armed forces. Although Erdogan has scapegoated the Gulenists to settle scores with his one-time ally, but according to credible reports, the coup was in fact attempted by the Kemalist liberals against the Islamist government of Turkey.

For the last several years of the Syrian civil war, the Kemalists had been looking with suspicion at Erdogan administration’s policy of deliberately training and arming Sunni militants against the Shi’a-dominated government of Bashar al-Assad in the training camps located on Turkey’s borders with Syria in collaboration with CIA’s MOM, which is a Turkish acronym for military operations center.

As long as the US was onboard on the policy of nurturing Sunni Arab jihadists in Syria, the hands of Kemalists were tied. But after the US declared a war against one faction of Sunni militants, the Islamic State, in August 2014 and the consequent divergence between Washington’s policy of supporting the Kurds in Syria and the Islamist government of Turkey’s continued support to Sunni militants, it led to discord and adoption of contradictory policies.

And then, the spate of bombings in Turkey claimed by the Islamic State and separatist Kurds during the last couple of years, all of these factors contributed to widespread disaffection among the rank and file of Turkish armed forces, which regard themselves as the custodians of secular traditions and guarantors of peace and stability in Turkey.

The fact that one-third of 220 brigadiers and ten major generals were detained after the coup plot shows the level of frustration shown by the top and mid-ranking officers of the Turkish armed forces against Erdogan’s megalomaniac and self-destructive policies.

More to the point, it bears mentioning that the United States has been conducting air strikes against targets in Syria from the Incirlik airbase in Turkey and around fifty American B-61 hydrogen bombs have also been deployed there.

The safety of those H-bombs became a matter of real concern during the attempted coup plot against the Erdogan administration when the commander of the Incirlik airbase, General Bekir Ercan Van, along with nine other officers were arrested for supporting the coup. The movement in and out of the base was denied, power supply was cut off and the security threat level was raised to the highest state of alert, according to a 17 July 2016 report by Eric Schlosser for the New Yorker.

Anti-nuclear activists around the world have been worried about North Korea’s nuclear crisis. And during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Democrats made a convincing argument to the American electorate that would they trust a US president affiliated with the infamous Alt-Right movement with nuclear codes?

What’s worth noting in the aforementioned report, however, is the fact that some of NATO’s H-bombs deployed in Turkey are to be delivered by the Turkish air force if the contingency arises. And a Muslim Brotherhood’s fanatic who has been suffering from insomnia and is prone to committing reckless and impulsive acts has absolute control over those nukes.

Therefore, in order to preempt the likelihood of a nuclear Armageddon, Washington should either press upon its NATO ally to constitute a medical examination board to evaluate Erdogan’s psychiatric condition whether he is eligible to serve as president or not, or the US should recall those nukes and deploy them in a safer country like Germany, which is home to one of the largest overseas US airbase Ramstein, where 47,000 US troops have currently been deployed and which already hosts dozens of similar NATO’s nukes on its territory.

Sources and links:

[1] Pravda: Erdogan's lack of sleep becomes a very serious problem to many:

[2] The H-bombs in Turkey by Eric Schlosser: