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Al-Qaeda Resurgent In Iraq On The Back Of Syrian Turmoil

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Al-Qaeda is back in Iraq, a fact underscored by a wave of spectacular attacks this summer. With 325 Iraqis killed by militants, according to statistics released on August 1 by the Iraqi Health Ministry,

July was the country’s deadliest month in two years.Al-Qaeda, believed to be on the wane in the country when U.S. forces withdrew troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, played a direct role in the violence through affiliates.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which carried out numerous large-scale attacks in 2004-07, has taken the opportunity provided by the U.S. withdrawal to regroup and even expand its reach abroad.

And the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella group of militant organizations that includes Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has taken responsibility for a number of deadly attacks recently.

One, on July 23, involved tens of coordinated strikes across the country that targeted Shi’a and left more than 100 people dead.

Both appear to have benefitted from the unrest in neighboring Syria.

The U.S. State Department reported this week that Al-Qaeda worldwide is “on the path of decline,” particularly after the death of its founder and leader Osama bin Laden.

Nonetheless, it also noted the resiliency of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Sunnis Against Shi’a

“In fact,” the report read, “towards the end of 2011, AQI was believed to be extending its reach into Syria and seeking to exploit the popular uprising against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has declared the conflict in Syria to be part of the broader struggle between Sunnis and Shi’a in the Middle East.ISI poses as the champion of Iraq’s disgruntled Sunni minority, and regional specialists see it as trying to link itself to the Sunni majority in Syria, which is fighting against al-Assad’s Alawite Shi’ite regime.

Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, points to Al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Sunni-populated eastern and central Iraqi regions since the beginning of this year and believes the group sees opportunities arising out of the volatile situation in Syria.

“To a great extent, the conflict between the Sunni rebels in Syria and the Shi’ite or Alawite government there is definitely granting Al-Qaeda’s activities in Iraq more legitimacy and more momentum,” he said.

Seth Jones, a counterterrorism specialist at the Rand Corporation in Washington, agrees. He says Al-Qaeda in Syria is an offshoot of the group’s Iraqi affiliates. He says that Al-Qaeda in Iraq provides weapons, fighters, and bomb-making expertise to its Syrian contingent.

According to Jones, ISI leader Al-Baghdadi also has some influence on Abu Muhammad al-Julani, head of Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant.  He maintains that such links provide Al-Qaeda with an opportunity to carve out a sanctuary in Syria.

“I think the instability in Syria and the Al-Qaeda in Iraq footprint in Syria provides an opportunity to revitalize in Iraq; recognizing though, that at the moment Al-Qaeda in Iraq is in a much weaker position than it was, say, in 2004 and 2005,” he said.

‘Worse To Come’

But the growing strength of Al-Qaeda has united Baghdad and Damascus in an unspoken alliance.

Syria characterizes the rebels as “terrorists”.

Senior Iraqi official see branches of Al-Qaeda in both countries as one organization. The Iraqi government has distanced itself from Arab League calls for Al-Assad to step down.

While Syria hosted more than 1 million Iraqi refugees, Baghdad has imposed tight restrictions on the entrance of those attempting to flee fighting in Syria.

Soltan sees this as a sign of worse things to come.

He envisages the situation continuing to deteriorate in Iraq as the country’s politicians fail to muster a workable power-sharing settlement. This, he says, has angered many Iraqis who are facilitating Al-Qaeda’s return.

Soltan predicts that given the transnational nature of identities and ethnic and religious affiliations in the Middle East, the conflicts in Iraq and Syria are likely to merge in future.

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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More About Wikipedia’s Corruption

Eric Zuesse

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The latest report about Wikipedia’s corruption comes from the great investigative journalist Craig Murray, who had been in the UK’s Foreign Service from 1984-2004 and who was forced out in 2004 because, having been since 2002 UK’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan, he decided to whistleblow instead of to accept the corruption by his own and Uzbekistan’s Governments. Wikipedia’s article about him says that his immediately prior posting had involved participating in enforcement of the prior economic sanctions against Iraq, and “His group gave daily reports to Margaret Thatcher and John Major. In Murder in Samarkand, he describes how this experience led him to disbelieve the claims of the UK and US governments in 2002 about Iraqi WMDs.” So, his disenchantment with UK’s foreign policies seems to have grown over the years, instead of suddenly to have appeared only during the two years in which he was an Ambassador.

On May 18th, he headlined at his much-followed blog, “The Philip Cross Affair”, and reported: “133,612 edits to Wikipedia have been made in the name of ‘Philip Cross’ over 14 years. That’s over 30 edits per day, seven days a week. And I do not use that figuratively: Wikipedia edits are timed, and if you plot them, the timecard for ‘Philip Cross’s’ Wikipedia activity is astonishing … if it is one individual.”

He presents reasons to question that it’s a one-person operation, then states that, the purpose of the “Philip Cross” operation is systematically to attack and undermine the reputations of those who are prominent in challenging the dominant corporate and state media narrative. particularly in foreign affairs. “Philip Cross” also systematically seeks to burnish the reputations of mainstream media journalists and other figures who are particularly prominent in pushing neo-con propaganda and in promoting the interests of Israel. …

“Philip Cross”‘s views happen to be precisely the same political views as those of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales has been on twitter the last three days being actively rude and unpleasant to anybody questioning the activities of Philip Cross. His commitment to Cross’s freedom to operate on Wikipedia would be rather more impressive if the Cross operation were not promoting Wales’ own opinions. Jimmy Wales has actively spoken against Jeremy Corbyn, supports the bombing of Syria, supports Israel, is so much of a Blairite he married Blair’s secretary, and sits on the board of [the neoconservative and neoliberal] Guardian Media Group Ltd alongside Katherine Viner.

The extreme defensiveness and surliness of Wales’ twitter responses on the “Philip Cross” operation is very revealing. Why do you think he reacts like this? Interestingly enough. Wikipedia’s UK begging arm, Wikimedia UK, joined in with equal hostile responses to anyone questioning Cross.

In response, many people sent Jimmy Wales evidence, which he ignored, while his “charity” got very upset with those questioning the Philip Cross operation.

Wikimedia had arrived uninvited into a twitter thread discussing the “Philip Cross” operation and had immediately started attacking people questioning Cross’s legitimacy. Can anybody else see anything “insulting” in my tweet?

I repeat, the coincidence of Philip Cross’s political views with those of Jimmy Wales, allied to Wales’ and Wikimedia’s immediate hostility to anybody questioning the Cross operation – without needing to look at any evidence – raises a large number of questions.

“Philip Cross” does not attempt to hide his motive or his hatred of those whose Wikipedia entries he attacks. He openly taunts them on twitter. The obvious unbalance of his edits is plain for anybody to see.

Among the hundreds of reader-comments to that article, one seems to have come from a Wikipedia-insider, and is abbreviated here:

Andrew H

May 18, 2018 at 18:49

… Wikipedia is a source of information, and so cannot peddle alternative theories of any kind. …[and] no doubt there is some political bias that comes into this process. If you look at the article on the Skripal’s – it is not unreasonable – almost all statements are supported by references to main stream media articles or statements from official organisations such as the Russian government, OPCW or UK authorities. This is what it has to be. (you wouldn’t seriously be suggesting that Wikipedia should have links to craigmurrary or info from RT?).

I haven’t done any scientific study of the sources that are cited in Wikipedia’s many footnotes and whether sites such as Murray’s and RT are banned from them, but this article by Murray does suggest that the bias in favor of mainstream, and against small, ‘news’media, does adhere to the pattern that’s succinctly stated by “Andrew H.” Murray presents remarkable documentary evidence that this is Wikipedia’s pattern. “Andrew H” seems to believe that it’s the right pattern to adhere to.

The present writer also has personal experience with Wikipedia that confirms the existence of this pattern. Among my several articles on that, was “How Wikipedia Lies”, in which I reported that “Smallwood,” the Wikipedia overseer on Wikipedia’s article “United Airlines Flight 93” about the 9/11 plane that came down in Pennsylvania, blocked stating in the text of the article an important fact that was documented even buried within some of the article’s own footnote sources — all coming from mainstream media — that Vice President Dick Cheney had ordered that plane to be shot down and that, therefore, the article’s (and the ’news’media’s and ‘history’ books’) common allegations that resistance on the part of heroic passengers on that plane had had something to do with the plane’s coming down when and how it did, are all false. “Smallwood” blocked me from adding to the text a mention that Cheney on the very day of 9/11 admitted that he had ordered that plane to be shot down and stated his reasons for having done so, and that the order was promptly fulfilled; and “Smallwood” refused to say why my addition of Cheney’s role was blocked, other than to say that that fact “did not appear constructive.” (He refused to say how, or why.)

Back on 8 July 2015, I had headlined, “Wikipedia As Propaganda Not History — MH17 As An Example”, and reported and documented regarding the MH17 Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine, that “Wikipedia articles are more propaganda than they are historical accounts. And, often, their cited sources are misleading, or even false.” The Wikipedia article on that incident was anti-Russian propaganda, not a historical account.

As I mentioned in those articles, even Britain’s own BBC had previously headlined, “Wikipedia ‘shows CIA page edits’.” What both Murray, and I (in my latest article about Wikipedia) add to that information regarding some of the people who “edit” Wikipedia, is that Wikipedia itself, in the individuals whom it hires to nix or else to accept each editorial change that is being made to a given article, actually also, in effect, writes Wikipedia articles — and that it does so consistently filtering out facts — no matter how conclusively proven to be true — that contradict the ‘news’media’s (and CIA’s) boilerplate ‘history’ of the given matter. In other words: Wikipedia is a perfect embodiment of the type of society that was described in the fictional 1949 allegorical novel, 1984.

This is the reason why I never link to a Wikipedia article unless I have independently confirmed that, regarding the fact for which I cite the given article, that article is honestly and truthfully representing that matter, or that given detail of it. I do not exclude truths that happen to be included in the standard account; but neither do I (as Wikipedia does] exclude facts which contradict the standard account.

originally posted at strategic-culture.org

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Cyber Caliphate: What Apps Are the Islamic State Using?

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As the argument goes, law enforcement agencies must protect the safety of citizens, and to do so, they must be in contact with representatives of the IT sector. This in turn compels the representatives of mail services, messaging apps, and smartphone manufacturers to contact the authorities and disclose user information. However, excesses do occur, and the founder of the Telegram messaging app Pavel Durov refused to provide the FSB with their encryption keys. Telegram was repeatedly accused of being the messaging application of terrorists, and in the context of the messaging service’s being blocked, the discussion surrounding the rights of citizens to engage in private correspondence grew more heated. The example of the Islamic State, however, only goes to show that militants shall not live by Telegram alone: they act much more competently and work to keep a step ahead of law enforcement agencies. What tools do terrorists actually use and how should we fight against the digital technologies of militants?

Different Goals, Different Weapons

The success of Islamic State militants can largely be attributed to brilliant propaganda work. Depending on their goals, militants have been able to resort to various tools for propaganda, recruitment, and communication between group members. Propaganda includes all the usual tools: videos, online magazines, radio stations, brochures, and posters designed for both Arabic and Western audiences.

Western services have played a cruel joke on Western society, facilitating the distribution of propaganda videos like, for example, one of the most popular clips, “Salil as-savarim” (The Sound of Swords) on YouTube and Twitter as well as through file sharing services such as archive.org and justpaste.it. YouTube administrators repeatedly deleted the videos, but they were simply uploaded once again from new accounts with the number of views driven up by reposting them on Twitter. The use of Twitter for these purposes is discussed in detail in the article “Twitter and Jihad: the Communication Strategy of ISIS”, published in 2015. According to the former national security adviser of Iraq, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, it was in large part thanks to Twitter and Facebook that 30,000 Iraqi soldiers lay down their weapons, removed their uniforms, and abandoned Mosul to jihadis without a fight in 2014. [1].

ISIS has taken into account the mistakes of its jihadi predecessors and has skilfully set its own propaganda up against attempts by the foreign press to portray it in a negative light. However, on a deeper, internal level, militants employ other communication tools more reliable than social networks.

Anonymous Networks

In September 2017, political scientist and member of the non-profit RAND Corporation and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague, Colin P. Clarke suggested that ISIS would most likely continue to use encrypted messaging to organize direct terrorist attacks abroad even if the caliphate were to become a “less centralized entity”.

However, terrorists have already resorted to using such tools for some time now. In early 2015, it became known that ISIS had developed a 34-page manual on securing communications. The document, based on a Kuwaiti firm’s manual on cybersecurity, popped up in jihadi forums. The document also listed those applications considered most suitable for use, such as Mappr, a tool for changing the location of a person in photographs. The Avast SecureLine application facilitates the achievement of similar goals, masking the user’s real IP address by specifying, for example, an access point in South Africa or Argentina in place of, say, Syria.

Jihadis have advised using non-American companies such as Hushmail and ProtonMail for email correspondence. Hushmail CEO Ben Cutler acknowledged in comments to Tech Insider that the company had been featured in the manual, but added that “It is widely known that we cooperate fully and expeditiously with authorities pursuing evidence via valid legal channels”. In turn, CEO of Proton Technologies AG Andy Yen mentioned that besides ProtonMail, terrorists likewise made use of Twitter, mobile phones, and rental cars. “We couldn’t possibly ban everything that ISIS uses without disrupting democracy and our way of life,” he emphasized.

For telephone calls, the manual recommended the use of such services as the German CryptoPhone and BlackPhone, which guarantee secure message and voice communications. FireChat, Tin Can and The Serval Project provide communication even without access to the Internet, for example, by using Bluetooth. The programs recommended by terrorists for encrypting files are VeraCrypt and TrueCrypt. The CEO of Idrix (the maker of VeraCrypt) Mounir Idrassi admitted that “Unfortunately, encryption software like VeraCrypt has been and will always be used by bad guys to hide their data”. Finally, the document makes mention of Pavel Durov’s messaging system, Telegram.

It was a massive information campaign that saw Telegram branded with the unofficial stamp of messaging app of terrorists. Foreign politicians played their part. Three days before the attack on the Berlin Christmas Fair in December 2016, senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged Durov to immediately take steps to block ISIS content, warning him that terrorists were using the platform not only for propaganda, but also to coordinate attacks. Moreover, Michael Smith, an advisor to the US Congress and co-founder of Kronos Advisory, claims that Al-Qaeda also used Telegram to communicate with journalists and spread news to its followers. Against this backdrop, Telegram reported on the blocking of 78 channels used by terrorists. It was this interest and pressure from the authorities that ultimately caused the militants to seek a replacement for this messaging service.

Monitoring Safety

Telegram representatives have repeatedly claimed that their messaging service is the safest in the world thanks to the use of end-to-end encryption. However, this is at very least doublespeak: end-to-end encryption is used only in secret chat rooms and even then possesses obvious shortcomings, as pointed out by Sergey Zapechnikov and Polina Kozhukhova in their article On the Cryptographic Resistance of End-to-End Secure Connections in the WhatsApp and Telegram Messaging Applications [2]. In particular, due to the vulnerability of the SS7 network, which manifests itself through authorization via SMS, it is possible to access chats. Secret chats cannot be hacked, but you can initiate any chat on behalf of the victim. Secondly, developers violated one of the main principles of cryptography – not to invent new protocols independently if protocols with proven resistance assessments that solve the same tasks already exist. Thirdly, the use of the usual Diffie–Hellman numerical protocol and the lack of metadata security, so that you can track message transfer on the server, add any number from the messaging service’s client to the address book, and find out the time a person came online.

In this context, WhatsApp seems more reliable since it uses end-to-end encryption for all chats and generates a shared secret key using the Diffie–Hellman protocol on elliptical curves. Many terrorists have recourse to this messenger. In May 2015, in “The Life of Muhajirun”, the blog of a woman writing about her and her husband’s trip to Germany, the author wrote about how her husband contacted smugglers by WhatsApp while in Turkey.

In the article Hacking ISIS: How to Destroy the Cyber Jihad Malcolm W Nance; Chris Sampson; Ali H Soufan, the authors recount the story of Abderrahim Moutaharrik, who planned an attack on a Milan synagogue with the intent of fleeing afterwards to Syria. He used WhatsApp to coordinate the attack. Italian police were able to identify the criminal after an audio message was sent.

However, jihadis are skeptical about WhatsApp, and not only for reasons of security. In January 2016, a supporter of jihad, security expert Al-Habir al-Takni, published a survey of 33 applications for smartphones, separating them into “safe”, “moderately safe”, and “unreliable”. WhatsApp ended up at the bottom of the rating. In defence of his opinion, the expert mentioned that the messaging service had been purchased by the Israeli Company Facebook (WhatsApp was bought by Mark Zuckerberg in 2014 for $19 billion, the messenger has 1 billion users worldwide).

In the light of complaints about Telegram and WhatsApp and as laws are tightened, terrorists have become preoccupied with the creation of their own application. In January 2016, the Ghost Group, which specializes in the fight against terrorism, uncovered online an instant messaging service created by militants, Alrawi. This Android application cannot be downloaded on Google Play – it is only available on the Dark Web. Alrawi has come to take the place of Amaq — a messaging service providing access to news and propaganda videos, including videos of executions and videos from the battlefield. Unlike Amaq, Alrawi possesses complete encryption. The Ghost report noted that after American drone strikes destroyed the prominent cybersecurity specialist Junaid Hussain in the summer of 2015, the cyber caliphate’s effectiveness declined dramatically. “They currently pose little threat to Western society in terms of data breaches, however that is subject to change at any time” a spokesperson for the hacker group said in a conversation with Newsweek.

The Game to Get Ahead

Jihadis, like hackers, are often a step ahead of the authorities and in tune with the latest technological innovations. Gabriel Weimann, a professor at the University of Haifa in Israel and the world’s foremost researcher of Internet extremism, noted that terrorist groups tend to be the first users of new online platforms and services. As social media companies lag behind in the fight against extremism on their platforms, terrorist groups become more experienced in modifying their own communication strategies. “The learning curve is now very fast, once it took them years to adapt to a new platform or a new media. Now they do it within months,” said G. Weimann.

These words can be confirmed: every popular service, like WhatsApp or Telegram, has alternatives that jihadis are more than willing to make use of. In the above-mentioned article Hacking ISIS: How to Destroy the Cyber Jihad, the authors list dozens of other services jihadis utilize. For example, Edward Snowden’s favourite application, Signal, has open source code, reliably encrypts information, and allows you to exchange messages and calls with subscribers from your phone book. Signal is community sponsored through grants. According to Indian authorities, ISIS member Abu Anas used Signal as a secure alternative to WhatsApp. Another solution, released in 2014, is the messaging service Wickr, created by a group of cyber security and privacy specialists. It was this application that first made it possible to assign a “life” to a message, ranging from a few minutes to several days. Wickr destroys messages not only on smartphones, telephones, and computers, but also on the servers through which correspondence passes. The program has a function to erase the entire history, and after it has been used messages cannot be restored by any means. Australian Jake Bilardi came across an ISIS recruitment message in Telegram and was to meet with a recruiter through Wickr, though he was detained in time.

Surespot, Viber, Skype and the Swedish messaging system Threema are also mentioned. The latter application deserves to be mentioned on its own — Threema received 6 out of a possible 7 points for security from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a non-profit human rights organization founded in the U.S. with the aim of protecting, in the era of technology, the rights established in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence). Jihadis have also called the Silent Circle application a preferred app. After learning of this, the developers tightened security requirements, compelled by the fact that one of the creators, Mike Janke, is a former naval officer. Silent Circle now cooperates with governments and intelligence agencies. Though the list doesn’t end there — Junaid Hussain likewise made use of Surespot and Kik.

Militants have a great number of communication tools at their disposal in accordance with the goals they happen to be pursuing.

But if applications are primarily used on smartphones, other programs exist for laptops and PCs, readily used by both Information Security specialists and jihadis; for example, the Tor browser or T.A.I.L.S (The Amnesic Incognito Live System), a Debian-based Linux distribution created to provide privacy and anonymity. All outgoing T.A.I.L.S connections are wrapped in the Tor network, and all non-anonymous ones are blocked. The system leaves no trace on the device on which it was used. T.A.I.L.S. was used by Edward Snowden to expose PRISM, the US State Program, the purpose of which was the mass collection of information sent over telecommunication networks.

It can be concluded that militants have a great number of communication tools at their disposal in accordance with the goals they happen to be pursuing. Banning or blocking these tools will not ensure victory over the terrorists, though that is not to say the methods should be abandoned altogether. The best method to employ is that of having agents infiltrate terrorist ranks to ensure constant online and offline monitoring.

First published in our partner RIAC

  1. Michael Weiss, Hassan: ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, ANF, Moscow, 2016
  2. Sergey Zapechnikov, Polina Kozhukhova, On the Cryptographic Resistance of End-to-End Secure Connections in the WhatsApp and Telegram Messaging Applications: NRNU MEPhI, Information Technology Security, Volume 24, No. 4, 2017

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Dodging UN and US designations: Hafez Saeed maintains utility for Pakistan and China

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A recent upsurge in insurgent activity in Kashmir likely explains Pakistani and Chinese reluctance to crackdown on internationally designated militant Hafez Saeed and the network of groups that he heads.

So does the fact that Mr. Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, an outlawed, India-focused ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim group widely seen as one of South Asia’s deadliest, have assisted Pakistani intelligence and the military in countering militants like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, that have turned against Pakistan itself.

Lashkar-e-Taiba has also been useful in opposing nationalist insurgents in Balochistan, a key node in China’s Belt and Road initiative. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $50 billion plus China investment in Pakistani infrastructure and energy, is the initiative’s single largest cost post with the Baloch port of Gwadar as its crown jewel.

The United States has put a $10 million bounty on the head of Mr. Saeed, who is believed to lead  Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as well as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an alleged LeT front, and is suspected of being the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is “not only useful, but also reliable. (Its)…objectives may not perfectly align with the security establishment’s objectives, but they certainly overlap,” says international security scholar Stephen Tankel.

The links between Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Pakistani security establishment are reflected in the fact that the group has recruited in some of the same areas as the military and that some former military officers have joined the group.

The relationship is reinforced by a fear in parts of Pakistan’s security establishment that the group’s popularity, rooted partly in social services provided by its charity arm, would enable it to wage a violent campaign against the state if the military and intelligence were to cut it loose.

So far, Pakistan with tacit Chinese backing appear to see mileage in the group’s existence as a pinprick in India’s side even if creating the perception of greater distance to the security establishment has become a more urgent necessity because of international pressure.

One way of doing so, is the apparent backing of Pakistani intelligence and the military of Mr. Saeed’s efforts to enter the political mainstream by securing registration of a political party in advance of elections expected in July. Pakistan’s election commission has so far held back on the application.

Speaking to the Indian Express, Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for Pakistan’s intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence, said that “anything (Mr. Saeed) does, other than violence, is good. There is a process in Pakistan for anyone to participate in politics. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has its rules and laws. If he (Mr. Saeed) fulfils all those requirements that is for the ECP to decide.”

Indian officials are not so sure. In a world in which demarcations between various militant groups are blurred, Indian intelligence expects a spike in attack in Kashmir this summer as a result of Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives joining groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM).

Twenty-two security personnel and six civilians were either killed or injured in seven attacks in Kashmir in the first five weeks of this year. India said Lashkar-e-Taiba was responsible for an attack in March on soldiers and policemen in which three Army personnel, two policemen, and five militants were killed. Another 20 were killed in clashes in April between Lashkar-e-Taiba and security forces.

Lashkar-e-Taiba’s utility notwithstanding, Pakistan and China are discovering that engagement with militants is never clean cut. Decades of Pakistani support of often Saudi-backed ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim militants has woven militancy into the fabric of militancy into segments of the military, intelligence, bureaucracy and the public.

“A military–mullah–militant nexus has existed for several decades in Pakistan. During this time, the Pakistani military has used religious and political parties connected, directly or indirectly, to various militant outfits as political proxies,” Mr. Tankel said.

National security expert S. Paul Kapur and political scientist Sumit Ganguly noted that “the Pakistan-militant nexus is as old as the Pakistani state. From its founding in 1947 to the present day, Pakistan has used religiously motivated militant forces as strategic tools…  Supporting jihad has been one of the principal means by which the Pakistani state has sought to produce security for itself.”

Decades later, the strategy is backfiring. Concern of increased domestic violence if Pakistan were to cut its links to militants and crackdown on them irrespective of their utility is heightened by the fact many of the groups operate either with no regard for the concerns of the security establishment or with the unsanctioned support of individual military and intelligence officials.

That is believed to have been the case in a string of sectarian attacks in Balochistan by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), ultra-conservative, anti-Shiite Sunni Muslim militants, in which hundreds of Shiites have been killed. China has also been a target of militants in Balochistan.

The spike in sectarian attacks prompted a military crackdown earlier this month. “While such intelligence-based operations are vital, they deal with the symptoms rather than the disease,” cautioned Dawn newspaper.

Speaking in September last year in New York when he was still foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif acknowledged that Mr. Saeed and other Pakistani-backed militants have become liabilities. But even so, Mr. Asif appeared to be looking for wiggle room.

“I accept that they are liabilities but give us time to get rid of them because we don’t have the assets to match these liabilities,” Mr. Asif said.

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