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What has happened to Pakistan and why it matters to the West?

Alexander Athos



The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a nation of 173 million people. It has a fine military tradition with the seventh largest standing armed forces in the world (the military accounts for 25% of Pakistan’s national budget) and is a declared nuclear weapons state.

Since Oct 21 2011 it is an elected member of the UN Security Council (for the next 2 years) and its soldiers have played key roles in UN peace keeping missions.

However, something has happened inside its body politick to cause the global community to have strong concerns that Pakistan may be deteriorating into a very unstable country racked by sectarianism and extremist ideology and that this has permeated into the government, military and intelligence services to such an extent that it threatens Western security.

To a Western observer, a very curious group has emerged in the Pakistani body politick called the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) /Pakistan Defense Council

In January 2012 they held a rally in which approximately 10,000 people attended. The event was pitched as a coalition of ‘right minded’ leaders and supporters supporting the military and security services. It was held ironically in Liaqat Bagh Park in Rawalpindi Northern Punjab. This was the site of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (leader of the PPP who represent in large measure the moderate Sunnis (Barelvis) in 2007 and where her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979.

Rawalpindi is also the headquarters of the Pakistani Army and where their officers are trained.

The DPC rally was sponsored by Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) and the Deobandi-Wahhabi-Salafist Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and included representatives of the political and religious right in Pakistan. It was meant to be a show of strength of the community’s resolve to support the military’s decision to force the government to stop road NATO road convoys resupplying into Pakistan through the Kyber Pass because of the November 2011 air strikes on a Pakistani military outpost killing 25 Pakistani soldiers.

Another rally of a similar nature happened on 12th of February this year, this time in Karachi.

Again. no one from the moderate Sunnis (Barelvis), Shias, or Christians were invited to participate, (as if they would be any less patriotic Pakistani’s than the Wahhabi-Deobandi in their condemnation of drone attacks killing civilians as well as terrorists). So this rally and the below picture of its leaders conveys not only a political solidarity of the right but moreover conveys the propaganda that it’s only the people at the rally who are true patriots.

The chairman of the Pakistani Defence Council is ironically not a military man but a clergyman, Maulana Sami ul Haq.

Ul Haq also heads his own political movement, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Sami (Assembly of Islamic Clergy, or JUI). More importantly however he is at the apex of the ideology of the elites that control Pakistan and also the insurgents in Afghanistan because he is also chair of Darul Uloom Haqqania, the preeminent Deobandi Islamic seminary for Pakistan and Afghanistan. This institution is the ‘font’ of current religious orthodoxy in Pakistan and Afghanistan of what it means to be a good Muslim. This same institution is the alma mater of several Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar. As many of the top jobs in government, military and Intelligence are products of or strongly influenced by Darul Uloom Haqqania and the ideologies it promotes, it would be impossible to understand Pakistani domestic or foreign policy or even the machinations of Afghan politics and insurgency without an understanding what Darul Uloom Haqqania or JUI stands for.

Ul Haq said at the DPC Rally: “All religious parties will guide the nation on national issues… US must refrain from attacking our sovereignty and recognize Pakistan as an atomic power just like India… (the current situation) was an Armageddon between good and evil.”

In late January the DPC held a rally in Multan ul Haq lead a mass public oath that the people would rise up to lead their lives for the defence of their country. Former ISI boss Hameed Gul told the enthusiastic crowd that India is a dagger in the back of Pakistan via Afghanistan.

At this year’s February, Karachi DPC rally, ul Haq called on the crowd to defend not only the geographical frontiers of the country but also its ‘ideological frontiers’. JuD spokesman, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed used the occasion to apologize to the Afghans that Pakistan’s soil was being used against them. He saw the DPC and the brave warriors in Afghanistan who once again had defeated a world power as the beginnings of a broader ‘Islamic revolution’ He warned the Government of Pakistan (now ruled by PPP’s Gilani) to disengage itself from the US war against terror and warned that if it did not, “the Pakistani people would come on the streets and oust the present rulers.” And declared a mass sit in outside the national Parliament on 20th of February 2012  ‘DPC vows to resist reopening of Nato supplies, drone attacks’ International The News Feb 13 2012

Another huge PDC rally is planned for Quetta at the end of February. Interestingly Quetta (which is in Pakistan) is the home base of the Afghan Taliban which is called the ‘Quetta Shura”.

The agenda of the religious political right that JUI represents includes not only supporting state and non-state use of force or other assertive action against enemies from without such as India (and now it seems the US and its allies who were once their allies but are now evil) but also safeguarding pure Islam from the infectious influence of moderate Sunnis (Barelvis), Shias, Ahmadis, Jews, Shias, Hindus, Christians and the West (including one presumes the vestiges of old British values and institutions still remaining in Pakistan) by the aggressive Islamization of the State especially the legal system and education where only what is ‘right’ in their eyes must be upheld and everything else that is ‘wrong’ outlawed.

Normative values in Pakistani society as well as foreign policy therefore increasingly reflect this world view which is very similar to extreme forms of Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in Saudi Arabia of the political kind (as opposed to the non-extreme purely religious, unobjectionable, self-purification Salafi teachings which ironically from a paradigm point of view is similar in its spiritual dimension to Christian fundamentalism of going back to the purity of the Book rather than be ‘distracted’ by religious tradition). This is not surprising as Darul Uloom Haqqania, like so many other such institutions in Pakistan and globally, are financed in large measure by Saudi money.

What makes this scenario even more disconcerting is that Pakistan is a nuclear power and that extremist elements may be able to control or influence that ‘agenda’ too, (especially if they have influence over any future PM, given that a PM will now control not only the numbers in Parliament but also the nuclear button). That does not bode well for world peace given the fact that their mortal enemies the Jewish State of Israel and Shia Iran are (or soon will be) also nuclear capable.

Even though one can sympathize with ul Haq (or more moderate voices from the right in Pakistan such as Imran Khan’s party) demands for US drone attacks to stop because amongst other things they inflict tremendous casualties on innocent civilians, one hopes for Pakistan’s sake and for the sake of security in our homelands from global terrorism and the ideologies that fuel them, Pakistan can rejuvenate its democracy and justice system free from the fear of sectarian violence and limit the influence and power of radical leaders in matters of security and foreign affairs at least so as to ensure their territory or those that they or their ‘thought leaders’ control is not used as bases for the inculcation, training or export of terrorism.

The ‘revelations’/allegations about Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and or the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau (IB) allegedly hiding of Osama bin Laden (OBL) from their supposed American allies in Abbottabad, (a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, North West Pakistan) and the ensuing ‘Memogate Scandal’ are but the most recent examples of the controversies and instability rocking Pakistan, a nuclear state.

The revelations came from Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Ziaud Din Butt (aka) Ziaud Din Khawaja at a conference on Pakistani-U.S. relations in October 2011. Whilst the news was shocking to the West, and some have suggested the source had a grudge against the Pakistani regime and the full extent of the story may not be factual or entirely reliable, it was apparently no surprise within certain sections of the elite in Pakistan.

The ISI/IB, like many intelligence agencies (such as Iran) (have to) resort to shady characters to effect ‘under the radar’ missions against ‘enemies of the state’. The same official implicated in giving sanctuary to OBL in Abbottabad also was the alleged ‘handler’ for other renowned terrorists like the London born, LSE educated, Pakistani trained, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheik. Saeed Sheik and elements within the officially banned, Islamic militant groups variously labelled Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) or Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), were said to be the ones behind the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Sheik’s group’s most infamous episode however was in the kidnapping and eventual murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Interestingly one has to ask, if it’s true and they had some knowledge, influence or control over someone like Saeed Shiek, what strategic interest ISI/IB or elements within their ranks may have had to allow this ‘asset’ loose to do this?

At the time of his murder in Karachi, Pearl (an Israeli citizen living as a permanent resident in America) was the the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal, and was based in Mumbai, India. Was he a spy? If so, for whom was he working? Or was he a nosy journalist that was writing stories that were too ‘close to home’ for some people? Was this all just about militants being lucky to kidnap such a high profile person useful for ransom and when demands were not met and they found out that he was Jewish the militants just executed him? During the 9 days Pearl was held his captors allegedly wrote a strange ransom note on the Internet demanding ‘freeing of all Pakistani terror detainees and releasing a halted U.S. shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government.’ (Time U.S. 21 Feb 2002).

In March 2003, only one year after Pearl was murdered, al-Qaeda’s Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, alleged master mind behind 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, was captured in Rawalpindi and handed over to the US. Whilst in custody in Guantanamo Bay detention camp he is alleged to have confessed to many things including the murder of Daniel Pearl by personally beheading him.

If that is true and if Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheik who was implicated in the kidnapping was an ISI/IB ‘asset’, what was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Khalid Shaikh Mohammed also confessed/boasted that he was involved in many of the most significant terrorist plots over the last twenty years, including the World Trade Center 1993 bombings, the Operation Bojinka plot, an aborted 2002 attack on the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, the Bali nightclub bombings, the failed bombing of American Airlines Flight 63 and the Millennium Plot. If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow jihadi’s like his nephew Ramiz Yousef were involved with the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman’s plans/conspiracies to blow up the World Trade Centres in 1993 and in 1995 with other associates such as his other nephew and Ammar al-Baluchi were planning on hijacking or blowing up planes over the US, then it is no little wonder that he planned and pulled off 9/11 as it was a plan whose various elements were seven years in the making.

Other matters of concern to the West are that many terrorists who committed or tried to commit terrorist acts against Western cities travelled to Pakistan either to be radicalized or trained as terrorists.

People like UK’s 2001 shoe bombers Richard Reid and his co-accused Saajid Badat or the London 7/7/2005 bombers Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer are reported to have been recruited by extremists such as JeM’s Osama Nazir and Amjad Farooqi (aka Amjad Hussain), radicalized by attending radicalization ‘finishing’ schools such as Jihad bi al-Saif  and then put on the conveyor belt onto radical groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)/al-Furquan/ Khudam-ul-Islam and Harakat ul-Mujahideen who operate hands-on terrorist boot camps in known extremists strongholds not only in the Western tribal regions (FATA) such as Waziristan but also in Peshawar and other cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province or adjacent districts such as Malakand or Baluchistan.

Peshawar was also where OBL and his mentor and ‘professor’ Abdullah Azzam first collaborated to create Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK), the forerunner of Al Qaeda in the 1980’s. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood’s emphasis on Jihad/struggle via the political system to effect change, MAK was for violent and armed Jihad. Azzam’s trademark slogan was, “Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues.” Abbottabad is in the same district and so OBL was in a sense ‘back home’ when the US Navy Seals raid happened in May last year.

No state with an active democracy is really a monolith, and so for Pakistan too, it would be wrong to ‘tar’ (everyone in ISI/IB) ‘with the same brush’ and say they are an extremist ‘state within a state’ (as some high ranking diplomats have suggested).

Certainly it would be wrong to suggest that the Pakistani Army is not professional because it is susceptible to the demands and expectations of the religious right or finds it useful to have their support. Just recently for example Pakistan Army has decided to court martial Brigadier Ali Khan for his alleged links with Hizb-ul-Tehrir which political group it is reported, in the aftermath of the raid that killed OBL in Abbottabad, produced pamphlets urging soldiers to turn against their commanders. It also comes on the heels of Pakistani Taliban insurgents storming the Naval Air Station in Karachi, apparently armed with inside information on its layout and security. They destroyed two U.S. supplied surveillance aircraft.

Disturbingly however, the Pakistani Journalist Saleem Shahzad was killed in Karachi two days after writing about links between ‘rogue elements’ in the Pakistani Navy and Al Qaeda.

Further it would be wrong to say that every leader in the religious right in Pakistan supported or inspired terrorists (many would probably suggest they were only supporting freedom fighters against Indian aggression in Kashmir and that they have no control over how impassioned ‘idealists’ then ‘self-propel’ themselves against the West).

Also these parties/groups, whilst influential, do not represent the thinking of the majority of people in Pakistan on all issues.

However, since the days of General Zia’s earlier Nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamisation) programs since the late 1970’s, the radical right parties have been given “a strong legal and political apparatus that enables them  to influence policy far beyond their numerical strength” (International Crisis Group Asia Report No 216 Dec, 12, 2011 p (i) and (1), and particularly footnote 1).

The notorious Blasphemy Laws introduced by General Zia in the 1980’s which carries the death penalty in Pakistan have been criticized as being contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 18 states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion. In Pakistan the Blasphemy Laws have been sometimes abused by villagers as personal vendettas and sometimes by others to silence and intimidate minorities and free speech as un-Islamic. Many attempts over the years have been made to amend or ameliorate the harsh application of this law. However in October 1997, His Honour Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti a Pakistani High Court judge who acquitted two people on blasphemy charges was shot in his chambers in Lahore by radical militants unhappy about the judge’s findings.

After what appears to be a contrived case was launched against a Christian lady Aasia Noreen Bibi resulting in her being the first woman in Pakistan sentenced to death for defending her Christian faith , Sherry Rehman (PPP) politician introduced a private member bill into Pakistan’s parliament in late 2010 to amend the law so it couldn’t be abused like this. She was supported by governor of Punjab, Salmaan Tasser and special Minister for Minorities Shahabaz Bhatti. Since then both Tasser and Bhatti have been assassinated. Tasser’s killer, his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadi, was treated like a hero by the radical right. In fact the judge Pervz Ali Shah who sentenced Qadi to execution for his murder of the former governor has had to flee Pakistan because his Rawalpindi offices were ransacked and he received numerous death threats. Also Sherry Rehaman received so many death threats that she has since withdrawn her bill. Aasia Noreen Bibi remains on death row.

This series of recent events is very disturbing for the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan which for decades has had a fine tradition inherited from the British of judicial administration. It also is symptomatic of a structural disintegration of the Pakistani’s state seemingly unable to protect its institutions and officials. Unless it is addressed, the road to further radicalization and destabilization of the Pakistani State seems inevitable.

Have the politicians in Pakistan the will to resist this attack on the State? Politics in Pakistan is complex with many players and leaders of the Army and intelligence agencies change with the passing of the political winds. For many years the army was a faithful partner with the West and also of the UN and they have often collaborated with Allied commanders in operations against militants and terrorists in the War on Terror.

Support for certain rallies that the religious right may organize in defence of Pakistani sovereignty such as the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) (discussed in Part 1) does not mean that the Military and Security Services agree with everything the religious right stand for but it is a worrying development for democracy and stability given the broader agendas of the groups represented on the DPC.

We shall need to see how the relationship between current Army chief General Kiyani and ISI chief Lt. General Pasha and embattled PM Gilani develops in light of the ‘Memogate Scandal’. The fact that President Zardari (widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto) has felt the need to flee the country with his staff to operate his office from Dubai is symptomatic of growing dysfunctionality of the Pakistani body politic.

With the Parliament of Pakistan in such a state, the army is really the key to the immediate future of the health of democracy and the Rule of Law in Pakistan.

Address the army’s concerns and much of what happens in politics will no doubt be more stable and vice versa.

The army wields a lot of power and influence in Pakistan. The relationship between it and the ISI/IB or with government and non-government players is not easy to understand. It is not unlikely that the military and ISI/IB are not always ‘on the same page’ with each other let alone the government of the day. Also they may act independently of each other in seeking to do what they think is best for Pakistan and their own sectional interests. Also there may be people in these organizations who quite independent of the organization itself run their own agendas relying from time to time on their connections with all political and financial brokers and ‘assets’ in and outside Pakistan including non-state militia associated with some radical groups. Nevertheless they are command structures and in theory ultimately should be responsible to the government.

If you were ‘in the shoes’ of an impassioned ISI/IB official who was brought up to see good and evil a certain way, with wars raging around and subversives real or imagined from neighbouring countries like Iran or India trying to destabilize your country, would you utilize ‘assets’ available to secure your country’s security interests; especially if a political party was in power who you knew would not act decisively the way that you deem is in the best interests of national security?

Whatever the answers to that question may be in our eyes, when the volatility and violence within Pakistan and Afghanistan spill over to affect our homelands (such as the indoctrination and training in Pakistan of terrorists for suicide missions in the West), the West surely has every right to do what is necessary to protect its own people including asking the power brokers in Pakistan to do more to get their house/region in order.

How does one diplomatically talk to the military and intelligence agencies directly in any case? If the Pakistani democracy is too weak politically and economically to govern independently of fear or favouritism and cannot control its military and intelligence agencies, how can another country commence dialogue with the government about such things and how can they approach military and Intelligence agencies? If the military and security agencies in Pakistan do not want to co-operate with a proper diplomatic approach from the West, however it comes, will other ‘suitors’ such as China then just step in to fill the political, military and economic void?

These are not easy questions to answer whether you are in the Europe or the US. These are probably difficult issues within Pakistan which itself has more than the West had its people suffer the consequence of lawlessness, corruption and extremist violence and threats of violence.

Perhaps part of the answer may be for the West to put more diplomatic effort into resolving Kashmir with India and Pakistan so that the Pakistani Army has an incentive to reinforce democratic principles and institutions in Pakistan and distance themselves from the excess of the extreme right who are otherwise useful ‘assets’ in their border wars and instruments of leverage geo-politically.

The other part of the solution may be to pull out of Afghanistan and stop the drone attacks in Pakistan because the roots of the problem probably cannot be fixed that way in the medium to long term. Indeed these measures at the moment, no matter how seemingly effective they are in the short term are fuelling the narrative of the extreme right in Pakistan from whence new recruits and devotees will surely come to replace their ranks. Whatever negotiations happen in Afghanistan there must be just as much diplomatic effort go into discussions with Pakistan. Any lasting peace in region and in the West from trans-national jihadi terrorism will need their endorsement and active support. To be able to give assistance to Pakistan in these ways and to put away the military option of troops on the ground and drone strikes, what the West needs from Pakistan’s political, military and intelligence leaders is a sustainable and verifiable assurance they will not allow that region or its own territory to be used as a base for terrorism against the West either ideologically, financially or materially.

Alexander Athos is a writer and businessman.He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (European History) Personal background Alexander was christened Orthodox brought up Catholic and now Evangelical Christian with an acceptance of the best in Christian tradition and a respect for genuine people of faith from other cultures. Political inclinations: Christian intellectual who has an eclectic predisposition to understanding global and national political and social trends and seeking to influence them for good by thoughtful and persuasive discourse.

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Assad’s Army and Intelligence Services: Feudalization or Structurization?



Authors: Anton Mardasov* & Kirill Semenov

2017 marked a turning point in the Syrian conflict. With the full support of Russia and Iran, the Bashar al-Assad regime was able to neutralize the “domestic threat” completely. Throughout 2017, Damascus used the situation to carry out “outlying” operations, manipulating the ceasefire agreements and other accords reached as part of the Astana Peace Process. As soon as a relative calm would settle in a given “de-escalation zone” [in the opinion of the present authors, quotation marks are necessary in this case, as they indicate the real nature of these four zones], the regime would start transferring the available forces to other areas. First to eastern Syria in order to break the blockade of Deir ez-Zor and establish control over adjacent areas, which undoubtedly accelerated the downfall of the “Caliphate,” then to Idlib Governorate. And then, taking advantage of the agreements reached between Russia and Turkey on the division of spheres of influence in this “de-escalation zone,” to East Ghouta. Now Damascus has the initiative in terms of launching an offensive and a significant advantage over opposition groups.

The State of Affairs

As early as the beginning of 2017, the Syrian opposition demonstrated its ability to consolidate efforts and respond to the regime’s offensive manoeuvres. One such example is the way it managed to reduce “tension” in East Ghouta by carrying out distracting operations of its own in Daraa and Hama. However, the Syrian opposition became irreversibly fragmented after the process to form the de-escalation zones began, accompanied by the establishment of an external protectorate over these zones. As a result, most of the opposition factions in Greater Idlib now operate exclusively in the interests of Turkey, and the Amman Agreement between Jordan, Russia and the United States regarding the southwest de-escalation zone has succeeded in taking the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front out of the game. External actors have played a decisive role in the outcome of the confrontation between Damascus and the internal opposition, cutting off aid to opposition factions and effectively splitting them into isolated fragments.

That being said, until February 2018 (when the Russia–Turkey agreement made it possible to wrap up the active operation in Idlib and focus forces on East Ghouta), all the efforts of the elite units of the 4th Armoured Division, as well as the Syrian Republican Guard and other regular units of the Syrian Arab Army, to repel opposition forces in East Ghouta’s Jobar and Ayn Tarma ended with the withdrawal of government-sponsored troops after significant losses. The operation in Harasta ended with the encirclement of a Republican Guard battalion and the deaths of five colonels and brigadier generals. The same thing happened during an operation in Daraa in the south of the country.

Despite the active support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian Special Forces and the Shiite “Expeditionary Corps” led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and various Iraqi factions, the government forces still suffered significant strikes from the heavily outnumbered Islamic State. One such event took place in Homs and Deir ez-Zor in September–October 2017, when Islamic State units managed to cut off almost all the supply routes to pro-Assad troops operating along the Euphrates. The only thing that prevented the terrorists from building on their successes was the lack of numbers on the part of Islamic State (very few detachments are left) and the haphazard band-aid approach adopted by Russian specialists on the issue.

Thus, Damascus’ victories over its opponents can, for the most part, be put down to favourable circumstances and external support, rather than to the regime’s strengthening of its forces or increasing its combat effectiveness, despite the great efforts Russia has expended to train Syria’s military personnel and provide its regular units with up-to-date military technology.

Counting on the fact that these manipulations have successfully paralyzed the opposition to the point that pro-government forces will now be able to deal with current challenges does not eliminate the need to have a national military structure – without the growing Shiite International.


At present, the armed forces that Bashar al-Assad relies on continue to be an assortment of groupings, all of which depend on Damascus to varying degrees. There is no unity within the army in terms of readiness to unquestioningly carry out the directives of its leadership. There is a complicated system of approvals for the use of “elite” sections of the Syrian Arab Army in specific operations. This even applies to its most elite components: the 4th Armoured Division, the Syrian Republican Guard, Suheil al-Hassan’s “Tiger Forces” and individual units of other sections – for example, the “Deir Al-Qalamoun” unit of the 3rd Armoured Division and the “Saif Al-Mahdi” unit of the 4th Armoured Division, among others. At the same time, the combat effectiveness of the Syrian Arab Army’s combat manoeuvre units leaves much to be desired, and attempts are made to avoid moving them to regions far away from their areas of permanent deployment.

Various paramilitary groupings that do not answer directly to the Syrian Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the state security organs continue to play an important role, including the so-called National Defence Forces, the Local Defence Forces, foreign (primarily Shiite) groups, and other units created by them in Syrian territory, made up of Syrian nationals. There are at least twice as many fighters in the irregular army formations as in the Syrian Arab Army itself.

The Syrian crisis has made it possible for political institutions to acquire their own military formations. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party still has active squadrons, some of which are part of the 5th Corps. Eagles of the Whirlwind is the military wing of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. And the Syrian Resistance is a left-wing paramilitary group led by Mihrac Ural, who is considered a terrorist in Turkey.

The formation of various paramilitary structures – military wings of mafia-like clans, private military companies, regional and tribal militias and militarized political organizations – has undermined the stability of the regime. These forces do not simply support Damascus. From the very beginning, they have attempted take root in government institutions and/or take control of various sources of income. It is no secret that various Shabiha detachments currently operating under the aegis of the National Defence Forces control the checkpoints, which in practice means that they have access to corrupt schemes, including the opportunity to send radical opposition fighters into the Turkish zones of influence. A number of figures associated with the pro-Iranian Syrian group Liwa al-Baqir (the Baqir Brigade, part of the Local Defence Forces) have their own fleet of minibuses and continue to operate transport businesses.

Given that Damascus is in dire need of local groupings in order to maintain stability and security, these militias will probably continue to exist after victory is declared. All the more given that all armed militia groups were legalized in 2013 and given permission to carry out their “activities” by the Ministry of Interior.

The incorporation of the National and Local Defence Forces into state structures was predetermined by the fact that both the Syrian special services and the army were unprepared for an uprising, and the vacuum thus created was filled by paramilitary groups. Iran also took advantage of this by helping set up various paramilitary structures and thus establishing a multi-echeloned presence in Syria.


Worthy of separate note is the Fifth Corps of Volunteers, an autonomous military structure that was created with the direct participation of Russian military advisers. According to some reports, the corps itself is also led by Russian generals. The corps can hardly be regarded as a regular military formation. It consists of various subdivisions made up of volunteers and is financed by a number of non-government sources. It also contains certain pro-government Syrian forces that existed before the corps was set up, including those financed by private individuals (the “Sea Commandos”) or set up with the participation of Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah (Liwa Dir’ al-Watan). At the same time, the inclusion of defectors and objectors from among the Sunni population in the Fifth Corps was apparently supposed to break the stereotype about the sectarian foundation of the pro-government forces and the auxiliary nature of the Sunnis’ participation in the war. However, the experiment has yet to bear fruit. The most combat-ready units of the Fifth Corps – the so-called ISIS Hunters – are again “sectarian militias” (as far as Syria’s Sunni majority is concerned). Such groups are made up primarily of Syrian Christians and Alawites (for example, the aforementioned “Sea Commandos”) or Shiites (Liwa Dir’ al-Watan, with the participation of Lebanese fighters). Work of this kind is likely to continue: according to some reports, work on the establishment of a 6th Corps is already under way.

Sooner or later the Syrian armed forces will surely face the challenge of transition to a peaceful life. In this context, it is important to understand what will happen to the large number of paramilitary formations and militias. The Iraqi leadership is attempting to solve this very same problem at home, having initiated a procedure to integrate soldiers of the militia group “Khashd ash-Shaabi” into the country’s armed forces. The experience gained during the creation of the 5th Corps, as well as its predecessor (the 4th Corps) can be used to help integrate certain paramilitary structures into the Syrian Arab Army and the Ministry of Interior.

It is also possible at the initial stage to revive the three corps of the Syrian Arab Army that formally existed before, turning them into territorial commands. All the regular and paramilitary units could be placed under their control on a territorial basis, thus becoming parts of the regular forces, identified by numbers instead of names. This is a necessary step, because many of these structures simply refuse to dissolve themselves, as in the case in Iraq. However, their existence should be legalized and their activities brought into line with military regulations.

Another problem is how to overcome the increasingly “sectarian” nature of military forces in Syria. All or most of the combat-ready units are made up primarily of national and religious minorities. Sunnis play a secondary role, mainly serving in auxiliary, “second echelon” groupings. Attracting Sunnis who have fought or lived in opposition territories, earning their trust and ensuring that they carry out their duties in a diligent manner will also be a key issue.

A Necessary but Unrealistic Scenario

If we distance ourselves from the propaganda and frankly dilettantish stereotypes about the Syrian opposition, then the best option for establishing an ethnic and confessional balance would be to unite the opposition groups and pro-government forces into a single structure. This is the kind of renewal of the armed forces that the UN documents envision. It is hardly possible, for example, to incorporate the insurgent factions that have, with Turkey’s support, united to form the Syrian National Army (SNA, which operates exclusively in Northern Aleppo) into existing Syrian Arab Army units and divisions. The leadership of the opposition factions will not agree to this, bearing in mind what happened in Tajikistan (where the opposition was liquidated after its divisions were incorporated into government units). One possibility is to form about five to seven separate corps and divisional units from opposition forces and establish a single military council involving the Syrian National Army and the Syrian Arab Army.

However, neither Damascus nor Tehran, nor indeed Moscow, is interested in such a scenario. Although it is far easier for the Russian side to play along with the Syrian regime, which seeks to eliminate the Syrian opposition once and for all by military means, that goal would serve only to strengthen the positions of Iran and Syria. Moscow has had a significantly more difficult time than expected positioning itself as a moderator in the conflict and maintaining effective working relations with the opposition groups that participated in the Astana Peace Process and signed agreements with the Russian military in Cairo and Geneva. Integrating the opposition into military and political structures that are aligned with the current regime could serve as a natural counterweight to the influence of Iran and preserve a certain balance of power that is beneficial to Moscow. The big question now is: to what extent will Moscow be able to maintain control over its “client,” given that Tehran is clearly benefitting from the situation?

Reform of the Military Intelligence Services

Against the backdrop of the Islamic State’s transition to clandestine activities in Iraq and Syria (which is common for the group) and various other challenges, the role of the Syrian intelligence services is acquiring greater significance. Their activities today little resemble the standards adopted in the sphere. Opportunities to carry out covert intelligence work have been greatly reduced, and the grassroots tools of state governance have been destroyed. The Syrian intelligence services were not even able to prevent terrorist attacks on the National Security Council building.

At present, the Syrian intelligence services do not seem to have an analogue anywhere in the Middle East. Four independent security structures operate within the Syrian Arab Army. These structures are divided into “military,” which includes military intelligence and aerial reconnaissance (Air Force reconnaissance) and “political” (civilian units formally subordinate to the Interior Ministry), which includes the main security department and the department for managing political security. All of these structures answer directly to the president. However, the system of intelligence services in Syria reflects the complexity of relations and confrontations among various groups of influence in the country’s ruling elite. The system is constructed in such a way that the individual intelligence services effectively work against each other, which makes it impossible for any single “branch” to become significantly stronger than the others.

Air Force reconnaissance was conceived as the intelligence structure “closest” to the heart of former president Hafez al-Assad, who was a fighter pilot himself. As a result, it effectively turned into an independent state security agency, with its own external intelligence and counterintelligence divisions, and even a department for combatting anti-government activities. During the Civil War, the Air Force reconnaissance formed an entire “pleiad” of special forces units to carry out operations using heavy machinery. The other three “branches” took similar steps in order to prevent any one of the intelligence agencies from becoming significantly stronger than the rest.

It would appear that the simplest solution for transforming the Syrian intelligence services with the goal of optimizing their activities would, first of all, be to merge Air Force reconnaissance and military intelligence into a single organ of the General Staff of the Syrian Arab Army, and strip these structures of the ability to carry out political investigations. As for the political security structures, it would be practical for one of them to focus exclusively on external intelligence activities, while the second could be engaged in counterintelligence and anti-terror activities. In other words, Syrian intelligence services would be brought up to global standards.

It is also imperative to create border security forces to control Syria’s eastern frontiers first and foremost, but also the entire border, as a kind of unified system with its own social and infrastructural characteristics. While Hafez al-Assad paid special attention to the country’s tribes, granting their leaders various privileges and taking their views into consideration in political life, his son Bashar all but forgot about them, which combined with drought in the regions and the misallocation of resources created the conditions for social upheaval. The years spent under the control of radical groups transformed the tribal social fabric even more. At present, the regime relies primarily on the Suqur al-Furat militia, which contains members of the Al-Shaitat tribe, to carry out its activities in the eastern part of the country. The tribe attempted a revolt against the Islamic State rule in 2014 but was defeated in a gruesome fashion. Damascus used this as a pretext to organize a military training programme for the tribe’s members and announced an amnesty for them.

If Damascus is unable to hold a constructive dialogue with the Sunni tribes, then there is a risk that the Islamic State will emerge once again in one form or another as a result of the joint efforts of independent Sunni groups and radicals (operatives, preachers, etc.), who will be able to remain in the country. It is all the more important to deal with the cadres who are familiar with the local terrain in the east of the country could help prevent smuggling, with which both Damascus and Baghdad have well-documented issues.

*Anton Mardasov, Military Observer Head of the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Institute of Innovative Development

First published in our partner RIAC

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Russia Says U.S. Trains Jihadists to Do Chemical Attacks Blamed Against Assad

Eric Zuesse



On March 17th, Russia’s Minister of Defense (equivalent to America’s Secretary of Defense) announced, through Russian General Staff spokesman General Sergey Rudskoy: “We have reliable information at our disposal that US instructors have trained a number of militant groups in the vicinity of the town of At-Tanf, to stage provocations involving chemical warfare agents in southern Syria. Early in March, the saboteur groups were deployed to the southern de-escalation zone to the city of Deraa, where the units of the so-called Free Syrian Army are stationed. They are preparing a series of chemical munitions explosions. This fact will be used to blame the government forces. The components to produce chemical munitions have been already delivered to the southern de-escalation zone under the guise of humanitarian convoys of a number of NGOs.”

He also said:

The provocations will be used as a pretext by the United States and its allies to launch strikes on military and government infrastructure in Syria. We’re registering the signs of the preparations for the possible strikes. Strike groups of the cruise missile carriers have been formed in the east of the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf and Red Sea.”

He went on to add that in the most jihadist-friendly province, Idlib, another such “false flag” attack is being prepared by Al Qaeda in Syria, called there, “Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, in coordination with the White Helmets,” which is a group financed by the U.S. and UK Governments to rescue victims of bombings by Syria’s Government and its ally Russia.

This would hardly be the first example of such attacks. For example, on 14 January 2014, MIT’s Theodore Postol and the former U.N. Weapons Inspector Richard Lloyd co-authored a detailed technical study and analysis, regarding “the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013” (which was the most-famous sarin-attack, in East Ghouta), saying that “the US Government’s Interpretation of the Technical Intelligence It Gathered Prior to and After the August 21 Attack CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CORRECT,” and documenting that the rocket had actually — and clearly — been fired from an area that even the U.S. Government’s own maps showed to be under the control of the ‘rebels’, whom the U.S. Government supported, and definitely not of the Syrian Government, whom those ‘rebels’ were trying to overthrow. (That was the incident in which U.S. President Barack Obama announced to the world his “red line” and then said that the Government headed by Bashar al-Assad had crossed it and that this justified a U.S. invasion, but Seymour Hersh said that it had become blocked by the UK/s intelligence lab at Porton Down, by their finding that the sarin which had been used in this attack wasn’t of a type that the Syrian Government had in its arsenals.) There have been several such “false-flag” attacks, in order to get the public to support invading Syria. However, the main way that the U.S. and its allies try to overthrow Assad and his Government is to arm and protect Al Qaeda in Syria, which leads the various jihadist groups there (other than ISIS).

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From Radical Ecology to Ecoterrorism

Gagliano Giuseppe



Radical ecology

The schools of thought of contemporary eco-terrorism are many, but those that use an antagonist theoretical-practical approach can be identified in deep ecology, feminist ecology, Marxist ecology, primitivism, degrowth ecology, the Slow Food movement, ecology, animalism (which together with vegetarianism is a logical consequence of radical ecology) and, finally, eco-terrorism. In this sense – beyond the often demagogic rhetoric – eco-terrorism does not differ from the above-mentioned schools of thought because of its ethical-philosophical assumptions but rather by the operative procedures through which its antagonism is carried out. Therefore, an ideological community exists, whether implicit or explicit, in the main schools of thoughts of ecology and eco-terrorism. These schools of thought, however, can be associated with the idea of radical ecology.

Definition of radical ecology

While continuing to take the complexity of current ecology into account, the expression “radical” is used to indicate extremely antagonist ecology, from Pinochot’s utilitarian conservationism, which was deeply anthropocentric and aimed to rationalize the use of nature toward a lasting economic exploitation, to Haeckel’s neo-Darwinian approach, Tanskey’s view, Lotka’s trophic-network ecology, and finally, Odum’s thermodynamic approach. Firstly, radical ecology comprises the holistic preservationism of Thoreau, Emerson, and Leopold, ecofeminism, political ecology, deep ecology, primitivism, social ecology, the degrowth movement, the Slow Food movement, eco-regionalism, animalism, and eco-terrorism. Secondly, although the list of the organizations is not complete, it is important to underline that the several “-isms” do not exclude the possibility of profitable contaminations among the different schools of thought. Thirdly, the epistemological, political and philosophical features shared by the above-mentioned schools of thought can be identified as follows:

  1. they all support a structural modification of the current economic system and are against the supranational institutions that control global capitalism, in particular, the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank;
  2. they are in favor of the anti-globalization movement, and know its limits and potentials;
  3. they share an eco-centric, bio-centric, anti-anthropocentric, holistic and sometimes organicistic perception of natural reality;
  4. they are against a mechanistic vision of reality such as Bacon’s and Descartes’, and are in favor of legal extensionism;
  5. they support a relevant extension of representative democracy or a radical exceeding of it in favor of an anarchic, neo-tribal society, or a participatory democracy;
  6. they share and develop apocalyptical and radical scenes of current society’s environmental and economic condition;
  7. they advocate a change in the ethic of western civilization through an eco-pacifist reorientation carried out by counter-information;
  8. they are against military institutions and share a typical interpretation of irenic pacifism;
  9. they are against the use of biotechnologies in agriculture and the civil and military use of nuclear energy;
  10. several members of radical ecology share a new interpretation of nature according to neo-romantic or oriental philosophies (such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Zen philosophy);
  11. many scholars and activists belonging to radical ecology embrace animalistic and vegetarian views which they deem deeply coherent with an ecocentric vision of nature.
  12. Finally, several exponents of radical ecology refer to 1968 culture, and to underground American and tribal cultures.

In short, regarding the operative procedures carried out by the several schools of thought or radical ecology, we should point out the difference between non-violent and terroristic ones. There are three levels of antagonist procedure: a) non-violent practice strictly antagonist toward political and legal institutions; b) non-violent practice with an entryist political logic toward national and supranational political institutions; c) publically terroristic practice. We should, nevertheless, underline the differences between positions a) and b) both of which are well-organized and opposing: the first clearly condemns the use of terroristic procedures, the second supports terrorist procedures – but without putting them into practice – and is therefore ambiguous.

The historical predecessors of radical ecology

According to Livorsi, the genesis of radical ecology can be easily traced from a historical point of view to the philosophical and religious interpretation of Bachofen and the Marxist psychoanalysis of Reich as well. The author of the “Canticle of the Sun” (“Cantico del Frate Sole”) not only asserts the sanctification of the world by God – in other words, the sun, the moon, and the animal world – but also refers to Mother Earth, anticipating the modern concept of “Gaia” . Moreover the heterodox pantheism of Saint Francis implies a brotherhood between human beings and creatures according to an ecocentric and egalitarian view. The French philosopher Rousseau, in his “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” (“Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les homes”), emphasized the goodness of the state of nature and the existential authenticity of the human being in this pre-civilized context, while condemning in the meantime private property and therefore civilization determined by technique. Moreover, unlike civilized society, tribal society conducted an ecocentric, egalitarian and communal style of life. Bachofen, in his reinterpretation of the history of civilization, emphasized the existence of a gynocratic, anti-patriarchal view in pre-Achaean society in which there was no private life, there was sexual freedom, nature was accepted as a living organism, and above all, the modus vivendi was built on egalitarian pacifism.

In short, regarding Reich, the rise of patriarchy brought about the triumph of capitalism, the closed family, and sexual repression. The natural and erotic man who struggles for a libertarian socialism has reemerged only rarely in history, such as in the Paris Commune in 1871, for example.

Definition of Terrorism and Eco-Terrorism

According to Pisano, terrorism can be defined as a non-conventional form of conflict because it lies outside both democratic, organized and civil dispute and the traditional battlefield of war regulated by international law. Terrorism is characterized by three elements: a) physical and psychic criminal violence, b) political, religious political or social political movement, and c) the use of illegal structure. Traditional terrorism, as Pisano explains, together with neo-terrorism, coexist both as a threat and as a concrete aggression. Neo-terrorism is performed by dynamic and polymorphous schemes that can intertwine while preserving their methodological and operational autonomy at the same time. Pisano indicates ecologic terrorism, narco-terrorism, the NRBC, and cyber-terrorism as the most important.

Ecologic terrorism (the topic of our research) is based on lay and/or religious ideological ideas and from an organizational point of view is carried out alternatively by cellular organizations with no hierarchies and by binary structures that are cellular and propagandistic at the same time. Ecologic terrorism furthers its antagonism through several operative procedures: 1) obstructive human barriers (lock box), 2) machinery sabotage, 3) arson and explosive detonation, 4) legal instruments focused on reporting abuse by police, 5) assemblage and road blocks, 6) intrusion within military installations or scientific and university institutions, 7) wide use of misinformation through media, internet and magazines, and 8) instigation to tax evasion. The enemies or targets to strike are several in number as well: 1) national and supranational capitalism, 2) the state, which defends its interests and consolidates its power, 3) national and supranational military institutions, and 4) scientific and university laboratories.

In a nutshell, eco-terrorism presents two fundamental trends: animal (such as ALF, ARM or JD) and environmental (e.g. Earth First!). In conclusion, Pisano suggests that the dangers of eco-terrorism are linked to the potential strengthening of its organizational power, creation of operative or ideological ties with traditional terrorism, and the consolidation of its relations with the anti-globalization movement.

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