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Terrorism

The France/Jihadist Critical Mass

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On May 25, a 21-year-old soldier named Cédric Cordiez was stabbed in the neck in the La Defense district of Paris. He survived, but the aggressor’s intention was clearly to kill him (possibly even to sever his head). Four days later, a suspect referred to as Alexandre D., a 22 year-old-convert to Islam, was arrested. He confessed to having acted “on religious grounds.”

The Cordiez case is quite similar to the public killing and beheading in London of Lee Rigby, a British soldier, on May 22. One of Rigby’s murderers, Michael Adebolajo, a 28-year-old British-African convert to Islam, claimed to have acted in order to retaliate against the British military operations “against Muslims” in Afghanistan. “It is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” he said before being arrested by the police. “We swear by Allah Almighty that we will never stop fighting you.”

Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, drew another, even scarier, parallel: he mentioned Mohamed Merah, the deadliest jihadist terrorist to have operated in France so far.

A French citizen of Algerian descent, Merah shot eight people in eight days last year, from March 11 to March 19: seven were killed on the spot, one survived as a quadriplegic. The victims were selected according to clear criteria. Merah first targeted “defectors “: young men of North African or Caribbean origin serving in the French military (and thus likely to fight or to have fought other Muslims in places like Afghanistan or Mali). Then he murdered Jews (since Jews are deemed to be, as a race, enemies of Islam): three preteen children and a teacher at a Jewish school.

“There are several dozens, perhaps even several hundred, potential Merahs in our country,” Valls somberly observed during a press conference on May 29. Indeed, investigations linked to the bombing on September 19, 2012, of a kosher shop in Sarcelles led the police, one month later, to a ramified Islamist network involved in stockpiling weapons and explosive material and in gathering information about Jewish personalities and organizations. Sources say that several other networks have been found since then.

However, some wonder whether the French police and security agencies are indeed “discovering” radical and seditious groups and individuals or just dealing more seriously with groups and individuals they already knew. The fact is that both Merah and Alexandre D. had been followed closely for years and identified as security risks prior to their crimes. The police and the agencies were aware that Merah had extensively traveled to no less than 25 Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Far Eastern, and African countries, including Afghanistan. They even had been briefed negatively about him by the Pakistani and American security agencies. Nevertheless, they had not taken steps against him.

As for Alexandre D. — or Abdelillah, as he insisted on being called after his conversion — Le Monde reports that he was put on file as early as February 20 by SDIG, the special branch of DCRI (the domestic security agency) that monitors Islamist activities. Nothing was done to prevent him from taking action.

Why not? One answer is that democratic countries are not supposed to arrest or intern citizens on the mere suspicion that they might be involved in crimes in the future. Another answer is that preventive action can be counterproductive, as any police department knows: as soon as you arrest suspects, other suspects, or criminals yet undetected, go into hiding.

There are more in-depth explanations as well. Like many other Western security agencies, DCRI and its twin sister DGSE (the French equivalent of the CIA) seem to have difficulties adjusting to a new society inside (multi-cultural, multi-ethnic) and new geopolitics outside (a multi-polar or even apolar world, rather than the Cold War bipolar system). Regarding the specific issues of terrorism and sedition, recent parliamentary reports have pointed to the need for more personnel, including religious experts, translators, psychologists, profilers, and computer wizards. The reports also recommended broader powers of investigation, including electronic investigation, and more inter-agency cooperation.

The ultimate explanation for the French security agencies’ shortcomings or inconsistencies may be the extent to which radical Islam, a philosophy and a way of life that rejects democracy and the open society, has grown among the French Muslim minority. Elisabeth Schemla, one of France’s most respected journalists, just published a thorough investigation on French Islam, Islam, l’épreuve française (Islam, The French Test). According to her, there are at least 7 million Muslims in France. But the relevant point, Schemla says, is that, by all accounts, about one third of that community — 2 million people at least — “is embracing radical Islam.” And this subgroup is clearly expanding, either by winning over more Muslims or by attracting converts.

To use the language of nuclear physics, this is very much like a “critical mass,” the point where changes in quantity translate to changes in quality, and where fusion is made sustainable. A democratic government can handle lots of security issues when it enjoys the near unanimous support of its citizens. Things are much more difficult when a sizable and growing part of the nation is in a state of virtual secession, if not virtual civil war. Radical Muslim preachers indoctrinate scores of young French citizens into the concept of jihad (which may mean either religious militancy or holy war). Transnational networks provide for actual military or terrorist training in terrorist camps and facilities all over the world, from the Mahghreb to Syria to Afghanistan or even further. At the end of the day, “dozens and probably hundreds” of new Merahs come back to France.

Manuel Valls must certainly be praised for bluntly appraising the jihadist threat in his country. However, will the global policies of the socialist François Hollande administration, to which he belongs, be helpful? The administration is going to pass a law to allow foreign residents to vote in local elections. This is a reform likely to turn more cities into Muslim enclaves, and to consolidate the grip of radical Islam all over the country.

Terrorism

Despite acknowledging strict measures, Pakistan has to stay on the grey-list in FATF

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President of The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Dr. Marcus Pleyer, announced in a press conference held on 25 February 2021 after the four-day virtual plenary meeting in Paris, France, that  “Pakistan remains under increased monitoring,” adding that while Islamabad had made “significant progress,” there remained some “deficiencies” in mechanisms to plug terrorism financing.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental formal decision-making body. It was founded in 1989 during the G7 Summit in Paris to develop policies against money laundering. It is a “policy-making body “that generates the political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in money laundering. It has also started dealing with virtual currencies. The FATF Secretariat is located in Paris. It sets standards and promotes effective implementation of:-

a. Legal, regulatory, and operational measures for combating money laundering.

b. The FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities to protect the international financial system from misuse.

Pakistan has been on the FATF grey list since June 2018 and has been asked to implement the FATF Action Plan fully by September 2019. Pakistan has implemented almost 90% of the recommendations; only three out of 27 points are not fully implemented.

Pakistan has suffered heavy economic losses due to being put on the grey-list; according to some estimates, Pakistan has suffered US Dollars 38 billion.

The FATF president noted that Pakistan was working towards its commitment made at a high level to implement the illicit financing watchdog’s recommendations, saying “that is not the time to put a country on the blacklist.”He added that as soon as Pakistan completed the action, the watchdog “will verify the reforms’ sustainability and discuss in next plenary in June.”

However, there are no chances that Pakistan could be put on the blacklist because it has at least three members of the FATF — China, Turkey, and Malaysia — that can sustain all pressures against any downgrade.

The government of Pakistan is committed to fully implementing the action plan, and to date, the progress achieved is admired by other FATF members.

However, FATF is also being used as a political tool against other nations. By reviewing the countries on the blacklist, the new additions are  North Korea and Iran- the West’s adverse enemies. Also,the addition of   Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and the Cayman Islands, are political decisions. As a matter of fact, the Western world is using international organizations, including FATF, to coerce their political opponents. Pakistan was a close ally with the West during the cold war era, and the front line state on Afghan war and non-NATO ally in the war on terror, yet faced worst sanctions like Pressler Amendments, Kerry Loggar Bill, etc.

Pakistani journalist Adeela Khan stepped up and raised a question asking FATF president Marcus Pleyer why India is not on the grey or blacklist of FATF even after financing proxies in Afghanistan, using Afghan soil to end terrorism in Pakistan, and violating human rights in India Occupied Kashmir. There more than forty banks in India involved in money laundering. The Incident of terrorism in Sri Lanka can be traced back to India. Yet India is not on the grey list or blacklist. India has been playing an ugly role in keeping Pakistan on the grey list. Although the EU Disinfo lab has revealed that Indian state-sponsored media think tanks and professionals play a dirty role in spreading fake news and disinformation against China and Pakistan yet, the world has not realized India’s evil intentions.

A bais and discriminatory attitude may harm the FATF’s reputation ultimately.

Many neutral people ask similar questions and demand justice and a fair playground for all nations, above the political motives and discrimination. The international community may maintain the reputation of International organizations and integrity – merit-based decisions.

On the one hand, Pakistan is trying its best to implement the FATF plan fully, and on the other hand, it is demanded that a fair playground be provided to judge the case for Pakistan. It is expected that in the next plenary session to be held in June 2021, Pakistan will come out of the grey list.

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Terrorism

‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began

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A family runs across a dusty street in Herat, Afghanistan. (file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday. 

In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.  

It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013. 

However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said. 

At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety. 

Rise in ‘targeted killings’ 

According to the report, the overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.  

There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said. 

According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents. 

2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’ 

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”. 

“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said

The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added. 

Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council

“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.” 

UNAMA-OHCHR report: Women casualties (killings and injuries) documented between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2020

‘Shocking toll’ on women and children 

The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women. 

“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said. 

“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.” 

Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’ 

With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations. 

It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes. 

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Terrorism

Is Blacklisting on Cards for Pakistan?

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Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has been an integral part of the economic decision making and regulatory procedures of the country. The days of the ultimate decision are finally on cards as the Global Watchdog is expected to evaluate and review the performance and strategies of Pakistan via virtual meeting tentatively scheduled for February 22-25, 2021. This would be a much-anticipated review since a keen eye would be payed following a long hiatus to the litigations recently undertaken by the country to eliminate the risks and gaps in the financial framework which might earn Pakistan, a way out from the grey list. However, while the preceding meeting only guided more hopes for better litigation and measures to curb terror financing, brimming foreign propaganda and nefarious rulings within the country itself might hamper the way out but instead could dig the trench further towards a harrowing financial turmoil.

Pakistan was placed on the grey list back in June 2018 due to strategic deficiencies. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the world, Pakistan was allowed a breather of 4-months to comply with the 27-point action plan; of which Pakistan met only 14 targets while missing out on the rest of 13 targets. Moreover, Pakistan could only satisfy 10 of a total of 40 recommendations devised by the task force. These lags led to a major pitfall in the Pakistan’s Stock Market; PSX plummeting bellow 30,000 points. Furthermore, a bitter narrative started blooming regarding arch-rival India pulling all the strings to push Pakistan down further, even in the blacklist. This was largely shunned by the Indian representatives but the failure of the economic and diplomatic front of Pakistan was evident by now.

The FATF plenary was scheduled, like traditionally, in June. However, all scheduled evaluations and review procedures were deferred for 4-months in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing yet another unforeseen yet thoroughly welcomed relief span to Pakistan to strive more actively to meet the requirements.

In the preceding 4 months, Pakistan acutely worked to amend the contradicting laws and policies, the parliament playing an agile role to introduce new bills relating to counter-terrorism and countering money laundering as an act to expedite compliance to the international laws and ultimately meeting up all 27 points in the action plan. Almost all the bills presented, albeit some political resistance, were eventually passed which even led to optimism in the stock market; PSX climbing back over 40,000 points after more than half a year, rallying to record high levels despite of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the investors’ mentality across the globe.

The meeting held, after a steep deferral, back in October 2020; the FATF committee observed and commended on the vigilant stance assumed by Pakistan to crawl out of the Grey list. Pakistan has since delivered on 22 out of the 27 core points of the action plan defined. However, the meetings adjourned till February, retaining Pakistan in the grey list under the tag of ‘jurisdiction under enhanced monitoring’ whilst praising the steps of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering adopted by Islamabad.

Pakistan was warned back in February last year that if not complied by the 27-point action plan, it could be a great threat to the foreign mechanism and would be eventually moved to the monitored jurisdiction, notoriously also known as the ‘Blacklist’. Later this month, FATF would examine if Pakistan meets the 8 key categories of the action plan; remedial actions taken against money laundering, counterfeit terrorism while also reviewing the vigilance of the institutions in countering Terror Financing and actively managing risk. The committee representing Pakistan would perpetually convince the plenary that the country in-fact meets the criteria and transitioning over the next month, the fate of the tormented economy would finally prevail in light of the decision made.

However, Pakistan has been sluggish in taking action against the notorious entities linked to terrorism around the region. The meeting nears with the pinned watch of UN regarding Pakistan’s role of providing a safe haven to Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, Hafiz Saeed, or the notorious acquittal of Ahmed Omer Sheikh, the prime culprit of the Daniel Pearle Murder case of 2002. Pakistan, however, claims to have made virtue on 22 of the defined 27 points while has garnered ‘Substantial progress’ on the remaining 5 points. Thus, the optimism brews that the meeting would push the country out of the list and would open more financial avenues especially in these distressful conditions.

Although Pakistan’s Foreign Office including the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, appears optimistic to climb out of the grey list after 3 years, the infamous decisions passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the excessive money laundering cases surging against the ex-office holders of Pakistan and the determined efforts of India to subvert Pakistan in global politics, all thwart down that optimism bit by bit. And while some of the economic experts claim that the decision of advancing Pakistan off the Grey list would be naïve move and would arguably impact regional dynamics, the decision could fall in tandem with the preceding outcome of sustaining the grey list status or could deteriorate the level further as gauged by a political expert, opining his narrative: “The facts demand that Pakistan remain on the grey list. The FATF shouldn’t just keep Pakistan on the grey list. It should rather warn Islamabad that absent rapid and wide-ranging reform; blacklisting is coming”.

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