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Terrorism

Writing the bin Laden Story

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Great, definitive biographies are rarely written by their subjects’ contemporaries. Generations often pass before sufficient evidence can be amassed, analyzed, and written into a narrative by a skilled and dispassionate biographer.

The biographies of Osama bin Laden currently in print are all flawed but necessary steps in the path leading to the definitive bin Laden biography. The magnitude and trauma of al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks are so profound and far-reaching that it will likely take a biographer for whom the event is itself history to write the definitive bin Laden biography.

Still, the two-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden presents an opportune moment to review the biographies of America’s late enemy number one—with a focus on the more recent works written while he was still hiding in Pakistan—while anticipating a flurry of postmortem biographies sure to come.

Prior to bin Laden’s Death

Pre-9/11 bin Laden biographies are a rare few, predating the entry of “bin Laden” and “al-Qaeda” into the nation’s, indeed the world’s, lexicon. Anyone looking to learn about bin Laden on the afternoon of September 10 could find newspaper investigations, interviews, and television shows aplenty, but the only available book-length texts telling bin Laden’s story were Yossef Bodansky’s Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America[1] and Simon Reeve’s The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, and the Future of Terrorism.[2] Bodansky refers to bin Laden’s “organization,” “group,” and “network” but does not yet use the name “al-Qaeda.” Reeve’s book, which does have a chapter titled “al-Qaeda,” shows how the FBI and CIA gradually became aware of bin Laden, at first deeming him merely a terror financier (a “Gucci Terrorist” as Reeve puts it) but gradually piecing together the story and revealing an unprecedented threat.

After 9/11, interest naturally grew, and more book-length biographies were written. But they are still only a handful, hardly more numerous than the pre-9/11 texts written over the near decade comprising bin Laden’s “underground” era. They were dominated early on by the journalistic accounts of Peter Bergen, one of the few Westerners to have interviewed the arch-terrorist, first in his Holy War, Inc.[3] and then The Osama bin Laden I Know.[4] Any post-9/11 biography of bin Laden had, and still has, to contend with Bergen’s work, a combination of biography and “new journalism,” a blending of traditional reportage with an account of the reporter’s quest for the information. In 2004, former Washington Post correspondent Jonathan Randal weighed in with Osama: The Making of a Terrorist,[5] and as one might suspect from a leftist journalist writing in the run-up to the reelection campaign of President George W. Bush, he seems more concerned with impugning the incumbent president than with writing bin Laden’s story. Unlike Bergen, Randal has difficulty curbing his new journalism proclivities: The author reveals almost as much about himself as about bin Laden, and his book might more aptly be titled “Covering Osama,” for he interjects himself into every situation, touching on nearly the entire history of the modern Middle East.

Two other important texts, while not exactly bin Laden biographies per se, tell his story in larger contexts. The first by intelligence specialist-turned-author Rohan Gunaratna is Inside al-Qaeda. Global Network of Terror[6] whose 50-page first chapter “Who Is Osama bin Laden?” is still an important source for bin Laden biographers. The other, by journalist/filmmaker/novelist Lawrence Wright is The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.[7] Wright’s grand (and grandiose) Pulitzer Prize-winning work is a narrative masterpiece, weaving together the lives of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, FBI specialist John O’Neill, and Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki with the authority of a journalist and the skills of a novelist. But the bulk of that authority comes from Wright’s hundreds of interviews (there are 560 names in the “Author Interviews” appendix), and the downside is that the book thereby depends on often untraceable information. Readers are left with no way to follow up on the details and are expected to accept them as factual. A third work, Steve Coll’s The bin Ladens. An Arabian Family in the American Century[8] expanded the focus to the entire bin Laden clan.

Growing up bin Laden

Perhaps the two most important books post-dating 9/11 but predating bin Laden’s death are full-length biographies, and they are must-reads: Najwa and Omar bin Laden’s Growing Up bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World[9] and Michael Scheuer’s Osama Bin Laden[10] published just weeks before bin Laden’s death.

In Growing Up bin Laden, the first wife and third son of Osama bin Laden attempt to humanize and yet distance themselves from husband and father. Eighteen chapters by son Omar and twelve by wife Najwa are book-ended by introductions, appendices, and occasional explanatory notes—short chapters really—by Jean Sasson in the role of interviewer/amanuensis/historian. Both Najwa and Omar are invested in the bin Laden legacy and stand to gain or lose depending on how their roles in that legacy are perceived. Both offer interesting and new information.

Najwa’s chapters take readers on her personal journey from her native Syria where she met her first cousin and future husband Osama to her married life in Saudi Arabia, then Peshawar during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, later Khartoum, and ultimately to Afghanistan. The chapters reveal small details in the domestic life of the bin Laden household where she was wife number one and, most importantly, mother of son number one, Abdullah.

These details include bin Laden’s love of fast cars (“my husband had enough money from his inheritance to buy the latest model automobile and loved seeing how fast it could go”) as well as wives, one of which Najwa herself chooses. She offers new information on the question of whether bin Laden ever came to the United States, claiming that the entire family accompanied her husband and Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor, to Indiana and remained there while the two men went briefly to Los Angeles. Najwa provides fond reminiscences of life in the Sudan where her husband’s “favorite undertaking was working the land.” These were the same years that al-Qaeda consolidated power with Egyptian extremist groups, confronted the United States in Somalia, financed the first World Trade Center bombing, and mapped out its global jihad. It is difficult not to read irony—and self-delusion—into her recollection: “Those are the best memories, to be busy and part of a worthy mission to produce something practical.”

More interesting historically are Omar’s chapters, recalling bin Laden’s life through the eyes of the son selected to take over the family terror business. Omar portrays himself as a pacifist who loves his father but hates his “work.” Najwa calls Omar her “most sensitive child,” and Omar plays this role to the hilt, letting readers experience the asceticism and cruelty of his father’s tough love through his sensitive eyes: long hikes through the mountains without water, Spartan accommodations in Tora Bora, the insistence that none of the children laugh, joke, or smile so much that they show their teeth, and other “absurd rules.” Omar’s chapters more often than not come off as equivocating and mewling but occasionally manage to evoke some sympathy as in his description of his predicament as an asthmatic whose father refused to allow any prescription medications in his house because they were not available in the time of the prophet Muhammad. But in spite of his sufferings and self-portrayal as a misunderstood son struggling to earn the respect of his father, he still offers up lines sure to aggravate many readers, such as, “My father was a brilliant man in many ways.” It is difficult to gauge the degree to which Omar is being disingenuous when he claims: “Our Muslim deaths were lamented, African deaths ignored, and American deaths celebrated. I was too young to understand the full madness of such thinking.”

Omar’s chapters also are filled with fascinating tidbits and important details that fill gaps left by previous biographers. For instance, most journalists assert that bin Laden was left-handed, a belief seemingly confirmed by the ubiquitous post-9/11 film clip of the smiling terrorist, firing and then lovingly cradling a Kalashnikov southpaw-style. But Omar reveals instead a childhood accident that left bin Laden “virtually blind in his right eye,” thus his adaptation to the injury by shooting left-handed. Omar also refutes the claims that bin Laden suffered from chronic kidney failure explaining that “the only explanation for this rumor is that my father … had a tendency to suffer from kidney stones.”

Omar’s chapters are designed to depict the barbarity of life with his father and his loyal supporters. The most shocking example of this is Omar’s version of an episode from Khartoum when his friend, the son of a high-ranking member of the jihadist al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya group, was raped by several men from Ayman al-Zawahiri’s sometime-rival group Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The rapists photographed their violation of the young boy and once the actual photos were spread around, it was the boy victim rather than the adult rapists who received the blame. Omar reports that Zawahiri became so incensed that the boy “was dragged into a room with Zawahiri, who shot him in the head.”

Ultimately, Growing Up bin Laden will, and must, be seen as a piece of propaganda—useful and insightful propaganda, but propaganda nevertheless. Bin Laden’s malevolence is frequently attributed, both directly and indirectly, to the Egyptians, portrayed throughout as the dominating forces in the terror-master’s thinking. Najwa hints at this influence but acknowledges that she was never privy to her husband’s secret meetings: “Like all women in Saudi Arabia, I would never attend such gatherings.” Omar is more direct, portraying Zawahiri in particular as the villain of his father’s life story claiming that “the Egyptian doctor had an evil influence over my father.” Sasson’s brief chapters also emphasize the malevolent influence of the Egyptians on bin Laden’s circle: “While [Palestinian] Abdullah Azzam was not in favor of violence against fellow Muslims, Zawahiri had no such scruples.” In sum, Growing Up bin Laden is destined to be read as an interesting but inevitably suspect and unreliable account of the life of Osama bin Laden.

Scheuer’s Osama bin Laden

Michael Scheuer, who pursued bin Laden for years from within the CIA’s dedicated bin Laden unit, which he himself set up, is uniquely qualified to write a biography of his quarry. Along with John O’Neill who pursued bin Laden from the FBI’s dedicated bin Laden unit, Scheuer fought not only bin Laden and al-Qaeda but also “the wall” built between law enforcement and intelligence, a wall begun by the Carter administration in the wake of Watergate and then made insurmountable by the Clinton administration, with Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick’s infamous 1995 memo conferring constitutional protections on foreign terrorists through executive order.[11] Both O’Neill and Scheuer did everything the law would allow to capture, prosecute, or kill bin Laden, and both ended up quitting their posts, in part out of disgust over the rules of engagement forced on them, and in part out of trouble they encountered due to their unique styles. O’Neill would tragically perish on 9/11—a mere twenty days after beginning his new job as head of security for the World Trade Center—while Scheuer would go on to write books, first anonymously (while still at the CIA) and then later openly, after quitting in 2004:

The amount of individual negligence and culpability at the highest levels of the American government was completely whitewashed by the 9/11 commission. And I resigned because I wanted to speak out on those issues.[12]

His post-CIA books have been largely supportive of most aspects of U.S. efforts to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan but critical of the overall “war on terror” and especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This biography of bin Laden is his latest effort.

Of all the biographies surveyed, Scheuer’s is the most sophisticated in its assessment of both the life of Osama bin Laden and of previous biographies. Scheuer is not only an astute historian but also a literary critic, nimbly outlining the concepts behind what he calls “the bin Laden narratives”—a series of eight prevalent distortions of the terrorist’s life. Scheuer explains how each one is fallacious and dangerous. Three he dismisses out of hand: those that depict bin Laden and al-Qaeda as “tools of Iran … tools of the CIA … [or] tools of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.” The remaining five narratives are more nuanced and less easily dismissed, but Scheuer argues that several are in need of discounting, such as the perception of bin Laden as a madman, a common criminal, or a good and sensitive Muslim whose view of Islam was corrupted by the Egyptians who came to dominate al-Qaeda. Scheuer argues fervently and convincingly that the “story of al-Zawahiri craftily brainwashing bin Laden and hijacking al-Qaeda is cut from whole cloth by the Saudis and others as part of their ‘good-Saudi-boy-led-astray-by-evil-Egyptians’ narrative.” He is also clear and levelheaded in taking on myths such as the “blow-back” theory that blames Washington for the rise of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and that posits the notion that, in the post-Soviet era, U.S. administrations simply abandoned Afghanistan. While Scheuer takes Lawrence Wright to task for relying too heavily on selective sources (such as Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Scheuer claims is also invested in the “good Saudi boy” narrative), he overlooks the possibility that he also relies too heavily on his own interviews or his own privileging of sources that may advance their own self-serving or self-exonerating narratives.

Scheuer’s is the best book yet to detail the importance of the Advice and Reform Committee (ARC), bin Laden’s “think tank” set up in early 1994 in the Sudan. He refers to the ARC communiqués as “our first extended look at bin Laden’s written thought” and demonstrates how the ARC essays, which were faxed to the London office and then disseminated to the world, reflect al-Qaeda’s increasingly radical agenda. Scheuer is also perhaps the best at explaining bin Laden’s tactics and the process by which the terrorist learned from his mistakes (especially at the August 1987 battle of Jaji against Soviet troops in Afghanistan) and later in Jalalabad in March 1989.

Scheuer is very good at exposing the popular but erroneous view of bin Laden as an untrained, neophyte scholar, uncredentialed and unschooled in matters that would confer upon him the title of sheikh and, therefore, unworthy of the authority to issue fatwas (Islamic edicts). Of course bin Laden did indeed issue fatwas. And, deservedly or not, he was called sheikh by his followers, who hung on his every word.

By contrast, Scheuer downplays the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on bin Laden. In fact, there is no serious analysis of the influence of the Brotherhood on bin Laden’s thought or that of Sayyid Qutb or Hasan al-Banna, seminal leaders of the organization. This unfortunate omission leads Scheuer to overlook completely bin Laden’s caliphate irredentism, the longing to fulfill his prophet Muhammad’s quest and to institute Shari’a law, at first in the lands of the “near enemy” (i.e., Saudi Arabia) but surely later in the lands of the “far enemy” (the West). Scheuer might understand bin Laden’s project in the larger context of Islamic history and polity were he to read carefully Efraim Karsh’s excellent Islamic Imperialism: A History,[13] but, in fact, he dismisses Karsh’s work wholesale, along with that of Victor Davis Hanson, Douglas Feith, Bernard Lewis, Charles Krauthammer, George Weigel, John Bolton, William Kristol, and Norman Podhoretz, all of whom are denounced as neoconservative imperialists afflicted with a “blind faith in the moral superiority of Israel in general and Likudites in particular.”

Readers of this journal may bristle at Scheuer’s failure to grasp the natural U.S. connection to Israel as fellow targets of Islamist terrorism. His anti-Israel stance is consistent throughout the book, and he has been unabashed about it since leaving the CIA as in his response to a question posed in an interview conducted prior to bin Laden’s death: “I carry no case for the Israeli relationship—I think it is a terrible relationship for America. The public opinion of the Muslim world is deeply hateful towards Israel. If you are going to satisfy the public in this new secular age of democracy you are going to have to be anti-Israeli and probably allow your people to help the Palestinians.”[14]

As one might suspect, the author of the anonymously-published Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror[15] has little good to say about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but, along the way, he paradoxically argues: “While in power, Saddam was the best ally of Israel and the United States when it came to Israel’s security. He dabbled with supporting Palestinian insurgents, but he also performed yeoman service in preventing the westward flow of Sunni fighters from South Asia to the Levant.” The numerous $25,000 checks signed variously by Saddam and his son Uday sent to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers amount to far more than mere “dabbling” from both a moral and legal standpoint. Scheuer also ignores Iraq’s role in international terrorism: Salmon Pak, Saddam’s premier terrorist training camp, is not mentioned. For Scheuer, the decision to invade Iraq played right into bin Laden’s master plan.

The most surprising (and disturbing) aspect of Osama Bin Laden is the degree to which Scheuer admires his subject, a tendency present in his earlier work. In his view, bin Laden is a celebrity, “one of those ‘Great Men’… [who] has had a greater impact on how Americans view their society, government, and security than any other individual in the past fifty years.” Fawning admiration also permeates Jonathan Randal’s descriptions of bin Laden (“Che Guevara, Robin Hood, Saladin and Avenging Angel of Death rolled into one”). Excessive and unnecessary Osama admiration is also evident in the work of Bruce Lawrence, whose otherwise valuable and necessary anthology Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden[16] is marred by a 13-page introduction filled with moral equivalencies (comparing bin Laden to Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, for example) and by footnotes and introductory paragraphs that always seem to accept bin Laden’s view of history and take his side while opposing the American version. But even Lawrence (who recently made a splash in Hyderabad’s Sissat Daily with the proclamation that, as Robert Spencer put it, “Islam has no connection with terrorism”) recognizes the hyperbole of Scheuer’s 2004 description of bin Laden in Imperial Hubris as “a pious, charismatic, gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous Muslim.”

Scheuer follows Randal’s lead with the grating comparison of bin Laden to Saladin and Robin Hood, but he goes further, comparing the arch-terrorist to a Western management guru using his “skills to run a multiethnic, multinational, and multilingual organization that is unique in the Muslim world … display[ing] the cool reasoning of a cost-benefit-calculating businessman, and the sophistication of a media mogul.” Readers will decide for themselves whether such rhetoric is overblown or fair. What is fair, however, is to charge Scheuer with too readily believing bin Laden’s own narrative for al-Qaeda’s reign of terror. Scheuer argues for instance that al-Qaeda is only engaging in defensive jihad when in fact anyone who has read Raymond Ibrahim’s The Al-Qaeda Reader[17] cover-to-cover (which Scheuer acknowledges as an important but incomplete text) knows that both bin Laden and Zawahiri have taken great pains to disguise as defensive their plainly offensive jihad. Nonetheless, Scheuer accepts bin Laden’s jihad as a defensive one largely due to the latter’s portrayal of a U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia (beginning with Desert Shield in August 1990) as an “occupation.”

An honest historical evaluation recognizes that both Desert Shield and Desert Storm saved “the land of the two holy sites” from what would have been a genuinely brutal Iraqi occupation, like the one experienced by Kuwait. Subsequent arms and training deals cut between the Saudis and the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were mutual agreements between two sovereign nations. Bin Laden’s failure to secure the job that the Saudi royal family ultimately entrusted to the U.S. government caused him to portray the relationship between Washington and Riyadh as an occupation: Scheuer should know better.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the book concerns the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman. He was central to the foundation of the so-called Services Bureau (Maktab al-Khidamat or MAK) and then to its takeover after the assassinations of first Abdullah Azzam and then of Mustafa Shalabi, whom Azzam selected to run the Alkifah Center in Brooklyn—MAK’s most important hub. Scheuer’s work at the CIA presumably put him in a position to know something about the disastrous and perplexing decisions of the U.S. government to admit Rahman at least three times (in 1986, 1987, and 1990)[18] followed by the catastrophic decision to grant him a green card in 1991[19]—despite everything known about him. Bin Laden’s numerous written fatwas demanding Rahman’s release, and the 2000 video fatwa urging Muslims to “revenge your sheikh,” more than justify an analysis of Rahman’s role in bin Laden’s life story. Scheuer’s failure to provide that analysis can only be seen as an evasion.

The driving principle behind Scheuer’s bin Laden narrative is the argument that the “status quo U.S. foreign policy generates Islamist insurgents faster than they can be killed” and that only a change in that foreign policy can change the situation. But again Scheuer is selective in his evidence. A glance at bin Laden’s 2002 diatribe, “Why We Are Fighting You,” shows that foreign policy is indeed a problem, for the polemic focuses about half of its attention on U.S. foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis the Israeli-Arab conflict. But the other half is devoted to matters that touch at the core of America, matters such as personal freedom, which bin Laden sees as our insufficient submission to God, the fact that Americans “separate religion from your policies,” and U.S. law’s refusal to prosecute people for “immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and usury.” He complains that women in America are allowed to work and that sex is sold and traded “under the name of ‘art, entertainment, tourism, and freedom.'” All of these complaints and others add up to bin Laden’s lament that America is “the worst civilization witnessed in the history of mankind.” The only solution he offers is that Americans convert: “The first thing we are calling you to is Islam.” Scheuer seems earnestly to believe that a change in U.S. foreign policy will end al-Qaeda’s war, but he arrives at that conclusion by selectively focusing on parts of bin Laden’s program while ignoring others that do not fit his narrative. Sometimes he allows this stance to blind him to reality as when he claims of bin Laden’s jihad: “The war is being fought, for now, only on Muslim territory.”

Conclusion

Omar and Najwa bin Laden, as participants in the life and history of Osama bin Laden, are able to tell us about their subject through their firsthand dealings with him, relying on their memories rather than research. Lawrence Wright is a storyteller whose sweeping narrative omits and ignores much in the interest of crafting a coherent portrayal of four different lives, spanning decades and continents, producing a work of art and of artifice. But Michael Scheuer is all three: a skilled analyst and historian, a capable storyteller, and a participant in the events of bin Laden’s life out to set the record straight.

The future of what may come to be known as “bin Laden studies” and the legacy of the man are still in question. Scheuer’s is the most recent biography with all subsequent books likely focusing on the hunt for and killing of bin Laden. And while it is too early to tell what the postmortem biographies will look like (none was available at this writing), it is likely that some will downplay and diminish the role of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, depicting the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, or some other nation-state or non-state entity as the more important force that pushed bin Laden onto the world stage while others will elevate and exaggerate the role of bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Still others will claim bin Laden was never killed in May 2011 at all. One wonders how Hollywood will present him in the bio-pics that are sure to come.

The most significant addition to the story will come with the declassification and release of the treasure-trove of information removed from bin Laden’s dingy hideout in Abbotabad.[20] Thus far of the dozens of hard-drives, thumb-drives, lap-tops and disks removed by the Navy SEALs, a mere seventeen documents have been made available to West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center.[21] Over time that data will be released, and it will be invaluable to future bin Laden biographers, assuming it consists of more than bin Laden’s pornography stash[22] and his collection of self-indulgent videos, like the one released on May 7, 2011, of a grey-haired bin Laden squatting in front of a television watching videos of himself.

first published in Middle East Forum

[1] Roseville, Calif.: Prima Lifestyles, 1999.
[2] Holliston, Mass.: Northeastern, 1999.
[3] London: Phoenix Paperbacks, 2002.
[4] New York: Free Press, 2006.
[5] New York: Knopf, 2004.
[6] New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
[7] New York: Knopf, 2006.
[8] New York: Penguin Press, 2008.
[9] New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.
[10] New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011.
[11]A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Prior to the September 11 Attacks, Special Report, Redacted and Unclassified,” Nov. 2004 (released publicly June 2005), Office of the Inspector General, chap. 2: Background.
[12] Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Jan. 8, 2007.
[13] New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
[14] Paul Davis, “IACSP Q & A with Michael Scheuer,” The Journal of Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security International, 2 (17), p. 70.
[15] Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2004.
[16] London: Verso, annotated ed., 2005.
[17] New York: Doubleday, 2007.
[18] The New York Times, July 22, 1993.
[19] Time Magazine, July 5, 1993.
[20] Mark Owen, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (New York: Dutton Adult, 2012), p. 247.
[21] CNN News, May 4, 2012.
[22] CBS News, May 14, 2011.

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Terrorism

A question mark on FATF’s credibility

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While addressing a political gathering, India’s external affairs minister  S. Jaishanker made a startling lapsus de langue “We have been successful in pressurizing Pakistan and the fact that Pakistan’s behaviour has changed is because of pressure put by India by various measures. “Modi made personal efforts on global forums like G7 and G20 to keep Pakistan on the list”.

He was addressing the BJP leaders’ training programme on the Modi government’s foreign policy. Jaishanker is suave person. He generally avoids filibusters and gung-ho statements.

Jaishanker lauded Modi also for pushing back China from Doklam and Ladakh. To quote his statement, he said, ‘“One was in Doklam where China had to go back and the second is when they tried infringing LAC (the Line of Actual Control) in Ladakh’.

Lies galore

Doklam

India’s view of Doklam is debatable. China thinks India was the aggressor. India intervened and stopped China road work at ostensibly Bhutan’s request (India has no border with China at Doklam). India’s intransigence at Doklam opened China’s eyes. China began to suspect what India has up its sleeve.

Stobden in a newspaper article last year `China’s past border tactics, especially in Central Asia, offer India a clue’ points out, `If India falls for some kind of Chinese position over Aksai Chin, Beijing will then shift the focus to Arunachal to emphatically claim 90,000 sq km from India. Ceding Aksai Chin would fundamentally alter the status of J&K and Ladakh’.

No more integral part. Just `might is right’ or `jis ki lathi us ki bhains‘ (he who has the staff, has the cow).

With tacit US support, India is getting tougher with China. The 73-day standoff on the Doklam Plateau near the Nathula Pass on the Sikkim border was actuated by implicit US support. .

 Being at a disadvantage vis-à-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations. China later developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate the Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 055-class under-construction missile destroyer 055.

The Chinese government released a map to accuse India of trespassing into its territory, and in a detailed statement in the first week of August, it said “India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan.”

India and China have one of the world’s longest disputed borders and areas — which include 37,000 sq km of uninhabited Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh with 1.4 million residents and over 84,000 sq km.

Meanwhile, their Armies have been modernising at a frenetic pace. The two sides are also carrying out one of history’s biggest conventional military build-ups along their borders. Doklam adds yet another flashpoint along the disputed borders of the two Asian giants.

Ladakh (Galwan) clashes

These clashes were at best a storm in a teacup. Both China and India have signed agreements not to use firearms. As such, India’s hullabaloo was much ado about nothing. Jaishanker like so many other Indian politicians keep projecting the issue as a “victory, nonetheless.

AT a height of 14,000 feet (Galwan Valley), the world’s first and second most populated countries and two nuclear powers engaged in violence. Thankfully for the planet they brawled with fisticuffs and threw stones at each other besides using barbed-wire-enveloped bludgeons to pummel each other.

In the battle that took place over several hours, India lost 20 lives, including an officer commanding (colonel). New Delhi claimed China lost 43 men as per radio intercepts.

India claimed that China’s aim is to “dominate Durbuk-DBO road, strengthen its position in the Fingers area, halt the construction of link roads in Galwan-Pangong Tso [salt lake] and negotiate de-escalation on its terms.” This is the assertion of Maj Gen (Dr) G.G. Dwivedi.

India alleged that not only have the Chinese changed the status quo at the Fingers, the mountain spurs along the lake, but also built substantial structures in the contested region of the Line of Actual Control. The hills protrude into the lake like fingers, and are numbered one to eight from west to east.

According to India, the LAC lies at Finger 8, but China points to Finger 4. The May 27 images by Planet Labs showed dozens of new structures, most likely tents that came up between Finger 8 and Finger 4 on the north bank of Pangong Tso, one of the main points of contention in the current standoff. The Indian Express (June 6) claimed this satellite imagery shows how the Chinese have changed the status quo on Pangong bank.

The Indian media alleged that China took over 640 kilometres of Ladakh territory. On the other hand the Chinese media insists that it is India which violated the Line of Actual Control.

The Chinese assertion was confirmed by Prime Minister Narender Modi. While addressing an all-party conference Modi said: “Neither have they [Chinese]” intruded into our border, nor has any post been taken over by them [China]. One wonders what was the point in whipping up of war hysteria by the Indian media. What a contradiction between Jaishankar’s and Modi’s statements.

FATF manipulated through India’s defence-purchases clout from influential countries

India leveraged its military purchases to keep Pakistan under the grey List. Amid Ladakh border standoff, India’s defence ministry approved purchase proposals amounting to an estimated Rs 38,900 cores. They included procurement of 21 MiG-29s, upgrading Indian Air Force’s existing MiG-29 aircraft, procurement of 12 Su-30 MKI aircraft. The MiG-29 procurement and up-gradation from Russia will cost Rs 7418 crore.

A bird’s-eye view of India’s defence deals

Rafale

India signed a formal agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault for a reported 7.9 billion euros (8.8 billion dollars), one of its biggest defense deals in decades.7 Apr 2021. The five Rafale fighter jets which landed in Ambala on 29th July, 2020 would

Resurrect the Number 17 Golden Arrows squadron of the Indian Air Force. It will take

the IAF’s squadron strength to 31. When all the 36 Rafale jets are delivered by 2022,

it will take it to 32 squadrons. The state-of-the-art 4.5 Generation Rafale jet can reach almost double the speed of sound, with a top speed of 1.8 Mach. With its multi-role capabilities, including electronic warfare, air defence, ground support and in-depth strikes, the Rafale lends

air superiority to the Indian Air Force.

Armed Forces $130 billion modernization plan

The plan includes acquisition of a wide variety of arms and armament that includes missiles, warships, drones, fighter jets, surveillance equipment and creation of architecture for Artificial Intelligence.

Recent India and US Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo[1]spatial Cooperation (BECA) deal on 27 October, 2020 in Delhi envisages digitising military applications. Broadly, there are four important aspects in the field of Battle field digitisation, which in military parlance is termed as Network Centric Warfare.

MiG upgradeIndia will upgrade 59 of its MiG-29 aircraft and buy 21 more from Russia for about $1 billion.

Artillery, tanks and missiles

India will buy Excalibur artillery rounds for M777 ultra light howitzersfrom the United States, Igla-S air defence systems from Russia and Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israel.

The Army will buy ammunition for its T-90 tanks, BMP-2 vehicles, air defence guns, artillery guns and small arms, as well as rockets, missiles and mortars. The Air Force will buy air-to-air missiles, air to-ground missiles, smart bombs, chaffs, flares and precision-guided munitions.

 Russia worth $800 million to buy weapons and spare parts.

India-US Guardian Drones Deal:

The US and the Indian Government signed a

$ 2-3 billion deal for the Guardian drones in 2018. The US Government has

cleared the sale of 22 predator Guardian drones to India. The drones are

manufactured by General Atomics.

 India-US Defence Deal of Naval Guns:

In November, 2019 a deal of $1.0210 billion with the US was sealed to obtain 13 MK45 Naval guns and related

equipment. The MK-45 Gun System will help India to conduct anti-surface

warfare and anti-air defence missions.

India-US Apache Contract:

India and the US have signed $930 million agreement for 6 Apache Helicopters for Indian Army. The contract was made in the year 2015 by the Indian Air Force for 22 Apache helicopters. Out of 22 helicopters, 17 have already been delivered to India and the rest will be delivered in the year 2023.

MH-60 Romeo Helicopters Deal:

Indian Navy will procure 24 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters.

FATF’s double standards

It is questionable why supporting ongoing freedom movement in the occupied Kashmir is “terrorism”, but not India’s support to militant groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and erstwhile East Pakistan. India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. The conduct of Indian diplomats amounted to state-sponsored terrorism. For one thing, India should close the `Free Balochistan’ office on her soil, and stop resuscitating propaganda skeletons of pre-Bangladesh days.

Unlike Kashmir, East Pakistan was not a disputed territory. It was an integral part of Pakistan. But, India harboured, nurtured, trained and armed Bengali ‘freedom fighters’ on Indian soil. Ina video, India’s army chief Manekshaw confessed that prime minister Indira Gandhi forced him to attack the erstwhile east Pakistan.

Negative impact of rigorous compliance

The managers of financial institutions in Pakistan are implementing the FATF conditions without understanding their purpose. They are harassing honest investors. For, instance, the manger of the national Saving Centre Poonch house Rawalpindi refuses to issue an investment certificate unless the applicant submits a host of documents. These documents include a current bank statement, source-of-income certificate besides bio-data along with a passport-size photograph. They call for the documents even if the applicant submits a cheque on his 40-year-old bank account.

Concluding remarks

The Financial Action Task Force has,  ostensibly,  noble objectives. It provides a `legal’, regulatory, framework for muzzling the hydra-headed monster of money-laundering. It aims at identifying loopholes in the prevailing financial system and plugging them. But, it has deviated from its declared objectives. It has become a tool to coerce countries, accused of financing terrorism or facilitating money-laundering.

The FATF is more interested in disciplining a state like Pakistan, not toeing US policies, than in checking money-laundering. The tacit message is that if Pakistan does not toe Indian and USA’s Afghan policy, and lease out air bases for drone attacks, then it will remain on FATF grey list. 

Pakistan is a bête noire and India a protégé at the FATF only because of stark geo-political interests. Otherwise the money laundering situation in India is no less gruesome than in Pakistan. India has even been a conduit of ammunition to the Islamic State study conducted by Conflict Armament Research had confirmed that seven Indian companies were involved in the supply chain of over 700 components, including fuses or detonating cords used by the so-called Islamic State to construct improvised explosive devices.

Political considerations, not FATF’s primary objectives, override voting behavior at the FATF..

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Terrorism

Politically expedient definition of “terrorism” to put Pakistan under watch list

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The writer is of the view that there is no universally-acceptable definition of “terrorism”. Influential countries in the United Nations utilize their leverage to get an individual or an entity declared a “terrorist”. “Freedom fighters” are called “terrorists” by their adversaries. He wonders whether it was fair to declare some religious or welfare organisations “terrorists’. And, to use this dubious “declaration” as justification to impose financial difficulties on Pakistan. He expressed ennui on apathy of international organisations towards India’s support, for example to Mukti Bahini that Pakistan considered a “terrorist’ organisation. The views expressed are personal.

The Financial Action Task Force is supposed to plug money laundering. It is not meant to dubiously declare a person or entity terrorist to impose financial restrictions on it. According to an Islamabad-based think tank Tabadlab, Pakistan sustained a total of US$ 38 billion in economic losses due to FATF’ decision to thrice place the country on its grey list since 2008. In a way, the whole Pakistani nation was punished by declaring some religious outfits “terrorists”.

 Dubious “terrorism” label

Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed state, notwithstanding India’s occupation of some parts of it. Flouting international resolutions declaring Kashmir a disputed territory, India annexed the part under its illegal occupation a centrally controlled territory ruled by New Delhi.

Kashmiris started a movement for freedom.

In the course of time some religious organisations in Pakistan began to support the freedom movement in India. India calls the freedom movement “terrorism, and by corollary whosoever supports it. Hafiz Mohammad Saied runs a few non-government welfare oganisations. Former president Musharraf’s, in an interview pointed out that Saeed’s organisations are the best in Pakistan. Through its leverage with the USA and some other countries, India managed to get Saeed designated a terrorist by the United Nations. Without substantial incriminating evidence, Saeed was portrayed as the mastermind of Mumbai attacks. The fact however remains that the Mumbai trials lacked transparency.

To create financial difficulties for Pakistan, India through its “friends” managed to get Pakistan on Financial Action Task Force watch list for inability to take adequate action against Hafiz Saeed.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg (2008) observed that “arbitrary procedures for terrorist black-listing must now be changed”. There is no definition of terrorism. Mukti Bahini in former East Pakistan was freedom fighters to India but terrorists to Pakistan. Cuban terrorists were decorated n the USA as “freedom fighters”.

Political expediency not fairness is the basis of the “terrorism” definition. To the USA Taliban were freedom fighters as long s they fought the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The US began to subsequently regard them as “terrorists” when they allegedly sheltered international “terrorists”. The Taliban were designated terrorists under resolutions 1267 and 1373. The US used its influence to the hilt to get them so declared.  

According to principles of penology, an offence has to be first defined before it is made punishable. In the absence of a global, universally acceptable definition of the word ‘terrorism’, any figment of imagination could be stretched to mean terrorism.

Unless the word ‘terrorism is defined, it will not be possible to distinguish it from a freedom movement, protest, guerrilla warfare, subversion, criminal violence, para-militarism, communal violence or banditry. A nation cannot be punished for individual acts of terrorism, according to principles of natural justice and penology.

In the historical context, the term meant different things to different individuals and communities. The oldest ‘terrorists’ were holy warriors who killed civilians. Recent examples of religious terrorists are Aum Shinrikyo (Japanese), Rabbi Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir (Jews).

The Jewish-controlled media describes Hezbollah and Hamas as ‘religious terrorists’. In the first century A.D Palestine, the Jews publicly slit the Romans’ throats, in the seventh century India, the thugs strangulated gullible passersby to please the Hindu Devi Kali, and the 19th century adherents of Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) mercilessly killed their pro-Tsar rivals.

Most historians believe that the term ‘terrorism’ received international publicity during the French reign of terror in 1793-94.

It is now common to dub one’s adversary a ‘terrorist’. Doing so forecloses possibility of political negotiation, and gives the powerful definer the right to eliminate the ‘terrorist’.

India’s self confessed “terrorism

Former East Pakistan was not a disputed state like Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, India tried tooth and nail to stoke an insurgency in East Pakistan. Confessions of former Research and Analysis Wing’s officers and diplomats bear testimony to India’s involvement in bloodshed in East Pakistan. B. Raman (A RAW officer), in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

Elements in the definition: Points to ponder

There is a cliche “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. “Terrorism” is focused from narrow angles. Some definitions focus on the terrorist organizations’ mode of operation. Others emphasize the motivations and characteristics of terrorism, the modus operandi of individual terrorists.

In their book Political Terrorism, Schmidt and Youngman cited 109 different definitions of terrorism, which they obtained in a survey of leading academics in the field. From these definitions, the authors isolated the following recurring elements, in order of their statistical appearance in the definitions[1]: Violence, force (appeared in 83.5% of the definitions); political (65%); fear, emphasis on terror (51%); threats (47%); psychological effects and anticipated reactions (41.5%); discrepancy between the targets and the victims (37.5%); intentional, planned, systematic, organized action (32%); methods of combat, strategy, tactics (30.5%).

Former RAW officer RK Yadav’s disclosures

 In a published letter, Yadav made  startling revelation that India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi, parliament, RAW and armed forces acted in tandem to dismember Pakistan. It is eerie that no international agency declared India a “terrorist” for its nefarious activities. His  confessions in his letter are corroborated  are corroborated by B. Raman in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW. He reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented, from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, got hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.

Why the hullabaloo about insurgency in Kashmir if India’s intervention in East Pakistan was justified.

Kulbushan Jadhav role

Jadhav was an Indian Navy officer, attached to RAW. His mission was to covertly carry out espionage and terrorism in Pakistan. Pakistan also alleged there were Indian markings on arms deliveries to Baloch rebels pushed by Jadhav.

To India’s chagrin, India’s investigative journalists confirmed from Gazettes of India that he was commissioned in the Indian Navy in 1987 with the service ID of 41558Z Kulbhushan Sudhir. A later edition of the Gazette showed his promotion to the rank of commander after 13 years of service in 2000. His passport, E6934766, indicated he traveled to Iranfrom Pune as Hussein Mubarak Patel in December 2003. Another of his Passports, No. L9630722 (issued from Thane in 2014), inadvertently exposed his correct address: Jasdanwala Complex, old Mumbai-Pune Road, cutting through Navi Mumbai. The municipal records confirmed that the flat he lived in was owned by his mother, Avanti Jadhav. Furthermore, in his testimony before a Karachi magistrate, Karachi underworld figure Uzair Baloch confessed he had links with Jadhav. India’s prestigious Frontline surmised that Jadhav still served with the Indian Navy. Gazette of India files bore no record of Jadhav’s retirement. India told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Jadhav was a retired naval officer. But, it refrained from stating exactly when he retired. The spy initially worked for Naval Intelligence, but later moved on to the Intelligence Bureau. He came in contact with RAW in 2010.

India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries? Will the world take notice of confessions by India’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?

Through Jhadav India wanted to replay the Mukti Bahini experience in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Doval doctrine: In line with India’s security czar Ajit Doval’s Doctrine, RAW aims at fomenting insurgency in Pakistan’s sensitive provinces. Doval is inspired by India’s nefarious efforts which resulted in the secession of East Pakistan. Naila Baloch’s `free Balochistan’ office has been working in New Delhi since 23 June 2018. BJP MLAs and RAW officers attended its inauguration.

Involvement in Afghanistan

India too trained Afghan Northern Alliance fighters. India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments,  refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”

Concluding remarks

It is questionable why supporting ongoing freedom movement in the occupied Kashmir is “terrorism”, but not India’s support to militant groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and erstwhile East Pakistan. India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries? Will the world take notice of confessions by India’s former diplomats. The conduct of Indian diplomats amounted to state-sponsored terrorism. For one thing, India should close the `Free Balochistan’ office on her soil, and stop resuscitating propaganda skeletons of pre-Bangladesh days.

Unlike Kashmir, East Pakistan was not a disputed territory. It was an integral part of Pakistan. But, India harboured, nurtured, trained and armed Bengali ‘freedom fighters’ on Indian soil.

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Terrorism

U.S.: From mass airstrikes to targeted terrorist attack

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The U.S.-led military operation “Inherent Resolve” has begun in August 2014. Its ostensible purpose was a struggle with the gaining ground ISIS at that moment. As the operation develops, Australia, France, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Belgium and other countries joined the American airstrikes.

United forces, with purposes to show power and strengthen its influence in the region carried out more than three thousand airstrikes in the first year, resulting in thousands of victims among civilians. It is worth to note that member states of the coalition didn’t try to hide the fact that their actions caused the death of thousands of people. In 2018, British authorities justified civilian deaths by the fact that militants used them as human shields and it was impossible task to minimize losses.

According to “Airwars”, the British non-government organization, from 2014 till 2019 up to 13,190 civilians were killed in Iraq and Syria as a result of the international coalition actions.

However, despite all the “efforts” and the Pentagon’s loud statements about the fight against international terrorism, the fact of the continuously growing territory controlled by the militants testifies the opposite. In addition, since 2015, facts of provided by Washington direct support to terrorists have begun to be revealed. U.S. and its allies produced weapons were repeatedly found in the territories liberated from jihadists. So, for example in 2017 during armed clashes with government troops militants used anti-tank TOW-2 and SAMS air defense systems of the U.S. production. Also, American medicines, communication tools and even component kits for UAVs were found in positions abandoned by terrorists.

The negative reaction of the international community began to rise in this context and Washington had no choice but to change the strategy of its activity in Syria. The practice of mass airstrikes was replaced by targeted terrorist attacks against government forces by their backed militants.

For implementing of such kind of actions, U.S. retained its military presence in Homs province where their military base Al-Tanf is deployed. A huge amount of evidence U.S. servicemen training armed groups fighters is widely accessible. Moreover it’s known that 55 km zone around Al-Tanf has been inaccessible to government troops for years and Syrian army attempts to enter the area were suppressed by the U.S. airstrikes.

At the same time, IS militants have been spotted moving in this region without encumbrance and used the base as a safe zone for regrouping. Terrorists slipped in Deir ez-Zor, Palmyra, as well as Daraa and As-Suwayda from this area. In addition, the U.S. has created the Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra group to fight government forces in the eastern section of the border between Syria and Iraq. Initially, the armed group was created to fight against government troops, but after a number of defeats they started to protect the area around the Al-Tanf.

Up to the date Washington continues to insist on Bashar al-Assad government “illegitimacy” and actively supports so-called moderate opposition. Pursuing its selfish economic and political goals, the United States counters to the international law, completely ignoring the tens of thousands victims among civilians and millions of refugees flooded Europe. Although the role of the White House and its allies in supporting terrorist groups is difficult to overestimate, the United States obviously will not consider it enough.

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