Much media attention has recently focused on a statement issued by al-Qaeda’s central command on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border under Ayman al-Zawahri’s leadership, declaring that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has no relationship with the central leadership of al-Qaeda.
On the basis of this development, one might think that ISIS, which has hitherto been described in the media as an “al-Qaeda affiliate,” may lose ground and standing in the eyes of jihadis and their supporters both inside and outside Syria. Indeed, in Jordan, the Salafist-jihadist movement has come firmly on the side of Jabhat al-Nusra against ISIS, maintaining strong links with Jabhat al-Nusra in the southern Syrian border province of Daraa, which lacks an ISIS presence.
One should also note the extent to which tensions on the ground have grown between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Beginning with infighting between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS in the city of Raqqa, clashes have since spread further out east.
On Feb. 7, Jabhat al-Nusra released a statement criticizing ISIS in Deir Ezzor province and the wider east of Syria, pointing to long-standing grievances like ISIS’ besieging the headquarters of Jabhat al-Nusra in the Hassakeh province locality of Ash Shaddadi, despite their cooperation against Kurdish and regime forces.
Indeed, now that al-Qaeda’s central command has officially disavowed ISIS, Jabhat l-Nusra’s leadership no longer has to consider ISIS a part of the same al-Qaeda family and therefore, it may side with ISIS’ enemies.
These issues notwithstanding, it is unlikely that ISIS’ role in Syria and among jihadis and their supporters across the world will be diminished. First, the media’s constant descriptions of ISIS as an “al-Qaeda affiliate” until this recent statement have been deeply misguided and reflect a misunderstanding of how ISIS has seen itself.
According to ISIS supporters and fighters I know, ISIS and its predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), have been independent of al-Qaeda since the inception of ISI in October 2006. This line of narrative — articulated by them long before this statement — argues that when ISI was formed, it absorbed what was then al-Qaeda in Iraq (which was certainly the main component of the ISI umbrella coalition), as the pledge of allegiance was switched from al-Qaeda to the emir of ISI.
ISIS’ supporters and fighters further point to Zawahri’s statement in 2007 explicitly stating that there is no “al-Qaeda in Iraq” anymore, as it had joined other jihadist groups in the ISI.
Regardless of whether one wishes to accept this narrative of independence from al-Qaeda from the very beginning, there is no doubt that the ISI quickly became an organization capable of supporting itself financially and supplying its own manpower.
Today, as has been the case for years, ISIS’ vast financial resources are in large part being driven through the extensive networks of extortion and other crimes it runs in Mosul and wider northern Iraq, making at least $1 million a month from the city alone. Despite its setbacks during the US troop surge and the Sahwa tribal revolt, ISI was never quite dislodged from Mosul.
More recently, ISIS has been able to acquire additional funding through controlling oil and gas resources in eastern Syria, constituting what we call a major “crime family” in opposition to two other major groupings: Jabhat al-Nusra working with the Islamic Front, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
ISIS’ considerable financial clout — as well as the fact that members and supporters take offence to being described as a mere “group” or “faction” — has been a key factor behind the group’s vast territorial expansion, such that the group now has more strongholds than before the infighting.
Indeed, there has also been a misunderstanding of how ISIS organized itself prior to the large-scale conflict with other rebel groups. Rather than focusing on acquiring strongholds, ISIS previously tried to gain footholds in as many localities as possible, and as a result became too thinly spread and vulnerable to a multi-pronged attack.
Since then, ISIS has regrouped, allowing it to seize exclusive control of the important Aleppo provincial towns of al-Bab and Manbij. In Raqqa province, the gains have been even more impressive: exclusive control of the provincial capital, the key border town of Tel Abyad and all other localities apart from a PYD stronghold just west of Tel Abyad and a couple of regime air bases — the Tabqa military airport and Brigade 17.
Such territorial control, along with a heavy, open emphasis on proto-state building and the goals of re-establishing the caliphate and achieving eventual world domination (goals also supported by Jabhat al-Nusra, though hardly ever articulated openly except by foreign fighters in unofficial video footage), has meant that ISIS continues to be the No. 1 banner to which Sunni jihadist foreign fighters congregate.
On the wider international scene, al-Qaeda’s disavowal of ISIS has only hardened pre-existing divisions among the global jihad movement that have long been apparent.
For example, over the last summer and in subsequent months, I noted signs of support for ISIS from the Gaza/Sinai region. This trend has been reinforced by recent affirmations of support from two major jihadist groups in this area: Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is behind attacks in Egypt beyond the Sinai Peninsula, and the Majlis Shura al-Mujahedeen, active in both the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip and at strong odds with Hamas. As for the Jordanian Salafist support for Jabhat al-Nusra noted above, this trend can be traced back to the very beginning of the dispute.
The question of whether ISIS’ influence can be reduced ultimately depends on how well other rebel groups can form a united front against it. So far, events on the ground still point to the obstacle of localization for such an effort to come about.
In short, the current situation suggests a cementing of current positions, similar to what happened in the wider rebel-PYD conflict that broke out in mid-summer 2013, rather than a decisive victory for ISIS or its rivals.
In real terms, it is ISIS and not al-Qaeda that is making headway in building a caliphate, with extensive advertising of its projects on social media. Combined with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi‘s projection of himself as a caliph (in calling himself Emir al-Mu’mineen), ISIS and al-Qaeda are effectively in direct competition with each other over who gets to set up and rule an envisioned caliphate, the greatest challenge yet to al-Qaeda’s status as the leading face of global jihad.
Despite sharing a virtually identical ideological program and being much younger than al-Qaeda, ISIS looks set to retain the upper hand for the time being, so long as it does not incur substantial territorial losses and can showcase its caliphate-building better than al-Qaeda and its official affiliates.
Terrorists potentially target millions in makeshift biological weapons ‘laboratories’
Rapid advances in gene editing and so-called “DIY biological laboratories”which could be used by extremists, threaten to derail efforts to prevent biological weapons from being used against civilians, the world’s only international forum on the issue has heard.
At meetings taking place at the United Nations in Geneva which ended on Thursday, representatives from more than 100 Member States which have signed up to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) – together with civilian experts and academics – also discussed how they could ensure that science is used to positive ends, in line with the disarmament blueprint set out by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Although the potential impact of a biological weapons attack could be huge, the likelihood is not currently believed to be high. The last attack dates back to 2001, when letters containing toxic anthrax spores, killed five people in the US, just days after Al Qaeda terrorists perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Nonetheless, the rise of extremist groups and the potential risk of research programmes being misused, has focused attention on the work of the BWC.
“There’s interest from terror groups and we’re also seeing the erosion of norms on chemical weapons,” said Daniel Feakes, head of the BWC Implementation Support Unit at the UN in Geneva.
“That could spread to biological weapons as well,” he said, adding that “at the worst, you could be talking of epidemics on the scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, or even a global pandemic that could result in millions of deaths.”
In a bid to stay on top of the latest biological developments and threats, the BWC’s 181 Member States hold a series of meetings with experts every year, traditionally in the summer. The reports that are discussed during these sessions are then formerly appraised in December.
At the eight-day session just ended, science and technology issues were debated for two days – a measure of their importance.
Among the developments discussed was the groundbreaking gene-editing technique CRISPR. It can be applied – in theory – to any organism. Outside the Geneva body, CRISPR’s use has raised ethical questions, Mr. Feakes said, but among Member States, security ramifications dominated discussions.
“Potentially, it could be used to develop more effective biological weapons,” he said, noting that the meetings addressed the growing trend of “DIY biological labs”. However, the meetings also focused on the promotion of “responsible science” so that “scientists are part of the solution, not the problem”.
In addition to concerns that the Biological Weapons Convention lacks full international backing, the body has also faced criticism that its Members are not obliged to allow external checks on any illegal stockpiles they might have.
The issue highlights the fact that the BWC lacks a strong institution, its handful of administrators dwarfed by larger sister organizations including the OPCW – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The OPCW’s 500-strong staff – based in the Hague – have weapons inspectors training facilities, Feakes notes, explaining that the BWC’s focus is therefore much more “about what States do at a national level”.
Concern for the future
Looking ahead, and aside from the rapid pace of scientific change, the biggest challenge is keeping the Biological Weapons Convention relevant – which appears to still be the case today.
“There are no States that say they need biological weapons,” Mr. Feakes says. “That norm needs to be maintained and properly managed. You can’t ban CRISPR or gene editing, because they can do so much good, like finding cures for diseases or combating climate change. But we still need to manage these techniques and technologies to ensure they are used responsibly.” Gene editing, in simple terms, involves the copying of exact strands of DNA, similar to cutting and pasting text on a computer.
The latest BWC session in the Swiss city also involved key intergovernmental organizations, scientific and professional associations, academic institutions, think tanks and other non-governmental entities.
Formally known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, the BWC was the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons.
It opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It currently has 181 States Parties, and six States that have signed but not yet ratified it.
Where is Our Sovereignty?
In the name of anti-terrorism, the Justice Department of U.S.A has urged its acquisition of all modes of powers since the birth of our country. Following are some fundamental considerations.
Why, at all, do our civil rights have to be sacrificed in order to protect (so called) us from terrorists by this outside force, called as hegemony? Why even has U.S. taken the responsibility on interfering in Pakistan’s (and the worlds) internal matters as that of security? The argument is whether security is more crucial than our liberty. We are told that the Justice Department requires these powers in order to make us secure. But the central question goes deeper – will the sacrifice of our liberty actually make us safer, for we accept their dominance and let them interfere in our matters, why?
Can we be made absolutely safe by U.S.’s interference in our security matters? No. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together realizes this. The War on Terrorism, occurring in Pakistan, will not be won, as this war is a political act, done by politicians for political reasons. We had a war on poverty, and lost. We had a war on drugs, and lost. These kinds of wars are not about resolving issues, they are about appearing to resolve issues.
The biggest blind liberty we openly give to The U.S. is the power to name anyone amongst us as a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism, without any proof or any judicial review of the claim; we trust American leaders to name someone a terrorist or a devotee of terrorism only for the reason of protecting from terrorists. They do this in secret, on the basis of whatever information or sources they characterize, and with no one ever able to review their decision.
Once they have determined that someone is a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism (remember no testimony required), they assert (or want) the right to detain indefinitely, and in clandestine. That is, should they decide you are a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism; they get to secretly arrest you and hold you as long as they want without anyone knowing why or where. No court is able to review this situation. Where is our sovereignty at this point?
The above, of course, has to do with the eavesdropping they want to do, or their ability to come into our homes without a warrant and copy our hard drive, and make it possible to copy all the keystrokes we make and harass us for whatever petty grievance they hold.
Now ask yourself, how does their interference in our matters of security make us safe from terrorists? How does their power to name someone a terrorist or a supporter of terrorists, without judicial review, make us safer? Such a power only makes the judgments, of those who hold this power, safe from any abuse of that power. How the power to search and arrest without warrant make us safer? For it threatens not the terrorists, but our sovereignty.
Nuclear Terrorism and Pakistan
Nuclear terrorism is a potential threat to the world security. According to the EU representative terrorists can get access to nuclear and radioactive materials and they can use it to terrorize the world. Nuclear security expert Mathew Bunn argues that “An act of nuclear terrorism would likely put an end to the growth and spread of nuclear energy.”After 9/11 the world has observed that al-Qaida wanted to get nuclear weapons. In case terrorists acquire nuclear materials, they would use it for the production of a dirty bomb. A dirty bomb is not like a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb spreads radiation over hundreds of square while; nuclear bomb could destroy only over a few square miles. A dirty bomb would not kill more people than an ordinary bomb. It will not create massive destruction, but it will cause the psychological terror which will lead to a panic situation which is more devastating. The world has not experienced of any act of nuclear terrorism, but terrorists expressed their desires to gain nuclear weapons. The IAEA has observed thousands of incidents of lost, left and unauthorized control of nuclear materials and such materials can go into the wrong hands.
After 9/11 terrorism generated negative perceptions about the nuclear security of Pakistan. Often western community pressurizes Pakistan that its nuclear weapons can go into the wrong hands due to the terrorism in it. The fact is that Pakistan has faced many terrorist attacks, but not any attack towards its nuclear installation facility and radiation has been occurred. Mostly, nations obtain nuclear weapons for the international prestige, but Pakistan is one of those states which obtained nuclear capability to defend itself from India which has supremacy in conventional weapons. It played a leading role in the efforts of nuclear security since inception of its nuclear weapons. The result is that no single incident of theft and sabotage has been recorded in Pakistan.
Pakistan is a very responsible state and it has taken foolproof measures to defend the its nuclear installations and nuclear materials against any terrorist threats. Pakistan is not the member of the nonproliferation(NPT), Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Fissile material cut off treaty (FMCT) because India has not signed them. If Pakistan signs these treaties and India does not, it would raise asymmetry between both rival states of South Asia. Pakistan’s nuclear non-proliferation policy is based on principles as per the NPT norms, although ithas not signed it. Pakistan had also proposed to make South Asia a nuclear free zone in 1970 and 80s, but India did not accept that.
However, Pakistan is a strong supporter of non-proliferation, nuclear safety and security. In this context, it is the signatory of a number of regimes. Pakistan has established the its Nuclear Regulatory authority (PNRA) since22 January, 2001 under the obligations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The PNRA works under the IAEA advisory group on nuclear security and it is constantly improving and re-evaluating nuclear security architecture. Pakistan has ratified the 2005 amendment to the physical protection convention for the physical security of nuclear materials. When Obama announced nuclear security summit in 2009,Pakistan welcomed it. It has not only attended all nuclear security summits, but proved with its multiple nuclear security measures that it is a responsible nuclear state. Pakistan’s nuclear devices are kept unassembled with the Permissive Action Links (PALs) to prevent the unauthorized control and detonation of nuclear weapons. Different US policy makers and Obama have stated that “we have confidence that the Pakistani military is equipped to prevent extremists from getting an access to the nuclear materials.”
The dilemma, however is that some major powers favour India due to their geopolitical interests, despite India’s low score in nuclear security than Pakistan, as is evident from the reports prepared by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).The US has always favoured India for the membership of the NSG ignoring Pakistan request to become a member of the NSG, despite that it has taken more steps than India to ensure nuclear safety and security. It is following United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540(which is about the prevention of proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDS) and it is the first state which has submitted its report to the UN.
The report explains the measures taken by Pakistan to ensure radiological security and control of sensitive materials and WMDs transfer. Although Pakistan has suffered a lot due to terrorism, but its nuclear security measures are strong and appreciable. Recently, IAEA director visited Pakistan and appreciated its efforts in nuclear safety and security. In view of Pakistan’s successful war against terrorism, its success in eliminating terrorism in the country, and strong measures that it has taken to secure its nuclear installations and materials, their should be no doubt left about the safety Pakistan’s nuclear materials.
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