There are almost 500,000 Muslims in Australia, with 400 mosques serving them. According to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) 2012-103 Annual Report to the Australian Parliament, there are over 200 terror investigations going on. This infers that massive government resources are being ploughed into monitoring and surveillance of the Muslim community in Australia, as four Australian Prime Ministers have admitted.
There appears to be an insecurity on the part of lawmakers and successive governments about Muslim citizens in the Australian community. At first it was about immigration, and violence, which grew into terrorism after 9/11. The evidence used to support policy has not been accurate according to prominent Australian Tim Costello.
Official government comment and stories from within the Muslim community itself, indicate that the security services are spying on their own people in a similar manner they did with communist groups within the Australian community back in the 1950s and 60s.
According to both documented evidence and interviews of Muslims living in Australia, a disturbing picture of how groups of Australian’s are monitored and attempted to be influenced evolves.
According to this evidence, the Australian Government through various agencies uses both hard and soft approaches in their engagement of the many Islamic communities within Australia.
This first of these approaches has been through the use of intimidating legislation. The Australian Government has used world events to introduce anti-terror laws that allow for detention, lesson the burden of proof in courts of law, allow for easier surveillance, and drastically decrease the rights of Australian citizens in regards to the legal process, etc. This has given the government much more power over its citizens with little criticism by the Australian community. The mainstream media in Australia through sensationalism has generally supported such measures with only pockets of concern and criticism coming from minor alternative and foreign media.
The media sensationalism of Australia’s harsh anti-terror laws and ‘public ritualism’ through airport security for example, serves to remind and intimidate the Australian public about the threat of terrorism.
The media has used narratives which have contributed to ‘Islamphobia’ within Australia. This has suited government legislative objectives. Headlines like “Halal food dishing out radical change to society”, in The Daily Telegraph on 22nd May 2013, “Sharia unwelcome”, in The Australian on 9th March 2012, “Repressing women is sharia’s raison d’etre’”, in The Sydney Morning Herald on 5th May 2011, and “Muslim leader blames women for sex attacks”, in The Australian on 26th October 2006, are examples of this.
Media control of these narratives has certainly been a massive influence dividing the general population against Muslims in Australia according to a Victorian Police and Victoria University Research report.
This has coincided with a number of acts of violence towards both Muslims and mosques within Australia.
Groups like ‘Reclaim Australia’ thrive on these narratives to develop resentment in their propaganda against Muslims in Australia.
The Australian government has invested large sums of money and resources to electronically monitor the population as has been reported before. Some of this is undertaken ‘offshore’ by contractors to circumvent Australian law.
There is not just Australian Government surveillance on Muslims going on in Australia. There have been reports of Israeli spying on the Australian Muslim community going on. In addition, both the Saudi and Malaysian Governments are also according to many reports spying on their own students in Australia. This is something the Australian Government has known about for many years, but done little if anything to curtail.
In addition, the author heard numerous stories from members of Mosque congregations about ‘agents’ infiltrating Muslim groups in Australia, thus increasing suspicion of others within the Muslim community. Many Muslims feel they are being victimized and their freedom and practice of religion compromised. Such action, or mere rumors of surveillance and infiltration is not helping to resolve feelings of alienation and marginalization that many young Australian Muslims fell today, according to reports.
ASIO, like it did during the Cold War era, has caste the net too wide. Stories of bullying and harassing people for ‘friendly chats’, entrapment, bribing, and blackmail, in efforts to infiltrate the Australian Muslim community are rife.
The result of the above is that many Muslim’s feel that they are being held responsible by the Australian public for terrorism and extremism. This is particularly the case where the Australian Government has been promoting, or even insisting on the Australian Islamic community adopting a form of “moderate Australian Islam”. Any other form of Islam appears to be demonized and implicitly suggested as being a form of extremism. Many Muslims in Australia feel that very ideas have been criminalized, being deemed as extreme, blurring the lines between Islamic political activism and terrorism. This demonization has created fear and justified particular actions, such as Australian foreign policy in support of the United States, and the curtailing of civil liberties.
A dramatization of this was seen in the case of Dr. Muhamed Haneef back in 2007, where he was deemed guilty publicly, later to be totally exonerated by the Australian court process.
Islamphobia has been allowed to develop because it serves political ends. However it is destroying Australian multiculturalism and building opposition to immigration. This assisted Howard regain election back in 2001 with the ‘MV Tampa’ incident, and baseless allegations during the 2001 election campaign that boat people threw their children overboard to avoid being turned back at sea.
Australia is more unsafe than before. Some Muslims now feel unsafe to leave home. Many Muslims have been abused in public and arson of mosques in Australia is becoming more common. The turban and scarf have become symbols of terrorism. Raids have gone on around Australia where very few people have actually been charged with any offence.
Australian foreign policy has led to many disappointments within the Australian Muslim community. The invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, tacit support for the use of drones, Guantanamo, and the Australian behavior towards the David Hicks case, who has now been exonerated, have alienated many. This is particularly so, where many believe that objective discussion within the community about what they see as the real issues is suppressed. Muslims interviewed at a Friday prayer congregation, felt the Australian community wanted apologies from the local Muslim community over world events like 9/11, the Bali bombings, and 7/7.
According to a recent survey taken, 60% of Muslim Australians believe the ‘war on terror’ is a war on Islam.
Many Muslims have sympathy for the people who are now suffering because of ‘coalition’ foreign policy in the Middle East. The author heard of some who felt a duty or ‘jihad’ to help those who are suffering, and travel across to war torn areas. Many feel that the peoples of Syria and Iraq have been abandoned and left to suffer. However many have not gone to fight, as the Australian Government have espoused. They have gone to give humanitarian assistance to these war torn communities, and in some cases get caught up in the fighting. Consequently been painted are jihadist terrorists.
The question is, whether successive Australian Governments have sort to integrate or assimilate the Australian Muslim community? Much of the narrative has a neo-Christian undertone in its policy framework. ‘Reclaim Australia’ see Muslims as a threat to an Anglo-Australian culture and lifestyle, where Islamphobia has united a small core of Australians who are against multiculturalism.
The new citizenship test even appears to pose a ‘skewed concept of Australian values’. The attempts to legalize the stripping of citizenship, where a leading constitutional expert believes that people under the proposed laws can be stripped of citizenship by mere suspicion, appears to be a new attempt to intimidate migrants to Australia.
The political climate in Australia today does not allow for discussion about alternative approaches to fighting terrorism, or objective discussion about the refugee problem, not just facing Australia, but many parts of the world as well. The Australian Government paints a gloomy picture about the ‘war on terror’, by its own rhetoric, deeming it unwinnable. They insinuate that the Australian community is helpless and an easy prey for the ‘forces of evil’ through terrorism. This is creating some apprehension in middle Australia.
In a more eloquent characterization, the London Arab language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat compared Islamic State to a remote controlled “cluster bomb”. “Every explosion means as many fragments – jihadists spreading in an unpredictable way on large areas so that no command and counterterrorist operation center be able to prevent the deflagration clusters and its devastating effects.”
With the way Islamic State is reaching out to communities through cyberspace and espouse their narratives, more than just the ‘classical approach’ to fighting terrorism is required. The physiological sources that are producing fanatical and eschatological thinking that produces jihadistic terrorism needs to be engaged, rather than suppressed through counter force, as the natural reaction has been.
This requires a ‘new international doctrine’ that would include prevention, intervention, and reconstructing mentalities to prevent any re-establishment of terrorism under different names and new generations of groupings in the future. Australia is today playing no role in this necessary discussion.
The Australian Government approach to the ‘war on terror’ at home may lead to a much more conservative Australia, and weaken the Australian value of multiculturalism. It may divide rather than unite Australia. However, a divisive electorate may assist the Abbott Government win a second term in office.
As my dear friend, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic diagnoses: “terror is a tactics, not an ideology. How can one conduct and win war on tactics? – it is an oxymoron.” (Denazification Urgently Needed in Europe, policy paper)
Maybe part of the problem is the ‘war on terrorism’ itself.
Countering Terrorism: 2023 and Beyond
Pakistan has carried three significant issues from 2022 into 2023. These include political instability, a dwindling economy and resurging terrorism. With respect to terrorism, Afghanistan has assumed centre stage. Following the withdrawal of US forces on 15 Aug 2021, there was initial jubilation in Pakistan over Taliban’s triumph. It stemmed from the perception that US military presence in the region and drone strikes were the leading sources of regional instability.
2022 ended for Pakistan with an upsurge in terrorist activities and accordingly the New Year started with a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC). The press release following the meeting reiterated NSC’s resolve to ‘have zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan and reaffirmed its determination to take ‘on any and all entities that resort to violence.’ This is a welcome decision by the government and state organs.
Pakistan’s counterterrorism (CT) efforts gained momentum following the unprecedented Army Public School (APS) massacre of 2014. Some have compared it to Pakistan’s 9/11. The tragedy was relatable to all of Pakistan regardless of the so-called ethnic, regional or sectarian divides. The inhumane attacks brought the civil and military leadership together in assigning this scourge of terrorism the priority that it deserved. The most prominent outcome was a National Action Plan on countering terrorism that enjoyed broadest possible political support.
Subsequently, the united stance against terrorism enabled unprecedented successes in rooting out terrorism. However, it appears that the reduction in terrorist activities led to a sense of complacency which was further aided by growing political polarisation that had more to do with differences on domestic, economic and foreign policy issues. Unfortunately, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan occurred at a time when Pakistan was struggling with internal politics. Apparently, the eventual prevalence of Afghan Taliban against a super power that they had been resisting for two decades, emboldened the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to think that it could similarly attrite the Pakistani nation and its state organs.
TTP’s motivation seems to be misplaced for primarily three reasons. First and foremost, the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of Pakistan are fighting this war to provide a safe and secure environment to the future generations of the country – including their own children; unlike the US and coalition forces that neither had a clear objective nor a consistent policy to follow. Second, much of Afghan Taliban’s acceptance at the domestic level was based on the fact that they were fighting a foreign occupant – which is not the case for TTP. Thirdly, the Afghan Taliban assumed power by virtue of force rather than the will of the public and that is why they struggle to gain legitimacy at home and abroad.
Pakistani political leadership might differ on the possible approaches to dealing with this issue, but there certainly is no appetite for letting the TTP and associated factions consolidate power to a degree that they are able to challenge state’s writ at a level comparable to yesteryears. However, display of a united front by the various ruling parties at the Centre and provinces will help demonstrate that there will be no tolerance for terrorist activities no matter which political party assumes power.
TTP’s threat against the leadership of two ruling parties is an attempt to exploit the current domestic political divide. Political mudslinging on this issue only helps the enemy’s cause. The ongoing struggle for power between the political parties should not enable TTP to consolidate power in the interim period. Otherwise, it will become a greater threat for the next government to deal with. During the previous election years, terrorist outfits were successful in targeting the leadership of various political parties during their election campaigns and arguably changing the election outcomes by terrorising the electorate. It is in shared interest of all the political parties to avoid a repeat of such a scenario.
While the politico-military leadership establishes a united front at home, it will be important to deny external actors the ability to exploit Pakistan’s internal situation. Pakistan has been at the receiving end of accusations even as it presents irrefutable evidence of external involvement in terrorist activities inside the country. As Pakistan continues to expose foreign involvement, it ought to simultaneously deny foreign actors fertile ground to exploit at home. Previously, the foreign threat was limited to the Eastern front but now it has expanded at an unprecedented level to the Western front where the Taliban government is either complicit or unable to check use of its territory to launch terrorist attacks against Pakistan.
2023 is likely going to be the year of General Elections in Pakistan. Whichever party assumes power, it is important that it looks at counterterrorism as a long-term operation that will require broader political support, less in-fighting and an ability to stay the course impervious of temporary gains and setbacks which will inevitably be a part of the process.
A Rift Getting Deeper: TTP and IEA parting their ways?
A few days ago, an alleged audio of Tahreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief, Noor Wali Mehsud has caught the attention of those who keep a close eye on terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, especially Tahreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Through this audio, Noor Wali has sent a message, to TTP fighters to pick up arms against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) after its search operation in provinces along the Pak-Afghan border. Since the takeover of Kabul, some security analysts had predicted the possible collaboration of IEA with TTP. Still, the evolution of TTP strategies and its ideological shift from being a branch of IEA to being an opponent of IEA was observed. Only those who have kept a sharp eye on TTP activities know that TTP is now a threat to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The reason behind the shift in TTP’s strategies:
What compelled TTP to give such a big statement? This question comes to everyone’s mind, the below discussion is made in context to this question. The ideological standing of both TTP and IEA is far different. Afghan Taliban are ethnic nationals. They have only fought a war against foreign forces for Afghan territory and have never claimed any region beyond the borders of Afghanistan. However, TTP has long taken inspiration from Al-Qaeda, which has expansionist objectives and deadly takfiri ideology to create a falsified identity of believers and non-believers, only to legitimize its terror activities in the name of Islam. Hence, following the footprints of such a radical organization, there is a significant possibility that TTP will join hands with ISKP against IEA.
Question of natural and forced alliance:
Since the Kabul takeover, TTP has tried to align with IEA, thus, giving it the camouflage of a natural alliance. TTP’s leadership also manifested this narrative in its statements and activities. But the ideological drift and conflicting objectives show that TTP’s so-called alignment with IEA was one-sided and enforced. After the Kabul takeover, TTP tried its well to be a part of IEA but by rigid stance, IEA always cleared in their statement that TTP and IEA are two different groups, having different inspirations and goals.
Pakistan’s role that TTP in using Afghan soil:
Pakistan has been fighting TTP since 2003. In April 2022, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) struck the hideouts of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan along the Durand Line. This strike highlighted that a group within IEA was keen on providing safe havens to TTP. Hence, diplomatic pressure was mounted on IEA to eradicate TTP from the strategic provinces of Kunar and Khost.
Chance of Mutual tussle between TTP and IEA:
Is there another conflict going to happen in the region? Now, the battle is the same, but the opponents are different. The so-called narrative that claims IEA and TTP were on the same table is wrecking after TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud and IEA spoke’s person Zabiullah Mujahid’s statements.” They are not, as an organization, part of IEA, and we don’t share the same objectives,” Zabiullah Mujahid said in reaction to TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud’s claims of being a part of the IEA. Now, the TTP chief has alerted his fighters for war. It would create complexities in the region. IEA acted as a mediator between the government of Pakistan and TTP to make peace in the region. Additionally, Zabiullah mujahid also mentioned that We advise TTP to focus on peace and stability in their country. This is very important so, they can prevent any chance for enemies to interfere in the region, and we request Pakistan to investigate their demands for the better of the region and Pakistan.
Mujahid added that the TTP was Pakistan’s internal matter “The IEA stance is that we do not interfere in other countries affairs. We do not interfere in Pakistan’s affairs.”
After this emerging rift, would it be possible for IEA to counter TTP? IEA is struggling to stabilize the state after Kabul take over. Nowadays, Afghanistan’s security and economy are on the verge of chaos. It would not be able to engage in other conflicts nor do they have the power to do so. And if they engaged in battle with TTP, an alliance of ISKP and TTP can hurt Afghanistan. But if they counter them, there is a chance to get international sympathy and maybe recognition because it will endorse the Doha agreement, as Recognition has become a dire need in Afghanistan.
In a nutshell, it won’t be inappropriate to assume that another war will break out, and it is likely more drastic than the last ones. Despite all the hurdles, it is an opportunity for IEA to gain global sympathy for its recognition and to legitimize its regime. If the IEA becomes successful in convincing the world by taking action against terrorist outfits and extremism in its ranks, it will not only pave the way for its recognition but also meet with the minutes of the DOHA Accord to not allow any violent non-state actor to operate within Afghan territory.
Pakistan in a quagmire: Resurgence of terrorism along with its relations with Afghanistan
When Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, a large faction of the Pakistani society including mainstream politicians amused the fact that reins of Kabul had become in control of Taliban. One obvious reason for this felicitation was the much awaited perceived stability in neighboring Afghanistan which had direct impact on Pakistan. The other reason for jubilation in some factions was about the solidarity with regards to the identity of Afghan people. As brotherly nation, perseverance of Afghan people against the scourge of prolonged war, that too against the strongest military alliance, was a matter of inspiration for many in Pakistan. However, the formal response of the government was very much aligned with the global response. Islamabad did not officially recognize the interim government of Taliban. The eventful month of August, 2021 was followed by some key developments.
Considering the geo-political change in the neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan started to rethink its strategy at the western border. Through a backdoor channel, Islamabad approached the Taliban government to ensure the security of its western border from the hideouts of TTP living in Afghanistan. In short, Pakistan wanted the Taliban government to take strong action against TTP. However, in response to that, Kabul with TTP onboard, came up with a “quid pro quo plus” approach. It urged the Pakistan’s government to have a formal agreement with TTP which later on proceeded through a back door channels. In the agreement, TTP agreed for so called cease-fire along and inside Pakistan’s territory in exchange for cessation of Pakistan’s military operation against TTP. Moreover, the strangest of demands that Pakistan agreed to, was providing, the previously expelled TTP associates, with permission to come back and reside in districts of the tribal area. On the other hand, second critical development following the fall of Kabul, was Pakistan’s stance in the international community with respect to humanitarian concerns in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s foreign minister repeatedly urged the International community to establish a meaningful dialogue and engagement with the fragile state of Afghanistan to help the people of Afghanistan. He frequently argued that alienation of a rouge actor prompts even harsher human rights violation by that actor. Hence the world should not neglect Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan Rather, it should accept the reality and engage with Afghanistan.
However, it is extremely unfortunate to write that, both the aforementioned developments, gave rise to a Pro-Taliban sentiment vis-à-vis Pakistan. Nevertheless, the same sentiment has often been misrepresented in the western literature, and the same narrative has also been used to demonize Pakistan at the international forums. However, in reality Pakistan had been the most affected country by terrorism and it had been fighting against the scourge of terrorism since over a decade now. What is even more unfortunate is that in the recent past, TTP announced to resume its nefarious terrorist activities in Pakistan. As a result, a spike in terrorist events specifically in KPK province has been witnessed. The December 21st,2022 military operation is a testament to aggravating law and order situation in the country, in which a group of 25 TTP associated terrorists had been killed, while holding a CTD compound, hostage in Bannu.
Because there is a resurgence of terrorism coupled with the international criticism due to perceived relations with Afghanistan under Taliban. “Pakistan is appeared to be in a quagmire.”
Now, what Pakistan can pursue to undo this, is to redevise a comprehensive plan of action against terrorism in KPK and former FATA. It should also formulate a clear strategy at the western border not to tolerate any presence as well as influx of militants from Afghanistan. Moreover, for future, the state of Pakistan should also learn from the abysmal agreement that it went in with a Non-State Actor (NSA). For NSA’s an agreement is nothing more than a concealing tool for a limited survival. It is because of the three reasons. First, an agreement is always done between two responsible actors; terrorist group like TTP has no burden of responsibility neither in a domestic setting nor at the international level. Whereas, a sovereign state has immense responsibility at the domestic and international level. Second, an agreement between two states holds significance because of the perceived repute in the international system, Whereas, for a non-state actor like TTP, International reputation never comes into the equation as such groups are already infamous for their terrorist agenda. Third, States are mostly bound to stick fast to their bilateral or multilateral agreements, because of the fear of diplomatic and economic sanctions once they pull back from the agreement. Whereas in case of Non-state actors, there exist no such incentive to remain in the agreement.
Considering all the three reasons, it is quite evident that engaging with TTP for so called ceasefire agreement was neither viable nor will it ever be, particularly because, as a state, Pakistan would have to offer a lot in exchange to absolutely nothing. Moreover, because of such an agreement, Pakistan would itself invite criticism from the already skeptical international community. Hence for Pakistan, no tolerance policy against terrorism is the only option possible in order to lower domestic and international cost simultaneously.
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