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Trends in the Spread of Radical Islam in Africa: The Case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Galina Sidorova

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Authors: Galina Sidorova and Natalia Zerlitsina*

Islamic radicalism and extremism are perceived around the world as a major threat to international security. The Islamists started developing terrorism and took it to a global level. Today, perhaps, there is no continent where this problem would not be acute. This is the standpoint of scientist D. V. Trenin who presents his reasoning in the article Traditional and New Security Challenges in International Relations [Trenin 2015: 138]. Indeed, one could easily agree with him.

In recent times, intrusion and spread of radical Islam has become evident in African countries, where, as it is, the problems of national and continental security have not been solved due to the never-ending armed conflicts. The most prevalent Islamic groups in sub-Saharan Africa are the Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Other widespread groups are the Sheikh Balala sect in Kenya with an active subdivision in Zimbabwe, the Sunni Muslim Association in Cote d’Ivoire, the People against Gangsterism and Drugs, and the Islamic Jihad in the Republic of South Africa (the RSA). In Nigeria, the greatest danger is posed by the Boko Haram extremist organization imposing the Shariah laws and extirpation of the Western lifestyle; in Senegal — the Al-Falah Movement for Salafi Islamic culture; in Burkina Faso, there is Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah al-Muhammad; in Somalia — Al-Shabaab and Jihad al-Islamiyya, the radical wing of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (headed by Oumar Ould Hamaha); Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that seized control over the northern territories of Mali and, in October 2012, was holding 9 European citizens as hostages, 6 of whom were French [Kemal 2015: 156].

The revivalists’ backbone is not only Islam coming from Arab countries of the East and the Maghreb. The African reality has seen some examples of religious extremism conceiving in the depths of the African society itself. These are various sects and groups primarily calling attention of disadvantaged population of the country, striving for a better life. They all differ in terms of dogmatic principles. Although the majority of them are constituted by Sunni Muslims, in a number of countries there is also the Shia minority (notable for bravery in combat, no fear of death, belief in afterlife), which is also influential due to the financial, organizational and moral support of Iran. The influence of Shia revivalists is apparent in Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and the RSA.

It should be noted that the term “Islamic revivalists,” which is most often associated with terrorism did not always bear this negative connotation. If we look back in history, we will see that it entered the political lexicon in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, after rise of the anti-Shah regime in Iran. Russian diplomat and orientalist A. I. Vavilov asserts that “it is not always justifiable that Islamic revivalism is applied to fairly broad, vague and, in many respects, motley religious-political movement standing for return to the “original, radical values of Islam” (not incidentally, the Arabic word for “revivalists” means “radicalists”) [Vavilov 2009: 229]. Another scientist, Africanist A. D. Savateyev, maintains the position that Islamic revivalism is far from the national spirit, although it “incorporates a range of diverse outlooks from the spiritual and religious point of view, and reflects the interests of various social strata and sentiments of many categories of Muslims” [Savateyev 2006: 201]. He mentions the following classification of Islamists. The first category is focused on the intrinsic values of eternal order — justice, equality, and fair work in accordance with Koranic precepts. The second category does not follow the rules and regulations of the “true” Islam and appeals to the brothers of the religion with proposals to follow the prophetic directives. The third one goes beyond the “brothers” circle and seeks to impose its standards of behavior upon adherents of other confessions. The fourth category of the Muslims includes representatives of secular intellectuals, merchants; it stands for connecting Islam to the government, and, in fact, for the re-establishment of a theocratic state. Although, the views of the adherents are far from being identical in this case. The fifth category of the revivalists is the armed jihad, manifested as achieving the goal (creation of a unified Islamic religious and political entity) by any means including the fight against “expansion” of Christians and reprisal against infidels. The basic features of the moral portrait of the revivalists’ extremist wing are cynicism and resentment aimed at breach of native African values. According to the ideology of Islamic extremism, a Muslim is merely obliged to fight the non-Muslims, that is, to conduct armed jihad. [Savateyev 2006: 230].

Study of penetration of Islam and its implications to one of the Central African countries — the DROC — provides a visual representation of the topic addressed. In the DROC, Islam has been recognized relatively recently, though islamization of the country, advancing from the east of the DROC, had been known as early as before the arrival of the Portuguese to the continent (1482). In March 1972, the President of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko issued Decree 72/194 on the foundation of the Islamic Community of the Republic of Zaire (COMIZA), which later transformed into the Islamic Community of the DROC (COMICO) [Cheik Ali Mwinyi…La Référence plus. Kinshasa 2014: P. 2]. This organization is officially recognized and unites only a part of the Muslim community in the DROC. Besides COMICO, there are other Islamic organizations acting “on a private basis”. In March 2014, from among 12 contenders for the post of the Head of the Islamic community Mufti Sheikh Ali Mwini Mkuu was elected to a 5-year term — a politically literate, well-educated person maintaining an active position in the subregional, continental and international organizations [Les musulmans de la RDC…L’Observateur. Kinshasa 2014: P.11]. Wide connections and communications with regional and international colleagues enable the Mufti to collect information, “keep his finger on the pulse”, and control the situation in the country.

In 2012, the Islamic Community of the DROC launched the programme “Peaceful Settlement of Conflicts, Administration and Efficient Governance,” with the view to train representatives in the provinces of the country. The initiative involved 48 regional committees and 288 Islamic centres, which employ about three thousand activists. According to the Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Community of the DROC M. Seto-Bagoni, who is in charge of legal issues, trained specialists will provide indispensable support to the DROC Government in establishing peace and supremacy of the statute law across the country. In the provinces, Congolese people are also provided with the necessary legal, expert, and advisory assistance to settle the internal political situation in the Republic. With the assistance of local, regional and international sponsors, about USD 130,000 were allocated for the implementation of the Islamic Community’s project.

It should be kept in mind that the role of religious denominations in the social and political life of the DROC, taking into account the deep piety inherent in the Africans, is extremely high. The dominant position is held by Catholicism, which is practiced here by more than 50% of the 80 million population, and by Protestantism as its branch — 20%. This data identifies the DROC as the largest Catholic country in Africa and draw special attention to Kinshasa from the Vatican. The National Episcopal Conference, declaring its position on key issues of domestic and foreign policy on a regular basis, demonstrates significant interest in this region. Catholic structures, traditionally involved in political processes, occupy senior positions in the government. For example, Abbot Apollinaire Malumalu has been elected as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission twice — in 2006 and in 2013. Religious leaders mediate the processes of settlement of the Eastern crisis, coordinate the provision of humanitarian assistance, and offer a wide network of higher and secondary educational institutions.

Afro-Christian syncretic sects (especially Kimbanguism) also have numerous congregations in a number of provinces, and, according to their postulates (chosenness of the Africans and etc.), are characterized by considerable political engagement, often of separatist or anti-European orientation (about 10%). There are many various religious sects. As a rule, they are fee-paying, but due to the preachers’ rhetoric skills and their ability to attract attention, the sects are very popular among the local population. Orthodox Christianity is represented thinly (five parishes). It is professed by about 3% of the population. According to 2015 estimates, 10% of the Congolese are Muslims.

The largest number of adherents of Islam is concentrated in the east of the country, in the Provinces of Orientale, Maniema, and in the north of Katanga. In the DROC, along with Christian buildings for public worship, there are 70 mosques belonging to different Muslim communities: Pakistani, Iranian, Lebanese, Indian and others.

Year by year, the percentage of the Congolese people professing Islam is growing. This is partly promoted by the presence of Muslim peacemakers in the country, who serve with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DROC, and by numerous Pakistani military units that provide financial support for the Islamic communities, in particular in construction of mosques. The severe internal political, economic and social situation in the country fosters the spread of the radical wing of Islam.

In one of the author’s conversations that took place in Kinshasa in 2013, Sheikh Abdalah Mangal told that the Islamic Community in the DROC has nothing to do with so-called radical, aggressive Islamists. The Community is thoroughly monitoring manifestations of proselytism with the purpose of nipping it in the bud; it aims at reconciling hostile ethnic groups, at settlement of conflict situations including those in the east of the country, and stands for consolidation of the peoples of various religious confessions. Muslims try to spread and introduce their culture, open schools and provide humanitarian assistance to the poverty-ridden Congolese population. However, according to the Mufti, in spite of the attractiveness of Islam, the Congolese authorities inhibit the spread of this religion in the “Catholic country”. He gave the following example. On April 18, 2013, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights of the DROC signed a decree on suspension of the activities of the Islamic Community for three months (the reasons are not disclosed). The decree was abolished after the Mufti had argued against it and appealed to the Congolese authorities.

As Congolese analysts assert, although within the period of 2011–2014 no radical Islamists’ organizations were detected in the country, still there are certain fears about penetration of jihadist ideas. According to the experts, the Muslim influence is, albeit slowly, but moving to the DROC. In the west the “Muslim wave” is coming from Mali and Nigeria; in the east — from Kenya through Uganda and Rwanda; in the south — from Tanzania and Zambia; and in the north — from the Central African Republic (the CAR), subsequent to the coup in March 2013.

It is Mali — the “citadel” of Islamism in Africa — which is often named by the experts an “epicenter of the spread” of radical Islam. They do not exclude that the conflict between Salafists, who differ dogmatically, ideologically, politically and culturally, can be brought to the Republic Congo, similar to the conflict between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, which was brought to the DROC from outside. In this regard, a large Malian community in the DROC, living by its own laws and having its own mosque, raises certain concerns. Another threat originates in Nigeria, where ethnic antagonisms between the “Christian south” and the “Muslim north” pose a real danger, up to division of the country into two states. Consequences of the conflict may well have an effect on the central region of Africa where the refugees of different faiths will rush into. As a result, “foreign” problems will affect the already existing ethnic and religious contradictions. A serious danger is also posed by crossing the “unconsolidated” border by militants-illegal aliens from South Sudan, who partially “settled down” in the DROC. This makes the Congolese society extremely vulnerable in the face of the permanent terrorist threat.

Another source of threat of the spread of Islam in the DROC is the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) where, as already noted, a coup took place. According to MONUSCO Russian military observers, on December 5, 2013, near the residential community of Zongo in the Province of Équateur (the DROC), bordering the residential community of Bangun (the CAR), armed clashes broke out between the Muslim Seleka and the Christian Antibalaka organization. By the experts’ assumption, the ethnic conflict escalated as a result of mass activity of French troops, which deployed the “Sangaris” (which means “red butterfly” in Swahili) operation in the CAR. It was also reported that about 10 militaries of the Seleka movement oppositional to the CAR government entered the DROC territory. Streams of refugees from the CAR were crossing the border and “dissolving” in the forests of the DROC since they did not want to stay in the refugee camps because of the unstable situation in the region. The Congolese people, who lived in the areas bordering the CAR, also responded to the situation and fled from the country. Generally, the situation complicated because the civilian population of the DROC was extremely irritated by the aliens from the neighboring country who provoked conflicts and worsened the already disastrous conditions in the state. The incomers were not only “pressing” the local population in the Province of Équateur, but were also bringing with them Islamic culture alien to the Congolese Christians and to those, who adhere to the local faiths. According to the UNHCR, in May 2014 in the DROC, there were about 70 thousand refugees from the CAR and six thousand Congolese returnees. In addition to the arriving refugees, another problem arose in the country. The CAR militants started seizing the DROC territory. The risks of migration processes and the destabilization associated with them are addressed in details in analytical notes by Russian researchers K. Borishpolets and A. Babadzhanov [Borishpolets K., Babadzhanov A. 2007: 3-7].

The threat of radical Islam in the DROC and other African countries comes not only from the East and the Maghreb. After the investigations of the terrorist attack that was carried out in Nairobi on September 21, 2013 (67 people died), the non-governmental organization Red Cross came to the conclusion that the militants had also been recruited in Europe. Germans, Scandinavians, Americans were among them. According to the European Union Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, “it is necessary to find out how people get there”. In Belgium, for example, there exists an organization for recruiting mercenaries, the so-called Sharia4Belgium Organization (L’Organisation de la Chariat pour la Belgique). European mercenaries were seen in Syria and Kenya [Les Shebabs…L’Observateur 2013: P. 11].

The eastern regions of the DROC are the most vulnerable and susceptible to jihadist influence. Considerable length and “unconsolidated” nature of borders with 9 neighbour countries, geological and climatic characteristics (mountainous terrain, multilayer equatorial forest, rainfall seasons) along with the absence of roads and traffic infrastructure precondition the inefficiency of the border safety system and create a “back door” not only for cross-border criminality, but also Islamic revivalists.

The growth of terrorism spread by armed groups on the African continent as a whole is the additional risk factor for the destabilization of situation. For more than a decade illegal armed groups, the members of which profess Islam, have been acting in the eastern part of the DROC (North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, Orientale and the northern part of Katanga) uncontrolled by central authorities. These were primarily the Uganda Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) groups. Consequently, flashpoints of conflict emerge and create opportunities for terrorist attacks. As a rule, the criminal activity of illegal armed groups is connected with illegal exploitation of valuable natural resources, being smuggled abroad, and with uncontrolled cash flow. Leaders of illegal armed groups quite often control the process of valuable minerals and metals extraction and selling on the black market, using locals as free labour in the mines. In remote areas civilians often become victims of robbery, lawlessness and violence inflicted by various military forces. Local population is tortured and humiliated, often killed, robbed of cattle; their houses are burned and their crops are destroyed. There are numerous cases of people being kidnapped into slavery. Some of them are used for service support of gunmen in the rear, others are forced to participate in combat operations. Recruiting of child soldiers deprived of education and prone to psychological traumas remains a painful problem. Gunmen use underage children as labour force under the threat of bodily harm. It provokes mass exodus of population into the frontier zones where new centres of tension emerge.

Authorities of the Republic are gravely concerned by such actions of militants as ransom kidnappings, including those of foreigners. Thus, in April 2010, in the province of Équateur the illegal armed group of Enyele rebels took a number of foreign citizens hostage to draw attention of the international community to their activity. At the same time they occupied the airport and municipal buildings of the provincial capital of Mbandaka.

The situation is aggravated by the catastrophic condition of social sphere, extreme poverty of population, non-payment of monetary allowances to the members of national army. Destitute population, largely comprised of young people, is the most susceptible to Islamist influence, which promises to improve their living conditions. They are the people who join armed groups and unwillingly become carriers of the ideas of Islam.

Virtually all the neighbouring counties are involved in extraction and sales of valuable raw materials on foreign markets. According to experts, over 80% of the DROC economy remains shadow, and so far nobody sees the way out of this dramatic situation. Experts state that there are mafia formations in this field having direct access to offshore centres. Customs Administration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo intends to fight money laundering, illicit trade and cross-border criminality at large. On November 21, 2013, they signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Judicial Police of the Public Prosecution Office. This document proposes a programme for enforcement of customs officers’ authority, which is aimed at criminal investigations. Article 2 of the Memorandum states that “the Judicial Police of Public Prosecution Office is obliged to provide education for customs officers within the prescribed time limits and create, with assistance of Interpol, the database of the Customs Administration aimed at combating theft”[ Lutte contre la criminalité transfrontalière…Le Potentiel. Kinshasa 2013: P. 10]. In their reports, based on facts and investigations, human rights nongovernmental organizations like Human Rights Watch draw special attention to correlation between income from sales of contraband goods on world market and illegal arms traffic in the eastern regions of the DROC. Considerable amounts of arms and uncontrolled cash flow enter combat operation zones. In the context of armed groups activity there arises a problem of illicit trade in small arms acquired in exchange for the so called “conflict diamonds” (compact and convenient form of mutual payments). Strengthening of control over illicit trade in small arms, which is detrimental to relations between the DROC, Rwanda and Uganda, is still one of the sensitive issues for the whole region.

Militants from illegal armed groups commit terrorist acts not only overland. From time to time, the mass media reports on piracy on Lake Tanganyika. According to witnesses, it is highly unadvisable for cargo vessels to appear on the lake after 6 PM (i. e. at nightfall). Thus, on the night of July 1, 2014, Mai-Mai Yakutumba rebels attacked a merchant vessel near the City of Uvira (South Kivu Province). Pirates forced the captain to give them two thousand dollars, defueled the vessel and stole the board instrument. According to the report, militants were well armed and trained [Des miliciens Maï-Maï arraisonnent…Le Potentiel 2014: P. 9]. A similar incident took place in 2011, when armed combatants hijacked “Maman Wundja” vessel (about 100 passengers and 40 tonnes of cargo were on board) sailing across Lake Tanganyika from Uvira (South Kivu Province) to Moba (Katanga Province), and made the captain change the course, virtually taking him hostage [Les Maï-Maï Yakutumba prennent…APA. Kinshasa 2011: P. 8].

National separatists fuel terrorism in the DROC. According to estimates by authorities, over the last decade the most active was the religious and political movement Bundu dia Kongo. During the transition period (from 2003 to 2005), this organization controlled the largest part of the Lower Congo Province, advocating its complete independence as historical successor of the Great Kingdom of Kongo. Although after conflicts between the followers of movement and law enforcement forces in spring of 2008 the activity of Bundu dia Kongo was officially banned, it has not lost its “audience” and continues to influence its followers. Formally, the slogans of Bundu dia Kongo seem quite democratic. For example, in the proclamation of October 8, 2012, representatives of this organization call for protection of the Bakongo people [Document de l’organisation réligieuse de la RD Congo «Bundu dia Kongo»…Kinshasa 2012: P. 3].

Bursts of separatist sentiment fostering national differences are constantly observed in the Katanga Province. In the middle of 2014, Kata Katanga illegal armed group militants announced that on June 11, on the anniversary of proclamation of the Republic of Katanga, which existed from 1960 to 1963 but was not recognized by the world community, they intended to seize its provincial capital, the City of Lubumbashi. The purpose of seizing the second most important city after the capital was to proclaim independence of Katanga once again and plant their flag at the strategic sites of the city. They considered the monument to Moise Tshombe, “the President” of the Republic of Katanga, as one of such sites. Although the announcement of Kata Katanga was not implemented and only frightened the civilians with gunfire, security agencies including military and police forces were prepared to meet the attack with a massive array of military equipment [Tensions à Lubumbashi…Agence Presse Associée. Kinshasa 2014: P. 1].

One of the ways for Islam to penetrate the DROC is trading with neighbouring countries. “Trust relations in business”, a Congolese diplomat said in a conversation, “create a fertile ground for discussing, among all, religious topics”. Besides, long distance drivers, for example, from Tanzania and Zambia, as bearers of Islamic culture are considered here to be spreading Islam in the eastern and western parts of Congo. As the diplomat emphasized, the National Committee for the Coordination of Anti-International Terrorism cooperates with regional and international organizations in this field, and “uses analytical potential of the CIA”. According to him, this organization traced the activity of Somalian radical Salafi Ash-Shabaab movement, which was founded in the DROC. It was created in 2000 (translated from Arabic as “youth”) and is the part of Al-Qaeda, which seeks to establish strong relations within the DROC. In 2011 Ash-Shabaab emissaries tried to contact Islamic organizations in the eastern regions of the country, primarily in South Kivu Province, where Pakistani subunits of MONUSCO were quartered. The Islamic group Ash-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in the capital of neighbouring Uganda, the City of Kampala, on July 11, 2010. The Ugandan authorities stated that terrorists supposedly entered the country from the territory of the DROC. Military command of Uganda put forward a public assumption of Ash-Shabaab connection with Uganda rebel anti-government ADF group, based in the western regions of the DROC.

Ash-Shabaab counts 7 to 9 thousand militants from various illegal armed groups [Kongo 2013: P. 12]. The prospect of its penetrating the DROC poses an additional grave threat to both national security of the country and improvement of conditions in the central region of Africa as a whole. In the interview to the Potentiel magazine Congolese researcher of the problems of Islam Valentina Soria mentioned that Ash-Shabaab aims to adapt to the local African cultures, thus capturing political and economic space and establishing stable relations [Cinq questions…Le Potentiel. 10.10.2013: P. 4].

One of the documents, which was ostensibly left in the car of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed from Ash-Shabaab and later got into the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star, contains information about special operation performed in Bombay in 2008, in Nairobi in 2013, and in The Ritz Hotel in London. In the same document it is also said that such countries as Uganda, Ethiopia and Burundi are considered to be “the enemies of Islam” and are to be fought against by all means. Arming of the adherents of Islam is also mentioned. They consider Kalashnikov rifle to be “a bulky weapon” and prefer to arm themselves with guns and hunting knives! [Cinq questions…Le Potentiel. 10.10.2013: P. 4].

Radical Islam and terrorism are constantly in the focus of Congolese authorities’ attention. Article 52 of the Constitution serves as a ground for banning terrorist activities. It states: “No individual or group of individuals may use part of the national territory as a basis for subversive or terrorist activities against the Congolese State or any other state” [La Constitution de la Republique Démocratique du Congo 2006: P. 23]. The issues of antiterrorist and anti-criminal activities as well as of spreading revivalism are among priorities in the work of the DROC security agencies, as in the eastern regions of the country there constantly emerge flash points of military conflict, which are fertile ground for serious terrorist attacks. The National Committee for the Coordination of Anti-International Terrorism investigates these issues. This body was established by the Presidential Decree No. 070/2001 as of 26 December 2001. This regulatory act is, in fact, the only internal document regulating interdepartmental cooperation in this field.

The activity of the Committee is controlled directly by the Head of State, while the Special Adviser to the Head of State on Security is responsible for coordination. In accordance with the Decree, the tasks of the Committee include executive decision-making on all the issues in the field of fighting terrorism, coordination of application of the field-specific international conventions, development and conduct of national activities, provision of corresponding cooperation with foreign countries and international organizations. Among the members of the Committee there are Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (the post is currently divided in two), Minister of National Security (the post was abolished), Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Justice, military, political and diplomatic advisers to the Head of State, and Special Adviser to the Head of State on security. The latter acts as the permanent Secretary of the Committee and controls the work of its technical secretariat.

Kinshasa is the member of several international and regional conventions in the field of antiterrorist protection, including the African Union. It supports similar initiatives in the network of subregional organizations. In May 2008, under the auspices of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism the decision was made about cooperation in the field within the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), brought back to life by efforts of the DROC.

As the present study has shown, the prospect of radical Islam spreading in the DROC poses a certain threat to both national security and improvement of conditions on the African continent as a whole. As of now, Congo still has not reached the so-called “red mark,” signifying the reign of terrorists. However, it may happen that tomorrow terrorists’ hegemonic ambitions will spread to this central African country as well [Des terrorists menacent…Le Phare.Kinshasa 2012. P.2]. “Vacuum” of governmental authorities in the provinces of the country creates favourable conditions for spread of terrorist attacks. Being weak, security agencies currently cannot ensure safety in these regions. Congolese politicians state that if the territory of the country is not controlled by the authorities, army and the republican police (taking into account geostrategic situation of the DROC on the African continent), nothing can constrain the surge of terrorists, who have already set foot in Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan. It may happen that the ideas of revivalists from the “Islamic State” (ISIL) group, formed in 2014, will also be promoted in the African countries. It will cause new flash points of religion-based conflicts, which, combined with the “traditional” conflicts, such as, for example, ethnic ones, will further complicate political and military situation in some African countries and will lead to armed conflicts.

Taking into consideration the important role of religious denominations in political life and shaping of public opinion in African countries, spread of Orthodoxy and its cultural values can act as a counter-force to aggressive Islam in Africa, as well as religious extremism at large. Greek communities, which, in addition to religious worship use religious institutes and local congregation to address their own political and economic issues, should play an important role in developing and supporting Orthodox culture.

*Natalia Zerlitsina, Institute of International Relations and Social and Political Sciences, Moscow State Linguistic University

References

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  2. Cheik Ali Mwinyi, un nouveau représentant à la tête de la communauté islamique du Congo [Sheikh Ali Mwinyi, a new leader of the Islamic community in Congo] La Référence plus, Kinshasa. 19.03.2014. P. 2.
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  17. Vavilov A.I. The US Policy in the Muslim World on the Example of Arab countries [Politika SShA v musul’manskom mire na primere arabskih stran. M.: Biblos konsalting]. Moscow: Biblos Consulting, 2009. P. 229.

Doctor of Political Sciences, professor of the Department of theory and history of international relations, as well as of Diplomatic Academy of Russian Foreign Ministry and of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

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Intelligence

New strategy of U.S. counter-intelligence: Real and unreal threats

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The newly published US Counter-Intelligence Strategy for 2020-2022 puts Russia and China at the top of the list of countries that pose a threat to the USA. “Russia and China are operating throughout the world, using all power instruments at their disposal against the United States, resorting to a wide variety of modern intelligence methods”, – the document says.

The strategy formulates five objectives for the counter-intelligence service: to protect the critically important infrastructure, cut the number of threats to basic supply chains, counteract the exploitation of American economy, defend the American democracy against foreign influence, and repulse cyberattacks and technological disruptions that could come from foreign intelligence.

The US has made public only a brief 11-page version of the strategy, whereas its full, classified variant will be submitted to members of intelligence committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, to White House officials, heads of corresponding agencies and other officials with access to classified information. The mere list of goals for counter-intelligence gives rise to questions such as whether they are fully grounded or whether they are all but tribute to the current political trends in the USA.

As we read «protect the American democracy against foreign influence» we understand what they mean by ‘foreign’ – both Democrats and Republicans keep talking about Russian interference in American elections. Although this talk has long been dismissed by many as inconsistent with reality, it nevertheless, continues unabated.

The strategy, published on the website of the US National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center, is a renewed version of the 2015 document. The Center’s Director, William Ivanina, said as he presented the report that modern technology – artificial intelligence, encryption technology, internet of things – make the work of counter-intelligence more complicated. According to CBS, W. Ivanina has been saying since 2014 that China poses the most serious long-term threat to US security. In his words, the theft of American intellectual property, allegedly committed by the Chinese, cost the US 400 billion dollars annually.

Statements about stealing intellectual property are not new and are being exploited by the Americans to justify a trade war they are waging against China. It is not for the first time that the Trump administration is resorting to “banned methods” adding the country’s economic problems to the list of national security threats, which makes it possible to introduce restrictive measures against China.

The strategy in question is seeing light just as the debates on a new American budget are getting under way. This is not accidental given that documents of this kind can justify budgetary spending. In 2021 the US government is planning to spend $1.5 billion to counter “China’s influence” and another $596 million to establish “diplomatic cooperation for securing the strategy in regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. A statement to this effect is part of the press release circulated by the US State Department and published after the White House submitted to the Congress a draft budget for the next fiscal year.

However, proposals on the budget, though reflecting the position of the US administration, do not always become law. In most cases, the US Congress approves the budget depending on the political situation at home. Now that they have sustained defeat on Trump’s impeachment, the Democrats have a good chance to take it out on the budget. Democratic minority leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer has described the draft budget submitted by the incumbent administration for the next year as “a plan to destroy America”.

Considering that these are all but domestic political games, it is not immediately clear what Russia and China have to do with them.

From our partner International Affairs

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Modi’s extremism: Implications for South Asia

Sonia Naz

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Hindutva is a main form of Hindu nationalism in India this term was popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the 20th century. It is reinforced by the Hindu extremist volunteer organization Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Hindu Sena. Hindutva movement has been expressed today as almost fascist in the classical sense (sticking to a disputed idea of homogenized majority and dominance of culture).  The Hindutva moment has gained enormous momentum under the government of Modi (Zaman A. , 2019). Under the Modi’s government dozens of Muslims have been killed for the protection of cows. Most of them are those who allegedly slaughtering cows. These attacks indicate that Hindu extremism has increased. Even, lower caste Hindus also faced violence from hardliner Hindu extremists. (Zaman A. , 2019) .

The prevailing extremism in India is no longer a national issue, but is spilling over to become a regional flashpoint and has worldwide implications. The regional stability is endangered due to the current situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) (Qureshi, 2019). Since the Modi’s extremist policies revoked article 370 of the constitution of India in which special and independent status had been given to the Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK). This kind of extreme move of a fanatical ruler was expected, whereas, such kind of unconstitutional effort of a democratic government was not expected. Moreover, it is not only a violation of India’s constitution, but it is also a breach of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, which confirmed Kashmir as a disputed territory.

Furthermore, Article 370 and 35-A cancellation changed the demographic structure of IoK. Article 35A prevented the outsiders from staying, buying properties, getting local government jobs or scholarships in IoK than it annulment permitted outsiders to buy properties there.  Hindutva forces are trying to conquer the IoK territory with its 800000 military crowd, which is making the situation more instable there. It would not have lasting consequences for India, but for the whole region (Jaspal, 2019). The Kashmir imbroglio should be the concern of the entire world because it is a perilous flashpoint that could lead to a catastrophic war between two nuclear powers. If this happens, it would not engulf the region, but the entire world. The International community is insensitive towards the recent brutal developments have taken place in IoK. The brutalities boldly committed by the more than 500,000 Indian troops in the occupied valley. There should be a strong response of big powers and the international community towards the atrocious changes in India (Elahi, 2019). 

It is not the first time, Narendra Modi’s administration has involved in many disputes with the regional countries which has put the regional security at risk. Like, the Modi government relationship is not just deteriorated with Pakistan, but other neighbouring states too. In 2015, Madhesi Crisis in Nepal and border issues tensed the India Nepal relations. However, India restricted the flow of trade at the check posts whereas; India did not accept this blame. India also has not good relation with Sri Lanka since 2014 as Sri Lanka has been more disposed towards China with the signing of the infrastructure projects of belt road and initiatives. Moreover, New Dehli was concerned about the harbouring of Chinese submarines in Colombo and ruler of Maldives Abdulla Yameen signed fee trade treaties with China, which was not digestible for India (Wong, 2017).

India’s offensive nuclear posture towards Pakistan and increased violation of the Line of Control (LoC) has made the situation more adverse. India holds Pakistan responsible for every attack on its territory and its attitude towards Pakistan is very hostile. The Pathankot attack in 2016 and Pulwama attack in 2019 increased the resentment as Modi government blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad. Pakistan asked India to provide evidence so that Pakistan can take action, but no evidence had been given. The Indian air force claimed launching air strikes on the camp of Jaish-e Mohammad mountainside in the Balakot region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa . While, following the attack international media and local media disgraced Indian claim of launching the attack and killing many militants. Next morning, Pakistan shot down an Indian MIG 21 fighter and captured the pilot who violated the Pakistan airspace. Still, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan showed peace gesture and released the captured pilot.  (Shoukat, 2019).

The Indian airstrike’s that were launched in response to Pulwama attack were clear a breach of Pakistan’s space sovereignty. It was a clear perspective of war, however; India has continued to justify its position by calling it non-military strike. It was extremely reckless behaviour of a nuclear state. Even, history shows that such events are very rare between nuclear weapons states while the US and Russia never engaged in direct airstrike’s (Jan, 2019). Afterward, an Indian submarine also detained by the Pakistani Navy, which tried to infringe Pakistani water.  India blames Pakistan for every attack and defies the Pakistan air, space and land territory itself. Besides, India is also responsible of sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan through its spies as one of them is Kulbushan Yadav (Shoukat, 2019).

 India’s nuclear doctrine also changed from No First Use (NFU) to First use. The false description of surgical strikes and attacks on non-state base points has demonstrated the uncertain security environment in South Asia.  The Indian nuclear doctrinal change increases the security risks in the region, particularly for Pakistan and China. At Pulwama, Pakistan clearly exposed India’s long-held fable of conventional superiority. At the same time, it is obvious that India would keep its behaviour hawkish towards Pakistan under the radical Hindutva mindset (Nawaz, 2019).

Additionally, India took another major step against the Muslims as it passed a bill on December 9, 2019 that would give the nationality to those migrants who want to become citizens of India except Muslims. This step of Prime Minster would increase the Modi Hindu-nationalist agenda. It would modify the India secular status, preserve by its founders in 1947. The Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by the lower house, the Lok Sabha with 311 votes. Now, it would be presented in the upper house and would become law soon. Hindu extremist agenda deeply unsettled the Muslims with this new law as they would make more than 200 million Muslims second class citizens and many of them stateless. It is not first extremist step of Modi, he also stripped away the autonomy of Kashmir, which was Muslim majority Indian occupied state.

 Furthermore, Hindu fundamentalist build a new temple over the remains of the demolished mosque in the Ayodhya. According to Modi this would protect the maltreated Hindus, Christians and Buddhists who want to migrate from Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, this brutal legislation would extradite innocent Muslim residents, even those whose families have been in India for generation, if they cannot provide evidence of citizenship. Under the Modi’s leadership, attacks and intimidation against Muslim community have augmented and anti Muslim sentiment has become deliberately more mainstream. The people of Assam are protesting in the streets and hoisting placards again the bill because it is against their rights and identity (Gettleman & Raj, 2019).

Besides, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen cancelled his visit for two days Indian Ocean Dialogue and Delhi Dialogue XI, to India. He also rejected a statement by Indian home minister Amit Shah that the new citizenship law will provide safety to “persecuted minorities” from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.  An official visit to India by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been delayed due to the unrest in Assam. Following the protests began in Assam, a curfew was forced in four of the main cities in the state and the internet was shut down. Two paramilitary battalions were deployed to contain the demonstrations. (News, 2019).

In a nutshell, as evident from the aforementioned  brutal developments, it seems that India aspires to increasingly showcase itself  hegemon and potential big power in the region. The Prime Minister Modi government is impressed by the Hindu extremist ideology and making IoK its integral part by forcefully. Its hawkish policies towards Muslims in India and IoK has once again put at stake the peace and stability of the entire region of South Asia. Indian government not only targeting Muslims everywhere, but it is also seizing their identities which is dismantling secularism foundations of India. Moreover, Indian hawkish nuclear posture increases arms race in the region and it is not only threat for Pakistan but the entire region.

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Emerging Cyber warfare threats to Pakistan

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The potential for the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber-attack.” -Leon Panetta

In the modern era, war has been revolutionized due to rapid advancements in technology. As a result, cyber security along with its pros and cons is contributing increasingly to modern warfare. Pakistan, however, is still in the developmental phase of cyber security. Although Pakistan has passed its first law related to cyber-crimes, in the form of the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, the overall legislation related to cyber security is still vague and not as strong to deal with the dynamic and broad-ranging nature of threats that emanate from the realms of cyber security.

In recent years, the government has taken some initiatives in order to build capacity amongst the general public such as through PAK-CERT, Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence & Computing (PIAIC), Skills for all Hunarmand Pakistan, Kamyab Jawan, and National Vocational & Technical Training (NAVTTC).Yet, as has been the case for quite some time, most of these initiatives are aimed simply at spreading greater awareness to help lay the foundations for a more robust cyber security architecture. Amidst such developments, the question that arises for Pakistani policymakers is thus where their country currently stands in the cyber domain and how cyber warfare is posing threats to its national security.

In this era of innovation and connectivity even major powers such as the U.S, Russia, China, Israel and the United Kingdom remain vulnerable to an evolving spectrum of cyber threats. Across the world, states are now increasingly dependent on cyber technology which has greatly increased their chances of vulnerability. The most known example is 2015 Stuxnet virus, whereby a devastating cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear facilities wreaked havoc such as at the Nantaz Nuclear facility, significantly rolling back the Iranian nuclear program. Similarly, the WannaCry outbreak in 2017 caused mass disruption by shutting down vital computing systems in more than 80 NHS organizations in England alone. This resulted in almost 20,000 cancelled appointments, 600 GP surgeries having to return to pen and paper, and five hospitals simply diverting ambulances, unable to handle any more emergency cases. Widely attributed as being state sponsored, the attack set another devastating precedent testifying to the wide-ranging vulnerabilities that exist even in some of the world’s most advanced countries. 

Pakistan’s cyber space too is insecure for many reasons because Pakistan is dependent on others for technology. According to leading global cyber security firms such as Symantec, Pakistan is among the ten most targeted countries in the world. Main targets include Pakistan’s nuclear and other critical installations, with publicly revealed assaults on an assortment of media houses, as well as the communications networks, of key government departments including, transport and, basic utilities. Such threats for instance were further confirmed by the Snowden documents released between 2013-2014 that had showed how the NSA was keeping an eye on Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders, utilizing a malware called SECONDATE.

Recently in the year 2019, Rising Security Research Institute has captured the attack launched by the internationally renowned Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) organization “Rattlesnake” through the Rising Threat Intelligence System. This time, the organization had targeted the Pakistani Navy via Target collision hijacking method. Specifically targeting the Pakistan Naval Public Relations Bureau, the attempt was aimed at stealing vital information from secure military networks while planting misleading documents masquerading as official statements from the Pakistan Navy regarding its regional neighbors such as China and India.  Based on such threats, Pakistan must be readily prepared for any kind of cyber espionage and take steps towards establishing a strong national cyber policy to protect its civilian and military infrastructure.

Therefore, at this stage it is imperative that Pakistan seriously focus on the development of a robust cyber war apparatus. This would especially help mitigate the numerous threats being posed to its banking system, as well as major government networks such as its ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other military networks that have been previously targeted such as in the case shown above. As such Pakistan can take a number of initial steps by developing strategies to prevent malwares and denial of service (DOS) attacks to reduce such threats at least to a certain level.

Yet, Pakistan has still not developed a cohesive Cyber Command or any National Cyber Policy to deal with the regional cyber threats being posed to Pakistan. Even though Pakistan has recently developed a cyber-security auditing and evaluation lab, it is still in its formative stages. There is still immense space to develop advanced tools and research technologies to protect Pakistan’s cyberspace, sensitive data, and local economy from cyber-attacks while restricting illegal penetrations in it. Especially such as the initiative taken by the newly setup National Centre for Cyber Security which aims increase the number of indigenously trained cyber security professionals within the public sector.

Keeping to this trajectory Pakistan should emphasize more on indigenously developing its own cyber security industry so that in the near future it could benefit both its civilian and military infrastructure in the long run. Hence, while Pakistan may be limited in its ability to wage a strong offensive campaign within the realm of cyber warfare at the moment, such steps would go a long way in helping lay the foundations to build something greater on.

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