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Terrorism and Mass Media: A Reflection from the Sri Lanka Terror Attack

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The world shivers at the mention of terrorism. The international news storylines mostly present two hegemonic undertakings: the economic and power game ruling blocks comprising US, Russia, China, EU and so forth, on one hand, and the true battlegrounds of ruling blocks in Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and so forth, one the other. May be the storylines presented by the international media is not the true reflection of undertakings the world should know, and a lot more remain under presented behind those storylines. On the top of that, media houses play a twisted role in creating antagonists and protagonists in international geopolitics and assigning roles to different actors.

The terrorism, as we knew and believed once, has been changed in last couple of decades since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. Not only terrorism has been changed after the World Trade Center in the emergence of new actors in the international power game but also it changed the perception of people about the religions and geopolitics; especially Islam and Middle East. In last March, A terror attack killed around fifty Muslims and left many injured during the Friday prayer in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The international media mostly labeled it as shooting and the terrorist as a shooter. The terrorist livestreamed the whole attack like an animated videogame and inscribed some hate speeches on the gun he used in the attack. The incident in the Christchurch, New Zealand, is not the only attack on Muslim communities in recent years but one of the many incidents and the it is becoming frequent.  After the Christchurch incident in New Zealand, a massive terror attack demanded a death toll amounting 253 innocent lives on Ester Sunday last month in Sri Lanka. After the terror attack Sri Lanka, international news storylines undoubted labeled it as a terrorist activity and proactively probed the link with the local and international terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) and the local terrorist group National Thowfeek Jamaath.  While it is beyond the proof yet whether the Sri Lanka Attack was a consequence of New Zealand attack, the proactive role of international media was noticeable to make an express linkage between the two. Media decide who should be called a terrorist based on his region or color not the fact that terrorism ransoms the equally without the consideration of religious or color of victims. A handful number of people died in Sri Lanka terror attack were Muslims.

This is a one-type of bias mass media play in response to terrorism. But in regard to terrorism there are numerous biased and nonsense roles mass media have been playing. It is said that a terrorist is always successful because he produces the level of fears and panics that changes the courses of longstanding societal, political and interfaith interactions among different groups, communities, regions and countries.  While mass media only probe the linkage of religions with the terrorism, they hardly concentrate on economic, political and social motives of terrorism. Either a mosque or a church or a chapel is mostly targeted and this strategy of terrorism give it an universal advantage. For example, if a mosque in New Zealand is attacked, it raises the concern of Muslim communities living in West and Muslin-minority countries around the world, on the other hand, if a Church is attacked anywhere of the World it raises the concern of non-Muslims about Muslims around the World; while an attack on non-religious places may not reach such an universal advantage. Media grabs a terrorist activity, widely publishes it, links it with religions, especially with Islam, and complements the objective terrorism dividing societies, and creating fears and panics.

The terrorism in any form is a threat to the peaceful coexistence around the world. However, the place that faces the problem faces an extensive and long-lasting challenge. Historically, Sri Lanka is a politically turbulent place just ending a phase of civil conflict with the LTTE around a decade ago. Last year it faced an anti-Muslin riots that destroyed a mosque and raised a communal tension around the country.  As acknowledged by local and international security agencies, they had prior knowledge of an upcoming attack. Despite the fact of prior knowledge, security agencies in Sri Lanka did not take any preventive action. Sri Lanka is currently undergoing some political transitions that started from October 2018. President Maithripala Sirisena announced that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the new Prime Minister. Although, by various forces Sirisena removes Rajapaksa and returned Wickremesinghe. In this unstable situation miscreant takes the advantage of terror attack.The terror attack on the verge of that transition and the non-preventive activity by security forces indicate a political connection with the terror attack. Some block might have been taking advantage of this turbulent situation. Historically, the Sri Lankan turbulence with the LTTE was fueled by different external and internal blocks. Instead of going with the flow, mass media should play an investigate role to probe the other reasons like political, economic and geopolitical reasons behind the terror attack. 

In Christchurch attack, the terrorist Brenton Tarrant livestreamed the attack on Facebook. The livestreamed video was reposted and rebroadcasted millions of times in different local and international media around the world. While it is clear that Brenton Tarrant wanted the world to watch the video, by reposting and rebroadcasting the video media complemented a terrorist’s objective. This tendency of media was seen in some previous terrorist attacks. In 2016, the terror attack in a residential hotel in Dhaka was livestreamed by several national and international media. In recent India-Pakistan border conflict media from both countries played a provocative role. Some media house in India compared the Indian invasion in Pakistan with the patriotism. This is definitely a breach of media’s broadcast standards. 

In case of Sri Lanka terror attack, media relied on previous IS attacks to probe a linkage between the IS and the local National Thowfeek Jamaath. It is, however, true that attacks by IS or local terrorist group cannot be sidestepped. But the focus on IS and local terror group targeted some local innocent people and Muslims that created another bias and discrimination on the local community. Moreover, the focus on the IS and its associated group may shade the actual perpetuator if some group other than IS is responsible for the attack. Even some media proactively created a presuming linkage of Sri Lankan attack with the Christchurch attack. This again aggravated the situation in Sri Lanka and around the world.

It is generally presumed that media houses are concerned about the increasing the TRP and public viewing volumes by broadcasting controversial news storylines. This sick competition leads media houses globally to go beyond their broadcasting standards. Media is said, however, to be the “Fourth Estate” of democracy whereas increasing the TRP or viewing volumes by sick competition is an opposite to the notion. There should have some ethical standards and regulations regarding broadcasting the news and storylines grounded on the policy of harnessing communities and promoting global peace not dividing the world into pieces.

South Asian Geopolitical analyst and New York based freelance journalist. He could be contacted at kiphayet[at]gmail.com

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Terrorism

Political Scientist: Taliban Rule will lead to terrorism activation in Pakistan

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image source: India Today

The strengthening of terrorist activity in the northwest of Pakistan and the country as a whole is linked with reinforcing the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan. Since they have established absolute power in Afghanistan, implicitly or not, they support the Pakistani Taliban. Although these are different organizations, they definitely have a common genesis, ties and contacts, but they deny this. However, we understand that the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are at least allies. This is how a political scientist, Ph.D., associate professor Georgi Asatryan commented on the latest developments around the situation in Afghanistan and the activity of the Taliban.

“There was another explosion in Peshawar; unfortunately, this can be predicted to occur again. Now we witness a particular conflict between the Pakistani and Afghan authorities represented by the Taliban. Pakistan, represented by the Minister of Defense and other high-ranking officials, blames the Afghan authorities for these attacks, arguing that the Taliban Kabul is supporting the Pakistani Taliban, and the Taliban, in turn, deny this. Therefore, this conflict between the two South Asian countries will boost and worsen”, said political scientist Georgi Asatryan.

The administration of the Pakistani Taliban has announced that it is lost the armistice. It happened in November. The Pakistani Taliban announced that they were withdrawing from the armistice with Pakistan and called on their supporters to launch attacks on targets in Pakistan. It should be mentioned that the situation will worsen and destabilize as long as the Taliban run in Afghanistan and supports its Pakistani allies.

To a certain extent, we witness how the method of the Pakistani military to support the Afghan Taliban leads to harmful and dangerous outcomes for them. The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan would be impossible, or quite complicated, without the total assistance, consultations and, to a certain extent, the participation of the Pakistani military. Now we see a growth of terrorist networks in the region. The policy of strategic depth leads to troubles and threats for Pakistan itself.

The country’s ruling parties received a warning from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that “concrete actions” aimed at their leadership would be carried out in reaction to the statement of war against them. In this statement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were named in the TPP message. In addition, the statement contains a warning to the religious political parties of Pakistan. They are urged not to participate in activities directed against the TPP. “TTP’s policy does not include targeting your parties, but we ask you to avoid engaging in any activity against us,” it says. The TPP danger came two days after the National Security Committee of Pakistan announced its decision to combat organizations related to violence and terrorism.

According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan is confronting an attack again. Analysts express that as the country enters into an election year, the leadership of Pakistan should develop a strategy to counter the threat to internal security. At least nine attacks occurred in the southwestern province of Balochistan last Sunday, killing six employees of security services. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistani Taliban due to its close ideology to the Afghan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for these attacks.

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Countering Terrorism: 2023 and Beyond

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(file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

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.

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Terrorism

A Rift Getting Deeper: TTP and IEA parting their ways?

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Image source: hindustantimes.com

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.

Conclusion:

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.

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