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India in the Era of Cyber Wars

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India has a solid and well-deserved reputation as one of the leaders in the global IT industry. This makes it all the more surprising that, until recently, Indian authorities had paid relatively little attention to introducing cyber technologies in the country’s governance system and using them to combat cyber threats posed by hackers acting out of personal, economic, and political motives.

A lackadaisical cyberwar

There are several reasons for this. The main factor is that India’s leadership has underestimated the scale of confrontation in cyberspace, believing that other great powers limit themselves to negligible operations that aim to collect information at best.

Serious difficulties have emerged due to the specific features of Indian governance as such; it is characterized by an extreme abundance of red tape and inertia in areas that are not considered a priority. While India’s bureaucracy exhibits its best qualities in priority areas such as ensuring the rapid concentration of resources, personnel mobilization and motivation, minimizing expenses, and a high level of oversight, thus making it possible to achieve outstanding successes with minimal expenses (India’s space program is a prime example), areas believed to be of secondary importance are plagued by chronic problems.

Until recently, cybersecurity was not one of the Indian government’s top priorities, and consequently, the relevant departments in state agencies were, as a rule, staffed residually. Since work in this area was not considered important or prestigious, employees working in IT security were paid relatively little and their in-house status was lower than those of employees working in other departments. As a result, these positions were filled with underqualified and poorly motivated people. A positive discrimination system intended to advance members of lower castes had an adverse effect in this regard; underqualified employees hired to fill the quotas were placed with cybersecurity departments.

Consequently, many agencies outsourced their cybersecurity while hiring specialized organizations to handle those matters. Since India does not have enough specialized organizations, foreign organizations were brought in, in particular, American ones, which, for obvious reasons, was not conducive to strengthening cyber protection. Since Pakistan and China were traditionally considered to be India’s principal adversaries on the cyber front, this state of affairs was considered acceptable.

The American challenge

India’s first serious attempt to respond to challenges in cybersecurity date back to 2012. At the Munich Security Conference, Indian specialists stated they were working on creating their own microprocessors and planning to cut imports of military software, instead of channeling money into domestic R&D (the share of imported military software in India is currently about 70%). Additionally, in the same year, a proposal was made to create a command and control center to monitor critical infrastructure and eliminate breaches in cybersecurity.

The next year, the situation began to change significantly. The necessary impetus came from actions of the U.S., which had previously stated on multiple occasions that it wanted to cooperate with India in cybersecurity. After 2013, when Edward Snowden publicized documents demonstrating that U.S. secret services were surveilling foreign citizens around the world, politicians in New Delhi were amazed to find out that U.S. secret services had been waging cyber warfare not only against their country’s probable adversaries, but also against countries they believed to be allies or at least friendly powers, and that included India: the NSA conducted cyber ops against India to learn more about its principal strategic and commercial interests. This revelation generated public outrage, and India hastily adopted its National Cyber Security Policy, which was developed by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology. The policy provided a clear definition of cyberspace and formulated the ultimate objective: protecting the personal information of India’s citizens as well as financial and bank information and data that are of critical significance for state governance and security against theft and cyberattacks. It required the creation of a reliable cyber ecosystem in the country and reliable work among IT systems that were being introduced on a large scale in all economic sectors; this, in turn, required creating a consistent mechanism to assess threats and risks in cybersecurity and ensuring an appropriate response. To meet the demand for the necessary personnel, plans were made to train 500,000 professionals within the next 5 years.

However, this did not happen. This is partly attributable to the fact that a year later, the Indian National Congress lost the elections, Manmohan Singh’s government resigned, and Narendra Modi’s new government focused on handling internal economic objectives. It was also partly due to the fact that there were no mechanisms to implement the program and it was clearly not feasible in such a short period.

To date, the situation has not changed. The networks of both public and private organizations are extremely vulnerable, there are no DLP systems in place, and users and administrators themselves often turn off firewall and antivirus software. It is common for IT department employees to be absent from their work stations with doors to their rooms left open. It is quite a telling fact that only 8% of Indian IT managers consider their employees to be sufficiently competent to combat threats in cybersecurity. Overall, Indian IT specialists in relevant departments spend about one-third of their work time combating cyber threats; the results, however, are still quite modest due to insufficient funding as well as a lack of qualified personnel and cutting-edge technologies. About 81% of Indian IT department heads believe that the funds their organizations allocate to combat cyber threats are not sufficient.

The situation is somewhat more optimistic in cyber offensives. Nearly all Indian secret services, including foreign intelligence and domestic security agencies, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the executive office of the National Security Advisor, and the military intelligence have departments that engage in cyber ops. Their effectiveness is hard to assess; it is known, however, that they face the same problems in ensuring cybersecurity as do other governmental agencies. Moreover, high-ranking Indian officials in general mistrust new computer technologies, including work on artificial intelligence. In May 2018, Chair of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) S. Christopher said that particular caution should be taken when developing AI technologies since “the cure may be worse than the disease.”

The Indian defense

In July 2018, it was announced that a military agency on cybersecurity was being formed; the agency will be working in close cooperation with the executive office of the National Security Advisor (a position that was established in 2015). Plans for the agency call for over providing some 1,000 experts who will ensure the cybersecurity of the military, the navy and the air force as well as conducting offensive operations in cyberspace. In the future, this agency should be transformed into a full-fledged cyber command.

The newly-created body was called the Defence Cyber Agency (DCA). Rear Admiral Mohit Gupta was appointed as its commander. At present, its head and his executive office are working on developing a cyber ops doctrine. Thus far, it is hard to say how effective the DCA will be, given the traditional autonomy of the navy, the air force, and the military, which are reluctant to share operational information with each other and the difficulties of developing their own software. A previous attempt to introduce a specialized operating system called Bharat Operating System Solutions (BOSS), which was developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, ended in failure and the Indian military was forced to go back to using Windows OS.

Given the absence of the requisite products created by governmental organizations, the Indian authorities will have to turn to private firms. Back in 2018, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) signed a contract with Innefu, a start-up headquartered in New Delhi. This company’s products had previously passed a test of sorts: the company was given about 1,500 documents, including social media profiles of protesters and posts about planned actions. Based on this data, Innefu managed to trace connections between protesters, determine the nature of their interaction, and predict possible actions very soon.

Innefu now offers a complete set of ready-to-use solutions called Prophecy. It includes several tools that monitor social media, which provide big data analytics, facial recognition, and object identification, and detect faces and objects in real-time.

Thus, Indian IT specialists have created a product that may be used to process massive amounts of information for the purposes of intelligence and counter-intelligence. It has already been tested: according to the Indian media, police used it to successfully prevent several protests by analyzing the social media activity of certain individuals and to find roughly 3,000 children missing in New Delhi. There are plans to complete the development of a new cybersecurity strategy by 2020; it is intended to ensure the protection of important data given the introduction of 5G technology which, according to Lt. Gen. Rajesh Pant, the National Cyber Security Coordinator on the National Security Council, will radically change the state of affairs in this regard.

A war on three fronts

Now India’s leadership has acknowledged possible threats and is developing the necessary response means that take into account the realities of cyber warfare that is being conducted without regard for existing borders and for pacts and treaties regulating military action; cyber warfare also allows states to conceal their complicity in a cyberattack against another state. The Indian authorities are paying more and more attention to conducting defensive and offensive operations in cyberspace while striving to reduce the country’s dependence on tools developed aboard and giving preference to forward-looking India-made products.

At present, Pakistan, China, and the U.S. are India’s key adversaries in cyberspace. Pakistan’s capabilities for waging cyberwar are fairly limited: as a rule, Pakistani secret services either hack the websites of Indian agencies and companies connected with the government (such operations cause relatively little damage), or they pose on the Internet as young girls wishing to meet young officers in order to recruit current employees of Indian law enforcement, military, and secret services.

China is conducting large cyber operations against India which have reached such a scale that some analysts characterize them as a full-fledged cyberwar. This war takes on various forms: from hacking Indian networks to providing various rebel groups with hosting services on China’s servers; nonetheless, the large-scale cyber ops have not prevented Beijing and New Delhi from strengthening their political and military relations.

Relations with the U.S. are complex. On the one hand, Washington publicly calls India its key partner in the Indian Ocean region; on the other hand, U.S. secret services continue to conduct cyber ops that threaten India’s national security.

Russia is one of the few great powers that has interests in the region and does not attack India in cyberspace. This is due primarily to the fact that there is no conflict between the two countries as well as Russia’s general interest in establishing cooperation with Eurasian states to form a common trade space. Thus, Russia currently has a favorable opportunity to bolster its interaction with India in this regard and conclude a cyberspace non-aggression pact and, in the future, coordinate efforts with New Delhi to this end.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in History, Research fellow, The Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC Expert

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Lesson to be Learn from Monsanto’s Involvement in the Vietnamese War: The Agent Orange

Petra Mosetti

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Monsanto is an American multinational company founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a thirty-year pharmaceutical veteran married to Olga Mendez Monsanto, for which Monsanto Chemical Works is named. In the 1920s Monsanto expanded into industrial chemicals and drugs, becoming the world’s bigger maker of aspirin and acetylsalicylic acid, which was found toxic. During this time period, the company introduced their polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), an oil that wouldn’t burn, resistant to degradation and with limited applications. Eventually, its use was banned after fifty years for causing such devastation, but it is still present in almost all animal and human blood and tissue cells across the globe and is considered one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet.

The Vietnam War (1961-1975) is most known for the extensive bombings of North Vietnam. More dangerous, however, yet less well-known to the general public, was the chemical war carried out from 1961 to 1971 against South Vietnam. The involvement of the U.S. government escalated over a period of twenty years, peaking in 1968 and ending with a complete withdrawal of troops in 1973. During this period, it engaged with the companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which were assigned the task of designing herbicides that would contaminate the jungles where the North Vietnamese forces operated. The project, known as ‘’Rainbow Herbicides’’ included Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent Blue, Agent White, and Agent Orange. As a result, a total of 20 million gallons of herbicide have been sprayed across Vietnam for ten years, that is until scientific research studies had proven that the dioxin present in Rainbow Herbicides, caused cancers in laboratory rats.                                                           

American air forces, the navy as well as tanker trucks, and men with backpack sprayers, diffused 72 million liters of the chemical Agent Orange to spoil the coverage of communistic North Vietnam, as well as destroy the rice fields. Their goal was to pursue from the jungle the combatants taking shelter there, to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail by which supplies, weapons, and medication arrived down from the North, to facilitate surveillance of roads, coastlines, and waterways and to destroy the rice fields, depriving the guerrillas of food and aid.

The contained dioxin TCDD in Agent Orange was classified as “super poison” and as a consequence 3 million people got sick, and 150,000 children were born with disabilities. Even today there are still 3,500 children a year who are born disabled according to the aid group Green Cross. Lavallard claims that to the millions of Vietnamese victims, must be added the American veterans and their Canadian, South Korean, New Zealand and Australian allies who used defoliants without knowing they were dangerous. Herbicides were delivered separately, and mixtures were made on the scene before being loaded into tanks, without provision and without protection. Military bases and they’re encircling were regularly sprayed with defoliants to remove the bush growth. Furthermore, soldiers saved rainwater for drinking or washing in empty drums and prepared barbecues in them. Indeed, veterans have experienced same pathologies as the Vietnamese, and their children have also been affected.

An immense environmental disaster and a human catastrophe taking different forms, including health, economic as well as socio-cultural, which had dramatic consequences that are still felt today. For years, a conspiracy of silence has ulterior the toxicity of the defoliants used. Agent Orange was one of them, a chemical containing two herbicides, one of which turned out to be contaminated with a highly toxic strain of dioxin.

According to official and unofficial documents about the history of the dangerous defoliants, the U.S. chemical companies that made the Rainbow Herbicides as well as the government and military authorities who ordered its spraying on Vietnam, knew the human health cost it could take. Indeed, a review of the documents related to the use of Agent Orange, a dioxin-laden herbicide, including public papers from the companies that manufactured it and the government that used it, provides compelling evidence that those in charge also covered information about the devastating effects it could have on people.

Nowadays, Monsanto is a known agricultural company, claiming to help farmers grow food more sustainably. From seed to software, to fiber and fuel, they are developing tools to assist growers in protecting natural resources while providing sustenance to the world. With it headquarter in St. Louis, 69 subsidiaries across the world, including over 20.000 employees, Monsanto believes that in the face of a changing climate and other environmental challenges, it is helping to ensure that the agricultural system continues to suit the needs of everyone.

In regard to legal and non-legal responses, the international community has done a lot to hold the company liable, however without results. In fact, many lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, and various activists and organizations worldwide had and are still fighting against the atrocities committed. The greatest accomplishment was, therefore, the establishment of the ad hoc International Monsanto Tribunal, which aimed to include the crime of ecocide in the Rome Statute that would allow the prosecution of individuals and legal entities suspected of having committed this crime. Yet, without positive outcomes.

Monsanto, being one of the largest and most powerful companies in the United States, is an ambitious target for non-profit organizations and protests groups. Moreover, their direct cooperation with the government makes it even more difficult to prosecute. As Derricks points out for the last 50 years, the company has gotten away with this crime. However, I believe justice can and must be done with the right resources and support of the international community. Indeed, with the support of different governments worldwide programs such as Agent Orange Education can be set up to share awareness about the wrongdoing.

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Psychological programming and political organization

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Contemporary politics and the ensuing organization of consensus currently employ techniques and methods never used before.

 We are going through an era in which completely new mechanisms operate within the traditional Parliamentary political representation, inherited from the liberal and democratic thought of the eighteenth century and of the following century. These mechanisms are much more powerful than those that – in the modern imitation of the Athenian agora -formed the will of the people and the guidelines and directions of the government.

 Democracy of Ancients and Democracy of Moderns – just to use the simile of Benjamin Constant – were basically similar, but different in their functioning.

 The number of citizens did not constitute a substantial difference, except that, according to Constant, modern democratic citizens delegated to the ruling class what did not fall within their being “private individuals, with private interests”.

Again according to Constant, the reason lay precisely in the new category of “private individuals” who, with a view to maintaining their wealth or work, deemed it right to delegate to someone else their power to make and break laws. Nowadays the private sphere does no longer exist. But not in the sense of the society of “one thousand eyes” and of continuous supervision and surveillance, but because the very category of “private” is over even in the political discourse.

Hence a mass totalitarian society, with a repressive apparatus that applies to everything would previously have been the subject of the strictly personal sphere of life.

 Everything has currently changed, but everything still appears to be similar to the criteria and principles we have studied in the manuals of history of political doctrines. This is not the case.

 Meanwhile, since the beginning of the 20th century, Eduard Bernays, Freud’s nephew and the father and pioneer of public relations, had established some connections between Sigmund Freud’s psychology (and with Gustave Le Bon’s Psychology of the Crowds, Mussolini’s favourite book) and political practice.

 That was the beginning of what we now call “corporate communication”.

 The suffragettes smoked and that was an operation funded by Bernays through the US tobacco producers.

  The exaltation of sex – following the publication of the Kinsey Report and the mass spread of the contraceptive pill-changed and upset the consumption styles and habits of vast masses of young people who, in the 1960s, were to shape the consumption habits of what Galbraith called the “affluent society”.

 That was the objective, not sex.

Hence, based on what discovered by Sigmund Freud, with a view to selling or prompting and inducing political behaviours, there was the need to “work” above all on the unconscious.

Currently, whatever is implanted from outside into the unconscious – if repeated constantly – always becomes real in the future.

 The real for itself always becomes in itself, because what individuals think -in crowds, but solitarily (Riesman’s “lonely crowd”) -becomes either consumption or political behaviour, which is basically the same.

 The subconscious has a huge power, i.e. controlling all subjective experiences. It is the autopilot of life, also from a practical viewpoint.

Nowadays no one speaks to the “reason”, the myth of the eighteenth century, but to instincts, to the subconscious, even to the unconscious.

The whole mechanism of the subconscious is already well in place and ready at 7-8 years of age and continues all lifelong.

With a view to reprogramming it, we need at first to limit the external and environmental negativities.

Indeed, we need to look for fully “positive” people, things and environments, as well as information.

 Needless to say, this rule is carefully followed by all political propagandists and, above all, by advertisers.

Currently politics always follows the rules of consumer goods advertising. The leader is a testimonial. The script is the program and the government an oligopoly.

 With a view to de-programming the “negative” mind, we need instead to visualize – as in a daydream – positive situations which we have already experienced.

We also need to reprocess the feelings of joy, which reach the subconscious immediately, well before the other ones.

 The subconscious mind always and only knows the present.

 Past and future are conceptual notions and processing – hence they are conscious. The subconscious interprets the negative of a negative proposition only as negative.

Creating positive propositions that counteract the negative ones processed and produced by the subconscious and then continuously repeat these actions. This is the basic technique.

 This is, in short, the subjective mechanism that is currently used in political and commercial communication.

What are, however, the current technologies used to program and reprogram people’s minds?

 We can mention the theory of social warfare, the virtual but all-out clashtaking place in the minds of citizens of a target country, using current technologies.

 The aim of any reprogramming campaign is, in fact, to make the enemy (the enemy people, indeed) think like us.

 It is a new kind of manipulation, much wider than the one carried out with the old disinformation or with the intelligence intoxication that was the non-violent part of the Cold War.

 The most used information technologies are now Precision Targeting – which sends messages and behavioural inductions to a specific group – as well as the wide range of Artificial Intelligence mechanisms that are used to simulate online the behaviour and thought in relation to the primary information we wants to convey. There is also the algorithmic decision-making, which processes information through specific algorithms in view of formulating recommendations or taking fully automated decisions.

 This holds true both for decision-makers and for the vast mass of users, citizens and voters of the aforementioned decision-makers.

We can also mention the Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies, which create partially or completely artificial environments for both the programmers of the public opinion and the public itself.

  But also the Internet of Things (IoT) is used in this field, by correlating machines and sensors for the construction of a Complete Reality, which becomes facts and data to be spread as such.

 In this context of complete manipulation of information, which becomes the Complete Reality, also voice interfaces are useful. They allow to exchange information between the Source and the User or between Users, thus allowing the psychological reinforcement of news.

 Again in the field of information manipulation, blockchains are also important. They allow to control and process information only through the users enabled to use the “chain”.

We should also recall the computerized programs that generate completely false videos and images – fakes which, however, are absolutely plausible.

Precision Targeting is used above all to reprogram groups of pre-selected individuals, who provide the Web with a continuous flow of information, from mobile phones, from the Web and from the other channels, to those who can selectively access the Web. All this is currently used, above all, through social media.

 In this case, we have already reached the phase of neuromarketing, which changes the desires and habits of specific population groups, by combining the mental effects with the emotional ones.

 As if it were a sign which, according to De Saussure, is the indestructible connection between signified and signifier. But the product of neuromarketing is not at all a language sign.

In this case, the above mentioned technology could be used for indirect facial recognition, manoeuvred by Artificial Intelligence systems.

 Facial recognition will enable those who manoeuvre -also temporarily – the Web to quickly check the emotions of millions of people, and we all know how important emotions are now to tamper with the psyche and communicate concepts that often have very little relevance at conceptual and even at emotional or mental levels.

 By 2035 these technologies are expected to be spreading like wildfire, since they are very important both for commercial operations and for political marketing.

 Artificial Intelligence is the primary axis of development of all the other technologies we are talking about.  AI will be used above all in verbal and textual recognition, as well as in the collection and analysis of very broad spectrum data, and for the processing of raw initial data, again in a very large population.

AI, however, will above all be used for defining an automated decision-making that can support the human decision-makers when they do not know, remember or understand all facts and, above all, the underlying determinants of facts.

 We will get to imitate, without realizing it, Elsa Morante’s book “The World Saved by Kids” and certainly what is happening in global communication already guarantees this future to us. They are more manipulable. They have no memory and they are perfect for the Brave New World that stands before us.

We can easily imagine what all this means for advertising, for the selection of markets, for business decisions but, above all, for the development of political platforms, both in terms of the electoral process and for the more specific decision-making process.

 The next level will be content, which will often be produced directly by AI systems.

 But let us better analyse what algorithmic decision-making is.

 It is often currently applied in medicine.

 Disease analysis, therapy forecasting, statistical analysis of diseases and their effects, both at subjective and population levels. In the near future, however, other sectors will be ever more like the banking system. Human Resources, even political decision itself, will be the subject of these applications, which will often become so complex as not to be understood – in the future – by the computers using them.

 If you collect a lot of data, it is increasingly likely that a sequence of decisions or simple new data is not recognized by the program operating in the computer.

 Also for AI networks we will have a process of learning by doing.

 There are two dangers. Firstly, that the private ownership of the most important databases makes competition between systems impossible; secondly that the algorithms are hackable or manipulable by third parties unknown to the system.

 There are also Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

If we proceed with the increasingly analytical and obsessive adaptation of the devices to the Ego of the User, or to his/her tastes- considered, for some reason,  immutable – we risk an ideological drift of new technologies, i.e. that of hyper-subjectivism and, as happens in current educational practice, that of the permanence of the mass Ego in an eternal childhood.

 The “Minor Ego” advocated by some people is a very real risk and it is not even clear how a super-massified production can be adapted to the increasingly self-referential psychologies of the Consumer Ego.

 Not to mention the natural limit – currently often evanescent – that the Augmented Reality keeps between the imaginary and reality – a limit that, in the propaganda and political implementation of the Virtual Reality, could become very dangerous to cross.

 Immanuel Kant spoke of the 100 gold Thalers that can be in your pocket or just in your imagination, but that cannot certainly be mistaken one for the other.

Hence beyond any technological processing, Reality is never the Imaginary.

 Although the imaginary can induce behaviours very similar to those that the subject would have if subjected to reality, the one that – as Voltaire said – has “hard head”.

By Internet of Things (IoT) we generally mean an environment full of machines that interact with one another through the Web.

As can be easily guessed, the IoT information potential is huge.

 Human consumption habits, but also communication, ways of life, lifestyles, exchanges between subjects, positions and information exchanged between individuals will be part of huge databases.

Probably, in the future, it will be difficult to find exactly what is needed in those databases, considering that the bias of the IT and data storage systems tends to increase with the quantity and complexity of data.

 It is estimated that, by 2030, there will be over one and a half trillion sensors connected to IoT networks, which will be worth half of the entire Internet traffic of “simple” users.

 According to Deloitte, the entire IoT market is expected to be worth a trillion, in addition to further 750 billion for IoT network connection modules.

 It can be easily imagined to what extent this makes it possible to hack data not only from IoT networks, but also from all other networks connected to the Internet and ending up in an IoT structure.

By 2030 blockchains will be the basis of financial, control, check and analysis networks.

 It will be the beginning of virtual monetization, which is, in itself, the opening of the financial gates of Hell.

 The miserable level of the current economic thinking allows it.

Nevertheless, all this technological development – between imagination and reality – will lead us towards a society of the unverifiable and probable, with no possibility of responding to a   government financial or information fake and with an increasing penetrability of information networks, to which the whole social fabric and not only its control will be delegated.

However, the society of the imaginary 100 Thalers – believing that the imagined ones are already in the pocket – will not be able to pay anything.

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Baghdadi Dead : What it means for Terrorism in West and South Asia?

Gen. Shashi Asthana

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President Trump’s announcement  that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State(IS) commander, died during a US military operation in Syria, later confirmed by ISIS itself, was a welcome news for all fighting terrorism or suffering from it in any part of the world.  This was followed by death of their spokesperson and arrest of his sister and wife by Turkey. After the decimation of IS caliphate, IS continues to exist in small modules in many parts of the world, mainly in West Asia, but the loss of its undisputed leader who inspired many youth globally towards radicalisation as never before, during his peak performance days will not be easy to fulfil. He revolutionised the art of extending terror network through internet, made IS the richest terror group in the world, with a caliphate to govern through sharia laws and revived sex slavery. It’s a major setback to IS & affiliated terror groups but long overdue good news for those suffered its brutality like Yezidi women. The idea of IS does not end with leader, who stands replaced by Ibrahim al Hashemi al Qurayshi from Prophet Mohammad lineage (qualified to become caliph) with a vow to avenge Baghdadi’s death. There being no change in the overall aim and ideology of IS, it will manage to regroup with lesser fund flow and area of influence and wait for opportunity to re-emerge; hence the global fight against IS has to continue.

What does it mean for Regional Terror Groups?

The US has given a strong message to terrorists but its declared withdrawal from Syria is untimely; hence the Middle-East needs a fresh look from strategic perspective. Turkey cross-border offensive on October 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, whose fighters made up the bulk of the SDF controlling IS is a game spoiler in fight against IS. Turkeys double game with terrorists is marred with helping IS and treating Kurds as terrorists as they demand a homeland. Its desire to invade Syria and destroy Assad’s supporters made it an ally of US, but US is not keen on decimation of Kurds, who will be left with no choice but to commence terrorist activities against Turkey. The temporary five days truce, sanctions against Turkey could buy some time, but is unlikely to change Erdogan’s intent who seems to have decided to go Wahhabi way. It does give some extra lifeline to IS, which is going to get dispersed to other areas, in addition to some existing ones like Afghanistan. US withdrawal also cedes this strategic space in Syria to the forces loyal to Assad and Russia, something which US was not very keen to concede till short while ago as it was not in the best interest of Israel. This strategic equation does not change the terror potential of Hamas appreciably.

The internal political disturbance Lebanon puts Hezbollah in tight spot. The current internal political turbulence in Iraq is helpful for reorganisation of IS as it dampens the Shia spirit which indirectly helps Sunni terror groups. The recent strategic clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia triggered by a drone attack on Saudi’s oil establishment followed by attack on Iran oil tanker is also a recipe for refuelling of Shia – Sunni terror competition in West Asia. After US walked out of JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) renewed and clamped additional sanctions on Iran which European Union could not prevent, Iran has also climbed the escalation ladder by announcing to fill gas in over 1000 centrifuges to enrich uranium further, which it was holding out due to the deal. This is another dangerous spiral in the region to increase the insecurity of Saudi Arabia and may result in further push to Sunni cause.  These developments have blurred the definition of victim and oppressor. The internal turbulence of West Asia therefore is creating an environment for breeding terrorists.

After IS suffered these reverses it has opened opportunities and ignited some competition for other terror groups like Taliban and al Qaeda, to strive to gain the influence they lost to ISIS earlier. This has increased their quest to grab more power and money, a bulk of which comes from coercion globally, prove their terror potential to the target population and governments to get more attention, followers, logistics and other resources. It is however noteworthy a number of terror organizations having allegiance to IS have still not changed their allegiance, indicating that demise of IS may not be on the card so soon and the group is still not out of competition.

What does it mean for Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) Region?

Afghanistan continues to face aggressive and coordinated attacks by ISIS’s branch in the region, the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and the Afghan Taliban, including the affiliated Haqqani Network (HQN). Afghan Taliban seems to have grown much stronger for the fact that it controls more territory in Afghanistan than what it controlled when US forces marched in 19 years back. The fact that all world powers talked to them for peace (to fulfil their respective interests) indicate the blackmailing potential of Taliban.  Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and remaining US forces have not been able to control their terror strikes despite their best efforts, which are likely to increase if US choses to withdraw completely. I do visualise some more efforts of global powers for talks to Taliban in near future.  Although al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan and Pakistan was degraded earlier by multinational forces, remnants of al-Qa’ida’s global leadership, as well as its regional affiliate – al Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), continue to operate from remote locations in the region have a reason to cheer Baghdadi’s death.

Pakistan continues to be the epicenter of global terrorism playing host to maximum UN designated terrorist organisations and terrorists in the world, a large No of them have indicated allegiance to IS. Pakistani military counter-terrorism operations are more of ethnic cleansing acts against Pashtuns and Baluchis directed against groups which conducted attacks within Pakistan, such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Pakistan Army and ISI supports externally focused groups such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which continue to train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan with a narrative of pseudo Islamic Jihad. The Pakistani Army does not restrict the Afghan Taliban and HQN from operating in Pakistan and threatening US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, despite being placed on the “grey list” continuously till date, since June, 2018.The support of Pakistan to Sunni terror groups is well known and IS is no exception. The increasing radicalisation of establishments in Pakistan, conglomeration of terrorist groups in Af-Pak Region is a dangerous sign as it indicates a caliphate in making, far more dangerous than ISIS caliphate.

What does it mean for South Asia?

After the declaration of the caliphate, the newly named Caliph, Baghdadi while addressing the jihadists the world over explicitly mentioned China and India as one of the prime targets of the ISIS amongst many others and there are no signs of change in that narrative. ISIS and other militant groups are attempting to spread their ideology to countries that have Muslim population, and where there is a chance to reach out to dis-satisfied youth. al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS have together claimed responsibility for over 40 attacks in Bangladesh since 2015. The Government in Bangladesh continues to battle terrorism with strict Anti- terrorism Act in place, however terrorists do manage to operate there with backing from ISI, Pakistan. Terrorist organizations are using internet, social media to spread their ideologies and solicit followers globally including South Asia and many terrorists have been featured in multiple publications, videos, and websites associated with ISIS and AQIS. Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and rapid radicalisation in Maldives are some more examples of IS mastered methodologies to spread terror, which is likely to continue. 

India having the second largest Muslim population in the world is an obvious target for IS. India is a tolerant and pluralist society with a mix of Shias and Sunnis, which has absorbed all religious faiths, hence the rate of penetration of radicalisation has been extremely low, although some individuals have been attracted to it. Many Lone Wolf Attacks in Europe, like the suicidal car crash attack in Westminster in London on 22 March 2017, are a possibility in India as well, in future, for which it needs to be prepared. The Incidents like the train explosion in Bhopal-Ujjain express by a terror suspect, Mohammad Saifurullah alias Ali, allegedly a member of the ISIS(K) module, on 07 March 07, 2017 injuring 10 passengers, occasional display of IS flags in Kashmir Valley, bursting of few IS modules in South India by National Investigative Agency, announce the arrival of IS in India. These incidents need to be viewed in consonance with the global scene, wherein Daesh is looking for new hosts after decimation of their caliphate.

Recent Trends in Terrorism

The peaceful coexistence of IS, Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and so many terror groups in Pakistan indicates that they are also collaborating and economising on certain activities and efforts like intelligence sharing, training camps, arms transfers, irregular trade and related activities on mutual benefit basis, hence it is increasingly difficult to use one against the other, despite intense competition amongst some of them. They are generally keen to expand their terror industry under pseudo religious cause of avenging perceived atrocities to muslims and continue to fight security forces trying to disturb their design. Their fight against each other is rarely seen in recent times. The other interesting trend especially in Pakistan is that whenever a terrorist organisation is banned globally, it changes its name, registers as social welfare organisation, and continues terrorist activities as usual.

A very well organized media and cyber campaign by the IS by incorporating technologically savvy cadres from western countries affecting some Indian youth is still on. Some media news that it had gained access to fissile material and suspected access to chemical weapons like Sarin gas, indicates that its potential for global nuisance is far from being over. The same is being tried by other terror groups as well. To fight the global war on terror the world community will have to shun double gaming, individual country interest over global safety, the concept of good and bad terrorist and strict sanctions on terror sponsoring countries because terrorism cannot flourish without financial and logistics support.

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