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A Resurging Possibility and an Increased Hope for a United Balochistan

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According to the Balochistan Liberation charter formulated under Hyrbyair Marri, the division of Balochistan into several parts is a legacy of the British Empire. The ultimate aim of the Baloch Liberation Struggle is to reunify the divided territories of Balochistan into one country and to grant full sovereignty to a single national Baloch state. Balochistan has for long been cheated out of its sovereignty and faced discrimination within Pakistan. Insurgencies against the Pakistani government started after Pakistan annexed the Baloch state of Kalat in 1948. This state is now divided between Iran and Pakistan. Along with continuous suppression of the Baloch in Iran by the government, Pakistan has been accused of committing genocide in the Balochistan region by Baloch Leaders such as Naela Qadri Baloch, a politician who fled Pakistan and in 2016 even asked India to intervene and free Balochistan.

Many, however, call the movement dead or dying and lack of media coverage in the region has shown a lack of detailing of the current Balochistan movement. This movement has not died down in actuality and there seems to be a spike in the number of attacks carried out around the region by its proponents, most of the recent ones centered around Quetta. A majority of these attacks have been aimed at either the military, paramilitary or police forces. Claims have appeared for most of the major attacks especially by the Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar, a coalition of the Balochistan Liberation Front, the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Balochistan revolutionary guards which have been designated as terror groups by the Pakistani Government. However, there have been no claims against the recent attacks in Quetta which are seemingly random in nature. The attacks may lack in intensity but definitely not in frequency.

This Liberation movement for Balochistan does not only occur in Pakistan but in the Iranian provinces of Sistani and Baluchestan as well. However, there are two different, distinct groups on either side. The Baloch on the Pakistan side find support in the BLA and BRAS and the Iranian side finds its support in Jaish Al-Adl. Their attacks are mostly in retaliation to the Suppression on either side. The Jaish Al-Adl was formed in 2012 by Salahuddin Farooqui and has carried out attacks in the Southeastern province of Iran in retaliation to the oppression of Sunni Muslims. According to reports the BRAS and the Jaish Al-Adl have their differences mostly in regards to Jaish Al-Adl’s religious motivations. The aims of both the groups concerning each other are unclear as there have been skirmishes on the border between them. An alliance between the two seems unlikely as the BLA are beneficiaries of Iran’s ignorance of the group, whereas the Jaish Al-Adl are active fighters against Iran.

On September 9th 2019, banners appeared in front of the venue for the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting the acute violation of human rights in Balochistan. There have been massive efforts to internationalize this movement in the past as well, but it has always been impeded by the lack of autonomy the people possess. Suppression and extensive military operations have been carried out against the “insurgents” by the Pakistani army in Balochistan, which has been justified on the same basis. However, as mentioned previously, after 30 years of suppression the Baloch still fight on which is apparent in the spike of their continuous efforts against the suppression. These attacks are highlighted in the table below.

Date Death count and attack Attack details Location Perpetrator Reason
30/8/2018 3 Chinese engineers injured Suicide attack by son of Baloch leader Dalbandin, Pakistan BLA  
16/10/2018 12 Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Kidnapped from border outpost Mirjaveh, Iran Jaish Al-Adl In response to previous attack on 4 Sunni militants by IRGC
23/11/2018 4 people (Indian police and civilians) Hour long shoot out at the Chinese consulate Chinese Consulate, Karachi, Pakistan BLA Against Chinese occupation and CPEC
6/12/2018 5 dead + 44 wounded Suicide car bomb Chabahar, Iran Jaish Al-Adl  
14/12/2018 6 Pakistani Soldiers + 14 wounded (Frontier Corps)   Kech District, Pakistan BLA, BRAS  
29/1/2019 3 police wounded Double bombing  Zahedan, Iran Jaish Al-Adl  
29/1/2019 9 Killed (5 police+ 4 civilians), 21 injured Bombing plus firing Office of deputy Inspector General, Loralai, Pakistan Terrorists?  
2/2/2019 1 IRGC killed and 5 wounded   Basij Base, Nik Shahr, Iran Jaish Al-Adl  
13/2/2019 27 Iranian border guards killed Suicide vehicle attacks Bus Between Zahedan and Khash, Iran Jaish Al-Adl  
16/2/2019 2 Frontier corps Killed   Loralai, Pakistan Unknown  
18/2/2019 4 Frontier corps Killed   Panjgur district, Pakistan BLA  
29/3/2019 Several Chinese engineers and workers killed 22 vehicle envoy attacked by remote controlled bomb Hamdard University, Karachi BLA Seeking termination of CPEC- Coincides with Pakistani Prime ministers visit to Gwadar
18/4/2019 14 (10 navy, 3 air force, 1 coastguard) 15 attackers stop bus Makran coastal highway, between Karachi and Gwadar, Pakistan BRAS  
12/5/2019 5 killed (4 hotel workers and naval officer) Bomb on 5-star hotel Gwadar, Pakistan BLA Retaliation to Chinese projects in Balochistan
20/7/2019 1 policeman killed, 10 injured   Double road, Quetta, Pakistan Unknown  
30/7/2019 5 killed, 32 injured Bomb near Police station Quetta,Pakistan Taliban  
26/9/2019 3 policemen wounded   Bypass, Quetta Unknown  
29/9/2019 3 killed and almost a dozen injured Bomb Chaman, Pakistan Unknown  
16/10/2019 1 police killed, 5 injured   Bypass, Quetta Unknown  
21/10/2019 3 killed, 9 wounded   Spinny road, Quetta Unknown  
30/10/2019 1 policeman killed Suicide bomber on Motorbike Loralai, Balochistan Unknown  
(Source: Multiple news agencies based in Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi and US)     16/11/2019 3 paramilitary troops killed Roadside Bomb Kalach, Quetta Unknown  

Source: Multiple news agencies based in Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi and US

The general increase in the attacks in the Balochistan region is pretty clear through the data on the aforementioned table. The attacks in Quetta consist of multiple unknown attacks where no groups claimed responsibility. The responsibility of such attacks is generally claimed within one week of the attack but the perpetrators of these attacks are yet to come to the forefront. Seeing that Quetta is the prime factor in Balochistan, being termed as its capital, these attacks must be motivated by the BLA and the BRAS, if not directly carried out by them.

2019 has also seen attacks by the Balochistan against Chinese sponsored enterprises which are part of the China Pakistan Economic corridor. Balochistan sentiments angle away from the investments citing it to be more detrimental to the Baloch rather than beneficial. Hyrbyair Marri, the leader of the Free Balochistan Movement, said that the allegiance of Pakistan to CPEC would be another step in turning Balochistan into a Military Garrison for China. The Baloch now don’t only have to deal with the Pakistanis that have destroyed their sovereignty but also the Chinese influx into the country as well.

The fight for international support has also been on the rise where advertisements have been released in certain prominent papers in the US. A particular advertisement placed by the World Baloch Organization and the Baloch Republican Party in July 2019 in the Washington Post sought support from President Donald Trump. This advertisement addressed to the President calls on the US support in addressing Human rights exploitation, economic deprivation and political exclusion in Balochistan. It also called on the US to bring restriction to the use of US-supplied weapons used on the Baloch nationalist group which were meant to help suppress religious extremist groups rather than them. However, the US government has not issued any official statement regarding the same and it doesn’t seem like it will. The US recently branded both the Jaish Al-Adl and the Baloch Liberation Army as terrorist organizations and seem to classify the entire movement as being motivated by these “terrorists”. Even an appeal from Members of the European Parliament regarding the deteriorating situation in Balochistan in a letter in July 2019 has not received a response from the US government.

On the Iranian side, the Jaish Al-Adl seem to be motivated more by the Sunni identity of the Population rather than the Baloch identity. And therefore, apparent cross border conflicts with the group and the BLA have emerged as well with reports of it being caused due to the over-emphasis on the religious identity. Especially with allegations that the Sunni militant group has support from the Pakistan government, it is unlikely to partake in a unified movement. At odds with Pakistani support, the BLA apparently enjoys covert support through the lack of Iranian attention whereas all the Jaish Al-Adl’s attacks are aimed at the Iranian government. These groups are on two opposing ends of the spectrum not only in terms of their allegiances but also on the basis of religion. The Balochistan Liberation movement in Pakistan aims at a secular Balochistan nation which is at complete odds with Jaish Al-Adl’s Sunni leanings.

The spike in attacks indicates the possibility of a mass resurgence of the Balochistan Liberation Movement. Leaders of the multiple movements have become even more active on twitter such as Hyrbyair Marri, Mehran Marri, Naela Quadri Baluch who have also shown support for the Kurdish cause and the Indian stance on Kashmir in defiance of Pakistan. There has also been a resurgence of protests outside the UN and across cities seeking a Free Balochistan. The Balochistan republican Party in London and the Balochistan Voice Association in other major cities including outside the UN in Geneva have actively protested for Balochistan.

Select active leaders of the Baloch Freedom movement

Hyrbyair Marri

Hyrbyair Marri was born to the family of Baloch national leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. He completed his early education in Quetta and then moved to study journalism in Russia. In 1997, he was elected to the Balochistan Provincial assembly and became the Education minister of the province. In 1999, after his father was arrested and charged with the murder of Balochistan high court judge, Justice Nawaz Marri, he left Pakistan. He traveled to Europe and was granted political asylum in the UK in 2011. He is the leader of the Free Balochistan movement and Pakistan alleges he is the head of the Balochistan Liberation Army. He has accepted the invitation of, Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior leader and president of Delhi Study Group, Mr. Vijay Jolly to travel to India. On the 10th of December 2019, he will address a seminar on ‘Human Rights in Balochistan,’ in New Delhi.

Mehran Marri

Mehran marri is the sixth son of Baloch nationalist leader Khair Bakhsh Marri and is believed to be the current leader of the United Baloch Army (UBA). He is the brother of Hyrbyair Marri. The UBA was classified as a terrorist organization by Pakistan and also Switzerland. Since being banned in 2013 by the Pakistani government, the group has been largely inactive with no resurgent attacks on any news websites. Marri was arrested at Zurich Airport and put under a lifetime ban on entry to Switzerland on the 16th of November 2017. He was later deported from Switzerland and currently resides in the United Kingdom. Mehran Marri is active on Twitter and continues to show support for the Baloch insurgency in Eastern Pakistan.

Brahumdagh Bugti

Brahamdagh Khan Bugti or Brahumdagh Khan Bugti is the founder and leader of a Baloch nationalist political organization, the Baloch Republican Party which broke away from his uncle Talal Akbar Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party in 2008. After the assassination of his grandfather Akbar Bugti, a Baloch nationalist politician, he fled his hometown Dera Bugti in Balochistan in 2006. Initially, he lived as a state guest in Afghanistan and was then flown to Switzerland in October 2010 where he has been living in political asylum with his family. In 2018, India was in talks about granting him citizenship. India would have also given citizenship to Brahumdagh’s key lieutenants in Switzerland, including Sher Muhammad Bugti and Azizullah Bugti, his trusted aides. The BRP has held campaigns all over the UK under the banner of End Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan. The month of June saw an increase in campaigns all over London, resulting in newspaper advertisements, billboard signs and joint awareness campaigns with the World Balochistan Organization. These campaigns also included the flying of “Free Balochistan,” Banners during a Pakistan Afghanistan match at Headingley Stadium, London on June 29th this year. On the 27th of August 2019, Brahamdagh Bugti delivered an address during the martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Nawab Akbar Bugti saying, “We do not mourn this day but rather celebrate it, for it reminds us, the Baloch in Balochistan and abroad, how Shaheed Nawab Akbar Bugti founded this movement with his blood.” The Baloch Republican Party held events across Balochistan and overseas in places like London, Switzerland, and Busan in South Korea, and his speech was broadcast in the same. He is also believed to be the head of the Baloch Republican Army by Pakistan.

Khalil Baloch

Khalil Baloch is currently the chairman of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM). This party was one of the strongest in Balochistan during the 1990s. It still retains a stronghold and according to its manifesto will actively form a political coalition outside of Pakistan’s National Assembly. It has pledged its support to the Balochistan freedom fighters under this released manifesto. In an email interview, he stated, “The recent escalation in militant attacks is a direct reaction to Pakistan army’s growing atrocities in Balochistan and China’s relentless plunder of Baloch resources.” This interview was published on the 15th of July 2019, and since then there have been multiple attacks again as can be seen in the table above. He also stated in the same interview that the Baloch National Movement is no longer ready to negotiate autonomy in the Pakistani political system but in fact, will fight for a separate state altogether. Dil Murad Baloch, the cultural secretary of the BNM is also a key proponent against the Pakistani forces and atrocities carried out by them. He posts regularly on Twitter as well, condemning the Pakistani armed forces, recently calling out the kidnapping and continuing torture of BNM member, Rafiq Baloch.

Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch

Allah Nazar Baloch is the founder and the chief of the Balochistan Liberation Front. He was born in Mashkai, Awaran District in 1968 and has a premedical degree. He heads the BLF which was designated as a terror organization since being one of the prime fighting groups seeking Balochistan Liberation. In an interview published on 22nd July 2019, when asked about why democratic means have not been used to resolve grievances with Pakistan he said that there is no democracy in Pakistan and the Baloch are compelled to rebel against the oppression and slavery. In a statement, he said that the Baloch liberation movement was moving towards the right direction and every supporter of the Pakistani state are enemies of the envisioned Baloch nation.

Implications of a Resurgence

This resurgence of activity surrounding the Balochistan Freedom Movement can only signify a shift in the lull it had experienced for a while. Though many may call it dead, a united Balochistan may still be in the making. Details of any resurgent movements in Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan is lacking but it is clear that the movement in Pakistan has begun to regain traction. Coinciding with the increase of attacks in the Balochistan region, active protesting across the world in multiple organizations has emerged. The call for help from India has increased especially since Prime Minister Modi showed support in a speech indirectly instigating Baloch Activists to actively seek help.

Quetta has been termed as the home base of the Balochistan Liberation movement seeing that it is the apparent capital of Balochistan. The increase of attacks in this very city emphasizes the significance of the movement’s resurgence. Perhaps, not all attacks accounted for are carried out by either the BLA or the BRAS but the unrest in the city is apparent, further egged on by the heightened international movements surrounding the Balochistan freedom struggle. The Baloch are spread from Iran to Pakistan and even in southern Afghanistan and an integrated new Baloch nation would lead to an uproar in South Asia. Whether the fight for a unified Balochistan would materialize in success is yet to be seen and if so, how much of the region would actually fall to them is another cause for speculation. A proposed map of Balochistan (image 1.0) shows it to possess a landmass almost equaling that of current day Pakistan. It is very unlikely that any of the countries involved would give up their territory as has been clear in the failures of the previous resurgences in the 1970s and 1980s, but the fight for autonomy and sovereignty still persists. The success of a resurgence in Pakistan would depend greatly on successful movements across the border in Iran. Though the council of Independent Balochistan formed in 2009 under Mir Suleman Dawood the Khan of Kalat did not lay claim to the Baloch dominated region in Afghanistan, who is to predict what new demands may or may not be made.

A new country would not only ruffle a good many feathers of these three neighboring states but also of other countries who have vested interests in the current region, the most prominent of which is China. The China Pakistan economic corridor would be the worst affected which is clear in the Baloch hate for the country and its investment in the region. A unified Balochistan or even a radical resurgent movement would bring a complete halt to all the infrastructural under the CPEC. The total CPEC project was valued at about $62 Billion as of 2017, which has definitely been surpassed as of 2019. The Gwadar International Port along with its international airport and the East-Bay Expressway which fall under this CPEC project, all run through the Balochistan region and have been the site of multiple attacks. Interestingly, unified Balochistan will not only contain this port of Gwadar but also the Chabahar port on the Indian side.

Though this resurgence would be highly detrimental to the CPEC corridor and Chinese investments in the Larger One Belt One Road initiative, it is important to acknowledge an important outcome of the same which is the gains that another particular country would make. India has for long been accused of supporting the Balochistan cause in Pakistan and a resurgent Balochistan movement serves to bolster support for India in laying claim to an extra ally in the region. Whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his speech was meant as anti-Pakistan rhetoric concerning the Kashmir issue or actual support for the movement is yet to be understood. However, it is clear that many vested interests in the region will serve to either bolster the fight or open increased fronts against the Balochistan Freedom Movement. Though the movement seems to be increasing in intensity one can still question the optimism that the Baloch and its supporters can afford to have in seeking their sovereignty.

Zeus Hans Mendez is a Research Associate and Centre Coordinator at the Centre for Security Studies (CSS), Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global Univeristy. He is also a Research Assistant at the Centre for Security and Strategy Studies (CeSCube).

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An Underdeveloped Discipline: Open-Source Intelligence and How It Can Better Assist the U.S. Intelligence Community

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Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is defined by noted intelligence specialists Mark Lowenthal and Robert M. Clark as being, “information that is publicly available to anyone through legal means, including request, observation, or purchase, that is subsequently acquired, vetted, and analyzed in order to fulfill an intelligence requirement”. The U.S. Naval War College further defines OSINT as coming from, “print or electronic form including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the internet, and videos, graphics, and drawings”. Basically, OSINT is the collection of information from a variety of public sources, including social media profiles and accounts, television broadcasts, and internet searches.

Historically, OSINT has been utilized by the U.S. since the 1940s, when the United States created the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) which had the sole goal (until the 1990s) of, “primarily monitoring and translating foreign-press sources,” and contributing significantly during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was also during this time that the FBIS transformed itself from a purely interpretation agency into one that could adequately utilize the advances made by, “personal computing, large-capacity digital storage, capable search engines, and broadband communication networks”. In 2005, the FBIS was placed under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and renamed the Open Source Center, with control being given to the CIA.

OSINT compliments the other intelligence disciplines very well. Due to OSINT’s ability to be more in touch with public data (as opposed to information that is more gleaned from interrogations, interviews with defectors or captured enemies or from clandestine wiretaps and electronic intrusions), it allows policymakers and intelligence analysts the ability to see the wider picture of the information gleaned. In Lowenthal’s own book, he mentions how policymakers (including the Assistant Secretary of Defense and one of the former Directors of National Intelligence (DNI)) enjoyed looking at OSINT first and using it as a “starting point… [to fill] the outer edges of the jigsaw puzzle”.

Given the 21stcentury and the public’s increased reliance upon technology, there are also times when information can only be gleaned from open source intelligence methods. Because “Terrorist movements rely essentially on the use of open sources… to recruit and provide virtual training and conduct their operations using encryption techniques… OSINT can be valuable [in] providing fast coordination among officials at all levels without clearances”. Intelligence agencies could be able to outright avoid or, at a minimum, be able to prepare a defense or place forces and units on high alert for an imminent attack.

In a King’s College-London research paper discussing OSINT’s potential for the 21stcentury, the author notes, “OSINT sharing among intelligence services, non-government organizations and international organizations could shape timely and comprehensive responses [to international crises or regime changes in rogue states like Darfur or Burma],” as well as providing further information on a country’s new government or personnel in power. This has been exemplified best during the rise of Kim Jong-Un in North Korea and during the 2011 Arab Spring and 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti. However, this does not mean that OSINT is a superior discipline than other forms such as SIGINT and HUMINT, as they are subject to limitations as well. According to the Federation of American Scientists, “Open source intelligence does have limitations. Often articles in military or scientific journals represent a theoretical or desired capability rather than an actual capability. Censorship may also limit the publication of key data needed to arrive at a full understanding of an adversary’s actions, or the press may be used as part of a conscious deception effort”.

There is also a limit to the effectiveness of OSINT within the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), not because it is technically limited, but limited by the desire of the IC to see OSINT as a full-fledged discipline. Robert Ashley and Neil Wiley, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and a former Principal Executive within the ODNI respectively, covered this in a July article for DefenseOne, stating “…the production of OSINT is not regarded as a unique intelligence discipline but as research incident to all-source analysis or as a media production service… OSINT, on the other hand, remains a distributed activity that functions more like a collection of cottage industries. While OSINT has pockets of excellence, intelligence community OSINT production is largely initiative based, minimally integrated, and has little in the way of common guidance, standards, and tradecraft… The intelligence community must make OSINT a true intelligence discipline on par with the traditional functional disciplines, replete with leadership and authority that enables the OSINT enterprise to govern itself and establish a brand that instills faith and trust in open source information”. This apprehensiveness by the IC to OSINT capabilities has been well documented by other journalists.

Some contributors, including one writing for The Hill, has commented that “the use of artificial intelligence and rapid data analytics can mitigate these risks by tipping expert analysts on changes in key information, enabling the rapid identification of apparent “outliers” and pattern anomalies. Such human-machine teaming exploits the strengths of both and offers a path to understanding and even protocols for how trusted open-source intelligence can be created by employing traditional tradecraft of verifying and validating sourcing prior to making the intelligence insights available for broad consumption”. Many knowledgeable and experienced persons within the Intelligence Community, either coming from the uniformed intelligence services or civilian foreign intelligence agencies, recognize the need for better OSINT capabilities as a whole and have also suggested ways in which potential security risks or flaws can be avoided in making this discipline an even more effective piece of the intelligence gathering framework.

OSINT is incredibly beneficial for gathering information that cannot always be gathered through more commonly thought of espionage methods (e.g., HUMINT, SIGINT). The discipline allows for information on previously unknown players or new and developing events to become known and allows policymakers to be briefed more competently on a topic as well as providing analysts and operators a preliminary understanding of the region, the culture, the politics, and current nature of a developing or changing state. However, the greatest hurdle in making use of OSINT is in changing the culture and the way in which the discipline is currently seen by the U.S. Intelligence Community. This remains the biggest struggle in effectively coordinating and utilizing the intelligence discipline within various national security organizations.

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Online Radicalization in India

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Radicalization, is a gradual process of developing extremist beliefs, emotions, and behaviours at individual, group or mass public levels. Besides varied groups, it enjoys patronization, covertly and even overtly from some states. To elicit change in behavior, beliefs, ideology, and willingness, from the target-group, even employment of violent means is justified. Despite recording a declination in terror casualties, the 2019 edition of the Global Terrorism Index claims an increase in the number of terrorism-affected countries. With internet assuming a pivotal role in simplifying and revolutionizing the communication network and process, the change in peoples’ lives is evident. Notably, out of EU’s 84 %, daily internet using population, 81%, access it from home (Eurostat, 2012, RAND Paper pg xi). It signifies important changes in society and extremists elements, being its integral part, internet’ role, as a tool of radicalization, cannot be gainsaid. Following disruption of physical and geographical barriers, the radicalized groups are using the advancement in digital technology:  to propagate their ideologies; solicit funding; collecting informations; planning/coordinating terror attacks; establishing inter/intra-group communication-networks; recruitment, training and media propaganda to attain global attention.  

               Indian Context

In recent times, India has witnessed an exponential growth in radicalization-linked Incidents, which apparently belies the official figures of approximate 80-100 cases. The radicalization threat to India is not only from homegrown groups but from cross-border groups of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as global groups like IS. Significantly, Indian radicalized groups are exploiting domestic grievances and their success to an extent, can mainly be attributed to support from Pakistani state, Jihadist groups from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Gulf-employment boom for Indian Muslims has also facilitated radicalization, including online, of Indian Muslims. A close look at the modus operandi of these attacks reveals the involvement of local or ‘homegrown’ terrorists. AQIS formed (2016) ‘Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’ in Kashmir with a media wing ‘al-Hurr’.

IS announced its foray into Kashmir in 2016 as part of its Khorasan branch. In December 2017 IS in its Telegram channel used hashtag ‘Wilayat Kashmir’ wherein Kashmiri militants stated their allegiance with IS. IS’ online English Magazine ‘Dabiq’ (Jan. 2016) claimed training of fighters in Bangladesh and Pakistan for attacks from western and Eastern borders into India.Though there are isolated cases of ISIS influence in India, the trend is on the rise. Presently, ISIS and its offshoots through online process are engaged in spreading bases in 12 Indian states. Apart from southern states like Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — where the Iran and Syria-based terrorist outfit penetrated years ago — investigating agencies have found their links in states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir as well. The Sunni jihadists’ group is now “most active” in these states across the country.

               Undermining Indian Threat

Significantly, undermining the radicalization issue, a section of intelligentsia citing lesser number of Indian Muslims joining al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, Syria and Middle East, argue that Indian Muslim community does not support radicalism-linked violence unlike regional/Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Maldives. They underscore the negligible number of Indian Muslims, outside J&K, who supports separatist movements. Additionally, al- Qaeda and IS who follows the ‘Salafi-Wahabi’ ideological movement, vehemently oppose ‘Hanafi school’ of Sunni Islam, followed by Indian Muslims. Moreover, Indian Muslims follows a moderate version even being followers of the Sunni Ahle-Hadeeth (the broader ideology from which Salafi-Wahhabi movement emanates). This doctrinal difference led to the failure of Wahhabi groups online propaganda.  

               Radicalisation Strategies/methods: Indian vs global players

India is already confronting the online jihadist radicalization of global jihadist organisations, including al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), formed in September 2014 and Islamic State (IS). However, several indigenous and regional groups such as Indian Mujahideen (IM), JeM, LeT, the Taliban and other online vernacular publications, including Pakistan’s Urdu newspaper ‘Al-Qalam’, also play their role in online radicalisation.

Indian jihadist groups use a variety of social media apps, best suited for their goals. Separatists and extremists in Kashmir, for coordination and communication, simply create WhatsApp groups and communicate the date, time and place for carrying out mass protests or stone pelting. Pakistan-based terror groups instead of online learning of Islam consider it mandatory that a Muslim radical follows a revered religious cleric. They select people manually to verify their background instead of online correspondence. Only after their induction, they communicate online with him. However, the IS, in the backdrop of recent defeats, unlike Kashmiri separatist groups and Pak-based jihadist mercenaries, runs its global movement entirely online through magazines and pamphlets. The al-Qaeda’s you tube channels ‘Ansar AQIS’ and ‘Al Firdaws’, once having over 25,000 subscriptions, are now banned. Its online magazines are Nawai Afghan and Statements are in Urdu, English, Arabic, Bangla and Tamil. Its blocked Twitter accounts, ‘Ansarul Islam’ and ‘Abna_ul_Islam_media’, had a following of over 1,300 while its Telegram accounts are believed to have over 500 members.

               Adoption of online platforms and technology

Initially, Kashmir based ‘Jaish-E-Mohammad’ (JeM) distributed audio cassettes of Masood Azhar’s speeches across India but it joined Internet platform during the year 2003–04 and started circulating downloadable materials through anonymous links and emails. Subsequently, it started its weekly e-newspaper, Al-Qalam, followed by a chat group on Yahoo. Importantly, following enhanced international pressure on Pak government after 26/11, to act against terrorist groups, JeM gradually shifted from mainstream online platform to social media sites, blogs and forums.   

 Indian Mujahideen’s splinter group ‘Ansar-ul-Tawhid’ the first officially affiliated terror group to the ISIS tried to maintain its presence on ‘Skype’, ‘WeChat’ and ‘JustPaste’. IS and its affiliates emerged as the most tech-savvy jihadist group. They took several measures to generate new accounts after repeated suspension of their accounts by governments.  An account called as ‘Baqiya Shoutout’ was one such measure. It stressed upon efforts to re-establish their network of followers through ‘reverse shout-out’ instead of opening a new account easily.

Pakistan-backed terrorist groups in India are increasingly becoming  technology savvy. For instance, LeT before carrying out terrorist attacks in 2008 in Mumbai, used Google Earth to understand the targeted locations.

IS members have been following strict security measures like keeping off their Global Positioning System (GPS) locations and use virtual private network (VPN),  to maintain anonymity. Earlier they were downloading Hola VPN or a similar programme from a mobile device or Web browser to select an Internet Protocol (IP) address for a country outside the US, and bypass email or phone verification.

Rise of radicalization in southern India

Southern states of India have witnessed a rise in  radicalization activities during the past 1-2 years. A substantial number of Diaspora in the Gulf countries belongs to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Several Indian Muslims in Gulf countries have fallen prey to radicalization due to the ultra-conservative forms of Islam or their remittances have been misused to spread radical thoughts. One Shafi Armar@ Yusuf-al-Hindi from Karnataka emerged as the main online IS recruiter for India.  It is evident in the number of raids and arrests made in the region particularly after the Easter bomb attacks (April, 21, 2019) in Sri Lanka. The perpetrators were suspected to have been indoctrinated, radicalised and trained in the Tamil Nadu. Further probe revealed that the mastermind of the attacks, Zahran Hashim had travelled to India and maintained virtual links with radicalised youth in South India. Importantly, IS, while claiming responsibility for the attacks, issued statements not only in English and Arabic but also in South Indian languages viz. Malayalam and Tamil. It proved the existence of individuals fluent in South Indian languages in IS linked groups in the region. Similarly, AQIS’ affiliate in South India ‘Base Movement’ issued several threatening letters to media publications for insulting Islam.

IS is trying to recruit people from rural India by circulating the online material in vernacular languages. It is distributing material in numerous languages, including Malayalam and Tamil, which Al Qaeda were previously ignoring in favour of Urdu. IS-linked Keralite followers in their propaganda, cited radical pro-Hindutva, organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) and other right-wing Hindu organisations to motivate youth for joining the IS.  Similarly, Anti-Muslim incidents such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 are still being used to fuel their propaganda. IS sympathisers also support the need to oppose Hindu Deities to gather support.

               Radicalization: Similarities/Distinctions in North and South

Despite few similarities, the radicalisation process in J&K is somewhat different from the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Gujarat. Both the regions have witnessed a planned radicalization process through Internet/social media for propagating extremist ideologies and subverting the vulnerable youth. Both the areas faced the hard-line Salafi/Wahhabi ideology, propagated by the extremist Islamic clerics and madrasas indulged in manipulating the religion of Islam. Hence, in this context it can be aptly claimed that terror activities in India have cooperation of elements from both the regions, despite their distinct means and objectives. Elements from both regions to an extent sympathise to the cause of bringing India under the Sharia Law. Hence, the possibility of cooperation in such elements cannot be ruled out particularly in facilitation of logistics, ammunitions and other requisite equipment.

It is pertinent to note that while radicalisation in Jammu and Kashmir is directly linked to the proxy-war, sponsored by the Pakistan state, the growth of radicalisation in West and South India owes its roots to the spread of IS ideology, promotion of Sharia rule and establishment of Caliphate. Precisely for this reason, while radicalised local Kashmiris unite to join Pakistan-backed terror groups to fight for ‘Azadi’ or other fabricated local issues, the locals in south rather remain isolated cases.

               Impact of Radicalisation

The impact of global jihad on radicalization is quite visible in West and South India. Majority of the radicalised people, arrested in West and South India, were in fact proceeding to to join IS in Syria and Iraq. It included the group of 22 people from a Kerala’s family, who travelled (June 2016) to Afghanistan via Iran. There obvious motivation was to migrate from Dar-ul-Harb (house of war) to Dar-ul-Islam (house of peace/Islam/Deen).

While comparing the ground impact of radicalization in terms of number of cases of local militants in J&K as well as IS sympathisers in West and South India, it becomes clear that radicalisation was spread more in J&K, owing to Pak-sponsored logistical and financial support. Significantly, despite hosting the third largest Muslim population, the number of Indian sympathisers to terror outfits, particularly in West and South India is very small as compared to the western countries. Main reasons attributed to this, include – religious and cultural pluralism; traditionally practice of moderate Islamic belief-systems; progressive educational and economic standards; and equal socio-economic and political safeguards for the Indian Muslims in the Indian Constitution.

               Challenges Ahead

Apart from varied challenges, including Pak-sponsored anti-India activities, regional, local and political challenges, media wings of global jihadi outfits continue to pose further challenges to Indian security agencies. While IS through its media wing, ‘Al Isabah’ has been circulating (through social media sites) Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s speeches and videos after translating them into Urdu, Hindi, and Tamil for Indian youth (Rajkumar 2015), AQIS too have been using its media wing for the very purpose through its offshoots in India.  Some of the challenges, inter alia include –

Islam/Cleric Factor Clerics continue to play a crucial role in influencing the minds of Muslim youth by exploiting the religion of Islam. A majority of 127 arrested IS sympathizers from across India recently revealed that they were following speeches of controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik of Islamic Research Foundation (IRF). Zakir has taken refuge in Malaysia because of warrants against him by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged money laundering and inciting extremism through hate speeches. A Perpetrator of Dhaka bomb blasts in July 2016 that killed several people confessed that he was influenced by Naik’s messages. Earlier, IRF had organised ‘peace conferences’ in Mumbai between 2007 and 2011 in which Zakir attempted to convert people and incite terrorist acts. Thus, clerics and preachers who sbverts the Muslim minds towards extremism, remain a challenge for India.

Propaganda Machinery – The online uploading of young militant photographs, flaunting Kalashnikov rifles became the popular means of declaration of youth intent against government forces. Their narrative of “us versus them” narrative is clearly communicated, creating groundswell of support for terrorism.In its second edition (March 2020) of its propaganda magazine ‘Sawt al-Hind’ (Voice of Hind/India) IS, citing an old propaganda message from a deceased (2018) Kashmiri IS terrorist, Abu Hamza al-Kashmiri @ Abdul Rehman, called upon Taliban apostates and fighters to defect to IS.  In the first edition (Feb. 2020) the magazine, eulogized Huzaifa al-Bakistani (killed in 2019), asking Indian Muslims to rally to IS in the name of Islam in the aftermath of the 2020 Delhi riots. Meanwhile, a Muslim couple arrested by Delhi Police for inciting anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment) Bill protests, were found very active on social media. They would call Indian Muslims to unite against the Indian government against the CAA legislation. During 2017 Kashmir unrest, National Investigation Agency (NIA) identified 79 WhatsApp groups (with administrators based in Pakistan), having 6,386 phone numbers, to crowd source boys for stone pelting. Of these, around 1,000 numbers were found active in Pakistan and Gulf nations and the remaining 5,386 numbers were found active in Kashmir Valley.

Deep fakes/Fake news – Another challenge for India is spread of misinformation and disinformation through deep fakes by Pakistan. Usage of deepfakes, in manipulating the speeches of local political leaders to spread hate among the youth and society was done to large extent.

India’s Counter Measures

To prevent youth straying towards extremism, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has established a Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Radicalisation Division (CT-CR) to help states, security agencies and communities.

Various states, including Kerala, Maharashtra and Telangana have set up their own de-radicalisation programmes.  While in Maharashtra family and community plays an important role, in Kerala clerics cleanse the poisoned  minds of youth with a new narrative. A holistic programme for community outreach including healthcare, clergies and financial stability is being employed by the Indian armed forces. An operation in Kerala named Kerala state police’ ‘Operation Pigeon’ succeeded in thwarting radicalization of 350 youths to the propaganda of organizations such as Islamic State, Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) via social media monitoring. In Telangana, outreach programs have been developed by local officers like Rema Rajeshwari to fight the menace of fake news in around 400 villages of the state.

In Kashmir the government resorts to internet curfews to control the e-jihad. While state-owned BNSL network, used by the administration and security forces, remains operational 3G and 4G networks and social media apps remain suspended during internet curfews.

Prognosis

India certainly needs a strong national counter- Radicalisation policy which would factor in a range of factors than jobs, poverty or education because radicalization in fact has affected even well educated, rich and prosperous families. Instead of focusing on IS returnees from abroad, the policy must take care of those who never travelled abroad but still remain a potential threat due to their vulnerability to radicalization.

Of course, India would be better served if deep fakes/fake news and online propaganda is effectively countered digitally as well as through social awakening measures and on ground action by the government agencies. It is imperative that the major stakeholders i.e. government, educational institutions, civil society organisations, media and intellectuals play a pro-active role in pushing their narrative amongst youth and society. The focus should apparently be on prevention rather than controlling the radicalisation narrative of the vested interests.

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Intelligence

Is Deterrence in Cyberspace Possible?

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Soon after the Internet was founded, half of the world’s population (16 million) in 1996 had been connected to Internet data traffic. Gradually, the Internet began to grow and with more users, it contributed to the 4 trillion global economies in 2016 (Nye, 2016). Today, high-speed Internet, cutting-edge technologies and gadgets, and increasing cross-border Internet data traffic are considered an element of globalization. Deterrence seems traditional and obsolete strategy, but the developed countries rely on cyberspace domains to remain in the global digitization. No matter how advanced they are, there still exist vulnerabilities. There are modern problems in the modern world. Such reliance on the Internet also threatens to blow up the dynamics of international insecurity. To understand and explore the topic it is a must for one to understand what cyberspace and deterrence are? According to Oxford dictionary;

 “Cyberspace is the internet considered as an imaginary space without a physical location in which communication over computer networks takes place (OXFORD University Press)”

For readers to understand the term ‘deterrence’; Collins dictionary has best explained it as;

“Deterrence is the prevention of something, especially war or crime, by having something such as weapons or punishment to use as a threat e.g. Nuclear Weapons (Deterrence Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary).

The purpose of referring to the definition is to make it easy to discern and distinguish between deterrence in International Relations (IR) and International Cyber Security (ICS). Deterrence in cyberspace is different and difficult than that of during the Cold War. The topic of deterrence was important during Cold Wat for both politicians and academia. The context in both dimensions (IR and ICS) is similar and aims to prevent from happening something. Cyberspace deterrence refers to preventing crime and I completely agree with the fact that deterrence is possible in Cyberspace. Fischer (2019) quotes the study of (Quinlan, 2004) that there is no state that can be undeterrable.

To begin with, cyber threats are looming in different sectors inclusive of espionage, disruption of the democratic process and sabotaging the political arena, and war. Whereas international law is still unclear about these sectors as to which category they fall in. I would validate my affirmation (that deterrence is possible in Cyberspace) with the given network attacks listed by Pentagon (Fung, 2013). Millions of cyber-attacks are reported on a daily basis. The Pentagon reported 10 million cyberspace intrusions, most of which are disruptive, costly, and annoying. The level of severity rises to such a critical level that it is considered a threat to national security, so professional strategic assistance is needed to deal with it[1]. The past events show a perpetual threat that has the ability to interrupt societies, economies, and government functioning.

The cyberspace attacks were administered and portrayal of deterrence had been publicized as follows (Fung, 2013);

  1. The internet service was in a continuous disruption for several weeks after a dispute with Russia in 2007.
  2. Georgian defense communications were interrupted in 2008 after the Russian invasion of Georgia.   
  3. More than 1000 centrifuges in Iran were destroyed via the STUXNET virus in 2010. The attacks were attributed to Israel and the United States of America.
  4. In response to STUXNET virus attacks, Iran also launched a retaliatory attack on U.S financial institutions in 2012 and 2013.
  5. Similarly in 2012, some 30,000 computers had been destroyed with a virus called SHAMOON in Saudi Aramco Corporation. Iran was held responsible for these attacks.
  6. North Korea was accused of penetrating South Korean data and machines in 2014, thus interrupting their networks in 2014.
  7. A hybrid war was reported between Russia and Ukraine in 2015 that left Ukraine without electricity for almost six hours.
  8. Most critical scandal, which is still in the limelight call WikiLeaks released distressing and humiliating emails by Russian Intelligence at the time of the U.S presidential campaigns in 2016.

While such incidents may be considered a failure of deterrence, this does not mean that deterrence is impossible. Every system has some flaws that are exposed at some point. At this point, in some cases a relatively low level of deterrence was used to threaten national security, however, the attacks were quite minor in fulfilling the theme affecting national security. Nye (2016:51) in his study talks about the audience whose attribution could facilitate deterrence. (I). intelligence agencies should make sure highest safeguarding against escalation by third parties, and governments can also be certain and count on intelligence agencies’ sources. (II). the deterring party should not be taken easy, as I stated (above) about the lingering loopholes and flaws in the systems, hence, governments shall not perceive the intelligence forsaken.  (III). lastly, it is a political matter whether international and domestic audiences need to be persuaded or not, and what chunk of information should be disclosed.

The mechanisms which are used and helpful against cyberspace adversary actions are as follows (Fischer, 2019);

  1. Deterrence by denial means, the actions by the adversary are denied that they failed to succeed in their goals and objectives. It is more like retaliating a cyberattack.
  2. Threat of punishment offers severe outcomes in form of penalties and inflicting high costs on the attacker that would outweigh the anticipated benefits if the attack takes place.
  3. Deterrence by Entanglement has the features and works on a principle of shared, interconnected, and dependent vulnerabilities. The purpose of entanglement is to embolden and reassure the behavior as a responsible state with mutual interests.
  4. Normative taboos function with strong values and norms, wherein the reputation of an aggressor is at stake besides having a soft image in the eyes of the international community (this phenomenon includes rational factors because hard power is used against the weaker state). The deterrence of the international system works even without having any credible resilience.

Apparently, the mechanisms of deterrence are also effective in cyber realms. These realms are self-explaining the comprehensive understanding and the possibility of deterrence in cyberspace. The four mechanisms (denial, punishment, entanglement, and normative taboos) are also feasible to apply deterrence in the cyber world. Factually, of many security strategies, cyber deterrence by using four domains could be a versatile possibility. Conclusively, as far as the world is advancing in technological innovations, cyberspace intrusions would not stop alike the topic of deterrence in the digital world.


[1] An updated list of cyberspace intrusions from 2003 till 2021 is available at (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2021).

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