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Transnational Strategies of ISIS Post Baghdadi

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From being proclaimed dead on multiple occasions to the actual confirmation of his death by the Islamic State, the life of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been shrouded in mystery in both life and death. Rising from extremely ordinary ranks, the self proclaimed caliph had made immense progress in causing a wave of violence and threatening the security of superpowers like the US for a while now. However this all changed as Donald Trump announced the success of a US raid conducted in northwest Syria on the 26th of October, 2019. This announcement soon raised questions on the future of the Islamic State and the announcement of the new Caliph.

Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, parted ways from Al-Qaeda in 2013 and declared a Caliphate and himself as the Caliph. His main aim being, to consolidate the Muslims around the world in the name of Islam and form an Islamic State. Baghdadi, who had been particularly careful about making public appearances was seen in the pulpit of a mosque in Mosul on July 5, 2014. In a 21 minute long video which was made public, Baghdadi is seen speaking in Arabic and states that “the establishment of a Caliphate is an obligation.” However, he also claims his righteousness by saying that “I am not better than you or more virtuous than you,”. He further adds, “If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.”

These appealing sermons of Baghdadi, showcase only a part of his personality. ISIS under his rule has been infamous for subscribing to violence  and is considered one of the most brutal in the world. The confirmation of his death along with the death of the potential future heir, was made public by ISIS via an audio tape on 31st of October. The audio release was made by the organization’s central media arm , al-Furqan Foundation. Moreover the announcement was made by a new spokesperson who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Qureshi, and warned the US government against rejoicing over this victory. The proclamation of the new caliph, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qureshi was also made along with the news of the death of a previous spokesman of the organization Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. These corroborations on part of the organization has raised questions about the dwindling future of the so called Islamic State.

Implications of the loss of a leader

Financial struggles

So far ISIS, has enjoyed an estimate of 800 million dollars of annual income from multiple sources. Majority of its income was a result of extortion and exploitation of people living under their rule. The rest came from illegal oil trade, kidnappings, and lootings. A great portion of the funds was also facilitated by foreign donors and illicit activities on the dark web. However, after the considerable loss of territory  due to a series of US raids carried out in Syria and Iraq, a sizeable amount of damage has been done to the institution’s economy. In spite of losing 98% of its territory ISIS still seems pretty confident with its financial reserves. Till the time the organization gets hold of its previous territories it would be largely dependent on its foreign donors and illegal trafficking networks. Foreign donors, usually use the hawala system to transfer money into the ISIS bank account. In light of ISIS’s present circumstances, and bearing in mind the rising number of sympathizers, these kind of  commiserate funding are probably to rise.

 A New leader

Until Baghdadi’s reign, he was the sole authoritative figurehead of the organization. Even though he was aided by a Shura (consultative) council, the appointment process of the council was usually his doing. This made him an unchecked figurehead who was in charge of sanctioning any kind of decision. Close associates of the organization were directed by him, however his command on overseas affiliates remains unclear. The death of Baghdadi has clearly created a major power vacuum in the administration of the system. The Shura council, even though the second most powerful entity, still was largely dependent on its leader for any decision- making process. It would be especially rare if the organization is able to find a leader as influential as Baghdadi. In the absence of which, internal skirmishes for assimilating power is absolutely possible. Barely any information is available about, the new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qureshi, except that he traces his lineage to one of the primary tribes of prophet Muhammad. This however is not enough to determine one’s headship qualities, and taking into account, ISIS’s dire straits, it is desperately in need of a capable commander.

Increased social media influence

As a relatively new terrorist organization, that took roots in 2006, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has not been unaware of the influence of social media and cyberspace. Social media has been exploited to a great extent and has been a great aid in propagating the Jihadist ideology. However, after the death of its leader probabilities of ISIS making an extensive appearance on social media sites have increased. The organization makes use of a psycho-cyber approach that has two advantages- reaching a larger audience and manipulating minds in a lucrative way.

Ever since the news of Baghdadi’s death was made public, the internet has experienced a mixed reaction to the situation. As many were busy applauding the US government for taking such a bold step against terrorism, there were many others who swore their allegiance to Jihad. Pro-ISIS ideology has also surged, especially on social media sites such as Telegram (one of the primary sites used by ISIS). With the loss of a Caliph, posts swelling with sentiments have come forward, that vow to keep fighting in the name of Jihad, irrespective of a Caliph.

Apart from the crafty use of cyberspace, ISIS has also made use of language as a medium of publicity. Dabiq the English magazine that is published by the organization aims at making the Jihadi ideology open to all. The use of Arabic in the posts, tweets and other such documents creates the effect of being closer to the agenda and the teachings of Quran. Videos released by the organization too feature in multiple languages thereby radicalizing a larger group.

Ever since Baghdadi’s death, there have been more than a thousand tweets and retweets on pro-ISIS ideas on Twitter. Even though Twitter has worked tirelessly to take down these accounts, there are always a few that spring back up. The best way to garner more support and appear in most pages is by using hashtags. ISIS has exploited this possibility too and posts pictures with multiple hashtags so as to increase their visibility in the cyber domain.

ISIS’s social media strategy includes- recruiting sympathizers, subverting its opponents, reaching a larger audience, influencing the public with their propaganda. After the loss of its leader, ISIS is making use of the internet to the best of its abilities to keep its supporters united as well as enlist more individuals to the cause, in order to make an impactful comeback.

Retaliatory attacks

The terror of Islamic State does not simply end with the death of Baghdadi. Nations worldwide have feared being attacked by the institution and have also openly shared their concerns regarding the matter. The United States and the EU (European Union), both have increased vigilance in their security forces, fearing retaliation from the organization.

However, in order to form a structured revenge plan, the ISIS needs to have sufficient means to do so. After the loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, the followers of the group have been  scattered along the region. Not to mention having a considerable amount of supporters from Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Pakistan. Yet, the lack of a consolidated leadership limits the chances of a large scale attack. Speculations about lone wolf attacks have been made, however none of such cases have been reported so far.

The simple aim of organizing such an attack can however lead to a greater solidarity among its supporters. Collusions among lone wolves or individual entities and local terrorist organizations  are most likely to occur, yet the extent of a major retaliation would require a lot of time. Resources and funding are also areas to look into, and given the current weak stance of the Islamic State, seeking vengeance is still a long way to go.

However, ISIS is a determined group and most likely will rise again. The loss of territory along with the loss of its most influential leaders has tarnished its reputation. Meaning that in the long run, the organization would definitely want to rebuild its empire, the question is how?

Regaining lost glory- in search of the new Caliphate

Ever since its inception, Iraq and Syria have been the main strongholds for ISIS. This was primarily due to the fact that ISIS rose as a segment of Al-Qaeda which was established in the region. After Baghdadi’s revolt against the functioning’s of Al-Qaeda he founded his Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Baghdadi who was an Iraqi national himself was well informed about the region and had good knowledge of the local affiliates who would be willing to join him.  The political turmoil in the region, also served in providing the organization with a conducive environment to grow. Hence, Iraq and Syria became one of the most prized locations for the organization. However, this all changed as the Caliphate kept losing its territory at the hands of multiple entities. Even today, the US Homeland Security Forces are keeping the sleeper cells of the organization on a run. This however doesn’t answer the question to the recent power vacuum that has been created in the region as well as in the organization and in all likelihood, the organization will venture out to seek better avenues.

Southeast Asia

After the announcement of Baghdadi’s death, European nations were not the only ones to express their concerns about the possibility of retaliatory attacks. Officials from Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia have also been perturbed by the returning of attackers, given the dominant presence of ISIS in the region. Over the past few years Southeast Asian authorities have seen a rise in the number of individuals who choose to migrate to Iraq and Syria in order to fight for the organization. The region is constantly threatened by the increasing influence of the group and the escalating numbers of sympathizers it has managed to gain over a short period of time. Thus making it highly incorrect to limit the identity of the Islamic State to Iraq and Syria alone.

ISIS as an organization, currently faces a power vacuum in its system. This can only result in the formation of new affiliates in the region or an increasing probability of a brand new terrorist organization taking form from the  remaining shambles of ISIS. The death of Baghdadi would hence be used as a tactical measure to gain more supporters in the region as well as to create a wave of radicalization in Southeast Asia. However, there are multiple challenges that the organization itself needs to address before starting to rebuild its empire.

The nations in the pacific that are highly affected by ISIS are namely- Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia. The paper shall take a brief look at the recent terrorist activities in each of the countries and speculate on the possibilities of an emerging Islamic State.

Malaysia

In 2016, the nation experienced one of its first terrorist attacks caused by the ISIS. According to reports it was the first successful attack that the organization had managed to conduct in the country. A grenade attack was carried out in a nightclub, located in Puchong in Selangor state. Eight Malaysians and one  Chinese were injured. Irrespective of the magnitude of the attack, the authorities nabbed two Malaysians who were affiliated with the Islamic State.

This is not the only case of radicalization that has been experienced in the nation. In July of 2019, the Counter Terrorism division of Malaysia allegedly caught hold of – 12 Indonesians, 3 Malaysians and one Indian on charges of plotting attacks against unnamed politicians and non- Muslims. On interrogation , the accused were found guilty of spreading the Salfi Jihadist teachings and recruiting members for the ISIS, through social media. As per interrogation reports, the suspects were aged between 22 and 36 and were heavily involved in enlisting new members for the Islamic State from Indonesia and Malaysia, and also planned on launching attacks after the recruitment procedure was completed. They have also been associated in channeling funds for the Maute terrorist group based in the Philippines.

If one were to simply take a look at the Movida club attacks, one would realize how the roots of terror have slowly penetrated into the fabric of Malaysian society.  Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, was a Malaysian national moved to Syria in order to join the ISIS. Since then he has been listed as one of the top recruiters and handles nearly all social media sites in the region. He was in charge of setting up nearly 100 WhatsApp groups which were all managed by Syrian social media hackers. The participants of these WhatsApp groups were usually college and university students from across the nation. Muhammad Wanndy who was responsible for setting up numerous sleeper cells in Malaysia, passed away in 2017 in a drone attack in Syria. One of the cells being the ‘Black Crow’ or Gagak Hitam. This was a well networked group that consisted of citizens from all walks of life, who secretly took orders from Wanndy. The Black Crow was simply an example of one of the many sleeper cells in the area, that continuously conspired against the government.

Apart from the presence of underground cells, terrorist organizations such as the Katibah Nusantara (Islamic State’s Malay Archipelago Combat Unit) have been pretty active in the region. In spite of being active even before the formation of the Islamic State, the group pledged its allegiance to ISIS in 2013. Since then it has utilized the Malay speaking population as an asset to promulgate their agenda. By using language as a medium, the group has successfully managed to create a better solidarity among members as well as found ways to enlist new comrades on similar grounds. One of the other benefits of encouraging Malay as a language of communication, is to reach a larger sects of Malaysian and Indonesian Sunni Muslims. Releasing videos and articles in the native language only makes its impact on the cyberspace stronger.

Katibah Nusantara is not the only organization that sympathizes with the cause of the Islamic State. The seeds of the notions encouraging the Islamic State had been long implanted in Malaysia by one of the most notorious terrorist organizations in the region KMM (Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia). If one were to take a look at the ideological formulations of both KMM and the ISIS, one could easily recognize the similarities. Both the institutions vouch for transnational terrorism and aim at forming a global Islamic State. With the promotion of such  identical objectives KMM could be called as the precursor of ISIS in the region. With the recent demise of Baghdadi, these sentiments are only being fueled as more and more recruits willingly sympathize with the cause.

Malaysia which enjoys a prime location in the Pacific, has to be extensively careful regarding its maritime security, in light of the rising terror groups. In the recent past, Malaysia has been accused of smuggling in illegal weapons. However, officials have denied any such claims.

Malaysia, along with its neighboring nations Indonesia and Philippines appears to be the perfect breeding ground for terrorist activities. With 61.3% of the population being predominantly Muslim, it is easy to influence the public with radical ideas in the name of jihad. A majority of the pro-ISIS sympathizers, willingly went to Iraq and Syria to become a part of the larger jihadi movement. However after the destruction of the caliphate, the returnees from the Middle East pose a greater threat to the national security, as they serve as a catalyst to instigate more extremist propaganda in the region.

Indonesia

In 2013, when ISIS split from Al-Qaeda, terrorist organizations worldwide were forced to pick sides. Especially the ones based in Southeast Asia. One of such groups that pledged its loyalty to ISIS was Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) An organization that has been wrecking havoc in the region by inspiring families to participate in suicide bombings, across the nation. One of such cases occurred a year ago in Surabaya when a family of six carried out a deadly suicide bomb attack in a church. What appeared to be a simple countryside family, was actually being radicalized by joint group for Islamic studies on a weekly basis. According to investigators, there were multiple families that met every Sunday to preach about Islam and in turn presented extremist views on the subject. The family which included a daughter of nine, were held responsible for carrying out the attack in a church, which injured many. A total of three such families were held accountable, and in all probability one of the families had recently returned from Syria. A similar attack took place at a police headquarters, in the same region. The attack was carried out by a family of five.

All these families bear their allegiance or have been impacted by the teachings of  Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the organization too confirms its strategy of radicalizing families in the name of jihad. However, JAD is as recent as ISIS. Both the organizations were formed around the same time and ever since then JAD has looked up to ISIS for training and financial aid. JAD is composed of nearly two dozen extremist groups that pledge its allegiance to ISIS. However, there have been disputes among two Indonesian ISIL militants based in Syria namely – Bahrumsyah, aka Abu Ibrahim [Abu Jandal] and Bahrun Naim regarding the control over the pacific rim. As per intelligence sources Bahrumsyah has been made in charge of Katibah Nusantara, which is operational from Malaysia. Whereas Bahrun Naim had taken charge of JAD. Bahrun Naim, himself had an extremely impressive background. From being a student of informatics engineering to being in charge of one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations. He is the mastermind who introduced bitcoin technology and the basics of artificial intelligence to ISIS. However, after his death in 2018 in a US air strike, the leadership of JAD has been under Aman Abdurrahman, who is currently in Indonesian custody, yet remains influential.

Apart from JAD, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) is also equally powerful in radicalizing entities and promoting lone wolf attacks in the region. Both these organizations work hand in hand and also enjoy the support of well networked group of terrorist organizations from the neighboring countries of Malaysia and the Philippines.

Indonesia has a 99% Sunni Muslim population. The remaining minorities are under constant threat from these extremist entities that usually attack government properties and  Christian or western places of importance within the nation. Over the past 5 years, Indonesia has experienced a surge in terrorist activities as more of its youth is being radicalized by the use of social media. The arsonist masterminds, very intelligently hack into the social media networks that eventually do the damage. The local madrasas, or Islamic study centers are considered to be breeding grounds for  such extremism. In the Surabaya case which was mentioned above, families as a unit are being used as agents of terror. This includes using women and children alike. In 2017, a women was sentenced to seven and a half years of prison, after having plotted to carry out a suicide bombing outside the presidential palace. It was the first time that a woman had been arrested for such a crime.

One of the most damaging ways in which the organization has chosen to break the structure of Indonesia is by attacking the governments. In May 2019, right before the declaration of the presidential election, the police forces nabbed eight ISIS inspired militants who planned to stage a suicide bomb attack, during the announcement of the results. Most of these members have been migrants from Syria and Iraq, who were inspired by the idea of fighting for their Middle Eastern brothers and sisters. However, with the downfall of the Caliphate and the loss of their most prominent leader, in all likelihood, they will be equally inspired to create a new Islamic state in their very homeland.

Philippines

It would be foolish to consider that the mission of Islamic State to conquer land is only limited to Iraq and Syria. In 2017, the city of Marawi experienced something similar to what the people in Mosul would have experienced under the ISIS. The siege of Marawi is one of the best examples of the increasing power of terrorist organizations in the Philippines. In a duration of a 5 month long siege, which resulted in the loss of lives as well as property the city was completely left in ruins. The massive destruction was the work on two highly active terrorist organizations of the region – Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group, both of which have pledged their allegiance to ISIS. The ruined walls of the remaining buildings were covered with paintings and marks that read- “I love ISIS”.

As the city and the people still recover, the terrorist groups do not seem to rest. Two years after the incident, a case of suicide bomb attack rises up in January of 2019. A Roman Catholic Cathedral in Jolo, Mindanao island suffered two explosions after a couple of  suicide bombers unleashed the attack. This time the militants were affiliated with Abu Sayyaf group. Soon after the attack, an illustration was made public. In which the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte was seen kneeling down on a pile of skulls while a militant held a knife at his neck, this picture was captioned- “The fighting has just begun”. As if the horrors of bombings and large scale destruction weren’t enough, the group is also psychologically affecting the public’s notions of safety. The illustration made the general citizens question their security at the hands of the state, a tactic used to sow seeds of suspicion in order to breakdown the government.

Considering all the recent attacks, the name of one terrorist group repeatedly resurfaces- Abu Sayyaf group (ASG). However, this organization is not the only culprit. Other terrorist groups such as the Maute group are also equally to blame. But these groups used to be a part of a larger organization called the MNLF ( Moro National Liberation Front ), that used to be closely associated with Al-Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). After being exceptionally active in the 1990’s and the 2000’s, the group eventually fizzled out due to internal disputes. Its last known attack was reported to be in 2017, ever since which it has remained relatively dormant. The group used a form of collective leadership and vouches for the formation of a separate Muslim nation or state called as the Bangsamoro, as the group is presided over by the Moro community. Moros are followers of Islam, yet some of their practices differ from the other religious sects, hence making them a separate ethnic group. It wasn’t clear wheatear MNLF agreed with the ideologies of ISIS. The group had also changed its name to MILF (MoroIslamic liberation front) and had ties with other terror groups in the region. Both MNLF and MILF were primarily located in the island of Mindanao in southern Philippines.

The other terror groups include Abu Sayyaf group (ASG), which is notorious for carrying out kidnappings in the area. Yet in the recent past. The group has advanced enough to carry out suicide bombings and attacks in the island of Mindanao. ASG lost one of its most prominent leaders Isnilon Hapilon, during the siege of Marawi. Isnilon Hapilon began his occupation as a jihadi terrorist under MNLF. Later on he aided in forming the ASG which predominantly consisted of tausug filipo Muslims, unlike the moros. He was one of the first in 2014 to pledge his alligence to al-Baghdadi, and eventually rose in the ranks to manage the jihadist movements in the pacific rim. After the death of Hapilon, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan has taken over the command. However, due to some differences within the group, ASG has two separate factions- one of which is based in Jolo and the other in Basilan. The faction in Basilan has pledged its allegiance to ISIS, but the one in Jolo has yet to make any definitive statement. This makes the linking of the attacks to either of the ASG groups a tough task.

Along with ASG, the other crucial terrorist group that works in the same area is the Maute group. The group has rather disillusioned beginnings, and it is unclear as to what triggered the radicalization among its key founders, yet the Mautes played an essential role in the Marawi siege. The group’s key founders – Omar and Abdullah Maute belonged to influential and well- off families in the town of Buting. During its initial stages they closely worked with the MILF, but soon disbanded and started to associate themselves with other groups in the region, one of them being the ASG. In May of 2017, Mautes took over Marawi and started their bloody regime, executing and looting people. The masterminds of the Marawi siege were Omar and Abdullah Maute, who were allegedly killed during the five month long blockade. However, there have been speculations that the prime person behind the scenes is Farhana Maute, which makes sense as the Mautes belong to a matriarchal tribe. Ever since the Marawi siege, the Mautes have been working closely with the ASG. Both the groups are notorious for kidnapping foreign nationals, mostly Indonesians and holding them for ransom.

The terrorist groups in Philippines were divided on the lines of ethnicity at the start of the decade. However, with the split of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, most organizations in the region have come together in the name of Islam, with a common goal of setting up their own caliphate. As the nation is chiefly Roman Catholic, the 5.6% of the Muslim in the region consider the government to be biased towards Christians. This instigates the terrorist groups furthermore as they repeatedly attempt to take down the “Christian” governance. The main concentration of the Muslim population lies in southern Philippines, which is geographically closer to the archipelagos of Indonesia. This close proximity of the nations and the heavy transnational involvement of terrorist groups in the region pose a major security threat.

Southeast Asia the next Caliphate?

As the command of the Caliphate dwindles in the Middle East, there can be seen a Suring sympathy in Southeast Asia. Currently ISIS exists in the form of sleeper cells in Iraq and Syria, that to face a hard time due to the counter terrorism measures taken by the government of the region. However, a Caliphate is not legitimized without a territory, the one that the organization has recently lost. Keeping in mind the siege of Marawi in Philippines , the possibility of a new Caliphate arising in southeast Asia cannot be denied. The primary nations that have been associated with the functioning of the Islamic State are Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Recent cases have also highlighted the rising numbers of Singaporean civilians who are being inspired by the same cause. Its is vital to keep in mind that these nations are an accumulation of archipelagoes that can be easily captured. If the current terrorist factions in the region were to unite and capture even one of these islands, a new Caliphate could be easily established. Given its prime location in the Pacific, the area receives the maximum traffic in terms of trade. Disrupting healthy trade between nations, in order to serve as a means of income for the organization through piracy and abduction is possible. If in all probability one of the islands in the region were to be the next Caliphate, then weapons supply would become a cheaper alternative for the Islamic State, as well as receiving FTFs (foreign terrorist fighters) via the sea route.

However, capturing an island and declaring it as the Islamic State is not enough. Precautionary measures are to be kept in mind. An island is a small piece of land. In such a case, a mere annihilation of an island would mean the end of the Islamic State. This move would then only work in favor of global peace.

However, the chances of such a scenario manifesting would require to many factors to be taken into consideration. One of them being the assimilation of all the terror groups and lone wolves  in the region and creating a strong leadership which is capable of doing so. Within a week of al-Baghdadi’s death, the organization announced its next leader- Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qureshi. As is custom, the caliph should belong to one of the families that were close to Prophet Mohamed. Little is known about Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qureshi, and little is known about his leadership qualities. So far, it hasn’t been established whether he is a namesake or an actual figurehead with powers of governance. Thus it is not difficult to imagine that there could be internal power struggles within the ISIS. In such a case, the probability of a competent leadership that consolidates the southeast Asian groups seems bleak.

But in such dire straits, would ISIS be joined by its old friend al-Qaeda? In all probability no. Both al-queada and ISIS currently face a power vacuum in their structure. However, in no way would al-Qaeda be willing to join ISIS. Post the announcement of Baghdadi’s death, it was reported that al-Qaeda celebrated the event. According to sources, the loss of such a wanted terrorists was no loss to them at all. Not to mention that the statement made by Ayman al-Zawahiri, in 16 minute long video that was posted post the split of both the organizations, clearly emphasized that Baghdadi was no longer welcome. The dislike towards Baghdadi has still been maintained and is often reflected in the hostility that the splinter groups maintain towards each other. In contrast, this does not lessen the probability of a brand new terrorist organization emerging in southeast Asia. The terrorist groups that used to work on the lines of differences and for separate causes, have now been acting under a single banner of the Islamic State. If such a thing were to occur, the effects would be equally disastrous.

Conclusion

Witnessing the sway that the IS has over its Southeast Asian counterparts, it would be incorrect to limit the location of the Islamic state simply to Iraq and Syria. Speculating on the possibility of a new Caliphate in Philippines, Malaysian and Indonesia does not seem far from reality. In light of the recent events, there has been a sizeable growth in the number of sympathizers of the IS. The Islamic State too, will not leave no stone unturned to regain its lost glory. This includes exploiting social media posts and financing and inspiring lone wolf attacks throughout the region. When even civilians are being radicalized and used as mediums of terror, it becomes tricky for the counter- terrorism forces to deal with them. Transnational terrorism has become a real thing and the threat is real. The question is how and who puts an end to it?

Research Analyst at Centre for Security Studies at O.P Jindal Global University, India.

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Intelligence

Estonia’s national security concept

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image source: Estonian Defence Forces

The development of regional and global military cooperation is seen as one of the most important pillars of Estonia’s security strategy, while a concerted effort to domestic security focused on resilience and deterrence is seen as another. Considering Estonia’s defence plan mandates that country’s defence could no longer be restricted to military protection only, armed forces will then be merged with non-military competencies to provide a comprehensive collective defence. National security and the accompanying preparedness are believed to be the responsibility of a multitude of sectors and individuals from both the governmental and corporate sectors, as well as from civil society organisations.

Comparison of the previous two National Security Policies shows that the convergence of security domains alongside ministerial distribution of duties is being substituted by a broad task-based strategy, which is likely the most apparent manifestation of Estonia’s emerging comprehensive strategy. [1][2]The 2017 National Security Policy also presents the idea of resilience, which appears significantly throughout the paper and is further explored in a distinct sub-chapter for perhaps the first instance.

One of the most important ideas on which Estonia’s national defence policy plans rely is “whole of government” plus “whole of society,” which combine together the two most important parts of the comprehensive strategy framework and the notion of “resilience.” [3]Therefore, it is vital to recognise that such revamped conceptual ideas have garnered a reasonably positive reception from the general public. In addition, the notion that national security should be a shared responsibility of the whole population is widely accepted in Estonia. Consequently, Estonians have high expectations for a complete security and defense architecture, indicating both the intentional robustness of the majority of the people and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. It is possible to interpret such huge backing for national defence as a byproduct of securitization. In this way, the notion that perhaps a comprehensive strategy towards defence can ensure a country’s security is supported by a large number of people who believe it.

Key Elements

With regard to Estonia, the comprehensive strategy was first embraced as aspect of a progressive European security thought that was gaining popularity at the same time that Estonia was actively integrating into the NATO and European Union. During that time period, it was considered a viable alternative to the classic territorial defence concept. Beginning in 2008, during the course of the August War, incidents in Georgia’s national defence concepts began to take enormous importance. But it was in 2014, following the invasion and occupation of Crimea and the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine, until it became clear that these two notions are not in competition with one another[4]. As an alternative, a comprehensive strategy might be seen as an essential supplement towards the territorial defence paradigm in order to achieve greater advantages in terms of resilience as well as deterrence capabilities.

Accordingly, Estonia has adopted a comprehensive strategy to national defence that emphasises the necessity for coordination and cooperation across multiple government agencies in order to develop cohesive response in the event of a crisis. When the breadth of cooperation across nearby but diverse domains is taken into account, the relevance of defence strategy may be appreciated in detail. There are also five other areas being evolved in contrast with military defence, like civilian assistance for national defense, international operations, internal stability, preservation of successive society and the political processes by providing essential services, if not at least, proactive sharing of information and psychological operations. [5]According to the Estonian government, the following ministries are responsible for different tasks: the Defense ministry is instrumental in the advancement of military protection and civil assistance for military defence, the foreign ministry is central to global pursuits, the Interior ministry is responsible for general and internal security as well as the upkeep of the country’s and society’s sustained functions, and the Government is concerned with strategy and psy-ops. These responsibilities are maintained in the revised defence plan as well. It is worth highlighting that, rather than three different laws governing the defence industry in peacetime and conflict, as well as international collaboration, the revised national defence policy, in accordance with the comprehensive strategy rationale, consolidates various regulatory sectors into a single body.

Security Environment & Threats

The Estonian security environment is influenced by the country ‘s global developments and cross-border risks. Estonia’s NSC for 2017 recognises asymmetric risks which do not respect national boundaries and whose origins are impossible to discern. Simultaneously, they have an impact that is comparable to that of conventional security risks. Islamist terrorism has been a persistent concern in the West since the 9/11 bombings on the World Trade center. Middle Eastern and North African countries with unstable governments offer a continual terrorist danger to the West, harming Estonian security. Terrorism is among the greatest security dangers confronting average citizens throughout Europe. Estonia pays attention to European events. Numerous incidents have occurred in Europe during the previous two decades, including bombs in London and Madrid, shooting incident at Frankfurt airport, and Paris terror attacks. As a result of this, Estonia has included global crises and unequal socioeconomic progress as security risks in its policy paper. When Hosni Mubarak was ousted in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi was executed in Libya, while civil war erupted in Syria and Yemen as a result of the Arab Spring movement, Europe might have been the most adversely affected region. There was an international flood of refugees that will continue for the next decade as a result of the said incidents.[6]

It’s been Russia that has posed the greatest external danger for Estonia during the previous decade. The Russians have employed a variety of strategies to attain their objectives. Additionally, Russia has boosted its troop involvement in the Baltic Region and along the Baltic Countries’ borders.  Confrontational and aggressive Russian acts may be seen for instance in military drills and air boundary breaches as well as threats to use nuclear weapons. As a result, Russia poses a danger to the whole Euro-Atlantic area, as it has the potential and inclination to utilise a wide range of non-military armaments: armed, economic, energy, or informational. War, crises, and conflict have occurred in Russia and the surrounding area on a regular basis. There were two direct transgressions: the 2008 conflict in Georgia and the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which continues to this day. The rioting in April 2007 (including the assault on the Estonian Embassy in Russia) and the kidnapping of an Estonian security law enforcement officer in 2014[7] are examples of indirect confrontations that have taken place since. Russia has also demonstrated its digital prowess in a global setting. According to this paper, cyberattacks have indeed been taken into account of factors that affect security because Russia launched a cyberattack against Estonia in April 2007.[8]

While the challenges to Estonia’s security environment have evolved over time, the purpose of protecting the country has remained constant. Keeping Estonia’s national sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order, and national security in tact is essential to the state’s mission. Human rights, basic freedoms, and also the achievement of core human ideals are all intertwined in a country’s security measures. By building civil society and enhancing the country’s worldwide standing, democratic ideals assure the long-term viability and sustainability of society.

Aiming to create solutions that might benefit other nations in the face of global crisis is becoming increasingly important as their impact on Estonia grows. Rule-based world order must be maintained through adhering to international law and the United Nations Charter. As a result, humanitarian assistance and human rights protection are deemed essential. These initiatives have broad worldwide backing. While other Baltic states are more concerned with protecting human rights within virtual environment, Estonia stands out for its emphasis on unfettered Internet access.

Collective Security

Euro-Atlantic collaboration has always been the most important factor in ensuring Estonia’s security, especially prior and afterward entering the EU but also NATO. There is no doubt that NATO is Estonia’s best defence against a potential attack, and thus active participation is a national issue. As a member of NATO, Estonia regards the United States as a vital ally in the country’s security because of its foothold in Europe. [9]Additional collaboration with security-related organisations is crucial to Estonia in order to maintain global and regional equilibrium. There will be a lot of focus on conflict avoidance and the United Nations’ ability to handle global concerns. The Estonian government also endorses the OSCE, which strengthens Estonia’s ability to engage in EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. [10]Estonia, on the other hand, has not particularly emphasised enhancing collaboration and actively participating in crafting the security policy of the relevant organisations.

Estonia believes it is critical to limit conventional firearms in Europe, therefore it wishes to join international arms reduction treaties. It highlights the critical role of the country in preventing the trafficking or unlawful movement of weapons of mass destruction including their parts through their borders. Estonia has cordial ties with the Nordic states, the NSC affirms. Close collaboration with these nations has benefited Estonia’s economy and bolstered the country’s defence capabilities. Estonia seems to be eager to develop Nordic-Baltic military cooperation on a regional and global scale and also desires an open discussion with Russia as well as practical collaboration.

Protecting Living Environment

The state of the natural environment and general wellbeing in Estonia, as well as the socio-economic scenario, contingency planning, uninterrupted access to essential services, food, and potable water, and the potential of societal cohesion to effectively deal independently in the situation of a prolonged disruption of essential services are the primary factors influencing the security of the Estonia’s environment. Storms and floods are the most common natural disasters that create crises in Estonia, with storms accounting for the majority of incidents. Active civil assistance is being established in order to cope with crises, which strengthens society’s preparedness to manage with emergency situations that may be fairly expected and planned for. To do this, it is necessary to improve public knowledge of possible threats as well as available mitigation methods. Improved environmental conditions are encouraged in Estonia by promoting environmentally sustainable principles and behavioural habits among the population. This is accomplished through the management and execution of pollution countermeasures, the efficient utilisation of natural resources, and waste minimization. Estonia is putting in place measures to avoid the spread of ecologically dangerous chemicals as well as to detoxify polluted land and water areas. Social and economic concerns have an impact on the living environment as well. As early as 2004, the NSC stressed the need of addressing labour market issues, implementing a viable social security structure that incorporates at-risk populations, and training a qualified workforce in significant numbers to assure sustained economic growth.[11]

Tracking, controlling risk, and coping with the repercussions of climate change are all examples of strategies for reducing the hazards associated with climate change. Cooperative efforts are created with the worldwide community, local governments, the corporate and nonprofit sectors, as well as the scientific community, in order to achieve this goal International collaboration also involves marine traffic management and maritime pollution monitoring, among other things.

Estonia, like its surrounding countries, is cognizant of the potential dangers posed by radiation. Nuclear power stations with in Baltic Sea region that are more than a decade old are regarded to be potentially risky. Estonia engages in worldwide efforts to improve radiation protection in the Baltic Region, being part of a global effort. [12]Early warning systems are in place to identify radioactive mishaps in adjacent nations at an early stage, allowing for faster response times.

International Conflicts and Crises Response

Engagement in crisis response and peacekeeping operations is a significant component of Estonia’s national security strategy. The goal was to design a crisis management framework that would take into account military, regulatory, and financial concerns, among other things. Involvement in international combat operations and civilian initiatives provides the country with an excellent chance to gather valuable expertise. Meanwhile, they represent vows to make a positive contribution to the improvement of regional stability within the immediate area and throughout the globe. When there is an internal emergency, the first responsibility is to secure the survival of the populace. Specifically, the state believes that emergencies may be avoided and their repercussions minimised by collaboration with the general public, local municipalities, government entities, corporate and non-profit organisations, and other organisations and individuals. The duty of the state is to strengthen the information management system of the people and to offer instructions for appropriate conduct in emergency circumstances to the public through various communication channels, including radio and television. All types of exercises have already been extensively researched and designed with the goal of incorporating the greatest number of people feasible. Aside from this, assistance has been granted for voluntary initiatives that try to avoid dangers and deal with the early indications of calamities.

The functioning of critical services is tied to the occurrence of emergencies. The state conducts a rigorous investigation into the interruptions of critical services and the dangers that might result in the suspension of services. To mitigate this, public awareness campaigns are created, and trainings incorporating as many participants as feasible are carried out as a preventative strategy. In order to assure the effective service delivery, effective collaboration between the government with the private sector is essential. Examples include electronic network infrastructure, services supplied, and vital information platforms that are mostly owned and operated by private companies.

The government must be prepared to manage the humanitarian catastrophe while also providing development assistance. In order to do so, it is critical for Estonia to engage in NATO and EU emergency management operations, as well as the activities of the NATO Response Force and its EU Battlegroups, among other activities. Through development assistance, Estonia enables nations that create a social structure that is tolerant of democracy and human rights, in compliance with its skills and resources. According to the National Security Council’s 2017 report, activity in the fields of development assistance and human rights protection contributes to the creation of an atmosphere that minimises the possibility of conflict and promotes security. So the emphasis is placed on the avoidance of global wars and crises, with the goal of reducing the negative effects on Estonia with its allies as a result of these events. As a matter of fact, Estonia endorses the expansion of the EU and NATO, that will contribute to the strengthening of the Western value sphere both in Eastern and central Europe. Because of the same rationale, Estonia is committed to maintaining positive ties with all of its neighbours.

Energy Security

A tiny yet open economy, Estonia’s economy is strongly reliant on global economic growth. National security, according to the 2004 NSC, relies on effective development and accountability of economic connections as well as a stable influx of foreign investments. As a result of its deep ties to the global economy, the state is very vulnerable to downturns and volatility in other economies. The high reliance on non-Estonian (Russian) monopolised energy systems and sources poses a significant risk to the country as a whole.[13]

Estonia’s energy security depends on the safety of its supply chain and its infrastructure. To break free of energy monopolies, countries in the EU must link their energy grids and increase the variety of energy sources they use. Improving domestic energy efficiency is critical to reducing reliance on foreign energy imports. According to NSC 2017, Europe’s energy policy, which seeks to make the most of available resources inside the EU, will be heavily relied upon in the next years. Estonia intends to increase its use of renewable energy sources for power and heating in the far future.[14]

With the ongoing Ukraine-Russian crisis which has resulted in an altered security scenario for Estonia, ceasing to finance Russia’s military complex will require the state to develop a replacement to Russian gas. The construction of a floating LNG import facility, which has been in the works for more than a decade, might help Estonia lessen its reliance on Russian gas imports. A pier plus an additional LNG ship is part of Alexela’s (energy firm) proposal for the Paldiski harbour on the Baltic Shoreline. The Estonian proposal would ultimately need a state assurance and financial support.[15]

Conclusion

Estonian security policy is rife with ambiguity, both conceptually and practically. Two parallel conceptions of comprehensive security and unified defence have emerged in Estonia, a departure from the typical comprehensive approach. Estonia is able to maintain its well-trodden course of complete defence because to the split among these two terms. Even the decision makers of defence policy generally define Integrated Defense in this manner.

As a result of this misunderstanding, Estonia’s strategic decisions prioritise complete defence and asymmetric warfare. This has repercussions for Estonian perceptions of and definitions of threats. Aside from that, the greatest danger to Estonian security is conventional, which is one that Russia has been more likely to influence in its actions in the post-Soviet realm, for example. A parallel idea of resilience exists in Estonia as a result of this misperception. It appears to mean various things for the Estonian defense community’s uniformed and civilian members. This contrasts with how resilience is understood by the military, which views the concept of resilience primarily through the lens of total defence. Using the Estonian method of resilience in conjunction with a comprehensive approach demonstrates how the military versus civilian sides of the security debate focus on distinct areas of security. As a result of Estonia’s current dual strategy, it is difficult to establish broad societal agreement on the most probable levels of uncertainty, operational methods in such conditions, and long-term investments for the country.

Creation of domestic institutions which are adept in participating actively in international security architecture, as well as mobilisation of the regular military force, are required. This includes clearly defining the responsibilities and duties of all organisations in Estonia engaged in comprehensive national security, as well as accurately analysing the nation’s defense capabilities and conveying the findings to Estonia’s military partners.


[1]National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2004. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156841/Estonia-2004.pdf.

[2] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2010 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156839/Estonia%20-%20National%20security%20concept%20of%20estonia%202010.pdf

[3] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017. https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf

[4] Raik, Kristi, Mika Aaltola, Katri Pynnöniemi, and Charly Salonius-Pasternak. “Pushed Together by External Forces? the Foreign and Security … – FIIA.” The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, 2015. https://www.fiia.fi/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/bp167.pdf.

[5] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.3 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf

[6] Marnot, Diana. “Comparison of Security Policy Documents of the Baltic States,” 2020. https://digiriiul.sisekaitse.ee/bitstream/handle/123456789/2568/2020%2010%20julgeolekupoliitika%20ENG_WEB.PDF?sequence=1.

[7] Fisher, Max. “This Is Bad: Russia ‘Abducts’ Estonian Officer after Obama Says Us Will Defend Estonia.” Vox. Vox, September 5, 2014. https://www.vox.com/2014/9/5/6110037/estonia-russia-officer-kidnapped.

[8] “2007 Cyberattacks on Estonia.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, May 1, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_cyberattacks_on_Estonia.

[9] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.3 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf.

 

[11] National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2004, p.19 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156841/Estonia-2004.pdf.

[12] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.18 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf.

[13] National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2004, p.19 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156841/Estonia-2004.pdf.

[14] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.16 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf.

[15] Tammik, Ott. “Estonia May Build LNG Terminal to Cut Russia Energy Dependence.” BloombergQuint, March 23, 2022. https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/estonia-may-build-lng-terminal-to-cut-russia-energy-dependence.

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Taking the India-Singapore Cyber Partnership Forward

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On the sidelines of the recently concluded Special ASEAN-India Foreign Minister’s meeting, Singapore and India agreed on the need to give their relationship a new impetus. The two countries have a robust political and defence partnership with regular engagements. For India, Singapore has been the top source of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), and India’s FDI in Singapore has observed an uptick in recent years. The relations between India and Singapore are based on shared values, economic interests, and convergence of perspectives on key strategic issues. Since last year, both have sought to consolidate relations through increased collaboration in information technology and cybersecurity. In February 2022, the two signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for deepening cooperation in science, technology, and innovation.

As a global data hub, Singapore has a high stake in the cyber domain. It has paid close attention to efforts for maintaining its reputation in cybersecurity and has worked towards a comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy. As a city-state, Singapore has sought to utilize diplomacy as deterrence to ensure its interests in the cyber domain. Today, Singapore is considered a cyber diplomacy pioneer among the ASEAN countries. It plays an active role in discussions on cyber in the United Nations and other platforms.  Singapore has put emphasis on becoming the ‘conversation starter’ for acceptable behaviour in cyberspace and has taken a lead in the war against cybercrime. To this end, the city-state has taken steps to build regional and global alliances for cooperation and experience sharing and has emphasized regular cyber exercises for staying ahead of the emerging cyber threats curve.

  According to International Telecommunications Union’s Global Cyber Security Index report, Singapore has focused heavily on national cyber defence and has not taken recourse to any known disruptive actions. This highlights Singapore’s commitment to peaceful cyberspace and projecting its image as a law-abiding nation. For enabling safe and secure cyberspace, Singapore has focused on building resilient infrastructure. It seeks to utilize research and development in the cyber domain as a source of ‘competitive advantage’, with the possibility of turning Singapore into an international hub for cybersecurity innovation.

In recent years, Singapore’s cyber insurance market has created a space of its own in Asia. The global cyber insurance market is estimated to exceed USD 20 billion, by 2025, with the Asia-Pacific market expected to witness almost 35 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2019 and 2025. It has been argued that the cyber insurance industry stands to witness exponential growth in the emerging climate of record ransomware attacks and cyber incidents.

Singapore updated its cyber security strategy in 2021, which goes beyond critical sectors and seeks a more proactive stance toward cyber threats. While focusing on cyber resilience and capability development for detecting and analysing malicious cyber activities, the plan looks at developing a ‘Made in Singapore’ solution for creating Singapore’s cybersecurity ecosystem. Further, the strategy also underlines the need for addressing ‘dilemmas of digitalization’, such as geopolitical tensions in cyberspace.

Notwithstanding Singapore’s military capabilities, Singapore (like its ASEAN counterparts) believes that escalating cyber incidents might not be beneficial for small states [PDF], as they would want to avoid cyberspace conflicts spilling over beyond the virtual domain. However, while the ASEAN seeks neutrality in the emerging tech rivalry between the US and China, Singapore’s emphasis on ‘ASEAN centrality’ is far from elementary.

Singapore is referred to as the anchor of the US naval presence in Southeast Asia and enjoys long-standing defence ties with the Quad countries. In August 2021, Singapore inked an MoU with the US for expanding information sharing and training to combat cyber threats. However, along with a deep partnership with the US, Singapore balances strong ties with China. While the US remains vital for regional security dynamics, especially in the shadow of increasingly aggressive Chinese maritime manoeuvres, Beijing stands as Singapore’s most important trade partner.

Thus, for Singapore, any partnership which falls outside the ambit of the great power rivalry will have a central role in its strategic thinking. As an emerging tech powerhouse, India possesses natural viability for strategic partnership with Singapore.

For India, there are several dimensions where Singaporean experiences are valuable. The delay in finalising a National Cyber Security Strategy has regularly highlighted New Delhi’s difficulty in opting for the best available policy options in cyberspace. It is argued that India needs to review its cyber-defence policies and should give equal attention to building cyber-offensive capabilities for deterrence. New Delhi’s narrow focus on cyber threats from Pakistan and China, has also been pointed out by some as a constrained approach.

Like Singapore, India has balanced the Western and the Eastern views on cyber diplomacy tables. India seeks to safeguard its strategic autonomy and cyber sovereignty while adopting a multi-stakeholder approach. However,  the recent laws like the mandate on the Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) for storing customer metadata, highlight the increasing significance of keeping unrestricted and undesired cyber activities in check. It has been reported that as the tech sector grows in India, cyber incidents like ransomware attacks, which affected a staggeringly high 68 per cent of India’s organizations in 2021, will necessitate a mature cyber insurance market for organisations and businesses at all levels.

The tech neutrality sought by the ASEAN countries has been visible on the 5G issue. While the US has sought to influence countries across the globe to avoid Chinese firms like Huawei over security and espionage-related concerns, governments in Southeast Asia have voiced their discomfort in choosing between the two sides.

The Singaporean PM had downplayed the security concerns over Huawei, saying that it is not ‘a black and white issue’, and that Singapore will carefully study the impact of 5G technology to decide. Unlike most  Southeast Asian countries, India has decided to go ahead with indigenous alternatives. For India, a successful 5G experience can consolidate its tech leadership credentials further.

As a global tech war accelerates and a digital divide between the two super cyber powers and the rest of the world emerges, middle powers will be compelled to seek convergence for safeguarding their national interests. As leaders in tech and innovation, India and Singapore stand as natural partners in the Indo-Pacific, as well as beyond.   

(Views are personal)

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Unmasking India’s IB and RAW

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India’s prime minister Narendra Modi granted a year-long extension in service to retiring heads of India’s Intelligence bureau (Arvind Kumar) and the Research and Analysis Wing (Samant Kumar Goel). Both officers are specialists in the art of disinformation and insurgency.  They masterminded the so-called Blakote strikes inside Pakistan. Besides, they mounted a world-wide Pakistan-bashing campaign that resulted in Pakistan’s isolation in comity of nations. Pakistan FATF woes could veritably be attributed to the machinations of the said two officers. They are protégé of India’s national security czar Ajit Doval. Doval himself boasts of having carried out covert activities in Pakistan for about eleven years. He did not care a fig for violating the diplomatic norms while posted in Pakistan.

Difference between the Intelligence Bureau and RAW

The common belief is that the IB and the RAW have separate domains. But, in actual fact, the both organisations coordinate their activities. Like the RAW, the IB also has its offices abroad. In his book, RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operations, Yatish Yadav make startling disclosures about activities of India’s intelligence agencies. In a chapter titled “Hunting the RAW traitor”, he reveals the career of the RAW agent Rabinder Singh, an ex-Army man who sold national secrets to the CIA for money. Singh was outwardly a religious person who had a penchant for quoting from Hindu religious book Bhagwad Gita. He led parallel lives and passed on classified information to the foreign power. Although given asylum in the U.S., he was soon forsaken by the CIA and met with an unexplained road accident there. The accident was masterminded by the RAW.

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is the national domestic internal security and counter-intelligence agency that works under the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was formed as the ‘Central Special Branch’ on December 23, 1887, which was later renamed as ‘Intelligence Bureau’ in 1920. The organisation mainly focused on National Security activities. According to an article published in Jagaran Josh, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is said to be the oldest surviving intelligence organisation in the world.

About Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

Initially, the IB was only responsible for India’s internal and external intelligence, but in 1968, it was bifurcated and left with internal intelligence only. While it’s external branch was handed over to the newly created Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The bifurcation took place after IB lapse in the intelligence about the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and India-Pakistan War of 1965. So the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was founded in 1968 to counter external security threats. The RAW provides intelligence to policymakers and the army and it keeps a close eye on the activities of the neighbouring countries (China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc.) of the nation.

Generally, the IB is the national internal intelligence agency that maintains the internal security of the nation, while RAW is an external intelligence agency that keeps an eye on international threats. The main functions of the IB include counterintelligence, counterterrorism, VIP Security, anti-secession activities and intelligence collection in border areas. RAW on the other hand collects secret information about the activities of neighbouring countries. IB functions under the governance of the Ministry of Home Affairs, while RAW has been placed directly under the Indian Prime Minister’s office. IB gets its employees from the Indian Police Service, law enforcement agencies and the military, while RAW has its own service cadre known as the Research and Analysis Service (RAS). Initially RAW was also dependent on the services of trained intelligence officers from the military, police and other services for its candidates.

Objectives

The RAW’s objectives include:

Monitoring the political, military, economic and scientific developments in countries which have a direct bearing on India’s national security and the formulation of its foreign policy. Mould international public opinion and influence foreign governments. Covert Operations to safeguard India’s National interests. Anti-terror operations and neutralizing elements posing a threat to India.

To control and limit the supply of military hardware to Pakistan, from mostly European countries, America and more importantly from China.

RAWS exploits

The RAW stoked insurgency in East Pakistan that led to dismemberment of Pakistan. The Indian army and other agencies acted in tandem.

Another event shows that Indian diplomats developed deep ingress in Islamabad. On May 29, 1988, a senior official of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau was abducted in Islamabad. India alleges that his abductors were personnel from the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). According to their own account of the incident, narrated in the news magazine Herald, they beat up the IB official until he revealed the location of a secret telephone exchange that was monitoring calls made by Zia-ul-Haq.

Kalbushan Jhadav’s story speaks volumes on how India penetrates even its serving officers to carry out sabotage and subversion in Pakistan.

Disinformation

‘Disinformation’ (Russian deziinformatzia) is a concept that finds mention in Sun Tzu’s Ping Fa (Principles of War). Even before Sun Tzu, Kautilya in Arthashastra supported disinformation as a civil and military warfare tool within his concept of koota yuddha (unprincipled warfare as distinguished from dharma yuddha, righteous warfare).

Tzu’s and Kautliya’s principles were used not only in World War II but also in the Cold War period (to hoodwink own and foreign people). Richard Deacon says, ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8).  He gives several examples of disinformation including subliminal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed, something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’ (Ibid., p. 9).  In the USA, the Creel Committee, through false anti-German propaganda turned pacifist Americans against Germans.

Disinformation influenced even independent-minded Americans who laid down a constitution, beginning with words `we the people’. Yet Chomsky says the American masses are like a “bewildered herd” who have stopped thinking (Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, p.16). He asserts that in a “properly functioning democracy”, there is a “small percentage of the people”, a “specialised class of citizens” who … analyse, execute, make decisions and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems”. Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War.  The Wilson administration established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission [Committee], which succeeded, within six months, in Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War.  The Wilson administration established government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which [through fake news, films, etc.] succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world….  After the war, the same techniques were used to whip up a hysterical Red Square…’ (ibid.page 12).

Fifth-generation war is believed to be a vague term. George Orwell (Politics and the English Language) suggested that that trying to find a clear-cut definition of fifth-generation or hybrid war would reveal exactly that kind of vagueness, with the use of important-sounding, pseudo-technological words to impress readers and convince them that this war is being fought at a level the layperson cannot comprehend. However, India has proved that it understands the dimensions of the fifth generation war or fake news. It knows how to apply its techniques to achieve its objectives. It is time for Pakistan to wake up

EU Lab belatedly discovered a world-wide network that spread disinformation against Pakistan. Even prestigious Indian newspapers sometimes publish reports or articles that smack of being pieces of state-sponsored disinformation.  Harvard’s criteria for detecting fake news could be applied to disinformation bloomers. Harvard suggests `everyone should vet a publisher’s credibility first and then check all the sources and citations’. James Carson offers tips in his article `Fake news: What exactly is it – and how can you spot it‘? (Telegraph January 31, 2019)

Disinformation camouflaged in Op-Eds is hard to detect as they do not usually quote their sources of information. A case in point is Shishir Gupta’s article ‘In Imran Khan’s 18-point Kashmir plan for Aug 5, outreach to Turkey, Malaysia and China’, published in Hindustan Times dated July 28, 2020.

RAW officers speak many languages such as Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Sinhalese, German, Polish and Urdu. By the time of Morarji Desai, RAW had a staff of “more than five thousand on its payroll”. Desai turned out to be inhospitable to RAW and Kao, and K. Sankaran Nair left the organisation. N.F. Suntook took charge and “saved the agency”. RAW “recruited trained and deployed informers and covert action teams in the USA, Iran and several European countries as well as in India’s immediate neighbours. It also employed analysts, polygraph examiners, cartographers, linguists, economists and political analysts to defend the country from internal foes and external enemies. While the I.B.’s mandate was essentially within the country, it also opened offices at times on foreign soil. As is to be expected, the two agencies joined hands, and at times fought over turf to the detriment of the common cause.

In Bangladesh, RAW combated the influence of the CIA and Pakistan. The assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a big blow and a much-chastened RAW regrouped to regain its lost influence in Bangladesh. By November 1988, RAW’s station head, code-named Krishna Patwardhan, had set up the necessary network in Bangladesh, to target elements that were hostile to India.

RAW saw spectacular action in other theatres as well. On March 20, 1988, RAW operative Anupam Malik began to carry out Mission Fiji’, “aimed to disrupt and dismantle Fiji’s military regime” that threatened to upset the ethnic balance in Fiji. Attempts were being made by this regime to deny political rights to ethnic Indians, most of whom had been immigrants to the country during the British Raj. Deporting all ethnic Indians to India’ was a distinct possibility. By the 1990s Sitiveni Rabuka, the strongman, was honey-trapped and compromised by RAW agents in Fiji and had to abdicate political power.

Similarly, RAW’s involvement in Afghanistan, we learn, began with the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country. The agency’s operatives carried out missions right through the chequered regimes of Tarki, Amin and Karmal encountering opposition from Pakistan’s Zia ul-Haq and the Taliban at different times.

In Sri Lanka, RAW propped up the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and had to follow the contradictory path of support and opposition following the dictates of the political masters in Delhi.

In the chapter titled “Shadowy War in Washington”, we see the RAW operative code-named ‘Blue Sky’ track down the Khalistani leader Jagjit Singh Chouhan and successfully penetrate the World Sikh Organisation, the International Sikh Federation and the Babbar Khalsa International. While the traditional rivalry between the I.B. and RAW continued, according to RAW operative Krishna’s candid opinion, “the I.B. proved to be far superior in the Canadian theatre than the RAW.”

Concluding reflections

RAW’s cover officers, including RK Yadav and B. Raman, make no bones about India’s involvement in Bangladesh’s insurgency. They admitted that India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi, parliament, RAW and armed forces acted in tandem to dismember Pakistan. Raman reminds us that the Indian parliament passed a resolution on March 31, 1971, to support the insurgency.

Indira Gandhi had then confided with RAW chief R.N.Kao that in case Sheikh Mujib was prevented ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta.

In order to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a cell had been established in RAW with the sole objective of disrupting it and the cell worked ‘under the supervision of the Indian Prime Minister’.

Yet another book (Terror in Islamabad) has been published by an officer Amar Bhushan who happened to have served as a diplomat at the Indian High Commission Islamabad. Before being posted to Islamabad, Bhushan had served as an officer of India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing, Border Security Force Intelligence, and State Special Branch for a quarter of a century. His book mentions another RAW officer, Amit Munshi (real name Veer Singh) posted as Cultural Attache.

Since times immemorial diplomats have enjoyed immunity in countries where they are posted. International conventions govern their conduct in host countries. If a diplomat is caught red handed violating norms of diplomatic conduct, he is declared a persona non grata. Bhushan’s book reveals that Singh’s assignment was to “identify potential Pakistanis for subversion”. The familiar elements of intelligence craft are espionage, sabotage and subversion. India added one more element “insurgency” to the intelligence craft if we go through another RAW officer’s book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane. B. Raman makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

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The importance of China’s CPEC project in the region and the obstacles it faces. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC,...

Finance11 hours ago

5 Ways LinkedIn Works for Your Career

Any job seeker can reach their goal much faster with the use of job search engines and career platforms. You...

South Asia12 hours ago

Bulldozing Dissent in India

State brutality and hostility have emerged as the defining factors in BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party)  policy toward Indian Muslims. From...

Americas15 hours ago

America and the World: A Vital Connection

“The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for...

East Asia17 hours ago

Five key challenges awaiting Hong Kong’s incoming leader John Lee

Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting John Lee has officially been appointed as the sixth-term chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative...

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