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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

Sino-Russian regional activities after Afghanistan

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Terrorism

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last August, Russia warned against the threat from the extremist organisation of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the increase in drug trafficking.

The Taliban have decided to cooperate with Russia, China and Iran to maintain regional security. The news agency France-Presse reported that the Taliban had participated in high-level talks in Moscow. During that time, ten countries requested emergency humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan and said that the countries which have recently withdrawn from Afghanistan should provide funds to help with reconstruction. The countries are the following: China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Before that meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that some ten thousand ISIS fighters had gathered in Northern Afghanistan to spread religious and ethnic discord. The Soviet Union once bordered on Afghanistan and Russia still considers this area a zone of influence.

Putin reported in mid-September that the ISIS leader was planning to send people disguised as refugees to neighbouring countries in Central Asia.

The countries participating in the Moscow talks stressed in a joint statement that they were concerned about the actions of terrorist organisations and reaffirmed their willingness to continue to promote security in Afghanistan to contribute to regional stability.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised the absence of US officials during the meeting. He said earlier that ISIS-affiliated fighters and al-Qaeda were trying to take advantage of the power void in some parts of Afghanistan.

In the joint statement, the participating countries urged the Taliban to implement appropriate and cautious domestic and foreign policies and adopt a friendly policy towards Afghanistan’s neighbours.

In terms of internal policy, they demand that the Taliban respect the rights of ethnic groups, women and children. Prior to that meeting, Taliban representatives had met with EU and US officials and had also travelled to Turkey, hoping to gain official recognition and assistance from the international community.

The Taliban are in desperate need of allies at the moment because Afghanistan’s economy is in danger due to the loss of international aid, rising food prices and increasing unemployment.

With specific reference to China and Russia, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the signing of the Sino-Russian Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, relations between the two countries entered the third decade of stability and friendship.

Currently, however, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to at least two negative outcomes for China and Russia: 1) Afghanistan, located in the ‘backyard’ of China and Russia has destabilised; 2) the conflict has been chaotic and the future is uncertain and after thirty years since the end of the Cold War, the United States has freed itself from that burden to focus on the challenges of the two major Eurasian powers.

Before the US withdrawal – although the Sino-Russian-US geopolitical game continued to intensify – Afghanistan was still the place where the interests of the three countries overlapped and the parties were all interested in achieving a “soft landing” on the issue.

Since 2019 the three countries have been working together in the form of an enlarged “troika” to peacefully resolve the Afghan issue. For Russia and China, the US military presence in Afghanistan was a double-edged sword: it did not only represent a geographical threat, but could also effectively contain radical Islamic forces in the region.

Both China and Russia hoped that, after reaching a sustainable peace agreement with the parties involved in Afghanistan, the US military would withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly way to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a “terrorist sanctuary” again.

The quick US defeat in Afghanistan, however, without agreements and/or compromise solutions, was unexpected for China and Russia, especially when, on May 11, the US military evacuated the Kandahar airport without informing the Afghan government, etc.

China and Russia have no choice but to face an Afghanistan whose political future is doubtful. The two superpowers, however, have completely different attitudes towards the Afghan issue: the former is more proactive in contacting all parties inside and outside Afghanistan.

On May 11, at the Second Meeting of the Five Foreign Ministers in the format of “Central Asia and China” held in Xi’an, the Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, had warned that “foreign troops should withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly and responsible manner to prevent hasty actions against Afghanistan”. A few days later, the Chinese Foreign Minister told his Afghan counterpart that China was “willing to host Afghanistan’s internal talks and help its efforts against terrorism”. In mid-July, during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Dushanbe, Wang Yi reiterated that proposal.

It was in that context that Wang Yi paid an official visit to Tajikistan on July 14 and then participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting and met Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Tashkent the following day. Furthermore, on July 16, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with the then Afghan President Ashraf Ghan. Xi Jinping urged “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political dialogue to promote national reconciliation and peace processes”. He also promised to provide more assistance to Afghanistan in the fight against Covid-19 and hoped that the Afghan side would provide more protection to Chinese citizens and organisations in Afghanistan.

Ten days after US forces suddenly withdrew from Bagram Air Base (July 6), i.e. when Xi Jinping and Ghani were in talks, the United States announced that the new deadline for the US withdrawal was August 31, thus causing the Afghan army’s collapse across the country as early as late July.

On July 28, while meeting Taliban political leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin, Wang Yi said: “The sudden withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan marks the failure of US policy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are now faced with an important opportunity to stabilise and develop their country”.

Baradar hopes that China will increasingly participate in the peace-building process in Afghanistan and play a greater role in the country’s reconstruction and economic development. Wang Yi said the Taliban should draw a clear line with terrorist organisations such as ISIS. In response, Baradar promised that the Afghan Taliban would “absolutely not permit any force to do anything harmful to China on the territory of Afghanistan”.

Baradar is not the first to visit China. Before September 11, 2001, the Taliban had contacts with China but, after the tragic events, China supported the Afghan Northern Alliance and the aforementioned contacts with the Taliban were interrupted for several years. Nevertheless, China has never classified the Taliban as a terrorist organisation.

China’s active diplomacy towards Afghanistan has two main reasons: firstly, security concerns, particularly China’s Western borders; secondly, economic interests, because all of Afghanistan’s neighbours are countries linked to the Silk Road Initiative.

In the actual operation, security and economy are closely related and are both essential. On July 14, the shuttle bus of the Dasu Hydropower Project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Northwest Pakistan, was attacked by terrorists. The attack caused the death of thirteen people, including nine Chinese citizens. The Dasu Hydropower Plant is part of the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Moreover, as a neighbouring country to Afghanistan, China has a 92-kilometre-long border at the eastern edge of the 300-kilometre-long Wakhan Valley, which is connected to this war-torn country. According to reports, China provided about 70 million dollars in military assistance to Afghanistan between 2016 and 2018 and helped the Afghan army establish a mountain brigade dedicated to fighting terrorism in the Wakhan corridor.

Furthermore, during the two decades in which the United States occupied Afghanistan, China’s investment there included millions and millions of dollars in economic assistance, including various projects such as schools, hospitals, flats and food assistance, and trained thousands of Afghan students and technicians in China and Afghanistan.

Since 2017 China, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been discussing the possibility of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some major economic projects, such as the 2008 four billion dollar contract for the Anyak copper mine and the 2011 contract for the Amu Darya Basin joint oil and gas field development, have been suspended due to security concerns.

Unlike China, Russia has considered the Taliban a terrorist organisation since February 2003, but this has not prevented it from having contacts with them. On August 13 last, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed: ‘We are in dialogue with all important political forces in Afghanistan, including the Afghan government and the Taliban, the representatives of Uzbeks and Tajiks and others”.

In fact, the representatives of the Taliban visited Moscow as early as November 2018 to participate in the peace Conference hosted by Russia. They also held two meetings in 2021 (on March 18 and July 8) to participate in tripartite consultations, Russia’s preferred format for dialogue. Two days before the Taliban took control of Kabul, Foreign Minister Lavrov envisaged an enlarged tripartite consultation mechanism to include Iran and India in addition to Pakistan. Outside Afghanistan, Russia has invested many resources in Central Asia and has considerable influence in the security field (Collective Security Treaty Organisation).

As important countries, many global problems are related to the relationship between China and Russia. Western countries, like colonies led by the United States of America, have preferred to have hammers in their hands and nails in their eyes. China and Russia have not followed the Western model, but have gone their separate ways. This is a hope for the countries that have been devastated by the US interference (former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, African countries, etc.), and it is also a hope for the Westphalian world order disrupted by the United States after the Twin Towers attack.

The development and progress of human civilisation cannot have only one pathway, nor should there be only one model. As a Chinese saying goes: “Those who are fit for themselves but forgets the others are abandoned by the people; those who deny themselves and rise again are admired by everybody”.

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Intelligence

A More Diverse Force: The Need for Diversity in the U.S. Intelligence Community

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As part of a hiring initiative meant to attract new and diverse hires, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a new recruitment video in March of 2021. The video featured a Hispanic female discussing her background and time in the CIA, as well as why she chose to serve her country. She says at one point, “I’m a woman of color. I am a mom. I am a cis-gender millennial who’s been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder…I did not sneak into CIA. My employment was not and is not the result of a fluke or a slip through the cracks. I earned my way in, and I earned my way up the ranks of this organization”.

The video showed a woman who cares for her family, cares for her country, and desires to see a difference be made in the world. However, some took issue with the advert though, though these criticisms came over a month after the video first was published and made available to the public.

In a tweet, the Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, said, “If you’re a Chinese communist, or an Iranian Mullah, or Kim Jong Un…would this scare you? We’ve come a long way from Jason Bourne”. Many criticized Cruz for his usage of Jason Bourne, a fictional CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer, yet he took to Twitter once again to clarify, saying, “My point is that CIA agents should be bad-asses—not woke, fragile flowers needing safe spaces”.

Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted “China & Russia are laughing their asses off watching CIA go full woke…If you think about it, wokeness is the kind of twisted PSYOP a spy agency would invent to destroy a country from the inside out”. Others, including popular conservative commentators like Dinesh D’Souza and Meghan McCain, also criticized the ad calling a “joke” or “insane” while others went as far to say that the CIA was “actively looking to recruit the most immodest, narcissistic, grotesquely self-serving people in the world”.

Criticism towards the ad did not purely come from the Conservative, rightist personalities either, but also members of the left. Left-leaning publications such as The Intercept and Jezebel both critiqued the ad. It seems that, from all sectors of American public and political life, this advert and total tactic was heavily derided; from members of the left, it was cringey and irrespective of the agency’s long and controversial history while, from members of the right, it was ineffective national security and intelligence policy.

However, what many seem to be forgetting is that diversity within the intelligence world is an extremely important factor in creating effective and accurate foreign policy and in gaining the most up to date and accurate intelligence.

Intelligence analysis is probably the most important part of the Intelligence Cycle and holds just as much, if not more, importance as the end result, the intelligence estimate or packet. To put it simply, if the analysis is corrupted in some way, shape, or form by either the analyst’s personal views or tainted by poorly verified intelligence, then the action taken based upon this intelligence could result in missteps or negative affects to U.S. policymakers, military units, or regions in which the intelligence affects. Throughout history, there are an abundance of examples in which intelligence analysts have misinterpreted situations due to their own biases about a nation, political ideology, or have been selected specifically to sort through intelligence in order to back up a preconceived opinion.

One of the best examples in showing how analysts’ personal views, both conscious and subconscious, can affect their overall analysis is the 1954 coup d’état of Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz.

The coup, which was given the CIA codename Operation PBSUCCESS, was a mission in which the U.S. government, via the CIA and U.S. State Department, engaged in fomenting a coup to remove Árbenz, the leftist president who had approved of agrarian reforms within Guatemala. To justify an invasion, members of the State Department and CIA tried to link Árbenz to Guatemalan communists, yet this proved very difficult as there was “no evidence that Arbenz himself was anything more than a European-style democratic socialist”. A CIA paper, published two months before the coup, also, “did not cite any direct contact between Guatemalan Communists and Moscow. The paper offered ideology, not facts…”. 

A master’s thesis written by a student at West Virginia University extensively and exclusively covers the CIA’s decision making process, detailing how, “CIA reports from the early 1950s also demonstrated this fear [of Communism]… The “red scare,” in essence, affected nearly all Americans. Many in the Eisenhower government also felt that Moscow had a nefarious hidden hand and controlled communist sympathizers around the globe,” while also noting that the, “ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence] did not feel that CIA had valid reasons or enough sources to reach the conclusion it did regarding Soviet intentions in Latin America”. The heightened fears of Communism and the Soviet Union that permeated the minds of analysts within the State Department and CIA (as well as the desires by some to ensure the survival of the United Fruit Company in the country) resulted in intelligence that was skewed to believing that the Guatemalan government was embracing Communism, when, even according to the CIA’s own histories, was baseless.

Based upon this example, as one can see, the intelligence provided to the U.S. government was based upon analyst biases and did not accurately reflect how the Guatemalan government under Árbenz operated nor how entrenched the Communists were in political life. The fear of Communism overwhelmed the amount of solid and fact-based analysis, resulting in an invasion that removed a democratically elected president.

This coup eventually resulted in the emplacement of a right-wing, military government, which would rule until 1996, overseeing a brutal civil war complete with death squads, acts of genocide committed by presidential administrations, political assassinations, and a drastic increase in governmental corruption. Members of the CIA who were involved in the operation too regretted their actions and acknowledged that the outcome did not benefit Guatemala, the U.S., or Latin America. Operation PBSUCCESS did not bring about a U.S.-friendly democracy, but a U.S.-friendly military dictatorship that engaged in war crimes and severely destabilized the entire country. The failure of this operation to bring about a democracy and U.S. intervention in the country in the first place was, in my own view and examination, based upon biased analyses by the CIA which promoted the view that Guatemala was becoming sympathetic to Communists and the operation itself shows just how important intelligence analysis is.

Not only is analysis an incredibly important tool within the intelligence cycle as a whole, but the analyst themselves are highly important. The analysis is only as good as the analyst and if the analyst is biased, limited in their outlook or worldview, or come from a sole section of society, then the analysis will reflect those beliefs. Most of the analysts involved in the Guatemalan operation were white and male, most likely coming from middle-class backgrounds and either having military service or Ivy League education or both. These beliefs and hiring processes which exclude persons beyond the majority of America’s populace can significantly hinder an agency and promote a poor world outlook. The majority of persons in countries in which the U.S. is involved, thinking of becoming involved, or are creating analyses in anticipation of potential foreign policies are not white or male nor from wealthy societies; they are, most often than not, of an extremely different mindset than many Americans, live in poverty or close to poverty, and have an immensely different culture. While the CIA has made some headway in this area, retired CIA case officers and analysts have made claims that the CIA (and the Intelligence Community as a whole) are severely underperforming and not effectively recruiting towards people from outside of that select pool.

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, Jr.’s comments about the CIA lowering their standards and fostering an environment in which the CIA now is ineffective at creating intelligence or defending the United States from foreign threats (not being “badass” enough) is nonsensical. If anything, the inclusion of persons who are not white or male, who have experience outside of the military, who are knowledgeable on issues beyond military, intelligence, and national defense/security makes for a more well-rounded force and an agency more effective at analyzing collected intelligence, crafting accurate and informed recommendations, and allowing past mistakes, the misreading of important political events, to take hold. Including strong, analytical persons from more minority backgrounds into the national security framework will perform wonders for American intelligence analysis and in making influential policy decisions.

To quote Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired CIA officer, “Diversity is an operational advantage. Simple as that. I want case officers who look like the UN”.

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Intelligence

Women Maoists (Naxalbari)

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Every now and then, Indian newspapers flash news about Maoist insurgents, including women being killed. They usually avoid mentioning how many soldiers were killed in encounters, whether fake or genuine.  Here is a glimpse of such news: A woman fighter, along with a male c-fighter, was killed in a clash with government forces in Odisha’s Malkagiri district (Press Trust of India, December 14, 2020).

In another incident, a woman Maoist was killed in an encounter with India’s security forces in Sukma district of Chhatisgarh  (PTI, October 13, 2010). A woman Maoist was killed near Anrapali forest (Visakhapatnam, Andhrapradesh). And, another woman Maoist, carrying Rs. 16 lac reward on her head was killed in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra.

Sometimes there are pitched battles between the Indian forces and the Maoists, including women. For instance, there was a head-on confrontation between a Maoist group and government forces of over 1500 “jawan”, equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and helicopters at the Bijapur-Sukma border. Sans air power, the Maoists, armed only with machine guns, gunned down 22 soldiers belonging to Central Reserve Police Force, Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (Cobra), and Bastariya Battalion of the Central Reserve Police.

Why do women join the Maoist Movement?

They find the Maoist narrative of emancipation attractive. . Not only the low-caste women but also the high-caste ones joined the Maoist ranks in droves. About 30 to 40 per cent of combatants are Maoists. The status of women in the Indian society is no better than that of slaves. They are not supposed to form an opinion or dare express it. Even the high-caste women are supposed to be reticent and coy. They are tutored to be housewives confined to quadrilateral of their homes, rear children, and do household chores. The Maoist ideology ingrained the sense of empowerment in them. The Maoist manifesto teems with such words as “mahila sasahktikaran” (women’s empowerment), “raise their voices” (awash uthaunne), “get their voices represented” (mahilako awaj ko pratinidithyo) and “understand women’s grief” (mahila ko dukka bhujnne).

The Maoist struggle is commonly known as “the people’s war”. The “war” aims at abolishing the feudal system, and creating a democratic egalitarian society. The bulwark of the Maoists is rural population, lower castes and women. Women and men of all castes, classes, ethnic backgrounds and education levels joined the movement.

Pro-women manifesto

The Maoist has incorporated women’s emancipation in their ideological manifesto, actually a “40-point demand-document”. The gender equality is enshrined in points 19, 20 and 21, mentioned heretofore:

“19. Patriarchal exploitation and discrimination against women should be stopped, girls should be allowed to access paternal property as their brothers.

20. All racial exploitation and suppression should be stopped. Where ethnic communities are in the majority, they should be allowed to form their own autonomous governments.”

People’s courts

The Maoist proved their heart-felt commitment to the manifesto by punishing rapists, wresting back the usurped land of single women, penalising men for polygamy, and prohibiting the sale of liquor as drunken men more often beat the women.  Jan adalats (“people’s courts”) ferociously uphold women’s rights on issues of social and domestic violence.

Equal authority

Women were given political or combat position on the basis of merit. Untouchability and gender discrimination has been abolished. The points 19, 20 and 21 of the Maoist manifesto relating to women stress the need to transform state and customary laws to redress gender inequality at all levels.

In 2002, in recognition of their female constituency, the Maoists introduced the so-called “prachanda path,” creating a women’s department in the Central Committee. In several cases, it is the women who slay the incorrigible feudal tyrants. The women realise that they are “agents of change” who have to fight out repression in all its manifestations.  The women have become politically aware that they have the right make decisions about their marriages, children’s education, and other everyday gender needs.

Indian police admit it was the women fighters who were in the vanguard of a deadly attack in Chhattisgarh, where 24 people, including some top politicians, were killed.

 Because of its liberal manifesto, the insurgency has spread to 11 states, with Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha as epicenters. It has become entrenched in all central and eastern Indian states, often referred to as the “Red Corridor.

Fake news

Having failed to subdue the Maoists, the government occasionally resorts to spreading false news about deaths of Maoist leaders. For instance, Hindustan Times dated June 24, 2021 reported that Maoist leader Haribushan, carrying a reward of Rs. 40 lac on his head, had died from COVID19. Her wife rebutted the news (Parveen Kumar Bandari Hans News Service October 5, 2021). “More than 16 senior and middle level level communist leaders have died in the last couple of months due to COVID19…Two senior most leaders of Bastar Ganga, including Dandakaryana Special Zone Committee members Ganga and Sobhroi have died due to infection in the last couple of months”.

Sympathy with Naxals is an offence

In the Bhim Koregaon planted-letters case, several intellectuals and rights activists including Navalakha were declared “traitors” by the Indian government. They were even accused of having links with Kashmiri militants. Fake letters were inputted into their computers. They were even accused of being Pakistan’s intelligence agencies agents through Ghulam Nabi Fai, a US-based Kashmiri leader. Fei has served two-year imprisonment in the USA for having illegally received funds from the inter-services intelligence of Pakistan.

Urban militia

The Maoist are trying to disseminate their message to urban areas also. They understand that the minorities are fed up with the regressive caste system. The rebels want to radicalise youngsters and already have carved out a strong network in premier universities of Delhi and Kolkata. The Maoist want to  create an urban militia to fight the oppressive enforcement machinery of the states and Indian Union.  They are believed to have infiltrated the government intelligence machinery to stay abreact of government’s tactics.

Coordination strategy

The Maoists make no bones about their plan to set up a “coordination network among like-minded outfits in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. They want unhindered movement of left-wing extremists in these territories to exchange arms, ammunition and information”. To counter the Maoist strategy, India rushed its diplomats to capitals of neighbouring countries to plug up the porous border and obstruct the insurgents’ free movement.

Gurkha trainers

In addition, India launched Special teams for simultaneous searches in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka at suspected Maoist training centres and hideouts. The effort was counter-productive because India’s national Investigation Agency framed charges against the innocent people.

During searches, the Indian forces were surprised to know that the retired Gorkha soldiers of both British and the Indian Army harbour sympathy for the Maoists.

They trained the Maoists to use fire arms efficiently. Some Maoists demonstrated their alacrity and military sills in planning bank robberies, and extorting ransom from rich businessmen. Besides arms and ammunition snatched from police stations, the Maoists are believed to have amassed over Rs. 5 billion from bank heists. The general impression in people’s minds is that the Indian forces dare not pursue the Maoists in forests. The insurgents pick up places where to ambush the security forces, and make off with booty with impunity.

Salwa Judum (purification hut)

Having failed to arrest momentum of the movement, India organised a private army ofSalwa Judum ledbyMahendra Karma From among the villagers.  To boost their morale, they were given honorary rank of “special police officer. “As a workaround, the government sponsored counter-militias and split tribes into those “for” and “against” Maoists. Those willing to fight the Maoists were offered guns, money and honorary police ranks.

The Maoists shot dead Mahendra Karma and several members of the ruling Indian National Congress whose brainchild the Salwa Judum was.  It later transpired that the salwa judum had been cobbled up with help of child soldiers recruited under duress or financial allurement. It was involved in gross human rights violations. When People’s Union of Civil Liberties in India brought its atrocities to the Supreme Court’s notice, it declared it illegal in 2011.

Concluding remarks

Charu Mazumdar started the movement as a “revolutionary opposition” in 1965.  The world came to know of it in 1967 when the Beijing Radio reported “peasants’ armed struggle” at Naxalbari (Siliguri division of West Bengal). In July 1972, the police arrested Charu Mazumdar and tortured him to death on the night of July 27-28. The Naxalite ideology has great appeal for marginalized strata (particularly dalit and adivasis) of India’s caste-ridden society. The Naxalites Central Committee’s resolution (1980) visualises creating a base for spreading people’s democratic revolution. It would include : ‘Homogenous contiguous forested area around Bastar Division (since divided into Bastar, Dantewada and Kanker Districts of Chhatisgarh) and adjoining areas of Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, East Godavari Districts of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrapur and Garchehiroli district of Maharastra, Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh, Malkagiri and Koraput districts of Orissa. The Naxalites want to carve out an independent zone extending from Nepal through Bihar and then to the Dandakarnaya region extending up to Tamil Nadu to give them access to the Bay of Bengal as well as the Indian Ocean. 

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