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The jihad after Afghanistan

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How will the jihadists’ global threat evolve after Afghanistan is back under Taliban rule? It should not be forgotten that the Taliban are the victorious expression of a people of over thirty million inhabitants. A people that is in no way represented by those few who are trying to flee the country and are crowding Kabul airport, as some Westerners in bad faith miserably try to propagandise. At the end of the 1970s the Vietnamese were not the few boat people, but the over forty million inhabitants who had liberated the country from foreign occupation.

What shape will Muslim radicalism take vis-à-vis the US-friendly anachronistic Arab monarchies, as well as towards the nationalist-secular Arab countries and towards Western countries?

The answer to this question is particularly complex because, while the bilateral confrontation between the USA and the USSR, prior to jihadism, which replaced the Cold War – as the bogeyman of the United States – was a contrast between two ideologies and two political practices that both stemmed from Western culture (liberal-bourgeois-capitalist law and socialist law), today what we see as the “global jihad” is completely unrelated to the above-mentioned systems. This symbolic, communicative, strategic and political extraneousness makes it difficult to understand Islamic law, whose ‘holy war’, the jihad, represents its own legal institution, which the “fine souls” and beautiful minds of our superficial Western world, consider to be out of time – just to use the words of the late Prof. Giorgio Vercellin, quoted in my previous article:

«Islam and the Muslim world are presented on the same archaeological level (and therefore devoid of evolution until today) as the ancient Greeks and Romans. […] The real crux is that the Society of Italian Historians has considered the “Muslim world”, so to speak, automatically as part of the “ancient world”».

Therefore, if the institutions of Muslim law are considered outdated by those who think that their own ‘Kantian’ law is an absolute value that must take precedence – especially with bombs – over the values of faith, morality and ethical economics, it is obvious that any hint coming from the East (people’s Republic of China and Russia included) is somehow beastly and brutal. Hence we should not be surprised that we, in turn, are given a taste of their own medicine and are paid back in kind.

While NATO and the Warsaw Pact were not superimposable but replaceable, today, instead, the ideological and political-military universe of the jihad is not only not superimposable to that of all the Western creeds and policies, but is even incomprehensible for the reasons mentioned above. This has led many Western governments to believe – again using a Kantian metaphor – that “a hundred possible thalers” were the same as “a hundred real thalers”.

In other words, the Western global bipolar confrontation with the Marxist-Leninist universe had its own codes, which allowed both detente and pressure from one side on the other up to the limit of the outbreak of nuclear war – while Marxism-Leninism was an ideology that promised to overcome capitalism and pick up “the flags that the bourgeoisie had dropped in the mud”, according to Stalin’s phrase taken up by Togliatti.

In the case of global jihad, there is not this structural affinity and similarity between the two ideologies in global contrast: they are two completely different aspects, which have neither mother nor father in common. On the contrary, there is a rejection of the entire West, both in its socialist and anti-capitalist variants and in its liberal and capitalist determinants.

It is therefore structurally difficult to apply the classic and infantile US Fukuyama-style crystal ball that, by predicting the end of history and Kantian universal peace, ignored a phenomenon that deliberately escapes these categories, as well as the time of analysis, while the perceptive and cultural incommunicability is part of Clausewitz’s “fog of war” and is also knowingly and institutionally used by the jihad as an irreplaceable instrument of psychological warfare.

Let us better analyse, however, how to thematize the structural dynamics of Islamic fundamentalism.  

The jihadist informal groups accept the radical Islamist ideology, generically called Salafist, that is defined by the practical and religious example of Prophet Muhammad’s first believers. The Salafists’ relationship is with the Muslim Brothers and with the Deobandi school, an interpretative tradition of Islam born in India in the second half of the 19th century. It is, therefore, a simplified Islam, which rejects both the atheistic and materialistic West and the long tradition – often Quietist and dialogue-oriented – which characterized the Islam of the Ottoman Empire.

The jihad has no leaders, and adapts rapidly to the transformation of the battlefield where it is actively engaged in various parts of the world, as well as to the penetration – with the same adaptive and operative rules and therefore maximum camouflage – into the Western world of destination, both as a still silent cell and as the initial nucleus of the jihad in the Dār al-kufr, the territory of unbelief.

The assumption of the jihad without leaders works well in the phase of penetration, indoctrination and training of the fundamentalist cells, which corresponds to the maximum cultural and operative camouflage with the world outside of the cell, while it is less effective in describing the operations on the ground.

The jihad, which is fundamentalist (and it should be recalled that the word “fundamentalism” originated in the sectarian tradition of US Protestantism), has not the predictive times and mechanisms – not to mention the objectives – of a movement with Western political roots, although extremely minority and violent.

It should also be recalled that, on the basis of the Sunni tradition of Ibn Taymiyyah‘s medieval commentaries, the jihad – by Muslim law – is the second duty of the Muslim after the Articles of Faith (Iman). It is a collective duty and concerns the simultaneous struggle against the external enemy (the crusaders allied with the Zionists) and against the internal enemy (the nationalist and secular Arab governments).

Here lies the issue of the “great jihad” (the spiritual effort of the individuals to improve themselves) and of the “small jihad” against the visible and external enemy, from which it follows that the corrupt rulers and “friends/servants of the West” no longer have any legal-religious authority to rule the ummah (the global community of believers).

This is a strategic and mental set-up that is completely different from that of the Western armies and political systems, which find themselves taken aback – from the first moment – by an enemy that is global and local, and has a chain of command unknown to the Western strategic tradition (and to much of the secularised and nationalist Arab tradition).

The global jihad is obviously not a Western strategy, nor is it a Sun Tzu-style Eastern one, in which the timescales of war are inevitably similar but shorter than those of politics. It is a cornerstone of Islamic law which, after the abolition of the Caliphate (March 3, 1924) has been resumed – in principle – in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, and is essentially directed against “the crusaders and the Zionists”.

Furthermore, terrorism (the weapon of the poor) is not the essence of the jihad, but a simple tactic of recent implementation, according to the particular model of hierarchical and centre-periphery relations described above. The jihad is a geopolitical project that concerns the political-military unification of the Islamic ummah all over the world, both where it is the majority and where it is the minority, with all that this implies against the State of Israel and the Western economic power, trying to create a relationship of Wests’ geoeconomic subordination and subjection towards the Islamic world, both in the oil and financial fields.

Jihadism has therefore attracted – so as to later exhaust it, both politically and economically – the US global power in the most suitable areas, which have been the secular Iraq, Afghanistan and the socialist Libya of the Arab Jamāhīriyya, while the United States, the West and the allied Arab monarchies have attempted to destabilise the secular and socialist Syria to oppose the Chinese Silk Road.

The jihadist Islamisation, however, is currently unable to define precise and universally recognisable hierarchies, and it also maintains that, without a da’wa – an Islamic preaching that covers all social behaviour – the jihad is devoid of religious and legal foundations, and it is as worth and valid as the illegitimate taqfiri Islamic regimes that no longer follow the Koran guidelines in society, economy and law.

Islamism is based on the democracy=polytheism equation: hence the very essence of Western politics – in all its forms – is idolatrous and polytheistic taqfir.

The strategic objective is therefore very clear: the creation of a global Caliphate articulated in different areas, defined according to the majority or minority presence of Islamists within them. This would mean the dhimmitude of the other faithful, the People of the Book. I have been maintaining all this since ten years before the creation of ISIS, which was ultimately and fatally set up by the West to oppose Assad and China.

With reference to the Western logic of politics and the war clash, there is another dialectical pair that can help us build a probable future scenario of Jihadism and its moves. It is the centralisation-decentralisation pair.

For the West, decentralisation is peaceful devolution and political federalism, but always in a Clausewitzian logic of military confrontation. This sees two or more state elements opposed to each other and equivalent, within a “fog of war” that lasts for a short time and where the Clausewitzian triad of government, army and people becomes essential. In the case of jihad, the behaviour will be ever more decentralized and by autonomous poles of Mujahideen, with a maximum operative autonomy against Western targets. The strategic synthesis will regard propaganda, the management of the operations concerning the anti-Western psychological warfare, and the scanning of the pace and localization of the operations, through their own internal communication networks.

The variables which will lead to this scenario – which are not materially calculable today – concern: the share of militants who will be able to become operative; the persistence of the cover networks both in Islam and in the West; the shift – in the Western field – from a regional competition between the powers that have used the regional imbalance of the jihad to acquire new spheres of interest, to an active collaboration – on the North-South axis – against the global jihad.

While it is true that by now, the axis of the “holy war” involves all Central Asia (including the Chinese Xinjiang Weiwu’er) and Northern India, the variable that could overturn the jihadism strategic equation concerns the active collaboration between Russia, the People’s Republic of China, the European Union and the United States to avoid the South (and the Eastern Asiatic region) of the world becoming jihad areas at the moment in which what occurs is the combination between various Western economic and financial crises (with Chinese and Russian “after-effects”) and the current US defeat in Afghanistan, which would greatly favour Islamic fundamentalism.

In analytical terms, after the expulsion of the United States from Afghanistan, the jihadism global strategy is:

(a) to impose a network of structured militants, to be later turned into local caliphates (see the examples in Africa, after the destabilisation of Libya, and the strong Islamic minorities in Europe);

c) to extend the jihad to the secular and nationalist Islamic countries close to Iraq and Afghanistan (and here the variable of the Sunni hatred towards the Shiites becomes crucial vis-à-vis Iran – which, in the future, could channel the common interests of Israel and Iran);

d) to cause the final clash between the Middle East jihad and the State of Israel, which has wisely stayed out of Afghanistan.

A prospect which is coordinated with the jihadist project as far as the West is concerned, as well as the now takfiri Muslim countries, in which six phases can be identified:

1) the “Islamic awakening” which has caused the chaotic and irresponsible action of the United States;

2) the massive recruitment at the time of the maximum US and Western commitment in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, which is matched – as a command-control-military management network – by the “electronic jihad“, which in fact has become massive in those phases;

3) the strengthening, to define a clash with the Islam geographically closer to the West and more secularised, such as Turkey, after having failed (together with the West) in Syria (protected by the Russian forces);

4) the real “economic war”, which would lead to the constant attack for the control of the Middle East’s oil infrastructure and hence to the collapse of the Arab Wahhabi monarchies which, however, are still friendly to the United States;

5) the declaration of an “Islamic caliphate” which will close its relations with the West and open – in all likelihood – economic ties with China and the growing medium-sized powers of East Asia (as is already being planned in the Emirate of Afghanistan);

6) finally, the confrontation with the West could be turned from regional – in the Islamic countries and in the Middle East – to global, with the “revolutionary” management of the Islamist networks in Europe and the United States.

What could make these jihadist scenarios fail? While it is true that phase 1) has laid the conditions for a chaotic US action, it is equally true that so far jihadism has not demonstrated, in fact, an ability of Islamist political synthesis of the Central Asian and Middle East regional jihads.

In other words, it is possible that the Chechen, Tajik, intra-Pakistani, Indian, Xinjiang Weiwu’er and Afghan jihads cannot be unified only with the glue of the radical Salafist Islam. The Pakistani interests of the jihad, for example, could not coincide with those of a foreseeable Afghan hegemony in the Central Asian jihad, which Iran has so far used to close the strategic leeway of its traditional and religious adversary, i.e. Pakistan.

The variable of the objective national and ethnic-tribal interests could make the Qaedist glue of “Asia’s Caliphate” completely decorative or purely ideological. Obviously, we are talking about concrete national interests, not about psychological or ideological national and ethnic identities. We do not believe that the victorious Afghan Emirate would agree with the jihadisms’ global strategy of destroying the logistic networks, which are essential for the survival of the Country.

Also in the case of the future clash in Turkey, the jihadist network could certainly create a severe situation of friction and weakening of the Anatolian strategic rampart towards the Persian Gulf area, and make the Mediterranean a “sea of jihad“. Here, however, there are two variables: the scarce cultural and religious homogeneity of the Turkish Islam, with the presence of many and strong minorities, of which the Alevis are one of the most numerous, and the immensity of the Anatolian plateau, which needs a mass of jihadists not easy to recruit so as not to conquer it, but only to control it with interdiction operations. We should also consider the role of the Kurdish minority between Iraq and Turkey that would certainly not be interested in relinquishing the US protection to be diluted in the jihadist melting pot, without achieving its own constituent objectives.

Indeed, after the closure of the Iraqi front, the expansion into Turkey is also less probable than the jihadists may imagine. In fact, we must not overlook the strategic correlation between unitary nationalism, which is more profound in many Arab States than we may believe, and the ethnic-religious dispersion, which does not permit a fast spreading of the global jihad.

It should be recalled that there are several non-Islamic religious minorities in the Arab world that can be divided into three groups: Christians (Monophysites and Catholics), Jews and the Heterodox (including, for example, the animist religions of Sudan), for a total of over 22 million people.

In this context, indeed, paradoxically it is precisely the “religious awakening” of the Salafists connected to the jihad that can lead to the rediscovery of the local, identity and ethnic roots that differentiate each group from the globalist metaphysics of the Caliphate’s “sword jihad”.

Therefore, on an ideological level and in terms of psychological warfare, the identity and Salafist call of Islam can be overturned counter-dialectically: the identity of the histories of tribes and nations – often preceding European colonialism – against the globalisation of the “sword jihad”, opposite and equal to the flattening and levelling of Western globalisation.

It should also be added that the destructuring and disruption of the dollar system starting from the oil area (an attempt that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein, who had opted for the euro) and the discontinuity of the crude oil supply from the OPEC countries to the West, as well as the transition to gold and, later, to a basket of currencies to replace the US dollar as lender of first and last resort, are still an effective threat. But the variable of the jihadist strategy is the following: how much and to what extent are the economies of the main OPEC countries really linked to the direct extraction of crude oil?

If – as is well-known – dependence on oil is bilateral, the scarcity of supply – natural or caused by the OPEC quota system – cannot go so far as to make the other non-oil energy technologies profitable, nor can it be in the interest of the OPEC system to see the backwardness of the oil-derived Western infrastructure, which can extend the lifecycle of wells, and improve oil extraction technology in the Islamic OPEC countries.

Hence there is an objective interest of the OPEC area in financial differentiation, but at the same time there is also an interest in not lowering the relative value of the US dollar too much. Indeed, the jihad strategies can be useful in a phase of friction between the oil Islam and the West, but they cannot become structural in the relations with the crude oil consuming countries, without risking diminishing the very strategic value of the “oil weapon”.

Furthermore, considering the strategic correlation between the US financial market and the People’s Republic of China, a choice by the jihadists to turn the Islamic oil market to China – once the Middle-East Caliphate is established – seems an option hard to be achieved and having significant, but not destructive, geostrategic effects.

Therefore, jihadism is capable of unifying the South of the world in “revolutionary” terms. This means it has the potential to become a global player of world geopolitics and, above all, of world geo-economics. It has the ability to force both the “crowds” and the Islamic governments, whether friendly or not, to make radically anti-Western choices and confront the USA, NATO and the EU. It can define actions of structural destabilization of the European countries and the United States, on the basis of the old “indirect strategy” model of Soviet tradition, by manipulating and organizing the Islamist or, anyway, extremist public of these countries. It is not foreseeable, however, that it can become a caliphate capable of incorporating the medium-sized Islamic OPEC powers and inserting itself – managing it for its own purposes – in the structural crisis of the Western geopolitical power, above all, the US one, in a phase of strategic non-polarity.

Jihadism is and will predictably be – in the future – an element capable of challenging and sometimes beating the West on the ground where it wants to call its adversaries. It will be a very strong frictional factor in the inter-Arab equilibria and in the management of the Arab crowds’ psychology. Finally, in all likelihood, it will be able to open a new front in Central and South Asia. Nevertheless, it is unlikely to succeed in replacing the Arab States’ system, and it shall always come to terms with a significant part of the Islamic world that does not intend to be incorporated or assimilated into the West.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Online Radicalization in India

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

               Indian Context

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

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

               Undermining Indian Threat

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

               Radicalisation Strategies/methods: Indian vs global players

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

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

               Adoption of online platforms and technology

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

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

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

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

Rise of radicalization in southern India

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

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

               Radicalization: Similarities/Distinctions in North and South

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

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

               Impact of Radicalisation

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

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

               Challenges Ahead

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

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

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

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

India’s Counter Measures

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

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

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

Prognosis

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

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

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Is Deterrence in Cyberspace Possible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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