Posts Tagged ‘US foreign policy’

Another short blogpost for Free Rad!cals, this time on a topic that has been bugging me for a while. It seems as though the US is making a few unfortunate choices in counter-radicalisation terms that emulate earlier mistakes Europe made, something particularly silly given how much attention they have lavished on studying and criticising Europe’s mistakes. This was already up, but I see now that guru Brian Michael Jenkins has written an excellent piece for Foreign Affairs attacking another mistaken American policy choice. Of course, not everything the US has done is negative in this regard, but there are a few silly mistakes that seem to be being made.

Muslim Integration: America Must Avoid Europe’s Mistakes

Filed under: Europe, Homegrown extremism, UK

Americans love to berate Europe and its failings. Youthful America looks to its European progenitor and sees post-colonial stagnation and sclerotic economies that are unwilling to face up to their problems. A bugbear of the past few years has been criticism of Europe’s approach to its resident Muslim population. Commentaries have focused on a problem that is seen by many as an incubator of anger that has expressed itself in the form of attacks by European, or European-based, terrorists against America – most notably on September 11, 2001.

But while Europe has in the past provided a depressingly productive Petri dish for Muslim rage with contradictory policies that have had an alienating effect on parts of the broader community, it is increasingly the case that America is simply following Europe in the same direction. Recent stories of New York’s police department using inflammatory videos about Islamist extremism in training come in the wake of stories of possibly CIA assisted intelligence operations against Muslim communities. Whatever the tactical utility of such operations, it is clear that from a hearts-and-minds perspective they can be seen to be a failure.

More absurdly, states have tried to pass laws preventing shariah law from being imposed on them – a highly unlikely outcome, but reflective of the high levels of paranoia and anti-Muslim feeling amongst the American public. Something also seen in stories of Muslim leaders being disembarked from domestic flights with little reason given, in some cases as they were on their way to conferences about “Islamophobia”.

At a political level the conversation has been just as poisonous as in Europe. Potential Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has spoken of “the mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it” posed by shariah. In Congress, Representative Peter King has held hearings accusing America’s Muslim community of failing to regulate itself and producing homegrown terrorists. And while a direct correlation with this polarizing narrative is of course impossible to draw, there has been an increase in young Americans drawn by the lure of jihad abroad or into becoming involved in what they believe are terror plots within the US in the past few years.

Europe has hardly covered itself in glory in integrating its Muslim communities. But neither has America, and the current approach is increasingly emulating many of Europe’s failed policies. It is all very good to shout about Europe’s failings, but the United States needs to increasingly look within before it allows its problems to get too out of hand.

America has a long tradition of being a national melting pot, able to absorb people of all cultures and creeds and accepting of diversity as a crucial element of its identity. For years, the belief was that America would be immune to the sort of problems that Europe faced with homegrown extremism. As time has shown, however, this is clearly not the case with numerous young men drawn to the flame of extremism. The United States should focus on learning positive lessons from Europe’s problematic experience and avoid emulating its failed policies.

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Slightly delayed in posting this here for a variety of reasons. Anyway, a new piece for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel looking at China’s play in Afghanistan. Re-reading my old piece in Foreign Policy on the subject, I see I am a bit more positive this time around, but still no clear signs of a Chinese shift. What I realise now that I also didn’t go into was the stories I have been hearing about the Chinese doing more proactive training efforts with Afghans. Another time maybe. Ultimately, however, the real question for this all will be what happens with the US, after that we might get a clearer sense of China’s plan. More on this topic to come.

China Passes the Buck in Afghanistan

By Raffaello Pantucci | Friday, October 28, 2011 – 4:47PM

As we pass the 10-year anniversary of the US-led war in Afghanistan, most attention has been focused on how much longer the United States intends to stay in the region. But a question that has not been addressed is who is going to be putting the pieces together afterwards. The European Union (EU) and the United States are clearly at the end of their tether, while Russia, India and other nearby powers continue to lack the capacity or means to dominate the region. Other rising regional power China may continue to be wary of becoming involved in any foreign entanglements, but as a friend put it in a meeting in Beijing the other day, China may not have broken the teapot of Afghanistan, but it is one that sits firmly on their borders.

And there is some evidence that this reality is sinking in at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. Chinese firms have made substantial investments in Afghanistan. The Aynak copper mine has been joined by an investment in oil fields in northern Afghanistan. And while Chinese firms in the end did not invest in the Bamiyan iron mines they have still cast their lot in terms of developing Afghan infrastructure – pouring money into telecoms, road-building and train lines linking Afghanistan to the rest of the region.

But this has not been supported by any large-scale investment in Afghan security. For that, China continues to look to NATO on the ground and more implicit protection from her close ally in Islamabad. As one senior Afghan put it to me, a reason that was often given for why the Chinese had gotten some of these deals was that it was known how close they were to Pakistan. The assumption was that if the deal went to China then the site would be protected in some way and the development would proceed.

While unclear to what degree this was the determining factor, the story plays into what seems to be China’s main foreign policy factor when considering Afghanistan, and that is Pakistan. The Sino-Pak relationship is one of the closest in the world, spanning trade, nuclear weapons, counter-terrorism and regional hedging against India. As both sides characterize it publicly, it is “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel, sweeter than honey, and dearer than eyesight.” And into this fits Afghanistan, a troublesome country that borders both and is the source of regional instability. China, still a hesitant foreign policy actor, is unwilling to do too much to assert her authority in the region and is more than happy to let eager Pakistan take the lead.

And this approach is something that has worked for China for many years now. Unwilling to become involved in a conflict that could force it to take sides in a conflict in which it could be painted as part of some alliance against Islam and potentially support actors who would encourage separatists in the restive Xinjiang province, China has hesitated to do much in Afghanistan in support of NATO efforts in the country. For some in China, there was a sense that NATO’s loss in Afghanistan was China’s gain and that the potential encirclement that might result from NATO success on their borders would be to China’s detriment, while for others there was a sense that this was a lost cause anyway and that Afghanistan was the “graveyard of empires.”

Instead, China focused on investing in things that seemed like a good idea. A large copper mine at Aynak sits close to China’s borders and consequently seemed a wise investment to first bid for it and then offer a whole package of deals including a local power station and train line to provide the backdrop to make the deal work for the Chinese firm. All of this would help supply China’s need for copper, as well as develop a part of the country that was close to China and would therefore potentially have a knock-on effect in improving prosperity in neighboring underdeveloped Chinese province Xinjiang. Similarly with the deal to secure the oil fields in Amu Darya – China’s unslakable thirst for hydrocarbons means it will reach out anywhere to get them, and when they are so close to home, all the better.

But while none of this disagrees with western policy in Afghanistan, there is no sense that China is willing to buy into any active policy supporting western goals in the region. China continues to be the ultimate hedging power in Afghanistan – while it seems clear that they are willing to support western aims in the country, there continues to be a lack of any clear evidence that they are as willing to expend political capital or effort to advance their goals actively in the country. This is not to say they are indolent in advancing their interests, but that they are wary of becoming entangled in a country that has repeatedly shown a capacity to reject foreign influence.

From a Chinese perspective, the answer to Afghanistan is clear. The tribes need to fight it out amongst each other – to paraphrase what one expert told me in Beijing, this is a country with “lots of big powerful men who need to be kept happy” and outsiders do not really stand much of chance moderating this. Ultimately, the country is poor, will clearly need investment going forward, and China will be there to support it. With deep pockets and no conditions, this support can be funneled to whomever is in charge and to whomever has the power of the provinces where China has direct interests. When it comes to border threats, China seems to have managed to secure strong intelligence links and is able to keep a quite firm lid on any potential threats from extremist groups with links to networks in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

China’s play in Afghanistan has been very hesitant so far. The reason for this is a lack of certainty in Beijing about what Washington’s game plan is. In the meantime, they have continued to make careful strategic investments with a view to the long game. And while from a western analysis this should mean a greater Chinese interest in stabilizing the current government, from Beijing’s perspective it is far better to let things play themselves out while focusing on specific interests. This will not necessarily help western aims to re-shape Afghanistan, but it will strengthen China’s hand when the west finally leaves.

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation. He blogs athttp://www.raffaellopantucci.com.

A new piece for Jamestown on a subject I have been trying to get published for a while. Will keep this short as am in hurry, but more soon.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Expanding Western Connections

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 37
October 14, 2011 05:20 PM Age: 18 hrs
Faisal Shahzad
As the United States breathed a sigh of relief that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 had passed without any major incident, the U.S. Justice Department announced that three men had pled guilty to charges of trying to smuggle a member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) into the United States. As one of the suspects, Irfan ul-Haq, put it, it was “not their concern” what the smuggled individual might “want to do in the United States – hard labor, sweep floor, wash dishes in a hotel, or blow up. That will be up to them.” [1] The men were apparently part of a network of people smugglers that was willing to help Pakistani TTP members enter the United States, highlighting once again the menace posed by the group to the United States, as perceived by the American security community.

The histories of the three men at the heart of this case are unclear. They were arrested on March 10 in Quito, Ecuador, as part of an operation by American forces (NTN24 [Bogata], September 20, 2011). In court documents released later, prosecutors laid out a case showing that from January 2011, undercover agents dispatched by a law enforcement agency approached two of the men in Quito, Irfan ul-Haq and Qasim Ali, to inquire about smuggling a fictitious person from Pakistan into the United States. The initial approach was to ul-Haq, who directed them to talk to Ali in order to obtain fraudulent documentation. The two men then met and spoke with the undercover agents a number of times to work out the details and a month later ul-Haq seems to have brought a third man, Zahid Yousaf, into the conspiracy. [2] It was at about this time that one of the undercover agents told the suspects he was a member of the TTP and that the individual who was intended to be smuggled was also a member – information that elicited the callous response highlighted before. [3] While it is unclear whether the suspects were actually supportive of TTP aims, their capacity to smuggle individuals out of Pakistan and into the United States using fraudulent documentation would have provided the TTP with a useful network were they able to connect with it. At one point the suspects provided the undercover agents with a sample fake British passport and ul-Haq boasted of having contacts in Pakistani immigration that could provide exit stamps for people who were wanted by security services.

This in turn highlights the general growing concern about the increasing internationalization of the TTP. On July 29 the UN Security Council agreed to add the TTP to the list of proscribed groups. [4] In an electronic interview with Terrorism Monitor, Richard Barrett, coordinator of the UN’s al-Qaeda-Taliban Monitoring Group, said the move was “an important symbolic consequence” that showed “the international community as a whole condemns [the TTP] without reservation. This universal condemnation acts as an encouragement to all those who are opposed to TTP and have suffered from its violence.” [5] The move follows earlier decisions to proscribe the TTP by Pakistan, the UK, the United States and most recently, Canada. [6] The threat to the West was brought into focus when Waliur Rehman, the head of TTP in South Waziristan, announced: “Soon you will see attacks against America and NATO countries, and our first priorities in Europe will be France and Britain” (al-Arabiya, June 28).

This is not the first time the group has threatened the West and it has attempted in the past to carry through on these threats. Back in January 2008, the group was connected to a plot to attack Barcelona, Spain and other possible EU targets by deploying a network of twelve men, ten Pakistanis and two Indians.  According to prosecutors and an informant within the cell, some of the men had undergone training with TTP in Waziristan. The informant reported that the then-TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud had specifically identified him as a potential suicide bomber. The link to the TTP was confirmed in August 2008 when TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar released a video in which he stated, “the [foiled attack] in Barcelona was conducted by twelve of our men. They were under pledge to Baitullah Mahsud and the TTP has already claimed responsibility because [of] Spain’s military presence in Afghanistan.” [7]

While this plot was disrupted, responsibility for Faizul Shahzad’s failed car bombing in Times Square in May 2010 was claimed by TTP soon afterwards in a video that featured footage of Shahzad at a TTP camp. According to the indictment that was handed down against him, Shahzad admitted to having trained alongside the group in Waziristan in December 2009. Having returned to the United States, Shahzad received some $5,000 in February 2010 to help him carry out an attack there. He then went about purchasing a gun and locating the necessary equipment to build a car bomb. [8]

While it is unclear whether Shahzad had any contact with TTP networks in the United States, the existence of these networks now seems to have been confirmed. Aside from the group arrested in Quito, FBI agents in Miami moved in May to disrupt a network based around a pair of imams in Florida who were allegedly running a fundraising network to send money to the TTP. According to prosecutors, the group sent at least $50,000 to Pakistan and discussed the terrorist attacks it was going to support with their contacts there (Miami Herald, May 14). This came after an August 2010 operation codenamed “Samosa” in Ottawa, Canada that was mounted by Royal Canadian Mounted Police forces to disrupt a network that was sending funds to the TTP and accumulating bomb making material locally (National Post, July 5).

Successful attacks have yet to emerge from these TTP support networks, but it seems likely that more plots will follow in the future. Given the ongoing trickle of foreigners drawn to Pakistan and the TTP’s ongoing campaign at home against the Pakistani state and its American backers, it is likely that this connection will continue to be a focus of concern for Western intelligence agencies.

Notes:

1. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Factual Proffer in Support of Guilty Plea, filed September 12, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1683.pdf.

2. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Qasim Ali, Zahid Yousaf, Indictment filed March 3, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1678.pdf.

3. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Factual Proffer in Support of Guilty Plea, filed September 12, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1683.pdf.

4. http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQE13211E.shtml.

5. Author’s email interview with Richard Barrett.

6. Public Safety Canada – Currently Listed Entitities, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/ns/le/cle-eng.aspx#TTP.

7. http://www.nefafoundation.org/multimedia-intvu.html

8. USA vs. Faisal Shahzad, indictment, http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/Shahzad_Faisal_Indictment.pdf .

A short letter for the Washington Post, this time focused on the question of drones and their use as a tactic in American counter-terrorism. My original letter was much longer, but the distilled point is still there. I have touched on this subject before, and would like to return with a much bigger piece at some point but am a bit overwhelmed with other things at the moment. Look for some longer pieces to land in the near future in the meantime.

—-

The confirmed expansion of the drone program in Africa [“U.S. creating a ring of secret drone bases,” front page, Sept. 21] highlights once again the importance of the program to American counterterrorism efforts.

But in the rush to deploy with this clearly effective new technology, have policymakers given enough consideration to the fact that they are carving out a path that almost completely disregards the conventional rules of war, borders and the right of due process in foreign countries?

There also is a longer-term impact of the wanton use of this technology that must be confronted: What happens when others manage to develop the same technology? Can the United States complain when a foreign power uses drones to eliminate individuals they believe are plotting terrorism in a country that is a close American ally? More immediately, can it complain when foreign powers send teams to execute individuals they claim are terrorist plotters? What if these supposed plotters are in the United States?

Raffaello Pantucci, London

The writer is an associate fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization

My first contribution to the ongoing hyper-covered story – this one for the Oriental Morning Post. Some more bits on this forthcoming. For the whole thing in Mandarin see here (have also pasted it below including images).

Is the War Over?

The death of Osama bin Laden is unlikely to make any major difference in the immediate war on terrorism, but nonetheless it is a big psychological victory for the United States. Historians will look back at this moment as a major marker in the conflict against Al Qaeda and her affiliates, and it is likely the beginning of a long trajectory by which the group slowly fades as the global force that it previously was. Coming almost ten years after Al Qaeda burst into the world’s collective consciousness, this is a significant moment that closes an important chapter in recent history.

The immediate impact to China of this event is going to be limited – but it is going to mark a shift in America’s involvement in South Asia and this will have major longer-term repercussions for the region.

The relief at his death was tangible in Washington, where less than an hour after the news had broken, crowds gathered outside the White House waving flags and singing the national anthem. President Obama spoke of “the death of bin Laden” as the “most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda.” And for the large industry of commentators, thinkers and security officials that had been trying to track him down or read what his next move was going to be, this is indeed an important moment. At a personal level, as someone who has been following his movement as a researcher for many years, it feels like something important has indeed taken place. Some certainty that progress is being made by the forces trying to defeat Al Qaeda. Nonetheless, concerns remain about what this means in practical terms.

Osama bin Laden first founded Al Qaeda in the wake of his experiences as a young man fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. A young idealist who gave up a life as a Saudi prince to live the life of a travelling holy warrior, he decided that victory against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was not enough. Instead, he wanted to push on and defeat the other great power of the day America, showing the power of God’s message. And so he launched a global jihad against America and her allies, creating in Sudan, Afghanistan and finally Pakistan a set of mobile training camps were other holy warriors could come and train with him before being sent back to carry out their deadly trade wherever they were able.

And initially, the organization Al Qaeda (whose name translates as “The Base”) was directly ruled and controlled by this man. He was closely involved with the plotting of the organization’s first attacks: the 1998 double bombings of US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania that killed some 200 people; the 2000 attack on a US battleship off Yemen that resulted 19 deaths; and the 2001 attack on New York and Washington that led to some 3,000 deaths. It was this last attack that brought him to global attention, leading to American invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq and an explosion globally of interest in his extremist message of imposing Islamic shariah law violently around the world.

But this reaction also forced him to go underground. Reports to emerge from his inner circle show that he may not have been expecting the sort of reaction that his attacks got, and as a result his role as an operational manager for the group seems to have gone down as he withdrew into hiding.

Instead, the direct operational role of plotting terrorist attacks to advance his ideas has been taken up by many middle managers in his organization that have plotted and carried out numerous attacks around the world in his name. Plots in London, Istanbul, Tunisia, Bali, and across Afghanistan and Pakistan can all be linked to the group he founded. In addition to this, the message that he proclaimed found a resonance amongst other terrorist networks in different parts of the globe. Groups in North Africa, Somalia and Yemen all claimed some part of his message and started to publish messages in which they directly praised and thanked him for his leadership. And beyond these organized groups, young overexcited men and women seeking meaning in their lives found his message of global anti-Americanism appealing and tried to carry out actions in its name.

No matter how decreased his role as an operational leader was, however, his role as a figurehead for Al Qaeda and for the global Islamist movement was significant. His regular recorded messages from what we now know was a compound in Abbottabad were waited for with baited breath and listened to attentively by followers around the world. His continuing concealed existence was a symbol to radicals that the war was ongoing and that victory was maybe possible. And his death within this context is important both for those who are fighting for him and against him. This is a war of ideas and he was the lead messenger for the other side.

Of course, Al Qaeda’s many affiliate groups will use this as an opportunity to strike back at the west. Cells connected to the core network operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan will no doubt take this as a sign to attempt to launch attacks globally. And beyond this immediate reaction, in the medium-term we will continue to see regional groups from North Africa, Somalia and Yemen attempting to launch deadly strikes from their bases. Already this year we have seen numerous deadly attacks around the world and it is likely that they will continue. The war will go on.

But nevertheless, an important leader has been killed by what was an audacious and verifiable strike by American forces in Pakistan. This shows that the west is able to strike successfully and is indeed fighting a war in which it is slowly grinding its enemy Al Qaeda down, something that makes people fighting for Al Qaeda’s ideas on the ground increasingly question what they are doing. In much the same way that the civil unrest in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya confused Al Qaeda since it showed that people could overthrow long-term dictators using public protest and did not have to resort to mass murder as Osama bin Laden and his friends called for, his death must make them wonder about what their prospects of victory are. No matter what is said, his death will help lower Al Qaeda’s global appeal to some degree.

The significance of all of this to China is somewhat low in the short term. China was, and is, seen as a second tier target by the group. But in the long term this signifies that American attention and involvement in Afghanistan and South Asia is going to decrease. President Obama had been looking for a way to get out of the wars he inherited since he came into office and this will now give him a clear signal that he accelerate this process. Ten years on from Al Qaeda’s most successful strike against the west in September 2001, the United States government has the lead plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo and has now killed the ideological head of the group. While American security planners know this is not the end of Islamist inspired terrorism against them, politicians know that the problem will now slowly be relegated into second place in the public’s attention. And this means that a process that had already started with President Obama’s surge in Afghanistan last year will continue as the President tries to extricate his nation from the religiously fuelled civil wars that are causing so much misery in South Asia.

The danger to China comes in the details of how the assassination strike was carried out. Early news reports indicate that the operation was conducted by American forces with limited Pakistani knowledge or awareness, something that is unsurprising from the perspective of the current high tensions between Pakistan and the United States. But it also seems as though Osama was living in a rather obvious compound not far from the capital, under conditions that seem like they should have been noted at the nearby military bases. The suggestion therefore is that the Pakistani government is still not tackling the beast of radicalism within its country effectively, and this means that a terrorist haven of some sort still exists on China’s borders.

This is of course something that also remains an American and western problem. In the past few years, we have seen a number of large-scale and high profile plots be organized and directed from Pakistan and in the wake of Osama’s death these will continue. Clearly, American and NATO security forces in Afghanistan will need to continue to fight on the ground to make sure these plots are not able to succeed and until Afghanistan can at last become a safe and stable country from where such plots cannot be organized. But the death of Osama means that the heart of the issue from a western public’s perspective has been removed and Al Qaeda will increasingly be spoken of in the past tense. Politicians will focus on it less and the public will generally move onto worrying about other threats – unless, that is, there is another attack in America that is larger or on the same scale as 9/11.

The result will be a continuing de-escalation of American and NATO presence in Afghanistan. Some presence will remain to make sure plots that are still being organized are disrupted before they can reach western shores, but the overall presence will go down. This means that it will be increasingly up to those in the region to try to address the long-term strategic issue of Pakistan as a center of extremism and as a nuclear-armed state with individuals in positions of influence who still seem in some ways sympathetic towards extremists that have supported international terrorists.

Osama bin Laden’s death is an important marker in the conflict against violent Islamist extremism, but it is not the end. It is, however, going to seen by historians as one of the steps along the path to the end.

战争结束了吗 

 作者 潘睿凡   发表于2011-05-03 02:54

乌萨马·本·拉丹的死并不见得会为目前的反恐之战带来什么重大变化。

  潘睿凡

英国伦敦激进主义化研究

国际中心副研究员

“基地”组织的许多分支将会以此为契机展开对西方的全球反攻。此外在中期预测上,我们也将继续看到来自北方、索马里和也门的区域性恐怖组织从他们的基地发起死亡攻击。今年全球各地也已经发生了多起恐怖袭击事件,而且他们仍可能继续。战争将会持续。

在获悉本·拉丹被击毙的消息之后,美国朝野对反恐战争是否结束持不同的态度。政治漫画网

  乌萨马·本·拉丹的死并不见得会为目前的反恐之战带来什么重大变化,尽管如此,这对于美国仍可称作一次心理上的伟大胜利。这很可能会成为一个转折点,“基地”组织的势力将逐步衰弱并最终销声匿迹。当历史学家们书写反恐战争史的时候,这也将成为“9·11”事件发生近十年以来重要的一笔。

此事件对于中国的直接影响十分有限。但美国在取得这一成果后必然会对其在南亚的介入策略做出一定调整,因而这对于此区域的长期影响不可忽视。

在华盛顿,拉丹的死讯明显地令大家感到欢欣鼓舞。消息传来不到一个小时,就有人群聚集在白宫外,挥舞着旗帜并大唱国歌。奥巴马总统也称“拉丹死讯”是“目前我国在打击‘基地’组织的努力中最卓著的成就”。而对于大批的评论家、智库学者以及长期以来一直致力于追逐和捕捉拉丹动向的安全官员们来讲,这的确是个重要的时刻。从他们的个人角度来看,他们多年来为之努力奋斗的目标终于实现。这标志着反恐斗争的确取得了一定程度的进展。但是,对于这一事件的实际意义,大家还存有许多担忧。

“基地”组织是年轻时的本·拉丹在阿富汗反对苏军入侵时建立的。那时这个年轻的理想主义者放弃了自己在沙特的王子生活而成为一名战士,他认定,在阿富汗战胜苏军还不够,他还将继续下去并击败世界上的其他强权——美国,从而传递神的讯息。于是他发动了一场全球范围的伊斯兰圣战,以美国及其盟友为目标,在苏丹、阿富汗和巴基斯坦建立起一系列移动训练营,在那里其他的圣战战士得到训练,随后被送回去进行他们的死亡事业。

起初,“基地”组织由他直接管理和控制。该组织的前几次攻击他都亲自参与谋划:1998年针对内罗毕、肯尼亚和达累斯萨拉姆的美国外交机构的袭击造成近200人死亡;2000年在也门炸伤美国军舰造成19人死亡;2001年的“9·11”事件杀死了近三千余人。而正是“9·11”以后,美国才发动了对阿富汗和伊拉克的军事行动,本·拉丹的恶名全球皆知,对于这个极端激进的伊斯兰恐怖者及其以暴力推进伊斯兰教法行为的关注激增。

但世界的反应也令拉丹不得不转入地下活动。一些从他身边圈子里传出来的消息表明,这样的结果多少出乎他的意料,而且躲躲藏藏也严重影响了他对于恐怖组织的管理。

后来那些体现其“思想”的恐怖袭击,则实际是由他们的“中层干部”以拉丹的名义策划和组织完成。那些发生在伦敦、伊斯坦布尔、巴厘以及阿富汗和巴基斯坦国内的恐怖阴谋都与“基地”组织及其分支有关。但除此以外,还有其它的恐怖组织响应拉丹。在北非、索马里和也门的恐怖组织也发布消息对拉丹表示赞誉和感谢。除了有组织的恐怖行动,还有一些需求生命意义的过度兴奋的年轻人,为拉丹的全球反美号召所吸引,在尝试以他的名义展开活动。

无论拉丹“行动指挥”的角色如何被减弱,他都还是“基地”组织和全球伊斯兰极端运动的偶像。他从隐藏地(现在我们知道是在阿伯塔巴德)时不时发布的一些录音,被他世界各地的追随者所期盼和倾听。他这种持续的隐蔽状态成为极端主义者们的一种标志——圣战仍在继续而且还有可能成功。因而在这种意义上,拉丹作为“圣战”的标志性人物,他的死讯对于反恐斗争的双方是具有重要意义的。

显然,“基地”组织的许多分支将会以此为契机展开对西方的全球反攻。此外在中期预测上,我们也将继续看到来自北方、索马里和也门的区域性恐怖组织从他们的基地发起死亡攻击。今年全球各地也已经发生了多起恐怖袭击事件,而且他们仍可能继续。战争将会持续。

无论如何,通过美军在巴基斯坦无畏且确凿的打击,终于消灭了“基地”组织的一个重要头领。这既证明了西方世界有进行成功打击的能力,也表明一场以粉碎“基地”组织为目标的战争确实正在进行展开——这些,都可以在某种程度上回答一些人心中日渐加重的疑问:十年了,我们究竟在干什么?而拉丹的死也许会令“基地”组织的人产生动摇,他们的“胜利”究竟应是什么含义?近来发生在埃及、突尼斯和利比亚的情况会让他们看到,还有其他的方式可以改变世界,而不必像拉丹倡导的那样。不管他们到底怎么想,拉丹的死讯将有助于减弱基地组织在全球的吸引力。

短期内,拉丹之死对中国的影响不大。中国被基地组织视为次等目标。但长远看,这意味着美国在阿富汗和南亚的关注和介入会减少。奥巴马总统要摆脱他继承的几场战争,而现在是一个加快步伐的好时机。我们可以从刺杀行动的细节中推测出中国的风险。据媒体报道,此次行动巴基斯坦并不知情,在美巴关系紧张的背景下,这毫不令人吃惊。但拉丹住在离伊斯兰堡不远的一处很显眼的住宅中,照理说很容易被附近驻扎的军队发现。这表明巴基斯坦政府仍未有效打击在其国内活动的激进主义势力,也意味着中国的边境仍存在着一个恐怖主义者的天堂。

这当然会成为美国和西方的问题。过去数年中,我们目睹数起大规模高调的恐怖袭击阴谋在巴基斯坦组织、流出实施,拉丹死后,这些活动将会继续。显然,美国和北约阿富汗安全部队需要继续奋力确保粉碎这些阴谋,直到阿富汗最终成为安全稳定之地。然而在西方公众看来,拉丹之死意味着问题的核心已被移除,“基地”组织将成为“过去时”。政治家将更少关注它,公众也会转而担心其他的威胁——除非有另外一次与“9·11”程度相当的袭击。

结果将是减少美国和北约在阿富汗的存在。一些军事力量将继续留存以确保粉碎那些仍在组织的恐怖计划,但总量将会减少。这意味着,该地区将更加需要靠自己的能力来试图解决巴基斯坦的长期战略问题。巴基斯坦作为极端主义活动中心和核武国家,似乎仍然同情那些支持国际恐怖分子的极端主义者。

拉丹之死是在与伊斯兰极端主义的斗争中的重大事件,但这并不是斗争的终点。历史学家将会看到,这不过是通向终点的一步而已。(白澜 译)

A new post for the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog – a good foreign policy blog that does not originate in the US. About a trip I recently made to Seoul, during which I had to make a pilgrimage to the border with the North. Interesting experience and one day I guess I would like to try to do it going the other way. One detail I realise I did not mention, I actually was visiting a Korean friend in Seoul, but he was not allowed to come on the same trip as the other foreigners. I did not quite catch if they are ever allowed to go and would welcome anyone who can tell me this. Thanks as ever to darling Sue Anne for her great photos.

A trip to the Cold War’s last border

By Raffaello Pantucci – 29 April 2011 3:26PM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Stepping into North Korean territory was not quite as dramatic as I thought it would be. The small huts straddling the demarcation line between North and South Korea in the Joint Security Area are small plots of land that are each half owned by each side.

Essentially neutral zones in which the two sides have official discussions when required, but that in true capitalist style, have been turned into part of a tourism trip by the enterprising South.

The trip to the DMZ from the South is one that starts in a hotel in Seoul where you take an hour and a half bus ride to the border.

A rather tall and camp Korean chap who referred to himself as the ‘Handsome Mr. Kim’ was our guide and spent the time regaling us with stories of North Korean activities .

Massive speaker systems that blasted propaganda to either side. Competitions between the two sides to build ever bigger buildings and flags. And stories of North Korean workers in the Kaeson industrial complex who would only get paid $5 of the $65 the companies were paying for them and would sneak out choco pie snacks that they would be given as an afternoon snack to sell on the black market.

He also warned of things we could not do: take pictures unless explicitly told to, attempt any communication with soldiers in the North or point across to the other side.

Failure to heed these warnings and we could be shot.

An older European woman who was on our trip looked horrified, wondering what on earth her gleeful looking husband had dragged her along to.

Once at Camp Boniface our passports were checked and they verified that no one had cameras of too high a resolution. Amusingly enough, the only chap whose camera was of too high a resolution was a Chinese tourist who had joined our group — them’s the rules the guides told us, but I have a feeling he felt singled out.

Then once at the border we were told in quite strict terms that no pictures could be taken of anything on the South Korean side — one American in the group transgressed and was forced to delete his pictures while a sunglassed Korean soldier loomed over him.

On the Northern side, only one soldier came out to stare at us as we watched the Hermit Kingdom from the comfort of the South.

Scanning us using binoculars, he unfortunately did not encourage his friends to come out and perform for us.

Inside the hut where I crossed the border, we were shown flags on the South side that had been placed behind glass since North Korean soldiers had come into the hut while former President Bush was in Seoul and blown their noses and shone their shoes with the US and South Korean flags that used to be there on little stands.

Having had our moment in the North, we were taken around the rather desolate area that makes up the official DMZ by bus, with a pass by the infamous spot where a tree being cut down almost led to war and to the Taesong (freedom) village that sits inside the DMZ, with a giant flagpole and cathedral and where people are encouraged to stay and be farmers with large subsidies and a tax free lifestyle.

The equivalent village in the North we were reliably told, was a Potemkin village with no one living in it, but with a giant 600kg DPRK flag flying high above it.

The final stop was the souvenir shop where we could buy seemingly unlimited supplies of mint North Korean currency and bottles of blueberry wine or an alarmingly bright green pear brandy.

I was of course tempted, though I did wonder where on earth they got this seemingly unlimited supply from and hoped that my money was not ending up in the North.

On the journey back, our guide complained about how bitter he and his countrymen were at all ‘their money’ that the previous government had been dishing our to his ‘greedy brother’ Kim Jong Il. I can only hope that my money did not also end there.

Back in Seoul we went past a square where preparations were underway for an anniversary event to commemorate the first anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan.

While Mr. Kim told us how lots of young Korean men had streamed to join the marines after that event, a number of the other Europeans on the bus had absolutely no idea what had taken place.

Photo by Sue Anne Tay.

A longer post for Free Rad!cals, looking in detail at the case of the Tipton Taliban (the title I had initially gone with) in the wake of the latest Wikileaks information dump. I do not think that these chaps were very serious jihadists, but more likely your archetypal jihadi tourists. Be very interested to hear the version from the chaps themselves and they should feel free to contact me should they come across this and feel so inclined.

The Tipton Three: Things Not Quite Adding Up

I have in the past touched upon the case of the Tipton Taliban (or the Tipton Three), the three chaps from the West Midlands who were picked up in November 2001 by Northern Alliance forces and eventually transferred into US custody at Guantanamo Bay. They were amongst the first detainees to be repatriated from Gitmo in March 2004 and went on to produce, with award winning filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, a film of their experience in Afghanistan, The Road in Guantanamo.

The film painted the men’s experience in a very naïf way – as four young men who headed to Pakistan for a friend’s wedding and while there, wandered into Afghanistan out of curiosity to see what was going on. In a petition submitted to the US Supreme Court Shafiq Rasul claimed that he had travelled to Pakistan in the first place “to visit relatives, explore his culture, and continue his computer studies.” Asif Iqbal instead said that he was going with the intention of marrying “a woman from his father’s small village.”

By November 2001 they were in Afghanistan and were captured amongst the many former Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters fleeing the overwhelming US and Northern Alliance onslaught. In a long confessionalthey published with the Center for Constitutional Rights, they recounted the toughness of their detention, first at the hands of General Rashid Dostum’s forces, then in a Kandahar prison before they were handed over to U.S. forces that moved them to Guantanamo, This made them into poster-children for those angry at Guantanamo and the way the US was pursuing its war on terror until in June 2007 when they agreed to participate in a Channel 4 show in which Rhuhel Ahmed admitted to having visited an Islamist training camp and to having learned how to handle weapons like AK-47s. In January 2010they confirmed this story during an interview about a BBC show which reunited two of them with one of their Guantanamo jailers, saying that “we all went to the Taliban training camp on many occasions to find out what was happening” and later “being in Afghanistan, we were at that age where….seeing a gun….you’d never seen a gun in the UK…you want to hold it.”

Now with the latest Wikileaks information release we have the version of their tale that they told their American interrogators and that was collated into a detainee assessment in late October 2003 (just under five months prior to their release). It must of course prefaced that some parts of their stories may have been obtained under duress, but nevertheless, the background stories that the Gitmo detainee assessments provide have the ring of truth to them – the consistencies between them, some of the very specific details about their pre-departure experiences in the UK, and especially in light of the men’s subsequent admissions (admittedly, it is mostly Rhuhel Ahmed who has done the on-air admissions since).

According to the newly published reports, in late 1999-2000 the men started to get interested in jihad. In Shafiq Rasul’s account, in 1999 they started to attend the Muslim community center in Tipton where “they were encouraged from the start, as Muslim youth, to fight jihad.” He reported that “a well-respected cleric named Sheikh Faisal visited the Tipton Mosque and encouraged the detainee and his friends to commit themselves to the armed struggle against the west.” In Rhuhel Ahmed’s telling, “he started thinking about jihad during the summer of 2000, after reading books on Afghanistan and the Taliban. He also listened to tapes and watched videos on the Chechnya Jihad,” all of which he obtained from the Maktabah al-Ansaar bookstore in Birmingham, UK (that was set up by Moazzam Begg a few years earlier). Asif Iqbal merely reports that “he was a member of the Tipton mosque” and “that he became interested in Jihad in 2000.

Inspired, in September 2000, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed both headed (a week apart) to, in Iqbal’s report “receive military training, to help him fulfill his desire to fight Jihad.” According to Ahmed, the two met in Karachi and stayed at a mosque in the city until they left for Quetta and then onto Kandahar where they “attended a forty-day training session sponsored by the Harakat al-Islami Bangladeshi.” Having completed their training, in November 2000 they headed to the frontlines staying “a few weeks between the front and Kabul.” Apparently this was not very exciting, as according to Ahmed, “their frontline tour mainly consisted of guard duty.” By late November they had had enough and on the 26ththey returned to the UK.

Until 9/11 when all three men (and a fourth man Munir Ali, also from Tipton who is believed to have died in Afghanistan) headed off to Afghanistan once again. Asif Iqbal is the most forthcoming on reasons behind this decision with his interrogators telling them that “he left on 27 September 2003 [I believe this is a typo which is meant to be 2001] to go and fight against the ‘crusades’…Bin Laden was being blamed for the attacks and that he wanted to ‘fight for Bin Laden.” He went on say that President Bush was responsible “for the conspiracy against the Taliban” and that “the Jews had been the ones who attacked America.” Clearly fired up with zeal, he grabbed a flight “first class, one way.” The others (Rhuhel Ahmed, Munir Ali, and Shafiq Rasul) joined him just over a week later, leaving the UK on October 5th, 2001, and, according to Rhuhel, “basically took the same route from the previous trip.” Shafiq Rasul fills in more details saying that once in Karachi they met up with Abdul Rahman, “a known member of Harakat ul Jihad al Islami.” He organised their trip to Afghanistan, where the three of them met up again with Asif Iqbal.

At this point, their stories diverge a bit. According to Shafiq Rasul they were near the frontlines in Kabul for about ten days hiding in caves “with other Pakistanis, while coalition forces bombed the area.” Rhuhel Ahmed and Asif Iqbal instead say that following their meeting they went to a training camp near Kabul (an analyst speculates in Asif Iqbal’s statement that this might be the al Faruq camp), which Ahmed describes as “an old Russian military camp.” According to Iqbal, they stayed here for four weeks and were “bored.” So much so that they headed back into Pakistan for “sightseeing.” In his telling, after a couple of weeks drifting “they decided to return to Afghanistan, to rejoin the Jihad” – returning to Kabul they went to Bagram “to fight” for a couple of weeks. They then returned to Kabul and were instructed to head to the mountains where the frontline had been established. In Rhuhel Ahmed’s account, at the end of October they finished their training and went to Kandahar, then Kunduz before ending up in the mountains outside Kabul.

From this position in the mountains, the men appear to agree that they realised they were in a bad spot. According to Rhuhel Ahmed “they witnessed heavy US bombing raids” while Asif Iqbal recalls “one bomb landed approximately 50 meters away and ‘wiped out a whole mountain’.” They decided to try to get out to Pakistan, and as they were ended up getting caught with other Taliban aligned fighters by Uzbek General Rashid Dostum’s forces. Having been incarcerated and recognised as foreigners, the General’s forces sold them to the Americans for a reward and the men eventually ended up in Guantanamo.

It is highly likely that while in the custody of General Dostum’s forces, they underwent some nasty experiences, and no doubt Guantanamo was pretty harsh. But this new version of events goes a bit further in discrediting the rose-tinted version that they portrayed in their movie. Undoubtedly, US intelligence seems faulty and determined to conclude that they are more than they say. The American assessments for Ahmed and Iqbal lock onto the fact that they believe the men were at a rally in Afghanistan in winter 2000/2001 where Osama bin Laden spoke and “several of the 9/11 hijackers were present.” As it turns out, British intelligence was able to prove that all three were in the UK at the time; Rasul was in fact working at a Curry’s in the West Midlands. That he appears to have confessed to being in Afghanistan at the time is likely evidence of his mistreatment – all of which seems a bit excessive for an individual who while clearly misguided, was not an Al Qaeda kingpin.

No doubt this will not be the last that we hear from these men. They seem to enjoy the spotlight of publicity and their cause has been taken up by others as a way of shining a light on American misdeeds. Unfortunately, little digging has been done into their reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place and it would be good to get a more candid version from them of their story at some point – especially in light of these new documents.