September 27, 2011

US must work with India

Tuesday, 27 September 2011 23:43


US's national security has been held hostage by nearly two decades of unfulfilled expectations from Pakistan. It is now imperative for the US to strengthen its relationship with India's internal security architecture to counter the menace of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Both countries must commit themselves to jointly combat the threat to India, the US and the world 

India and the United States share similar histories in regard to homeland security events and counter-terrorism practices. Two tragic and catastrophic events, the 9/11 attacks in the United States and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in India, illuminated previously unseen homeland security issues and refocussed each nation's strategic consciousness. As in the United States, an evolving terror threat has fuelled calls for reform in the internal security architecture of India.

It is vital that the United States work with the Indian Government to strengthen the efficacy of their internal security architecture and to develop common best practices and intelligence sharing protocols among United States and Indian law enforcement, intelligence, and security services. In short, United States and Indian officials should commit themselves to forging the practitioner-to-practitioner relationships necessary to counter the terror threat to India, to the United States, and around the globe.

I do not make these recommendations lightly and I recognise the challenges such pose at the operational and strategic level — especially in regard to Pakistan. Yet, I am equally cognisant of the fact that India is a key democratic ally in an unstable region dominated by extremism. This extremism presents itself in multiple forms. Not only jihadis and Islamist separatists operating in Jammu & Kashmir, but also Maoists in the Naxalite region in the east, the re-emergence of the Sikh terrorist organisation Babbar Khalsa and to a lesser extent the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) all threaten Indian internal security. Furthermore, the threats India faces from extremist networks within the country and beyond, affect not only Indian public safety, but directly threaten United States national security interests — jihadi extremism posing the greatest threat.

Yes, enhanced cooperation with India will complicate United States cooperation with Pakistan. The truth is, however, that America-Pakistan cooperation is erratic, and varies based on the political climate and bureaucratic interests in Islamabad, with attitudes and actions varying between and across agencies. The cooperative relationships that do exist at the practitioner level with our Pakistani partners will survive, even if the political rhetoric becomes more strained — self-interest will ensure such. In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, when United States-Pakistan relations seemed to be at a low point, there were still some reasons for optimism. Consider the recent arrest of Younis al-Mauritani, described as Al Qaeda's foreign minster, at a compound in the Pakistani suburbs of Quetta. The arrest was made as a result of high-level ISI-CIA cooperation, and was one of the most high-profile Al Qaeda arrests made by Pakistani security forces.

However, despite some recent promising developments, the United States cannot allow its national security to be held hostage by nearly two decades of unfulfilled expectations in Pakistan. It is vital that the United States now work to deepen America's cooperative relationships with India's internal security architecture to counter the terror threat that permeates and extends beyond the region.

The United States and India face common challenges as they work to defend against a host of threats, both regional and global. The threat environment the United States and India face today is one that is different from yesterday and one that will change tomorrow. It has metastasised and morphed and comes in various forms, ranging from Al Qaeda senior leadership, which despite the recent deaths among their leadership ranks, should still be seen as a danger to US interests, to Al Qaeda's affiliates who continue to grow in reach and numbers — namely Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operating out of Yemen; Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operating out of North Africa and spreading throughout the Sahel, as well as training other militant groups like Boko Haram; and al-Shabaab in Somalia, Al Qaeda's East African wing.

Regionally, we have seen the conflation of jihadi organisations in Pakistan. United States' and Indian national interests and shared counter-terrorism vision should be based on this common threat. These organisations increasingly ascribe and subscribe to Al Qaeda's goals, vision and objectives. This witches' brew of organisations, from the Haqqani Network to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, from Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan to Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami, from Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Islamic Jihad Union to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is coming together and cooperating on a tactical and sometimes strategic basis, linked by an affinity for militant Islamist ideology. While countless terrorist groups target Indian soil, and United States interests in Afghanistan and the broader South-East Asian region, several groups have found refuge in Pakistan as they continue to expand their network and pose a greater danger to the United States and India. Pakistan has significant, historical links to HQN and LeT, and both organisations pose serious security implications for United States interests.

LeT, or 'Army of the pure,' was created in the early 1990s as a militant wing of the Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist organisation Markaz Dawual-Irshad. This group was founded in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, in order to fight alongside the Taliban against the Soviet Union, and is now based in Muridke near Lahore in Pakistan. Its formation was supposedly aided by instruction and funding from Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, which gave this support in exchange for the LeT promising to target Hindus in Jammu & Kashmir, and train Muslim extremists on Indian soil. Like several other key Islamist militant groups, the LeT follows a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, or the Wahhabi theological tradition. Although the group was formed to help fight alongside the Taliban, its primary goal was to drive out the Indian forces in the Kashmir region and establish an Islamic caliphate instead of Hindi rule, challenging India's sovereignty over Kashmir and seeking to unite all Muslim areas surrounding Pakistan.
Over time, the breadth and reach of the group's goals have evolved. It is becoming more clear that in recent years LeT has begun to expand its sights globally, extending beyond Kashmir and India to include Western targets such as Washington, Tel Aviv, as well as New Delhi. Now instead of solely waging war to impose Islam over all of India, the group has adopted the ideology of other militant Islamist groups that have a more holistic anti-western approach, seeking to implement Islam worldwide and unite the Muslims of the world. LeT has proclaimed that it has chosen the "path of jihad" in order to liberate all Muslims from non-Muslim rule, especially under democratic systems. LeT is responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks which targeted Westerners and the renowned international Taj Hotel in India's largest city.

While LeT is perhaps the most widely known terrorist threat to India in the region, other entities operating out of Pakistan demonstrate similar capabilities. One such organisation is the Haqqani Network. This organisation is currently led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, but originated in the 1970s and has formed significant ties with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in the years since its inception. Today, the Haqqani Network is operationally based in North Waziristan, the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They receive protection and support from facets of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, which continues to drag its feet on taking action against the Haqqanis because they see the network as a useful proxy to expand their influence and establish footholds in Afghanistan. Because the Haqqani network is seen by parts of Pakistan's Government as a valuable ally, the Government has refused to take action in the tribal regions of Waziristan which creates safe havens, not only for the Haqqanis but for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations, with which the Haqqanis are intimately involved.
The Haqqani Network poses a significant threat to the United States (which strangely, and inadvisably, has not been designated a foreign terrorist organisation) and Indian interests in the region, as it is believed that the organisation is a powerful insurgent force in Afghanistan, one that targets coalition forces as well as Indian investments and interests in the country. The network has long served as an enabler, predominantly for Al Qaeda, but with the overarching goal of expanding global militancy. It is believed that the Haqqanis carried out the Kabul hotel bombing in June. Counter-insurgency operations over the past year have seen success against the Haqqanis but a sustained counter-terrorism effort is needed to prevent regeneration.

A third terrorist organisation exercising significant influence in the region is Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami. While HuJI's founding purpose was to counter Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, their goals have shifted to targeting Indian military forces and interests in Kashmir. A key player in HuJI's growth has been Ilyas Kashmiri, head of Al Qaeda operations in Pakistan. While his whereabouts are currently unknown, targeted strike missions by US drones likely killed him earlier this year. Similar surgical attacks in the region resulted in the death of Al Qaeda's second-in-command last month, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. The deaths of these crucial figures, 'bridge builders', both among regional terrorist groups and within the ranks of the organisations themselves, proves the value in continued drone campaigns.
HuJI, the militant group Kashmiri led, played an important role in the conflation and cooperation of extremist organisations in the region. Kashmiri spent years in the Pakistani Army's Special Forces and fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets. He was able to translate that experience into effective leadership of HuJI's forces in Kashmir. In a long string of high-profile terror attacks on targets in India, he displayed the full range of his training and planning abilities. This blend of expertise, together with a pragmatic action-oriented mindset, made him a unique commodity in the jihadi world. Few, if any, other leaders had comparable organisational skills, or were as well positioned to spur global jihad. To that end, he developed strong personal connections with myriad Islamist terrorist groups, including LeT, the Haqqani network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and, most importantly, the senior leadership of Al Qaeda. Each group valued his ability to convert the grand aspirations of its leaders into practicable plans of attack. Unsurprisingly, Kashmiri and HuJI both appeared on the 'most wanted' lists drafted by the United States, Pakistan, and India. Among other things, Kashmiri served as Al Qaeda's principal in interaction with radicals in the West, and acted as a coordinator between David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana of Chicago, and LeT, in their work together on the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Leveraging the strengths of each group to complement the others, Kashmiri was able to build bridges between organisations that would otherwise have competed for resources, recruits, and publicity.

Instead of resting on our laurels, now is the time to double down and pull out all the stops, by striking hard — again and again — while Al Qaeda is back on its heels. Careful use of drones, underpinned by intelligence, will help consolidate recent counter-terror gains. With luck, there will soon be more opportunities such as this to highlight and profile valuable Al Qaeda leaders lost. A decapitation strategy may not be sufficient to ensure strategic victory, but there is a reason the term 'high value target' exists and we should make it our business to eliminate as many of them as possible as quickly as possible.

Even from this brief snapshot, three specific conclusions can be drawn. First, that the national security risks originating from this region threaten both the United States and India. Second, that the danger does not arise from the actions of a nation-state that can be deterred through the traditional tools of statecraft — but from the intentions, actions, and aspirations of an expanding nexus of terrorist organisations, criminal gangs, and rogue nation and sub-national state entities. Third, the antecedent social, political and economic conditions that gave rise to this threat domain have a long history and are not immediately solvable — in short, the elimination of the root causes of these threats are beyond the capabilities of any one country (including the United States).

What are the implications of such conclusions? Again, there are three. First, the United States must partner with other nation-states that have not only the capability but the political will to address these issues — both within their borders and beyond. Second, that to meet these threats, the United States and others must not only develop innovative strategies — ones that not only blend intelligence, paramilitary force, conventional force, and policing — but also establish national and international networks that interconnect the efforts of those organisations that will carry out such strategies. Third, to avoid exhaustion on the part of their organisations and citizenry and in recognition of the budgetary constraints we now face, the United States and allied countries must make the difficult decisions necessary to target effort only to those operations where what is achieved is worth what is expended. The reality is this: For reasons tied to both tactics and treasury, the United States needs to lighten its footprint (including in Afghanistan) and increase its flexibility, acumen, and lethality.

(The writer is a director of Homeland Security Policy Institute at the George Washington University. This is an excerpt from his testimony to the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.)

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