Twelve reality bytes

Let us get the facts on the table first about the global security situation in a context where discussions on WMDs are now relegated to international conferences and sporadic discussions about Iran and North Korea. The threat that is pre-eminent today is terrorism.

Facts: The Abbottabad Commission report describes the Osama incident as a ‘story of complacency, negligence, irresponsibility at various levels in and outside government’

Fact One. In our neighbourhood, Al Qaeda sits on top of a heap of various jihadi organisations like the Quetta Shura of Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, India-specific Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, sectarian Sunni militias Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipaha-e-Sahaba or Ahle Wal Sunnat Jamaat, and finally, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Fact Two. All these terror outfits have had close links with the Pakistani state through the ISI and the Army. They have been trained, sheltered, equipped and carefully nurtured by the Pakistani state for more than two decades.

Fact Three. Many of the mainstream political parties took the help of these terror organisations in their election campaign in the Punjab last May. There is collusion of interest and there is always a payback time.

Fact Four. The only one which has turned sour for the Pakistani Deep State has been the TTP. There are other smaller players who are like bit players and disappear when not needed by the directors of the drama.

Fact Five. The recently disclosed Abbottabad Commission report described the Osama incident as a “story of complacency, ignorance, negligence, incompetence, irresponsibility and possibly worse, at various levels inside and outside the government.” This is a damning indictment without naming names and it is clear to anyone that the reference is the Deep State, especially the expression “and possibly worse”.

Fact Six. Khaled Ahmed, a well-known Pakistani commentator said in a recent column that Al Qaeda had spread out into the Islamic world. Its presence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, and Egypt was so pronounced that one forgets its headquarters were in Pakistan, because after the death of Osama bin Laden, its next leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri was still here.

Fact Seven. It is from some hideout similar to that of Osama bin Laden that Zawahiri must be passing on instructions to his followers. It simply suits every one in the West not to talk about Zawahiri as part of the unfinished agenda. The US and its allies are preparing to leave Afghanistan and would not want to be reminded of Zawahiri. It suits Pakistan not to talk about him because they would not want to face another uncomfortable disclosure about their complicity.

Fact Eight. The US has closed down 21 of its diplomatic missions and consulates in the Middle East for a week beginning August 5, fearing terror attacks.

Some other countries have also closed their missions. Today the world sees one power with global reach, Al Qaeda, shutting out the US, a global super power, out of the region for a week. A global alert of this nature was largely based on intercepted intelligence between Al Qaeda leaders as revealed in the US press. This could be repeated elsewhere.

Fact Nine. Separately, Interpol had issued alerts about Al Qaeda-linked jailbreaks in nine countries. This has been issued after jailbreaks in Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan, Benghazi in Libya and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

Fact Ten. Both these alerts by the US Government and Interpol must have been substantially based on intercepted intelligence.This takes us to the current debate following the Snowden disclosures about the extent of US surveillance and the various related privacy and legitimacy issues.

Fact Eleven. So long as there are global terrorist threats, global surveillance and cooperation between intelligence agencies is inevitable. The US with its global interests feels it faces global threats. It has the means to try and counter them; therefore it does misuse this capability. It has been doing this for years on friend and foe alike. But the whole point is how does an intelligence agency determine which link, email id, various social media sites, telephone numbers need to be followed except through data mining. HUMINT is not enough. It would help if critics of the system also suggested how to make them secure without breaching the sanctity of privacy. It is a long road to appropriate regulation against misuse.

Fact Twelve. None of the counter terror efforts will succeed unless global powers deal effectively and consistently with the epicentre of terrorism -- Pakistan. 

The writer is vice-president, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

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