Women’s Rights Movements in the ‘Arab Spring’: Major Victories or Failures for Human Rights?

30 07 2015

Women’s Rights Movements in the ‘Arab Spring’:  Major Victories or Failures for Human Rights?

by Hayat Alvi, Ph.D.

Journal of International Women’s Studies

Vol. 16, No. 3 July 2015


What Mullah Omar’s Death Means

30 07 2015

Taliban Mullah Omar Afghan Flag

This week the news media buzzed about the Afghan government’s announcement that the Taliban’s long time leader Mullah Omar died from illness. In fact, some sources claim that he had died in 2013. There are conflicting reports about whether he died in Afghanistan or in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan is denying the latter version. If true, then that would be yet another huge embarrassment for Pakistan, following the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the U.S. targeted assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. The timing of announcing Mullah Omar’s death, and the internal wrangling among senior Taliban leaders that followed the announcement, are all very telling.

First, it begs the question: Is this a major intelligence failure? Or, have world powers including the U.S. been aware of Mullah Omar’s demise in 2013? If so, then why keep it a secret for so long? Second, why should Pakistan’s denials be taken at face value, given the bin Laden legacy? Third, who leaked this news about his death? Fourth, no doubt the source of the leak is aware of the fragility of the current Afghan-Taliban peace talks taking place. Does that mean the leak is intended to derail the so-called peace talks? Fifth, Mullah Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, a close confidant to Mullah Omar, is also very close to the Haqqani Network, which the U.S. considers a dangerous terrorist organization, and frequently targets its leadership with drone strikes. In fact, Siraj Haqqani has been appointed as Mullah Mansour’s deputy, which is a major chess move.

The situation in the Af-Pak region is extremely complicated, and it’s only getting worse with the changing dynamics and configurations involving a mindboggling number of militias, warlords, religious extremists and militants, drug traffickers, criminal elements, and corrupt officials. And now thrown into the mix we have, supposedly, an ISIS cell opening shop there too. Hence, what we see on the surface is much more complex underneath. Mullah Omar’s death and the belated announcement is not only the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom of the massive and violent glaciers and fault-lines that lie underneath, ready to explode or implode at any moment.

Consider the internal dynamics of the Afghan Taliban. According to the BBC News, Mullah Mansour’s appointment as the new Taliban leader did not come from consensus, which means that the Taliban are very divided. A Taliban faction prefers Mullah Omar’s son, Yaqub, to take his father’s mantle. Sounds familiar, no? That echoes the split between Sunnis and Shias that happened some 1400 years ago. The patterns and trends that drive schisms within Islamic extremist groups never grow old.

Mullah Mansour favors the peace talks with the Afghan government. Not all Taliban members agree with this move. And, interestingly, unlike Mullah Omar who held the title “Emir al-Mu’mineen” (“Commander of the Faithful,” a very important appellation in Islamic history), Mullah Mansour is called the “Supreme Leader.” To make matters more confusing, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamene’i bears the title Supreme Leader, and the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself Emir al-Mu’mineen.

Competition among Islamic militant/terrorist groups is fierce, clearly both between and within them. However, while this configuration might seem ideal for the divide-and-conquer strategy that many governments employ, we should not be fooled to think, for a moment, that this is the end of the Taliban. They will regroup, they might have break-off factions appear here and there, but in general the Taliban are not going anywhere in the Af-Pak region. If anything, the fact that the Afghan government is engaging in peace talks with the Taliban indicates that they are a force and entity to contend with, warts and all.

Oh, and one more thing about Mullah Mansour, during the Taliban reign in the mid-1990s, he was actively serving as a minister in the Taliban government, and, according to BBC News, “he had an active role in drug trafficking” (“Mullah Omar: Taliban choose deputy Mansour as successor ,”BBC News, July 30, 2015).

In light of this, consider the following passage excerpted from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) April 30, 2015 Quarterly Report (page 46):

“The U.S. government has spent over $8 billion since 2001 on a diverse set of counternarcotics initiatives aimed at reducing the amount of opium poppy that is grown in Afghanistan; reducing the assistance insurgent forces receive from the proceeds of opium trafficking; and reducing the consumption and export of opium products. Counternarcotics initiatives include eradicating opium poppies in farmers’ fields; seizing and destroying harvested opium and refined heroin; arresting and prosecuting drug traffickers; providing alternative crops and income sources to the people who rely on poppy cultivation for their livelihood; campaigning to reduce local demand for opium; and building Afghan capacity to reduce poppy cultivation with less international assistance. However, these efforts have not achieved the overarching objective of reducing the supply of opium in Afghanistan. In fact, opium poppy cultivation has risen dramatically from 8,000 hectares in 2001 to 224,000 hectares in 2014.”

The playing field for the variety of militants and warlords in the Af-Pak region has only expanded in recent years. The Taliban recognize their competition – both internal and external – yet they remain active in carrying out violent attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, Mullah Mansour is shrewdly allied with the Haqqani network, which could be highly beneficial for both.

Plus, Afghanistan and the U.S. and ISAF/NATO allies have numerous Achilles heels when it comes to their efforts in Afghanistan. For example, on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) side, the picture is far from rosy. The SIGAR report (pages 3-4) tells a troubling set of facts:

“SIGAR has issued two audit reports that highlight the challenges the United States faces in gathering reliable information about the total size of the ANSF, reported as of February 20, 2015, to number 328,805 personnel. A new SIGAR audit of the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) personnel and payroll data, as well as one released in January of the Afghan National Police’s (ANP) personnel and payroll data, found no assurance that these data are accurate.

Without reliable data on ANSF strength, the United States cannot determine whether the billions it has spent on recruiting, training, equipping, and sustaining the ANSF since fiscal year (FY) 2002 has been spent properly, or accurately calculate what additional funding may be needed.

… Numbers provide a basis for budgeting and planning—including planning the pace of U.S. and other Coalition forces’ drawdown from Afghanistan.

SIGAR’s audit of ANA personnel data illustrates the cause for concern. A team of SIGAR auditors made unannounced visits to the headquarters of the Afghan National Army’s 207th Corps in Herat Province and the 209th Corps in Balkh Province, and the Afghan Air Force (AAF) air wing based in Kabul. The auditors collected information on 134 service personnel present for duty. Of these, the identities of only 103 could be verified against ANA personnel data. One in nine had no ANA identification card. Of 35 persons present at Balkh, only 23 had an ANA ID card, and five were not listed in the ANSF human-resources database.”

There is much hope and support pinned on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to turn the security situation around, which would allow U.S. and Coalition troops to draw down significantly. In that spirit, President Ghani has conveyed a message to the Taliban. He is quoted as saying, “The Taliban need to choose not to be al Qaeda, and be Afghan.” For now, Mullah Omar’s death announcement has thrown a wrench into that process, while countless other ominous militant groups wait in the wings. Don’t hold your breath.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in National Security Affairs.

The views expressed are personal.

Sins of the Colonial Fathers

15 07 2015

Sins of the Colonial Fathers

The Bridge, Newsletter of the US Naval War College, Vol. 17, Fall 2014

PAGE 11:


ME Map


The Post-Secular Republic: Turkey’s Experiments with Islamism

14 07 2015

Air and Space Power Journal, 2nd Quarter 2015


PDF File:     http://www.au.af.mil/au/afri/aspj/apjinternational/aspj_f/digital/pdf/articles/2015_2/alvi_e.pdf

Hagia_Sophia_Istanbul         turkey flag

The Right Number – “PK” is Outstanding, and Religions are Indeed the Opiates of the Masses

1 01 2015


“Civilization” will never civilize itself until and unless the obstacles to proactive intellectual and rational thinking and questioning are completely eliminated.  Here we are in 2015 now, and the world is overflowing with superstition, ignorance, and voluntary submission to the greatest con-artists in human history:  the “religious establishments,” empowered with foot soldiers extorting money from the poor and vulnerable with each breath and word and turn of the head.  Spirituality has nothing to do with the big RE (religious establishments) — they are big businesses, in ALL religions.

The film “PK” is a MUST see, and those who already judge it as a “hate” film are not those who have watched it and fully understood it.  That is crystal clear.  Notice the angry, violent reactions against PK.  No wonder; after all, fundamentalists (I like calling them religious fascists) in ALL religions are the same in their hatred, anger, intolerance, narrow mindedness, and propensity for violence.  Made from the same mold and mindset.  Also, it’s important to note that what PK represents is not unique to just one faith, but reflected in all religions.  No exceptions.

Religion is the most successful marketing racket ever.  And, its most effective tool has been FEAR, as the film points out so well.

It’s about time people open their eyes and minds to the realities that all religious establishments have agendas — top among them is money making; also the agendas include controlling the masses and exerting power over them.  What could be more intoxicating?  What could be more enticing for the greedy FAT CATS with very FAT WALLETS, who keep asking for more and more and more?  How can humanity allow these criminals to get away with their thefts, not only of money, but also of dignity, self-esteem and confidence, and ownership of oneself?  Yes, religion is a type of mental slavery.  The difference is that far too many humans willingly volunteer to become slaves to it.  Even in 2015.

Please watch “PK” (in Hindi with English subtitles) with an open mind:



The views expressed are personal.

Sins of the Colonial Fathers – Why the Goal of ISIS is So Attractive

22 12 2014

This is my article about ISIS in the current issue of the NWCF newsletter, The Bridge (Fall 2014):


Sins of the Colonial Fathers – The Bridge Fall 2014

To Kill a Mocking Film

20 12 2014

flowers at Sydney Cafe Candle light vigil Peshawar


Film The Interview










You left and I cried tears of blood. My sorrow grows. It’s not just that You left. But when You left my eyes went with You. Now, how will I cry? – Rumi

The above quote reflects the unbearable grief of this past week that witnessed some of the most horrific acts of violence and terror in Sydney, Australia, and most poignantly, in Peshawar, Pakistan, where 132 school children and plus their teachers and administrators were viciously and methodically killed at the hands of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It’s enough to numb the mind and shatter the sinking heart.

But, as if this moment in history has been carefully scripted, the week has culminated with a climax and anti-climax that no one saw coming. For a few weeks, Sony Studios engaged in steady promotions of its Christmas Day premier of the film, “The Interview,” a mocking, satirical comedy of a CIA-led assassination plot targeting North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. No doubt, the film and story line are in poor taste, and the keen eye could see that, despite its comedic and satirical contexts, the film cannot be divorced from real world politics. The oxymoronically named “Guardians of Peace” (GOP) hacking group reminded those who needed reminding that this film is not only politically loaded, but perceived by many (read: North Korea’s leader and his loyal minions) as highly offensive, inappropriate, and duly punishable for entertaining the idea, let alone depict it. Sony is their bulls-eye target, and the punishment is promised to be painful and severe. If you had any doubts until now, here it is for the record: This saga is North Korea’s ‘shock and awe’ tactic, which seems to be wholly successful, in the somewhat new domain and high stakes of cyber warfare. From the beginning, North Korea has called the production of this film “an act of war.” North Korea has made good on its threats to retaliate, assuming the FBI is correct in its assessment that the hermit kingdom is behind the extremely embarrassing leaks of Sony executives’ emails, hacks of the upcoming films that are not yet released and uploading them on the internet, and threats to release Sony employees’ and corporate heads’ personal information, including social security numbers, salaries, bank information, and the like, to the public. Sony said “Uncle, Kim.”

This entire episode sets a dangerous precedent. It also contains some ominous linkages to the bloodbaths in Pakistan and Australia earlier in the week. Sony’s surrender to the GOP’s demands has achieved within a matter of days what years, and sometimes decades, of diplomacy and economic sanctions employed against a given “rogue” country might achieve incrementally: that achievement is simply to get the other party to do what you want them to do, and not do what you don’t want them to do. And, this was not even involving solely non-state actors targeting a state. The Sony episode indicates that a state, North Korea, has successfully and effectively utilized a proxy group, the GOP, to threaten a major, multi-billion dollar multinational corporation, Sony, which produced its film in its Hollywood studios in the United States, the sole superpower in the post-Cold War era. Everyone is taking notice; and that includes some incredibly unsavory characters. This “cyber-manipulation,” and some call it cyber-terrorism, signifies a new perspective and context in modern international relations. This is a game changer, as the goal posts have shifted.

How easy has it been for the GOP / North Korea to access Sony employees’ personal information and films that Sony has yet to release, and to issue threats? Think about it: the criminal mind will observe that the GOP easily killed a mocking film; what else can similar tactics make powerful states do to dance to the terrorists’ tunes? The global community is entering a scary new frontier in the fight against terrorism, on the ground as well as in cyberspace.

Think about this: How hamstrung are we today? No one can, or will, find and rescue the hundreds of Nigerian girls and women that the terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped with impunity. Who has bothered to rescue the countless Yezidi girls and women that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has grabbed and trafficked? We play “whack-a-mole” against numerous terrorist groups proliferating worldwide, but they continue to terrorize and brutalize untold innocent civilians. Now, thanks to the GOP / North Korea, the terrorists of the world have found a better tool in the terror toolbox. Fear is their ultimate objective, as well as their method. We think that the Peshawar massacre of innocent school children is a “turning point,” as many pundits are describing the new drive in counter-terrorism. But, the playing field has been rendered multidimensional now, and proven capable of making a powerful corporation change its course of action.

The global community of state actors will need to reassess their respective and collective legal, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism frameworks and tactics to encompass all of these dimensions and playing fields. The GOP has taught us that it’s simple to kill a mocking film. In the future, how simple will it be to kill via cyber tactics? This is the stuff of science fiction nightmares. It’s not science fiction, though. Terrorist entities already manage to shape the behavior and actions of others – including states, organizations, corporations, and individuals – while the latter are utterly failing to do the reverse.

I close with a quote by Ian Rush: “And the things that we fear are a weapon to be held against us.”

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College.

The views expressed are personal.


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