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.

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“Innocence of Muslims” – Taking the Bait and Having a Field Day

14 09 2012

Writing on flags say: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”

No one has learned anything from past lessons.  The senseless violence snowballing throughout the Muslim world, supposedly in reaction to an amateurish 14-minute YouTube trailer for a film that no one can find in full length, is a stain on the 21st century.  The news media are presenting the cause of the violence as solely stemming from the anti-Islamic film, entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” which ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.  However, there is much more behind the causal factors of this epidemic violence than the simplistic headlines convey.  Here are some variables, based on my assessment, pertaining to this outbreak of violence, and all of them are interrelated:

  • Genuine emotions
  • Extremists Pulling Strings and Having a Field Day
  • 9/11 Timing
  • Grievances against People’s Governments
  • Taking the Bait

No doubt, many Muslims are expressing genuine hurt feelings and passionate emotions in reaction to insults and offenses targeting Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam, in the film trailer.  If we look back at the Salman Rushdie affair in the 1980s, we see that such sensitivities have not changed, and on the part of more orthodox and conservative Muslims, they have only intensified.  In addition, this film comes in a long series of anti-Islam expressions, like the Danish cartoons, the threat of Quran burning by Terry Jones, the accidental Qurans burned in Afghanistan, etc.  These recent incidents have only reinforced the narrative among many Muslims that the West is against Islam and permits such offenses with impunity.  That’s the perception fueling the anger and hatred.  Yet, there is no condemnation of killings in response to these perceived offenses, like the murder of Theo Van Gogh, for example.  Objective parity is not part of the narrative in this case.

Such hurt feelings and anger never justify the violence and vandalism that the recent protests have generated.  In the big picture, so many films, TV shows, art exhibits, and popular culture programs and performances have insulted Christianity and other religions.  Consider “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “South Park,” and “Monty Python,” to name a few, which are film producers and programs that have repeatedly ridiculed Christianity and other faiths with the sharpest irreverence and mockery, yet we never see violent reactions to them.

Among Islam’s ultra-orthodox and extremist elements, resorting to violence and calling for the death of the offenders are all too quick to the draw.  No one seems to pause and consider the consequences and damage to Islam’s image as a whole, as they become so consumed by their emotions and hatred.  There have been calls for peaceful protests by some, but mob mentality is hard to control especially once it gets out of hand.

This brings me to extremists pulling strings behind the scenes and having a field day.  Undoubtedly, extremist leaders at local levels see an opportunity in manipulating and exploiting the emotions and passions of the masses, especially those who embrace common extremist ideologies.  It is no coincidence that the attacks on the US consulate in Libya and the US embassy in Egypt fell on September 11th, which reinforces the theory that there is more to this violent fervor than just emotive reactions to the offensive film, which most protesters have not even seen (and for the record, the trailer is not worth one’s precious time).  Some analysts are also pointing to the revenge factor, especially in the case of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and his security detail.  In June Al Qaeda’s number two leader in Yemen was killed, and he happened to be Libyan.

Furthermore, the extremist Islamists are dismayed at being sidelined and even delegitimized upon the 2011 uprisings and revolutions that toppled decades-long secular dictatorships.  For just as long, these extremist groups spread throughout the region, although small in numbers, were forced to operate underground.  Once the revolutions took place last year through mostly nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, the extremists had the rug pulled from under them.  Even the Islamist parties that have come to power following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have to balance their respective Islamism with moderate secular and liberal ideals and policies.  This also angers the extremists, who feel that these Islamist governments are “too soft” in their Islamism.  Particularly in the case of Egypt and Sudan, Islamist hardliners are pressuring the governments to capitulate on some of their demands to implement stricter Shariah rules and policies.  These Islamists constitute major political constituents in some cases, and so the governments cannot be seen as leaning too much toward secularism and liberalism.

Similarly, the protesters, especially the young men, continue to hold grievances against their own governments for failing to meet their needs, especially providing jobs and a better future for the next generation.  Thus, woven into this discontent about the anti-Islam film are the underlying grievances against respective governments, especially for socioeconomic reasons.  Change is not occurring fast enough for many, and this has been an opportunity to express their multi-layered anger.

Anti-Western and especially anti-American sentiments are also being exploited by various elements.  Many people in the region, but certainly not all, see Western values, especially freedom of expression, as “boundary-less,” meaning that these freedoms and rights have no limits.  This is not exactly true, because we have laws against “hate speech” and of course the exception to the First Amendment right to free speech and expression exists for the sake of public order and safety, prohibiting incitement of violence.  The “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” phrase aptly describes this exception.

But, most people in the region are not aware of these provisions and exceptions.  They simply see that an American national has funded and produced this vile film, and that the US government should take action against such offenses, and place boundaries or “reasonable limits” on free speech and expression.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have unequivocally condemned this film, as well as the violence in the Muslim world.  But, they have no authority to undo the constitutional laws that grant all Americans First Amendment rights and freedoms.  The First Amendment embodies the fabric of American values, and, by the way, it also grants everyone the freedom of religion.  We should never compromise on that.

The last few days have been extremely sad, tragic, and disheartening.  Too many breaches have occurred, including the murder of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues.  Also, the loss of life of protesters is, in my opinion, such a waste.

According to a Reuters article (9/14/2012), entitled “Anti-American fury sweeps Middle East over Film” –

“At least seven people were killed as local police struggled to repel assaults after weekly Muslim prayers in Tunisia and Sudan, while there was new violence in Egypt and Yemen and across the Muslim world, driven by emotions ranging from piety to anger at Western power to frustrations with local leaders and poverty.”

The article also explains the balancing act that Egypt’s President Mursi must play regarding the Cairo protests and US relations (Egypt is the second highest recipient of US foreign aid):

“Mursi must tread a line between appealing to an electorate receptive to the appeal of more hardline Islamists and maintaining ties with Washington, which long funded the ousted military dictatorship.”

The Salafists are involved in most if not all of these violent protests.  I have repeatedly written about the dangers of Salafists, even in Tunisia, as the Reuters article describes:

“Further west along the Mediterranean, a Reuters reporter saw police open fire to try to quell an assault in which protesters forced their way past police into the U.S. embassy in Tunis. Some smashed windows, others hurled petrol bombs and stones at police from inside the embassy and started fires. One threw a computer from a window, others looted computers and telephones.

A Tunisian security officer near the compound said the embassy had not been staffed on Friday, and calls to the embassy went unanswered. Two armed Americans in uniform stood on a roof.

The protesters, many of whom were followers of hardline Salafist Islamist leaders, also set fire to the nearby American School, which was closed at the time, and took away laptops. The protests began after Friday prayers and followed a rallying call on Facebook by Islamist activists and endorsed by militants.”

This is shameful, disgusting, and criminal behavior, not much different in measure than the film producer, and in fact is even worse because lives have been lost.

This behavior also exhibits extreme immaturity at so many levels.  Islam is the youngest of the Judeo-Christian faiths, and its internal ideologies and diverse compositions and manifestations are still evolving.  As one student put it, Christianity used to be very puritanical, with the Inquisition, the Crusades, witch-burnings, and the like.  Islam is going through its phases and evolutions as well, some aspects of which are still very medieval in their outlook.  It’s imperative for the world’s Muslims to reconcile the internal conflicts and facilitate enlightenment and stamp out the extremist ideologies that are so harmful.  Puritanism serves no purpose, especially in the modern era.  It is extremely counterproductive and threatens regional and global peace and security.

Another point for the Muslim world to ponder is this:  given all the anti-Americanism and knee-jerk emotional and violent reactions that we’ve been witnessing throughout the Muslim world, Western powers will think twice before helping Muslims again, and that might include the opposition in Syria.

Finally, why people continue to take the bait is beyond comprehension.  Clearly, this film was intended to provoke anger and emotions.  Yet, it seems that repeatedly Muslims fail to transcend the temptations to react, especially so destructively.  Consider that the Prophet Muhammad’s own reputation and character should speak for himself.  Does he really need people to defend his name violently?  Isn’t something wrong with this picture?  It only gives perpetual license to the world’s provocateurs, who are probably rolling on the ground laughing, at the expense of global peace.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views





Let’s Reward Rapists and Thugs with Our Tax Dollars

23 03 2012

It has been announced that the United States will resume military aid to Egypt.  In fact, the announcement came from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, in many public statements over the years, has claimed to uphold women’s rights.

This decision, which is contrary to the stance that Congress has taken against the Egyptian military junta (called SCAF), smacks of political expediency in the guise of “national security interests,” at the expense of human rights and democracy in Egypt.  It undermines the pro-democracy ideals and the struggle to pressure SCAF to transfer power to civilian rule.

In a recent public speech, I actually said that:  “The U.S. must wean itself from any residue of ‘Cold War’ era thinking and policies.  The slate has been erased clean.”

And, in my December 2004 interview with pro-democracy activist Saad Eddine Ibrahim, in response to my question about what the US role should be pertaining to democratization in Egypt, he unequivocally stated:  to avoid support for dictators, even if they still appear as friends.”

This decision to resume military aid to Egypt’s military junta resembles Cold War era policies.  It also conveys the message that policy makers have learned nothing from history.  Throwing money at a power broker does not translate into actual sound and sincere policies coming out of that entity.

But, what’s worse is that this is the same regime that has violated so many women, including with the atrocious “virginity tests” of detainees, and then recently acquitting the “doctor” who performed them.  Under the watch of this regime, women have been assaulted with what can only be described as gang rape.  From Egyptian women, to foreign correspondents, like Lara Logan, working for the news media, all have been victims of these vicious assaults.  And remember the young woman wearing the blue bra?  Her brutal beating and stripping was caught on video.  This regime is also responsible for the deaths of many innocent people.  This regime has also tried repeatedly to undermine the pro-democracy movement, at times in the most ominous and sinister ways.

And yet, we reward them with $1.3 billion in military aid?  That’s absurd.

Supposedly, this deal has to do with preserving the “integrity” of the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement signed between the late President Anwar al-Sadat, Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and mediated by US President Jimmy Carter.  The accords led to a cold peace, rather than warm normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel, but nonetheless, it has prevented the outbreak of hostilities over the years.  That might the key ingredient that matters most to the US and Israel right now.  The accords have come with years of US foreign aid to Israel, the top recipient, followed by Egypt.  However, it’s hard to convince me that there are no alternatives to dumping more money in the laps of the military generals in Egypt, especially in the current political climate.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy agrees.  According to Al Jazeera

“Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator who sponsored the legislation that tied conditions to aid [to Egypt], said he was ‘disappointed’ by Clinton’s decision.

‘I know Secretary Clinton wants the democratic transition in Egypt to succeed, but by waiving the conditions we send a contradictory message,’ Leahy said in a statement.

‘The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy,’ he said.

Now that she has taken her decision, he said, Clinton should release funds in increments as Egypt demonstrates its commitment toward democracy following the revolution that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak in February last year.”

Meanwhile, an Egyptian military court has acquitted and will release Ayman Zawahiri’s brother, Mohammed Zawahiri, along with a militant convicted of planning attacks in Egypt, Mohammed Islambouli, brother of Khaled, who killed Sadat.  According to Dawn Newspaper –

“In 1998, Zawahiri and Islambouli were sentenced on charges of undergoing military training in Albania and planning military operations in Egypt.

…The trial also acquitted several other former militants, including Sayyed Imam Fadl, once the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and mentor of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

But Fadl, like the others acquitted, had shunned violence in the late 1990s and engaged in a war of letters with Ayman al-Zawahiri, denouncing Al Qaeda’s use of violence.

Islambouli returned from exile in Iran after a popular uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, joining a number of Egyptian Islamist militants returning to the country after the ouster of their nemesis.”

For each baby step forward, there are giant leaps backward.  And, while militants, or supposedly “ex-militants,” are being acquitted and released, the worst of the violators of women and men continue to never see the inside of a jail cell.  This is contrary to American values of human rights and justice, and by giving the military junta money, we are sending the wrong message.  Have we learned nothing since the Cold War?

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.