Monday, December 26, 2011

Excellent Article on Fostering anti-Hezbollah Shia-

A long-time cyber-friend, Phillip Smyth, has a very good article for the Middle East Review of International Affairs, THE “INDEPENDENT SHI’A” OF LEBANON: WHAT WIKILEAKS TELLS US ABOUT AMERICAN EFFORTS TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE TO HIZBALLAH

Smyth, relying on cables made available through Wikileaks, shows the efforts of American diplomats to foster an alternative to Hezbollah among Lebanon's Shia. There are important indicators that Hezbollah, even at the height of its power had certain vulnerabiliities.

A model of Hezbollah's behavior, built at the University of Maryland's Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics (my day job) highlighted that Hezbollah does not like to go to war in Lebanese election years. One obvious interpretation of this finding is that Hezbollah values its role in the Lebanese political system, even though it has demonstrated that it could take over the country easily. Hezbollah may not be vulnerable militarily. If the Israelis were unwilling to exert the effort needed to destroy Hezbollah, it is unlikely that anyone else will even try. But this sensitivity to Lebanese politics could indicate a political vulnerability. It suggests, among other things, that Lebanon's Shia are not in lock-step support for Hezbollah's militancy. Many Lebanese are proud that their country defeated Israel, but, with Israel removed from Lebanon the expense of further fighting is too great. If the rest of the Arab world wants to continue the conflict they are welcome to do so, but - in the views of the Lebanese - why must Lebanon be at the forefront.

Seeing that perhaps Lebanon was being dragged into a confrontation against its will by Hezbollah and its patrons, I had speculated that perhaps a Shia alternative (and in particular the AMAL party which still has strong support among Lebanese Shia) could reduce Hezbollah's influence and power. With this in mind, I mentioned to Phillip that I'd like to know more about AMAL. Phillip heard my request and went far further, writing his fine article. The first finding in Smyth's article was that American diplomats attempted to do just that. The WikiLeaks (and other leaked cables) showed strenuous efforts by the US Embassy in Beirut to support Shia alternatives. Unfortunately, this did not prove so easy to do. AMAL is seen as decaying, corrupt, and without a generation of leaders after its long-time chief Nabih Berri departs the scene (as he inevitably must.) But State also worked with a number of Shia dissidents, including those allied with Saad Harriri, moderate clerics, traditional Shia leaders - and even radical Shia clerics who had fallen out with Hezbollah. Unfortunately these efforts have not amounted to much. Hezbollah doesn't hesitate to intimidate its opponents, and the Shia opposition was riven with internal feuds and ineffectiveness. But most significantly, Hezbollah could fund a massive social services network that provided grants and charity to a huge percentage of Lebanon's Shia. The resources for this came, in great part, from Iran which was believed to provide Hezbollah with tens of millions of dollars a month. The entire population of Lebanon's Shia is only a few million.

However, therein lies the opportunity. Although seemingly powerful, Hezbollah has undergone a number of reverses. Its behavior in Lebanon has rankled many within that country and Iranian patronage has declined dramatically. Hezbollah's other patron, Syria, is also having some difficulties which could leave Hezbollah isolated. The time was not opportune for an anti-Shia front, but the efforts described in Smyth's article could lay a groundwork for when circumstances change. That could occur sooner than anyone expects. - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, December 24, 2011

KHAN!!! A Tale of Pakistani Perfidy and Persecution

Politico's Arena has just run short piece I wrote that builds on a friend's article on the activities of the father of Pakistan's A-bomb. The piece follows:

A fascinating recent article by ArmsControlWonk regular (and, full disclosure, good friend) Joshua Pollack sheds a disturbing light on the nuclear smuggling network of Pakistani atomic bomb builder, A.Q. Khan and on the nation that allowed all of this to happen.

The article, The Secret Treachery of A. Q. Khan appears in the most recent issue of Playboy (so maybe don’t read it at work – but definitely read it!)

Khan often articulated high-minded goals for his work, such as re-balancing power away from the dominant super-powers and restoring strength to the Muslim world.  But, as Pollack shows (I won’t spoil the ending to this thriller) Khan’s real reasons were tawdry and sad.  Tawdry because, based on his clients, Khan was really only in it for the money.  Sad, because a great part of Khan’s quest for money was in order to buy respect.  Born in pre-partition India, Khan had (like millions of others) a harrowing journey from his birthplace to the new nation of Pakistan.  He encountered endless humiliations and then faced further setbacks establishing himself in his new country.

It is an interesting portrait of an individual whose private demons have terrorized the world.  But it is also an allegory for the nation-state of Pakistan itself.

Pakistan’s leaders, often employ Islamist rhetoric, while capriciously enriching themselves.  Reading Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc. paints a picture of an all-powerful security establishment slowly devouring the nation’s economy.  (In fairness, Pakistan’s civilian leaders have hardly been exemplars of rectitude.)

But, like Khan, part of Pakistan’s national ethos is a sense of being slighted by the world – especially in comparison to its powerful neighbor.  This damaged pride leads Pakistan to pursue great power status on the world stage at the expense of development at home.

This is perhaps the saddest part of all.  Khan is obviously an individual of great industry and intelligence and could perhaps have been successful – if not rich and famous – without resorting to a massive crime that may have world-shattering effects.

Similarly, the nation of Pakistan could have focused its energies on development and education instead of its military.  Then Pakistan might be the economic miracle of south Asia.  Instead it is slipping further and further into poverty and disorder.

On the international stage, the challenge of Pakistan will not recede anytime soon.  As this is being written Pakistan and the United States are involved in a difficult contratemps over what looks like an unfortunate friendly fire accident.

This recent article shows how the story of Pakistan is the story of A. Q. Khan writ large.  As policy-makers wrestle with developing an effective Pakistan policy, Pakistan’s own perceptions (even if they are wholly unjustified) of its place in the world are worth considering.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Golden Oldie: North Korea and Terrorism

The TerrorWonk is not a North Korea expert, so I have not joined the chorus of pundits. That being said, it is now clear that no one really knew that much of anything - so I might as well have mouthed off.

Kim Jong Il was a monster. Yes he was funny/weird (TerrorWonk too laughed at his antics, making fun of his ostrich initiatives which led to a very odd exchange), but like another late international jester, Muammar Qaddhafi, Kim Jon Il's stage was built on bones.

For what it is worth, the more I read and study, the more I find institutions trumping individuals. There are exceptions, but knowing that the newest King Kim/Beloved Leader/what have you is particularly weak and new to the family business it seems unlikely that he will take on the established powers in his regime and pursue real reform. It would be nice to think that the North Koreans will rise up against their rulers, but considering how much they have already suffered without a mass rebellion it is difficult to believe one is in the works. Also, unlike the Arab Spring where, despite massive censorship of domestic media, there is fairly open access to pan-Arab media, North Koreans are profoundly isolated. 

South Korea and China are both nervous about the possibilities of a North Korean collapse. South Korea is also well aware of how expensive German re-unification proved to be, and North Korea is far poorer and has been effectively cut off from its neighbor for over fifty years. These countries have an incentive to pay to maintain the status quo. At the same time, that gives the DPRK every incentive to continue its calculated belligerence to ensure that the neighbors keep paying as much as possible.

Meanwhile, the horror show that is North Korea appears likely to continue.

I did write one article on North Korea several years ago, focusing on my main area of interest - terrorism. It is important to provide the coda to this analysis. In October 2008 North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. However the DPRK is not fully cooperating with US counter-terror measures, thus some sanctions remain in place.

National Review Online
FEBRUARY 15, 2007 6:00 A.M.
The T Word
 The lifting of North Korea's designation as a terrorist-sponsoring nation has a lot to do with Japan.

One of the conditions of the agreement with North Korea is that the United States starts the process of removing North Korea from the list of terrorist-sponsoring nations. Although North Korea’s nuclear program is the central issue, removal from the U.S. list of sponsors of terrorism has been a North Korean priority since February 2000. Inclusion on this list restricts U.S. exports to North Korea and requires the U.S. to veto World Bank and IMF aid to North Korea. The primary complainant regarding North Korean terrorism is Japan, which would also be a major donor in the event of a long-term aid package to North Korea. (For an excellent backgrounder on this issue see the CRS report North Korea: Terrorism List Removal.) Consequently, the bilateral North Korean-Japanese negotiations will be much more than a sideshow–they may provide an important window into North Korean strategy.

North Korea has a long history of sponsoring terror and other international provocations. In November 1987 North Korea bombed a (South) Korean Airline Boeing 707 in mid-flight, killing 115 people. In 1983 a bomb detonated in Rangoon, Myanmar, minutes before South Korea’s president was to lay a wreath there. The bomb killed 17 senior South Korean officials and wounded 14 others. There have been innumerable bloody incursions into South Korea by North Korean forces, and many attacks and attempted attacks on both South Koreans traveling abroad and North Korean defectors. Lower-level violence is almost constant. Reportedly, graduating from North Korean Special Forces training requires successfully entering South Korea and committing an act of vandalism. (Since the Special Forces are one of the only segments of North Korean society that eats enough, candidates have great incentive to succeed.)

Despite decades of being on the receiving end of North Korean violence, in June 2000 South Korea pushed the U.S. not to consider this past history and to remove North Korea from the list of terror sponsoring nations.

The rationale for North Korea’s inclusion on the list is North Korea’s kidnapping of over a dozen Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. The kidnapped Japanese were used to train North Korean agents (the woman who confessed to bombing the Korean airliner in 1987 claimed that she was trained to pass as Japanese by a kidnapped Japanese woman). In a September 2002 summit between Kim Jong Il and Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens and claimed that eight had died and allowed the remaining five to return to Japan. While North Korea claims that the issue is closed, the Japanese are not satisfied. Japan has since claimed that the remains of two of the allegedly kidnapped Japanese that were handed over to the Japanese were not those of the kidnap victims.

North Korea has also reportedly provided a haven to members of the Japanese Red Army (JRA), a far-left terrorist group that was aligned with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other leftist radical terrorists and carried out many bloody attacks. In 1972 JRA gunmen attacked Lod airport in Israel, killing 24 (including 16 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico) and injuring 78. In June 1987 a JRA operative was arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike with a car full of explosives. The group has not been active in over a decade and most of its leaders are imprisoned.

The Japanese government and people feel strongly about the abduction issue. Prime Minister Abe established his national reputation taking a strong stance against North Korea on the abduction issue. Consequently Japan has stated that it can only provide indirect support for the current agreement.

North Korea’s first priority will be to maximize any possible aid package, but how the North Koreans handle talks with Japan may indicate if they have other goals as well. Other participants in the negotiations do not share Japan’s focus on the abductions issue. South Korea, threatened not only by North Korean nukes but also by North Korean artillery that could level Seoul, seeks agreeable relations with and stability in North Korea. China, already facing a flood of North Korean refugees, would like to see the North Korean economy strengthened. The South Koreans have already expressed irritation at what they interpret as Japanese intransigence in the face of a breakthrough.

A long-term North Korean ambition is to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea. According to former Pentagon official and long-time Korea watcher Chuck Downs writing in the Journal of International Security Affairs North Korea has made substantial progress in achieving this goal. While the U.S. has a unique military relationship with South Korea, Japan is the closest U.S. ally in the region. For both political and moral reasons the U.S. will not pressure Japan to make concessions on the abduction issue. Stonewalling Japan, while making conciliatory gestures to South Korea, could indicate further North Korean efforts to foster splits among the participants in the six party talks. International attention will focus on whether North Korea complies with restrictions on its nuclear program. But the character and results of the discussions of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism will be a gauge of whether the North Korean regime is ready to deal or playing for time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prospectus Defense Slides

So as Facebook friends and Twitter followers now know, I have advanced to PhD candidacy. In other words I am ABD! Just for fun, I thought I'd share my slides with the world. They aren't perfect, but the are a pretty good guide to what I am trying to do - that is tell the story of the rise of vice presidential influence and figure out why it happened. Unfortunately, they are bereft of funny pictures.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pakistan's Jihadi Stew Boils Over into Afghanistan

Yesterday’s bombing of the Shia Ashura in Kabul, that left 58 dead, is yet a new horror to a country that has seen all too many. But if the Taliban’s denial and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s claim of responsibility are true it highlights a new dimension to the complex Af-Pak wars. Can the Taliban be believed – they are Deobandis who do not like the Shia and during their period of rule did massacre them. But in fighting NATO, the Taliban have tried to present themselves as Afghan nationalists and not sought to play up sectarian and ethnic issues within Afghanistan. They have not attacked the Shia yet – so why now? Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is a Pakistani terrorist group with roots in the Jhang area. Is is the armed wing/offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP.) Jang, in Punjab, is a fertile region for sectarian conflict because there is a substantial Shia population which includes the areas dominant feudal landlords. This class conflict was exacerbated after the Iranian revolution when, inspired, the Shia of Jhang began becoming more assertive. SSP was founded as a Sunni counter to the new Shia stridency and received support from the ISI which was worried about growing Iranian influence. Hundreds were killed in sectarian fighting in the 1990s. They also attacked Iranian diplomats and cultural centers After attempting to assassinate then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the late 1990s Pakistani security turned on them. Dozens of SSP operatives were killed in “encounters” with the police. LeJ has carried out major operations in Pakistan (such as the Marriott Bombing and the cricket attack) but they have not carried out attacks in Afghanistan. However, LeJ was close to the Taliban before 9/11 and one LeJ hero (Riaz Basra who assassinated an Iranian diplomat) fled to another jihadi group’s safehouse in Afghanistan. The environment of jihadi groups in Pakistan is probably best understood as a stew with its many ingredients mixed thoroughly. Members of one group shift to or assist members of others. While groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (one of the most disciplined of the Pakistani terror groups) carefully coordinate with the Taliban, other groups freelance and seek targets of opportunity. So it is not difficult to imagine LeJ moving operative into Afghanistan along the routes followed by the other groups. One big question is whether the ISI was linked. The ISI, which is preparing for the NATO withdrawal, may not want the Taliban to be too strong. A potent Taliban, coming off of a “victory” over NATO might be well positioned to, working with the Pakistani Taliban, make trouble in Pakistan. Alternately, cowing Afghanistan’s Shia might help keep Iran out. It is difficult to say which scenario would be worse: if the bombing is the result of Machiavellian planning by the ISI or if it indicates that a situation spinning out of control. Pakistan has long used the strategy of asymmetric warfare against stronger opponents, keep the fire going but not letting it boil over into open war. But it appears that sooner or later, Pakistan’s jihadi soup will get too hot to handle.