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Rise to Peace Crime, Punishment and Deradicalization

Crime, Punishment and Deradicalization

Deradicalization programming is an essential element in wider reintegration efforts of individuals who have fallen victim to extremist philosophies, however analysts often critique any inefficiencies of such initiatives. This is often the case when individuals convicted of past terrorism infractions later go on to commit subsequent acts. A legal case earlier this year of a Bosnian citizen and the emergent deradicalization process inherent in the Balkan nation reiterate the actuality that any such initiatives are complex and require multifaceted solutions.

Legal Precedence

In a European context, Bosnia presented a unique situation as the small Balkan nation exported the most foreign fighters per capita in comparison to other continental states. Attention later transitioned to how the fragile nation would manage complicated issues related to repatriation,  trying citizens through appropriate legal channels, and deradicalization programming in the immediate post-caliphate period.

The case of Munib Ahmetspahić is not unique in the context that an individual was tried and convicted for terrorism-related offences. Ahmetspahić had travelled to Syria to fight on behalf of Daesh twice and received a three-year prison sentence for these actions upon his return to Bosnia. Rather, the legal proceedings are notable because Ahmetspahić is the first foreign fighter to be medically certified as deradicalized.

Psychologists and psychiatrists reached this conclusion after seriously studying the statements made by the former foreign fighter. Ahmetspahić spoke bluntly about his regrets and expressed that he had been manipulated to take part in the terrorist campaigns through false propaganda. Once on the battleground in Syria, he witnessed a corrupt situation in which specific individuals fought for personal power and advancement, rather than the promotion of wider objectives for the Muslim people, as he originally thought. The loss of his brother, amputation of a leg, and wanting to be a part of the lives of his children initiated the first pangs of a deradicalized mindset. Any sort of rehabilitation cannot proceed without a serious reflection of conscience and personal acknowledgement of guilt.

Faulty Programming and Better Approaches

More often than not, anytime a previously incarcerated individual with terrorist-related convictions makes headlines, critics highlight the failures of the penal system and its deradicalization programming. This is an extremely ‘low-hanging fruit’ sort of critique as anyone with knowledge of how prison programs work knows that they are often underfunded, understaffed, restricted to a set amount of sessions that often do not cover all aspects, and success is dependent upon the attentiveness of the inmate. Perhaps, this is an issue with academic analysis because those trained in academia often present detached abstract solutions based on theoretical outcomes without first-hand experience or little to no contact with those personally influenced by the criminal underworld.

Deradicalization programs in this setting may be beneficial to those willing to absorb the lessons and engage in an examination of self, but recidivism in other aspects of crime with specific programming, such as narcotics offences and addiction counselling, teaches prison is indeed a revolving door. For instance, psychologists speaking in reference to the Ahmetspahić case highlight that, “neither radicalization nor deradicalization can happen overnight” and “little can be done if an individual has not already come to question their own actions.”

In both cases, inmates are asked to shed either a philosophy or a chemical that has taken a hold of their psyche, physical being and how they engage with their communities. And thus, any remedy requires an intensive and holistic approach that extends beyond punishment, but into the realms of intensive mental health services, social work, and supportive frameworks post-release.

Further, specific needs of the individual must be tailored into such programming and this cannot be done in a prison setting with its aforementioned issues. It is clear that these elements require not only a long-haul approach, but devoted resources too. For this reason, neuro-psychiatrist Ćemalović states that, “there is no patented deradicalization procedure” and such an endeavour requires systemic cooperation with society and religious communities.

The Wayward

It is prudent to acknowledge that not all radicalization cases can be effectively neutralized as hardcore proponents of extremism become so enmeshed with ideologies that they never relinquish hate or violence. Nonetheless, the Ahmetspahić case presents as one that has similar characteristics to many others.

In 2013, he was acquitted of destroying evidence connected to an armed attack on the United States Embassy in Sarajevo in 2011 and this experience fostered a sense of disillusionment with the Bosnian state. Ahmetspahić was a resident of Gornja Maoča — a village known as a stronghold of Islamist extremism in the Balkans. Employment opportunities were offered to wayward young men in the battlefields of Syria and it seemed like a profitable idea. A lawyer that worked with Ahmetspahić contends that he was not religiously radicalized, but rather, looking for a path.

The same conclusion can be applied to young people in other parts of the world that feel as though they have few prospects ahead of them. As an example, it has been noted that extremist groups often focus their recruitment drives in areas of economic downturn or working-class neighbourhoods. Arthur Snell, a former government official in the United Kingdom in charge of an anti-extremist program, once stated in an interview that, “They almost universally were young men without much sense of direction or status, and by joining the insurgency… they felt for the first time in their lives that they mattered, that they were doing something important, almost heroic.”

Similar feelings of disillusionment and the inability to escape environments that cause one’s psyche to question social arrangements often lead to the adoption of extremist thinking or alignment with others that feel the same way. However, it does not mean that this cannot be overturned with the proper resources that direct individuals to education, gainful employment, and positive social interactions. As such, it is difficult to ask a radicalized person (or released prisoner, for that matter) to make the transition to a peaceful existence if they are released from prison without adequate tools for the job market and return to the same communities that stoked extremist thinking in the past. These are resource-heavy solutions, but they must be examined and acknowledged as imperative.

Incarceration is an integral part of the crime and punishment of terrorism offences in societies with punitive legal systems. However, significant attention must be focused on the rehabilitative aspects not only behind bars, but especially when an individual has been released. The prison environment is one in which convicts become used to routine and program completion is often a mandatory part of release preparation, but reentry into communities is more difficult than it appears. It is this period of deradicalization programming that is indeed the most important and while ‘one size does not fit all’, networks focused on mental health care and skills development are primary needs.

Afghan Peace Talks: Interests and Uncertainties

It has been more than a month since inter-Afghan negotiations started in Doha, Qatar. Within this period, they have come close to an agreement on procedural rules and this is important as direct negotiation will commence once both parties agree on a framework at the negotiation table.

Right now, two disputed articles are a source of dispute resolution during negotiations and highlight the relevance of the United States-Taliban agreement. The Taliban want Hanafi Fiqh to be the only source for dispute resolutions and insist that the US-Taliban agreement should be treated as the ‘mother deal’.

Progress in negotiations, however slow, is obvious. It may take time but there are hopes among both parties that an agreement can be reached. Yet, reaching an agreement will not be the end of the road. The Taliban have failed to deliver on their promise of reducing violence. Recently, the US military targeted Taliban strongholds in Helmand province stating that their actions have not been consistent with the deal. This is not a large-scale conflict, but it indicates that the Taliban are not honest about their agreement with the US. It would be hard, therefore, to be optimistic about their honesty with the Afghan government if an agreement is reached.

Recently Amrullah Saleh, the first vice president of Afghanistan, reemphasized that the Taliban are a terrorist group based in, and supported by, Pakistan. He foresaid with confidence that the Taliban would melt in the society after a peace agreement and would soon have no public support at all. This may not be 100% accurate, but it signifies an important point about the interests of the negotiating parties. The Taliban understand that they can well secure their interests and goals through war, extremism, terror, and tyranny.

The Afghanistan government, on the other hand, knows that they win through peace, democracy, and ensuring civil and political liberties. Peace for the Taliban would mean giving up on their key means of coming to power (i.e. war) as gaining power through democratic institutions seems very unlikely for them not to say that it is against their religious systems of governance and liberties. This makes reaching an agreement hard if not impossible.

Both parties will need to meet in an intersection where their interests overlap. Perhaps, this could be achieved through a balance in political and military power which is more easily said than done. If forced to a political settlement, the Taliban would definitely propose special structures of governance to ensure they remain in power later on.

The US approach to bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table has probably intensified problems. Now, they have a deal with the US and have had 5000 prisoners released. Yet, they have not reduced violence in spite of their participation in the negotiations with the Afghan government. Apparently, the Taliban are misusing US diplomacy as well as the fact that the Afghan government has failed to bring all political parties under a united umbrella. Currently, the leading political parties such as Jamiat-e-Islami, led by the former foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Junbush-e-Milli led by Marshal Dostum, and Hezb-e-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are the government oppositions after the controversial results of the 2020 presidential elections.

An alternative approach would have been regional pressure on the Taliban as well as increasing military attacks on them temporarily in order to force them to negotiate. Such an approach could have signaled to the Taliban that war is not their dominant strategy and their only option would be giving in to a political settlement. Particularly, international pressure on Pakistan to dismantle Taliban headquarters (especially the Quetta Shura) in its land would have been fundamentally effective. However, Pakistan has been a resort to all terrorist groups in Afghanistan and despite the fact that bin Laden was killed in this country, the US and international community have never exerted enough pressure on this country to take effective measures against these groups.

Pakistan could, at the very least, bring its ‘boys’ to negotiations with lower demands if this approach was used. Some analysts believe, though, that the US war against the Taliban is a sheer waste of time and resources. They argue that the US has no interest in Afghanistan anymore as the main goal of eliminating Al-Qaeda has already been achieved. They believe this is not a US war but the continuation of a civil war that started after the coup for the presidency in the 70s and, therefore, should be left to the Afghans themselves to resolve it.

One important aspect of the uncertainties is associated with ethnic and religious complexities in Afghanistan. Some analysts have highlighted the Pashtun ethnic basis of the Taliban movement as they emerged to fight a non-Pashtun government/leadership after the war against the Soviet Union. Some Pashtun elites referred to that transfer of power as the decline of the Pashtuns back then and believed it was more significant than the defeat of communism. That was probably a reason that the Taliban gained public support among the majority of Pashtuns back in 1996 and fought the resistance groups mainly consisting of non-Pashtun ethnicities. Circumstances might have changed but the complexities are still in place.

Another issue would be religious jurisdictions. As noted before, the Taliban insist on using the Sunni-Hanafi sect as the source of solving disputes in the negotiations. One can hardly predict that they accept the Shia sect, in which almost all Hazaras believe when it comes to laws and dispute resolution in the country. Considering all these diversities, some politicians from the former resistance groups (against the Taliban) ask for reforms in the political structure and believe that a decentralized system would have the capacity to include all in the future.

Prospects seem unclear at this point but time will clear uncertainties as the negotiations start. If resulting in peace, the negotiations will be an unprecedented success in the history of Afghanistan.

Rise to Peace Tik TOk

What Role Does TikTok Play in Radicalization?

TikTok is the fastest growing social media application currently available. It has surpassed two billion downloads globally and despite its typical lighthearted content, TikTok has not been immune from extremist content.

As an example, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has actively used the application since 2019 as a recruitment tool as another element in its social media networking. This development requires analysis in regard to questions of national security.

Per the Social Contract Theory, states are responsible for the implementation of measures meant to protect its citizenry from conditions that threaten their human rights.

TikTok and social media in general present unique challenges to national security policies and legislation, such as managing the risk of radicalization across demographics. For example, according to Statista 32.5% of TikTok users range from ten to nineteen years old while 29.5% range from the ages nineteen and twenty. This data is significant once placed into the context of a recent study in which the authors concluded that users of the social media platform are more likely to be manipulated by the content they see.

Per Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, internet companies are not legally responsible for the content they host if it was published by someone else. The act allows users to post about controversial political topics online.

With an increase of users on social media platforms, amendments need to be made that ensure social platforms such as Tik-Tok can be held responsible if there is evidence of negligence in the removal of terrorism-related content. Tik-Tok has addressed the use of its platform by terrorist organizations and will ban any accounts and associated devices as soon as they are identified.

It is important that social media companies implement policies and technologies that identify extremist accounts especially on fast-growing and extremely popular ones like TikTok.

Confronting terrorist organizations and stemming their propaganda will markedly impact their radicalization networks and in turn, limit the number of successful recruitments to the cause. Therefore, weakening these networks as part of a wider digital counter-extremism effort upheld by private and public sectors is vital.

The use of TikTok by terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, to spread propaganda is evident of two key issues. Firstly, they are not going anywhere anytime soon, and secondly, obtaining access to social media platforms is not an issue for them.

TikTok’s ‘no-tolerance’ response to terrorist organizations utilizing their social media platform as a recruitment and indoctrination tool provides a level of trust with TikTok’s creator ByteDance, despite other privacy concerns.

Combatting terrorism domestically and internationally is a lofty enough task for the United States government as well as for its allies.  The additional strain digital terrorism poses adds another level of concern.

Extremism on social media networks, and on the Dark Web for the matter, is even more complex as it is harder to confront unseen threats that cannot be contained. This is why it is so vital that the implementations of new policies and the amendments to old ones must include technological developments if they are to provide security for citizens of the state. It is, after all, the responsibility of the state to combat terrorism in all forms that threaten the well-being of citizens.

In conclusion, past policies that have been implemented prior to the increased variety and usage of social media platforms, such as the Communications Decency Act, should be re-examined. Amendments should be discussed, especially in the context of the fast-developing digital world.

What Does Iran Get From the Afghan Peace Process?

The Afghan Peace Process involves not only the parties at the negotiation table, but also regional outside actors. Iran is recognized to be an actor with, “Enormous capacity to help or hinder the political stability of its neighbors and, thus, advance or retard U.S. interests in the Middle East.” This article will look into Iran’s involvement in the Afghan Peace Process and what exactly Iran wants.

Iranian Objectives

Firstly, Iran seeks a greater influence in Kabul so they can increase their power in the region. Researchers mention, “The U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan may lead to greater instability and a vacuum in that country. The Islamic Republic of Iran, one the most powerful regional actors in Afghanistan, is poised to exercise substantial influence there after the U.S. drawdown.”

Secondly, Iran wants economic development. The economic sanctions from the United States towards Iran affects Iran’s oil industry and development in the country. Many Iranians are also dependent on the water from the Helmand River.

Thirdly, Iran wants a stable Afghanistan as instability creates a threat of terrorism in Iran. Iran supported the American-led invasion against the Taliban and local communities in the eastern part of the country have been targeted by the Taliban.

Fourthly, Iran has close ties with the Taliban. Iran has assisted the Taliban’s with weapons, conducting military training, but also top Taliban leaders have traveled to Tehran for consultation. It is also reported that Iran paid bounties to the Taliban to conduct attacks on American and coalition troops.

Iran-Afghan Government relationship

In July, the Iranian and Afghan governments signed an agreement for “comprehensive cooperation” in the economic, cultural, educational, and security sectors.Afghanistan will “back down” from its position over the contested Helmand waters in return.

Another Iranian interest is the Afghan population with between one to three million living as refugees in Iran. After Pakistan, Iran hosts the most Afghan refugees. Therefore, it is important for Iran to maintain good ties with the Afghan government for a successful peace process.

Iran-Taliban relationship

At the same time, Iran also keeps close ties with the Taliban.Iran and the Taliban have been fighting the same enemy— the Islamic State Khorasan Province — who has gained strength in Western Afghanistan. This development compels closer cooperation and this cooperation is further entrenched as they both share the United States as a common enemy.

Moreover, there are potential limitations of the relationship between Iran and the Taliban. It is argued by the European Eye on Radicalization (EER) that most of the top Taliban leaders have stronger ties with Pakistan. Pakistan has attempted to get Taliban leaders closer to Islamabad and away from Tehran due to competing interests in Afghanistan. It is demonstrated that the negotiations between the Taliban and the United States have harmed Iranian economic interests.For instance, economic sanctions have had a strong effect on the oil industry. It has also been reported that Iran actively attempts to sabotage the ongoing negotiation efforts, especially with the Taliban faction Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, which are based in Iran.

Conclusion

Even though Iran tries to keep good relationships with both the Taliban and the Afghan government, an unstable Afghanistan would have negative effects on security on Iran’s eastern border, development, and the economy. Matters of water resources and drug smuggling are included in these areas, too.

Reports state that Iran is, “Keen to maintain a favorable balance of power in post-American Afghanistan.” It is also argued, for the ongoing Intra-Afghan talks, that:

“Iran will in all likelihood continue on its current course of openly supporting the Afghan government while encouraging intra-Afghan talks and maintaining its ties to the Taliban to keep its options open as the United States prepares to withdraw. Ultimately, Tehran would prefer that Afghanistan maintain its status as a republic as it limits the influence that other states including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia—Iran’s regional rival—can exert on Kabul, and creates a more favorable environment for Iran to protect its own interests in Afghanistan”.

From an outside perspective, it seems that Iran primarily looks after their own interests so that they can increase their regional influence. The Taliban tries to have close cooperation with Iran and this is seen as favorable from Tehran, especially in consultations with top insurgent leaders.Iran has also conducted meetings with the U.S and Afghan government and in that way Iran emerges as an important actor. For now, this is a good position to have during the intra-Afghan talks, but it will be interesting to see how they can maintain relationships with both actors during the negotiations.

Who Are the White Supremacist Extremist Groups in the United States?

In recently released documents from the Department of Homeland Security, DHS states that white supremacy extremism is “the most lethal and persistent” current domestic national security threat and expected to remain as such for the remainder of 2020 and the entirety 2021. As domestic extremism has dominated recent public discourse, it is important to delve into the key groups that attract the most membership and which specific groups pose the greatest threat to civilians.

Who are the most prominent white supremacist extremist groups in the United States?

  1. The Proud Boys

The white nationalist group was established in 2016 by former Vice Media co-founder, Gavin McInnes. The Proud Boys ideology, which condones violence, can be characterized as misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic despite the group’s denial of any association with the alt-right. The exact membership number is unknown, but it has been estimated that there are hundreds of members in the United States. In terms of tactics utilized, they hold rallies and large events where members are armed. They also engage in hand-to-hand combat as seen when two Proud Boys were arrested for assaulting four protestors in October.

  1. Knights of the Klu Klux Klan

David Duke, the self-proclaimed ‘Grand Dragon’ of the group claims that the Knights of the Klu Klan was founded in 1956; however, the group was formally established in 1975 in Louisiana. Duke sought to re-create a new image of the Klan from the infamous white robes and hoods to suits and formal attire. In addition, they underwent a shift, as well. Their rhetoric changed from racist against African Americans to a more Neo-Nazi stance focusing more on Jews as their primary target and concern. Nationally, Klu Klux Klan membership is approximately 3,000. This figure at first glance might seem high, but it is much less compared to numbers in the previous century. Their tactics, similar to the Proud Boys, include hosting of public events and rallies. Also, they participated in the infamous 2016 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in which protestor, Heather Heyer was killed.

  1. The Base

Lastly, this organization started in Washington state around 2018 and now is composed of small cells throughout the United States and Canada. Their ideology is to implement a new socio-political order through a race war which they believe will be instigated by non-Western peoples. As of January this year, seven men, who are suspected members of the Base, have been arrested in different parts of the United States on murder and illegal firearms charges. The Base’s founder Rinaldo Nazzaro, who goes by the monikers Norman Speer and Roman Wolf online, promulgates and condones violence. Unlike other WSE groups, the group uses social media to encourage members to perpetrate lone-wolf attacks rather than adhere to a group ideology.

Analysis

The main difference between alt-right, or WSE groups, and other extremist groups abroad is that WSE groups in the West lack a global banner that unifies all right-wing extremist groups in the United States and  the world. Moreover, another difference between the two types of groups is that WSE groups do not have a main organization that funds their objectives and their attacks. Most white supremacist groups rely on crowdfunding, membership dues, and smaller donations.

Going Forward

Since the focus of this article is on domestic terrorism, specifically WSE groups, these extremists pose a threat to United States citizens and are primarily a quagmire for United States law enforcement at the local and federal level. Going forward and in light of excerpts from the DHS report, it is recommended that the United States pursue the following policies to efficiently and effectively tackle home-grown WSE actors, primarily active engagement in the counter-extremism messaging and wider education in general.

  1. The United States should make use of third-party publication companies to spread informational fliers or other forms of publications that introduce a new worldview so that radicalization is prevented and those already radicalized can learn an alternate philosophy. Additionally, better educating local and federal law enforcement agencies on this specific type of terrorism would better equip actionable counter-strategies.

The Base actively recruits members through fliers and social media as well as posting instructional material on how to commit attacks online. The Klu Klux Klan also engages in a similar tactic by leaving papers on their movement and their ideology on doorsteps, as well. Engaging in a similar tactic allows United States law enforcement to better protect civilians and critical infrastructure. Additionally, utilizing a similar tactic to those allows United States law enforcement to alter the balance of power from these radicalized groups and take power back.

  1. The United States government should introduce more legislation that aims to increase funding for Kindergarten through twelfth grade education.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES ACT passed in March invested $16.5 billion for public schools across the nation; yet, financial and education experts say this figure is too low for what is actually needed. With several counterterrorism officials warning of the impact of quarantine and online self-radicalization, diverting more funding towards the education sector has become vital.

Conclusion

In all, United States law enforcement should focus on a strategy that simultaneously focuses on preventing WSE groups from mobilizing as well as preventing individuals from becoming radicalized. In addition to the strategy, United States federal and local law enforcement should engage in similar tactics through making use of spreading fliers or pamphlets. Lastly, the United States should formulate legislation that invests more in public education in regard to the link between the COVID-19 quarantine and online radicalization.

How Technology Can Help Combat Terrorism

With the rise of technological transformation, it’s wise for the American counter-terrorism policymakers to pay a closer look at the emergence impact of technology as tools to prevent terrorism movements and help protect communities from the dangers of extremism globally.

From 2016 to 2018 the number of people killed in terrorist attacks all over the globe has continued to ebb with 19,000 in 2017 to just under that figure the subsequent year. In addition, one-fifth of all terrorist attacks were successfully thwarted. The number of intra-state conflicts and political violence globally has continued to spike with 2016 being infamously known as the year of conflict with more countries experiencing this type of violence in the last thirty years.

With ninety-nine percent of all deaths in terrorist attacks taking place in countries affected occurring in conflict zones, understanding the evolving nature of intra-state conflicts and assisting in implementing preventative measures is imperative to maintaining the decrease in terrorism-related deaths. The best way to achieve this goal, American counterterrorism experts and foreign policymakers must look toward the technology sector.

What is peace and technology and how the field has grown

Peace technology as well as peace engineering can be understood as innovations ranging from cellular phone applications, artificial intelligence, and telecommunications, or ICTs, crafted to mitigate conflict, and ease tensions. As a result of globalization, ICTs specifically have crossed all nations’ borders regardless of whether structural violence is ongoing or whether the state is experiencing any other form of political instability.

In other words, ICT and other forms of technology create a digital liminal space for civilians in conflict zones to not only remain informed about local hostilities but connect and interact with others outside the world of conflict.

In 2008, the United States Institute of Peace established the Peace Tech Lab. Since its inception, the Lab has had successes which include developing the radio show, Sawa Shabab in South Sudan. The radio program promotes peacebuilding by delving into topics such as gender equality, conflict mediation and respectful dialogue, and youth issues.

Since the show’s first season, the program has reached over 4,000,000 in South Sudan and ninety-two percent of listeners said they now felt capable of addressing issues in their community. In addition to the Sawa Shabab, the Peace Tech Lab partnered with Drexel University in creating a Master’s degree program in Peace Engineering—the first and only engineering degree of this kind. Students from STEM backgrounds utilize and hone their skills by inventing tools that prevent and mitigate conflict.

Why peace technology is essential to the United States national Counterterrorism strategy

As learned from past traditional American conflict stabilization operations, focusing solely on government stability and economic development without including civil society leaves a window for grievances to develop amongst the population—ultimately actualizing conditions needed for radical Islamist movements to thrive. Technology is better equipped to reach the parts of the population in conflict-prone areas that individuals cannot safely access. Moreover, this technology has the potential to provide scholars a clearer window to better understand local conflict dynamics, leading to more nuanced research and policy recommendations.

Utilizing peace technology and ICTs in times of negative peace is essential during pre and post-conflict, but especially during post-conflict state development to ensure fundamentalist Islamist actors are deterred and to prevent the state from re-collapsing.

Although researchers have raised concerns regarding the ethical practices with the use of peace technology in terms of privacy rights and access rights, the risk of not assisting civilians in conflict zones outweighs the ethical quagmires technology poses.

If peace technology and engineering can benefit refugees in camps (in turn preventing radicalization), facilitate community cooperation, and improve the lives of civilians in conflict zones, this option must be considered when formulating counterterrorism policy abroad.

Moving Forward

American counterterrorism policy and conflict stabilization operations should be centered on two basic themes regarding past Western interactions with African and the Middle Eastern nations:

  1. Promoting the citizen’s role as a structure within, by, and for the government allows the United States to efficiently tackle the negative consequences of radicalism and further distance the inclination to join radical Islamist groups and better prevent the perpetration of lone-wolf attacks.
  2. Visible involvement by the United States (and their allies) hinders conflict stabilization operational success since it propels the Islamist and Post-colonial narrative about ‘Westernization’ or unwanted Western interference in African and Middle Eastern socio-political affairs.

As previously mentioned, past American post-conflict reconstruction in the Middle East has somehow were not successful due to the focus on trying to achieve political stability and economic growth. Thus, neglecting the conservative and rural parts of the population that are vulnerable to terrorism.

Most often ignoring certain populous that are vulnerable and are isolated can be drawn to the formation of radical political movements that often leads to terrorism. Therefore, funding grassroot technology companies on the ground that are aiming to foster community cohesion is imperative.

Funding these grassroot organizations in addition to bolstering domestic companies in Silicon Valley abroad working to mitigate conflict, as well. Augmenting and supporting the creation of the peace technology sector would allow the United States and its Western allies to reduce conflict violence and mitigate terrorism without it being perceived by locals as Western meddling.

The United States should invest in technology companies located domestically and in conflict zones that are innovating civilian protection and conflict mitigation. By helping create an environment in which civilians are encouraged to use their effective voice and equipping them with innovative tools to prompt long-lasting sustainable change.

Specifically bolstering grassroot efforts in conflict-torn societies, especially Islamist proto-states, eases future post-conflict state development and simultaneously deters non-combatants from actively participating in any form of violence stemming from political opposition and power struggles.

intra-Afghan

Intra-Afghan Talks Reveal the Long Road Ahead to Peace

“For the first time in 40 years, Afghans will sit together, the government delegation that includes people who are not part of the government as well as four very distinguished women, civil society, political groups will be sitting with an authoritative Taliban delegation to discuss and hopefully come to an agreement on a political roadmap to end the protracted war that Afghanistan has had”.  — Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, in a special briefing.

After delays since March, intra-Afghan peace talks finally began on September 12 in Doha, Qatar. Though the key actors are the Afghan government and the Taliban, several representatives from important states, including the United States, are also taking part. Events in Doha are some of the most anticipated as they serve as a breakthrough in the stagnancy of decades of conflict in Afghanistan.

After over four decades of war, these intra-Afghan talks are a major turning point. However, it seems like the influential states present have limited interests in this negotiation process. The US wants to relieve itself from the 19-years of engagement that have cost them significant resources. Further, Russia is keen to keep track of extremist influences that can spread regionally while China has support from Pakistan in terms of security and networking. These limited interests have made these states content with their roles of being facilitators while they could have exerted more influence to conduct a more effective negotiation process.

The outcome of these talks will determine the future of Afghanistan as they signify hope for possible peace in the country. It is for this reason that there should be a greater focus on facilitating sustainable peace so that Afghan citizens can pursue and secure their basic rights like freedom of expression; equality for women; educational rights; employment and liveable wages.

These are some of the most basic yet important examples. International non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Afghan government, Taliban representatives, and other stakeholders to facilitate the peace process through their politico-economic resources and ensure such mechanisms so that Afghan citizens can access their rights.

A peace process can only be effective if it is recognized as valid by the affected people in the concerned region. Lack of grassroots validity not only lessens the effectiveness, but it also jeopardizes the endurance of the agreement. Sooner or later, peace will be threatened and conflict will start again in such a context.

The process of validation allows broader participation and also provides space so that the oppressed and the marginalized groups can be heard. Citizens feel that they are a part of and contribute to the peace process — as well as shaping the future of their country — when their experiences are acknowledged. This proportionately increases their faith in government systems and thus healthy relationships between governance and society can be formed. These relations are also necessary for peace processes as they synthesize harmony.

However, little information has been disseminated to the media and Afghan citizens about the peace talks ongoing in Doha. According to a source, there are also instances of informal meetings happening behind closed doors. This is unfavorable for sustainable peace in general. Information on every step of progress at the negotiations should be shared with the media so that it can reach the citizens in Afghanistan so that they can know how the future of their country is shaping up.

Peace is a process, but it is also a state. The quest to achieve it has still a long way to go, but that does not deny the momentum it has achieved. In order to realize the smoothest road ahead, a transparent policy must be adopted that will facilitate the process of creating trust and the removal of hostilities. This can only lead to mutual understanding between actors once in conflict.

The process of negotiations will then not only be a matter of who wins or loses, but of equal victory for all.

US soldier in Afghanistan

What’s Next for the United States in Afghanistan?

On September 12, a day after the 19th anniversary of 9/11, talks between the Taliban and Afghan government began in Doha, Qatar. The historic talks mark the first time that the two parties have engaged in direct conversations with each other in hopes of ending forty years of war in Afghanistan.

It took over a decade for such a diplomatic shift to occur. On February 29, the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban that committed to the withdrawal of its troops within a 14-month deadline. Given that the US toppled the Taliban in 2001 and helped establish a Western-backed government, the role of the US as a third-party mediator is vital for Afghanistan as they act as a mediator between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Concerns of Afghan citizens loom in the background in the case that a political deal for a power-sharing form of government is achieved. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line, leaving more Afghan civilians vulnerable to falling victim to extremist recruitment. A long-term strategy is needed for Afghans to counter the numerous terrorist organizations in the country.

Negotiations have come at a big cost for Afghans, but they are still hopeful that peace is possible.

The War on Terror has cost over 100,000 civilian casualties and stunted the growth of Afghanistan’s economy, leaving millions in poverty and uncertain about the future of their state. On daily basis, an estimated 54 Afghan security forces and 19 civilians have lost their lives, even while engaged in talks with the Taliban. Additionally, over $2 trillion USD has been spent fighting, which has resulted in the deaths of 24,000 American soldiers.

It is important to mention that this is not the Taliban’s first time at the negotiation table nor their first attempt at engaging in peace talks with Afghan authorities. In early attempts to talk with the Taliban in 2011, the former president of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani (head of the Afghan Peace Council) was assassinated by the Taliban. Two years later, the Taliban and the Afghan government tried again to engage in direct peace talks and even so far as agreeing to meet in Qatar. However, the scheduled meeting was canceled when the Afghan government was angered by the Taliban establishing an office in Doha.

After the US-Taliban agreement reached, 5,000 Taliban prisoners convicted of terrorism, kidnapping, and drug-trafficking offenses were released. Most returned to combat on the frontlines after their release. In addition to the total withdrawal of its troops, the United States agreed to reduce the number of soldiers from 13,000 to 8,600 in 135 days.

Takeaways from the Initial Round of Talks

The Taliban are after power, not any higher purpose. This became clear as they continued to target and attack their fellow Afghan citizens even after they signed an agreement with the US. However, the US military expressed their satisfaction that Taliban attacks in Afghanistan decreased by eighty percent following the agreement made in February. Furthermore, the Taliban’s appointment of Abdul Haqqani as their chief envoy, an influential imam and proponent of the fundamentalist movement, perhaps shows the importance of these discussions to Taliban leadership.

Alternatively, if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire or any other formal compromises, the structure of the group has already been altered drastically over the past two decades. The argument that the Taliban has become too ‘decentralized’ is invalid as a more accurate way to describe the movement’s modus operandi is that it has broken up into splinter factions that have spread throughout the country. In fact, last year the US conducted the most airstrikes in Afghanistan since 2010 and still the Taliban hold more territory than they did shortly after 9/11. It is uncertain whether the splinter factors or their non-state actor allies will abide by any deal reached in Doha.

Although Taliban attacks have ebbed drastically following the settlement made last spring, the four-month phase of American troop reduction has already been moving ahead of schedule. This has left a power vacuum that has been detrimental for the Afghan National Police Force and the National Security Forces as they are ill-equipped to spearhead counterterrorism operations and manage border security responsibilities to stop fighters crossing over from Pakistan. Moreover, it is noteworthy to mention that deal between the US and the Taliban did not mandate that the insurgent group respect the human rights of Afghan citizens nor did they loosen regulations regarding their treatment of women.

Policy Recommendations for the United States

 Recommended policies going forward are rooted in basic realities learned from previous US foreign policy blunders made in Afghanistan as well as the wider Middle East. They include:

  1. The United States should act as a third-party negotiator to advance Afghan peace settlements. In January, the Brookings Institute published the conclusions of a survey that concluded 72% of the 1,260 people polled favored maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan rather than withdrawing or reducing the number of troops. Despite past American sentiments of not wanting to be involved in intra-state conflicts abroad, the survey shows not only how much ordinary Americans care about the safety of Afghan civilians, but that they recognize the importance of US CVE initiatives in Afghanistan.
  2. Pressure the state-sponsors of terrorism and the regional actors to support the Afghan peace process. Lashkar-e-Taibi and Jaish Muhammed, two of the strongest Islamist groups based in Pakistan, are aligned with the Taliban. Both groups combined have over a thousand members operating with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They also both share a close relationship with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. It is essential that both state and non-state actors facilitating the Taliban’s improved combat capabilities as well as their sources of financial income be obstructed.
  3. Keep a small presence of forces (as low as 4,000) to monitor post-peace developments while focusing on the East. The presence of the US military should be limited to approximately 4,000 troops to aid Afghanistan post peace settlement. Troop strength can be increased at military bases in North Africa or European countries close to the Mediterranean for logistical ease of military operations in Afghanistan, but this still abandons Afghan military and law enforcement institutions.
  4. Deliver and monitor aid in areas of sustainable development and government reformation post-peace settlement as Afghanistan will continue to rely on foreign aid with proper allocation and evaluations of resources.
  5. Supporting reintegration and de-radicalization programs for the Taliban ex-combatants. Already radicalized individuals possess the capabilities needed to learn a new worldview; this is evident in the several cases of former members of extremist groups successfully de-radicalized across the globe. While this worldview juxtaposes with the Taliban’s stance on Western liberalism, the process of deradicalization can potentially occur in established state-sponsored negotiations and peacefully discussing ideological differences.
  6. Promotion of citizens’ self-agency, improvement of conflict resolution skills, or fostering cooperation within a society does not replace nor nullify the importance of strengthening/bolstering government institutions to achieve good governance. These courses of action should be implemented simultaneously. The US State Department should strengthen its visibility in Afghanistan by increasing the number of Foreign Service Officers. Additionally, the US government should also increase funding to grassroots organizations and international aid agencies.

A long-term strategy balanced with short-term objectives is needed for Afghanistan to be able to counter the numerous terrorist organizations in the country. The significance of this theme is recognized as it is interwoven into our policy analysis and recommendations. Moreover, assisting Afghanistan in achieving political stability and economic prosperity is paramount to both Americans and Afghans.


Ahmad Shah Mohibi is the Founder of Rise to Peace

Ariel Merin is a Research Intern at Rise to Peace

How Will the Intra-Afghan Talks Influence Inclusivity in Afghanistan?

On September 12, representatives from the Afghan government together with Taliban members gathered in Doha, Qatar for intra-Afghan peace talks. These talks were expected to begin in March but were delayed due to a disagreement over a prisoner exchange. At this point in time, it is impossible to say what the outcome of these peace talks will be, neither is that the aim of this piece. Instead, it will focus on a potentially important mechanism and more specifically, inclusivity through civil society.

The Afghan peace process has throughout the years received criticism for not being inclusive. In particular, Afghan women have a history of being excluded from peace talks and political processes, despite their significant involvement in bringing peace and development to Afghanistan. Currently, the Afghan Republic negotiating team includes five women, however, these women cannot be expected to represent all women in Afghanistan, demonstrating why it is important to ensure comprehensive inclusivity throughout the entire process.

Research shows that a mediation process with broad buy-in from society creates better opportunities for a successful implementation phase after a peace agreement has been reached. Civil society builds peace from the bottom up and may serve as a bridge between the population and the stakeholders around the negotiation table. The civil society contributes to building legitimacy for the peace agreement and for the process as a whole.

In Syria, civil society has made important contributions to the intra-Syrian peace talks through the Civil Society Support Room which is a platform where Syrian civil society actors can come together to influence the political process. In Cyprus, civil society plays an important role in resolving problems between the two Cypriot communities, through initiatives such as the Cyprus Dialogue Forum. Moreover, civil society works with local peace committees in Zimbabwe, trauma healing in Bosnia, and peace education in the school curriculum in Côte d’Ivoire; demonstrating the focus on ‘everyday peace’ which is crucial as society moves beyond the peace talks.

The Afghanistan Mechanism for Inclusive Peace (AMIP)

The AMIP came about on the request from the Afghan civil society, who wanted a structured and sustainable mechanism for inclusion, complementing the existing peace process. The mechanism is currently implemented in partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Folke Bernadotte Academy and it is funded by the European Union through the EU Afghanistan Peace Support Mechanism.

The idea of the AMIP was to provide a pathway from local, cultural and religious leaders, women, youth, and victims across the country, to the negotiation table. In addition, one objective was to protect the gains that the country has made over the past 20 years, including the challenges with regard to women’s rights. The AMIP was formally established in March 2020, after the publication of the “Living Principles”. They were written using key documents from the past three years on peace in Afghanistan and from consultations with over 150 civil society representatives, including 17 Afghan diaspora representatives. They are supposed to serve as a guide for the negotiations teams as well as third parties with regards to essential issues, showing one example of how the AMIP works to feed into the peace talks.

The work of the AMIP includes collecting and analyzing data on public perceptions such as surveys and polling and they work actively with engaging members of marginalized and minority communities. Moreover, they offer several ways of connecting with the mechanism, including consultations, direct contact, a multilingual digital platform, texting and voicemail service and directly through the regional offices with a country-wide reach and a presence in provinces and districts across the country. To ensure inclusivity and that the work is not “Kabul-centric”, the mechanism has seven regional nodes/hubs that connect to 34 provincial networks which in turn connect to the district level.

Is the AMIP the solution?

There is an awareness of the correlation between inclusivity and sustainable peace, and reverting back to civil society’s role in a peace process, one could argue that the AMIP could have a vital impact if implemented in a comprehensive and effective manner. Nevertheless, it is important to note that if the conflict parties are unable to resolve their issues, “civil society inclusion cannot substitute for a process in disarray”.

As a final note, regardless of what happens with the current peace talks, this mechanism could still fill an important function of bringing together and raising the voices of the Afghan people in their quest and preparation for peace.

9/11

This 9/11 Anniversary Brings Afghan War to the Forefront

9/11 is undoubtedly a tragic and disturbing act of terrorism on US soil, but it acted as a wake-up call for American policymakers at the same time. It is a logical conclusion that the horrible events of that day would not have happened had the US not walked away from the region once their interests were victorious after a prolonged proxy war against the Soviet Union (1979-1989).

After 19 years of conflict, Afghan negotiators headed to Doha for the intra-Afghan dialogues, an initiative started by the United States as they act as the catalyst between the two warring parties- the Taliban and the Afghan government being the most prominent third-party mediator.

Two days before 9/11, the National Hero of Afghanistan Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda in Takhar-Afghanistan. The legendary fighter who battled the Soviets and later the Taliban, warned months before his death, that a large-scale attack is underway on the US and Europe soil by al-Qaida. Either the US neglected to grasp the full picture of the attack or did not get enough intel to act and prevent the catastrophe.

Since the commencement of the 19-year long War on Terror, the US has played a pivotal role in ending the Afghan conflict, having as many as 100,000 troops stationed there as part of the 2009 surge. Over $2 trillion USD has been spent on infrastructure, counter-terrorism operations, and building the Afghan National Defense Security Forces to reach a 360,000-strong force, as originally envisioned. This combination of nation-building and counterterrorism has cost the US heavily — financially as well as the 2400 American troops who have lost their lives.

Despite the failures to form strong Afghan institutions and violence of the past nearly two decades, tremendous progress has taken place. Today, an estimated 3.5 million Afghan girls are enrolled in school, a stark contrast to the 50,000 that were enrolled during the Taliban’s reign.

The Taliban governed for five years (1996-2001) and instituted barbaric Islamist policies, such as banning girls from school and stoning women to death. In the 1990s, they provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, turning Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorist groups, seeking ‘an entry to heaven.’ Infamous leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the founder and leader of the Islamic State) used Afghanistan as a strategic transit point. Terror groups used Afghanistan as the logistic headquarters for deadly attacks in Kenya and Tanzania as well as the orchestration of 9/11.

The push from the Trump administration to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, with the latest US-Taliban deal reached earlier this year may result in further destabilization. An exit strategy is not always the best strategy. Important questions arise: Will the Taliban remain loyal to their promises? Will there be a guaranteed agreement that the Taliban will no longer harbor terrorism and plan attacks on US soil?

An exit from Afghanistan would result in the creation of another battleground for terrorism. Similar to the vacuum of power created by a lack of American interest in the early 1990s, parallel circumstances would emerge now. The Taliban were enabled to usurp power and consequently turn the country into a safe haven for Islamist extremism back then and thus it remains imperative that the US understands what is at stake if they decide to completely leave Afghanistan now. The Taliban is estimated to have 60,000 active fighters and control roughly 50-70 percent of Afghan territory. They maintain a feared presence across the entire country, and international support for law and order against them is starting to dwindle.

Additionally, the current global political atmosphere commands that the United States adapt its commitments within Afghanistan and focus greater attention towards the East. China continues its ascendance and an ever-stronger India are taking their places on the world stage. Given that the US rivals in the region, primarily Russia, China, and Iran also compete in the region, another regional power may quickly supplant their former position and advance to this strategic location.

The Taliban are not going to cut ties with al-Qaeda and the Afghan peace process is unexpected to reach a conclusion soon. Both require time and commitment. It is vital that the next US presidential administration retains a small presence of US troops (as low as 4000) in combination with intelligence operators and diplomats to ensure promises are kept over the next few years. As well, these factors are important in the elimination of terror cells. A new US strategy may also focus on the proper allocation of resources to further avoid wasting US taxpayer money and systematic corruption in Afghanistan.

Finally, as the Taliban are making peace, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISK, ISP, or Daesh-Khorasan) — continues to gain strength through deadly attacks just as the Taliban remain engaged with the Afghan government. It is imperative to devote attention to their rise and activities in this general analysis. Further IS-K has been regrouping and the radical Taliban fighters who opposed the US-Taliban agreement can create a combination of “Islamic Emirate, Caliphate” as their objective.

Given that the Taliban’s main supply route for both personnel and weapons is through Pakistan, the insurgency group can and will continue to fight as long as they have support and safe-havens in Pakistan. They can do so by blocking foreign fighters and state-sponsors of terrorism in interfering in the Afghan peace talks. Further, they can use their diplomatic expertise to ensure that foreign actors, push the Taliban to join the negotiation table.

A stable Afghanistan benefits the region and protects the United States from any potential 9/11 style attacks in the future.


Ahmad Shah Mohibi is the Founder of Rise to Peace, a Washington-based counter-terrorism organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

NeverForget 9/11