Contested Kashmir: A Critical Analysis and Possible Solutions

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The attack against Indian forces which occurred on February 14 was the deadliest thus far in the Kashmiri insurgency. Image credit: Getty Images.

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is one of the most militarized areas in the world. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed, have fought three wars since their independence, two of which have been over J&K. The tensions began in 1947 after the two countries won independence from Britain. The second India-Pakistan war in 1965 followed, with the rise of the Jammu Kashmiri Liberation Front – a Kashmiri nationalist organization aiming to unite both the Pakistani- and Indian-administered regions of the territory. More recently, tensions between the two neighbours have flared due to a suicide bombing by an Islamist militant group known as Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), or Army of Muhammad, which killed forty Indian paramilitary operatives in the Indian-administered part of J&K. The same group also launched an attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir in 2016, prompting India’s military to cross the border and launch surgical air strikes into Pakistan.

For Pakistan, Islamist groups are a key leveraging tool against India. Undertaking a complete crackdown against these groups would therefore counter their interests. JeM, for example, continue to raise funds in Pakistan under different names, andMahmood Azhar initially founded JeM with generous support from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Although the Indian government has tried to have JeM’s leader blacklisted by the UN Security Council, these attempts have always been blocked by China. Pakistan has recently demanded more substantial evidence before they consider arresting Azhar, demonstrating clear noncooperation in the fight against JeM. The failure of Pakistan to actively counter terrorism in its administered regions has been a key issue for India, who claim that Pakistan must do more to curb terrorist activity.

The introduction of social media and cable news in both countries has further polarized public opinion surrounding the issue. Both sides use jingoistic nationalism to rile up support – creating new and influential public lobbies. For example, interrogation footage of the recently captured Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman,  widely circulated on Whatsapp and was shown on nationalistic media outlets in India. Pakistan have also taken part in this information war by filming footage of the pilot saying how well he is being treated by his captors and how the Indian media embellish the smallest thing, present it as if on fire, and people fall for it.”

The reason for such tension in Indian-administered territory is that most people within the territory do not want to be governed by India. Around sixty percent of its population is Muslim, making it the only state in India with a majority Muslim population. Moreover, high unemployment and human rights abuses by security forces have triggered protests against the authorities for over thirty years. Attacks in the region are carried out by the fedayeen (“those who sacrifice themselves”), and the last such attack on this scale was carried out in 2000 by a Birmingham-born man who was using the name Mohammad Bilal.

Going forward, how can ensuring short and long term peace work in practice? Throughout history, numerous UN resolutions have been introduced to try and resolve the conflict to no avail. Pakistan argues that J&K should be Pakistani because it is a majority -Muslim state. India argues that J&K should be a part of India because Kashmiris want to remain part of India (a claim which has not been proved). To paper over the cracks, both governments could agree to a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K.

In other words, a return to the status quo is the first substantive action that should be taken in the short-term. In light of the fact that people living near the LoC have started packing their bags to escape the conflict, a ceasefire will ensure confidence and trust can build between the two nations again. We have seen evidence pre-2003 of how Pakistan infiltrated terrorists into the region under the cover of shelling along the LoC, and if this ceasefire does not hold, Pakistan can do the same today. This step is therefore of paramount importance, but it requires dialogue and cooperation from both countries.

India’s ultimate goal is to dismantle terror outfits and the networks that support them. Hence, they must try to convince the international community to put more pressure on Pakistan to shut down its support for terrorism in J&K. For now, this seems unlikely. With the recent Indian air assault on a JeM camp in Balakot, the ongoing escalation in hostilities is counterintuitive to this goal. However, Pakistan’s release of an Indian pilot is one small step in the right direction. Most likely this is an empty gesture that does not cost Pakistan much at all, just like the “cosmetic measures” they undertook in 2003 to dismantle terror networks in the face of international pressure. This time, if this is to work, the international community must find a way to hold Pakistan to account.

From there, we build on. Over time, if we want real peace, public opinion must change. This is the responsibility of politicians, the media, and ultimately the people. However, the role of the media will be to promote balanced debate and turn away from the current nationalist sentiment so prevalent in Indian and Pakistani media.

Most militants in J&K are in fact homegrown youth, which adds another dimension to this issue. No longer can India solely blame Pakistan for providing weapons, explosives, and training militants in the region. India itself must now do more to support de-radicalisation in the area through engagement with civil society. The government of Jammu and Kashmir broke down last year as the ruling party in India, the BJP, ended its alliance with a Kashmiri regional party which left the territory to be ruled by the central government in New Delhi. In turn, this fosters more adverse sentiment from the people towards India. To establish stability, India must not directly rule but support a Kashmiri government that represents the people to help quell unrest and offer some sort of legitimacy. Pakistan must reciprocate. Both sides should put an effort to hold regional elections in J&K, offer political freedoms to the people, and end the disqualification of candidates based on their views.

A short-term, fragile peace is the most likely outcome for the region – albeit a welcome one considering the current situation. To build long-term stability, trust and confidence must exist between both sides. And this will take time.

Who are Warren Christopher Clark and Zaid Abed al-Hamid?

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Warren Christopher Clark (left) and Zaid Abed  al-Hamid (right) in SDF Custody.

In January 2019, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured a group of men who they state were seeking to launch attacks against civilians fleeing the small pockets of territory still under Islamic State control. The group consisted of men from around the globe, including Pakistan, Ireland, and the United States. Warren Christopher Clark and Zaid Abed al-Hamid, two of the men captured by SDF forces, were named and identified as American citizens by their captors on social media based on forms of identification on their persons. Clark, who goes by the kunya of Abu Mohammad al-Ameriki, has since been positively identified as an American from Texas. Al-Hamid, who now goes by Abu Zaid al-Ameriki, has a much less clear background.

Clark’s background has been explored and significant insight has been gained from Clark himself in videotaped interviews he participated in while in SDF custody. Clark is a former substitute teacher from the Houston metropolitan area. It is believed that Clark is 34 years of age. It has been confirmed that he graduated from University of Houston, where he majored in political science and minored in global business. After several years of being a substitute teacher, Clark began to watch videos of the Islamic State online. Curious, Clark was able to make contact with an Islamic State representative, sending them a resume and cover letter explaining his desire to teach English to children in the caliphate. Clark states that he is a convert to Islam, though it is unclear when he converted. After traveling to Syria via Turkey, Clark states that he never picked up arms for the caliphate. In interviews after he was captured, Clark stated that he did not regret joining the group, and even justified beheadings conducted by the group, comparing them to executions in the United States criminal justice system.

While questions remain about al-Hamid and his background, it is known that he is originally from Trinidad, where he was detained in 2011 for plotting to kill their prime minister. Beyond this, al-Hamid was featured in numerous Islamic State propaganda videos where he discusses converting to Islam and the struggles he faced practicing his religion there. Rumors have circulated that al-Hamid is a dual-US citizen. This has not been confirmed, but his use of al-Ameriki in his kunya suggests some background in the United States. When al-Hamid made his journey to the caliphate, he brought along his wife and multiple children. It is unclear if they are still alive.

Clark, who has been transferred to US custody and brought back to Texas, has since been indicted and charged with providing material support to the Islamic State. The indictment covers a period from 2011, when he first drew the attention of federal law enforcement officials for online activities pertaining to jihadists social media entities.

Early investigation into both Clark and al-Hamid has not resulted in substantial findings in terms of potential solutions for further countering violent extremist ideology. Both Clark and al-Hamid were converts to Islam. In both of their lives, it appears that there was or may have been a feeling of marginalization within society. Clark, despite having a formal education, could not find a full-time position teaching. Al-Hamid, in Islamic State propaganda videos, stated that he struggled practicing his faith in Trinidad and felt like an outsider. Both men appeared to have been at least partially influenced by online extremist sites.

The lessons learned thus far in both Clark and al-Hamid’s cases is limited. However, perceived or real marginalization appears to be an underlying factor in both cases respectfully. Time will dictate policy recommendations to prevent radicalization, but one cannot ignore the continuous appearance of marginalization in case studies of those who have become radicalized towards extremist ideologies.

Boko Haram and Nigerian Instability

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Since November, over 60,000 refugees have fled from Nigeria in fear of Boko Haram.   Image Source: IRIN

Boko Haram, or the Islamic State in West Africa, is a formally nonviolent militant organization based in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. The group aims to “purify” Nigeria and other territories based on their own Salafist ideals. Clashes with the Nigerian government in 2009 over an investigation into the organization sparked a violent uprising, which has escalated in years since.

Decade Long Crisis

Boko Haram’s persistent insurgency in Nigeria has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and displaced millions since it began in 2009. It is estimated that about 35,000 individuals have been killed in the insurgency, making this conflict the region’s deadliest of all time.  The United Nations Refugee Agency claims that attacks across the Lake Chad Region have left over 2.5 million individuals displaced, including 250,000 individuals from Nigeria alone.

On February 5th, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that Boko Haram had been “decimated.”  He stated that his government had achieved enormous feats in the campaign against Boko Haram, and had reduced their criminal activity to a minimum.  While major military operations by the Nigerian military have been able to contain and significantly degrade the organizations territory, Boko Haram remains a major threat which has continued to devastate northeastern Nigeria. The continued attacks have limited Nigeria’s economic development, disrupted community life, destroyed infrastructure, and now pose a threat to the upcoming general elections.

Increased Severity of Attacks

Since November, a wave of renewed attacks has forced over 60,000 Nigerians to flee their homes and marked the highest level of disruption in over two years.  Attacks in recent months by Boko Haram have also become increasingly deadly. On November 18th of last year, Boko Haram infiltrated a military base in Metele of northeast Nigeria. They were able to overpower Nigerian troops, loot valuable military equipment, and allegedly kill over one hundred soldiers- essentially destroying the base.

Earlier this year, Boko Haram attacked the city of Rann in northeast Nigeria after the withdrawal of troops left the town vulnerable to attack. The town had been set up as a shelter area for the millions of individuals displaced in the conflict.  Around 9:00 am on January 28th, a group of Boko Haram fighters arrived to the town of Rann and set fire to the structures of the town in order to kill any displaced individuals still hiding.  According to Amnesty International, the attack killed 60 individuals, making it the deadliest confirmed Boko Haram attack to date.

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Satellite image of Rann, Nigeria after the January 28th Boko Haram attacks.  The red coloring shows healthy vegetation, while the dark brown and black coloring shows areas heavily burned from the attack.  Image Source: CNES/Airbus and Amnesty International

Is Military Inadequacy is Causing Vulnerability?

In recent months, Boko Haram has been escalating attacks, building their arsenal, and shifting tactics in order to remain a threat to the Nigerian military.  As Boko Haram’s tactics have shifted away from conventional strategies- including increasingly sophisticated tactics such as the use of drones to track the military’s positions, the adaptation of foreign fighters, hiding within the local population, and the use of guerilla warfare tactics and infrastructural buildings- Nigerian forces have struggled to adequately adapt to new threats.

Nigeria’s defense strategy has left them increasingly vulnerable to attack. While Boko Haram’s attacks have been escalating, security in northern Nigeria has been deteriorating, and troops have been provided with inadequate weaponry and equipment.  Despite Nigeria’s large military defense budget, it appears as though troops have been pulled out of high-risk regions and left without sufficient weapons. Even further, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Sean McClure, the Nigerian military has not been able to adjust to the advancing threat of Boko Haram, and continues to rely on conventional warfare tactics.  Without a change in their military strategy, the Nigerian Army may not be able to defeat Boko Haram in the near future- and with elections soon approaching, many question how the next government can regain control of the country.

How US Propaganda Fuels Domestic Terrorism

Image Courtesy of Evan Vucci/AP

America has always been the land of the free, a place where people from all backgrounds can come and make a better life for themselves and experience the American dream. That is unless you’re of Hispanic or Middle Eastern descent. Prejudice towards Hispanics and Middle Easterners has always been a part of the US, but ever since Trump began his campaign based around his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan and targeted these two groups the prejudice has been more prevalent than ever before. His campaign rhetoric – which stressed building a wall to block Mexicans who were “rapists and drug dealers” – has been his supporters’ justification for tensions between Hispanic immigrants and US citizens. Trump also installed the infamous Muslim ban as his first executive order, which halted immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries. This also led to an increase in hate and discrimination after the ban was installed. This propaganda from America’s highest office has served as ammunition for many domestic terror attacks and hate crimes against these communities.

Many Americans may wonder where this unjustified disgust for Latin Americans comes from. Leo Chavez suggests something called the Latino Threat Narrative (LTN) in his book The Latino Threat. The LTN serves as the justification for Trump’s anti-Latino policies. It is broken down into three parts. The first part is Invasion. The Invasion part of the LTN treats Latinos as invaders of the US who are here to take what Americans have. It also warns that if Latinos continue to have children the increase in American’s Latino population will make the US lose its sense of identity as a country.

The next part of the LTN is the idea of Reconquest. This idea arises from the aftermath of the Mexican-American War in which Mexico lost a large part of what is now the American southwest north of present-day Mexico to the US. The LTN advances the belief that Latinos – specifically Mexicans – aim to take back the land lost in the war. Author Samuel Huntington believes that this reconquest is already underway in the Southwest United States.

The last part of the LTN is the Quebec Model, which stresses that Latino immigrants are not here to assimilate into American culture but will instead try to form their own country along the lines of how Quebec operates. This logic that inspires the LTN has led to an increase in discrimination and even domestic terrorism against the Latino community. Many white supremacists have used Trump’s rhetoric to convince themselves they are saviors of the white race against invaders. Studies show that crimes against the Latino community have jumped exponentially since 2010. Trump has associated certain negative language with Latinos such as caravan and migrants. A user on 4chan, a chat room for conspiracy theorists and the alt-right stated that, “when he hears the word caravan he reaches for his gun”. Daryl Johnson, a former analyst on domestic terrorism stated that, “The rhetoric coming out of the White House is giving people license to target these people”. An example was the hate crime committed against Rodolfo Rodriguez, a 91 year old man who was attacked by a woman in California with a brick. Many believe that he was targeted due to his Hispanic heritage. In fact, in California alone there has been a 50 percent increase in hate crimes since 2016, when Trump was elected.

Ever since 9/11, Islamophobia has been rampant in the US. Many Muslims were targeted after the events just because they were Muslim. Fast forward 18 years and not much has changed. In fact, actions by the president such as the Muslim Ban have further perpetuated Islamophobia. Many Muslim Americans have been subjected to extra surveillance and law enforcement in their neighborhoods and near mosques for years. The media has continued this pattern of associating Muslims with danger. A study from the University of Alabama stated that terror attacks by Muslims receive 357% more attention from US news outlets than acts committed by non-Muslims. This equates to about 105 headlines about Muslim terror acts compared to 15 about non-Muslim terror acts. This is especially interesting because white and far right extremists have committed twice as many terror attacks as Muslims between 2008-2016. In 2018, a trio of right wing extremists from Kansas were arrested in connection to a plot to bomb Muslim refugees living in an industrial area. Luckily the plot was foiled before they could commit the attack. Another potential domestic terror attack against a Muslim community was stopped in Islamberg, a Muslim community in Delaware County. Three extremists were charged with conspiracy to commit terror after three homemade bombs and 23 firearms were recovered. These are just a few of the plots to kill Muslims that have occurred in our country since the election of our president.

The only solution to combat this fear of Hispanics and Muslims is acceptance. People fear what they do not know. The majority of migrants from Latin America are here because they are fleeing violence in their home country and want to experience the American dream. The majority of Muslims do not condone the acts of terror groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, and the Quran actually stresses peace. The US will not get rid of discrimination and prejudice until propaganda like the LTN and Islamophobia in the media that fuels these biases stops. That will take a concerted effort by all parties involved, specifically the President’s administration, to keep our country’s position as a hallmark of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Chavez, L. (2013). The Latino Threat Constructing Immigrants, Citizens and the Nation. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

ISIL and the Recruitment of Women

Hoda Muthana, an American-born Yemeni woman who decided to drop out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham to join ISIL now wants to return to the United States. In 2014, Muthana, used her tuition money to travel to Syria where she married an ISIS fighter. After her first husband’s death, she got remarried twice and gave birth to a child. After the demise of ISIS-held territory in December, she surrendered to Kurdish forces who placed her in a refugee camp. In 2015, she used her social media accounts to call for the death of America. Hoda Muthana’s case is not an isolated incident. Recruitment of women by terrorist groups has become a sophisticated strategy that groups like ISIL use to attract women from all over the world to their ranks.

According to a 2018 study by the international Centre for the Study of Radicalization, 13 percent (4,761) of foreign recruits into ISIL were women. That number could be significantly underestimated. For a group that has radicals views about women, how is ISIL able to recruit many women to its cause? Reasons for the indoctrination of women into ISIL are extremely complex. They range from feelings of isolation in American culture to a sense of empowerment that is facilitated by jihadist propaganda.

When interviewed by NBC News’ Richard Engel, Hoda Muthana said her family in Alabama was deeply conservative, which contributed to her radicalization. It is certainly odd to hear that a woman joined ISIL because her family was restrictive, considering the group’s oppressive views about female participation in society.

Some individuals may cite lack of education as a reason for recruitment. However, that seems implausible. The International Center for the Study of Radicalization further reports that many ISIL foreign recruits are educated university graduates.

ISIL offers a different version of female empowerment. The terrorist group often uses the term “jihadi brides” and although it forces many women to marry ISIL fighters, many other women are willing to do so as a sign of support for their brother fighters. Sexual pleasure, through marriage, is a reward or compensation for what fighters are willing to give up in their fight against the non-Islamic world. If an ISIL fighter dies, their wives are regarded as martyrs and their wives receive praise and glory from the rest of the group.

Women are also important caregivers to ISIL fighters. They provide food, medicine, and whatever else ISIS fighters desire. As reductive as it is, recruited women are not oblivious to how important they are to a successful ISIL strategy and that is exactly why they are drawn to the cause. According to a study by the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, possible factors include “a rejection of Western feminism, online contact with recruiters who offer marriage and adventure, peer or family influence, adherence to ISIL ideology, nativity and romantic optimism, and the chance to be part of something new, exciting and illicit.”

Huda Muthana, a college student in the United States, gave up a relatively safe, comfortable life within U.S borders and willingly ventured to war torn Syria to help fight a war. She had a life that many people, refugees, and immigrants can only dream of having. She gave it up because she was drawn to the ISIL cause. Studies and the media have been mostly focused on instances of ISIL kidnaping, raping and enslaving women. However, that has sidelined the ability to study why many women are willing to sacrifice an opportunity at a safe, pleasant life in favor of war. Some women are brain washed, but others exhibit very clear rationale behind their decision to join a terrorist group. The portrayal of ISIL women as victims of war is certainly significant, however, it is equally important to portray and study women who are active, willing participants.


Developing a Law Enforcement Model for Countering Violent Extremism

Ever since the first police departments were formed in the 1800s, there has been continuous debate over the appropriate model of policing to address criminal behavior and activities. The criminal threat, combined with the demands of an ever changing society, drive this debate and dictate the desired model for law enforcement to pursue. In recent decades, the community-oriented policing model has become increasingly popular and many police forces have implemented elements of it into their procedures. Community oriented policing is believed by many to have the potential to deter some level of criminal behavior, prior to it ever happening. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and The Global War on Terror, intelligence-led policing has received strong levels of attention as many desire to see a more direct approach to addressing serious criminal threats. While debate rages on over the appropriate model for local law enforcement to use, it is worthwhile to question whether a hybrid model would be impactful. This is particularly true when assessing how to properly address and counter violent extremism, which has underlying issues that encompass an array of psychological, sociological, and criminological aspects.

To start the discussion, a brief explanation of both community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing is required. Community oriented policing is a model of policing that emphasizes community problem solving through partnerships between the community and the local law enforcement agency. This usually is done in conjunction with a reorganization of the police force to diminish the barriers between the force and the local community.

Intelligence-led policing is based on both qualitative and quantitative data and intelligence, leading to directed police activities based on the evidence gathered. An example of this type of policing model would be to analyze data on burglaries in an area. Police can, with enough data collected, determine the time, days of the week, geographic tendencies, and method of entry used by the involved criminals. Forces can then make informed decisions and direct increased patrols during these times and in these areas in an effort to catch the criminals.

Countering violent extremism is related to countering terrorism, but is a distinct discipline. Countering violent extremism requires an understanding of the ideological, sociological, and psychological influences that lead individuals to develop extremist ideologies which leave them more likely to commit acts of violence.

By developing a comprehensive understanding of this process and the ideology itself, one can develop solutions to prevent the radicalization process, intervene in cases where the process has begun, or attempt to roll back the ideology of someone who has been radicalized. Punitive policing and criminal justice measures do little to prevent, intervene, or rehabilitate someone who has become radicalized or is vulnerable to radicalization; in fact, punitive approaches may make the situation worse.

Both models of policing mentioned above are accompanied by challenges unique to each one. For community oriented policing, law enforcement faces the struggle of a changing power dynamic as the community becomes increasingly involved. Further, especially when dealing with organized crime and even violent extremism, law enforcement must come to terms with working with former gang members or violent extremists in order to address the issues with the involved community.

In applying a hybrid policing model which blends community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing, public perception is critical. On the surface of the model, the focus must be on community-oriented policing as this is critical to develop ties with communities, particularly those which are marginalized. The model must present itself as a grassroots movement whose priority is helping the community, not developing criminal cases to be prosecuted. Once established, relationships with the community will serve as the primary source of methods to prevent the radicalization process from ever starting. Those cases in which the process begins, it will likely be the community members who first become aware of the trend in the individual or group towards extremism. This will allow for proper intervention, preferably led by the community members but in conjunction with local law enforcement. Local law enforcement must not treat these individuals as terrorists, as this may further develop a sense of marginalization in the individual.

In cases that are further along in the radicalization process, these community relationships will also foster intelligence collection efforts for law enforcement. A community that feels valued and important is much more likely to provide information to local police services. Through this intelligence, police can direct strategies to monitor individuals or groups. These strategies must involve other applicable jurisdictions and there must be adequate dissemination of intelligence products to all agencies involved.

However, law enforcement should be careful during this process. Overt surveillance may lead the community as a whole to feel as if the police are working against them. Another area of concern is that once intelligence is developed about an individual or group, strict protocols must be implemented and followed to ensure complete privacy rights of the individual. Being labeled as a ‘terrorist’ before one is even confirmed to be an extremist may lead further marginalization and eventually to full-on extremism.

This hybrid model is meant to be implemented by state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. For this reason, it is highly dependent upon support from state policymakers who understand the strategy and support it to their utmost ability. While this discussion was a very simplistic and brief explanation of the reasoning for, and basic procedures of, this type of hybrid model, it serves as introductory post towards implementing this model of policing.



John Patrick Wilson is a Law Enforcement Professional and Research Fellow at Rise to Peace

India and Pakistan: Deescalating Border Disputes

Image Courtesty of NBC News

On February 14th, a suicide bomb killed over forty Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. The group responsible, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), claimed responsibility. JeM is a militant organization based in Pakistan, who are fighting for the Muslim-majority of Kashmir to be part of Pakistan. The bomb struck a convoy of vehicles carrying 2,500 Indian security personnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National High way in southern Kashmir. Indian officials allege there is direct evidence that Pakistan was involved in coordinating the attack. Indian military officials blame Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of coordinating the attack. According to CNN, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that India would take “all possible diplomatic steps” to “ensue complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan.”[1] One of the Indian efforts to downgrade diplomatic efforts includes revoking Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation status. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded, claiming that the government condemns acts of violence, denying any association with the attack.

This attack is part of the broader, historical conflict between India and Pakistan. Since Indian independence in 1947, Kashmir has remained disputed territory between both countries. Separatist violence in the region has killed over 47,000 people. The Indian accusation of Pakistani influence in the attack risks further escalating tensions along the border. Pakistan demands proof or evidence of the accusations, which have not been presented thus far by Indian officials.[2]

A diplomatic solution to the rising tensions between India and Pakistan is integral to mitigate spiraling tensions. Indian and Pakistan have previously fought two wars, and another limited conflict could risk nuclear conflict as both countries posses nuclear weapons. However, political relations between Pakistan and Indian have been stalled for over three years. Previous peace attempts have failed, as days after Mr. Modi, the Prime Minister of India, and Mr. Sharif, the previous Prime Minter of Pakistan, met to intimate peace agreements, six soldiers were killed in an attack on an Indian air force base on Pathankot.[3] Even under new leadership with Imran Khan, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, peace initiatives remain gridlocked.

An important step in deescalating tensions is to improve bilateral relations and communications. Both countries should rely on diplomatic channels rather than military confrontation. So far India has relied solely on retaliation through economic and diplomatic means, including recalling their top diplomats. But these actions could further provoke Pakistan, especially following their promise to retaliate to any Indian attacks or confrontations. Additionally, further investigation into the JeM attack should be done by both countries to determine if there is any evidentiary basis for ISI’s role in the attack. Until evidence is presented on the support for and cause of the recent attack, claims by Indian authorities of Pakistani involvement risk ratcheting up hostilities.




[1] Kashmir attack: India says Pakistan had ‘direct hand’ in deadly convoy strike (2019, February 15th) Retrieved February 19th from https://www-m.cnn.com/2019/02/15/asia/kashmir-attack-india-pakistan-intl/index.html?r=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F.

[2] India demands Pakistan take ‘credible action’ over Kashmir attack (2019, February 19th). Retrieved February 19th from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/india-allegations-pakistan-evidence-khan-190219082756101.html.

[3] Pulwama attack: What are Modi’s options? (2019, February 19th). Retrieved February 19th from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-47278145.


Intra-Afghan Peace Talks in the Absence of Afghan Government

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Members of each delegation in Moscow beside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Image credit: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters.

Afghanistan has a long history of participating in local and international conferences on peace. The Bonn Conference was the start of a series of other conferences on peace and stability hosted in Afghanistan. The Afghan government has put together or at least sent a delegation to myriad conferences to gain international support for their peace efforts with opposition groups in the country.

Despite this trend, the last Moscow Peace talks were held in Russia without the presence of an Afghan government delegation. Organized by an Afghan-Russian Association, the conference took place six days after successful talks between the US and the Taliban occurred in Doha, according to US Special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. The Taliban refused any direct conversation with the Afghan government, but agreed to sit down with delegations from the United Sates, India, Pakistan, China, and prominent Afghan political figures including Hanif Attmar- a favorite to take over as president in the upcoming presidential elections- to talk peace. In the meantime, the Afghan government, the main absentee of the conference, called them traitors and urgently called for direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

After two days of negotiations in Moscow, an agreement was reached. The Taliban, accusing the Kabul government of being an “American puppet”, asked for a withdrawal of American forces from the country, the release of detainees, and the inclusion of the principle of Islamic Religion in the constitution. Former president Hamid Karzai, leading the Afghan delegation, declared the talks a “big achievement” that would bring peace and stability in an “Afghanistan free of foreign forces”. Current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared the Afghan delegation in Moscow illegitimate to represent Afghanistan in the conference.

Russia has been a low-key player in Afghan affairs since the beginning of the War on Terror. The Russian government, concerned about  security in the Central Asia, keeps a close eye on Afghanistan. The latest peace talk in Moscow was a step by Russia towards taking a major role in influencing Afghan governmental affairs, and sets precedent for future Russian involvement in Afghanistan.

Seeing the Taliban sitting at the table with decades-old political enemies to talk peace is the long-awaited desire of all Afghans, but it certainly poses risks. The Taliban went to Moscow demanding what seems to be the return of the Taliban regime of the 1990s, the withdrawal of foreign forces, Sharia Law, and no sign of womens’ appearance within the government. The Afghan delegation, on the other hand, was comprised mainly of political figures who fought on the front lines of the fight against the Taliban. Thanks to differences  between these two parties and the disparity in their motivations for negotiating, the fear is that an agreement between them would be more of a political move to grasp power in Kabul than a long-term solution for peace.

Strategies for Countering Neo-Nazi Radicalization

American members of the National Socialist Movement. Source: Southern Poverty Law Center.

Decades after the end of World War II, Nazism continues to incite hatred and divide the globe. Thousands have been radicalized into what is now deemed neo-Nazi ideology from dozens of countries across the world. Although the phenomenon of neo-Nazism is well documented, research has yet to establish a common profile of those deemed vulnerable to its recruitment. Several have attempted to establish a potential profile; however, the American cases that have been studied stem from vastly different backgrounds, and their diversity is too difficult to account for with any one theory.

Though the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks stemming solely from neo-Nazi groups is relatively low, such groups present a unique threat. Neo-Nazi groups tend to be embedded with other racist extremist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, and other anti-Semitic groups. Fringe members of these groups present an often-undetectable lone wolf threat which is extremely difficult for law enforcement to counter. Neo-Nazi groups are also often associated with the trafficking of narcotics and prostitution, potentially leading to a large indirect cost on society.

In discussing neo-Nazi radicalization, former neo-Nazi Christian Picciolini has a unique take on the process. Picciolini, who become radicalized into neo-Nazi ideology after attending a gathering of a skinhead group at 14 years old, has since deradicalized and now works to help others do the same. But Picciolini does not attribute neo-Nazi radicalization to an ideology at all. In an informative interview, Picciolini stated that “I can tell you that every single person that I recruited or that was recruited around the same time that I did, up to now, up to what we’re seeing today, is recruited through vulnerabilities and not through ideology”. The vulnerabilities mentioned in the interview stem from both real and perceived grievances, felt by some youths as they grow and learn about the world and their place in it. Like so many youths searching for answers to their anger and frustrations, Picciolini found answers amongst neo-Nazi propaganda. Unfortunately there was not a counter narrative strategy in place to address the statements presented to him.

Exploiting vulnerabilities is a normal gang recruitment strategy. Many neo-Nazis are recruited while in prison, and the process is similar to other gang recruitment methodologies. However, neo-Nazi gangs are distinct in their provision of a more thorough ideological base for those who they radicalize. Further, the agenda of neo-Nazism is the creation of a Fourth Reich, which obviously goes far beyond the belief system associated with a typical street gang. Because of the hybrid nature of the radicalization process between extremist group and street gang that is observed within neo-Nazism, a hybrid approach to deradicalization and a hybrid counter-narrative strategy is needed.

Law enforcement’s response to neo-Nazi groups has begun to change in recent years. Whereas for a long time neo-Nazi groups and skin heads were often associated with the punk rock scene and were considered kids acting out their frustrations, now they are being considered legitimate concerns for homeland security.

Though they may pose a significant security concern, simply addressing neo-Nazi radicalization as a law enforcement matter does not properly address the underlying issues that cause some to become radicalized. In discussion about freedom of speech when it comes to hate speech and propaganda, experts suggest that education is the likely best route for countering extremism. An effective solution will couple education with a strategy in which local governments and communities adapt partnerships with organizations who have experience in deradicalization. One such organization and program is the Anti-Defamation League’s “A World of Difference” campaign, which uses mass media and education in schools to address bias, racism, anti-Semitism, and a variety of radicalization and extremist behaviors. Policy encouraging local communities to embrace programs mentioned above could potentially hold the key to severely disrupting recruitment efforts of the dozens of neo-Nazi groups operating in the United States.


John Patrick Wilson is an Law Enforcement Professional and Research Fellow at Rise to Peace.

To Leave Or Not To Leave?

Image: (Spc. Anthony Vendejas/Army)

The Syrian Civil War has been raging ever since their attempted revolution during the Arab Spring in 2011. This conflict has devolved into all out chaos. The war has been going on for eight years. Over 500,000 Syrians have been killed, many of them civilians. Five million Syrians have had to flee, and over seven million have been internally displaced, all while having to deal with the emergence of ISIL in their country. All this chaos resulted from Bashar al-Assad refusing to step down from power, which has left his country in shambles. This crisis has gotten many other countries and political entities involved as well, whether it is through humanitarian aid or sending in troops to fight on behalf of or against the resistance. Some of these entities include: Turkey, Russia, Iran, ISIS, the Lebanese Hezbollah Party, the Kurds, Saudi Arabia and the US, just to name a few. Many believe In fact, a big reason that the civil war has gone on for so long is because it has served as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the US and Russia.

America’s involvement in the Syrian civil war first started with the US sending humanitarian aid to citizens who had been displaced by the war. This later changed as the threat of ISIS began to emerge in Syria and Iraq. Former president Barack Obama decided to begin airstrikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria to help weaken the terror group in September of 2014. These airstrikes eventually evolved into the deployment of about 2,000 troops on the ground troops to collaborate with Syrian freedom fighters and Syrian Kurds to form the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which helped push ISIL out of some of their major strongholds.

Russia eventually got involved to help defeat terrorists in the region. However, this led the US to speculate that they were actually there to help prop up the Assad regime. Before Russia’s involvement in the civil war, Assad was beginning to lose to the rebel factions. However, ever since their arrival, Assad and his forces in conjunction with the Russian forces have begun to take back parts of the country. Assad has even gone on record stating that he is thankful for Russia’s help: “The Russian forces are important for balance in our region, at least in the Middle East until the political equilibrium changes…Russia is a great power and therefore it has a duty to the whole world.”

Current president Donald Trump believes that the threat of ISIS has been eliminated in Syria and that it is time for US troops to withdraw from the region. Many lawmakers and members of Congress strongly disagree with Trump’s decision to withdraw troops. They believe that the region is not stable yet and if the US were to leave it would create another power vacuum in the Middle East. The US’ original goal was simply to prevent the spread of ISIL in the country, but during that process they took on another responsibility: preventing a clash between the Kurds and Turkey. If the US were to withdraw from Syria, Turkey could eventually take over the US’ role as a peacekeeper seeing as though they already have taken in many Syrian refugees. While this would help resolve tensions between the US and Turkey, this action would also leave the Kurds at Turkey’s mercy, after they helped lead the operation to remove ISIL. However, the biggest problem is that this situation could be a repeat of the US pulling out of Iraq, which many argue led to the formation of ISIL. The pull out led to a power vacuum that many former Al Qaeda terrorists exploited to form the terror cell ISIL. When the US left the country with no legitimate infrastructure and with a surplus former soldiers who only knew war, Al-Qaeda seized the opportunity. The faction started in Iraq and eventually moved to Syria to fight against government forces there with hopes of possibly exploiting the power vacuum that would have been left in the event of Assad’s ouster.

There is no use in the US immediately withdrawing troops from Syria before the ISIL threat has been completely eradicated. Brett McGurk, a senior official in the Trump administration stated, “It would be reckless if we were to just say, the physical caliphate is defeated, we can just leave now, anyone who’s looked at a conflict like this would agree with that.” Even other Republicans such as Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham have vehemently opposed the withdrawal. The withdrawal is a fluid situation and it leaves the President with the decision: to leave or not to leave?

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