Eid Ceasefire Offers Cautious Optimism for Peace Process

After enduring a spate of violent attacks carried out by the Taliban over the past two months, Afghanistan received a much needed respite from conflict during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. In recognition of this sacred time, the Taliban announced a 3-day ceasefire, marking the third instance of a temporary truce since 2018.

In its announcement, the Taliban’s leadership commanded its fighters to refrain from launching any offensive operations, but did not rule out the possibility of needing to defend against assaults carried out by government forces. Such sentiments signal that the level of trust between both parties remains shaky, threatening any momentum that has been garnered over the past two years toward a substantive and inclusive peace deal.

Like previous periods of ceasefire, this round proved to be short-lived, with recent attacks attributed to the Taliban following the expiry of the ceasefire. Nevertheless, such measures are considered integral to facilitating the ongoing talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, who are currently meeting in Kabul while fighting continues unabated.

In spite of the challenging circumstances regarding the conflict, and the sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Afghan peace process has shown resilience through 2020, with promising signs of headway emerging both between, and within, both parties.

For its part, the Afghan government responded to the Taliban’s unilateral declaration with its own peace offering, by promising to accelerate the release process for imprisoned Taliban fighters. The significance of such a move cannot be understated, given that terms for the prisoner release remain a contentious sticking point within the government. As well, the release of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government has also been utilised as the primary tool for encouraging the Taliban’s initiation of a ceasefire, demonstrating that the Afghan government is willing to take the ‘next steps’ towards intra-Afghan dialogue.

Furthermore, a power-sharing arrangement cinched earlier this month between President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah will undoubtedly strengthen the government’s legitimacy, while improving its position of leverage during the reconciliation process. Prior to the deal, both Ghani and Abdullah had claimed victory in last year’s presidential election, even after an appeal process had declared Ghani as the victor.

The political feud and rivalry had even gone as far as encouraging Abdullah to form a parallel government, precisely at the time when the Trump administration had signed a conditional peace deal with the Taliban, putting the ball in Kabul’s court to advance the peace process. As a result of the difficulties associated with managing a pandemic and brokering a peace deal, resolving the internal crisis of leadership within the Afghan government has proven advantageous by presenting a united front between the two factions of leadership in their talks with the Taliban.

Having resolved their differences, the terms of the deal designate Abdullah as the government’s lead in talks with the Taliban, leaving administration of state affairs to Ghani. As a conservative politician of mixed heritage with historical ties to the Mujahideen movement, Abdullah has assiduously crafted an image and narrative of his willingness to negotiate with the Taliban.

In recent months, Abdullah has often critiqued Ghani’s approach as impractical, believing that the imposition of demands as a prerequisite to intra-Afghan dialogue has only dissuaded the Taliban’s participation.The Ghani-Abdullah rivalry had also been used to advance the Taliban’s rhetoric, by describing Ghani’s government as fractured and unrepresentative of the Afghan population.

Despite their previous discrepancies, both Afghan leaders can be seen to understand the importance of working together on behalf of taking the peace negotiations with the Taliban further. By agreeing to the ceasefire and to the subsequent release of an additional 2000 Taliban prisoners, the Afghan government has shown its willingness to continue peace talks with the Taliban.

However, it is not only the Afghan authorities who have taken significant steps towards satisfying the Doha Deal, but also the Taliban who have demonstrated their great commitment to the peace talks through the recent initiation of the ceasefire arrangement over the course of the Eid holiday period. Even though violent clashes continued directly after the ceasefire concluded, the hope for finally reaching peace has not entirely vanished, as both parties have clearly indicated a higher degree of willingness to move forward with the Doha Deal and collaborate towards establishing a more stable Afghanistan.

Terrorism or Testing: Will COVID-19 Reduce Counterterrorism Efforts?

In the wake of the global pandemic, concerns about public health dominate the political sphere, enough so that issues related to public security and defense against terrorist activities no longer appear in the headlines. As government expenditures to divert economic damages and bolster public health measures increase, defense budgets are likely to experience cuts to balance the budget. Such a response makes sense given the scope of stimulus packages and widespread unemployment.

Countries like France, Spain, and the United Kingdom decided to withdraw all troops from Iraq because of the risks posed by COVID-19. This raises the question: Does there remain a need to combat terrorist activity in the same way in a post-quarantine world?

Government officials, researchers, and the Islamic State themselves say yes. Lawmakers and researchers warn that terrorist actors are increasingly threatening global security as they have exploited the pandemic not only to increase their operations, but also their influence in countries with weak governments struggling to confront the virus.

For instance, Gilles de Kerchove, the counterterrorism coordinator for the European Union, in stressing the importance of not detracting from security spending said that, “we must prevent the one crisis from producing another.” Additionally, terrorist activity and attacks in the Middle East and Africa increased in recent months despite the pandemic. ISIL is using the virus’ crippling impact on the West and its online newspaper “Al-Naba” as a method to recruit more fighters to its cause. Further, it is increasing its militant activities in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Likewise, Boko Haram has used the global focus on the pandemic to launch multiple attacks against government forces in recent months, killing well over a hundred soldiers in Nigeria alone.

To date, neither the United States nor European governments signaled that they plan to leave the Middle East entirely (though as previously mentioned some US partners are leaving Iraq), but the pandemic provides both an excuse and economic incentive to do so. States with large military expenditures like the US will likely be able to continue their operations and smaller countries may not be able to afford these expenses even if they wanted to remain engaged in the region.

US policymakers face a tough decision as the de-facto leader in military engagement in the Middle East. Will the US continue the strategy of deep engagement, utilizing drone strikes as they have in the past, for the purpose of countering Iranian influence and terrorism in the region? Or will the US pursue an “America First” policy that focuses on rebuilding the US economy, which has been President Trump’s major policy objective and source of support? While either outcome could be normally expected, the aftermath of COVID-19 is likely to be anything but normal.

Likely, the US will pursue a sort of middle ground.  The level of activity in the Middle East will decline in some areas (especially helpful to this goal is the US withdrawal from Afghanistan), but remain constant in areas deemed critical security threats.  For example, the US is unlikely to limit funding for countering Iranian aggression, but find other budgets to cut to focus on the economy.

While the retreat of foreign forces from the Middle East, like the US, is unlikely to be met, the future of military engagement in the region will undoubtedly change as world leaders confront the lack of resources to continue their past strategies. Countries with little to lose and smaller levels of commitment will be more incentivized to withdraw and benefit from the continued engagement of the world’s military leaders on some level.

Drone Technology and Its Malicious Use by Terrorists

Emerging technologies may offer recognised benefits, but they pose threats to national security also. A case in point are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — one of the most common examples of dual-use technology.

Drone technology refers to a pilotless aircraft whose operation is based on a combination of technologies, such as artificial intelligence and computer vision. Although initially developed for military purposes, drones now receive wider attention and use.

Over the past few years, UAVs have been used by various businesses, including refining companies, online marketplaces, broadcasting services, airlines, construction and logistic companies in addition to governmental and defense organisations. Therefore, from timely delivery at peak time and geographical mapping of inaccessible regions to border control surveillance and supervision of unreachable military bases, drones are proving to be highly beneficial for a broad range of sectors.

However, alongside the aforementioned businesses and governmental organizations, drone technology has had a beneficial effect on terrorism as well. More specifically, newly affordable prices and growth in popularity have attracted the attention of a number of terrorist organisations, including Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Hezbollah has paved the way for the extensive use of drones by non-state groups. Indeed, the Lebanese militant group is reported to have the longest-standing and most advanced drone program of any non-state actor. It is believed that most of its drone fleet was supplied by Iran which has been developing its drone program since its war with Iraq.

Over the past decade, Hezbollah has made a great deal of progress in the acquisition of highly sophisticated UAVs. They have exploited them to gain useful intelligence and to intercept poorly encrypted Israeli drone feeds. Consequently, the Hezbollah drone program poses a constantly growing threat not only to Israeli security, but also to other non-state combatants.

Similarly, the Islamic State’s use of drones is developed to the extent that it can be described as a ‘drone program’. However, ISIL differs from other terrorist groups in that it has exploited drone technology in a more creative manner. Focusing more on acquiring simple, cost-effective and replaceable devices, they managed to build their own drone fleet.

Another point that sets apart the Islamic State’s drone program is the emphasis put on drone imagery. Rather than just weaponizing drones to conduct an attack, ISIL has strategically used the ability to capture aerial photos that later become central components of its propaganda machine.

In the light of the significant and rising threat posed by the possession and malicious use of drones by non-state actors, several companies were prompted to come up with technologies able to bring them down. These include electronic fences which block drone signals and drones equipped with nets which can capture enemy drones. However, additional measures should be implemented in order to prevent terrorist groups from having access to such technologies.

It is clear that alongside the tremendous benefits, drone technology also involves a direct threat to national security. Although they were first developed for military purposes, the ever-increasing commercial use of drones has also enabled terrorist groups, such as ISIL and Hezbollah, to acquire or even to manufacture their own drone fleets.

 

Possible Consequences of the Israeli Unity Government’s Annexation Plan

On May 18, Israel swore in a new unity government in which Benjamin Netanyahu will continue as Prime Minister until he is succeeded by Benny Gantz in 18 months. The power-sharing deal resolved a political deadlock that lasted for more than 500 days.

While the stated goal of the new government is to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the two politicians also agreed to press ahead with a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank as early as July 1 — a move that could have serious consequences.

It is likely that the annexation would deal a serious blow to the already stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. In January, President Trump presented his Middle East peace plan which proposed an independent Palestinian state and recognition of Israeli sovereignty over its settlements in the West Bank area. This was perceived by Netanyahu as a green light for annexation of these territories.

The plan was immediately dismissed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, stating that Jerusalem and Palestinian rights are not for sale. Subsequently, the Palestinian Authority cut all ties, including security, with Israel and the United States.

Palestinian leaders reject the legitimacy of the Israeli move to annex the settlements, which are seen as illegal by most of the international community. Abbas promised to take measures against Israel and the US in response to the annexation, including cancelling all agreements signed with Israel. Therefore, it would be fair to assume that the annexation would further deteriorate Israeli-Palestinian relations, diminishing prospects for peace. In addition, this move could lead to an escalation in violence.

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other groups could carry out more attacks in response. In a reaction to the Trump peace plan, Hamas stepped up its rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and hailed ‘acts of resistance’ throughout the West Bank, including a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem.

Both Hamas and the PIJ called on President Abbas to cut all ties with Israel and for an increase in resistance activities. President Abbas even invited Hamas and PIJ officials to a meeting to discuss possible reaction to the Israeli plan. Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official, stated that the Palestinian leadership devised a plan, noting that Israel and the US would bear the full consequences in the aftermath of any moves towards annexation. These developments suggest that a rise in violence could be one of the responses.

Calls for resistance activities could motivate lone actors to carry out attacks. Recently, as the swear in of the unity government neared, an increased number of violent attacks were carried out by Palestinians. On 12 May, an Israeli soldier was killed by a rock thrown from a rooftop and, only a few hours later, a Palestinian tried to stab an Israeli security official at Qalandiya checkpoint. On 14 May, the day when the new government was supposed to be sworn in before Netanyahu asked for a three day postponement, a Palestinian deliberately drove his car into Israeli troops, injuring one. These attacks suggest that because of the annexation, more individuals could resort to violence either in a response to calls from Hamas and others or out of grievance. However, the annexation could also lead to a more organized form of resistance.

The annexation could mobilise enough people to start a third Intifada (popular uprising). In the case of the first Intifada, an Israeli vehicle struck two vans carrying Palestinians, killing four of them. A second Intifada followed Ariel Sharon’s visit of the Temple Mount, together with 1, 000 riot police, and the subsequent killing of six Palestinian demonstrators the following day. Although there were arguably more causes for the two Intifadas, the situation escalated for an extended period and the described events were merely triggers, it might be argued that the annexation would be of such significance, compared to the previous two, that it could start a third uprising. Moreover, Palestinians could be supported or even called upon to do so by the Palestinian authorities as a response to the annexation.

All in all, it seems likely that the new Israeli unity government will face serious consequences and a possible rise in violence if it proceeds with its annexation plan. The peace process would not only arguably experience a major setback, but annexation could have security implications for the region as a whole.

Furthermore, difficulties stemming from the coronavirus pandemic could be significantly aggravated by any potential uprising. The government should thoroughly assess the possible costs and benefits of the annexation and try to keep the peace process alive in order to avoid unnecessary crisis and violence.

Moreover, as the settlements are perceived as illegal by many, the international community should step in and pressure both parties to refrain from actions that might be destabilizing for both Israel and the region. Otherwise, the long-lasting conflict might experience yet another escalation which could in turn affect the already unstable Middle East.

Countering Extremism with Sports: A Look at Martial Arts

The inclusion of sporting elements in preventive measures and deradicalization programs has not been treated with sufficient academic rigour, but the notion has been touted at the highest levels of intergovernmental organizations. Accordingly, initiatives that attempt to shift the use of combat sports as a means of extremist or terrorist recruitment into pathways for peaceful mentorship should be examined as well.

Why Is Sport Important?

Analysts focused on the complexity of why youth radicalize often conclude that the most vulnerable struggle with matters of identity and thus related issues of belonging, purpose and connection. These variables are often coupled with insecurity at home, economic marginalization and mental health as obstacles that young adults are unequipped to solve by themselves. While sport cannot singly resolve these issues outright, it remains a key factor in youth empowerment and thus wider social development in communities.

Empowerment from sport is intrinsically linked to lessons learned through practice and sensations of accomplishment. For instance, programs that include sport in some format highly focus on the development of confidence, self-esteem, self-control, teamwork and the continued breakdown of cultural stereotypes. Each of these characteristics and their maturation are extremely beneficial in both prevention and deradicalization efforts.

In both cases, youth and young adults come to acknowledge their roles in community settings, pursue beneficial connections, and build a sense of self that prepares them for fruitful opportunities. Indeed, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2419 adopted on June 6, 2018 acknowledges, “the growing contribution of sport and culture to the realization of development and peace in the promotion of tolerance and respect as well as the contributions sport and culture make to the empowerment of youth and women, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives.”

As hinted in the resolution, there is evidence that the most effective sport programs include access to educational classes, vocational training and employment, and opportunities to volunteer in the community. In such an arrangement, the connection between psychological and physical health of youth is addressed and in turn, reflective in the state of their communities. Strong youth contribute to community resiliency.

Nonetheless, such frameworks can only be facilitated by the involvement of reliable role model figures — teachers, coaches, volunteers — that create atmospheres of mentorship. Figures such as those that excelled in sport as well as individuals involved in their respective communities can share their personal experiences of integration, success and warn that extremism is a flawed, dangerous path. Mentorship relationships between coach and student provide yet another layer of connection that can potentially pinpoint if a youth seems atypically troubled or disaffected, especially in communities targeted by manipulative extremist recruiters.

Sport unites in a fun environment with holistic objectives. As governments typically focus on intelligence and law enforcement to counter radicalization, the inclusion of sporting programs is often a secondary — or even tertiary — afterthought prompting initiatives to seek out government funding, donations from the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It is generally considered that those youth most at risk of radicalization and recruitment are of meager socio-economic means; therefore, sports that provide the best dividends with as little investment, but requiring of strong effort and passion, are preferred.

Combat Sports and Radicalization

In recent years, law enforcement has made the link between combat sports (martial arts) and radicalization. For example, a sudden interest in hand-to-hand fighting styles or techniques to subdue an opponent have been mentioned as possible indicators of nefarious activities once taken into context with other factors. Some scholars have gone as far as to say that the topic has been previously neglected from prior study.

It is a simple conclusion as to why this phenomenon materialized as extremist groups and terrorist organizations thrive on the recruitment of fighters or those willing to carry out operations. The psychological stimuli created by striking sports can be easily exploited if not taught alongside an integrated positive lifestyle. Those already trained in the fighting arts are prepared and those that need to gain such skills can be easily taught as well.

Much attention has been paid to far-right extremist movements’ involvement in the promotion of mixed martial arts (MMA) tournaments and the participation of some perpetrators in said sports. However, those of Islamist persuasion also include combat sports in their general training and preparation, as evidenced by Daesh propaganda videos. In one particular case, “physical fitness and strength” was identified as the first stage in training to fight for the cause. The terrorist organization instructed its adherents to learn Krav Maga in one of its generally panned handbooks disseminated across social media.

Some analysts conclude that the inclusion of “power sports” (boxing, martial arts, weightlifting and wrestling) lead to anti-social behaviors due to an emphasis on fighting and strength. As a consequence, they challenge the value of martial arts in preventative and rehabilitative settings. Nevertheless, it must be argued that the fact remains that these sports are already attractive to youth and touted by those with disreputable purposes, so it would be beneficial to flip the negative and cynical messages into those that imprint positive overtones on young practitioners.

Fighting Against Radicalization

There are viable examples of associations and non-profit movements that have unified combat sports with preventative measures. Fight for Peace is the most visible organization at the international level and includes holistic programming (sport, education, employment training), but countering violent extremism is not one of their primary objectives, though their services are undoubtedly useful in this context.

The German Association of Martial Arts Schools Against Violent Extremism (DKVE) acts a touchstone project that unifies other schools across the country to train coaches as mentors. As part of their instruction, mentors are specially trained in psychology and the ability to spot any signs of the radicalization process taking root. Rather than the critique that such sports provoke negative behaviours, students are taught to de-escalate violence, embolden self-esteem and carry these lessons to all aspects of their lives.

Further, Not in God’s Name is a Vienna-based non-profit and fight club that aims to create tolerance amongst diverse ethnicities and combat radicalization through martial arts. NIGN contends that while education is extremely important, activities like sports encourage integration for youth, especially for those whose native culture seems incongruent with their new homes. “They train together, they practice. Jews, Christians, Muslims. We have here Albanians with Serbs, we have here Jews with Chechens,” explained founder Alexander Karakas. Mentorship from those who originate from immigrant communities and share their stories to youth that consequently look up to them plays an important role in their activities. Besides sports and mentorship, NIGN employs an active social media presence to counter the prolific activity of extremist groups.

As a last example, it should be noted that various combat sports associations from taekwondo to judo embraced April 6 celebrations on the UN International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. Many athletes contributed to the ‘White Card Campaign’ organized in unison with Peace and Sport; an independent organization headed by Prince Albert II of Monaco. The campaign seeks to build “solidarity and peace through our community and share the good will with the large sport movement”, in the words of the International SAMBO Federation (FIAS).

In conclusion, sport provides ample opportunities for outreach in various communities affected by violent extremism and radicalization. Programming can be amended to suit particular community needs and resources at hand for youth in question. The role of combat sports may have been usurped by extremist organizations, but there are realistic examples that their inherent lessons in self-esteem, self-control and mentorship can be reasonably shifted towards preventative objectives.

Do Terrorist Attacks Directly Impact GDP and Income?

Editor’s Note: Rise to Peace Research Fellows are dedicated to studying all matters of violent extremism and productive ways to contribute to the wider counter-terrorism conversation. Not only do they contribute to the organization, but at their educational institutions as well. Research Fellow Cameron Hoffman alongside his peers Heather Solomon, Daniel Pieratt and Gabriel Cirio at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh (GSPIA) created a data set to study the relationship between GDP and terrorism. Cameron further expounded upon the collectively created data set to reach his own conclusions of the question at hand. The following is a short explanation of the regression tables compiled by the team and the related, independent analysis of our Research Fellow.

Few analysts disagree on the implementation of measures to reduce international terrorism, but there are multiple opinions on how to properly address the issue. For years, countries relied on counter-terrorism strategies reliant on military operations, such as airstrikes and troop deployments. Accordingly, the efficacy of decapitation strikes came into question as well.

In another area of study, academics continue to investigate the connection between poverty and economic inequality in regard to recruitment tactics of terrorist organizations. Findings have already influenced policy as governments, like the United States, include the stabilization of economies impacted by terrorism in their national security strategies.

Studies that have changed national policies indicate that the relative deprivation of individuals is a crucial factor in their recruitment to terrorist organizations. Those with social mobility and economic welfare that is frustrated — or eliminated — are at a greater risk of radicalization as terrorist organizations provide social and economic roles the status-quo does not. As a result, countries with highly educated populations that are largely unemployed or underemployed are breeding grounds for extremist ideologies and terrorist organization recruitment. Therefore, building the economies of at-risk states must play a larger part in counter-terrorism strategies.

Additionally, the impact that terrorist organizations and their attacks have on the economies of affected nations has not been extensively studied. These organizations provide economic incentives and escapes from struggling economies, but do their attacks create more economic downturn? If so, it would suggest a circular self-supporting relationship and an additional benefit to the political goals of terrorist attacks.

Using a specifically created formula, this relationship was tested. A data set — including the statistics from over 175 countries within a a 20-year period (1995-2014) — was sourced with inputs from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the World Bank for income, and the Global Terrorism Database for for terrorist attacks and their descriptive characteristics.

Data was based on seven variables: netincomeusd2010 (net income per capita in 2010 USD, gdp (gross domestic product per capita in 2010 USD), count (number of terrorist attacks in a country in a given year), success (the number of attacks that were successful in their aim)(1), nkill (number of people killed by terrorist attacks in a given year), nwound (the number of individuals wounded by terrorist attacks in a given year), property (value denoting the amount of property damage in 2010 USD), year (year of observation), and countryname (the name of the country from which observations are taken).

The research concluded that terrorist attacks do not statistically impact the earnings of citizens of the affected country, but they do impact the GDP of the country at the 10% level. Additionally, when testing successful terrorist attacks independently, the attacks made a larger impact on GDP at the 5% significance level. The research model, findings, and regression tables are below.

As the above table indicates, the first regression(2) output indicates no statistically significant relationships between count, nkill, nwound, property, and in relation to netincomeusd2010. The only statistically significant relationship is between gdp and netincomeusd2010. Replacing success for count did not affect the data significantly.

The second regression table(3) testing the impact on gdp produced more interesting findings. While gdp is greatly impacted by netincomeusd2010 and is significant at the 1% level, like the earlier test, the count variable impacts gdp at the 10% level(4) and success impacts gdp at the 5% level. The variables nkill and property were not significant. The results of those tests are below.

This research supports that counter-terrorism strategies must include plans to develop regions economically in a way that positively impacts the incomes of citizens. Strategies focused on the prevention of attacks by weakening terrorist organizations militarily will not affect the economic and political environments that they thrive in. A reduction of terrorist attacks may safeguard GDP, but it has no effect on the earnings of vulnerable civilians.

More research is needed to test the relationship between increased rates of terrorism and GDP. As the relationship between GDP and income is very connected, it is interesting that terrorist attacks impact GDP, but not income. Does the GDP decline because of public funds devoted to counter-terrorism, the destruction of government facilities? Does international trade to countries decline when terrorist organizations are present, such as investor fears, and other factors?

Is it possible that terrorist attacks impact the income of the populace when they decline the GDP by significant amounts? If the second is true, then military responses that limit attacks are more beneficial than previously credited. The answers to these questions will impact economic counter-terrorism strategies.

It should also be noted that because terrorism is expressly political, terrorist motives are not simply to destroy, but to achieve specific political objectives. Influence over the GDP and average income of states where they operate are not within the goals of terrorist organizations. This is important to note as efforts to build economies of targeted regions are unlikely to be thwarted by terrorist organizations. All the same, the results of this research can aid policymakers in crafting international counter-terrorism plans.

(1) Both variables cannot be included in the same regression as count includes the observations in success, which skews the data.

(2) Regression code: areg netincomepercapitausd2010 count gdp nkill nwound property i.year, a(countryname)

(3) “areg gdp success netincomepercapitausd2010 nkill nwound property i.year, a(countryname)” and “areg gdp count netincomepercapitausd2010 nkill nwound property i.year, a(countryname)”

(4) It should also be noted that as the p-value is .054 that it is nearly significant at the 5% level.

The Continued Impact of Technology on Terrorism

Technology has greatly evolved in the past decades to the point that it is fair to speak of a technological revolution. Mobile phones, personal computers, and the Internet are commonplace in everyday life. More specifically, the evolution of information and communication technology has radically changed not only the way people communicate, but also ways of thinking and understanding complex matters.

Notwithstanding the recognized benefits of new technologies, there are concerns regarding their dual use. Recent events demonstrate that technological developments have been misused by non-state actors, such as terrorist groups. In fact, many terrorist organizations have been quick to exploit rapid technological advances to aid in the manufacture of weapons, ammunition and explosives. The use of military technology by such groups is one of the most severe threats currently faced worldwide.

However, developments in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector are even more alarming. Indeed, the use of digital and Internet platforms and their possible misuse by terrorists requires significant attention in any discussion focused on the topic. Social media platforms, Internet forums and online messaging applications have undoubtedly become terrorist propaganda mechanisms.

The use of information and communication technologies as tools for radicalization and recruitment is now common. Many terrorist organizations have managed to build a vast, sophisticated network of supporters from all over the world. Moreover, such technologies provide a major source of inspiration for lone actor terrorists who either have attempted or successfully carried out attacks after watching live-streamed attacks or speeches by leading members of terrorist groups inciting people to commit violence.

Planning an attack is now much easier as there are websites that provide all the necessary information about means and methods. These sites are easily accessed by the public thus permitting would-be terrorists to download instructions, such as those related to bomb-making, from the Internet.

In addition, digital technology has influenced the media. Changes in media technology have enabled terrorists to easily disseminate their message to wider audiences. Violence may instill fear, but live images attract the attention needed to cause widespread reaction, influence public opinion and mobilize moderates around the world. For years now, terrorists avail themselves of the ability to broadcast live on television.

Real-time TV coverage of an attack helps terrorist organizations to achieve their objectives: promotion of their cause to the widest possible audience, incite fear in the intended target audience and recruitment of new members. In some cases, the over-coverage of such events may unwittingly exacerbate the problem, instead of simply providing information to the public. It is therefore important that journalists avoid the further incitement of already present public fear and the over-emphasis of the motives behind an attack while reporting on terrorism.

In their attempt to prevent terrorists from exploiting digital platforms, leading tech companies cooperate with law enforcement for counter-terrorism purposes. In this sense, working closely with counter terrorism officers and security experts, social media companies improved their ‘takedown’ policies, weeding out an enormous number of accounts with the aim to reduce or even eliminate terrorists’ presence on technology platforms.

Furthermore, law enforcement authorities have also intensified monitoring of the contents disseminated online in order to detect and remove terrorist propaganda. In fact, a new technology able to automatically detect terrorist content on any online platforms and stop it before it ever reaches the internet has recently been developed.

To sum up, while technology continues to evolve rapidly, technology and media companies should work together with the competent authorities to combat terrorism and to prevent terrorist groups from recruiting new members. Although the public has the right to be informed on matters of public concern, media professionals should be particularly vigilant when it comes to the coverage of terrorism issues. They should aim at keeping the public informed without offering terrorists the publicity they seek.

In addition, as long as terrorists exploit new technological developments and online technologies, counter-terrorism authorities must detect and delete any online material that promotes terrorism or encourages violence. It is therefore essential that everyone collaborate in order to address this global challenge.

Eradicating Illicit Crops: Lessons from South America for Afghanistan

As the world’s largest producer of opium poppy, Afghanistan’s reliance on the cultivation of illicit crops is integral to understanding the shortcomings of the country’s economic development agenda. Estimates suggest that Afghanistan alone generates over 90% of the world’s opium supply, with the crop contributing over a 1/3 of the country’s GDP and creating over half a million jobs.

Though efforts to curtail the production of Afghan poppy have gone through several iterations, dating back 47 years ago when King Mohammad Zahir Shah instituted an outright ban, few initiatives have yielded promising results.

For its part, the United States has spent nearly $10 billion USD on counter-narcotic operations since invading Afghanistan almost two decades ago. Yet, the arrival of American forces coincided with an exponential rise in poppy cultivation. In 2001, poppy production was just under 180 metric tons but ballooned to 6,700 metric tons last year. Such figures were debilitating enough to cause the US to cease its focus on Afghanistan’s narcotics trade.

In spite of the setbacks endured by the Afghan government and its allies, comparative case studies of illicit crop eradication efforts offer helpful guidance. Strong demand for cocaine in the United States sparked substantial cultivation of the coca leaf in the 1980s, throughout South America’s Andean States. An increasing amount of farmland in Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia shifted from traditional cash crops such as coffee and sugarcane in favor of coca, which provided healthier and reliable margins for the agricultural community.

Just as the Taliban’s involvement in the opium trade grew, so too did the nexus of illicit crop production and insurgent groups emerge in Colombia and Peru. Coca production and trafficking was vital to the funding of leftists-armed groups such as Peru’s Shining Path and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The astonishing parallels between these groups and the Taliban are striking, given their rural origins, their stated aims, and their deep reliance on the global drug trade.

Nevertheless, as exhibited in both successes and failures from the case studies of Colombia and Peru, successful eradication is not always contingent on the achievement of military objectives. Instead, by addressing the legitimate grievances of agricultural workers, governments can simultaneously pare cultivation and the security risks associated with eradication.

Lesson #1: The Failure of Forceful Eradication

In 2004, amid international pressure, then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared war against opium production, with an objective to eradicate the crop by 2006. Karzai’s decision was primarily motivated by a determination to cut off revenue for the Taliban, who relied on the opium trade to fund operational expenses and acquire weapons.

While the Taliban’s financial stability can certainly be attributed to the prevalence of poppy, the assumption that Afghanistan’s narcotics trade solely benefits a handful of organizations is a harmful oversimplification. Instead, the poppy supply chain unveils a far more complex web of activities that include informal networks between farmers, producers, traffickers, and warlords.

Nevertheless, the typical response to eradication often includes use of force, either through manual destruction of crop fields, or aerial eradication using planes that spray fumigants. In the case of Afghanistan, Colombia, and Peru, manual destruction is often accompanied by exchanges of gunfire that endanger security forces participating in such operations. Aerial eradication was frequently used in Colombia as a way to mitigate casualty risks to ground forces. However, the environmental and health hazards associated with harmful chemicals such as glyphosate, has drawn in the Colombian government into lengthy court battles that have disrupted the program, eroding its efficacy to combat coca cultivation.

Regardless of the method employed, forceful eradication is consistent in one regard: alienation of the rural community from state institutions and security forces. Generating goodwill between the Afghan government and its farming community necessitates a productive dialogue for eradication, an objective that cannot be achieved through unilateral military action against poppy fields.

Lesson #2: Substitutions, Subsides, and Relief as Incentives

In order to deter illicit crop cultivation, it is pertinent to understand what incentivizes its continued growth. The profit margins of opium poppies can often be 10 times the amount generated by alternative cash crops. Yet, as documented in the Nangahar province, farmers do exhibit a willingness to forego the risks associated with poppy if provided with a holistic aid program. Such programs would include crop substitution, drought/disaster relief, and subsidies designed to cover the shortfalls while farmers adjust to licit crops.

Similar programs in Colombia and Peru have already demonstrated success, provided that the promises of aid materialize. Both countries have seen moderate success in efforts such as a “Coca to Cocoa” drive, in large part due to a multilateral model that includes aid, security, as well as financing options and expansion of market access for farmers to sell their crops. In the case of Afghanistan, potential crop substitutes could include saffron and wheat, but both necessitate investment in irrigation to ensure successful harvest.

Such programs tend to falter when states fail to uphold their end of the bargain with farmers. A sustainable agricultural aid program requires a long-term investment that includes more than direct subsidies. Poor profit margins of traditional cash crops are a consequence of inefficient farming practices, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of market access. Thus, the simple provision of aid in the absence of structural investment in the agrarian economy is neither sustainable nor efficient in long-term eradication success.

Lesson #3: Pragmatism and Political Will remain Prerequisites

Afghanistan’s ascension as a “narco-state” is a consequence of poor industrialization and underinvestment in Afghanistan’s rural periphery. Instead of annihilating the industry, sixteen years of government-led war on the opium trade has only bolstered and entrenched the networks between farmers, producers, and traffickers.

The comprehensive peace deal negotiated between the Colombian government and FARC rebels offers a framework for Afghanistan’s peace process. Prior to the deal’s collapse, coca eradication in FARC territories saw a noticeable decline, serving as proof that the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government could offer the best opportunity to bring about some level of control over the country’s narcotics trade.

Throughout its short-lived reign, the Taliban did manage to eradicate poppy cultivation in its strongholds. Yet, any joint enforcement with the government will only prove potent if supplemented by a comprehensive plan that address the root-causes of Afghanistan’s agricultural weaknesses. Furthermore, the entrenchment of poppy in Afghanistan’s economy means the timetable for eradication will be gradual and require the support and approval of tribal leaders. In exchange, it will be up to the government to provide the conditions for alternative employment, making poppy cultivation a choice instead of a sole solution.

Attacks on Education and Their Impact on Syrian Children

Education is a key pillar of development and an efficient investment in human capital of a state. As a result of ongoing civil wars in different hotspots, education systems have suffered a great deal. Schools in Syria are targeted by state forces or armed non-state actors alike. Now in its tenth year, the Syrian conflict has resulted in the death of approximately 22,075 children.

In stable countries, schools act as a safe space where children are educated and socialized. However, there is an alternate reality in Syria since schools and universities are constantly hit during air strikes. A large number of students and education personnel have also been killed while going to school or on their way back.

Some of the attacks against educational facilities may have been accidental, but most of them are deliberate attacks by the aforementioned groups: government forces, armed opposition groups or terrorist organizations. They intend to use them as detention centers, military operational bases, or sniper postings.

As a result, schools and universities have become military targets, leaving both students and teaching staff susceptible. Thousands of deaths have been reported under such circumstances. Many students stopped attending classes just as teachers refused to work for fear of being killed. This a clear violation of children’s rights to education.

In addition, public education systems have been affected in other ways. Attacks on schools are aimed at recruiting children as soldiers. Child soldiers in Syria are manipulated into active involvement in conflict where they are used as human shields, suicide bombers, or foot soldiers. This is a common trend as children are generally easier to recruit since they can be convinced or coerced to join.

Furthermore, there is another type of attack on education, conducted largely by terrorist groups, such as ISIL, who seek to control educational facilities in order to implement curriculum according to their extreme values and beliefs. In such cases, children are essentially indoctrinated into joining an armed group and fight for its cause. And while boys are brainwashed to take part in violent activities in the name of ISIL, adolescent girls are often sexually abused or used as brides.

Damage inflicted on the Syrian education system is severe and it is of utmost importance to resolve this problem. The conflict itself continues to have a dramatic impact on the Syrian population, especially on children, who show severe forms of stress and trauma. Both the physical and mental development of children have already been and will continue to be affected for a long time.

Consequently, deradicalization and social integration of children is a challenging task, especially when the education system is falling apart. In addition to programs aimed to provide psycho-social counseling focused on children, properly designed and targeted education and training projects can be effective in helping children to overcome the traumas experienced and hope for a better future.

Could US Retaliation for ISIL Strike Influence Afghan Peace Talks?

On April 9, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on an important United States airbase. The strikes resulted in zero casualties, but have the potential to spark retaliation from the US while it negotiates troop withdrawl as part of their deal with the Taliban. This could derail already fragile negotiations.

ISIL-KP has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks targeting the Taliban, Afghan citizens, and the US-backed Afghan government in the past few years. Though they control little territory, their strength has been assessed at approximately 2,000 fighters limited to North-East Afghanistan. Stalled peace talks and the recent prisoner release debacle offer ISIL-KP a window of opportunity and indicate why the group chose to strike now — nearly six months since its last claimed major attack. Simply put, ISIL-KP is trying to disrupt the peace talks to keep the US in Afghanistan.

Terrorist groups like ISIL-KP thrive on instability and chaos as they develop in the shadows of larger players and conflicts. These groups utilize destruction and economic disparity to increase their numbers and influence. However, if the US leaves Afghanistan, ISIL-KP lose the cover of the US-Taliban conflict to hide their actions.

The Taliban can focus on dismantling smaller insurgent and terrorist organizations as a consolidation of power in the case that the US leaves Afghanistan. ISIL-KP is not an exception to this rule as they are unable to match the strength of the Taliban. Therefore, it is assumed that the ISIL-KP attack was an attempt to keep the US in the region by destabilizing the peace talks.

If the Taliban and the US continue to fight each other — in the battlefield or the negotiation table — then ISIL-KP survival is expected. It is very likely that violent attacks of some kind will continue because deterioration of the peace talks is crucial to the longevity of ISIL-KP. Now is not the time for the US to be sidetracked and fall into a trap set by ISIL-KP.

Any strikes in Afghanistan can be used as pretext for the Taliban to retaliate as well as lose whatever little trust they have in the US. The Taliban could pull out of the already fragile negotiations and this is not something the US can risk. Too much is at stake and too much can go wrong.

In order to demonstrate that the US will keep its troop withdrawal commitments, now is not the time to retaliate against ISIL-KP. Energy must be focused toward the present negotiations and building trust with the Taliban. The strike on the US airbase may be cause for concern, but it cannot be a distraction from the mission at hand: leaving Afghanistan.