Elections 2019: Is Afghanistan Ready?

On 17 September, a blast rocked Ashraf Ghani’s campaign rally in Parwan province, echoing the words of Mohammad Ismail Khan, a former Mujahideen leader turned politician, who previously stated that “the current situation in Afghanistan is not suitable for elections.” Ismail Khan’s pessimism, as well as that of other stakeholders, is no surprise given the political activity over the last few weeks. The collapse of peace talks between the US and the Taliban as well as the increase in the number of attacks by the Taliban paint a grim picture for the region’s upcoming general election.

In addition to the uncertainty over the US commitment to security in the region, as well as the escalation of violence from Taliban forces, history demonstrates that elections are tumultuous events in Afghanistan with reports of voter suppression, intimidation and ballot stuffing. A report by European Union election observers in 2014 suggested that more than two million votes — or about a quarter of total votes cast — came from polling stations with voting irregularities. This begs the question as to how the Afghan security forces will manage the September 28 elections and whether the country is, in fact, ready for the looming deadline.

This election has been far from orderly since the beginning with many presidential candidates opting to avoid public addresses unless necessary, due to security concerns. The New York Times reported that Ghani himself “was reduced to addressing virtual rallies across the country via video-chat.”

Taliban activity increased across Afghanistan in the last few years, but their bombardment of Baghlan province in the north creates an even larger hurdle for the elections. Disruptions in the province also obstruct the AH76, one of the only highways linking the north to Kabul. The severing of communication and transport links will have a major effect on the region and heavily disrupt voters in the run-up to elections.

There is little doubt that violence will escalate in the coming weeks, especially since the Taliban have vowed to target the elections since the breakdown of talks with the US. “On any given day, there is fighting in nearly two dozen of the country’s 34 provinces” and as a result of this, over a quarter of the country’s polling stations will remain closed due to a lack of security.

The Taliban’s alleged control over 70% of Afghanistan is not the only terrorism-related hurdle that Afghanistan faces in the run-up to elections. A bombing at a wedding in Kabul that killed 63 people in August, and the assault on Mullah Habatullah Akhundzada (the younger brother of Afghanistan’s Taliban chief), presents a grave reminder of the increasing influence of ISIL in Afghanistan.

Trump’s suggestion that he may continue to withdraw troops despite the lack of a peace deal may provide Ghani with a challenge he has not had to face in many years: facing the Taliban without US support. One could expect a drastic decrease in the morale of Afghan troops who rely heavily on US airpower as well as training and heavy weaponry.

Even if the winning party survives the inevitable accusations of fraud and vote-rigging, Afghanistan’s governing structure has historically consisted of a weak central government unwilling or unable to enforce significant financial or administrative mandates on all of Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic communities. This is a result of Afghanistan’s multiethnic and mostly tribal society which consists of fourteen tribal groups.

Although intra-Afghan talks are integral to the establishment of peace in the region, foreign intervention will also play a major role. Security forces, already spread thin, cannot afford the loss of US airpower, military training and heavy weaponry. Aside from security, the election process itself riddled with accusations of fraud and vote rigging in 2014, will heavily rely on an independent commission who will, ideally, give a sense of legitimacy to the election. This would at least allow the incoming government the ability to govern without the controversy that surrounded the beginning of the current government’s term.

Foreign involvement rarely creates the sense of authentic free and fair elections. However, as elections so strongly influence the extent to which a fragile state becomes stabilized, it is integral that stakeholders (including the US and NATO) are present and continue to provide the support, or at least the security, needed to hold the September 28 elections.

Image Credit: Staff Sgt. Christopher Allison of the US Department of Defense. An Afghan elder shows his purple inked finger to show he has voted and cannot do it twice.

US-Taliban Peace Talks: So Close, Yet So Far

The United States slowly inched toward a peace deal with the Taliban since talks in Doha, Qatar began some months back. There is a strong desire in Washington to pull its troops out of Afghanistan since the 2001 intervention turned into the longest war in US history. Peace talks between the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban reached what seemed to be an agreement. Such a deal was contingent upon the Afghan government and this added factor makes the process more difficult.

The Afghan government was critical of any possible resolution because they feared loss of political power and held concerns over national security. They consider it unwise to relinquish any sort of political influence to the Taliban, an easily identifiable enemy of the state for many years.

The proposed agreement consisted of four main parts. First, a timeline of US troop withdrawal. Second, the upcoming presidential elections were to be secured so that they are free and fair. Thirdly, the Taliban were to be incorporated into the mainstream government. Lastly, an overall cease-fire between the US, Afghanistan, and Taliban forces. Simply put, the key factor throughout is that US would leave at the same time that the Taliban promised to become a peaceful and cooperative actor within the Afghan political system.

This would have been beneficial for the US because they would be finally relieved from military deployment to the region. Washington had a primary goal of pulling out 5,000 troops within 135 days, where there are currently 14,000 troops stationed. Further, the agreement was advantageous to the Taliban because they would finally be considered a legitimate political group.

The Afghan government had its reservations with the proposed US-Taliban deal because they believe the country would become unstable without the US military presence and they remained skeptical that the Taliban would uphold their end. This is a reasonable assumption as the Taliban is considered an enemy that has terrorized civilians with terrorist attacks, such as mass shootings, bombings, and kidnappings for years. The government is entitled to this viewpoint as it makes little sense to place trust in a group that has tried to destroy the political system of the country.

Terror attacks in recent days support the Afghan government’s hesitation towards giving the Taliban additional political power. Bombings left 10 civilians and 2 NATO service members dead. Nevertheless, Khalilzad stated that the US will not just merely withdraw, but seek “a peace agreement that enables withdrawal.” He was optimistic about the US-Taliban talks, where he viewed both sides getting what they wanted.

On September 7, President Trump canceled a Camp David secret meeting with Taliban and Middle Eastern leaders. He called off the summit due to the recent Taliban attack that killed a US soldier and others. Since the 2016 campaign, Trump has been a supporter of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and as president, he took steps to finally complete the task. It seems all has been lost on the mission now.

Dealing with any terrorist group can be problematic because they do not play by international rules like nation-states.  In this example, the Taliban expressed that they are ready for peace and then committed an attack that killed a dozen people the next day. In this sense, Trump was justified to cancel the contested meetings because the Taliban demonstrated they are not a peaceful actor.

Trump has said that Taliban negotiations are now “dead.” This could prolong the 18 year war; already the longest war in US history. The president has been critiqued for being hawkish at times insofar as his decisions often align with National Security Advisor John Bolton. In recent weeks, the media speculated that Bolton has been distanced from the Oval Office because his hawkish perceptions of foreign policy are more severe than both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Only the future will reveal if Afghanistan can finally achieve peace.

Image Credit: Associated Press. Photographer Alex Brandon. Shutterstock.

Extremism Assessment Series: Far-Right Extremism

  • Far-right extremism describes ideologies and movements that are more radical than traditional conservatism, and often promote xenophobia, racism, white nationalism, Neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, and related ideologies
  • Modern far-right extremism began in the 1860s, and was met by efforts to eliminate the Ku Klux Klan’s presence after the Civil War.
  • From 2009 through 2018, 73% of terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by far-right extremists
  • Far-right extremist ideology is largely enacted by lone actors rather than groups
  • The primary method of recruitment for far-right extremism is through online platforms including social media sites, chat rooms, and other websites
  • Increasing anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment has given rise to far-right extremism in places such as the United States, Australia, and Europe
A collection of flags representing different streams of the far-right movement available in the open-source.

A collection of flags representing different streams of the far-right movement available in the open-source.

Summary of Extremist Narrative

Far-right extremism describes ideologies and movements that are considered more radical than those associated with traditional conservatism, and is often linked to ideologies that promote xenophobic and racist views such as white nationalism, anti-Semitism, Neo-Nazism, authoritarianism, and others.

Far-right extremism often takes inspiration from regimes of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

 History of Far-Right Extremism in the United States

 Modern far-wing extremism in the US was first recognized by scholars during the 1950s, as a way to understand and explain McCarthyism and its break from political norms of the time. However, it is understood that far-right sentiments, groups, and actions began to form long before they were labeled by social scientists, around the 1860s and 1870s in the Reconstruction era. During that time, President Ulysses S. Grant took legal and legislative acts to eradicate the Ku Klux Klan and its offshoots following the civil war.

From then on, far-right extremism reappeared in many forms, and to varying degrees of success, from the formation of the Second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 to a politically-motivated resurgence in the 1990s in response to prominent issues of the time, including abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. The Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 led to new arrests of far-right organizational leaders, but such ideology continued to be prevalent and inspire violence throughout the next two decades and beyond. Subsequent instances of far-right extremist violence in the US include the shooting at Emanuel Africa Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which resulted in the death of nine people, as well as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 which resulted in 11 deaths. From 2009 through 2018, 73% of terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by far-right extremists, and between 2016 and 2017, right-wing inspired violence quadrupled in the US.

Today, some government officials across multiple branches and agencies have expressed concern over far-right extremism. However, the movement to properly address far-right extremism is hindered by multiple factors, including the absence of a formal domestic terror law in the United States, lack of grant funding to research right-wing extremism, and a general difficulty in studying such ideology due to its lack of cohesion.

 Current State of Far-Right Extremism

 Far-right extremism is currently largely based in hate rhetoric. Topics of focus for far-right extremist rhetoric include anti-immigrant and anti-government sentiments, and appeals to those affected by real or perceived economic instability and social isolation. Such rhetoric has given rise to disorganized bouts of low-level violence, as well as violence that results in mass causalities around the globe.

In the United States, most far-right extremists engage in low-level violence, with only one percent of attacks by people unaffiliated with an established far-right group involving firearms or explosives. Far-right extremist groups are largely instable and notwithstanding, and most far-right extremists are lone actors.

However, there are a couple of prominent, long-standing groups associated with far-right ideology that contribute to the spread of the ideology and violence, and potential recruitment agencies to followers of far-right extremism. Such groups include the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), skinheads, neo-Nazi groups, and other militias. In the United States, alt-right groups Identity Evropa and Patriot Front constitute some of the largest and most pervasive organizations of their kind. While these groups represent the more formalized, structured end of far-right extremism, they are still mainly fragmented and unsophisticated themselves.

 Prominent Sites of Operation

Far-right extremism operates around the globe, but is especially concentrated in areas in which populist and nationalist political movements have recently become popularized in mainstream political and social thought. The majority of far-right extremist individuals and groups operate out of the United States of America, in Europe, and in Australia.

In the United States of America, the combination of a history of far-right groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, renewed anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the growth of alt-right, populist politics has resulted in some of the most prominent examples of far-right extremism around the world. After the 2016 election, far-right violence grew, including nine deadly incidents in 2017.

In Europe, increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa has spurred an increase in xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment, which evolved into far-right ideology for some members and groups in society. Attacks against Muslims and refugees in Europe have increased significantly beginning in 2015. Some far-right attacks in Europe have been coined as retribution attacks, as they occur after instances of Islamic extremism.

Far-right operations in Australia are less active, but still existent. From 2011 to 2017, there were five far-right extremist attacks in the country.

While these are the prominent countries in which far-right extremism operates, the ideology does not act as a country-specific, individual entity. There is a growing, global network of far-right extremists fueled by increasing interactions between likeminded individuals and groups around the world. This is demonstrated through instances such as the American far-right group Rise Above Movement (RAM) meeting with European white supremacist groups in Germany, Ukraine, and Italy.

Recruitment Methods

 Social media and other forms of online news consumption are the primary methods of recruitment utilized by far-right extremist groups. Recruitment is achieved on popular platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as well as sites such as Gab and Reddit. Through online interaction with followers, the far-right have been able to recruit new followers and members, coordinate travel to protests, rallies, and conferences, organize trainings, fundraise, and foster communication across individuals and groups that share similar ideologies.

Prominent websites associated with far-right ideology include 8chan and the Daily Stormer, but recruitment is also achieved on more mainstream, popular platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit. The radicalization of multiple far-right extremists who have been responsible for recent terrorist attacks around the globe has been linked to such websites. For example, the far-right extremist responsible for the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 was a user of Gab, a site frequented by far-right extremists and associated messaging.

The cycle of recruitment and radicalization is perpetuated as far-right extremists not only draw inspiration from online communities, but then project their activities out into those communities as well. In 2018, the far-right extremist that attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand announced the attack on Twitter and 8chan and broadcasted it live on Facebook, which quickly spread and was replayed countless times on other platforms. This paves the way for media consumers to become encouraged and recruited into far-right extremist ideology or actual groups by watching this extremist act, or even to commit copycat attacks.

In addition to far-right extremists utilizing a heavy online presence to enact recruitment efforts, there has been an increased effort to protect anonymity while increasing recruitment through distribution of propaganda. This propaganda often in the form hard-copy materials such as flyers, posters, stickers, and more. From 2017 to 2018, the amount of hard-copy propaganda materials increased by 182% overall, with a jump from 421 to 1,187 reported sightings of far-right materials. These materials are not only found in large cities and public spaces, but are also often concentrated on and around college campuses. This allows right-wing groups and individuals to tap into vulnerable members of the age group afflicted by feelings of a lack of belonging, and yearning for community.


The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

Prevention and Redemption Initiatives Are Key to Countering Terrorism in Russia

The mountains of Chechnya where “going to the forest” is a colloquial term for joining an extremist group. Photo Credit: eTurboNews.

A series of recent incidents validate the Russian Federation’s concerns over the rise of internationally-linked terrorist groups active within its territory. This security matter is heightened by the presence of battle-hardened fighters who returned from fighting in the Middle East and North Africa. The main query that emerges is whether Russian authorities will amend their counterterrorism tactics, or continue to engage in a framework simplified as a nexus of a military-bureaucratic-judicial instruments.

Russia has long contended with the dilemma of homegrown terrorism, especially in the North Caucasus region. Radicalization and the development of terror cells were intrinsically linked to the Chechen independence movement that expanded into neighboring Dagestan. Ayman al-Zawahiri (the current head of Al- Qaeda) once called the region ‘a shelter’ for fighters from across the globe. It is little wonder then that Daesh capitalized on homegrown ethnic grievances in Russia’s ‘inner abroad’ for recruitment.

Russian officials estimate that approximately 4000 citizens fought as militants in the armed conflicts in Syria. The state of affairs shifted domestically too. Militants that once operated under the banner of Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate) transferred allegiances to Vilayat Kavkaz — a branch of Daesh in the North Caucasus. Russia identifies the pan-Islamist political movement Hizb ut- Tahrir (Party of Liberation) as a terrorist organization, and deems it culpable in the recruitment of foreign fighters as well. It is undoubtedly a case where international groups seized upon already active movements to franchise ideologies.

As a consequence, recent terror-related events in Russia are linked to the international moniker of Daesh, although the actors are domestic agents. The Federal Security Service (FSB) conducts operations across Russia linked to Daesh through a perpetrator’s affiliation, but few links to the umbrella organization. For instance:

• April 13: two suspected members were killed in a raid in Tyumen; an oil rich town in Siberia.
• June 26: a declared member who created explosives and sought to carry out attacks in the name of Daesh was neutralized in Saratov; a city in the southwest.
• July 1: police in Khanty-Mansi (a region in western Siberia) sent out an alert of a woman suspected of membership in an international terrorist organization being in the area.
• July 12: Moscow District Court sentenced seven members of Daesh to 15-21 years of incarceration for planning to attack the Sapsan train in Saint Petersburg in 2017.

These cases exhibit a Russian reliance on strict legislation and applications of force as primary counterterror tactics. Numerous laws have been passed, including the revocation of citizenship for naturalized citizens, life sentences for some terror-related crimes, and guidelines aimed to counter proliferation of extremist ideology, especially the contentious Yarovaya package.

A preference for the military-bureaucratic-judicial nexus and intelligence collection means psychological rehabilitation and cultural efforts receive less attention. Up until 2013, Russia applied such methods until preparations for the Sochi Olympics required hardline policies. However, emphasis on these two spheres provide Russian authorities with a humanitarian method to prevent radicalization before it takes root, and to counterbalance extremist teachings post-indoctrination, to those willing to relent. This is a key recommendation that needs to be met at many levels.

Those at risk of radicalization must be exposed to civil society organizations that promote tenets of inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue. Exposure to educational and employment prospects, tolerant views amongst peers, and wider community solidarity provide numerous opportunities for exchange.

Preservation of cultural traditions that display a wider understanding of ethnicity and religion — that have not been manipulated to advocate extremist or political views — teach at-risk youth they are already part of an important community, rather than a terrorist cell or a linked international organization. Sports provide additional occasions of solidarity, especially those that prioritize strength of character. For example, combat sports widely practiced across the region place the historic mindset of a ‘Caucasian warrior’ in a positive context, at the same time young girls practicing tightrope walking in Dagestan are taught to be ‘fearless’.

Psychological supports and deradicalization initiatives are of vital importance in the current context. These programs are especially beneficial to returnees willing to shun extremist views as they are offered a path towards redemption, as well as chances to inform at-risk peers of the realities of membership in such groups. The Comprehensive Plan of Counteraction of Ideology of Terrorism 2019-2023 reveals provisions covering this matter. As well, a member of the Russian State Duma announced the development of a rehabilitation center focused on individuals influenced by Hizb ut- Tahrir in annexed-Crimea, though it is viewed as politically motivated.

The Russian Federation strongly relies on military-bureaucratic-judicial methods as violent extremism and terrorism are serious infractions under the criminal code, as they should be. It seems easier to manage the localized and decentralized nature of domestic extremism in that framework. However, such hardline measures should be employed concurrently with softer methods aimed at prevention and redemption. They offer broader social advantages in totality.

Réjeanne Lacroix is the Editor-in-Chief at Rise to Peace.

Women of the Irish Republican Army: Powerful or Powerless?

Photographer: Colman Doyle took during the time of the ‘Troubles’ in West Belfast 1970s

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a paramilitary organization that has operated out of Ireland since 1917. There have been many versions of the IRA throughout time such as the ‘OLD IRA’ and the ‘REAL IRA’ however the focus of the group has mostly remained the same, which is that the whole of Ireland should be an independent republic free from British rule.

The focus of the group has mostly remained the same, which is that the whole of Ireland should be an independent republic free from British rule.

In 1969, the IRA was determined to see the British withdrawal from Northern Ireland but with a differing of opinion, the IRA split into two separate wings: officials and provisionals. Officials used their efforts to gain independence through peaceful action, while the provisionals used violence and extremism to make its agenda known.

This division on part of the provisionals resulted in an estimated 1,800 deaths, which included more than 500 civilians. As the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary organizations continued on what can only be described as a violent path, the British Army in the meantime retaliated which eventually marked the time known as the “Troubles” which affected Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for almost 30 years.

Women have been known to participate in many roles within the IRA. During the 1970s many women were compelled to join in some capacity as the resistance within the community helped to politicize them.

While many of these roles have involved protests and civil rights matters a number of women became known for their roles as combatants during the time of the troubles. This is an interesting development in paramilitary organizations as women were not often included in these physically violent positions.

The IRA stands as a departure in the traditional roles women hold in terrorism and changes the narrative of how they are viewed. This shift in the structure of terrorist groups raises the question of why the change in dynamics and what does it mean for how the group operates.

Does the addition of women to the group make it stronger or vulnerable? There is a tendency in research and in situations where female terrorists are actively observed to view them as victims instead of perpetrators despite overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.

There is a tendency in research and in situations where female terrorists are actively observed to view them as victims instead of perpetrators despite overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.

Societal norms and constructs have added to a preconceived notion that women are naturally more peaceful and less violent than men but it is naïve to allow this belief to distort the reality that women are active players in terrorism and are not to be overlooked. In fact, it could be argued that they are more dangerous than men in the sense they can use their femininity and this false image to mislead and conceal their violent agendas from others. A key member of the IRA and a prime example of this shift in gendered terrorism is Dolores Price.

In fact, it could be argued that they [women] are more dangerous than men in the sense they can use their femininity and this false image to mislead and conceal their violent agendas from others.

Dolores Price joined the Provisional IRA in the 1970s along with her sister Marian Price. During her time in the IRA, Price was known for her extreme devotion to the cause and her inherently violent nature.

Price was involved with some of the IRA’s most devastating crimes: In 1973 she participated in a car bombing at the Old Bailey in London injuring over 200 people and killing one.

Price and her sister were arrested shortly after the bombing. Originally the sentence was life imprisonment, however, their sentences were eventually brought down to 20 years. Price only served seven years for her role and participation in the bombing. While in prison Price went on a hunger strike in order to be moved to a different prison in Northern Ireland.

Other members of the IRA imprisoned for the bombing joined the hunger strike and it went on for 208 days due to the prisoners being fed forcefully by prison officers in order to keep them alive. The force-feeding was abruptly brought to an end when another member of the strike died.

Price began to resent and blame Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams for the ordering of the abduction and murder of the most high profile victim of the IRA. Price revealed that she was given the order of taking Jean McConville- a mother to 10 children, across the border where she was heinously murdered and buried by the IRA.

Price also made the accusation that Adams was responsible for the creation of a covert unit in Belfast that was used to push out informants of the IRA who were supplying information to defense agencies. Adams, who helped shape the Northern Ireland peace process, denies any knowledge of such. Price continued to be involved with political issues up until the 1990s.

Price also noted that she and her sister were fearful due to threats from other members of the IRA and the political party Sinn Féin after she made allegations against them publicly. Price died in January 2013 after being found in her home in Dublin from a suspected toxic illness due to mixing the medication.

Dolores Price’s role in the IRA raises the issue that is central to the women in extremism program- what motivates a woman to become involved in a terrorist organization and what it looks like compared to the experience of a man.

There is a certain attractiveness for men to join a terrorist organization in terms of the sexualization and allure of violence but there is little to suggest that women do not join for the same reasons.

In this case, we can only theorize about why Price joined the IRA but a lot can be deduced from her actions and involvement.

In an effort to understand more about the motivations of women in terrorist organizations there is a need to explore the attraction of power and loyalty to men in the community as factors for involvement.

Power and attraction are some of the most common reasons for the justification of violence.

Dolores Prices involvement in the IRA should pose as a reminder that combatant women can have a bigger influence in terrorism than men and should not be expected to be less militant or less dangerous due to their gender.