A review of Con Coughlin's Churchill's First War (London: MacMillan, 2013).
To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. -- Winston Churchill
This book, by the defence editor of the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, has a double significance. It gives an insight into the early life and career of one of the twentieth century's most famous statesmen, Winston Churchill. It also assesses Western strategy in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan today in the light of Churchill's experiences there almost 120 years ago.
By 1897, the British - stung by two costly wars in Afghanistan - had long since abandoned the idea of controlling that country directly. They were practising instead the marvellously named policy of "masterly inactivity" - watching developments from afar, controlling events within Afghanistan through judiciously applied bribes, and holding their massive destructive power in reserve. Their iron fist, as they had found, could punch deep into Afghanistan and do immense damage there, but was hard to pull out again afterwards.
The British remained keen, however, to assert their dominance over the peoples on their side of the newly-drawn and much-resented southern border of Afghanistan, which divided that country from the British-controlled territory that is now Pakistan. Most of those peoples were Pashtuns, the same ethnic group as today's Taliban (and, for that matter, Afghan President Hamid Karzai.) And they, in turn, were afraid that their prized autonomy was under threat. A brutal conflict resulted: Pashtuns with bright banners, well-aimed rifles and superior numbers against British and Indian soldiers with machine-guns.
Both sides were ruthless. The British suffered twenty per cent casualties, while unnumbered thousands of Pashtuns were killed. "There is no doubt that we are a very cruel people," one of the British participants wrote. The same man added, "I have not soiled my hands with any dirty work," but since he had no compunction in destroying the homes of rebellious Pashtun villagers, the unnamed "dirty work" was apparently something darker.
The writer was Winston Churchill, at an early stage of his career. He covered the conflict - writing, like Coughlin, for the Telegraph. He also took part in it, as a cavalry officer. Strange as it may seem today, he was reporting on battles in which he himself had taken part. Using British soldiers as war reporters was patriotic; it was also cheap, as Coughlin wryly notes.
In examining history, Coughlin always has the present day in view, and draws frequent comparisons between past British experiences and those of NATO in Afghanistan now.
Despite a few minor inaccuracies (he is not quite right to say that the Popalzai are not an Afghan royal tribe, or that the Taliban vandalised the British cemetery in Kabul, or that the "ghazis" who fought the British in the nineteenth century were salafis; the Pakistani mullah Fazlullah is spelled here "Fazullah"), it makes for an engaging and thought-provoking read. Darting into Churchill's own life story, Coughlin drags up some fun facts to enliven his narrative. I had never known that the New York Times was once the proud owner of a couple of machine guns (bought to protect it against rioters); or that Churchill picked up his fondness for whisky in what is now Pakistan; or that his mother, an American heiress, had quite so many lovers.
In Britain at present there is a controversy over the fact that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, once belonged to an Oxford club whose members sometimes trashed restaurants. Churchill and his fellow cavalry-officers went some way further than this: they brought a pony into their living-room and made it jump sofas, once allegedly fixed a horse race, and equipped their dining room with furniture made ready to smash.
But the core of this book is a grimmer story. Churchill's articles for the Daily Telegraph were brutal and devoid of compassion: they make for unpleasant reading. He described the Pashtuns as "pernicious vermin," whose clearance from their valleys would be a boon to humanity. Their religion was "the most miserable fanaticism." Twenty-three years old, with no prior experience of war, he was seeing the Pashtuns only through the barrel of a gun. "The religion of blood and war," he wrote sententiously in one of his columns, after hearing of the warlike behaviour of certain Pashtun clerics, "is face to face with that of peace. Luckily the religion of peace is usually the better armed." One would think that the Pashtuns had invaded British territory, rather than the other way around.
In mitigation, the book points out that Churchill had seen his friends killed around him, and had come close to death himself. Also, despite his brutal rhetoric, Churchill privately drew sombre conclusions about the value of the fighting in which he was taking part. "Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Militarily it is an open question, and politically it is a blunder." But then he concludes: "But we can't pull up now." Honour was now at stake, he felt. He always resented the political officers who wanted to talk to the enemy rather than fighting them.
Fighting is sometimes better than talking: proving that in the fight against Nazism would later be Churchill's greatest achievement. This earlier time, he was wrong. It proved entirely possible to "pull up." After the brief and bloody conflict in which Churchill fought - a "violent campaign to impose order on a part of the world that has never tolerated outside interference," as Coughlin terms it - the British adopted a similar arm's-length approach to the Pashtuns south of the Afghan border as they had done towards Afghanistan itself. This time, the result was decades of relative peace.
"Masterly inactivity" is not the same as negotiating with the enemy, though it may involve doing so. It is a careful and bloodless application of sustained diplomacy. Coughlin - no peacenik, and often a robust defender of Britain's military - seems to hint in this book that after years of war and drone strikes in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, masterly inactivity might once again be worth a try.
Gerard Russell was head of the British Embassy's political team in Afghanistan in 2007-8, and a political officer at the United Nations in Kabul in 2009.
Just over a year ago a group of twelve men were arrested as part of a long-term investigation led by British intelligence agency MI5 into a network of cells of British Muslims suspected of plotting acts of terrorism. Last week, just as the jury trial was about to get underway, the nine defendants eventually charged in the case chose to plead guilty in the hope of getting reduced sentences. Codenamed Operation Guava and featuring British radical groups, the Internet, Inspire magazine, training camps in Pakistan, prison radicalization and a mysterious character known as "the Bengali," this case brings together a number of different strands in British jihadist terrorism.
The accused plotters were rounded up in four different locations: Birmingham, Cardiff, East London and Stoke-on-Trent, though charges against the Birmingham group were dropped. Four of the men have now admitted to planning on leaving a bomb inside the restroom of the London Stock Exchange (LSE), while the other five pled guilty to various charges of terrorist fundraising, attending terrorist attack planning meetings, or possessing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) Inspire magazine. In summing up, the prosecutor highlighted that the group had not actually planned to kill anyone; "their intention was to cause terror and economic harm and disruption." However, "their chosen method meant there was a risk people would be maimed or killed."
The various cells of the plot met independently in their various locations before connecting nationally through radical networks, Dawah (proselytization) stalls run by extremist groups in cities like Cardiff and webforums like PalTalk. They had all met together in person just a couple of times. The prosecution characterized Mohammed Chowdhury of London as the "ring leader" of the network, though it seems to have been less structured than that. The Stoke group in particular developed plans on its own to carry out a bombing campaign in Stoke, and were eager to recruit more members and train in Kashmir. Stories in the media indicated that members of the Cardiff and Stoke groups had been seen at meetings and protests organized by successor groups of al Muhajiroun (the infamous group established in the late 1990s by a cleric now-banned from Britain, Omar Bakri Mohammed). And a picture has emerged of central plotter Mohammed Chowdury holding an Islam4UK placard at one of the organization's events (Islam4UK was a name adopted by al Muhajiroun after a former appellation was added to the list of proscribed terror groups by British authorities). While the role of al Muhajiroun -- or whatever the name of the successor group may be; at other times they have used the names Saved Sect, al Ghurabaa, Muslims Against Crusades, and the one in vogue currently, Ummah United -- as a radicalizer in networks that have produced terrorists has somewhat receded from that of its heyday, this plot showed the potential risks that still linger from the network.
Neighbors of the men detained in Cardiff reported that some members of the group had apparently served time in prison, where it seemed they had picked up radical ideas. A longstanding concern of Western authorities, the potential for prison radicalization had already reared its head this year in the U.K. when it was revealed last month that a British man who had been converted while serving in Feltham Young Offenders Institution was a key figure in an alleged terrorist plot that was disrupted in December in Mombasa, Kenya. He was not the first terrorist to have done time in Feltham; both ‘shoe bomber' Richard Reid and leader of the July 21, 2005 follow-up attempt to attack London's underground system, Muktar Said Ibrahim, passed through their gates.
But the element that has caught the most media attention is the group's use of AQAP's English-language jihadi manual Inspire. The group had downloaded copies of the magazine and were apparently following its advice in trying to plan a terrorist plot. They discussed the idea of copying the parcel bombs sent by the group in October 2010 and using the Royal Mail or DHL to send bombs within the United Kingdom. Where they were planning on sending them was hinted at in a list they had compiled of the addresses of London Mayor Boris Johnson and at least two prominent British rabbis. Members of the group were also trailed as they reconnoitered a number of locations in London, including the London Stock Exchange, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Blackfriars Bridge and the Church of Scientology. The Stoke group discussed leaving bombs in local pubs and clubs. They seemed to have taken Anwar al-Awlaki's injunctions (of which they had collected substantial amounts) to heart, and were eager to strike in the West at any targets that they could find.
But the group also appears to have maintained some connections with more classic aspects of the British jihadi story, and sought to train abroad in Kashmir. Initially, they claimed that their meetings were to find ways of raising money for Kashmir. Indeed, the Stoke group (predominantly made up of Pakistani-Britons, unlike the London and Cardiff groups, which were made up of Bangladeshi-Britons) had decided to travel abroad to obtain training and had already funded the construction of a madrassa in Kashmir that they spoke of using as a training camp for British radicals. Furthermore, they made connections to a mysterious figure named in court only as "the Bengali," after which they had moved forward with putting their ideas into practice, scoping out targets and trying out making bombs.This plot is not the only one currently making its way through British courts. Late last year, police in Birmingham arrested a group they claimed had discussed suicide bombs and had allegedly made connections with groups in Pakistan. Operation Guava's significance lies in the fact that it brings together a number of different strands in current counter-terrorism concerns in the UK, creating a complex hybrid plot that seems to have been hatched and conceived entirely at home. A textbook example of Leaderless Jihad.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), and his writing can be found: http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
Assuming for a moment that many of Afghanistan's security problems originate outside the country's borders, the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan to be held in Istanbul on November 2 could be a unique occasion to address the many obstacles inhibiting a just and durable peace in the country. But the possibility of obtaining any tangible result from Istanbul is more remote than some may expect. Under the veneer of diplomatic nicety and rhetoric lies a set of mini-Great Game maneuvers that will put to the test the current efforts to bring about Afghan reconciliation, transition, sovereignty, and a sustainable paradigm shift in regional relations.
The Turkish initiative, backed by Afghanistan and major Western donors, will bring together a core group of leaders from 14 nations that form the "Heart of Asia" consortium, along with observers from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, Japan and others, to try to improve region-wide security and cooperation prospects through confidence-building measures and economic integration initiatives, such as the "New Silk Road" project.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explained that the United States and others are working in forums such as the Istanbul meeting to help secure commitments from regional countries "to respect Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity and to support Afghan reconciliation." Another aim of the gathering is to smooth the way for December's much larger conference to be held in Bonn, Germany, where decisions will be made for the post-2014 international engagement and long-term Afghan aid strategy.
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British authorities Sunday chargedfour men in Birmingham with plotting a terrorist bombingcampaign in the United Kingdom, accusing two of the alleged cell members oftravelling to Pakistan for "training in terrorism including bomb making,weapons and poison making" at some point after Christmas Day 2010. The DailyTelegraph reportedlast week that British authorities suspect that al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistanmay have directed the plot.
Underliningthe seriousness of the plot, three of their number were charged with "beingconcerned in the purchase of components and chemicals for a home made explosivedevice," and "construction of a homemade explosive device for terrorist acts."
Thealleged Birmingham plot highlights the fact that despite mounting pressure from dronestrikes on al-Qaeda Central in Pakistan, Westernmilitants receiving terrorist training in the tribal areas of Pakistan arestill a significant homeland security threat to Western countries.
This was the conclusion of an in-depth study Iauthored for the New America Foundation in July, which included a comprehensivesurvey of all the serious terrorist plots against the West since 2004.
The study found that progress against al-Qaedain Pakistan had not yet been reflected in the metric that most counts, that ofreduced plots against the West originating with or involving the FederallyAdministered Tribal Areas, or FATA.
Last year, there were four serious Islamistterrorist plots against the West with training or operational links toestablished groups in Pakistan, the most in any year since al-Qaedaconsolidated its safe-haven in the FATA soon after the 9/11 attacks and theAmerican invasion of Afghanistan. The alleged Birmingham plot is the secondsuch plot thwarted in 2011. In April of this year, German police broke up an alleged plot centered on Dusseldorf by German residents trained and directed by al-Qaedain Pakistan.
Since 2010 there has only been one serious plotdirected against the West from Yemen. While al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)has garnered significant attention from Western officials and analysts, thepresence of several terrorist groups in Pakistan with a track record oftargeting the West, arguably makes the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region stillthe most dangerous terrorist safe haven in the world. For example, FaisalShahzad who attempted to bomb Times Square on May 1, 2010 was trained by thePakistani Taliban earlier that year, and was directed to launch his failedattack by the group.
While drone strikes in FATA have undoubtedlydamaged al-Qaeda, the organization has to some degree adapted by decentralizingits operations and training militants indoors inside small mountain shacks,according to the testimony of Western recruits who recently trained with militant groups in the region. As outlined inthe New America Foundation study, al-Qaeda has also promoted new recruits intosenior positions, including Western recruits with a keen understanding ofWestern vulnerabilities.
For example American-Saudi AdnanShukrijumah allegedly helped al-Qaeda orchestrate the September 2009 plot against NewYork's Subway involving Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi, and is still believedat large in the tribal areas. So is Abdullrahmen Hilal Hussain, an Austrian-bornmilitant of Syrian descent, who hasallegedly helped organize bomb-making instruction for Western recruits, according tocourt documents.
Some operatives who have been killed orarrested will, however, be very difficult to replace. Time will tell if thedeath of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the recent killing of several key alQaeda operatives in drone strikes the tribal areas of Pakistan, including Ilyas Kashmiri and Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, aswell as the arrest of senior al-Qaeda operative Younis al-Mauretani in Quetta in August, will reduce the number ofplots being directed against the Westeach year with links to terrorist groups in Pakistan.
Hundreds of Western militants are currentlytraining or operating in Pakistan, according to an official report published by the U.K. Home Office in July.Western-counter-terrorism officials say recruits are still streaming into thetribal areas of Pakistan from the West. While most travel there to fight inAfghanistan, their transit through the area provides al-Qaeda withopportunities to launch terrorist attacks in their home countries.
Furthermore a Pakistani military operation toremove the presence of pro-al-Qaeda militants from North Waziristan -- theepicenter of plots against the West in recent years - appears as remote asever. While groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani Networkremain ensconced in these areas, they will likely continue to protect andharbor al-Qaeda.
In a survey of the 32 serious plots against theWest between January 2004 and early July 2011 the study found that 44 percentof these plots had direct operational ties to terrorist groups in Pakistan,throwing into sharp relief the danger posed by the FATA terrorist safe-haven.The proportion of serious plots in which cell members trained with terroristgroups in Pakistan was higher still - 53 percent of all such plots against theWest. By way of contrast, only 6 percent of these plots had operational ortraining ties to terrorists in Yemen, and only 3 percent to Iraq. In only 38percent of serious plots was there no overseas training.
The study categorized "serious" plots as allthose in which weapon components had been obtained without the assistance ofundercover law enforcement agents which had the capacity to kill at least ten.
The full New America Foundation study isavailable here
Paul Cruickshank, an investigative reporterspecializing in al Qaeda, is an alumni Fellow at the NYU Center on Law &Security and a terrorism analyst for CNN. The views expressed in this articleare entirely his own.
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The ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has led tostock-taking of the attacks and their legacy. Even after ten years, debates remain fierce about the scope of thethreat, and the proper nature of any response.
Making sense of the aftermath of 9/11, the subject of JasonBurke's The 9/11 Wars, is amonumental task -- but Burke is up to the job. The 9/11 Wars is insightful, thorough, and at times fascinating. Burkebrings the reader from villages in Afghanistan and Iraq to slums in London andFrance, offering individual portraits of combatants and those overrun by warwhile also weaving in government policies and scholarly research to portray thebroader context. The resulting tapestry leaves the reader more informed, thoughoften appalled by policymakers' ignorance and furious when well-intentionedpolicies backfire.
Burke himself is well-qualified for his ambitious task. Aveteran reporter for The Guardian andThe Observer, he has writtenextensively on al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The 9/11 Wars draws on a wide range of sources and, in contrast tothe works of many journalists, is meticulously documented.
Burke's work is a book big in scope and, weighing in at a hefty752 pages, in substance. Such size is understandable. As he points out, theconflicts associated with 9/11's aftermath are not one but many, and each onehas its own intricacies. Burke is at hisbest giving ground truth to the war on terrorism. He claims his book is aboutpeople, not politicians, and for the most part he stays true to his promise.
The United States and al-Qaeda, Burke contends, repeatedlymisunderstood the complexity of the societies in which they waged their wars. Whetherit was trying to impose Western concepts of women's rights on villages inAfghanistan or viewing the Kurdistan-based terrorist group Ansar al-Islam asfriendly to Saddam Hussein's regime (when it was in fact hostile to the former),the United States frequently was its own worst enemy. Nor do U.S. allies farebetter. Indeed, after the July 2005terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, the discourse in Europe on terrorism becameparticularly absurd. Muslimorganizations had embraced a crude anti-Americanism and made claims that they werereceiving Nazi-like treatment from European governments, while nativistscaricatured Muslims as brutal rapists.
Al-Qaeda, however, fares even worse in Burke's telling. It wasoften disorganized and fractious, held together by personal links rather thanfirm institutional ties. Attacks oncivilians turned locals against al-Qaeda in places like Jordan and Indonesia,squandering the goodwill its fighters had gained from their battles againstU.S. soldiers. Striking at Americans inIraq was seen as heroic, Burke points out, "But when the violence came home itprovoked a very different reaction. Thesight of blood on one's own streets, the dismembered bodies of one's owncompatriots, the grieving parents who could have been one's own ... turnedentire populations away from violence." As they lost popularity, the terroristsrelied more on coercion -- and in so doing made themselves even lesspopular.
Burke's fundamental argument is a simple one: the local isthe enemy of the global. For the United States, this meant that grandiosemissions to transform the Arab world into a mirror image of Western democracyled to insurgency and scorn. For al-Qaeda, attempts to impose an Islamic stateran into stiff opposition from nationalists, practitioners of more traditionalforms of Islam, tribal leaders, and others with a stake in their long-establishedways of life. In the battle against al-Qaeda, "Bloody-minded localparticularism" is America's greatest ally.
Burke at times offers guarded praise for U.S. and alliedpolicies after 2006. The new U.S. counter-insurgency manual, for example,stresses cultural sensitivities and local concerns as a way to win the war,while Burke describes how deradicalization programs in Europe and the MiddleEast offer a softer, but in his view often more effective, form ofcounter-terrorism.
Al-Qaeda, in contrast, remains under siege. To secure aplace to hide its leaders, the group often must avoid training, planning, andrecruiting on a large scale. Conditions forwould-be fighters hiding out in the tribal parts of Pakistan are much worsethan they were before 9/11 under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Burke relates howone Belgian recruit who got malaria was "left in the corner" and "given a jabevery few days by a kid who was the little brother of the local doctor." Even al-Qaeda'smany affiliates, which offer some bench strength to the group, often do notheed the central leadership, or frequently they lack popularity themselves. Asa result, the much-vaunted "network of networks," he argues, is "battered anddisjointed."
Pakistan, which Burke correctly identifies as the mostimportant theater in the 9/11 wars, comes off the most poorly (thoughAfghanistan is a close second). Use of jihadist proxies has long been part ofPakistan's overall strategy, and the Pakistani security establishment remainscommitted to them, even after 9/11 and subsequent violence in Pakistan showedthat the militants were off the leash. Sadly, Burke finds that in this dividedcountry there is more unity than ever on one issue: that the United States and its allies arepart of an anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim conspiracy.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of The 9/11 Wars -- one common to many accounts of counter-terrorism-- is that it misses much of the day-to-day of intelligence gathering andpolice work against suspected jihadists around the world. The CIA is blastedfor its "extensive [program] of kidnapping suspects overseas, illegaldetention, collusion and direct participation in torture." However, thenear-constant, and largely successful, intelligence effort against al-Qaedagets little attention. In countries as far apart (politically as well asgeographically) as Sweden, Malaysia, Morocco, and Russia, security serviceshunt suspected jihadists with U.S. support and guidance. Such behind-the-scenesarrests rarely make good stories, but they put pressure on al-Qaeda and itsallies worldwide, making it far harder for the organization to communicate,plan, and conduct attacks. Indeed, the biggest threats emanate from where counter-terrorismcooperation is poor due to the host country's support for jihadists (Pakistan)or lack of governance (such as in Somalia or Yemen).
In its attempt to be comprehensive, the book at times offerstoo much detail. The story of the U.S. fiasco in Iraq has been told, and toldwell, in other books, and another detailed repetition won't offer most readerstoo much (though the additional attention on the followers of radical Shi'acleric Moqtada al-Sadr is most welcome, as their role in the Iraq conflict isoften poorly understood). While the ups and downs of terrorism andcounterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan are less-known, some of thematerial could be condensed, as the reader may get bogged down in each twistand turn and lose sight of the bigger picture.
The 9/11 Wars wentto press as the Arab Spring broke out and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden waskilled, so understandably Burke doesn't have much to add on thesetransformative events beyond the most general analysis. Such events, however,are in keeping with Burke's theme that local politics and the aspirations ofordinary people shape the battlefield, and that the most profound events areoften the least expected.
Burke ends, appropriately, on a sober and grim note: thebody counts. As he points out, there is no clear winner of the 9/11 wars, but"losers are not hard to identify." Thetens of thousands dead from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan arelikely to be joined by tens of thousands more in the next decade. New theaters,ranging from Yemen to Nigeria, may also become enflamed. Stopping theconflagration is beyond the skill and means of even the best of leaders, but ifthey avoid the mistakes Burke identifies, they can better shield their owncitizens and avoid adding fuel to the fire.
Daniel Byman is theauthor of A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of IsraeliCounterterrorism. He is a professor atGeorgetown University and the research director of the Saban Center atBrookings.
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The Obama administration yesterday submitted its twice-annual report on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan to Congress, grimly stating that there is "no clear path toward defeating the insurgency in Pakistan, despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 [Pakistani] forces" (McClatchy, Post, Reuters, FT, BBC). The report expressed concern about Pakistan's failure to sustain counterinsurgency operations against militants in the country's northwest, noting that Pakistani forces have had to conduct three major operations in Mohmand agency in the last two years, though the unclassified report made no explicit calls for further operations, especially in troubled North Waziristan (WSJ, AFP). The report also called Pakistan's worsening economic situation "the greatest threat to Pakistan's stability over the medium term" (NYT).
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"If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment," George Orwell wrote in 1945, "you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators." Certainly, international sport has all too often amplified the worst aspects of jingoistic behavior, but this Wednesday's Cricket World Cup semifinal between India and Pakistan, to be held in a suburb of Chandigarh, the capital of the Indian state of Punjab, promises to prove Orwell wrong, much as previous such encounters between the two teams have done. Cricket, in fact, perhaps best illustrates why the India-Pakistan relationship may be among the world's most misunderstood.
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A few weeks have passed since the discovery on extremist forums of the image of alleged martyr "Musa, the British." While Britain's intelligence service MI5 confirms that they believe that at least 4,000 young Britons have been drawn to fight and train at militant camps in Waziristan and Afghanistan prior to 2009, they have thus far been remarkably coy in their appearances in propaganda videos produced by jihadi media outlets. This stands in stark contrast with the German jihadist contingent, which seem to revel in their celebrity and repeatedly feature in jihadist media outlets, as well as self-publishing tracts describing their experiences. Parsing this difference between these two groups (and the related question of why only Adam Gadahn appears amongst the estimated hundred or so Americans Bob Woodward was told have ventured to Waziristan) might offer some deeper insights into the machinations of the networks drawing young western Muslims to Pakistani training camps and help analysts better understand trends of growth or shrinkage of such networks.
Largely unremarked beyond in South Asia, last weekend marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of the death of Maqbool Butt. One of the first prominent leaders of the Kashmiri liberation struggle, Butt's execution almost three decades ago was expedited as a result of events on the other side of the globe in Birmingham, England when a group of Kashmiris kidnapped and executed an Indian diplomat. A set of connected events that while anomalous at the time presaged what used to be the one of the main motors of jihad in the U.K.
Claiming to be members of the Kashmir Liberation Army, the kidnappers snatched Ravindra Mhatre, then the deputy Indian High Commissioner in Birmingham, as he stepped off the bus on his way home with a birthday cake for his daughter. Bundling him into the back of a car, they took him to the Alum Rock part of the city where they held him for a day while demanding through the press £1 million in cash and the liberation of Maqbool Butt. Quickly losing patience, the men waited about a day before taking Mhatre into the countryside outside the city and executing him outside a farm. The Indian government's response was swift and within less than a week they had expedited the hanging of Maqbool Butt, who had been sitting on Indian death row for almost eight years for the murder of a bank manager during a robbery.
The executions were a shock and the first public example for Britons of the depth of feeling and connection between the Kashmiri population in the U.K. and their relations on the other side of the globe. Political parties and religious leaders would use the U.K. as a base for fundraising and rallies, families would travel back and forth and send children and brides to join other family members, and militant factions would seek money and recruits to support the cause of Kashmiri liberation back in South Asia. Years later, this would provide the next generation of young men with both a network of contacts to go and join militant groups in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but also normalize the notion of going abroad to fight for a cause.
And in the years immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the pipeline this created was at the heart of British terrorism problems. Operation Crevice in 2004 (the fertilizer bomb plotters), Operation Rhyme the same year (the cell led by long-term Lashkar-e-Taiba warrior and author Dhiren Barot), the July 7, 2005 attack on London's public transport system and Operation Overt (the 2006 attempt to bring down seven planes as they were in transit across the Atlantic) all owed something to this pipeline, with key individuals in all cases being initially drawn to the cause of jihad through the Kashmiri cause. The proximity of Kashmiri groups to their ideological brethren in al-Qaeda and interchange between them meant al-Qaeda was able to tap this network for a string of plots targeting the U.K.
But since this apex in the mid-2000s, the problem has now shrunk a bit. While security officials are clearly still alert to the potential problems engendered by the enduring Pakistani connection in the U.K., the threat has now evolved in a number of different directions.
This week, Foreign Ministers will meet in London to discuss the Afghan government's strategy to improve security and governance and -- just as important -- how the international community can better support Afghans.
In advance of the conference, Britain's Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was in town last Thursday to discuss the agenda and objectives with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and others. He also had the unprecedented privilege of speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As Senator John Kerry said, it is vital for the U.K. and U.S. to have that kind of dialogue on an issue where we work so closely.
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By Richard Greenberg, Paul Cruickshank, and Chris Hansen
In one of the most significant terrorism cases since 9/11, a British court Monday sentenced three British citizens to life in prison for conspiring to blow up transatlantic airliners in a plot that was thwarted in August 2006. The terrorist plot, which disrupted international air travel at the time, led authorities in 2006 to impose restrictions on liquids and gels on airplanes. Those restrictions remain in place today.
The three men, who were convicted by a British jury one week ago, were considered ringleaders of the conspiracy, according to prosecutors. They were among twelve charged in the case. To date, nine have stood trial.
In addition to the three convicted, the jury last Monday found four other defendants not guilty of the airliner conspiracy. One defendant was acquitted. The verdicts came at the end of a six-month retrial ordered by British authorities after a jury delivered mixed verdicts in an initial trial held in 2008.
In spite of the four acquittals in the retrial, British authorities expressed relief and satisfaction that those they described as ringleaders were found guilty. "I cannot thank enough those involved for their professionalism and dedication in thwarting this attack and saving thousands of lives," said U.K. Home Secretary Alan Johnson in statement. Johnson described it as the largest counterterrorism operation ever in the U.K.; the U.K. Press Association estimated the cost of the investigation and two trials at around $200 million.
The case highlighted the continuing threat posed by British-born radicals and the potential for Britain to serve as a staging ground for attacks against the United States.
Authorities said the men, arrested in August 2006, planned to smuggle liquid explosives disguised as sports drinks aboard a half-dozen or more flights headed from London's Heathrow Airport to cities in the United States and Canada. Counterterrorism investigators say that such an attack could have killed well over 1,500 on board the planes, and many more if detonated over densely populated urban areas.
In an interview last year, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told Dateline NBC that, if successful, the alleged plot "would have rivaled 9/11 in terms of the number of deaths and interms of the impact on the international economy."
A review of the nearly 5,000 pages of trial transcripts and interviews with key British, American and Pakistani officials involved in the investigation offer insights into the current state of al Qaeda and the evolution of its operations, adding to the body of evidence that recruits from the West are being trained and directed by al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
To read the rest of this in-depth investigation of the plot that "rivaled 9/11," visit Dateline NBC, where this was originally published.
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