Sep 8, 2007

The Israel Lobby in the U.S.

Here is an interesting and insightful article from Stratfor on the the Israel Lobby in U.S. This one, if true, will put to rest some popular myths about the "most powerful" lobby in U.S.

By George Friedman

U.S. President George W. Bush made an appearance in Iraq's restive Anbar province on Sept. 3 -- in part to tout the success of the military surge there ahead of the presentation in Washington of the Petraeus report. For the next month or two, the battle over Iraq will be waged in Washington -- and one country will come up over and over again, from any number of directions: Israel. Israel will be invoked as an ally in the war on terrorism -- the reason the United States is in the war in the first place. Some will say that Israel maneuvered the United States into Iraq to serve its own purposes. Some will say it orchestrated 9/11 for its own ends. Others will say that, had the United States supported Israel more resolutely, there would not have been a 9/11.

There is probably no relationship on which people have more diverging views than on that between the United States and Israel. Therefore, since it is going to be invoked in the coming weeks -- and Bush is taking a fairly irrelevant pause at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Australia -- this is an opportune time to consider the geopolitics of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Let's begin with some obvious political points. There is a relatively small Jewish community in the United States, though its political influence is magnified by its strategic location in critical states such as New York and the fact that it is more actively involved in politics than some other ethnic groups.

The Jewish community, as tends to be the case with groups, is deeply divided on many issues. It tends to be united on one issue -- Israel -- but not with the same intensity as in the past, nor with even a semblance of agreement on the specifics. The American Jewish community is as divided as the Israeli Jewish community, with a large segment of people who don't much care thrown in. At the same time, this community donates large sums of money to American and Israeli organizations, including groups that lobby on behalf of Israeli issues in Washington. These lobbying entities lean toward the right wing of Israel's political spectrum, in large part because the Israeli right has tended to govern in the past generation and these groups tend to follow the dominant Israeli strand. It also is because American Jews who contribute to Israel lobby organizations lean right in both Israeli and American politics.

The Israel lobby, which has a great deal of money and experience, is extremely influential in Washington. For decades now, it has done a good job of ensuring that Israeli interests are attended to in Washington, and certainly on some issues it has skewed U.S. policy on the Middle East. There are Jews who practice being shocked at this assertion, but they must not be taken seriously. They know better, which is why they donate money. Others pretend to be shocked at the idea of a lobbyist influencing U.S. policy on the Middle East, but they also need not be taken seriously, because they are trying to influence Washington as well, though they are not as successful. Obviously there is an influential Israel lobby in Washington.

There are, however, two important questions. The first is whether this is in any way unique. Is a strong Israel lobby an unprecedented intrusion into foreign policy? The key question, though, is whether Israeli interests diverge from U.S. interests to the extent that the Israel lobby is taking U.S. foreign policy in directions it wouldn't go otherwise, in directions that counter the U.S. national interest.

Begin with the first question. Prior to both world wars there was extensive debate on whether the United States should intervene in the war. In both cases, the British government lobbied extensively for U.S. intervention on behalf of the United Kingdom. The British made two arguments. The first was that the United States shared a heritage with England -- code for the idea that white Anglo-Saxon Protestants should stand with white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The second was that there was a fundamental political affinity between British and U.S. democracy and that it was in the U.S. interest to protect British democracy from German authoritarianism.

Many Americans, including President Franklin Roosevelt, believed both arguments. The British lobby was quite powerful. There was a German lobby as well, but it lacked the numbers, the money and the traditions to draw on.

From a geopolitical point of view, both arguments were weak. The United States and the United Kingdom not only were separate countries, they had fought some bitter wars over the question. As for political institutions, geopolitics, as a method, is fairly insensitive to the moral claims of regimes. It works on the basis of interest. On that basis, an intervention on behalf of the United Kingdom in both wars made sense because it provided a relatively low-cost way of preventing Germany from dominating Europe and challenging American sea power. In the end, it wasn't the lobbying interest, massive though it was, but geopolitical necessity that drove U.S. intervention.

The second question, then, is: Has the Israel lobby caused the United States to act in ways that contravene U.S. interests? For example, by getting the United States to support Israel, did it turn the Arab world against the Americans? Did it support Israeli repression of Palestinians, and thereby generate an Islamist radicalism that led to 9/11? Did it manipulate U.S. policy on Iraq so that the United States invaded Iraq on behalf of Israel? These allegations have all been made. If true, they are very serious charges.

It is important to remember that U.S.-Israeli ties were not extraordinarily close prior to 1967. President Harry Truman recognized Israel, but the United States had not provided major military aid and support. Israel, always in need of an outside supply of weapons, first depended on the Soviet Union, which shipped weapons to Israel via Czechoslovakia. When the Soviets realized that Israeli socialists were anti-Soviet as well, they dropped Israel. Israel's next patron was France. France was fighting to hold on to Algeria and maintain its influence in Lebanon and Syria, both former French protectorates. The French saw Israel as a natural ally. It was France that really created the Israeli air force and provided the first technology for Israeli nuclear weapons.

The United States was actively hostile to Israel during this period. In 1956, following Gamal Abdul Nasser's seizure of power in Egypt, Cairo nationalized the Suez Canal. Without the canal, the British Empire was finished, and ultimately the French were as well. The United Kingdom and France worked secretly with Israel, and Israel invaded the Sinai. Then, in order to protect the Suez Canal from an Israeli-Egyptian war, a Franco-British force parachuted in to seize the canal. President Dwight Eisenhower forced the British and French to withdraw -- as well as the Israelis. U.S.-Israeli relations remained chilly for quite a while.

The break point with France came in 1967. The Israelis, under pressure from Egypt, decided to invade Egypt, Jordan and Syria -- ignoring French President Charles de Gaulle's demand that they not do so. As a result, France broke its alignment with Israel. This was the critical moment in U.S.-Israeli relations. Israel needed a source of weaponry as its national security needs vastly outstripped its industrial base. It was at this point that the Israel lobby in the United States became critical. Israel wanted a relationship with the United States and the Israel lobby brought tremendous pressure to bear, picturing Israel as a heroic, embattled democracy, surrounded by bloodthirsty neighbors, badly needing U.S. help. President Lyndon B. Johnson, bogged down in Vietnam and wanting to shore up his base, saw a popular cause in Israel and tilted toward it.

But there were critical strategic issues as well. Syria and Iraq had both shifted into the pro-Soviet camp, as had Egypt. Some have argued that, had the United States not supported Israel, this would not have happened. This, however, runs in the face of history. It was the United States that forced the Israelis out of the Sinai in 1956, but the Egyptians moved into the Soviet camp anyway. The argument that it was uncritical support for Israel that caused anti-Americanism in the Arab world doesn't hold water. The Egyptians became anti-American in spite of an essentially anti-Israeli position in 1956. By 1957 Egypt was a Soviet ally.

The Americans ultimately tilted toward Israel because of this, not the other way around. Egypt was not only providing the Soviets with naval and air bases, but also was running covert operations in the Arabian Peninsula to bring down the conservative sheikhdoms there, including Saudi Arabia's. The Soviets were seen as using Egypt as a base of operations against the United States. Syria was seen as another dangerous radical power, along with Iraq. The defense of the Arabian Peninsula from radical, pro-Soviet Arab movements, as well as the defense of Jordan, became a central interest of the United States.

Israel was seen as contributing by threatening the security of both Egypt and Syria. The Saudi fear of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was palpable. Riyadh saw the Soviet-inspired liberation movements as threatening Saudi Arabia's survival. Israel was engaged in a covert war against the PLO and related groups, and that was exactly what the Saudis wanted from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. Israel's covert capability against the PLO, coupled with its overt military power against Egypt and Syria, was very much in the American interest and that of its Arab allies. It was a low-cost solution to some very difficult strategic problems at a time when the United States was either in Vietnam or recovering from the war.

The occupation of the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights in 1967 was not in the U.S. interest. The United States wanted Israel to carry out its mission against Soviet-backed paramilitaries and tie down Egypt and Syria, but the occupation was not seen as part of that mission. The Israelis initially expected to convert their occupation of the territories into a peace treaty, but that only happened, much later, with Egypt. At the Khartoum summit in 1967, the Arabs delivered the famous three noes: No negotiation. No recognition. No peace. Israel became an occupying power. It has never found its balance.

The claim has been made that if the United States forced the Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza, then it would receive credit and peace would follow. There are three problems with that theory. First, the Israelis did not occupy these areas prior to 1967 and there was no peace. Second, groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah have said that a withdrawal would not end the state of war with Israel. And therefore, third, the withdrawal would create friction with Israel without any clear payoff from the Arabs.

It must be remembered that Egypt and Jordan have both signed peace treaties with Israel and seem not to care one whit about the Palestinians. The Saudis have never risked a thing for the Palestinians, nor have the Iranians. The Syrians have, but they are far more interested in investing in Beirut hotels than in invading Israel. No Arab state is interested in the Palestinians, except for those that are actively hostile. There is Arab and Islamic public opinion and nonstate organizations, but none would be satisfied with Israeli withdrawal. They want Israel destroyed. Even if the United States withdrew all support for Israel, however, Israel would not be destroyed. The radical Arabs do not want withdrawal; they want destruction. And the moderate Arabs don't care about the Palestinians beyond rhetoric.

Now we get to the heart of the matter. If the United States broke ties with Israel, would the U.S. geopolitical position be improved? In other words, if it broke with Israel, would Iran or al Qaeda come to view the United States in a different way? Critics of the Israel lobby argue that, except for U.S. support for Israel, the United States would have better relations in the Muslim world, and would not be targeted by al Qaeda or threatened by Iran. In other words, except for the Israel lobby's influence, the United States would be much more secure.

Al Qaeda does not see Israel by itself as its central problem. Its goal is the resurrection of the caliphate -- and it sees U.S. support for Muslim regimes as the central problem. If the United States abandoned Israel, al Qaeda would still confront U.S. support for countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. For al Qaeda, Israel is an important issue, but for the United States to soothe al Qaeda, it would have to abandon not only Israel, but its non-Islamist allies in the Middle East.

As for Iran, the Iranian rhetoric, as we have said, has never been matched by action. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian military purchased weapons and parts from the Israelis. It was more delighted than anyone when Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. Iran's problem with the United States is its presence in Iraq, its naval presence in the Persian Gulf and its support for the Kurds. If Israel disappeared from the face of the Earth, Iran's problems would remain the same.

It has been said that the Israelis inspired the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no doubt that Israel was pleased when, after 9/11, the United States saw itself as an anti-Islamist power. Let us remind our more creative readers, however, that benefiting from something does not mean you caused it. However, it has never been clear that the Israelis were all that enthusiastic about invading Iraq. Neoconservative Jews like Paul Wolfowitz were enthusiastic, as were non-Jews like Dick Cheney. But the Israeli view of a U.S. invasion of Iraq was at most mixed, and to some extent dubious. The Israelis liked the Iran-Iraq balance of power and were close allies of Turkey, which certainly opposed the invasion. The claim that Israel supported the invasion comes from those who mistake neoconservatives, many of whom are Jews who support Israel, with Israeli foreign policy, which was much more nuanced than the neoconservatives. The Israelis were not at all clear about what the Americans were doing in Iraq, but they were in no position to complain.

Israeli-U.S. relations have gone through three phases. From 1948 to 1967, the United States supported Israel's right to exist but was not its patron. In the 1967-1991 period, the Israelis were a key American asset in the Cold War. From 1991 to the present, the relationship has remained close but it is not pivotal to either country. Washington cannot help Israel with Hezbollah or Hamas. The Israelis cannot help the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan. If the relationship were severed, it would have remarkably little impact on either country -- though keeping the relationship is more valuable than severing it.

To sum up: There is a powerful Jewish, pro-Israel lobby in Washington, though it was not very successful in the first 20 years or so of Israel's history. When U.S. policy toward Israel swung in 1967 it had far more to do with geopolitical interests than with lobbying. The United States needed help with Egypt and Syria and Israel could provide it. Lobbying appeared to be the key, but it wasn't; geopolitical necessity was. Egypt was anti-American even when the United States was anti-Israeli. Al Qaeda would be anti-American even if the United States were anti-Israel. Rhetoric aside, Iran has never taken direct action against Israel and has much more important things on its plate.

Portraying the Israel lobby as super-powerful behooves two groups: Critics of U.S. Middle Eastern policy and the Israel lobby itself. Critics get to say the U.S. relationship with Israel is the result of manipulation and corruption. Thus, they get to avoid discussing the actual history of Israel, the United States and the Middle East. The lobby benefits from having robust power because one of its jobs is to raise funds -- and the image of a killer lobby opens a lot more pocketbooks than does the idea that both Israel and the United States are simply pursuing their geopolitical interests and that things would go on pretty much the same even without slick lobbying.

The great irony is that the critics of U.S. policy and the Israel lobby both want to believe in the same myth -- that great powers can be manipulated to harm themselves by crafty politicians. The British didn't get the United States into the world wars, and the Israelis aren't maneuvering the Americans into being pro-Israel. Beyond its ability to exert itself on small things, the Israel lobby is powerful in influencing Washington to do what it is going to do anyway. What happens next in Iraq is not up to the Israel lobby -- though it and the Saudi Embassy have a different story.[

Stratfor on Osama bin Laden's Latest Video

Stratfor on Osama bin Laden's latest video.

NBC News released the text of an alleged new video of Osama bin Laden on Sept. 7. Though the video is addressed to the United States, the message is clearly meant for al Qaeda's constituency as the jihadist leader provides justification for young mujahideen to continue their war against the West.

In the 25-minute video, bin Laden addresses the American people and lays out his argument for why U.S. Democrats are unable to stop the Iraq war. He spends a great deal of time echoing the works of Noam Chomsky in condemning capitalism and globalization, arguing that the "money talks" notion is hardwired into the U.S. political system and is what drives the war industry. Toward the end of the speech, he calls for Americans to convert to Islam and makes an awkward outreach to Christians by noting how the Koran mentions Jesus and Mary dozens of times and even affirms the concept of the virgin birth. It is quite possible that the speech was written or influenced by Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam the American, who is also referred to in the video. Bin Laden has not exhibited detailed knowledge of American political discourse in any of his previous communiques.

The fact that he referenced the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as being observed "a few days ago" (the anniversaries are Aug. 6 and Aug. 9) means the tape was probably recorded in mid-August. This would be in line with the pattern of bin Laden's statements taking at least three weeks to be released after being recorded.

If the video is authentic, the main takeaway from the message is that bin Laden is, in fact, alive. He has not appeared in a video since November 2004, and for operational security reasons has avoided making any media appearances. The last video was made at what was perceived as a major turning point for the United States ahead of the congressional elections. Bin Laden likely chose to risk making his reappearance at this time to take advantage of a critical juncture in U.S. politics over how to proceed in Iraq. His speech will strike a chord among al Qaeda's sympathizers and franchise jihadist groups, but it does not necessarily raise the threat level for attacks against the West. The gradual degradation of al Qaeda's apex leadership has significantly hampered the group's ability to carry out meaningful attacks against Western targets. Moreover, bin Laden's vision of creating an Islamic Caliphate by toppling corrupt Muslim regimes has proven unattainable. Even in this new video, bin Laden has no accomplishment to tout other than 9/11, nor does he make any specific threats.

Nonetheless, bin Laden remains the central inspirational figure to the modern jihadist movement, and the perceived proof of his continued survival from this video could aid regional jihadist nodes in recruitment and maintenance of their support networks.[Stratfor]

Sep 6, 2007

Stratfor's Forecast for US Military

Here is Stratfor's 2005-15 decade forecast for US Military.

The peaks and troughs and localized strains the U.S. military has felt during the war on terrorism in general and the Iraq war in particular will prove to be immaterial in the coming decade. Regardless of the outcome of the war -- though Stratfor suspects it will end in Washington's favor -- U.S. military dominance will remain absolute during the next decade.

The U.S. military is the unquestioned and sole global military power; this is based primarily on the ability of the U.S. Navy to dominate the world's oceans. This condition of hegemony is only partially based on the superior numbers and technology of U.S. naval vessels and augmented significantly by U.S. dominance in space-based reconnaissance technology. On a broad scale, this situation will not change in the next 10 years -- especially regarding U.S. naval dominance -- but the next decade probably will see the emergence of cautious challengers to U.S. dominance over space.

Fundamental technological breakthroughs have often driven fundamental changes in warfare, and Stratfor expects the next decade to be no different. The next step in revolutionary warfare likely to become operational by 2015 is hypersonic scramjet technology. Having been developed by the United States for going on two decades now, this technology -- capable of traveling at 15 times the speed of sound, meaning an aircraft with a weapons payload could fly from Seattle to Beijing in less than half an hour -- will have a coming-out party of sorts over the next 10 years.

The availability of such a unique standoff weapon will allow for rapid response and battlefield dominance in every corner of the world. This already is provided in part by the U.S. Navy, but now weapons can be delivered to a target far from any substantive naval presence and rapidly enough to negate any conventional countermeasures an enemy might have on hand. Technology like this solves many logistics-associated force projection problems simply because assets do not have to be in theater in order to launch a strike. Naturally, this will be another warfare tool for the United States and will not supplant traditional tactics and techniques. As situations require, ground forces will still have to be sent in to hold ground and force a political outcome favorable to the United States. This weapon would, however, give the United States rapid first strike or retaliatory capability in corners of the world where U.S. forces cannot instantaneously interdict or where the overriding geopolitical concerns do not require the physical presence of traditional U.S. military assets.

This will force those seeking to counter the United States to look to asymmetric methods and toward the one area the U.S. military is still subject to competition -- space. After all, the quickest, stealthiest, most expensive aircraft in the world is still rendered useless if it cannot navigate or if intelligence on the target cannot be gathered quickly.

Given the virtual inevitability of U.S. naval dominance, state and non-state actors' only viable recourse will be the pursuit of asymmetric naval forces to limit Western mercantile and U.S. military access. Guerrilla navies are limited to regionally focused militant organizations (Tamil Tigers) and oceangoing pirates; in 10 years, however, the use of these navies might rise. Considering the ability of a single small craft to disable a U.S. naval vessel -- as evidenced by the attack against the USS Cole -- it is a logical step for anyone seeking to disrupt U.S. naval operations but without the conventional military strength to do so. Southeast Asia is the most likely area for this development, since the region already plays host to a number of maritime pirates and criminal organizations that can find safe sanctuary in areas of limited security and governance -- the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, for example. Elsewhere, increased naval activity in and around the Gulf of Guinea might inspire guerrilla navies to use the existing pirate havens of Nigeria and the surrounding area to launch attacks against mercantile and U.S. naval vessels and ships of allied navies.

Though a strategic competitor is not likely to emerge by 2015, missile technology will continue to develop. States such as Iran and North Korea could be able to deliver first-strike nuclear weapons to targets within their regions, including U.S. military bases and staging points. This is part and parcel of the unconventional threat that could trump the U.S. military's ability to project power wherever and whenever Washington sees fit.

Of course, hypersonic payload delivery technology partially mitigates this threat, since it is best used against fixed infrastructure targets. The broadening of the U.S. missile defense umbrella is another line of defense for countries within range of regional nuclear powers, but missile defense technology is still spotty, will likely lag behind offensive technology and will never be 100 percent reliable.

The possibility of non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons either through collusion with or because of the incompetence of a state government cannot be ruled out. A non-state actor in possession of nuclear weaponry allows for the weapons' use without political encumbrances and throws a volatile variable into military planning and operations in the next decade.

There will be at least six potential rivals emerging to challenge the United States' sole ownership of global, real-time, space-based reconnaissance and navigation: Russia, China, Japan, India, Iran and Europe. All six have their own internal limits on what they can and will do as far as space-based technology goes, but each will attempt to deploy such assets one way or another.

Russia is the only competitor with an outside shot of actually reforming its existing space program to the point of creating a near-global, near-real-time reconnaissance system. Add this to existing ballistic missile technology, and a space-capable Moscow would pose a genuine threat to U.S. hegemony. The variable here is the economic and political status of Russia throughout the decade; the country is in a cycle of decline, but Stratfor expects that to reverse sometime in the next decade. Once that reversal kicks in, Moscow will pay far more attention to improving its space-based capabilities as the only viable hedge to U.S. global naval dominance.

India and China are hamstrung by their indigenous space programs' limitations and the limitations created by economic difficulties, such as those forecast for China. Nevertheless, both countries maintain fairly substantial missile programs they will seek to augment with space-based assets to multiply their missiles' capabilities and deny the perception of free passage through their territorial waters. A rise in Chinese nationalism/militarism could serve as an impetus for this despite economic and social limitations. India's economy will continue to grow, and a severe economic crunch will not negatively impact its fledgling space program. It is possible -- and probable, in India's case -- that a limited space program, coupled with indigenous and exogenous missile development, could provide checks to U.S. naval dominance on a regional scale.

Japan's national security interests currently are in line with U.S. global and regional interests. In the long term, however, Japan likely anticipates its interests diverging from Washington's and could seek to use good relations now to incrementally launch a space-based reconnaissance and navigation program further down the road. This will be done slowly and innocently -- dual-use satellites, for example -- so as not to raise the United States' hackles and likely will not be completed by 2015, given Japan's economic and political limitations.

Iran and Europe are even further behind the power curve than other potential rivals. Europe has demonstrable space-based and satellite capabilities but does not, and likely will not, have the internal structure or political willingness to pursue a militaristic space program -- though Europe might be interested in a purely defensive domestic intelligence/surveillance space program. Iran has the motivation and the initiative, demonstrated by its planned March 2005 launch of its very first satellite. Additionally, Iran has a relatively capable missile program that will continue to improve, unless indigenous and exogenous factors interfere with Iranian military development. Their space program is still in its embryonic stages and not likely to be robust enough to challenge U.S. naval power even regionally.

The limiting factor for all these programs is not so much time as it is indigenous political willpower and economic capability. With the exception of Russia -- should its reversal come sooner rather than later -- none of the potential rivals has the necessary political willpower and economic leeway to complete a space-based defense program by 2015 that would be robust enough to challenge U.S. space hegemony.

Of course, geopolitical and military alliances between any of these rivals could accelerate indigenous programs and capabilities. It is worth noting that Russia has made a virtual cottage industry out of exporting its own space expertise and technology to countries such as India, China and Iran. Whenever Russia reverses course and begins to rebuild its military and space programs, this cooperation is likely to be somewhat curtailed, mitigating the benefits of these relationships.

Since U.S. naval dominance will not be challenged and power projection capabilities will remain near absolute, the United States will naturally respond in kind to a growing threat to its space hegemony. Stratfor expects a substantial increase in research and development into yet-to-be-realized anti-satellite technology to counter the potential rise of competing space powers. Whatever system is decided upon -- kinetic energy, high energy lasers, satellite parasites, jamming or chemical lasers -- it is not likely to be operational by 2015. Working prototypes, however, could be seen in limited operation by 2015. These will become even more indispensable when satellite-dependent hypersonic scramjet aircraft are put to use.

Stratfor India Forecast for 2005-2015

I was going through Stratfor's archives and read some of their old forecasts regarding India and her neighbours. It was quite interesting. So I thought flagging some of them.

Here is one of their forecasts for India made in July of 2001. Looking back, I am impressed with their accuracy.

India is a major country to watch during the third quarter and the next few years. India is effectively an island, with swamp and jungle to the east, the Himalayas to the north and the economic and political wastes of Pakistan and Afghanistan to the west. India's economy is strong, with a growing base in technology, and its domestic politics are at least resilient, if not stable. With a navy that is growing and challenged by no one except the U.S. Fifth Fleet, India is fast becoming the predominate power in the Indian Ocean basin.

India is already being wooed by Russia, which offers arms, and the United States, which offers technology and investment. As it has the potential to control the gates to the Red Sea, as well as the straits of Hormuz and Malacca, India will spend the next few quarters choosing between suitors, rather than seeking them out. The United States, with more to offer, may emerge as New Delhi's partner of choice.

Stratfor also publishes "Decade Forecasts". In 2005 they published forecasts for the decade 2005-2015. Here is their forecast for South Asia.

As this forecast was done before India's manufacturing boom became visible, Stratfor missed taking into account the benefits accruing out of this sector.

In our 1995-2005 decade forecast, Stratfor correctly said that India, as South Asia's leading player, would be contained by regional forces. India might continue to claim the title of regional hegemon, but the last 10 years have demonstrated New Delhi's inability to overcome social and political impediments to achieving superpower status. Furthermore, as the global hegemonic power of the early 21st century, the United States will undoubtedly extend its influence -- already felt in Pakistan -- into the Indian subcontinent.

As India enters the next decade, its center of gravity will be the economy. Economic growth is the key to a country's success or failure, and India is fully aware that it has the potential to create a position for itself among the world's leading nations. Though the popular message in international media is that India is on the brink of explosive growth and is following the path of its eastern neighbor, China, Stratfor holds a slightly more pessimistic view of India's future.
India has grown at an average annual rate of 6 percent during the past decade and will be able to sustain a strong level of GDP growth at rates reaching as high as 6 percent to 8 percent in the coming decade. However, India will not be able to reach China's current level of economic growth in the next 10 years.

On the surface, India has several factors favorable to rapid economic growth. With a population of more than 1 billion, it has a massive and highly-educated labor pool from which to draw its resources. In addition, India does not face the language barrier China has, since English is prevalent throughout the country. This significantly contributes to its fast-growing software development sector by facilitating communication with India's Western trading partners.

India will continue to occupy the profitable niche of value-added services driven by the information technology (IT) and telecom sectors. The states that have most benefited from these industries include the "Silicon Valley" cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad. However, the economic successes of these pockets of "Shining India" are not easily replicable and have not been adopted by India's other state governments. Even if these successes were to be replicated at the state level across the country, it would take at least another 20 years and a more diversified economy for India to reach economic growth levels comparable to China.

To a large extent, India faces the same immense developmental obstacles it did at the beginning of its cycle of economic liberalization in 1991. On a basic level, the poor conditions of roads, railways, ports, airports and power supplies illustrate the enormity of India's task of modernizing its infrastructure to attract more FDI and allow businesses to operate more efficiently. While India's IT-driven states require only minimal levels of infrastructure, particularly in fiber-optic networks and electricity, the rest of India is largely underdeveloped. Thus, India is not in the position to become a highly industrialized country.

The India-China comparison has become common discourse, but is not an easy comparison to make. China began its economic reforms in 1979 under an extremely focused and strategic "period of readjustment" that has been successfully implemented through the effective central control of China's authoritarian regime. In contrast, India is arguably a highly diverse, massive and fractionalized democracy lacking the central control necessary to put policy reforms into action. No democratic country comparable to India in terms of size and diversity has succeeded in implementing wide-scale democratic reforms to achieve rapid economic growth.

Though India's current government is economically focused, actually getting state governments to implement reforms is a chore. In addition to rampant corruption and bloated bureaucracies in the Indian public sector, the Indian government's democratic structure and competing views of India's openness to trade and investment allow the states' chief ministers to ignore government policy reforms and pursue each political party's agenda, which is usually designed to garner votes through populist appeals. An important distinction to make is that while FDI is strongly sought after and encouraged in China, it is merely approved of and often resented by state governments in India. These differing attitudes toward reform define the contrast between the Chinese and Indian approach to economic development.

With about one-fourth of the population living in absolute poverty, India has a significant number of voters who are not interested in FDI or global competition; the average voter is more concerned with where his next meal is coming from. This poverty is a developmental issue that must reach a manageable level before ruling governments can think past elections and toward long-term economic reforms. However, as local governments are forced to leverage poverty reduction and economic liberalization, the downward trend of poverty levels and upward rate of liberalizing India's markets will counter each other, thus preventing a rapid pace of economic development or poverty reduction.

Given the number of developmental constraints on its economic potential, India still has a long way to go before it can catch up to China's current economic growth rate. The good news for India is that its economy is in a stronger position than the Chinese economy as we look into the coming decade. Stratfor has forecast the burst of the Chinese economic bubble, signaling the inevitable halt to China's unprecedented growth trajectory. Combined with a massive and highly-skilled labor force, India's vital sectors provide a solid foundation for the country to pursue policy reforms at a strong yet gradual rate.

On the geopolitical front, India will view Russia's disintegration as an opportunity to build its strategic alliance with the U.S. superpower. Although China will slow down economically, the East Asian giant will continue its attempts to tilt the balance of power on the Asian continent in its own direction, providing more reason for India to align with the United States and become part of the "winning" team in the global arena. India also will use this alliance to counter its historical opponent to the west -- Pakistan. India realizes the United States values the Indo-U.S. alliance in the long-term over its short-term alliance with Pakistan, which was primarily built in the last half of the previous decade because of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

The dispute over Kashmir is the driving factor of Indo-Pakistani relations. Domestic constraints in India and Pakistan lead Stratfor to believe the issue of Kashmir will not be resolved in the coming decade. However, New Delhi and Islamabad will continue the process of normalization and will likely reach a point by 2015 at which the two states will begin implementing a "road map" solution.

The United States' final battle against al Qaeda will be fought within Pakistani territory early in the coming decade. Stratfor has been forecasting a U.S. incursion onto Pakistani soil targeting al Qaeda militants with or without Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's cooperation. We expect the operation to be successful for the United States but costly for Musharraf, as domestic instability will rise in opposition to U.S. forces in the region. With the Pakistani government centered around Musharraf's leadership, political instability in Pakistan will continue to loom over the horizon.

Regardless of the domestic upset Musharraf is bound to face when U.S. troops enter the region, Stratfor expects the current military regime in Pakistan to stay in power until 2007, given that there are no viable opposition forces strong enough to unseat Musharraf. The balance of forces among the military, bureaucracy and centrist political groups ensures the survival of the state, despite any instability that occurs at the regime level.

After 2007, Musharraf probably will reach a deal with his regime to step down as military commander of Pakistan, enter a civilian role as the elected president of Pakistan and assume leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

The centralization of power around Musharraf does not suggest that the Pakistani government would collapse in his absence. In accordance with historical precedent, the military and bureaucratic establishments would reach a consensus and Pakistani politics would shift back to increased civilian control until the domestic situation settled.

Pakistan will undoubtedly be influential in the nation-building effort in Afghanistan, given the large presence of ethnic Pashtuns in the two Pakistani provinces -- Northwest Frontier and Balochistan -- located along the Afghan-Pakistani border and the fact that Pashtuns account for at least 40 percent of Afghanistan's population.

The United States also will maintain its military presence in Afghanistan as part of its operation against al Qaeda. Opposition to U.S. forces in Afghanistan is significantly less than in Iraq, and the U.S. presence in the region will allow for much-needed stability to aid Afghan President Hamid Karzai's emerging state. The Taliban movement has collapsed and evidently splintered into at least three different factions, one of which wishes to lay down its arms and become part of the developing political system. As a result, the Taliban will be unable to make a comeback in the next decade.

However, Karzai's government does face effective opposition from Afghan warlords, Uzbeks and Tajiks, all of whom have a vested interest in representing their respective communities in the government. Stratfor expects a consensus to be reached among the key players of each major ethnic community to work toward extending Kabul's influence to the 29 Afghan provinces.

Sep 4, 2007

A Slap on the Face of Terrorists

The world's tourists have just certified India as the best travel destination. This is certainly a tight slap on the nameless, ruthless, and pointed terrorist.

.....India has now emerged as the numero uno travel destination trailing beauties of Italy, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, according to survey by a tourism magazine.

India's rise from the fourth spot last year was contained in a survey conducted by a widely-read British magazine Conde Nest Traveller, which gives away Readers Travel Awards, considered to be the Oscar awards of the tourism industry.

"India was the 10th most preferred destination in 2004, 4th in 2006 and is now at the top in 2007 and that is where we want to be," Union Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said while receiving the award at a ceremony in London on Monday night.

Conducted among the readers of the magazine that includes some of the most sophisticated and avid travellers across the world, the survey included a range of criteria for each category from 'range of accommodation' to 'environmental friendliness', the magazine said in a release.

In the April issue of the magazine, readers were asked for nominations for the world's best hotels, spas, cities, airports, cruise lines and tour operators and to rate them. To discern their list of 'best of the best', each nomination was ranked to produce the world's Top 100 in each field.

The replies were then collated and analysed by an independent market research company before giving away with the awards.[IE]

The Bumbling Indian Police

Here is another example of bumbling by Indian Police which allows a terror suspect to escape.

Taking forward the probe into the August 25 twin blasts in Hyderabad, the police have arrested one more Bangladeshi woman in Bangalore. But another suspect Rizvan Ghazi once again managed to give a slip to the cops.

Afsana, 28, was arrested late on Monday from a house in Bannerghatta in Bangalore but her accomplice Rizvan once again escaped the police dragnet. She is the second Bangladeshi woman to be arrested in the case.

Police sources in Hyderabad said Afsana is a relative of Shafeera Rustomjah, a Bangladeshi arrested in Hyderabad four days ago for overstaying.

Shafeera's brother Rizvan, who resembled the sketch of the bomb planter at Lumbini Park, escaped on Sunday when a police team from Hyderabad was reportedly arguing with an autorickshaw driver over the fare after reaching a house in Bangalore.

Shafeera, Rizvan and their parents were allegedly staying in Bangalore even six years after their visas expired.[HT]

The Coming Changes in Pakistan

Stratfor takes a look at what’s in store for Pakistan and its Military after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's fall. According to them it no longer is a matter of if, but of when Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will leave the helm in Islamabad.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced Aug. 30 that he will return to Pakistan from forced exile Sept. 10. The same day, another exiled former leader, Benazir Bhutto, announced breakthroughs in negotiations with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that would ease the general out of power. Meanwhile, the country's Supreme Court began proceedings on petitions challenging on constitutional grounds Musharraf's bid to seek re-election.

Stratfor forecast months ago that Musharraf would have to concede his position as military chief if he intended to stay on as a civilian president, and that he would have no choice but to work out a political agreement with Pakistan's opposition parties, specifically Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. Prompted by advice from his closest aides, Musharraf is now quietly working toward securing an honorable exit from the scene. He could be forced to throw in the towel sometime after the appointment of a successor military chief on or around Oct. 8.

Once Musharraf vacates the presidency, events will pretty much unfold as per the constitution -- the way they did when the death in 1988 of Pakistan's last military dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, created a power vacuum. A caretaker government headed by an acting president and an interim premier will be charged with holding fresh legislative elections, which will likely produce a highly divided parliament resulting in a coalition government.

Beyond the change in political personalities and groups, a far more important shift will take place in Pakistan in the coming months. For the first time since the army took control of the state in 1958 under Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the military's grip on the reins of the state is in the process of weakening.

This did not happen even when Pakistan's second military dictator, Gen. Yahya Khan, stepped down in 1971 after civil war led to the secession of a major chunk of the country and the surrender of some 100,000 troops to Indian forces. Neither did it happen when Zia-ul-Haq and his top generals died in a mysterious plane crash, ending his 11-year stint. In both cases, the military merely went into the background for some years -- only to return when the politicians could not agree to disagree. Even when the army was not directly ruling, the civilian leaders had to look over their shoulders continuously to see whether the generals were still with them nearly each step of the way.

That was in the past, however, when there were essentially two players in Pakistan -- the army and the political parties. Today, a vibrant civil society and increasingly independent and assertive judiciary have emerged within the country.

The empowerment of Pakistan's civil society was catalyzed by Musharraf's ill-fated decision to sack Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in March. Chaudhry, breaking with tradition, would not fold, which set in motion a series of events that, within a matter of days, energized bar associations across the country. In turn, this emboldened the judiciary to assert its independence and challenge the military's hold on power.

The Supreme Court already has asserted its power, reversing a number of the Musharraf regime's decisions. The court reinstated the chief justice, released a top Musharraf opponent who was jailed on charges of treason and ensured Sharif's right of return. The judiciary also has taken steps to limit interference by the military and the intelligence agencies in matters of governance.

Meanwhile, the country's media, particularly the private television news channels, also have emerged as a powerful driver of events. In the wake of the judicial crisis, Musharraf tried June 4 to place restrictions on the electronic media through new ordinances empowering the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to block transmissions, suspend licenses and confiscate equipment of electronic media organizations deemed in violation of the new laws. But five days later, under intense domestic and international pressure, he was forced to withdraw the controversial restrictions.

Pakistan also has witnessed an unprecedented surge in civil society activism. Instead of the political parties that historically have led protests, civil society groups -- especially the legal syndicates -- drove the protests during the legal crisis. There also has been an unprecedented outbreak of social debate on national issues, not only regarding the military's role in politics but also on the issue of rule of law. This debate has included criticism of men in uniform, as well as politicians.

All of this has been made possible by several structural changes that took shape mostly during the first seven years of Musharraf's rule. In order to counter the perception that he was a military dictator, Musharraf created a hybrid political system with a significant civilian component. Despite having manipulated the constitution on a number of occasions, he relied heavily on it to strengthen his grip on authority. In the process, he inadvertently strengthened the country's constitutional roots, which is now weakening the very power he consolidated.

Even within the military, Musharraf's repeated reshuffling of positions has contributed to his own undoing. It has brought to the fore a junior crop of generals that is inexperienced in politics and government. For a long time, this worked to his advantage by preventing any of his subordinates from rising up to challenge him. Now, however, as he faces challenges from Pakistan's civilian sectors, his top generals are unable and/or unwilling to support him.

In essence, the law of unintended consequences has worked against Musharraf. Moreover, it has weakened the military's ability to dominate the state. For now, this is limited to the political sphere. Eventually, the judicial branch can be expected to empower the legislative branch by forcing the military and the intelligence community to open up their books to parliamentary scrutiny. The weakening of the military's hold over the country's economic sector will be the next stage in the ongoing systemic change.

The question moving forward is: How far will the military's grip slacken before arrestors force the generals to take a firmer role? For now, the trend is running against the military -- and historical positions are being reversed. As the civilians entrench their power, it is the military -- not the civilian politicians -- that will mostly have to contend with limitations imposed by the judiciary. And civil society will serve as the watchdog.

And yet, there are plenty of issues that have the potential to topple this emerging civilian structure, such as the ability of Sharif and Bhutto to get along with one another and cooperate in order to check the military's power; the Islamists' level of power in the political system; the level of security in the country's Northwest; the status of the war on terrorism; the amount of pressure from the United States; and, of course, how India reacts to the changing political dynamic in Islamabad.

Any of these issues could lead to the military's return. Pakistan might be moving into the hands of civilians, but half a century of political culture does not die easily.[Stratfor]

Sep 3, 2007

Is NDTV Committed to the Nation?

It is a well known fact that NDTV is a leftist media organisation. Prannoy Roy's relation with the Commie couple the Karats is also well known. Because of these facts, NDTV's commitment to the nation is always questioned just like the Indian Commie's commitment is questioned. NDTV also came out editorially in strong defence of the Commies when they were accused by the center-right media of being agents of Communist China.

Here is an example of NDTV's nationalism. A commander-in-chief of a north-east militant organisation drops in at NDTV's Guwahati office and NDTV instead of calling the authorities and getting these militants arrested treats them like kings and makes a news story out of their visit.

Unexpected visitors dropped by at NDTV's Guwahati office on Monday morning.

It's not everyday that the commander in chief of a militant outfit walks in, and this one had an unusual request.

He wanted to tell his side of a story NDTV had run last week.

The Dimasa group commander asked to see a CD NDTV had aired which had visuals of two boys being tortured by kidnappers.[NDTV]

Aug 31, 2007

Cartoon Speak: The Hindu on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal

The Decision Time is Now

Around last year this time the Janata Party’s president Subramanian Swamy came up with an incredulous plan to make India a mighty economic power by 2020 and overtake China by then. According to him as the UPA had dumped economic reforms that are required to put India on the fast track of growth and development, it is imperative to get back the BJP led NDA back to power at the center with a mighty majority. And how does he envisage this to happen? According to Mr. Swamy “the BJP will return to power riding on a wave of support arising from the backlash of continuous hemorrhaging from terrorist attacks.”

Narendra Modi whom the courts called a modern-day Nero because he allowed the Sanghis to unleash unimaginable terror on Gujarati Muslims to avenge the Godhra carnage is known among Sanghis as “Hindu Hriday Samrat” (emperor of Hindu hearts). Why? Because they say he taught Gujarati Muslims a lesson that they will never forget. In today’s booming economy of Gujarat, its Muslims have no place. They have become second-class citizens in their own land.

The Gujarat riots which was the first one to be televised live was the last straw and it gifted South Indian Muslims into the hands of Pakistan’s ISI. Muslims
recruited from Andhra Pradesh who were then trained in Pakistan by ISI assassinated ex- minister Haren Pandya. Now Hyderabad has become a safe haven for ISI’s Islamic terrorists. So much so that they are able to perpetuate their insidious wickedness with impunity in their haven and still hang around till further orders from ISI.

After every terror outrage since 2002, India’s Center-Left Media almost justifies them as Muslim revenge for the 2002 Gujarat riots. Sadly India’s Muslims too have fallen for this lie completely.The Center-Left media has hijacked the recent terror bombings where Indian Muslims too have lost many lives, to promote their pathetic agenda of painting Pakistan as an equal victim of terror and thus implying that these trerror outgrages could be the handiwork of Hindu "terror groups".

Today in Andhra Pradesh except BJP all other parties are wooing the Muslims as a strategic vote bank to supplement their various dedicated caste vote banks. For BJP, the Muslims are just cannon fodder. In Andhra Pradesh and particularly in Hyderabad, BJP and Muslim parties like MIM would love to polarize the society on communal lines to serve their narrow agendas.

When the Islamists brief is to destroy India, it doesn’t mean co-religionists are exempted from being body bags in this war. This is yet to be comprehended by Indian Muslims. The earlier the Indian Muslims realize this fact, the sooner we can wipe this menace out.

It is up to India’s Muslims to decide their future (and probably India’s too). There are three points they have to decide on. One, whether they want BJP back in power at the center as a result of Hindu backlash as envisioned by Mr. Swamy. Two, whether they want a "Hindu Hriday Samrat" in each and every state of India and become pariahs like today’s Gujarati Muslim. Three, whether they want to live and enjoy life in tomorrow’s third biggest economy. The decision time is now.

The Desired Effects

The repeated targetting of Hyderabad by Pakistan's ISI trained Islamist terrorists is having its desired effects.

In what could be the first aftershock of the recent macabre bomb blasts, the city has just lost a unit of a multinational corporation and along with it 5,000 jobs.

This was disclosed by Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to the Prime Minister, while delivering Dr. Waheeduddin Khan memorial lecture on “The local and global in Hyderabad’s development”, at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies here on Thursday.Responding to questions from the audience, Dr. Baru narrated how a passenger, a top executive of the MNC, broke this news to him on board the New Delhi-Hyderabad flight. The board of the MNC was to decide whether it should set its shop in Hyderabad or Kuala Lumpur.

The bomb blasts led the board to plump for Kuala Lumpur.[The Hindu]

These lost 5000 jobs could have created an additional almost equal number of support and auxiliary services which could have benefitted the people of Hyderabad including a large number of Muslims.

INS Viraat off the Visakhapatnam Coast

Courtesy: The Hindu

This was published in today's "Young World", children's supplement of "The Hindu". Quite a beautiful setting. INS Viraat is docked off the Vizag coast because it is here to participate in the Naval exercise with US, Australia and Japan.

Aug 29, 2007

Stratfor on the Latest Hyderabad Terror Outrage

Stratfor's Fred Burton and Scott Stewart analysing the latest Hyderabad terror bombings opines that the terrorists are learning fast but still have a lot to learn to be really deadly. As for me, after reading their analysis, I am of the opinion that Stratfor has some more to learn about India, her Society and her Muslims.

An explosion ripped through a crowd watching a laser show at an outdoor amphitheater in the Indian city of Hyderabad on the evening of Aug. 25. At about the same time, a second device detonated in a popular outdoor restaurant in the city. The twin blasts killed at least 42 people and injured about 80.

Following the bombings in Lumbini Park and the Gokul Chat Bhandar restaurant in the Koti market, Indian police reportedly recovered as many as 19 unexploded devices in the city, though Stratfor has confirmed the recovery of only two devices, one under a footbridge in the Dilsukhnagar commercial area and a second in a movie theater in the Narayanaguda district. Regardless of the number of bombs planted, it appears the attack was intended to be more wide-ranging -- and deadlier -- than it was. The targets selected and the unexploded devices not only provide insight into the attackers' intent but also serve as a gauge of their level of competence. The unexploded devices will also provide investigators with a treasure trove of forensic evidence.

While the number of malfunctioning devices points to an inexperienced bombmaker, the fact that the devices were planted without detection indicates the organization responsible for the attack is practicing fairly good operational security. No arrests have been made in connection with the case, meaning the cell members involved -- including the all-important bombmaker -- remain at large. Indian investigators, therefore, are racing against the clock to locate and apprehend the attackers before they can learn from their mistakes and launch another, more devastating attack.

Dissecting the Attack
The choice of targets in this attack says a great deal about the cell that staged it. Because the cell attacked soft Indian targets, rather than some of the many soft Western targets in and around the city -- Hyderabad is a high-tech hub for Indian and Western corporations -- it clearly is focused on striking what jihadists term the "near enemy" (India) and not the "far enemy" of the United States and other Western powers. Additionally, the targets were clearly civilian, rather than the type of targets normally selected by the Maoist Naxalites, such as infrastructure or government sites. The Naxalites normally seek to avoid indiscriminate civilian causalities, since they believe such attacks will undercut their popular support. This, then, does not appear to be the work of either Naxalites or those jihadists who adhere to al Qaeda's targeting philosophy.

Therefore, based on the target selection, this attack appears to have been conducted by Kashmiri-type Islamist militants seeking specifically to kill Hindus in order to stoke intercommunal Hindu/Muslim violence. Furthermore, the intent of this attack appears similar to that of an Islamist militant attack in May against the Mecca Mosque in Hyderabad. That attack, though, revealed a strategy to strike at Muslim targets in order to incite communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. However, Hyderabad's Muslim community failed to take the bait and instead turned increasingly hostile toward these militant groups, further threatening their support.

The backlash experienced following the Mecca Mosque bombing likely encouraged the Islamist militants to shift their focus toward Hindu targets in their effort to stir up communal animosity. Furthermore, the choice of soft targets suggests the attackers did not consider themselves capable of hitting any of the city's many symbolic -- and therefore more highly protected -- Indian/Hindu sites.

Following the June 29-30 attempted bombings in London and Glasgow, Scotland, -- plots that involved militants born in India -- Indian authorities asked information technology companies in Hyderabad and other places to step up security. In addition, although the threats that surfaced Aug. 21 involved Chandigarh, the warning served to keep security high at India's high-tech companies in places such as Bangalore and Hyderabad. Following the May 18 bombings at the Mecca Mosque, security at religious sites in the city also was increased.

In addition to the type of target selected, the type of attack conducted can provide insight into those behind it. In this latest attack, the perpetrators left improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in unsecured public places -- the modus operandi (MO) also employed in the Mecca Mosque attack. While using this common MO does not necessarily mean the same group is behind both attacks, it does signify that the groups that conducted the two attacks are operating at roughly the same level of operational sophistication. This type of attack against a soft target does not incur much risk and requires few resources. Additionally, it does not require the intense dedication/indoctrination required for successful suicide bombings, and it does not consume human resources as quickly; the operatives who planned and conducted this attack are still at large.

The selection of soft, vulnerable targets and the fact that at least half the IEDs deployed did not function as designed points to a low level of professionalism. However, it is significant that the cell obtained the explosives and components necessary for the devices, constructed them and deployed them without detection. This is not a small feat, which indicates the organization practices an acceptable level of operational security. It also seems to highlight the shortcomings of street-level Indian intelligence officers. The weaknesses of this militant cell appear to be in bombmaking and lack of imaginative operational planning -- the kind of planning that could allow the attackers to use their devices to target more high-profile figures or sites. However, these are areas in which militants traditionally improve with experience.

The Importance of Bombmakers
One of the key positions in any militant organization is that of the bombmaker, since his work can literally make or break an operation. This was dramatically reflected in the difference between the impacts of the July 7 and July 21, 2005, London attacks. Because of the mistakes made by the July 21 bombmaker, that attack is now only a footnote to the successful July 7 attack.

In spite of popular wisdom, a person does not become a proficient bombmaker by reading a few Internet sites that offer instructions on bomb construction. Indeed, as demonstrated by the would-be London and Glasgow bomber, Bangalore-born Kafeel Ahmed, even an advanced engineering degree does not provide the practical skills required for a person to become an effective bombmaker. This skill is even more critical when the bombmaker is working in an environment such as the United States or United Kingdom, where strict controls on explosives require that a bombmaker construct his own improvised detonators and explosive mixtures, a dangerous process in which one mistake can result in a serious injury or death. When making improvised explosive mixtures, even experienced bombmakers, including militant mastermind Abdel Basit, occasionally catch themselves on fire.

However, even when commercial or military explosives are available, designing an effective and reliable firing chain can be difficult. Inexperienced bombmakers often will take shortcuts when constructing their devices (especially when they have been ordered to construct multiple devices) and, in addition to making other mistakes, will not take the care to thoroughly test each of their firing chains for functionality. However, through trial and error, bombmakers tend to learn from past mistakes and improve their devices to make them increasingly reliable and deadly.

CSI: Hyderabad
Although a remarkable amount of forensic evidence can be recovered from any blast site, the unexploded devices picked up in Hyderabad will provide invaluable forensic evidence for Indian investigators. It obviously is far quicker and easier to work with intact devices than to try to recover and piece together a device after it detonates. One of the first items examined will be the IEDs' main explosive charge, which in this case appears to have consisted of cartridges of commercial explosives. These cartridges should have lot numbers on them that will allow authorities to trace them from the manufacturer to the last legitimate purchaser. Although explosives are frequently stolen from quarries and construction company warehouses (even by unscrupulous employees), tracking the explosives used in an attack to a specific robbery or theft could help authorities locate the cell.

In addition to the main charge, the devices could contain detonators (blasting caps) or booster charges that also might be marked with lot numbers or other traceable manufacturer markings. Other components used to construct the devices, such as the clocks used for the timers, the wires, the batteries and the containers, will be carefully studied and efforts will be made to trace them. The components also will be checked for fingerprint and DNA evidence, while evidence such as the marks made by the pliers or wire cutters likely will be studied and databased. It must be remembered, however, that CSI: Hyderabad is not the same as CSI: Miami -- and even Miami's real crime scene investigators are nowhere near as advanced as their fictional counterparts.

In addition, investigators will study myriad small details pertaining to the way the device was designed and constructed -- little touches referred to as the bombmaker's "signature" -- in an attempt to tie this specific bombmaker to previous plots. The signature can include unique items used in fashioning the firing chain; the way wire was stripped, cut, twisted and soldered; and the use of electrical tape and shrink tubing. In this case, it will be interesting to compare the signature of the person who made the two unexploded devices with that of the person who made the two unexploded devices recovered from the Mecca Mosque attack.

As we said after the Mecca Mosque bombing, the attackers' MO, the placement of the devices and the number of unexploded devices indicate the organization behind that attack was not very sophisticated. The group behind this latest attack has exhibited many of the same characteristics. It does not appear to be overly advanced at this time -- though its ability to obtain explosives and deploy devices without detection is troubling for Indian authorities.

While some sources in India say they believe Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was involved in this latest attack, the simplicity of the attack and the lack of skill on the part of the bombmaker suggest there was no ISI connection. The operatives trained and directed by the ISI tend to be more professional than those behind this latest attack. Also, commercial explosives were used in this latest attack, which is not without precedent, but an ISI-connected operation likely would have involved military explosives, such as RDX, which seem ubiquitous among militant groups on the subcontinent.

Although the Mecca Mosque bombing involved military explosives and targeted a different side of the communal line, there are many similarities between these attacks -- including intent, MO and level of professionalism. The Mecca Mosque bombing killed five people, while this latest twin bombing killed more than 40. If the same group is behind both attacks, it appears to be improving -- and getting deadlier. This learning curve will place additional pressure on Indian authorities to identify and capture the perpetrators before they can improve their tradecraft enough to stage larger, mass-casualty attacks or begin to attack harder, more secure targets, such government buildings, Indian high-tech companies or Western companies doing business in the country.[Stratfor]

Jul 17, 2007

R.I.P. Osama bin Laden?

Stratfor after examining the latest Osama video is of the opinion that Osama might just be dead. I am not buying it yet especially when it is strongly 'rumoured' that Osama is in a safe house in Pakistan after he was airlifted along with those Pakistani military personnel who were helping the Taliban in Afghansitan.

Al Qaeda's media branch, As-Sahab, released a 40-minute video July 14 featuring several jihadist figures paying tribute to "martyred" militants. Attention to the video, however, is centering on a previously unseen 50-second clip of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who extols the virtues of martyrdom.

Although the bin Laden video is new in that it has not been seen before, it is not new chronologically. In fact, the "new" footage appears to have been taped at the same time as a bin Laden video released by the United Kingdom-based Islamic news agency Al-Ansaar in May 2002. Bin Laden's dress, the camera angle and the setting for both videos are identical. In both tapes, a mountain rises up next to bin Laden's right shoulder, there is a tree to his left and the same bodyguard stands behind him, occasionally visible over his left shoulder.

One other similarity about these two videos is that they both were released under similar circumstances: during a time when there was doubt about bin Laden's well-being.

At the time of the May 2002 video release, there was some doubt that bin Laden had survived the December 2001 U.S. assault on Tora Bora. Al-Ansaar reported that it believed the video had been recorded in March 2002, and that this proved bin Laden had survived the attack. Al Jazeera, however, reported that it had seen the video in early 2002 but did not air it. Al Jazeera further said it believed the video was recorded in October 2001 and that it therefore did not prove bin Laden survived Tora Bora. Later tapes that were deemed authentic new releases, however, did prove bin Laden survived the attack.

Today, the question of whether bin Laden remains alive is being debated again. He has not been seen on video since October 2004 and he has not issued a new audio statement since July 2006. This silence stands in stark contrast to the flurry of audio statements he released in 2006. That series began with a January audiotape, in which he warned Americans that an attack against the U.S. homeland was imminent, and ended with a July 1 message discussing Somalia. Bin Laden's silence also is remarkable when compared to the media activity of his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has issued a number of statements this year, including three audios and a video within the past month.

Al Qaeda has little to gain by keeping bin Laden out of the spotlight. Indeed, it could gain far more by trumpeting his ability to evade the massive U.S.-led manhunt for him. Al Qaeda also is under a great deal of pressure to demonstrate that bin Laden is alive and well, and in command of his organization. These factors suggest there is another reason for bin Laden to maintain a low profile. Perhaps he is dead, although based on al Qaeda's acknowledgement of the death of other senior figures, we would expect the organization to acknowledge such a loss, eulogize its "great martyr" and attempt to gain a public relations advantage out of the situation.

There also have been continuous reports that bin Laden is seriously ill, so al Qaeda might not want to show him in poor health. Indeed, there was much speculation about his health after his last video, when he stood behind a lectern and did not move much. This was in contrast to a 2003 video (aired around the second anniversary of 9/11), in which bin Laden was shown walking with the aid of a cane on a hillside in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. If, indeed, bin Laden is in poor health, his voice might be too weak to come across forcefully on audio.

Although al Qaeda faces an operational security risk related to video messages -- al-Zawahiri has curtailed his video appearances markedly since the October 2006 missile attack in Chingai, Pakistan -- it should not be as concerned with an audio message. Audio equipment is compact, easy to conceal and easy to use without the need for a crew or lighting equipment. Bin Laden, therefore, could easily record his own voice.

There must be another reason for his silence.[Stratfor]

A new al Qaeda tape is circulating; a sort of montage honoring the "fallen martyrs" of the Afghan war. Within the tape is a 50-second clip of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden discussing his thoughts on the subject.

The tape was first released July 14, but now news commentators aplenty are citing the video as proof of al Qaeda's strength in general, and of bin Laden's vitality in particular. However, judging from the camera angle, the clothing and what appears in the video's background, the tape is more than five years old and was filmed on the same reel used to assemble a video released in May 2002.

That means it has been more than a year since al Qaeda released any evidence indicating bin Laden is still alive, and roughly five years since the apex leadership of al Qaeda has been conclusively linked to any attack outside the Middle East or South Asia.

We certainly understand al Qaeda's effort to make its leader loom large; there are few organizations whose need to do something spectacular outweighs that of al Qaeda, and there is arguably no one who needs to prove he is a player more than bin Laden does. But barring a secret plan that, for some as-yet-undisclosed reason, necessitates hiding in Pakistani caves for years, bin Laden is either dead or incapacitated to the point that he cannot speak -- or his condition is such that his handlers prefer he does not.

So, whatever other axes one might have to grind with the U.S. administration -- and these days there seem to be enough to outfit an army of Vikings -- take this for what it is: Bin Laden is probably gone for good, and al Qaeda likely lacks the ability to strike in any strategically meaningful way.

But with the war against al Qaeda now disposed of, what of the other?[Stratfor]

Rest of that article is on the mess in Iraq.