What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Taking issue with people I respect, re: the Headley case and re: jihadist grievances

I shall put my two cents' worth in with regards to two recent articles, debating what people whom I otherwise respect have said in those articles. Two issues shall be discussed in this post, accordingly.
1. The first is M.K. Bhadrakumar's article about the Headley case. Here is Headley's plea agreement. Bhadrakumar, just as many others in India, is upset about the FBI's plea bargain with the man who was the scout for the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. It can be sensed that he is, rightly, outraged by the restrictions on access to Headley now in place which mean that Indian interrogators will not be able to get information directly from him. I find this amazing, too - I can't wait for Foreign Policy Magazine's collection of "the 10 most important occasions when the United States didn't give a damn about others' concerns with regards to terrorism."
But Bhadrakumar, surprisingly for me, because I really appreciate his take normally, seems to me to make way too much of the fact that Daoud Syed Gilani was a U.S. DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent... confusing? Well, Daoud Syed Gilani is David Headley. He just changed his name before the Mumbai attacks, but had been recruited by the DEA long years before, as a Gilani. Yes, as "a Gilani." His half brother is Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani's spokesperson, Danyal Gilani. This is all amazing, but this does not allow the conclusion that the CIA or the DEA had foreknowledge of the Mumbai attacks. In my view, it only shows the DEA's amazingly retarded approach to the war on drugs that they would recruit someone like Daoud Syed Gilani - someone convicted earlier on on drugs-related charges, and occasionally going for a bit of terrorist training to the FATA, post 9/11...
In fact, Bhadrakumar seems to play right into the hands of those who may have specifically wanted to embarrass both PM Gilani and the U.S. administration with Headley's choice for the task of scouting ahead of the Mumbai attacks.
Why do I think so? Because the Mumbai attacks were connected to Pakistani military operations in the FATA ongoing at the time that were very much in the U.S.' interest. And they were meant to divert attention away from there, and, especially, to even pull troops away from there (because it could be very well anticipated that some of the troops involved in the fighting in the FATA would be redirected to the Indian border as a deterrence against a prospective Indian strike on Azad Kashmir training camps or any other target, in retaliation for Mumbai).
2. The other author whom I usually love to read, but shall criticise now, is Thomas Hegghammer. In his reaction to (or developing debate with?) Bret Stephens' take on the grievances fuelling jihadism, he is wrong, to a degree, just as Bret Stephens is, also.
Essentially, they are debating whether the issue of Palestine or the shocks of the soft power of Western culture matter more to jihadists. Deliberately simplifying things a little, Stephens is pointing out how Sayed Qutb was totally freaked out by some of what he saw in the United States and how this consequently had a defining influence on the formation of Islamist discourse, to the extent that Palestine will always be an excuse compared to other values Islamists may hold dear. Hegghammer is pointing out in return how images of dead Palestinians during times of upheaval (as during the Gaza war last year) usually mean a fresh wave of recruits for al-Qaida's cause.
So far, both are right to say what they say - thus Stephens ought to have addressed the latter point by Hegghammer about recruitment. Especially because it can be addressed. Jihadist/taqfirist Islamists will never be Palestinian nationalists, nor, for that matter, Kashmiri, Pakistani, Chechen, Moro, Uighur, Somali, Iraqi or Afghan nationalists. They will not even behave as Saudi nationalists, as evidenced by the U.S. military's exit from Saudi Arabia not having much of an effect on their rage against the West.
Of course, Palestine adds to this rage. Just like Kashmir and Chechnya and all the other issues add to it, too. Even more importantly, the existence of such issues helps the likes of al-Qaida make themselves a slightly more tolerable minority among a broad population to many of which these causes will always be much more important than the remainder of the wider set of issues forming al-Qaida's jihadist/taqfirist Islamism (causes, to some of which a major part of that population is simply hostile by the way).
These issues, that lend themselves to be common causes, do indeed help jihadist recruitment, too. But individually cited grievances of the newly arriving recruits are not particulary good indicators. They can't be very useful drivers for policy, either. They deserve to be contemplated, of course. But, euphemistically putting it, one should not necessarily be in a rush to satisfy the complaints of people turning to using terror to be heard... To illustrate the complexity of the matter: what should one make of the fact then that al-Qaida's East African embassy bombings back in the day brought a large wave of fresh recruits and even funds for al-Qaida?
Also, Stephens and Hegghammer ignore here the lessons of the somewhat artificial greed vs. grievance debate in the political economy of armed conflicts. It is one thing to analyse the grievances that motivate these people. But where would they be without opportunity coming, in various forms, to wage a militant struggle? Without oil money washing to the shores of the Gulf states? Without the covert aid to the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan?

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