“A very bad man” has been killed and “the world is now a much safer place”. The sentiment behind US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is difficult to argue with. Baghdadi was certainly a very bad man. And under his decade-long leadership of the Islamic State (IS) movement, many thousands of people in the Middle East and around the world suffered terrible brutality or death.
Common sense would suggest the world is indeed now a much safer place with Baghdadi’s passing. Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee this will prove to be true in practice.
The 18 year-long so-called Global War on Terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks – the international military campaign to fight al-Qaeda, and then IS – has been almost entirely reactive and tactical.
It has lacked any consistent strategic purpose, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines or anywhere else.
The strongest military coalitions the world has ever seen have fought the largest and most powerful terror networks that have ever existed. And this has led, directly and indirectly, to hundreds of thousands of lives lost, trillions of dollars spent and remarkably little progress overall.
The special forces raids targeting Baghdadi, in Idlib, and his deputy, IS spokesperson Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir, in Aleppo, were undoubtedly significant achievements representing tactical victories of great consequence.
IS has been dealt an enormous blow. But just how long its impact will last is not clear. The lessons of the past two decades make it clear this will certainly not have been a fatal blow.
The IS insurgency, both on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and around the world, was rebuilding strength before these strikes and will not be stopped in its tracks by losing its two most senior public leaders.
Baghdadi may not be irreplaceable but in many respects he was uniquely suited to the times in which he led. He oversaw the rebuilding of IS from its previous low point a decade ago. He played a key role in expanding into Syria, replenishing the leadership ranks, leading a blitzkrieg across northern Iraq, conquering Mosul and declaring a caliphate. In the eyes of his support base, his credibility as an Islamic scholar and religious leader will not easily be matched.
He was not a particularly charismatic leader and was certainly, as a brutal, fundamentalist loner, not truly inspirational. But he played his role effectively, backed up by the largely unseen ranks of former Iraqi intelligence officers and military commanders who form the core of the IS leadership.
He was, in his time, the caliph the caliphate needed. In that sense, we will not see his like again.
Incredibly, 15 years after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established al-Qaeda in Iraq, and almost ten years after Baghdadi took charge of the Islamic State in Iraq, there is so much about the leadership of IS we don’t understand.
What is clear is the insurgent movement benefited enormously from so-called “de-Baathification” – the ridding of Arab nationalist ideology – in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and toppling of the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. The sacking of thousands of mostly Sunni senior military leaders and technocrats proved to be a windfall for the emerging insurgency.
IS has always been a hybrid movement. Publicly, it presents as a fundamentalist religious movement driven by religious conviction. Behind the scenes, however, experienced Baathist intelligence officers manipulated religious imagery to construct a police state, using religious terror to inspire, intimidate and control.
This is not to say Zarqawi and Baghdadi were unimportant as leaders. On the contrary, they were effective in mobilising religious sentiment first in the Middle East and then across the world. In the process, more than 40,000 people travelled to join the ranks of IS, inspired by the utopian ideal of religious revolution. Baghdadi was especially effective in playing his role as religious leader and caliph.
An optimistic take on Baghdadi’s denouement is that IS will be set back for many months, and perhaps even years. It will struggle to regain the momentum it had under his leadership.
Realistically, the extent to which this opportunity can be capitalised upon turns very much upon the extent to which the emerging leaders within the movement can be tracked down and dealt with before they have a chance to establish themselves.
It would appear IS had identified the uncontested spaces of north-western Syria in Idlib and Aleppo, outside of the control of the Assad regime in Damascus, of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northeast Syria, and beyond the reach of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, as territory in which its leadership could relocate and rebuild.
Continuing the optimistic take, there is the slim hope that the success of Sunday’s raids in which the partnership between US special forces and the SDF was so critical will lead to Trump being persuaded to reverse his decision to part ways with the SDF and pull out their special forces partners on the ground, together with accompanying air support.
The fact Baghdadi and Muhajir were both found within five kilometres of the Turkish border suggests Turkish control of northern Syria is, to say the least, wholly unequal to the task of dealing with emerging IS leaders.
A reset to the pattern of partnership established over the past five years with the largely Kurdish SDF forces in north-eastern Syria could prove critically important in cutting down new IS leaders as they emerge. It’s believed the locations in northern Syria of the handful of leaders most likely to step into the void left by Baghdadi’s passing are well-known.
But even in the best-case scenario, all that can be realistically hoped for is slowing the rebuilding of the IS insurgency, buying time to rebuild political and social stability in northern Syria and northern Iraq.
Tensions are on the rise in Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian state situated mostly in the Himalayas. For decades, it has had constitutional autonomy from India.
The region is an area of major territorial conflict between India and Pakistan. Parts of the Kashmir valley have been under Pakistan’s control since the 1948 Indo-Pakistani war and both India and Pakistan have since fought two more wars claiming title to Jammu and the whole of Kashmir.
But yesterday, the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government’s decision to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. This status gave it the independence to have its own constitution, flag and the ability to make its own laws for its residents.
To do this, the government has abolished Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, and announced a plan to divide the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
In recent weeks, India has discharged some 35,000 troops to the Indian parts of Kashmir, adding to the 500,000 troops already stationed in the territory. India also cancelled a major Hindu pilgrimage, asked tourists to leave and imposed curfews in parts of the state.
India cites the threat of militancy in the territory emanating from Pakistan as the reason for recent lockdown and security measures.
From now on, Jammu and Kashmir will be considered a part of India, the same as other Indian states. It will be subject to the Indian constitution in its entirety.
The Indian government, following its election promises, claims that removing the special status will provide better economic and political opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir, the same as those available in mainland India.
India Tomorrow part 3: Kashmir
But skeptics believe that such a rushed move is merely a cover for changing the demographics of the Muslim-majority Kashmir to make it more Hindu, in the same way Israel expanded into Palestinian territories.
The abolition of Article 35A removes a constitutional hurdle for foreigners to buy land, settle in Jammu and Kashmir and increase the non-Muslim population there.
Until now, the expansion of the non-Muslim population was restricted due to strict property, political and entrepreneurial state laws for non-residents.
Adopted in 1949, Article 370 grants Jammu and Kashmir an autonomous status under the Indian constitution.
The article exempts the state from the terms of the constitution and limits the Indian Parliament in making laws for Jammu and Kashmir, except on matters of defence, external affairs and communications.
The Jammu and Kashmir legislature must approve any other law the Indian Parliament passes before it takes effect.
The article states that specific provisions in the Indian constitution can be extended to Jammu and Kashmir through presidential orders. But this can only happen with the agreement of the state government.
One such provision is Article 35A, which was passed through a presidential order in 1954. It allowed the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define rights and privileges for the permanent residents of the territory.
Article 370 was first adopted as a temporary term under the “Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions” section of India’s constitution when India had committed to holding a plebiscite in the territory to let the residents decide their political future.
According to India’s constitution, Article 370 could only be modified or revoked at the recommendation of Jammu and Kashmir’s constituent assembly. The constituent assembly, however, dissolved itself in the 1950s, arguably entrenching Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in the Indian constitution permanently.
This means that abolishing Article 370 through yesterday’s presidential notification may be unconstitutional. And if this is the case, revoking the existing constitutional authority means India would be ruling Jammu and Kashmir by force.
The predominantly Muslim Kashmiri population has strong reservations about an influx of Indians into their homelands, particularly since 2008. Then, the Jammu and Kashmir government agreed to grant 40 hectares of forestland to a Hindu pilgrimage site to provide for housing facilities for pilgrims, but was met with strong public protests against the idea.
Over the years, despite the Kashmiris’ concerns, the Indian right-wing groups, with the help of central government, have been encouraging Hindus to undertake the pilgrimage in big numbers.
Recently, US President Donald Trump offered to mediate the territorial conflict between Pakistan and India for a solution to the decades-old crises.
India has always maintained the dispute to be a bilateral issue between the two countries and refused to accept any third party’s involvement. Pakistan, on the other hand, regards it an international issue which, similar to the Israel-Palestine conflict, requires the UN and other international players to play their parts.
But bringing Jammu and Kashmir under India’s rule means this dispute will become more internalised between the two countries. This is concerning to Pakistan and could, once again, reignite border tensions between the two countries.
A key element in the success of countering terrorism in Australia has been a series of new and amended pieces of legislation – at least 75 – developed to respond to an evolving threat.
This includes legislation produced in October 2014 (Section 119.2 and 119.3 of the Criminal Code) that declared areas of Iraq and Syria, including the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State (IS) caliphate, illegal for Australian citizens to enter. Anyone who has lived in this territory and seeks to return to Australia will have to prove they were not assisting IS or face prosecution and a possible punishment of up to 25 years in prison.
Innovative pieces of legislation like the proposed Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEO) bill introduced by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton are difficult to argue with. Existing national security laws already place Australia in a much stronger position than any other Western nation when it comes to managing the prosecution and detention of returning IS fighters.
Nevertheless, there is a limit to what legislation itself can do. Moreover, for every possible advantage, there are also possible disadvantages that need to be weighed up.
There is not a whole lot more the new TEO bill can be reasonably expected to achieve. And as the weight of legislation increases, there are reasonable questions to be asked about checks and balances and proportionate implementation.
In other words, the devil is very much in the detail.
Three questions need to be asked:
First, what is the actual need for this bill? And what is the likelihood the proposed legislation can meet this need?
Second, what are the potential downsides that might come with enacting this legislation?
Third, in the light of the first two questions, what then should be done?
There is no question, that with at least 80 individuals who have fought with IS now in a position to possibly return, any legislative tool that can help manage this risk is worth considering.
Specifically, there is clearly a benefit to being able to delay somebody’s return by at least two years, and through a process of extensions perhaps many more years. There is also an advantage, when they do return, of being able to legally impose conditions on who they meet with and where they go.
The government has pointed out that around 40 Australians have already returned from Syria and Iraq under suspicion of being involved with terrorist groups. To have been able to delay and then manage the return of these 40 fighters clearly would have been very useful.
But what has not been explained by the government is that these 40 individuals came back to Australia more than six years ago, and only a couple have so far been successfully prosecuted.
If the need was so urgent, why wasn’t a temporary exclusion order introduced in late 2014 when we first began to process a raft of counter-terrorism bills and amendments? Or in 2015 when the UK introduced similar legislation?
There is, in fact, no immediate crisis, and undue haste in passing further security legislation should be avoided because it is very dangerous to national security.
If TEOs are applied excessively, and without sufficient discrimination, a number of risks arise. Individuals currently detained in overcrowded detention centres in Syria or Iraq might be released if their repatriation to Australia is delayed by years.
Or, they could be broken out of detention by IS insurgents, who remain deadly and numerous. This happened on dozens of occasions when IS needed to replenish its ranks.
Allowing our citizens to be somebody else’s problem, out of sight and out of mind, does not actually make the security risk to Australians go away. Leaving them offshore leaves open the very real possibility that they will eventually slip away into the terrorist underground or rejoin the IS insurgency.
Should they do so, they immediately become a risk through their ability to influence others online and via social media.
It is likely that TEOs will be also applied to women and children we really should be repatriating. This would pass the buck to others to look after and secure these women and children, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are already overstretched and unable to deal with the burden of indefinitely detaining those who have fled the decaying IS caliphate.
There is also a real risk this legislation, much like other bills that allow Dutton to strip somebody of their citizenship on the grounds they potentially have access to alternative citizenship, could undermine confidence and trust within key communities in Australia.
As then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after the murder of Sydney police accountant Curtis Cheng by a 15-year-old recruited by IS supporters in 2015, our first line of defence in fighting groups like Islamic State is the Muslim community.
Intelligence is key to countering terrorism and working with communities and families to encourage people to speak up when they see something of concern. To the extent that trust and confidence are eroded, national security will be directly diminished.
So what should be done?
Speaking last week at his farewell dinner, outgoing Labor Senator Doug Cameron spelled out the larger issues that need to be addressed.
Our existing oversight is inferior and, in my view, almost non-existent. This is unacceptable and we should ensure our inferior parliamentary oversight of security agencies is changed and oversight is enhanced.
Cameron is not the only one to express concerns. This bill was first introduced into the 45th Parliament. The Liberal-dominated Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) produced an extensive review and a detailed report on the bill.
Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, a member of the PJCIS, has since complained that the government had
rejected four of the PJCIS recommendations in whole, rejected six in part and ignored one.
This, despite the fact that these recommendations came as a result of the considered reasoning of senior figures from both the Liberals and Labor.
One of the key amendments recommenced by the PJCIS is that the minister of home affairs should only be empowered to order a temporary exclusion order if he or she
reasonably suspects the person is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activities outside Australia
And that a TEO should only be made
if it would substantially assist in preventing the provision of support for, or the facilitation of, a terrorist act.
The principle of being able to impose TEOs certainly bears consideration. While this is no “silver bullet”, there is a case for passing the bill after including the amendments thoughtfully proposed by the PJCIS.
Without a better system of oversight, we risk undermining community trust and confidence by setting in place policy that leads to dire consequences and diminishes our national security.
Now is not the time to make haste at the expense of national security, as well as the very values that define us as Australians.
The links below are to articles reporting of news relating to the persecution of Christians in Uganda.
The links below are to articles reporting on news relating to the persecution of Christians in Egypt (the most recent are at the top).
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The links below are to articles reporting on news relating to the persecution of Christians in Burkina Faso (the most recent are at the top).
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The link below is to an article relating to the persecution of Christians in Uganda.