Regional Security

A Defining Moment

EWI Board Members Kanwal Sibal and Ikram Sehgal on the political consequences of Osama Bin Laden's death.

Writing for The News, EWI board member Ikram Sehgal examines how Osama Bin Laden's hideout compromised the credibility of Pakistani intelligence agencies—and the current challenge for the Pakistani leadership.

Click here to read Sehgal's piece in The News

Writing for India Today, EWI board member Kanwal Sibal recommends that the U.S. shift its political and military tactics in Pakistan in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death.

Click here to read Sibal's piece in India Today

After Bin Laden: A Pakistani View

The greatest, most expensive manhunt in history, employing human and material resources far beyond anything else in recorded times, culminated at about 3 a.m. on Sunday, May 1, 2011. With a shot to the head over the left eye, and maybe another one in the chest, Osama bin Laden’s decade-long evasion of those seeking him “dead or alive” came to an abrupt end. US president Barrack Obama, who earlier had given the definitive “kill” order and watched the whole operation by live video feed, said, “Justice has been done.” Bin Laden met his end very much like he lived – violently. Belatedly but ultimately, the US got its point across to those who harm its interests: you can run, but you cannot hide – not forever, at least.

A “hideout” less than a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), Kakul was mortifying for someone who graduated nearly 46 years ago from this revered institution. In hindsight, given the utter incongruity of it, it was extremely clever for the most wanted man in the world to take deep cover literally a stone’s throw away from where Gen Kayani had only recently addressed the graduating cadets being commissioned into the army.

The isolated fortified villa was not suspicious by itself. Many such high-walled entities exist all over the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces, for security reasons but also to keep prying eyes of neighbours away from the womenfolk. Allegations of such impropriety having often led to deadly fire fights, it is not surprising that neighbours tend not to be as nosy as in other areas. Given the proximity to possible Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) support further up in the mountains, Abbottabad was well chosen.

Conversely, one may ask, if there was indeed Pakistani collusion, what moron would be so stupid as to hide Bin Laden in a major garrison town, albeit one full of foreign NGOs in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake?

Four US helicopters took part in the surgical operation, lifting an elite US SEAL unit to rappel down ropes onto the roof of the compound. The fire fight lasted only a few minutes, the commandos stayed on the ground for nearly 45 minutes, collecting a virtual intelligence treasure trove of computer hard drives, a hundred or so storage discs and documents. Before picking up Bin Laden’s body and taking one captive, they carried out a quick screening of the dozen-plus people left alive, mainly women and children.

From Jalalabad in Afghanistan to the target location would have taken the raiders over (or near) three bases of the Pakistani air force, including the very active army helicopter base at Tarbela engaged in ongoing operations in Swat. Having myself flown extensively in the area as a helicopter pilot beyond Abbottabad along the Karakoram Highway (KKH), it was most surprising that the PAF radar units, fixed and mobile, failed to pick up all this aerial activity even slipping through radar blind spots, particularly at that time of the night. Obviously the radars were jammed. That does not bode well for our air defences – the frequencies were compromised.

From Jalalabad to Abbottabad and back, with 45 minutes’ hovering time at the target location, is quite an extended time for choppers to go without refuelling, even with a disposable fuel tank. Where was the “forward base” located where fuel bowsers refuelled the choppers? Somebody has to take full responsibility for this atrocious operational failure in not scrambling our fighter aircraft. Has anybody the conscience to fall on his sword?

Grudgingly acknowledging Pakistani collaboration helping the US close in eventually on Bin Laden’s hideout, the extent of “actionable intelligence,” if any, is unknown. Being kept out of the loop for “security reasons” in the actual operations is embarrassing for us as a nation. That we remained totally oblivious militarily of either Bin Laden or the operation, both smack of gross incompetence as was suggested by outgoing CIA Chief Leon Panetta.

The 9/11 atrocity against the highly symbolic “Twin Towers” and the Pentagon, the 3,000-plus US victims (including passengers in United Airlines Flight 93) left a permanent scar on the American psyche, nurturing a deep psychological yearning for revenge, ironically a very Islamic concept of “an eye for an eye.” Obama reiterated this presidential diktat to “kill or capture” the perpetrator of the 9/11 atrocity, soon after taking office. The spontaneous reaction of widespread joy on Bin Laden’s death was evident among the citizens thronging the streets across the US at midnight, congregating symbolically at “Ground Zero” in New York and outside the White House in Washington DC. Maybe not for crass political reasons (the presidential stakes were high for Obama if anything went wrong) but for psychological ones. It was important that the finger on the trigger be American. A rambling Osama bin Laden in the dock would have been a symbolic living martyr fomenting more terrorism.

The calculated risk in the human element notwithstanding, a physical operation was the pragmatic choice, rather than a missile attack. That revenge was derived ultimately by US hands satisfied its ecstatic citizens, even the most diehard Republicans weighed in to praise the Democrat president, the one they had only just been labelling as “weak and indecisive.”

A very significant vocal minority in Pakistan remains enamoured by Bin Laden despite his brutal excesses. The US said that for reasons of operational secrecy, Pakistani participation was not feasible. Certainly, no one would have trusted anyone in the civilian government about the impending operations; might as well announce it on CNN or the BBC! But the fact that the American chose also to keep the military hierarchy in the dark shows a lack of respect for our tremendous sacrifices. By far, most Pakistani citizens (5,000-plus military and over 30,000 civilian ones, making for roughly 10 times the number of American losses) have died in this war. However, highlighting Pakistani involvement would have force-multiplied terrorist retaliation in the heartland. It probably made good political sense to let Americans take credit for dealing with this “hot potato.”

One may not agree with what all the ISI does or with its motives and methods, but it still happens to be one of the prime institutions protecting the country’s core interests. We have to support firmly the soldiers dying every day in counterinsurgency operations, notwithstanding the many times more collateral civilian damage suffered by those killed in the streets and mosques. There will be extraordinary pressure within the US to exit Afghanistan now that Bin Laden is dead, a long struggle against terrorism looms ahead of us and we need the US, and they do need us. Bin Laden, alive or dead, does not matter. The fight is far from over!

Pakistan’s detractors are having a field day, converting conjuncture into fact. Scurrilous speculations are being bandied about regarding our intelligence agencies. The data collected from Abbottabad by the raiding party as well as the captives’ interrogation report assumes great importance. For Pakistan’s future as a credible entity in the comity of nations, the real truth, whatever it may be, must come out. Anybody cooperating with terrorists needs a short shrift. On the other hand, the US has all the evidence to either clear or indict “Pakistani collaboration,” official or unofficial. The blunt message to our US allies must be unequivocal: put up or shut up!

Click here to read Sehgal's piece in The News

The Arab Spring: Leadership Needed, and Not Just There

Much of the world has been enthralled, concerned and confused by what has been happening in the Arab world. All three emotions are understandable, justified by the swirl of events that allows people to read their hopes and fears into them, depending on their predispositions. It’s worth sorting out both our reactions to these events and the events themselves. 

Many are enthralled because maybe they see a little bit, or even a lot, of themselves in the young (and older) Arabs demonstrating and rallying in the street. The grievances the Arabs have expressed are more common than most of us would like to admit: high unemployment and underemployment, the loss of hope, crushing political and cultural oppression and repression, massive corruption, the selective use of the rule of law or complete lack of the rule of law, the powerful influence of connections (in Arabic wasta and koosa), poor leadership that has done little for the common person, increasingly cavernous differences between the haves and have-nots, declining living standards for many, and bankrupt educational systems, amongst many other problems both perceived and real.

Who could say that he or she did not feel some sympathy with those brave Arabs who have been hitting the streets, putting their lives and livelihoods in danger, and crying out at the top of their lungs that they want democracy, freedom and hope? Probably only the dictators and their cronies who have robbed them of their heritage and their hopes could do that. However, even they in their hearts of hearts could feel the pain of the street. Many of the current and recently ousted leaders did not start at the top and many came from poor backgrounds in small villages. That is one of the pungent ironies of all of this. And, yes, it does stink.

Many are concerned because of the effects all of these uprisings and revolutions could have on oil, gas, and other markets. Still others are concerned about what all of this might mean for the strategic calculus of the region and world. The Middle East and North Africa are vital areas for trade and resources, but also for cultural, political, and now revolutionary forces. In many ways, this area is the center of the Muslim world. It is also a place that has uncountable and powerful connections with Central Asia, South Asia, Europe, Africa and more.

Others are concerned about the immigration that may happen. Still others are worried Al Qaeda may gain from this. Even in some of the most geographically distant areas of the world, such as China, there are concerns that this unrest might spread toward them. The leadership of countries like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and some of the Central Asian states should be losing sleep over this. The grievances we hear from the Arabs echo in the streets of Caracas, Harare and many more places. The Arab world has become the heart of revolution. These are mostly revolutions of the people, those who are Ibn al balad, (a son of the soil) and the shaab (the youth).  They are  looking to be free from the yoke of economic, cultural, and political repression that has constrained them and their countries from reaching their potential.

However, there also seems to be movement toward more government control and regulation of businesses and even outright nationalizations of some businesses in some countries where the corruption and inequality were over the top. A revolution in economic ideologies that counters the neo-liberalism and free market ideologies of the World Bank and the Washington consensus already seems to be taking hold in places like Egypt and this may spread. This is far from universal. It will be interesting to see how Libyan economic ideologies develop after 41 years of the irrational, mercurial, and "socialistic" policies of Qaddafi. There is also a lot of confusion on the ground about where the "Islamist" groups of the region will fit into the future. The seeds of future revolutions may be sowed already in the region. It is very difficult to tell where all of this is heading.

Indeed, many are confused by these revolutions. How could an area that was assumed by many to be so stable collapse into anger and dissent so quickly? Well, they really were not that stable to begin with. The people saw the weaknesses of the seemingly powerful leaders, their bluff and bluster, and moved on them. Those leaders were brutal because they were weak, much like schoolyard bullies.

Having about 20 years experience in the region and having lived in Egypt for six years, I could feel the anger and frustrations steadily build in many places. Once they saw the chink in the ostensible armor, they went for it. Once they saw weaknesses in the security forces and intelligence services that had kept them down, they were no longer intimidated. Although this is not a part of the world where passive resistance had any know track record, suddenly it took hold and worked well.  The results will have profound effects globally—for the EU, Africa, Asia and the world economic and political systems in general. This is just the beginning of a new wave of change.

What might this mean for Iran? My guess is that Arab Spring could visit this country sooner rather than later. What does this mean for the Shia-Sunni tensions? These tensions are part of the rebellions in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria and could spread to others, and not just in the region. The elephant in the room is Saudi Arabia, which has the largest conventional proved oil reserves in the world, is the largest oil exporter, and has most of its large Shia population living just above its largest oil fields. And Iran has been stirring up trouble there.

What might this mean for Israel and the Palestinians?  The Palestinians are surely thinking about what this might mean for them. Also, the Palestinians are working through the UN to get many countries to recognize them. This could be one of the reasons why things have been more peaceful there than many might have expected. The Palestinians are employing new international tactics, and even internal tactics, such as passive resistance, which some thought impossible for this community. If Israel does not react in a strategic manner, and with a long term view toward its relations with its near and far Arab and Iranian neighbors, it could find itself in a very difficult bind in the near future.

What could this mean for the United States? This could either be an opening to a better future with the people of the region or a strategic disaster of epic proportions, depending on how the U.S. handles the manifold and powerful challenges this situation presents to it.

This is a time that calls for great leadership in the U.S., the EU, the Middle East and North Africa and more. Without such leadership, the results of these revolutions could be quite bad. If the Arab Spring spreads further into the larger oil producers such as Libya's neighbor Algeria, Iran and even Saudi Arabia, then all bets are off for the economic, political and even military fallout. The same could happen if various energy nodes--Ab Qaiq, the Al Basra Oil Terminal and the like--are seriously damaged or compromised. Then we have Yemen possibly disintegrating into multiple failed states, while Somalia, another failed state, serve as the other bookend to one of the most important oil and other cargo transport areas in the world.

Under certain scenarios we could be looking at $200-300 per barrel of oil and massive economic shocks to the world. I doubt that we are ready for any of this. The U.S. Government may shut down because Democrats, Republicans and the Tea Party cannot even agree to disagree. This is not comforting in a world facing such daunting challenges. The EU countries which are far more vulnerable to energy shocks from North Africa and the Middle East, seem even less prepared to handle the potential fallout. The least developed countries, many of whom heavily depend on imported oil, and particularly Sub-Saharan African countries, could be in for one of the greatest economic shocks of their recent histories if these events spin out of control. The global implications of these events and the unpreparedness of most countries to develop proper policy options to counter the economic and political shocks that could come from them are potentially profound.

None of this is predetermined and we can hope for the best. But hope is not a strategy and, although necessary, it is far from sufficient for the great leadership and strategizing that will be needed. This may be a time to go back in time and look at the rules of leadership as defined by George Washington, such as basing decisions on what is right rather than what is popular (now there is a thought), having a vision of a better future (and not just next week), doing what you say you will (instead of just saying what people want to hear), being honest, being responsible for decisions (no buck passing), doing research and development on decisions (not basing decisions on the 1% factor), building relations (not going it alone), being balanced (not extreme), being humble (not arrogant), learning from defeats (instead of just blaming others), and, observing things as they are -- not what you would like things to be.

Trying to understand  what is happening in the Arab world today, and developing sensible strategies in response to those events, is like sailing a ship in high and shifting winds, and in a very thick fog. You need very good leadership or you might just hit the rocks.

A former EWI senior fellow, Paul Sullivan teaches at the National Defense University and Georgetown University.  All opinions expressed are those of Professor Sullivan and do not represent those of The National Defense University, Georgetown University or any other entity he may be associated with.

Perspectives on Egypt

A round-up of commentary and analysis on the Egyptian crisis from EWI’s Ikram Sehgal, Kanwal Sibal, and Andrew Nagorski.


Writing for The News, Ikram Sehgal discusses the inevitable challenges facing the new leadership in Egypt—and the possibility that more dominos will fall in the region.

Click here to read Sehgal's follow-up piece in The News

In his weekly column in The News, Ikram Sehgal reports on the continuing fallout produced by the 26-year-old vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who lit himself on fire in the streets of Tunisia.
Writing for India Today, Kanwal Sibal predicts that Mubarak will be out of office by September. What are Egypt’s chances for a peaceful transition of power?
In an interview with National Public Radio’s “The Takeaway,” Andrew Nagorski talks about Egypt’s reluctant hero, 30 year old Google executive Wael Ghonim. “He's going to have to decide whether he's content to simply be a symbol of this generation, of this movement, or does he want to be a leader of it,” says Nagorski.

You can listen to this program or read the story here.


The Political Realities of Preventive Diplomacy

From escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula to Sudan’s upcoming referendum, foreign flashpoints are popping up on Washington’s radar screen – just as the new Congress is facing painful spending decisions. The last thing Congress wants are more costly foreign entanglements, which would seem to justify more modest, strategic spending to help stop new conflicts before they erupt. But can we really expect preventive action from Washington?

Funding for preventive diplomacy is notoriously tough to secure, particularly in times of tight budgets. But preventive action can save both lives and money. A war in Sudan would cost the international community an estimated $100 billion, according to a recent report by the Aegis Trust – a great argument for preventive action by the United States and others. But arguing how much money you will save by funding a war that doesn’t happen is a tough political sell for Washington policymakers.

Still, legislators looking to support preventive action can point to retroactive cost-benefit analyses that show just how much money timely spending saves: The First Gulf War cost foreign governments $114 billion, while effective preventive action might have cost between $10 and $30 billion, according to The Costs of Conflict: Prevention and Cure in the Global Arena, from the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict.  Conversely, the United Nations Preventive Deployment Force kept the Albanian and Yugoslav crises out of Macedonia from 1995 and 1999 for a mere $300 million -- a drop in the bucket compared to what a full-blown Macedonian crisis could have cost: $140 billion.  According to those calculations, the combined savings for those two conflicts approached $230 billion.

At the EastWest Institute’s First Global Conference on Preventive Action in Brussels last month—in reality, more a mobilization meeting than a conference--global parliamentarians discussed how to build political support for preventive action. Delegates broadly agreed that intergovernmental organizations must spearhead the movement and that greater collaboration is needed between the United Nations, regional organizations and NGOs.  However, the intergovernmental organizations will be hampered by the fact that they are funded by the very states currently cutting their budgets.

The United States government takes the lead in funding the UN, currently assessed at 22% of the UN regular budget, and the Obama Administration is requesting around $500 million from Congress for Fiscal Year 2011. The figure, while substantial, pales in comparison to the American share of the UN peacekeeping budget, which is expected to be almost $2 billion in 2011 or about a quarter of UN peacekeeping funding. As Washington readies itself for a more conservative 112th congress in January, the last thing anyone expects is enthusiasm for upping UN funding.

But despite the obstacles, Washington has acknowledged the importance of preventive diplomacy in some instances. In August 2009, Senator Mark Begich [D-AK] introduced the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Affairs Act. Begich’s Chief of Staff, David Ramseur, told EWI, that it “is an attempt to manage Arctic resources and transportation in the Arctic, both of which are becoming more accessible as a result of global warming.” While violent confrontation between the Arctic states is unlikely, the proposal to appoint an ambassador for the Arctic shows a commitment to preventing any protracted diplomatic or economic stand-offs over resource ownership or shipping rights. The bill has gone nowhere, but it at least signaled an attempt to anticipate and defuse future tensions in an increasingly important area of competing economic activity.   

On the other side of the aisle, the 111th Congress marked the third straight session that Congressman Mac Thornberry [R-TX] introduced legislation titled the Quadrennial Foreign Affairs Review Act (H.R. 490 in 111th Congress), with the intention of obligating “a quadrennial review of the diplomatic strategy and structure of the Department of State…to determine how the Department can best fulfill its mission in the 21st century and meet the challenges of a changing world.” After Congress took the lead, Hillary Clinton announced the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review as an official initiative of the State Department in July of 2009.

Released in December by the Department of State, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) provides some insight into how State and USAID will “determine how to use our resources most efficiently in a time of tight budgets.” The QDDR emphasizes a civilian-based approach to leadership in regards to foreign policy -- more consulates and an enlargement of the foreign service and civil service. Moving forward, the QDDR also calls for the development of a “standing interagency response corps” and “a single planning process for conflict resolution” that will strengthen the capacity of State and USAID “to anticipate crisis, conflict, and potential mass atrocities.”

At EWI, we are strongly positioned to promote preventive diplomacy–in particular, with our active global parliamentarian network working for conflict prevention. We plan to invite more American policymakers into that network. EWI DC will continue to try to keep this issue on the discussion boards in Washington and elsewhere, and work towards tangible, timely and cost-effective results. 

The Three Biggest Misconceptions about Pakistan

On December 13th, Ikram Sehgal a member of EWI’s board of directors and the chairman of Wackenhut Pakistan (Private) Ltd., one of Pakistan’s leading security companies, gave a talk at the institute on the “Three Biggest Misconceptions about Pakistan.”

First, Sehgal addressed the common fear that Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities are vulnerable to terrorists. “I know for a fact that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are safe,” said Sehgal, pointing out that there’s no evidence that the command structure guarding Pakistan’s nuclear assets includes Taliban sympathizers.  Sehgal added that Arab countries say they feel threatened by Iran, but not by Pakistan: “Countries apart from India do not feel threatened.” 



Second, Sehgal sought to refute the notion of Pakistan as an exporter of terror.  Sehgal believes that this misconception is exacerbated by western leader’s pandering remarks to India: “Both Cameron and Merkel clearly were wooing the Indian leaders and public for crass commercial purposes,” said Sehgal.

Sehgal pointed out that many people wrongly associate Pakistan with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, particularly given that no of the high ranking leaders of Al Qaeda are Pakistani. In Waziristan, said Sehgal, for every coalition soldier lost, Pakistan lost 11, including high ranking officers: “There is certainly terror in Pakistan, but it is not state sponsored.” 

Third, Sehgal addressed the misconception of Pakistan as a failed state, underscoring the tendency of Western media to lump the entire nation into an Islamo-fascist entity.   “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Sehgal. “In this diverse nation of more than 170 million, Pakistan contains the entire spectrum of Islamic practice.” 

Sehgal argued that the Western media enforces false stereotypes of government corruption and cooperation with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.   And, conversely, fuels Pakistani conspiracy theories that the West is out to get them.

In a question-and-answer period following the talk, one participant asked Sehgal to address the fact that Pakistanis overseas have been involved in terrorist attacks.
“Within Pakistan, with educated young people, you won’t find the same virulent anti-western hatred that you find in the United Kingdom,” said Sehgal. “If you go to East London, you will find a lot of venom there.”

Just one more misconception about Pakistan that needed correction.

Click here to read coverage by the World Policy Institute

Click here to read Sehgal's piece in The News.


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