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Why Terrorists Become More Violent

Guest post by Justin Conrad and Kevin Greene

A screenshot from a video produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which purportedly shows the beheading of a Kurdish fighter in Iraq.

A screenshot from a video produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which purportedly shows the beheading of a Kurdish fighter in Iraq.

Shortly after entering the Syrian city of Palmyra in recent weeks, fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) beheaded several people and sent images of the killings to media outlets. Over the past year, ISIL has become synonymous with such extreme displays of violence. Relatively little attention, however, has been paid to why the organization uses these shockingly brutal tactics. Some observers have made fairly standard arguments linking ISIL’s extreme violence to the group’s Islamist roots, indoctrination of recruits, or its war with the state. But the full context in which ISIL operates has largely been ignored. Specifically, in Syria and Iraq, ISIL is conducting its activities in arguably the most fiercely competitive political environment in the world. By one estimation, there are as many as 1,000 opposition groups fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and fighting each other in the process. How does an organization “stand out” in such a crowded field? Some groups, like ISIL, may use violence strategically in an effort to distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Scholars have referred to this process as “outbidding,” when organizations use violence in an effort to “outbid” their competitors for support of the local population. The central argument is that violence demonstrates greater credibility, which in turn shores up popular support and improves recruitment efforts. Competition between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine has been explained, in part, as a function of the outbidding process. Both the First and Second Intifadas were arguably driven by such dynamics as the two organizations struggled to demonstrate greater commitment and credibility and win the support of the Palestinian public. But beyond this frequently cited anecdote, there has been surprisingly little evidence that increased domestic competition influences the amount of terrorism that countries experience.

In a recent study at the Journal of Politics, we argue that while terrorist organizations may not change their frequency of attacks in response to political competition, they will at least try to differentiate their “brand” from others. One effective way to differentiate an organization already known for violence is to engage in particularly shocking forms of violence that garner greater media attention. In the study, we create a three category ordinal variable to capture the “severity” of violence of terrorist attacks listed in the Global Terrorism Database. The severity is based on the identity of each attack’s target, with attacks against civilians being the most severe. We also create a second scale based on the methods or tactics used in the attack. Our results demonstrate that states with a greater number of terrorist organizations are likely to experience more severe forms of violence. In fact, the addition of just one organization increases the odds that the state will experience more severe forms of violence by 108%. We also test our hypothesis at the organization level using data on Middle Eastern organizations. We find additional support here – organizations operating in more competitive environments are more likely to use more severe forms of violence.

While the use of such brutality runs the risk of backfiring and reducing public support for the organization, under some circumstances, there appears to be strategic value in being the most violent group on the block. As groups try to distinguish themselves from one another in a crowded marketplace, extreme violence may offer the most efficient way to gain media coverage. As a result, they may be able to shore up their resources and recruits in the short-term, allowing them to survive another day. Importantly, this helps explain why organizations might engage in such violence despite the fact that it may hinder their ability to achieve their long-term goals. While brutal violence may not help them achieve their broader political goals, Brian Phillips finds that competition, at the very least, can increase a group’s longevity. And additional research finds that while the use of terrorism is unlikely to help groups gain or control territory, it can extend the length of civil wars, and thus, the lifespan of terrorist organizations.

As ISIL continues its operations in Syria and Iraq, it is important to note that they are not only competing with hundreds of organizations, most of whom we know little to nothing about. They are also now locked in a global competition for public support with the very organization from which they derived: Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, the al Nusra Front. The current fighting between al Qaeda and ISIL is particularly severe, as ISIL attempts to distinguish itself from an already famously violent organization. Competition gave birth to the organization and competition continues to nurture it. As long as Syria and Iraq provide the space to wage this war, we are likely to see increasingly innovative forms of brutality.

Justin Conrad is an assistant professor of Political Science at UNC Charlotte. Kevin Greene is a PhD student in Political Science at Michigan State University.

Potential for the Micro Dynamics of Peace

By Deborah Avant for Denver Dialogues

Protesters on Hrushevskogo Street in Kiev, Ukraine, January 26, 2014. By Sasha Maksymenko.

Protesters on Hrushevskogo Street in Kiev, Ukraine, January 26, 2014. By Sasha Maksymenko.

Last week notwithstanding, news has been a bit bleak lately.

Events in the US (from Ferguson to Charleston), the continuing violent spiral in Syria and Iraq, saber rattling in Ukraine, and even Putin’s “Patriot Park.” It looks as if everything between violence and old style inter-state war is more possible.

I thought about this last week for a panel on the 2015 Global Peace Index, which shows that the level of “peace” is now lower than it was when the index began in 2008. Though the level remained the same between 2014 and 2015 that was because places like Western Europe have strengthened their peacefulness. There is a widening of the gap between peaceful and less peaceful areas.

So what can we do? Indexes like the GPI (and others, like the Human Security Index) can point to indicators of peace but not processes that will lead us there. Policy debates tend to be stuck on what to do to fight a particular threat, like Daesh (the Islamic State). As the ongoing conversation about how best to “bridge the gap” has shown, academics can sometimes generate new policy narratives or affect public debate.

In contrast to the macro narratives that typify policy debates, political scientists have generated a body of work on the micro dynamics of violence. Extrapolating this work to look at the micro processes of peace holds potential for a new narrative and new action. Elizabeth Wood, Stathis Kalyvas, and others have shown that violence not only can, but often does, escalate inadvertently as violent episodes open the way for opportunism that generates both reaction and more opportunism. No matter how noble the purpose, using violence has a nasty underbelly that develops and persists for reasons having little to do with the initial purpose.

Though the micro violence literature is mostly focused on civil war, these dynamics can be seen more generally—just think of the looters that swarmed into otherwise peaceful protests in Ferguson, the heavy handed police reaction, and the violent cycle that ensued. Violence in many contexts unleashes opportunities for individuals and groups to use it for individual gain, for score settling, and for fear-mongering—creating a cycle with more opportunities (ironically, often in concert with a disturbing moral clarity, as brilliantly put by Chris Hedges).

Polarization benefits opportunistic action. Polarization chokes off information and options for action. Network analyses by Burt and others have shown how this works theoretically, but you can find examples everywhere. Recall Steve van Evera’s analysis of WWI and the impact of societal polarization for the “cult of the offensive”. Or think of Lee Ann Fujii’s argument about how fear of being branded untrue led the same ordinary Rwandans to kill neighbors when others were watching, but help them when they were alone.

Sometimes governments strategically engineer polarization. Take Assad’s willingness to use high levels of force rather than engaging with protestors. This led to radicalization of different wings of the protest movement—and opportunistic action to take advantage of this by violence-prone individuals and transnational groups.

Other times police or local officials can affect these processes without direction from—or contrary to the wishes of—the central government. In a soon-to-appear article in Security Studies (sorry, you’ll have to wait for it…), Amy Grubb shows that one critical difference between more and less violence-affected communities in Northern Ireland is whether or not local police units or other government officials acted in their proper role or allied with radical groups. When they acted properly, violence was mediated; when they allied with one side, it increased. Could this explain the surge in violence in the Michael Brown case, when perceptions of self-interested police behavior provoked an escalation in violence but restraint on the part of the state Highway Patrol led to the opposite?

It is not just governments that matter for escalatory and de-escalatory dynamics. Churches, companies, civilian groups and many others can also affect cycles of polarization and opportunism. We know that it is often easy to be pulled into polarization and turn a blind eye to opportunism (particularly in violent situations). But we also know (see Erica Chenoweth) that civil resistance groups that resist violence do better.

Business leaders can take steps to prevent polarization. An interesting publication by One Earth Future demonstrates how local businesses in Kenya worked to dampen violence in the last election there. Transnational companies often choose whether to take undue advantage of local situations in ways that can generate backlash or be sensitive to ensure they do not. Rio Tinto is involved with a Canadian university and the ICRC to evaluate whether or not its implementation of the Voluntary Principles on Business and Human Rights is ensuring such sensitivity.

Even local civilians can negotiate with armed groups to reduce the violence in their communities, as Oliver Kaplan demonstrated was the case in Colombia. Last week the NYT reported about civilian protests in Donetsk by residents sick of the impact of the war on their neighborhoods. (Thanks to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we will have much more to say about all of this soon.)

The big point? Rather than settling on easy macro narratives, we should think about micro processes. This should at least lead those using violent strategies to be hyper aware of their potential to feed in to opportunism and polarization. But it should also lead us to think more about the micro processes that lead away from polarization and opportunism. In doing so we may contribute to a shift in the narrative about citizens, activists, commercial leaders, NGOs, and even universities. They are not by-standers to (or observers of) the relative peacefulness of the world, but consequential agents whose everyday action can feed cycles of peace or the reverse.

Sticking with Sanctions Means We Are Stuck with the Status Quo in Ukraine

Guest post by Bryan R. Early, Brandon Valeriano, and Ryan C. Maness

Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko meet at the Minsk Summit in February. By Karl-Ludwig Poggemann.

Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko meet at the Minsk Summit in February. By Karl-Ludwig Poggemann.

The current political situation with respect to Ukraine has stagnated. The average citizen in the West does not support intervention into Eastern Europe, many Europeans are loathe to even defend their nation’s allies, and Russians continue to support President Vladimir Putin despite general mismanagement of the economy, strategic errors, and continued battle deaths. Since there is no political will to support an escalation of the crisis, Western policymakers possess few viable alternatives to sanctioning Russia. Yet because aspects of the West’s sanctioning strategy are self-defeating, that means little will likely change with respect to Ukraine in the near future.

A striking aspect of the crisis over Ukraine is that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s domestic popularity has grown markedly stronger while Russia’s international reputation and relative power have declined. A new series of polls conducted by Pew’s Global Attitudes and Trends finds a vast increase in domestic support for Putin. Before the Ukrainian crisis, Russians’ favorable views of Putin were at only 37 percent but have skyrocketed to 66 percent despite a drastic decline in the economy. In addition, 88 percent of Russians approve of Putin’s overall handling of international affairs, with 82 percent favoring the decisions he has made about Ukraine. The poll shows that 73 percent approve of his use of coercive energy tactics over the crisis, which includes shutting off gas supplies to Ukraine and parts of Europe. At the same time, Putin’s foreign policy strategy has alienated previously friendly states, reinvigorated many European countries’ commitment to NATO and U.S. leadership, and gotten Russia ostracized from many of the international forums (such as the G-8). Putin’s domestic popularity does not appeared to have flagged as result of these strategic mistakes.

The key questions that Western policymakers now confront are whether anything can be done to weaken Putin’s popularity and resolve the political crisis in Ukraine. The West has few options for challenging the status quo, most proposed would lead to dramatic escalation—such as removing Russia from the SWIFT banking system, arming the Ukrainians further, or militarily intervening in Ukraine. Given the European public’s lack of support for taking steps to escalate the political crisis with Russia, none of these strategies appear viable for European leaders to pursue. After the U.S. and European leaders’ resolve waffled in confronting the Assad regime’s crimes against humanity, it appears unlikely that they would go against public opinion in escalating the situation within Ukraine.

Instead of taking dramatic action against Russia over Ukraine, the European public appear far more supportive on using the tools of economic statecraft to sanction Russia for the Ukrainian territories it has taken. Indeed, seventy percent of all NATO country publics polled support assisting Ukraine with economic aid over military support. A substantial plurality of the publics polled in the Pew Survey favored maintaining existing levels of sanctions against Russia, while a smaller minority favored escalating them. Only in Germany and France was there a substantial minority opinion that sanctions should be decreased.

In a recent meeting on June 22, the member states of the European Union (EU) voted to extend the EU sanctions in place against Russia until January. The EU’s sanctions had been set to expire in July, and there was consternation that one or more members might block their renewal. President Putin responded by renewing Russian counter-sanctions against the Western states that had sanctioned his country. Both the EU and Russia essentially recommitted themselves to the status quo—with neither party escalating nor backing down.

The EU’s decision to remain a part of the multilateral sanctioning effort against Russia was crucial to maintaining sanctions’ continued viability. As a recent piece one of us authored in Foreign Policy Analysis reveals, EU members are the world’s most active sanctions busters when the organization does not participate in sanctioning efforts. Yet even if the sanctioning effort has retained its ability to impose meaningful economic costs on Russia, many policymakers have failed to appreciate the extent to which Western sanctions have helped strengthen Putin’s hand.

Putin has been incredibly effective at casting Western sanctions as part of an assault upon Russia that requires a unified, patriotic response from the population. He’s exploited a phenomenon that academics have known about for years—that sanctions can induce a powerful rally-around-the-flag effect. Research has also shown that sanctioned governments are far more likely to crack down on media freedoms within their states, using the sanctions as an excuse to quash domestic opposition. Within Russia, Putin has also used the conflict with the West to consolidate further control over the media and silence dissenting voices. This has contributed to the echo chamber Putin has been able to create that reinforces the narrative that the West is responsible for the hostile relationship between Europe and Russia. Beyond just their impact on media freedoms, economic sanctions have also been found to cause governments to become less democratic, increase their human rights violations, and engage in more acts of governmental repression.

By sanctioning Russia—and even members of Putin’s circle of supporters—the West has enabled Putin to actually gain in strength domestically. There’s no evidence to suggest that continuing the sanctions in their present form or incrementally strengthening them will weaken Putin or fundamentally change Russia’s behavior.

This isn’t to say that Putin doesn’t face his own set of challenges related to Ukraine separate from the sanctions issue. Russia’s military strength is vastly overstated. The Russian Government is running out of forces to send to the region, it is having to coerce troops into extending their tours of duty, and it continues to hide Russian casualties from its citizens. All these problems are bound to catch up to Putin eventually. And while recent decisions over U.S. military deployments in Europe and Russia’s announcement over its intentions to deploy 40 new ICBMs have made headlines, they didn’t fundamentally alter either party’s strategic interests with respect to Ukraine.

As long as Western publics and Western leaders remain committed to sanctions as their primary tool for confronting Russia’s aggression, the political crisis will continue to stagnate. Political science research suggests that policymakers should not expect their sanctions to undermine Putin’s domestic support. By sticking with sanctions, Western policymakers are going to be stuck with the current status quo in Ukraine for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, that might not be a bad thing for the West. The ongoing dispute in Ukraine will continue to sap Russia’s strength and continued foreign policy missteps by Putin could further erode Russia’s international standing. On top of this, worrying developments in Armenia suggest that Russia has much to contend with in its own sphere of influence. There appear to be no clear viable options to confront Russia given the lack of political will in the public, this might paradoxically be the best course of action given Russia’s rather restrained actions, internal rot, and fraying political alignments.

Bryan R. Early is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science and Public Administration & Policy Departments at Rockefeller College. Brandon Valeriano is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow in Politics and Global Security. Ryan C. Maness is a Visiting Fellow of Security and Resilience Studies in Northeastern University’s Department of Political Science. 

Weekly Links

By Sarah Bakhtiari

The Way is Home, August 19, 2012.  By Hartwig HKD.

The Way is Home, August 19, 2012. By Hartwig HKD.

The UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic has recently come under scrutiny for allegations of child sexual abuse from December 2013 to June 2014.  Muna Ndulo argues that sexual abuse and exploitation should be treated as a major collective security threat by the UN.

Michael Horowitz outlines recent efforts to bridge academics and policy, and also identifies four key features of ‘policy relevance. Along similar lines, academics might build bridges to NGOs by partnering between NGO umbrella organizations and APSA, ISA, or MPSA, amongst other ideas outlined here.

How might we better balance the interests of peace and justice in international criminal trials? Carsten Stahn points us to take a closer look at retributive practices and procedures.

Find out about the effects of violent flanks on nonviolent movements’ success rates with this lecture by Erica Chenoweth at the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict.

How’s does Thomas Schelling’s Arms and Influence apply to the Iranian P5+1 nuclear negotiations? Find out here what insights Schelling offers.

Hope for Japanese concessions to Korea on historical issues came and went with the 50th anniversary of Korean-Japanese diplomatic normalization on June 22nd—most expect to see more of the same from Japan’s Abe for the upcoming 70th anniversary of the war in the Pacific next week.

Speaking of anniversaries, the UN Charter turned 70 this past Friday, June 26. If you need a refresher on the details of how it came to life, here’s a brief historiography.

Britain faces some strategic decision points regarding defense, as they realize they no longer have the capacity to maintain nationally autonomous support for each force element.

Will China’s heavy investment in South Sudan compel them to intervene in the state’s internal affairs?

Potential Progress in the Fight Against Impunity in Post-War Guatemala

Guest post by Mike Allison

Graffiti in Gautemala City labels former President Efrain Rios Montt an "assassin". By Surizar.

Graffiti in Gautemala City labels former President Efrain Rios Montt an “assassin”. By Surizar.

A recent article at offers an interesting account of how protestors used social media to galvanize large public protests in Guatemala. It is fairly in depth, and thus has little space for historical and contemporary context. I offer such context here.

Guatemala suffered one of the longest (1960-1996) and most intense (200,000-250,000 dead and disappeared) civil wars of the Cold War-era in Latin America. During the bloodiest 1981-1983 period, the US-backed Guatemalan government and military killed an estimated 100,000 Mayan civilians. A United Nations truth commission determined that the State committed acts of genocide during this period. (Two years ago, former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide in a Guatemalan court before the ruling was annulled on a technicality.) After the strategic defeat of the guerrillas in the mid-1980s, four administrations entered into on-again, off-again negotiations with the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit (URNG) guerrilla group. These negotiations ultimately led to an internationally-brokered comprehensive peace settlement, some would say a negotiated surrender (Ryan 1994), in December 1996.

Guatemalans and the international community hoped that the peace agreement would pave the way toward political, economic, and social prosperity. Unfortunately, a number of the reforms that had been agreed to in the Firm and Lasting Agreement were defeated in a May 1999 constitutional referendum. The failure of the proposed reforms undermined efforts to recognize Guatemala as a pluricultural, multiethnic and pluri-lingual nation-state. The failed implementation of many components of the peace accords (Stanley and Holiday in Ending Civil Wars) also allowed “hidden powers” (Peacock and Beltrán 2003) to capture the “democratic” state.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the military’s counterinsurgency program became increasingly difficult to distinguish from organized crime. Civilian populations were displaced and/or massacred, not necessarily in pursuit of counterinsurgency goals, but in order for military officials and local and national elites to profit from the land of the displaced (e.g., the Chixoy Dam). Military and former military, high-level government officials and members of the private sector were linked to all sorts of criminal activity, including trafficking in humans, drugs, weapons, automobiles, exotic animals, and art. These individuals were said to comprise hidden powers:

“…an informal network of powerful individuals who use their positions and contacts in the public and private sectors to benefit economically from illegal activities and to avoid prosecution for any crimes they commit. It describes an unorthodox situation where legal authorities of the state still have formal power, but, de facto, members of this informal network hold much of the real power in the country. Although its power is hidden, the network’s influence is sufficient to tie the hands of all those who threaten its perceived interests, including state actors” (Peacock and Beltrán 2003).

A memorial to massacre victims in Guatemala. By Mike Allison.

A memorial to massacre victims in Guatemala. By Mike Allison.

The presence of these hidden powers led to the establishment of a unique partnership between the government of Guatemala and the international community. Since 2007, the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has worked with Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, National Police and other state institutions to tackle impunity in one of the world’s most violent countries as measured by homicides per capita. CICIG has launched over 200 criminal investigations and legal proceedings against 150-plus public officials. CICIG and Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office have worked to arrest several high profile drug traffickers and corrupt police and politicians, and to craft legislation to better tackle impunity. It even solved a murder, which turned out to be a suicide, which almost took down President Alvaro Colom (there’s a movie). While CICIG demonstrated some very important successes, it sometimes was criticized for failing to make sufficient progress on tackling the hidden powers for which it was originally intended. That has recently changed.

In April, Guatemalan authorities arrested some two dozen individuals, including the country’s current and former tax chiefs, for their alleged involvement in a tax fraud and contraband organized crime ring. The extent of the fraud easily surpassed $100 million. Investigators allege that the private secretary to the country’s Vice President Roxana Baldetti, a retired Army captain named Juan Carlos Monzón, headed the criminal network. Salvador Gonzalez, the president of one of the country’s newspapers Siglo21, was also arrested. Days later, several defense lawyers were arrested for attempting to bribe a judge to go easy on their imprisoned clients. The arrests and protests led to Vice President Baldetti’s resignation in early May. While no formal charges have been filed against her, she has been ordered not to leave the country, her properties have been searched, and her assets have been frozen.

A few weeks later, over a dozen individuals, including the president (another former military official) and vice president of the Social Security Institute (IGSS) and the president of the country’s Central Bank, were arrested for their alleged involvement in a separate healthcare corruption case. They fraudulently awarded a $15 million contract to a Mexican company, Pisa, to provide dialysis treatment and medicine to kidney patients. However, the company neither had the experience nor the staff to handle the contract. At least 13 Guatemalans died as a result. The president of the IGSS had served previously as the President Otto Perez Molina’s private secretary. Perez Molina himself is a retired general. In the days following these scandals, the Interior Minister (a former army lieutenant colonel), Environment Minister, Energy and Mines Minister (the second one in two weeks), and State Intelligence Secretary (a retired army Kaibil) also resigned under clouds of suspicion surrounding yet additional allegations of corruption.

While CICIG and the Public Prosecutor’s Office are using the courts to tackle corruption in the executive branch, private sector, legal system, and the bureaucracy, the social media campaign discussed by Tim Rogers at Fusion has driven a diverse cross-section of Guatemalan society into the streets calling not only for the president’s resignation and but for deeper structural reforms. The unprecedented protests have been driven, in part, by Facebook and Twitter (#RenunciaYa#RenunciaYaFase 2). Every Saturday for the past two months, thousands have protested in front of the presidential palace in Guatemala City. An estimated 60,000 turned out on May 16th and another 15,000 on June 13th. They were joined by protesters in Antigua, Quetzaltenango, Jalapa and other Guatemalan cities. While indigenous-led protests have occurred quite frequently outside the capital over the last few years, these protests joining people from such diverse socio-economic backgrounds are the first sustained protests of their kind in 60 years.

CICIG and the Public Prosecutor’s Office have begun to attack the illegal clandestine networks linking former military intelligence personnel and the current government, in many ways the original purpose of establishing CICIG. Their legal maneuverings have provided space for Guatemalans to take to social media and the streets to demand change, so much so that there is now talk of a second Guatemalan spring. CICIG now provides a model for other countries, not just Honduras and El Salvador, to tackle entrenched corruption.

In Guatemala’s case, it’s difficult to predict how the ongoing mobilization against corruption will end. Hundreds of citizens took to the streets on Saturday for the ninth peaceful protest. While President Perez Molina has stated that he has no intention of stepping down before his term expires in January, Guatemalans on Facebook and Twitter are calling for another massive protest on July 4th. For good reason, they are not content to simply wait until his term expires.

Mike Allison is associate professor of political science at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and maintains the Central American Politics blog. You can follow him @CentAmPolMike.

Bashir’s Visit

By Will H. Moore

Omar al-Bashir on a visit to Juba, South Sudan in 2014. By Al Jazeera English.

Omar al-Bashir on a visit to Juba, South Sudan in 2014. By Al Jazeera English.

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s recent visit to, and from, South Africa raises interesting issues regarding the status of the international human rights regime. I put a Rorschach type question to our group of regular contributors, and though only two responded, I think you’ll enjoy what they had to say.

What do we learn from events surrounding Omar al-Bashir’s trip to South Africa?

To quickly recap, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted al-Bashir for the trifecta of human rights crimes, yet he has continued to travel abroad some, running the risk of being arrested and extradicted to The Hague to stand trial. The African Union was meeting in South Africa, which “has been a traditional defender of the ICC and has previously insisted that it would arrest Bashir if he stepped foot on its territory.” Nobody expected Bashir to attend, but he stepped off the plane with the Sudanese delegation, and boom, a humanitarian diplomatic crisis on the scale of 1998’s arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London was born. South Africa’s High Court issued an order not to permit Bashir to leave, but after the meeting the government quietly ushered him out of the country via a military airport.

So, what have we learned?

Oliver Kaplan quipped: “If you’ve been indicted by the ICC, be prepared for a fast takeoff.”

Bridget Coggins took a more sober approach, noting that “the ICC is best suited to pursuing remedial justice for those no longer in high office or for participants in non-state groups.” Why?

Although the court was created to ensure that no one, no matter how powerful, could perpetrate crimes against humanity with impunity, many leaders and publics are uncomfortable endowing the ICC with the authority to depose sitting leaders — including three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  

Indeed, I am struck by the extent to which the high level officials who have faced prosecution for human rights crimes, whether in domestic or international courts, have strongly tended to be 70 years or older. My takeaway: until much of the power base a political leader recruits is in the grave, they are very difficult to prosecute. Put broadly, human rights law is no different than any area of law: powerful people have less to fear than those with little power.

As Steven Friedman observed “African countries, of course, complain that the ICC only indicts Africans,” and some observers look at SA’s failure to arrest and extradite Bashir as a failure of certain states to respect the court and the international human rights regime. Coggins disagrees, arguing that state’s non-compliance with ICC decisions and requests:

is not an “African” or “Arab” problem with the court – as many analysts and leaders have portrayed it – but evidence of the inherent tension between sovereignty and international law. When the warrants against Bashir were first issued, they were not without controversy. Many came out against them (US Sudan Envoy Scott Gration, China, the Arab League) because they were the first against a sitting president AND because they created political difficulties for the new engagement strategy toward the Bashir regime — isolation (sanctions) had been the modus operandi for some time. Finally, and relatedly, it is not unreasonable to believe that Bashir’s likely successor would take a harder line, pursuing more violence in Darfur and other border regions, expelling humanitarian aid workers and other foreign observers, and making life even worse for Sudanese civilians.

Noting the UN’s relatively active role in the Sudanese conflict, she points out the multiple venues available for pursuing international justice, and then observes how real politik may play out in the setting described above.

There is not yet an international consensus lined up in favor of the ICC’s prosecution of sitting leaders. To date, Security Council actions seem to accrue more legitimate authority. Therefore, the ANC’s decision to allow Bashir to return to Sudan reflects a wider international ambivalence about the Court’s proper role.

To offer my two cents, some will contend that this underscores how the international human rights regime is broken or a failure. Hogwash. That the conviction rate for murder in the US is below 65% leads zero people to declare laws against murder a failure. Are there problems with domestic law enforcement in the US (and elsewhere)? You bet! But when many discuss international human rights they want to apply standards that nobody takes seriously when assessing the efficacy of domestic law. Does power undercut law? Yes. Does that mean that the international human rights regime is meaningless?  Don’t be silly. Just ask Dick Cheney’s or Donald Rumsfeld’s travel agents about the international trips they’ve been booking.


The Charleston Manifesto in Context

Guest post by Brian J. Phillips

A memorial to three of the victims of the Charleston shooting in Washington DC. By Stephen Melkisethain.

A memorial to three of the victims of the Charleston shooting in Washington DC. By Stephen Melkisethain.

The accused shooter in the Charleston massacre apparently wrote a manifesto, which can be found online various places. Two things jumped out at me when I first read it: First, the shooter was clearly motivated by racism. Some politicians or pundits said we can never understand what motivated the Charleston shooter, but the manifesto is entirely about his racist motivation.

Second, the text contains many elements that are familiar to readers of the academic literature on terrorism, and to those of us who have read other terrorists’ writings. The manifesto adds evidence to the argument that this attack was textbook terrorism.

A note: one is hesitant to discuss the manifesto, as it gives more attention to a hate-filled monster. However, as students of conflict it is helpful to understand why individuals carry out their violence, and we do not always get such detailed and direct explanations.

A manifesto: Classic terror behavior

Terrorism was described as “violence as communication” more than 30 years ago, and “propaganda by the deed” (or “of the deed”) more than 100 years ago. Terrorists have generally sought to send out a message, whether claiming attacks with calls to newspapers, or producing videos for diffusion on the Internet. Sending a message is one of the key elements that separate terrorism from other types of violence.

In 1996 the FBI caught the Unabomber – who carried out more than a dozen attacks, killing three people – because the writing style of his recently-published manifesto was recognized by his brother. The Unabomber’s need to communicate his political views, in the end, was what sent him to prison.

Like the Charleston’ shooter’s manifesto, the publication of an explanation on the Internet before attacking was exactly what Anders Breivik did in Norway in 2011. He wanted the world to know why he had killed 77 people. Or, he killed 77 people to get the world to read his political views.

Beyond manifestos, the need to communicate why one is engaging in violence is common among those who use terrorism. Suicide terrorists produce “martyr videos” before their final act, and terrorists have written their own autobiographies, which have been quite helpful to researchers.

Terrorism as a weapon of the weak

It’s an age-old idea that terrorism is tool for those too weak to engage in warfare such as attacking combatants. The shooter seems to suggest that idea in his manifesto, writing, “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight.” He thought a massacre was his only option to make a statement with violence.

Lone wolves instead of terrorist groups

The author laments that “We have no skinheads, no real KKK.” This is basically an explanation for why he is acting alone. Why is there “no real KKK”? One factor is that U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts since the 1990s, such as infiltrators and intercepted communications, have made operations difficult for hate groups and other terrorist organizations.

Even in the 1990s, prominent figures in the right-wing movement encouraged followers to act on their own. Organized violence was too risky in a country with advanced counterterrorism capacity. All it takes is one tip to the police to bring down an operation. (This was how a planned attack against black children and President Obama was disrupted in 2008, as Will Moore recently reminded us online.) Jihadist groups have told acolytes in the West in general the same – act on your own.

For a clear history of how lone wolves emerged in the U.S. and other developed countries in part because of counterterrorism pressure on groups, see the beginning of Paul Gill’s book. On the lethality of lone wolves compared to that of terrorist groups, see here.

Even lone wolves have friends

A popular topic in violence research is “radicalization.” Why do individuals start to engage in terrorism? For reasons discussed above, as the lone wolf phenomenon becomes more common in some countries, would-be terrorists increasingly learn about radical ideologies and violent tactics online.

The Charleston shooter apparently acted alone, but his manifesto makes clear that he learned from others online. He describes searching the Internet for information about “black on white crime,” and being captivated by the site of one group in particular, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the group as racist. Interestingly, the group has donated to the campaigns of three men currently running for president.

He also expresses disappointment that other white supremacists were only interested in “talking on the Internet.” Did he try to get others involved in his plot?

Beyond the Internet, he apparently told friends that he wanted to start a race war. Others heard about his plans, and did not report them to the authorities. Additionally, who took the now-famous photos of him – including of him aiming a gun? Overall, even lone wolves have a support network to some degree. Interrupting a lone-actor is much more difficult than stopping a terrorist group, but there are steps that other citizens and law enforcement can take.

Ready to die

Finally, he ends his manifesto as some others have, suggesting he does not expect to survive his rampage. He writes that some of his “best thoughts” have been left out, and therefore will be “lost forever.”

When a college dropout in California uploaded a misogynist and racist manifesto just before starting a “war on women” killing spree in 2014, he wrote, “this is how my tragic life ends.” And he did indeed kill himself after killing six others.

The suspected Charleston shooter, however, was arrested without incident, and now awaits a trial. We might hear more of his “best thoughts” yet. But he apparently posted the manifesto just in case he didn’t get the chance to share his propaganda. It was that important to him that we know about his white supremacist views. Violence alone was insufficient. And whether he lived or died, he wanted to spread terror.

Brian J. Phillips is a professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City. His research focuses on the causes and consequences of sub-national political violence.

Autonomous Security Provision in Peru

By Steven T. Zech for Denver Dialogues

Luricocha self-defense force members patrolling near Huayllay, 2014. By Steven T. Zech.

Luricocha self-defense force members patrolling near Huayllay, 2014. By Steven T. Zech.

Peru has a long history of civilians providing for their own security when the state is either unwilling or unable to protect its citizens. Remote communities in the Cajamarca region mobilized rondas campesinas to confront cattle thieves in the 1970s. In the 1980s, rural populations organized civilian self-defense forces to fight an increasingly abusive Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) insurgency that emerged in the Ayacucho region of Peru. Many communities responded to threats on their own initiative, organizing and arming themselves with spears, knives, and slings to combat well-armed Sendero militants. The state security forces later stepped in to coordinate with, to assist, or to coopt these groups. In some cases, the state forced communities to organize and eventually distributed thousands of Winchester and Mossberg shotguns to the civilian population. The conflict spanned nearly two decades and resulted in an estimated 70,000 deaths. Sendero Luminoso’s revolutionary campaign, along with a heavy-handed state counterinsurgency, led to widespread civilian victimization, human rights abuses, torture, and disappearances. Civilian self-defense forces proved crucial in Sendero’s eventual defeat in the 1990s and helped to minimize further civilian victimization. Community self-defense forces continue to play an important role in confronting contemporary security challenges in Peru. What are the primary security challenges that communities face today? How have communities responded to these challenges? And what does the future of civilian self-defense look like in Peru?

Contemporary Threats and Civilian Self-Defense in Ayacucho

The Sierras

During fieldwork in the Ayacucho region of Peru between 2011 and 2015, I visited several dozen communities to speak with residents and active self-defense force participants about the past, present, and future of these organizations. Terrorism remains a concern in only a limited number of communities. Most interview subjects agreed that delinquency, widespread crime, and insecurity tied to the illicit drug economy constitute the greatest contemporary threats. The state has a limited presence in remote regions of Ayacucho. Vast geographic space, limited accessibility, and insufficient resources hinder state efforts to provide adequate security. As a result, almost all rural communities in Ayacucho have self-defense forces to fill gaps in local security provision, although their origins, evolution, and function differ case by case.

For example, the Luricocha civilian self-defense force currently coordinates with nine neighboring communities to prevent armed robberies along the road leading from the mountains down into the jungle. Over the span of three years I observed their changing strategies to combat armed bandits. During my first trips to the region, small contingents of civilians armed with 12-gauge shotguns patrolled in the night and set up makeshift checkpoints to deter thieves who would prey on trucks and transport vans. Along the dirt highway, they stopped vehicles en route to the jungle to log vehicle license plates and review drivers’ documents. Over the last couple of years, the Luricocha civilian self-defense force strengthened its ties to the military and established a permanent checkpoint manned by armed civilian volunteers. The municipal government in the provincial capital of Huanta provides a modest monthly stipend and the group asks for a “tip” from automobiles that pass through the checkpoint to help offset the cost to participants that spend a month providing security instead of working on their farms. I visited one of Luricocha’s self-defense force leaders last week who informed me that they had increased the frequency of patrols after attacks on several cars in December 2014. There have been no further assaults on cars in their area this year, suggesting the new strategy has been effective.

Other communities in the Ayacucho sierras organize patrols, control access to their communities after dark, and remain on alert to respond to a variety of emerging security threats. In Santillana, a central directive committee coordinates with several dozen communities to deter crime. They largely respond to immediate security threats, especially armed robberies. During an interview last week, the district self-defense force president shook her head and lamented, “These criminals are invading and killing again. They stop you and take everything, down to your socks. If you object, they kill you. I’ve been threatened and we’re at risk, especially the leaders. They’d kill you for 10 soles (~$3.50). They could be worse than the terrorists…” Although there is a counter-narcotics police special operations base located in Santillana (DINOES), they do not help with the crime. Civilians must take care of themselves.

In Putis, the largest of ten remote communities farther up in the mountains from Santillana, civilians confront their own security challenges tied to crime and a small number of Sendero Luminoso militants. However, unlike communities closer to the district capital, self-defense forces here have neither the weapons nor the necessary communication capacity to call for assistance. Residents of Putis resettled the community in 1997, years after abandoning their homes following a massacre in 1984 where the armed forces killed over one hundred peasants and buried them in mass graves. Self-defense forces in Putis received shotguns from the state when they resettled in 1997, but remnants of the Sendero insurgency quickly stole the shotguns from the community and today residents protect themselves with only spears, slings, and other homemade weapons. Last week the current Putis self-defense force president explained to me, “Telephone lines and cellular signals do not reach the community. We are all alone.” There is no military or police presence. When a community near Putis comes under threat, residents send a rider on horseback like some sort of modern-day Paul Revere to provide warning and to request assistance from their neighbors.

The Jungle Region

The Sendero Luminoso insurgency continues to threaten only a handful of communities in extremely isolated parts of Ayacucho. A handful of Sendero columns maintain territorial control and operate training bases in remote jungle regions of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River Valleys (the VRAEM). In the aftermath of the conflict, many communities in the VRAEM simply transitioned from a counterinsurgency campaign to a militarized counter-narcotics campaign. The VRAEM is one of the largest regions of illegal coca cultivation and cocaine production in the world. In some cases in the VRAEM, the remnants of Sendero Luminoso constitute a mercenary force that protects the drug trade and keeps eradication and interdiction efforts at bay.

I spoke to several self-defense force leaders from larger communities in the VRAEM and they suggested that their groups largely abstain from any intervention into matters involving the illegal drug economy. They focus on crime and local conflict resolution. Except for those seen as threats to the illicit drug economy, the VRAEM is a relatively safe place. An extensive surveillance system quickly identifies outsiders, which helps to minimize any sort of behavior that would threaten community security or generate obstacles for a strong coca economy that so many in the region depend on to earn a living. During visits to the VRAEM news of my presence travels fast, with many residents assuming that I am there to gather intelligence. I was warned not to take photographs of the coca crops.

Self-defense forces do not stand in opposition to those involved in the illegal coca economy, though they certainly should not be seen as their allies. Most families have ties to the illicit economy in a region highly dependent on coca production. Furthermore, taking a strong opposing stance carries great risk. For example, in a remote community located in the Anchihuay district that claims not to grow illegal coca, one self-defense force leader had to renounce his position because of his perceived criticism of Sendero Luminoso militants and the drug economy. He described how forty-five militants came to his home in 2014 and took him away. They carried better weapons than the military and still talked about politics. Fortunately, the Sendero militants released him with a warning. The former leader explained to me, “They’ve always hated [the self-defense forces]. They also left another leader a threatening letter. They told me, ‘You’re working against us and you’ve been warned.’” Self-defense force participants must remain careful not to meddle in certain issues.

The Future of Civilian Self-Defense in Ayacucho

Following the drastic decline in insurgent violence in the 1990s, civilian self-defense forces simply became an additional source of local political authority, especially for more remote communities. The armed civilian groups fill different roles in mountain and jungle communities and contend with distinct security challenges. Many community self-defense forces in the sierras of Ayacucho, especially those closest to provincial and district capitals, do not actively patrol or provide security. They only mobilize in response to threats as they develop. For example, the self-defense forces in Maynay and Villa Florida near Huanta might mobilize only if a resident were to raise alarm about theft of animals or a robbery in progress. Other villages in the region continue to actively solicit additional support from the armed forces at the Castro Pampa military base, and civilians will continue to play an important role in confronting contemporary security challenges. These groups have also become increasingly involved in politics as they make collective demands on the state to recognize their role in previous pacification efforts. Self-defense forces want the state to provide reparations and benefits promised to them during the truth and reconciliation process and many want additional material support for their current efforts (e.g. weapons, transportation, uniforms, and insurance).

Recent developments in the VRAEM will certainly bring the topic of civilian self-defense to the forefront of political debate in Peru, especially about the jungle region. There are over five hundred active self-defense forces in the jungle communities throughout the VRAEM, and in May 2015 the Ministry of Defense sent letters to the leadership of these organizations. Members of the central committee in Santa Rosa showed me a letter from the Peruvian state informing the organizations about plans for their deactivation. Leaders expressed their concerns to me about disarming and demobilizing the self-defense forces: “It’s not like before, terrorism is gone except in a few places. But, we still need our weapons. It’s about prevention, we need to be prepared.” The specter of widespread victimization still haunts their communities. Civilians will not voluntarily relinquish their weapons while they still perceive the potential for murder, assault, and theft, which they believe remain under control only through their own organizations’ efforts.

Furthermore, and more importantly, they see ulterior motives behind the state’s request to disarm and deactivate civilian self-defense forces. Residents in the VRAEM wonder why the government would deactivate groups in their communities but not up in the sierras. They suspect that the decision to take away their weapons coincides with plans to intensify coca eradication efforts in their communities. This threatens everyone’s livelihood. Residents throughout the VRAEM will be meeting to discuss how they should respond to the state demands. In my research on civilian self-defense force mobilization during the 1980s and 1990s, I found that how communities interpreted events and defined their relationships with other important collective actors affected how civilians responded to security challenges. Whether their fears about the state are justified or not is inconsequential. One can already observe increased civilian distance and distrust based on these new state demands.

The Peruvian state must proceed carefully unless it wants to generate additional tensions with influential local actors. An important fact about civilian self-defense forces in rural communities is that almost everyone participates. Although each community has a central committee of seven members, the entirety of the community from age 18 to 60 also participates. The community capacity to mobilize in opposition to state demands to disarm is enormous if they decide to resist. Fortunately, at this time, local leadership remains dedicated to the idea of dialog. However, if the discussion proves unfruitful, they will likely proceed with mass marches and strikes, which could paralyze the region. The local population has no interest in popular armed revolt, though the state should recognize the possibility of strained relations and the likelihood of escalating confrontations—as observed in other parts of Peru where the population has opposed mining and energy projects. I hope that the Peruvian state has learned from its recent missteps elsewhere in addressing popular demands. The Peruvian government and state security forces must not push the issue in the VRAEM and alienate what could be their most useful ally in achieving better security in a traditionally marginalized and conflict-prone region of Peru.

Weekly Links

By Danny Hirschel-Burns

Lincoln's first inauguration. By USCapitol.

Lincoln’s first inauguration. By USCapitol.

Two men wash up on the shores of Netherlands and Norway, more than two months apart, dressed in identical wetsuits. Who were they, and where did they come from? The story is the most powerful piece of journalism I’ve read this year.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Charles King argues that due to a toxic political environment and a narrow definition of national security, America is turning away from intellectually curious, meaningful international studies. Relatedly, what does “policy relevance” actually mean?

Two takes on the scant evidence supporting decapitating terrorist organizations, one from Jason Lyall, and the other from Joshua Keating.

Kate Cronin-Furman writes on how the perceived ICC bias against Africa is mostly down to the structural constraints of international politics.

The jihadist falling-out: how ISIS and al Qaeda grew apart, despite the best efforts of prominent jihadist intellectuals. But in a world where the two are enemies, could al Qaeda provide a more moderate counterweight to ISIS in the Islamic world? And is the United States too slow to recognize this historic opportunity?

Using survey data from Monrovia, Liberia, Bernd Beber, Michael Gilligan, Jenny Guardado, and Sabrina Karim reveal the truly shocking scale of transactional sex among UN peacekeepers.

Unsilencing Pakistan: A Symposium on Nonviolent Activism Against Violence

By Devin Finn for Denver Dialogues

Protestors chanting slogans against Military General and Dictator, Pervaiz Musharraf, November 7, 2007.  By Ejaz Asi.

Protestors chanting slogans against Pervez Musharraf, November 7, 2007. By Ejaz Asi.

Today marks the six-month anniversary of the massacre of 152 Pakistanis–133 of them children–at the Army Public School in Peshawar, in the Northwest Frontier province. On December 16, Taliban gunmen went from class to class, firing at students’ heads. Approximately 120 people were injured in addition to the casualties. The remarkable brutality of the targeted attack spurred attention to the security of the most vulnerable.

On Friday, April 24, 2015, unidentified gunmen shot activist Sabeen Mahmud, who had just hosted an event called “Unsilencing Balochistan” in T2F, her bookshop café in Karachi and a rare space for discussion of social and political issues. In Pakistan, talk of forced disappearances and human rights abuses in the huge and embattled province of Balochistan is off-limits, and Sabeen paid with her life.

In a plural, fractured nation where mass social movements are unusual, some Pakistanis are investing in a kind of “everyday rebellion,” organizing within a space that is distinct from the work of foreign-funded NGOs and the countering violent extremism agenda. Nonviolent organizers and protestors claim that state institutions, the military, and political parties have failed to protect citizens and hold non-state actors accountable for their involvement in violence. Pakistani activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir demands that the Pakistani government make its list of banned terrorist outfits public and enforce it–shut down the offices, rallies, and hate speech of these extremist groups. Organizers argue that institutions must be held accountable for their “collective silence” in the face of terror and violence against civilians and are working to catalyze this civil rights movement.

The movement’s explicit political content sets it apart, as does the objective of making ordinary citizens aware that terrorist groups have made inroads in society, relying on religious invocation to persuade supporters. Nasir’s aim is to make it known who the terrorists are, including publicizing violent groups’ links to electoral contestation and direct support for political parties. This requires building a civil society that can generate awareness among ordinary people.

There are real obstacles to achieving the movement’s goals: the formidable level of risk that individuals’ participation in street activism entails; false propaganda circulated against civil rights activists; and the movement’s limited resources to counter disinformation.

I asked an activist and a researcher to provide their insights on the politics of nonviolent activism and violence in Pakistan. You’ll find excerpts of my conversation with contributors Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance and executive director of HIVE [Karachi], and Mubbashir Rizvi, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Georgetown University, below, and a complete transcript here.

FINN: What is the nature of resistance to violence led by civil society and domestic activists in Pakistan? Is this a concerted, coordinated effort, and what does participation in these efforts by ordinary Pakistanis look like?

Ali Abbas Zaidi: Resistance to violent extremism in Pakistan has many forms. It includes a broad set of activities like protests, online campaigns, workshops, study circles, cultural events, seminars, and so forth. It also includes intellectual and theological resistance to extremist messaging as well.

It is not a concerted or coordinated effort. After 9/11, due to heavy foreign funding, a lot of NGOs have sprung up in Pakistan. Each organization brings with it its own interpretation, interests, and methodologies. A broad-based social movement representing the different strata of civil society has not yet sprung up, which proves the point.

[The] ordinary Pakistani is aware of how violence affects him/her and society but ideological confusion, obfuscation by the media, the political process, and personal commitments prevent them from joining a focused movement challenging extremism. The “foreign funded” NGO- conspiracy theory also runs rampant in the masses which prevents them from owning many organizations and their ideas.

Mubbashir Rizvi: Historically, there have been few coordinated and concerted efforts by civil society to tackle violence at the national level. This is due to the fact that Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators and unelected bureaucrats in its formative years (1947-1970) and in every subsequent decade. This ruling elite distrusted mass-democracy and socialist alternatives that were popular with civil society activists and leftists at the time. The Army’s shadow continues to hang over key governmental policies and priorities.

The state’s failure to cultivate a coherent and inclusive national identity has prevented a broad national consensus and collective national identity. Muslim nationalism has been used as a unifying symbol for the creation of the nation-state. The ambiguity of Muslim nationalism is highlighted by the state’s use of Islam as a foil against land reforms, democratization, vernacular languages, and recognition of ethnic identities, which created a wide sense of disenfranchisement. Looking back we can see courageous efforts by activists, writers, and intellectuals to redefine Pakistan’s state narrative away from militarism and religious chauvinism.

Currently, there is a small vibrant network of civil society organizations, NGOs, and political organizations dedicated to non-violence, dialogue, and promoting peace in Pakistan. So far these efforts have had little traction in bridging the violent fault lines and healing the historical injuries that exist in contemporary Pakistan. These piecemeal efforts are widely seen as too small, too distant, idealistic, and disconnected from the day-to-day political realities of ordinary Pakistanis.

However, these spaces offer a valuable place for gathering and building a larger community of committed activists. The T2F cafe founded by the late Sabeen Mahmud some eight years ago is one notable example of a cultural space that had a tremendous impact in fostering dialogue and opening up discussion in Karachi, a mega-city of some 20 million people. However, this little space of hope now struggles to carry on after Mahmud’s assassination.

FINN: How do we understand the relationship between the state and citizen–particularly the government and civil society–given the high risks of taking political action?

Ali Abbas Zaidi: The relationship between state and citizens is one of mistrust. The government only encourages CSOs [civil society organizations] that follow the national-religio-political narrative that the state endorses. Any deflection from it causes the government to harass the concerned organization.

Mubbashir Rizvi: Since colonial times the mode of governance of colonial subjects is done through indirect means. The public is slotted within an array of collective identities (ranging across caste, religion, tribe, ethnicity, regional identities), which hardened into politicized categories. These groups are governed by customary rights, and their claims are made by a political representative or an appointed chief.

Citizenship in Pakistan is not a transactional relationship between the individual and the state as much as it is a contestation among ethnic groups, religious groups and regional and linguistic groups. The lines of conflict can erupt spontaneously over a bus accident, a neighborhood spat can turn into city-wide riot as it did in Karachi in 1986. Similarly, people only get by through accommodation, lines of credit, and reciprocity. Here, most of society lives and is governed informally, outside the purview of legibility, and most people do not pay tax.

FINN: How can activists and social organizations build effective campaigns and exert leverage on the government to demand change and accountability, in the face of violent threats and impunity?

Ali Abbas Zaidi: Pakistan has fought state oppression, dictatorship and state violence many times. Brave activists have always stormed through difficult times with compassion. Activists led the ouster of General Musharraf and reinstated the judiciary of Pakistan. The current extremist threat is multi-layered, with sections of society, media, bureaucracy, army, and other state institutions either complacent or incompetent to handle it. The process is in place, but it will take time to de-radicalize the social fabric of Pakistan like it took decades to radicalize it.

Mubbashir Rizvi: The path towards building effective campaigns for progressive change and inclusive democracy requires a slow, protracted campaign to maintain and build the fragile democratic process in Pakistan. Another major ambitious project has to be the widening of social spending through expansion of public education and education-related public works projects that employ young graduates.

The disproportionate rate of national resources that are given to military hardware and personnel can be slowly redirected to larger public works projects. This can be done by slowly expanding the definition of national security to include human security. This is by far the most challenging task ahead for civilian governments to convince the Army establishment to shed its role in the political and lucrative economic sectors.

FINN: What is the role of the judicial and legal system in ensuring an environment in which meaningful resistance can take place? What more must be done?

Ali Abbas Zaidi: [The] judicial system has been breaching human rights of citizens and has been criminal in letting arrested terrorists off the hook. The activists do not trust it and do not engage with the judicial system at all. Lack of resources, corruption, allegiances with extremists, threat of being killed (within the judiciary and activists) gives rise to such an environment.

The entire judicial system needs an overhaul. It should become an independent system within the state structure instead of an instrument of deep state, state, or political forces.

Mubbashir Rizvi: The judicial system in Pakistan does not deliver justice to ordinary Pakistanis who must wade through complex and slow legal proceedings for decades. This can only happen through major tribunals for truth, justice, and accountability that might result in cultural paradigm shifts: for instance, tribunals on traumatic events in recent history of Pakistan like the 1971 war, or the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

Zaidi and Rizvi called attention to the role of the state in promoting extremist ideas and organizations. “When violence is romanticized and extremism becomes a socio-religious norm, it takes a long struggle to counter it and introduce a pluralistic ambiance to the society,” Zaidi stated. A climate of violence and impunity makes the work of activists difficult and dangerous.


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