Archive for the ‘al-Qa’ida’ Category

Back from MWC. Heavy cold. Browser queue jammed with stuff. I’m going to do a brief succession of link posts to clear up. (Happenings last week; huge Leveson revelations, James Murdoch out, King Mob abolished workfare, horse, Borisbus fiasco, debate on Daniel Morgan, even more Leveson..)

This one deals with everyone’s favourite global geo-political region, the Middle East. Anthony Shadid died, and Angry Arab thinks the obits weren’t tough enough on the Israelis. Alyssa at ThinkProgress has a list of 20 of his best dispatches and only one covers the Palestinians and tangentially at that. Really?

Foreign Policy‘s David Kenner provides some history of the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Syria and its repression by President Assad’s dad President Assad. Worth noting that by the time the Syrian army began its infamous destruction of Hama in ’82, the struggle had been going on since 1976. Just because the rebels have kept it up so long – which is astonishing and a demonstration of extreme courage – shouldn’t be taken to mean that they are going to win in the end.

Colin Kahl, writing in the Washington Post, points out that the Osirak raid in 1981 didn’t slow down Saddam Hussein’s effort to build the Bomb, in part because it hadn’t really started before the raid. However, the attack convinced him to make a concerted effort, and also caused Iraq to abandon the power reactor-reprocessing-plutonium route in favour of the highly-enriched uranium route, which is much easier to conceal and also to distribute among multiple facilities and which turned out to have a entire black market supply chain.

He also links to this piece on planning considerations for Israel, which highlights their air-to-air refuelling tankers as a key constraint. Kahl also points out that in the event of an Israeli raid, their air force would probably be needed at home immediately afterwards.

The Americans, for what it’s worth, don’t think a strategic decision has been taken to get the Bomb.

Bizarrely, the IAEA inspectors have discovered that the fortified enrichment plant at Fordow in Iran contains 2,000 empty centrifuge cases but not the centrifuges themselves. Is it a bluff of some sort? Is it a decoy target? Is it just a very odd way of going about building an enrichment plant?

Binyamin Netanyahu memorably described as “carrying both Anne Frank and the entire IDF around in his head”, presumably in between the bees in his bonnet and the bats in his belfry. It is argued that he won’t attack Iran because the settlers won’t like it, or possibly that he’s bluffing about Iran to draw attention away from them.

Ultima Ratio is down, but you can read their excellent (French) review of Syed Saleem Shahbaz’s posthumous book Inside Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban in the Google cache. Fans of “Kashmir is still the issue” will be interested by the argument that Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri and ex-Pakistani officer Haroon Ashik introduced a new strategy aiming to bring about more conflict between Pakistan and India, in the hope of alienating Pakistani leaders from the alliance with the US. Apparently they were planning something against an Indian nuclear site when Kashmiri was droned in June 2011.

OBL links

Doing real-time PCR in unusual conditions. Just how Obama watched the raid in real time.

Hoping for the end of the war in Afghanistan.

After weeks of debate among civilian and military leaders, the National Security Council recently endorsed key elements of the State Department’s reconciliation strategy. Starting peace talks has now become the top priority for Marc Grossman, who succeeded Richard C. Holbrooke as the U.S. government’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On Tuesday, Grossman met in Islamabad with Pakistan’s foreign secretary and Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister. The three agreed to constitute a “core group for promoting and facilitating the process of reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. U.S. officials expressed hope on Tuesday that Pakistan’s failure to find bin Laden — or its possible complicity in sheltering him — could lead Islamabad to adopt a softer position on Afghan reconciliation. They think that Pakistani officials, who have interfered with peace efforts in the past, have an opportunity to play a more constructive role.

“Our hope is that they are so embarrassed by this that they try to save face by trying to help their neighbor,” one U.S. official said.

More expectations for a quicker end. You can’t rely on the ISI any more.

The crucial information may have been that nobody ever mentioned the courier’s name. Indian politicians rock the boat a bit more. Good piece and discussion at Arms Control Wonk.

obl isi faq

There’s a good debate in Jamie Kenny’s comments about the political upshot of bin Laden’s death in Pakistan. For what it’s worth, I’m with Dan Hardie on this – it’s a very important political fact that the intelligence hierarchy a) couldn’t or wouldn’t catch bin Laden and b) couldn’t or wouldn’t protect him any longer. The ISI needs to be useful to the Americans and also to the jihadis to maintain its private foreign policy and its special role in Pakistani politics.

In the short term, it’s still in a position to make trouble – NATO is still using the roads to Afghanistan, after all – but this ability to cause trouble is now significantly constrained. When bin Laden turns out to have been living two miles from the Abbottabad Golf Club all these years, playing the supply-route card is very close indeed to committing to his side and burning the bridges. It may not be as dramatic as the Falklands War was for the Argentine military as a political actor. The outrage of actual Americans staging an air-mobile assault in urban Pakistan buffers this a bit. But they can’t count on nationalist outrage as a source of support – they didn’t, after all, prevent the raid, whether by shooting up the helicopters or by getting rid of bin Laden themselves.

The defining issue now is whether Pakistan’s other institutions can assert more power faster than the Americans (and everyone else) can cut-and-run. The end of US support after 1992, after all, tended to strengthen the ISI as a force in Pakistani politics. If the ISI director Ahmed Shuja Pasha is indeed sacked, this will be quite an ambiguous move, as General Kayani brought him in from the armoured corps in order to keep an eye on the organisation. But this is only a short-term coping strategy – or in other words, tactics rather than strategy.

A question

How did the Americans make sure their raid on Osama bin Laden wasn’t misidentified as Pakistan’s real enemy? This was surely a major planning constraint. It’s been suggested, plausibly, that the bulk of their radar assets are positioned along the international border and the LOC, but once you get to Abbottabad you’re not that far from the Line of Control. There’s been a lot of interest in the helicopter that was destroyed, and specifically if it was either a hitherto unknown type or else a Blackhawk modified to be stealthy. But stealthy is a relative term, and a helicopter will never be really stealthy as its rotor blades are constantly changing aspect towards any radar source.

There’s an interesting French paper here on Indian military doctrine – apparently, part of the lessons-learned exercise after the 2002 crisis and mobilisation was that the whole process took too long, and left far too many opportunities for the international community to get involved and yell “stop!”. (This may not be the lesson one would hope had been learned.) As a result, they came up with a new doctrine, known as Cold Start, which foresaw a quicker response to provocation from Pakistan, using forces already posted nearer the border to carry out raids with limited territorial objectives, closely integrated with air power. The point that the objectives are limited in terms of territory is important – as I mentioned above, a lot of things in Pakistan are not far from the border. They might not be very limited in terms of importance, for example, nuclear sites or major headquarters, or perhaps key ISI or jihadi figures.

(Ah, we had one of those, didn’t we?)

Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, was quoted as saying that the Pakistani air force scrambled its quick-reaction alert of fighters during the mission. This may of course be disinformation, or just wrong. It could imply that for a while at least, there was an elevated risk. Or perhaps the plan was designed to make it obvious that the helicopters were coming from the direction of Afghanistan, and they wanted the radars to detect them at some point during the operation…

It would be very interesting to know if the Indian government was informed at any point.

This has done the rounds and been roundly done for all the right reasons.

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves. When, oh when, will this administration wake up?

From a purely literary/journalistic point of view, it’s the “When, oh when” that gets me. Sometimes, style and content – aesthetics and morality – fuse into one.

More to the point, the astonishing thing here is Bush’s lasting achievement – he created a political lobby for torture. It’s not just that he let torture happen, or connived at it, or even specifically ordered it. It’s that a significant chunk of the body-politic now demands torture – not just ‘baggers, but editors of the Washington Post. There isn’t a lobbying group with tax-deductible status under 501(3)c yet – unless you count the American Enterprise Institute – but perhaps it would be a more honest world if there was one.

Do I have to quote Vaclav Havel’s crack about the man who puts a sign reading “Workers of the world, unite!” in the window all over again? OK. Havel said that obviously, he probably wasn’t doing this out of conviction; but if the sign said “I am afraid and therefore obedient”, its actual meaning, he might not be so happy to do it.

Perhaps. But I can’t help thinking the example may be wrong. Richard Cohen is, after all, not just being willing to turn a blind eye. He’s actually yelling for torture, and for specific methods of torture. And the marker of the Bush achievement is that the torture lobby has survived Bush. Here we are, more than a year on, after the US armed forces have been given specific orders against torture. And they’re out there wanting it. It’s weirdly reminiscent of the last Stasi man and the last suspect.

Also, it’s nothing to do with expediency; when the FBI wanted to question Captain Underpants, they got his relatives to talk to him, and it worked. It is usually the case that the purpose of torture is torture; what service, I wonder, does the knowledge of torture provide to these people? After all, Cohen explicitly says that he wants torture because it impresses the public, not because it produces names.

I can’t imagine what would have convinced me in 2000 that in 2010, responsible Americans would be lobbying for torture – even after they had succeeded in voting out the torture president. Back then, it used to be a commonplace notion that the power of the state was fundamentally uninteresting; I recall an especially silly newspaper article in which both Bill Clinton and Deng Xiaoping (Deng Xiaoping!) were bracketed together as meaningless figureheads.

Having a considerable lobby that needs a constant drip of draconian rhetoric to maintain their psychological stability is probably very bad for democracy, especially faced with a terrorist group that explicitly aims to destabilise the state through auto-immune warfare. These people have been trained to freak out at the faintest threat and howl for torture – in a sense, it’s yet another backdoor into the political system, as well as an example of the unconscious conspiracy between the terrorist and the state.

There’s quite a lot of buzz about this story, in which a DHS report into criminal use of aircraft over the South Atlantic gets rehashed. The “Air Cocaine” case in Mali has given the whole thing another layer of sexy, of course, and it’s good to know that the problem is recognised – even better that it’s no longer considered to be a potential ally.

However, it’s still a subject on which governments project their existing prejudices. For example, it’s not apparently enough for there to be 10 tons of cocaine in the 727 – to get anyone’s attention, you need to get a terrorist in there too. Similarly, you rarely get away without a ritual attack on Venezuela, which is getting to be a sort of happy hunting ground for fans of state sponsorship theories like the Bek’aa Valley used to be for Dick Cheney. And, of course, there’s the temptation to look for anything that connects the story with Viktor Bout.

Of course, the main reason why such aircraft might pass through Venezuelan airfields is that it’s on the way; 727 serial 21619 stopped in Fortaleza, which is even closer to West Africa, on the way out and probably on the way back, but I suppose Brazil is too big to pick on. The report linked does at least note that the geography is important.

For people like Paul Wolfowitz and his “network of friendly militias”, I suppose they saw a provider of useful services. The drugs people see it as part of the Drug War. The arms trade people see it as a small arms transfer issue, and the terrorism people see it as something to do with terrorism. I’m trying to see it as something to do with the ambiguities of globalisation; in a sense, it doesn’t really matter which terrorists or whose arms are travelling in whose aircraft.

There is, however, a fringe economy that empowers and profits from all these things, and there’s the rub. It does so in ways that confound the aims of the powerful (like the drugs and the terrorists) and it does so in ways that further them (like the Iraq logistics and arms to Angola). Finding convenient terrorists shouldn’t be necessary.

One thing that interests me about the South Atlantic element of this is that, if the Viktor Bout experience is anything to go by, a critical element is hybridisation with the legitimate economy, and especially major nodes of trade.

Both the Sharjah Airport free zone, for example, and the UAE airports themselves essentially permitted Viktor Bout, and many others, to operate outside the law while also enjoying the facilities of civilisation. They could get major aircraft maintenance done, compete for legitimate cargo, and also stash planeloads of arms in bonded warehouses. A long runway is a necessary but not a sufficient feature; there was a reason why they didn’t set up camp in Riyan or Machiranish.

So where’s HQ for the West Africa/Latin American community? I still like Ajay’s suggestion of Conakry, especially in the light of its increasingly dysfunctional junta (although, the trick is to put your base well away from the customers…). But I would expect to see more traffic there on the Vfeed. However, it’s quite probable that it will be located somewhere where there is an active interface between extreme free markets and an authoritarian state, and where there is substantial infrastructure. In fact, you could almost identify free zone authoritarians as a subtype of the modern thinkers.

Note that the typical aircraft types in the Atlantic are Western – Gulfstreams and Boeing 727s. This has consequences for their maintenance and support.

As you’ll probably have guessed, I’m not terrified by the pantsbomber. As Spencer Ackerman puts it:

it doesn’t do any good to blow this out of proportion, since blowing things out of proportion to spur an overreaction is Usama bin Laden’s explicit strategy

However, as more details have filtered out, I’ve revised my original view of it a tad. My first thought was that it was another very low-grade terrorist – probably a self-starter, with limited contacts, shaky technology, and worse execution. Therefore, I thought, there was a strong case to be made that he was a sign of terrorist weakness rather than strength. This is the best they can do? Pants.

With more information, however, it looks like he wasn’t quite as crap as that. On the other hand, everyone’s talking about his using a charge of PETN; if true, that would imply he had a contact for valid high explosive. But the fact he went fut rather than bang argues against this. PETN is the most sensitive of military explosives with the exception of nitroglycerine – it’s the stuff in detonator cord (Akzo-Nobel PDF – probably not one to read on the plane) – and as a result, it’s quite rare. Nobody wants explosives that explode when they shouldn’t. Had the main charge consisted of PETN, he should have exploded. (From the data sheet: NEVER attempt to cut by abrasion or blow with a sharp object!)

That, and the fact he was apparently seen fiddling with a syringe, suggests that this was yet another attempt to make the explosives at run-time as it were – as this comment at Bruce Schneier’s explains.

Fortunately, doing serious chemistry in your chuddies is not the way they do it at Bayer AG; a special problem is that the reaction he may have been aiming for is exothermic enough that the stuff (and him) would have caught fire before the job was done. If there was a detonator of some sort present, that might have gone up in the heat and panic, thus accounting for the small bang reported.

Come to think of it, a serious barrier to this plan would be enduring a powerfully exothermic reaction involving a strong acid in your crotch long enough to initiate the explosion…also, it seems impossible to avoid making a spectacle of yourself such that someone would spray your blazing boxers with an extinguisher and/or bash your head in with a crash axe long before you were ready to explode. As Bruce Schneier points out, bringing the explosive and the detonator on separately would be hard to detect…but it’s not clear that this is what pants boy actually did.

So, what does this tell us about the terrorist threat? I would argue I wasn’t too far out to begin with. This wasn’t a pathetic attempt, but it was still a weak, one-man job with poor technology and worse execution – just one of a slightly better class than we’ve had recently. And the startling bit is that far from being a self-radicaliser with a copy of the Anarchists’ Cookbook and the York Notes to the Holy Koran, he claims to have actually been in contact with real live Al-Qa’ida members. To begin with, I was dubious of this – he might have meant that he did it with the same aims as Al-Qa’ida, or that they inspired him to do it, or that he believed himself to be part of the wider movement, or perhaps that he was deluded in imagining himself to be in Al-Qa’ida.

But it seems he actually met with the real thing, and some accounts say they gave him the explosive device, such as it was. This strongly suggests that the terrorist threat is only as bad as it was before he set fire to his testicles – and possibly considerably less so. After all, an assessment before this would have had to state that there was at least the possibility of another well-organised, multiple attack, but that the track-record suggested that it was not very likely. Now we know that they had a go, and the outcome was a single attack with dodgy chemistry and bungled tactics.

This does not suggest that we need another wave of security bingeing. Arguably, the whole point of attacks like these and Al-Qa’ida international itself is to get our attention so that their local affiliates can pull off ones like these:

Regarding reports that a suicide bomber infiltrated deep into a U.S. forward operating base in Khost, Afghanistan, yesterday, killing seven CIA officers and seriously wounding six others, a former senior CIA official posted to the region writes:

“Yes, Jaluddin [sic] Haqqani spent nearly 10 years fighting to get Khost back from the Soviets. That is his area and we were stupid to think he was going to let us stay there.

The anti-terrorism industry, of course, has to do something similar. The Undabomber’s bungling is already being reported as a “strategy of failure”; but this is silly. If you really wanted to create disruption without spending any money, you’d launch hoaxes, which cost nothing.

In related news, why are we not surprised that the fact he was in a database of over 500,000 suspects didn’t help much? Are there 500,000 terrorists? This is one of the legs of the false positive/false negative problem – the more people you include as suspects, the less dense in information that list becomes. Rather than looking for a needle in a haystack, the problem becomes more like looking for hay in a haystack. Yes, you’ll find it. Plenty of it…but what do you do then? You’ve just pushed the problem of filtering your information down the production line one step.

As Ackerman also points out, you have to make a decision about what to take seriously, or else the suspect list will overtake the population of the earth.

The response from the British and Dutch governments appears to be a sort of half-hearted pretend version of that after the last one; a bit like the attack.

Here’s that that jihadi having a row with an Aussie blogger. Quick recap – she linked to a text of his as an example of Al-Qa’ida thinking, he noticed the referral and the traffic, he replied to deny association with the OBL team but to boast of everything else.

Some points on the text.

1) Black humour. Abu Walid certainly likes his snark. Example?

It is relatively easy to believe that the eagle has turned into a canary after a minor facelift. But it is difficult to imagine that academic work can turn a security officer into a natural person, like the rest of God’s creatures.

Something probably gets lost in translation, but you can’t deny the punch of the joke about spooks. And this is hilarious:

If this was the case I would have opened an office for consulting and terrorism and become very rich.

As is this:

But if the reverse is proven, I will donate all money seized in order to build a Jewish settlement in Holy Jerusalem.

It’s like Bernard Manning with much less booze.

2) Self-mockery. You usually expect to find that a fanatic is someone who is utterly blind to the possibility they might be funny. I’ve always thought that the knowledge of one’s own absurdity is a force for civilisation; we’re all bloody ridiculous at some level and we should all probably wind our necks in. Orwell thought this about trying to make people goose-step in Britain; H.L. Mencken’s crack about a good horse-laugh is much the same point. So this is pretty good writing.

Mrs Farrall is looking at the subject of Islamic groups, in particular “Al Qaeda”. I am the only one with the chronic writing disease…

3) A certain amount of the truth. It’s always better to deliver the truth in highly controlled doses than it is to lie.

In general, the security services always deliberately inflate the risks and invent things from scratch. So we can see them exaggerate the ability of people who are against the law so the efforts of their departments will be admired and valued so they will get the awards and admiration. More importantly, they will get more authority and power so they can fully put society and the country under their control, if that is possible. This has actually happened in many countries, whether big or small.

4) Women. On the other hand, there’s something seriously wrong here. The text is laced with a sock-pong of misogyny. He constantly goes on about “beauties”, and he’s obsessed with the figure of Lynndie England – of all the other US war criminals and torturers he could mention, it’s only the woman who gets a jersey. Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Cambone, Feith, Cheney, and Miller are nowhere to be seen. Rumsfeld just scrapes in at the finish.

horrible images of the beautiful female soldiers…the beautiful American…the same beauty with a sweet smile…Today another beauty is researching on a living person and they are a candidate to become the next victim…So we become ready for an intellectual dialogue with the security beauty and the terrorist fighter, Mrs Farrall…The beauty “Leah Farrall” ( the fitna is worse than murder)…our brothers in the Arab media relied on comments in the article written by a woman “Farrall”…the Arab media who only relied on what the Australian beauty said…It is okay because whatever comes from the beauty is beautiful even if it is interrogation techniques approved by the ugly Rumsfeld

The fitna is worse than murder. And then I opened my eyes and saw a cup of tea….

5) Paying the cost to be the boss. It seems that denying the Holocaust is something you have to do in these circles, like saying “trust the people” and promising to do, well, something with the European Communities Act 1972 if you’re a Tory. Abu Walid makes a couple of sick jokes in this line, but I have the impression he doesn’t really believe it; his heart isn’t in it. Which only makes it sicker.

And now they cry over the remains of false tragedies that they invented or made themselves like the holocaust lie or the demolished buildings of New York………..I am fully aware that my picture won’t improve even if they prove I am one of the disciples of Jesus Christ. Also, my picture won’t become worse than it is now, even if they discover I was a consultant to “Adolf Hitler” for the Holocaust.

This doesn’t strike me as a real troofer. Although, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen Hitler in scarequotes. The really sad thing here is that, if you were to swap out some nouns (you can probably guess which ones) and pass the whole thing through a proper spike-helmeted chief sub, you’d end up with something indistinguishable from the average output of, say, Fraser Nelson.

Laura Rozen reports that the US government is talking about Pakistan’s “existential crisis”. (They do not mean, apparently, brooding about lobsters and smoking too much.) It’s currently being manifested by the Pakistani army fighting its way back into the Malakand Division; basic details here. Fans of Winston Churchill’s My Early Life will of course remember that he took part in a similar operation in exactly the same place as a young man. Some words of his are probably appropriate here:

The Political Officers who accompanied the force, with white tabs on their collars, parleyed all the time with the chiefs, the priests and other local notables. These political officers were very unpopular with the army officers. They were regarded as marplots. It was alleged that they always patched things up and put many a slur upon the prestige of the Empire without ever letting anyone know about it. They were accused of the grievous crime of “Shilly
shallying,” which being interpreted means doing everything you possibly can before you shoot.

We had with us a very brilliant political officer, a Major Deane, who was much disliked because he always stopped military operations. Just when we were looking forward to having a splendid fight and all the guns were loaded and everyone keyed up, this Major Deane – and why was he a Major anyhow? so we said, being in truth nothing better than an ordinary politician – would come along and put a stop to it all. Apparently all these savage chiefs were his old friends and almost his blood relations. Nothing disturbed their friendship. In between the fights, they talked as man to man and as pal to pal, just as they talked to our General as robber to robber.

We knew nothing about the police vs. the crook gangs in Chicago, but this must have been in the same order of ideas. Undoubtedly they all understood each other very well and greatly despised things like democracy, commercialism, money-getting, business, honesty and vulgar people of all kinds. We on the other hand wanted to let off our guns. We
had not come all this way and endured all these heats and discomforts which really were trying – you could lift the heat with your hands, it sat on your shoulders like a knapsack, it rested on your head like a nightmare – in order to participate in an interminable interchange of confidences upon unmentionable matters between the political officers and these sulky and murderous tribesmen.

And on the other side we had the very strong spirit of the ‘die-hards’ and the ‘young bloods’ of the enemy. They wanted to shoot at us and we wanted to shoot at them. But we were both baffled by what they called the elders, or as one might now put it ‘the old gang,’ and by what we could see quite plainly, the white tabs or white feathers on the lapels of the political officers.

As it turned out, the traditional authorities who Major Deane knew so well couldn’t hold back the young bloods on this occasion, or it didn’t suit their aims to do so, and Lieutenant Churchill and friends got the fight they were looking for.

However, nobody ever seriously imagined they would sweep out of the mountains into the Punjab. The only people who did imagine that were in distant London and almost as distant Delhi, where they insisted on imagining Russians everywhere. Otherwise, the question was always one of compromise. Today, we insist on projecting visions of the armies of Al-Qa’ida sweeping into the Punjab; as is well pointed out here, this is just as unlikely as it was in the days of Sir Bindon Blood as it is in the era of David Kilcullen.

As Arif Rafiq warns, the theatre of violence and the bureaucratic glamour of Richard Holbrooke is having much the same effect on the US government and the thinktank industry as the announcement of Bindon Blood mobilising for the Frontier had on the British Indian army of young Winston’s day. Every ambitious young fool is suddenly a Pakistan expert, much as Churchill called in all his political contacts and travelled two thousand miles overland whilst theoretically on leave in order to get shot at in Malakand. You have to show willing, after all.

Hysteria has been a constant in Western thought about Pakistan ever since it was created. However, as I’ve said before, somehow the worst-case scenarios have a way of not happening. Either we’re all incredibly lucky, or else the forces in Pakistani society that make for stability are stronger than outsiders imagine. It is worth repeating to yourself that 85 per cent of the population lives in Punjab or Sindh and that of the remaining 15 per cent, only 15 per cent of the fraction that lives in the NWFP votes Islamist.

Of course, hysteria has its uses; hence Robert Kaplan musing on just getting rid of Pakistan.

Especially in the west, the only border that lives up to the name is the Hindu Kush, making me think that in our own lifetimes the whole semblance of order in Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan could unravel, and return, in effect, to vague elements of greater India

Can anyone imagine how this sounds to, say, a Pakistani Army officer? It’s the business-class version of hoo-yah fuckwit Ralph Peters’ irresponsible furblings. An exercise; substitute “Rio Grande” for Hindu Kush, Mexico for Pakistan, Texas for Afghanistan, and Spain for India, and you’ve got a classic American Apocalypse/Immigrant Panic rant. Although, Tom Ricks does Kaplan a disservice by confusing the Indus and the Tigris. It isn’t quite that insane, but I think the slip is telling.

But the important point is that permanent crisis fuels the crisis industry. It helps to legitimate your ideas and staff your organisation. At the other end of the pipe, the permanent crisis helps the Pakistani government’s Pakistan desk manipulate the US government’s Pakistan desk. And their top priority is, of course, India; Robert Kaplan’s geopolitics quoted above is all about looking north from the sea, towards Afghanistan, over Pakistan’s shoulder as it were.

Want a policy prescription? Well, if everyone else is an expert, at least I serve only my own interests, and I have run this by the only Musharraf supporter I’ve ever met. I recommend a combination of this:

so if the people feel they don’t have a say in their own fate, “Washington” should come up with a new plan they don’t have any say in? I don’t get it. The one thing we haven’t tried doing yet is persuading the Pakistani people we’re on their side, rather than telling them we are and dumping millions of unaccountable dollars into their country.

and this:

But cliche seems to drive policy here. Pakistan doesn’t need gap shrinkers, assault ships, setting up the precinct or any other Thomas Barnett bollocks. What it needs is respect, and specifically respect for civilian government.

Just stop pressing those buttons.

Quite a score for our reader “Ajay”, who I think is the first to spot that the Mumbai terrorist attack bears a very close resemblance to the coup plot in Frederick Forsyth’s The Dogs of War, which makes it the third and possibly fourth case of someone actually using Forsyth’s book as a practical handbook. The exact number depends on whether you believe the story that Forsyth actually took part in planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea in 1977 which didn’t go ahead, and recycled the work he did on it as a novel. Forsyth now semi-confesses to this, but this may be self-publicity from a man who was, after all, sacked from the BBC for making up the news.

Certainly, however, the so-called “Wonga Coup” team in Equatorial Guinea read the book, Mike Hoare’s “Froth Blowers’ Society” attack on the Seychelles apparently issued a copy to every participant, and now this. How does, say, Curzio Malaparte’s Theory of the Coup d’Etat compare to that? Forsyth can probably claim that more people have died as a direct result of his book than any other book not written by an economist.

In fact it’s closer than you might think; the Grauniad, whose coverage of the whole incident was excellent, has a neat map you might want to consult. Apparently, two of the Zodiacs used were found at the north end of Back Bay, on the west/left hand side of the map; this suggests the attack plan was very close indeed to Forsyth’s. There are two groups of targets, and each group is fairly close to a beach on that side of the peninsula, even though some of them are closer to the east (harbour) side. But doing it this way saves navigating around the headland and keeps away from the main port, where you could expect a police presence.

Very roughly, it’s about 2,050 feet from each of two landing spots near the targets to a point exactly half-way across the entrance of the bay, so you’d know when to set course – this is exactly how the mercenaries in TDOW set up their attack, launching further out to sea in a big group and using the ship as a mark to lay their course to the jumping-off point, which they identify by a transit between two landmarks. Of course, there are plenty of buildings they could line up to identify this waypoint laterally (the Wankhede Stadium looks like a candidate).

Politically, this implies that the “Deccan Mujahideen” weren’t from Deccan at all – otherwise, as someone pointed out, they’d just have taken the train in. Clearly they needed to cross a border, or else the ship and the Zodiacs would have been just more moving parts. This also suggests that they couldn’t rely on getting arms in India. I wonder what they did with the ship? One option would be to have her sink; another for her to sail quietly on, although the chances of getting away wouldn’t be great.

There was worrying reporting that a Pakistani merchant ship had been stopped by the Indian navy but fortunately, if you like your Ganges without plutonium, a search of the ship revealed nothing suspicious.

There’s another question – this wasn’t designed as a suicide attack. Suicide attackers have no need of false papers, cash, and certainly not credit cards:

A bag found in the Taj Mahal hotel contained 400 rounds of ammunition, grenades, identity cards, rations, $1,000 (£650) in cash and international credit cards, indicating a meticulously planned operation.

That certainly sounds like the equipment of someone who at least wanted to keep the option of escape open, and of course we have little idea how many people landed. It was quite possibly a suicidal mission, but that’s not the same thing. The special horror here was that the violence was dispersed and prolonged; it happened all over the place, and it kept happening.

This of course carries some information as to what kind of group carried it out. Clearly, they weren’t the sort of people who you recruit because all you need is someone to carry the bomb. They had to take independent action, and they had to sustain their will over an extended period of time. Good relations between India and Pakistan don’t really provide much net information; when things are bad, you’d expect terrorism, and when things are good there are people who want them to be bad again.

Meanwhile, the Dogs of War parallel holds in another way – the mercenaries’ exit strategy is the weakest bit of the plot, and had it been put into action the endgame would probably have been a lot like the last day or so in Mumbai, with the coupsters being gradually picked off around the presidential palace as they ran out of time, ammunition and ideas.