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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Ecology of Terror Networks

I have been thinking about terrorism a lot lately. And I think, like the systems ecologist that I am, that terrorism has a distinct ecology. Simply put, the networks of global and regional terror love to inhabit certain socio-economic and ecological localities.

I also think that in a complex ecosystem comprising a myriad of other “life forms”, terrorism is managed in a very sophisticated manner. It is managed in the style ecologists would refer to as resilience–based ecosystem management. For instance, Al Qaeda, Taliban or Al–Shabab take systems perspective of their base and understand that it is a complex and coupled socio-economic system in which poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, corruption, women’s rights (especially keeping girls out of school and women out of work) and religious fundamentalism are critical system components.

The leaders of the terror networks understand transformation, threshold and feedback. They understand, in a very practical way, the non-linear relationships among poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, delinquency and how these play out to recruit the next pool of suicide bombers.

Moreover, the terrorists know better than to let a good crisis go to waste. Taliban and Al Qaeda followers were out provide relief, rescue and comfort to the Pakistani flood victims while the Pakistani president was out shopping. They understand the language of incentives, carrot and sticks. They make lofty and sensual promises to suicide bombers.

To get a more nuanced perspective of the ecology of terror networks consider for a moment where these networks are active; Yemen, the mountains of North Waziristan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia. I am not sure why these networks are not robust in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya or Tunisia.
These terror networks, in my opinion need a critical aggregation of poverty, grievance, religious delusion and more importantly, hopelessness in the now and hence a compulsive yearning for an after life.

The anti terrorism measures must understand the “ecosystem” logic of terrorism. The drones, although successful, will not end terrorism. I am not sure that providing oodles of aid money will dismantle the terror networks. Aid might just slow down things a little bit.

But there are deep socio-economic problems in Pakistan that no amount of aid or military intervention can solve. These are the control of land and politics. Feudal lords dominate Pakistan’s political structure. Most of the political parties are feudal oriented and a significant majority of the National Assembly is dominated by these kinds of people. Moreover, the same feudal lords hold most of the key executive posts in the provinces.

The feudal lords, by virtue of their ownership and control of such vast amounts of land and human resources, are powerful enough to influence the distribution of water, fertilizers, tractor permits and agricultural credit and, consequently exercise considerable influence over the revenue, police and judicial administration.

In a system such as the one , I would sign up for the Taliban any day. And no drones or official development assistance dollars would stop me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Southern Sudan: The Birth Pangs of Africa's Newest

El-Bashir was visiting with Mr. Gadaffi last week and they had not a so hopeful message on the up coming referendum that could see Southern Sudan go its separate way.

And lately, the north has been going after Salva Kiir, accusing him of not being committed to the unification of Sudan. But Salva Kiir is not alone. The south want's out.

But my sense is that we need look at this against the hard reality of the "state-readiness" of the south. I am not convinced that the south has the human capacity or the infrastructure to be functional as a viable state. The US has been the biggest support of the quest for independence of the south. For the most part, in both the Bush and the Obama administration, the US is committed to checking the advance what America thinks is Islamic fundamentalism.

I dare to say that if the south goes its separate way after the referendum, it will collapse and fail under its own weight of incompetence. It was hard enough for African countries to emerge from the clutch of colonialism, even when most of these countries had a modest number of civil servants, good infrastructure etc. The tragedy is that southern Sudan is coming out something worse than colonialism, African dictatorship.

All I can say that southern Sudan is embarking on a most improbable journey and one for which they are least prepared for it is least prepared and a journey that the El-Bashir does not want to go along with. And the US, the south's godfather, is strained at home with a stagnating economy and budget deficits and challenged abroad in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Good luck southern Sudan. What else can I say?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A New World Order?

How will historians characterize the defining moments of the early 21st century? There is no shortage of momentous events, from 9/11 to the Tsunami to global terrorism to the global financial crisis to Obama’s election in 2008. My sense is that the tectonic shift in the global financial order will most likely be the undisputed defining epoch of the 21st century.

For the last decade and half, the US, Japan, Germany, and the UK dominated the world’s economic league table. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the axis of financial power and global capital flows changed. In the west, sovereign debt has spiraled out of control, unemployment is on the rise and growth is stagnating.

Hamstrung by weak consumer spending and lower corporate investment, Japan has been surpassed by China as the second largest economy. Despite the 72nd “Commonfilth” Games, India’s economic growth is projected to reach an incredible 8.5% in 2010. The rest of the so-called Third World is growing too. Africa for instance, has grown faster than at any time in its short and tumultuous post-colonial history. The end of apartheid has given rise to a more engaged South Africa, with its economy more integrated with the rest of Africa’s.

The path to economic recovery in the west is proving exceedingly problematic. The dilemma in the west is whether to stimulate or cut public spending. Moreover, despite Obama’s stimulus, both the private and the public sector are still shedding jobs. In fact, a second stimulus by the Obama administration is not off the table.
We could see more and angrier tea party like protests as the economies of the west confront the inevitability of a double dip.


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