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A Legal & Cyber Minefield: An Overview of the Caspian Region

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Control of the Caspian Sea has been highly sought after due to its abundance of natural resources. Nearly 3 billion gallons of crude oil are produced every day and 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are produced every year. It is estimated that there could be well over 48 billion barrels of crude oil and over 292 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that still remain to be discovered.

   Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan surround the Caspian Sea, each battling for the territorial rights to the land and seabed near each country’s borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Prior to 1991, only Iran and the Soviet Union controlled the Caspian Sea. The two countries had a series of bilateral treaties that equally divided the Caspian. The fall of the Soviet Union, however, created many challenges for both countries. For Russia the collapse of the Soviet Union meant losing valuable land and seabed rights of the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Iran was faced with the challenges of competing with and negotiating with these new countries as well as losing its equally-shared rights of the Caspian with Russia.

The Caspian has been called a sea since its discovery in ancient times, but there has been much debate over the years whether the Caspian should be considered a lake rather than a sea. The rationale behind this debate is because a lake would be equally divided while a sea would not. Bilateral treaties between Iran and the Soviet Union dating back to 1921 called the Caspian a lake rather than a sea. Calling it a lake would specify that its waters and resources would only be divided by the surrounding countries. As a sea the United Nations Convention on the Seas would regulate the Caspian’s waters and resources, making them available to the surrounding countries as well as the international community. The equal division of the Caspian and renaming it a lake has been rejected by several of the littoral states and divisional agreements of the seabed still has not been reached. So the legal battle for the Caspian continues to quietly rage.

Countries surrounding the Caspian Sea are not the only ones that have great interest in the sea’s natural resources. Individuals, international communities (U.S., China, Turkey, EU) and multinational corporations all have a financial interest or desire to invest, in addition to those that wish to utilize the Caspian’s natural resources, and are trying to wedge their own agendas into the process, adding fuel to the fire. It would seem that the territorial disputes could not be more complex, but now the nuclear deal with Iran could cause even more legal and geopolitical wrangling. The removal of international sanctions against Iran would once again allow it to export crude oil and natural gas. Iran could potentially join the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline that would connect with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, allowing Western Europe to receive natural gas from the Islamic republic and nearly bypass Russia completely.

The removal of sanctions could thus be viewed as both beneficial and dangerous. These potential export developments with Iran could threaten the current revenue and natural resource funding for the other states surrounding the Caspian Sea. Historically, during previous wars and battles near the Caspian, transportation problems with oil and natural gas cascaded into the world market. Problems included deliberate sabotage of pipelines, incidental destruction during the course of battle, and improper maintenance of pipelines due to fighting in the area. So it is clear that there is no Caspian conflict that can remain a purely parochial or local problem. It will always be innately transnational. Currently Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan produce the largest amounts of natural resources from the Caspian Sea. Russia has created a monopoly on the export of natural resources, as travelling through its country’s pipelines was the easiest and most cost effective way for the resources to reach their final destinations. Once Iran is allowed to export these natural resources again it is likely that they will receive substantial international investment to increase their production levels as well as create new pipelines. It is estimated that Iran possesses the second largest natural gas reserve in the world and could produce up 600,000 barrels of oil daily. All of this potentially makes Iran the largest producer of oil and gas from the Caspian, as well as providing new transportation routes that might massively disrupt the geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation.

On the surface these changes for Iran may seem rather insignificant as the full breadth of potential power it will gain has yet to be seen. Iran could use this power to control others by withholding its natural resources or using them to influence other nations’ policies against it (in short, something like a mirror of the concerns presently being levied against Russia by the EU). Skepticism surrounds its nuclear program as countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia view the program as a direct threat, no matter what accord has been signed. Countries who view the nuclear deal with Iran negatively may take actions into their own hands to prevent Iran from rising to its fullest potential prosperity and global integration. So the evolution of Caspian fallout from the Iran nuclear deal will likely soon show how much International Political Economy bleeds into global security concerns.

Bilateral treaties guaranteeing physical security have been created between the littoral Caspian states. In 2007, the treaties specifically included declarations of non-aggression against one another. In 2014, at the Caspian Summit, the five Caspian presidents signed a declaration to guarantee security and stability in the region by only allowing the Caspian littoral states to have their armed forces present in the Caspian Sea and agreeing to not allow military forces of any other nation to enter the sea. No longer is physical security the only concern that must be taken into consideration, however. The littoral states of the Caspian Sea, as well as the global oil and gas investors working with them, must take into account the potential for a cyber-attack. The emergence of a brave new dangerous cyber world with the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s facilities several years ago shows that Caspian security needs to move beyond expectations and definitions that are exclusively conventional. It is not implausible that a cyber-attack could determine which littoral state controls the natural resources and transnational agendas of the Caspian, especially if a serious attack like Stuxnet ever happens again. Such an attack could have devastating effects on the global community, not just the Caspian littoral states, as it is clear there is great hope from the United States all the way to China that the development of the Caspian region is something seen by all as a global economic and security priority. Thus is the nature of this fascinating region: a land full of promise and seen by many with great hope while also being laden with far too many potential minefields.

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Pakistani Intelligence Agencies ignite Tribal Conflicts in Pak-Afghan Region

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According to the intelligence information, Pakistani intelligence community supported by some international rings want to once again spread dispute and disharmony among the tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan; subsequently the centuries-old evils and wars between the tribes will once more take a new color and become fresh. Recently, rumors of the discovery of a mass grave in Kandahar province in the southwestern zone of Afghanistan are spreading; the blame for this mass murder falls on the former police chief of Kandahar province and the former leader of the Achagzai tribe, General Abdul Razaq Achagzai.  In order to afresh raising the reaction of the Norzi tribe against the Ackzai and anew the evil and war between these two tribes. Even though the current governing body of Afghanistan is completely under the control of the Noorzi tribe, because most of the high-ranking leaders of the Taliban, including the leader of the Taliban, Sheikh Haibatullah, are related to the Noorzi tribe, so there is a greater threat posed to the Achakzi tribe.

Even now, in spite of such menaces, more than 6000 Achakzi families live in Kandahar province, whose members served in the security departments under the command of General Abdul Razaq Achakzi, a staunch opponent of the Taliban.  Currently, in such a tense situation that the Taliban administration has control over Afghanistan and the head of this administration is connected to the Nurzi tribe, the harsh criticism of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai’s mass killings is logical, which can cause international and internal outcries.  As a result, the major victims will be the youths and leading tribal leaders of the Achakzai tribe.

By the advent of Taliban on August 15, 2021, in the first four months, more than 600 youths and tribal leaders from the Achakzi tribe were killed in the southwest zone of Afghanistan, while applying night operations or raids by the Taliban. The most famous case happened to the family of Haji Fida Mohammad Achakzai in Spin Boldak district. Haji Fida Muhammad Achakzai, known as Haji Fida Aka, is a leading leader of the Achakza tribe of Spin Boldak district and had close relations with the family of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai.

 When Kandahar province fell to the Taliban before August 15, the two young sons of him were killed by the Taliban on the first night, unfortunately none of the Taliban officials took any action to prevent the tragedy. Nevertheless, this time, there is a plan going on at the international level to renew the age-old differences between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes, which the international media warmly supports.  If this time the internal differences and conflicts between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes in Afghanistan get sturdier, then it will have damaging effects not only in Afghanistan, but also, serious negative measures will be taken against the Norzai under the leadership of Mahmoud Khan Achakzai, the head of the Achakzai tribe, in the Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.

In the meantime, the decision of the Pakistani government to hand over the Pashtun areas in Pakhtunkhwa provinces to the Taliban was approved and supported by the Nurzi tribe, conversely, this action of the Pakistani government was strongly condemned by Mahmoud Khan Achakzai and PTM leader Manzoor Pashtun.

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Afghan Zarqawi is shot dead in Panjsher valley of Afghanistan

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According to intelligence information, the leading Taliban commander Maulvi Habibullah Sheeran, who was known as Zarqawi, a resident of Zhrhai District, Kandahar Province, in the southwestern zone of the Taliban was killed in Panjsher battle.

Meantime, the intelligence report indicates, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, the general military officer of Panjshir and Andrab and the deputy of the Ministry of National Defense, was injured in Panjshir on Friday, September 16 at 3:25 p.m.

Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, who is considered one of the leading and influential war commanders in the southwest zone of the Taliban, has the support of about 4,000 low-ranking and high-ranking Taliban fighters. He is one of the Taliban military commanders who, during the first mobilization of the Taliban, formed the Taliban group with the support of Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, the founder of the Taliban, and attracted hundreds of young men from Helmand province to the Taliban group.

When the Taliban came to power for the second time in Afghanistan, due to internal differences among the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir left the Taliban for a short time and went to his native Kajki district of Helmand province. However, due to the many efforts of the Taliban, especially Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir’s assistant and the current head of security of presidential palace  Mullah Mutaullah Mubarak, He joined the Taliban again and was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Taliban leaders made more efforts to reunite Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir with the Taliban, because he was an influential military leader, and on the other hand, Taliban leaders were receiving reports that Mullah Qayyum Zakir wants to join ISIS against Taliban. Nevertheless, when he joined with the Taliban leaders for the second time, he was assigned the position of Deputy Minister of Defense, So, for a period, he cooperated with the Minister of Defense Maulvi Yaqoub as a military advisor in the Ministry of Defense.

 When the rumors of the fall of the northern part of Afghanistan were spread and the fighting between the NRF or the National Resistance Front and the Taliban in Panjshir and Andrab intensified, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, based on the special permission of Sheikh Haibatullah, Appointed General Military Officer of Northern Afghanistan. In addition, from September 9, under his leadership, a special military operation named Al-Fath began in Panjshir and Andarabs to clear and liberate northern Afghanistan from the fighters of the National Resistance Front.

As a result of the operation, from September 9th to September 16th, dozens of NRF fighters were also killed but the casualties of Taliban fighters are methodically shown below, although scores of Taliban fighters were destroyed.

  • The bodies of 60 to 70 Taliban fighters who were killed in the battle of Panjshir have been transferred to Uruzgan province.
  •  The dead bodies of 50 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kandahar Province.
  • The dead bodies of 33 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Helmand Province.
  •  The dead bodies of 22 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Ghor Province.
  • The dead bodies of 11 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Takhar province.
  • The dead bodies of 6 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kunduz Chahar Dara.
  •  The dead bodies of 12 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Zabul province.
  • The dead bodies of nine Taliban fighters have been transferred to Wardag Province.
  • The dead bodies of 10 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Dandi Ghori in Baghlan province.  

Last Friday, September 16, in the bloody battle, Mullah Qayyum Zakir, the military officer in charge of Panjshir and Andrab, was seriously injured and eight of his bodyguards, who were residents of Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, were killed. Mullah Qayyum Zakir was transferred to the 400-bed hospital in Kabul at 10 o’clock in the evening on September 16, and former Taliban doctor Atiqullah was invited to Kabul from Al-Khair Hospital of Balochistan province of Pakistan for treatment.

There is a bloody war going on in the north of Afghanistan and around 300 al-Fatih forces are going to Panjshir from Kabul tonight and may reach tomorrow. Meanwhile, in Vienna, the plan for the formation of a new military and political movement was announced in a three-day meeting of the anti-Taliban political officials of the former government of Afghanistan. Moreover, based on that military plan, after dividing Afghanistan into five major parts, the political and military leaders of each zone will start preparing their organizations against the Taliban, and they will use such political and military tactics as the Taliban used against the government of the Republic of Afghanistan during the last 20 years of resistance.

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U.S. Finally Admits Ukraine Bombs Zaporizhzhia’s Nuclear Power Plant

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The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Ⓒ IAEA

Unnamed American officials, according to the New York Times, have admitted that the explosives fired against Ukraine’s nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia have been fired against the plant by Ukraine’s Government, not by Russia’s Government, and furthermore these officials make clear that Ukraine’s attacks against the plant are a key part of Ukraine’s plan to win its U.S.-backed-and-advised war against Russia, on the battlefields of Ukraine, using Ukrainian soldiers.

Zaporizhzhia is a city in Ukraine that is in Russian-controlled territory, and Ukraine’s strategy is to destroy the ability of the plant to function, so that areas controlled by Russia will no longer be able to benefit from that plant’s electrical-power output. The United States Government helped Ukraine’s Government to come up with this plan, according to the New York Times.

This information was buried by the Times, 85% of the way down a 1,600-word news-report they published on September 13th, titled “The Critical Moment Behind Ukraine’s Rapid Advance”, in which it stated that, “Eventually, Ukrainian officials believe their long-term success requires progress on the original goals in the discarded strategy, including recapturing the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, cutting off Russian forces in Mariupol and pushing Russian forces in Kherson back across the Dnipro River, American officials said.” 

When IAEA inspectors arrived at that plant on September 1st, after a lengthy period of trying to get there to inspect it but which was blocked by Ukraine’s Government, and the IAEA started delivering reports regarding what they were finding at the plant, no mention has, as-of yet, been made concerning which of the two warring sides has been firing those bombs into the plant. Even when the IAEA headlined on September 9th “Director General’s Statement on Serious Situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant”, and reported that the plant’s ability to operate “has been destroyed by shelling of the switchyard at the city’s thermal power plant, leading to a complete power black-out in” the entire region, and that “This is completely unacceptable. It cannot stand.”, and closed by saying they “urgently call for the immediate cessation of all shelling in the entire area,” no mention was made as to which of the two sides was shooting into the plant in order to disable it, and which of the two sides was firing out from the plant in order to protect it against that incoming fire. Previously known was only that the city of Zaporizhzhia has been and is under Russian control ever since March 4th. Consequently, all news-media and reporters have known that (since Russia was inside and Ukraine was outside) Russia has been defending the plant and Ukraine has been attacking it, but until “American officials” let slip, in this news-report, the fact that this has indeed been the case there, no Western news-medium has previously published this fact — not even buried it in a news-report.  

So, although nothing in this regard may yet be considered to be official, or neutral, or free of fear or of actual intent to lie, there finally is, at the very least, buried in that news-report from the New York Times, a statement that is sourced to “American officials,” asserting that this is the case, and the Times also lets slip there that this “shelling” of that plant is an important part of the joint U.S.-Ukraine master-plan to defeat Russia in Ukraine. It is part of the same master-plan, which the U.S. Government recommended to Ukraine’s Government, and which also included the recent successful retaking by Ukraine of Russian-controlled land near the major Ukrainian city of Kharkov, which city’s recapture by Ukraine is also included in the master-plan. Both operations — the shelling of the nuclear power plant, and the recapture of that land near Kharkov — were parts of that master-plan, according to the New York Times.

The Times report asserts that

Long reluctant to share details of their plans, the Ukrainian commanders started opening up more to American and British intelligence officials and seeking advice. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, spoke multiple times about the planning for the counteroffensive, according to a senior administration official. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior Ukrainian military leaders regularly discussed intelligence and military support.

And in Kyiv, Ukrainian and British military officials continued working together while the new American defense attaché, Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, began having daily sessions with Ukraine’s top officers.

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