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China and Russia: Cyber Cousins but not Cyber Brothers

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There seems to be a strong divergence in perception behind China’s desire to command cyberspace offensively. On the one hand, there is the assumption that this is a natural manifestation of its growing desire to achieve global superpower status.

On the other hand, there is the counter-argument that emphasizes China’s own perception to be unable to operate effectively against the United States in a conventional military confrontation. (Hjortdal 2011) Indeed, many Chinese writings suggest cyber warfare is considered an obvious asymmetric instrument for balancing overwhelming US power. (Hjortdal 2011) This latter argument is more compelling based on the stark military realities:

•In overall spending, the United States puts between five and 10 times as much money into the military per year as does China.

•Chinese forces are only now beginning to be brought up to speed. Just one-quarter of its naval surface fleet is considered modern in electronics, engines, and weaponry.

•In certain categories of weaponry, the Chinese do not compete. For instance, the U.S. Navy has 11 nuclear-powered aircraft-carrier battle groups. The Chinese navy is only now moving toward the complete construction of its very first carrier.

•In terms of military effectiveness, i.e. logistics, training, readiness, the difference between Chinese and American standards is not a gap but a chasm. The Chinese military took days to reach survivors after the devastating Sichuan earthquake in May of 2008, because it had so few helicopters and emergency vehicles. (Fallows 2010)

Given this state of military affairs, a Chinese perception of insecurity is not surprising. Even more logical is the Chinese resolve to evolve its asymmetric cyber capabilities: such attacks are usually inexpensive and exceedingly difficult to properly attribute, meaning the victim is unlikely to know who was directly responsible for initiating the attack. It is even more complex for states, where cyber-attacks can be ‘launched’ from inside of neutral or allied countries. (Ollman 2011)

Given an authoritarian state’s capacity for paranoia, it is illogical for China to not develop its offensive cyber capabilities. In this case the weakness – conventional military strength – is quite real. To that end, the People’s Republic of China has endeavored to create its own set of lopsided military advantages in the cyber domain:

•The Pentagon’s annual assessment of Chinese military strength determined in 2009 that the People’s Liberation Army had established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks.

•The PLA has created a number of uniformed cyber warfare units, including the Technology Reconnaissance Department and the Electronic Countermeasures and Radar Department. These cyber units are engaged on a daily basis in the development and deployment of a range of offensive cyber and information weapons.

•China is believed to be engaged in lacing the United States’ network-dependent infrastructure with malicious code known as ‘logic bombs.’ (Manson 2011)

The official newspaper of the PRC, the Liberation Army Daily, confirmed China’s insecurity about potential confrontation with the United States in June 2011. In it, the Chinese government proclaimed that, “the US military is hastening to seize the commanding military heights on the Internet…Their actions remind us that to protect the nation’s Internet security we must accelerate Internet defense development and accelerate steps to make a strong Internet Army.” (Reisinger 2011) Clearly, the Chinese have sought to maximize their technological capacity in response to kinetic realities. This is not to say the United States is therefore guaranteed to be in an inferior position (information about American virtual capabilities at the moment remains largely classified), but the overt investment, recruitment, and development of Chinese virtual capabilities presents opportunities that the US should also be willing to entertain.

How does all of this compare and contrast with the Russian approach to the cyber domain? Anyone studying cyber conflict over the last five years is well aware of Russia’s apparent willingness to engage in cyber offensives. The 2007 incident in which the Estonian government was attacked and the 2008 war with Georgia are universally considered examples of Russia using cyber technology as the tip of their military spear. While it is true that Russia actively encourages what has come to be known as ‘hacktivism’ and lauds ‘patriotic nationalist’ cyber vigilantism as part of one’s ‘civic duty,’ there are still distinct differences with China.

Much of Russia’s cyber activity, when not in an open conflict, seems to be of the criminal variety and not necessarily tied directly into the state. Indeed, Russia seems to utilize organized crime groups as a cyber conduit when necessary and then backs away, allowing said groups continued commercial domination. Russia, therefore, almost acts as a rentier state with criminal groups: cyber weapons are the ‘natural resource’ and the Russian government is the number one consumer. This produces a different structure, style, and governance model when compared to China.

 

Parsing Cyber Rogues

Category Breakdown China Russia

PURPOSE

 

Protectionist

 

Predatory

PSYCHOLOGY

 

Long-term / Rational

 

Short-term / Cynical

STYLE

 

Strategic

 

Anarchic

GOVERNANCE MODEL

 

State-centric

 

Crimino-Bureaucratic

 

Purpose

China’s purpose in developing its cyber capability seems motivated by protectionist instincts, based largely on the perception that it is not able to defend itself against the United States in a straight conventional military conflict. Russia’s purpose seems utterly predatory. This is no doubt influenced by the fact that most of the power dominating cyber capability in the Russian Federation is organized and controlled by criminal groups, sometimes independently and sometimes in conjunction with governmental oversight.

Psychology

The operational mindset of China seems to be both long-term and rational. It develops its strategies based on future strategic objectives and its position within the global community. Most if not all of China’s goals in the cyber domain can be clearly understood if rational self-interest is taken into consideration. Russia’s cyber mindset is dominated by short-term thinking, largely motivated by the pursuit of massive profit and wielding inequitable political power. When analyzing just how much of Russian cyber activity is in fact controlled by the desire for wealth it is hard to not have an overall impression akin to state cynicism.

Style

The atmospheric style in which Chinese cyber activity takes place is strategic. The state strives to control the cyber environment and maintain influence over all groups in the interest of the state. The Russian cyber atmosphere unfortunately resembles nothing if not anarchy. The state engages criminal groups whereby the relationship’s authority structure is blurred if not non-existent. As a result, there is little confidence that the government of Russia exclusively controls its cyber environment.

Governance Model

It is clear that China’s cyber governance model is state-centric. This may not be most ideal for democracy, but it shows how China does not allow competing authorities or shadow power structures to interfere with its own national interests. Russia’s cyber governance model is crimino-bureaucratic. It is not so much that the state is completely absent from the cyber domain in Russia: it is rather the ambiguity of power and authority that defines the cyber domain. Russia may enjoy claiming the allegiance of its patriotic nationalist hackers, but it does not in fact tightly control its own cyber netizens, at least not in comparison to China.

While both Russia and China are not afraid to use offensive cyber weapons, there are dramatic structural, motivational, strategic, and philosophical differences. Russia seems to embody a criminal-governmental fusion that has permeated the entire state apparatus. The cyber domain there is used for temporary forays to achieve state objectives and then returns to more permanent criminal projects. As such, the domain is not truly state-controlled, is relatively anarchic, and cannot establish any deterring equilibrium. China, on the other hand, may be the first state to truly embrace the importance of tech-war: it has realistically assessed its own kinetic shortcomings and looked to cyber for compensation. In short, it has fused Sun Tzu with Machiavelli: better to quietly overcome an adversary’s plans than to try to loudly overcome his armies.

This analysis paints Russia in a relatively stark strategic light. While these differences do not give rise to a trusted alliance with China, the manner in which China approaches its cyber domain presents interesting new ideas about how the US or the West should approach the global cyber commons. Russia has room to improve still on the cyber front if its interests are in greater cooperation internationally with the world’s other great powers. If it prefers its current ‘lone wolf’ approach, then it is doubtful the cyber commons will ever see any organized or honored regime of rules and proper behavior.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Ethnic War a Newfangled Pakistani Forward-policy for Afghanistan

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According to the intelligence information, Pakistan’s ISI is trying to start ethnic and maneuvering war again in Afghanistan, of which distinct objective is to refurbish the age-old enmity between the Achakzai and Noorzai tribes in the southwest zone. Besides, they want to start an ethnic war among Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns across Afghanistan, and between the northern and southern directions, thus, the prominent leaders of the Taliban, who are led by the ISI, have been entrusted with the task. As in the east and north of Afghanistan, Pashtun Taliban militants are oppressing other Non-Pashtuns, raiding their homes; however, no high-ranking Pashtun Taliban officials are preventing them because the ISI network leads this strategy. In order to revamp a civil war in Afghanistan, score of influential figures have been summoned by the Pakistani military establishment. 

The latest examples are as follows: Two days ago, the Pashtun Taliban killed the former police chief and an influential tribal leader in Mandol district of Nuristan province, which caused many emotions against Pashtuns especially about southwest zone of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in order to afresh the years of hostility between the Noorzai and Achakzi tribes in the southwestern region of Afghanistan, the ISI network raised the issue of a mass grave by several leading Taliban militants, especially by the current governor of Kandahar province and Noorzai tribe leading leader, Haji Mohammad Yousef Wafa.

Qari Aslam Noorzai call for by Pak security forces

At a time when the former leader of the Noorzai tribe, the leading smuggler of drugs and heavy weapons in Central and South Asia, and the financial supporter of the first Taliban regime, Haji Bashar Noorzai was released from the US prison in Guantánamo. The Noorzai tribe once again became twice as strong and dominant in Afghanistan, especially in the southwest zone.  Resulting threats towards the Achakzai people, on the other hand, ISI has started rapid efforts to recommence the years of enmity between these two tribes.

Hajee Feyzullah Khan Noorzai meets Pak military Intelligence

Recently, Pakistan’s intelligence network ISI, with the help of some leading social media and high-ranking Taliban officials, has kept the issue of finding a mass grave in Kandahar province in the southwestern zone of Afghanistan broiling, namely by inducing  the blame-game. Meanwhile, local tribal leaders and residents of Spin Boldak district claim that such a grave is the grave of those who were taken out of their homes by the Taliban after August 15.  Since, they were connected to Achakzai tribe and on the other hand, they served in the security departments of the overthrown Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that is why the Taliban night raided their houses, and massively killed them.

Moreover, mass murdering Hazaras at their educational institutions via suicide bombing and meantime blowing up the worship places of Sufi-Muslims, who preach the non-violent form of Islam, while calling for De-weaponization and De-politicization of Islam.

Consequently, by applying such a forward-policy, Pakistan will achieve its fancied strategic-depth in Afghanistan, while subjugating the Afghan Nation.

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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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