The militant group Islamic State (DAESH) has filled power vacuums from Syria to Iraq. As its advances struggle forward due to increasing external resistance, it is continually searching for new recruits and new territory to push its message and power.
One of the most important new regions for this militant message is the Russian Federation’s North Caucasus, a formerly war-torn region that knows its share of terrorist strife and has seen Russia use drastic force to incorporate a pro-Kremlin government and keep the region from gaining radical Islamic independence on its southern flanks. The youngest Chechen generation has slowly become begrudging Russian supporters as the spiral of war mercifully ended and the region has witnessed the economic benefits of a rebuilt and slowly stabilizing economy. Conversely, older generations and the most devout of local Muslims reject Russian influence and continue to strive for separation from not only the Soviet past but from modern Russian governance. In this space of little autonomy and reliance on Moscow, DAESH has tried to initiate an alternative voice of independence, declaring a new Islamic province, ‘Wilayat Qawqaz,’ spanning the North Caucasus region.
DAESH relies heavily on an innovative and polarizing message to recruit and expand its illusory borders. In the North Caucasus, it has relied on sympathy for the so-called fight for Islamic independence and an ardent rejection of Kremlin influence. With this message, it has aligned itself with al-Qaeda’s Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, with four of the six most powerful divisions formally aligning themselves with DAESH after the announcement. While it’s unclear how the divisions of allegiance with other al-Qaeda affiliates will ultimately affect the region, the declaration of Wilayat Qawqaz and loyalty with some al-Qaeda affiliates clearly demonstrates the brazen and confident nature of DAESH to operate away from its base in Iraq. Interestingly, DAESH did not declare the new Wilayat in any simple or crude way, but advanced the announcement through an impressive technological and media blitz.
The most visual and advanced propaganda tool for this in Russia, released just weeks after declaring Wilayat Qawqaz, is an Android-only app simply titled ‘Caucas,’ (sic) and provides daily news from DAESH offensives in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, it provides Russian translated videos of DAESH leaders, such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It’s not clear who precisely is behind the app, but it clearly shows that DAESH factions are increasingly interested in the future of the North Caucasus. Although a technologically simple app, it marks the first time a Russian-only DAESH app has been created and maintained daily. Another DAESH media outlet in Russia, Furat Media, made its debut just weeks before the announcement of the new province. Furat appears to be a professionally-managed organization that propagates DAESH viewpoints along with traditional news and wartime updates. Along with a website, Furat utilizes Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr accounts and used these platforms to initially announce the establishment of Wilayat Qawqaz. DAESH factions created outlets to not only announce the establishment of the new province, but to unify its Russian base with up-to-date news coverage from the so-called Caliphate’s front lines.
Thus, the release of these two new media platforms weeks from each other and timed with the declaration of the new Caucasian province signals that DAESH clearly wants to expand its influence into the post-Soviet space, where admittedly there are plenty of radical Islamic terrorists waiting for new support. This marks a bold progression in DAESH’s vision. With thousands of Chechen separatists and terrorists potentially filling the ranks of DAESH, it must consider Russian-speaking initiatives of great importance. These apps, videos, and media outlets have allowed the Arabic-speaking leadership to engage Russian-speaking zealots, communicating daily a dangerous unifying mission to all fighters.
Current estimates of the combined DAESH forces of Wilayat Qawqaz stands at 15,000 combatants. With recruitment becoming the primary focus, those numbers could ultimately swell in the coming years. With terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus dwindling drastically from 2010 to 2014, DAESH has deftly stoked dying embers into a real potentiality for renewed insurgency. It’s unclear what the implications for Russia will be in the coming months as DAESH pushes for general population acceptance of the new Wilayat. While the Chechen population has long strived for independence throughout their history, a large majority now accept a somewhat autonomous role under the Russian Federation. For Russia to recreate a heavy-handed security state inside Chechnya in response to the DAESH threat would only recall echoes of the first and second Chechen Wars of the 1990s and 2000s.
In addition to North Caucasus terrorists, Moscow’s Security Council chief in June stated that there was a real problem with containing the flow of Chechen fighters to Syria and Iraq. While estimates vary, there is some consensus that there are at least 2,000 Russian nationals fighting alongside DAESH. However, it is unclear if the goal of the new media platforms is to bolster the North Caucasian causes or for DAESH recruitment efforts for the Levant Caliphate. Either way, Russia may eventually need to address its national security concerns there, but will be hard-pressed to find a solution that honors the relatively effective soft power approaches Moscow has used since the Chechen ceasefire of 2009. More likely, security will once again be tightened, with human rights restricted, and Russian soldiers free to act on their own discretion. This will only bolster DAESH’s cause and degrade the influence Russia has built in the North Caucasus. For the Kremlin, it marks yet another challenge in an atmosphere of lowered Russian morale, declining support for Vladimir Putin in the southern region, and the realities of a fairly severe economic recession because of Western sanctions. Ultimately, it is unclear if DAESH can truly begin a dangerous and more intense offensive in Chechnya and beyond or if the ultimate goal is advancing just recruitment bases. Either way, there is no doubt that Russia will need to address this new threat as DAESH is proving its technological savvy and media-support efforts are highly effective in spilling influential propaganda and deadly terrorism across any borders.
Spurious Assertions May Cause Diplomatic Failure
America has once again disregarded the enduring efforts of Pakistan in war on terror. The latest US state department’s report on terrorism 2019, published on 24th June 2020, states that the country took meager actions to counter the menace of terrorism and continued to provide safe heavens to militant groups in 2019. However, Pakistan has contributed financially as well as in the flesh for regional peace. Further, the country has strengthened its institutes to halt the financial support of militant groups and restricted the terrorist movements into its territory. Meanwhile, It has also remained a true ally of America, as the former has played crucial role in soviet war and Afghan-Peace process. Despite the efforts, such recurring pessimistic remarks from US may derail the peace process in the region. It would also impair the strategic and economic interests of the two states. As, both relations are one of the dependency based one. US need Pakistan as a strategic ally in south Asia to negotiate with Taliban in Afghanistan, and Pakistan need US support to finance its economy.
Considering that, in 1954 Pakistan due to strategic compulsion joined US backed military alliances of SEATO and CENTO. It provided a power equation to Pakistan to contain its regional adversary India. In return, Pakistan allowed US military to use its land against the advancements of Soviet Union. Later, Pak-US relation crumbled when America left Pakistan alone without any financial and military assistance during 1971 war with India. From this time onward, relation between two countries failed to prolong ahead. Each of them started to suspect, and disillusioned one another. US proved not helpful, and it brought realization in Pakistan’s foreign policy corridor about US betrayal in hour of need. Thus, Pakistan adopted policy of aloofness with US, and started to look toward Muslim world for financial and diplomatic assistance. In this regard, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto then prime minster of Pakistan played a vital role to establish subtle relations with Muslim countries as well as Republic of China.
But again, strategic dependence from US and Pakistan’s compulsion to get financial assistance brought two countries closer to each other. And, after episode of 9/11 both countries jointly fought war against terror in Afghanistan. Pakistan stood shoulder to shoulder in this war with US. As a result, the former has lost some 75 thousand precious lives and billions of rupees in economic terms so far. Ironically, US under the influence of India and their widening strategic cooperation, started to put screws on Pakistan about its role in war on terror. Consequently, time after time US asked, to do more in countering terrorism, to Pakistan. It has Never, acknowledged the sacrifices Pakistan bore in this war. Similarly, the recent report by US state department echoes same rhetoric of doing more to Pakistan. However, Pakistan helped US to bring Taliban on negotiations table, even though Pakistan’s role is considered moderate.
While, in last few years Pakistan has brought various institutional reforms through technological and human capital advancements pertaining to counter terrorism in the country and region. The establishment of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), formulation of National Action Plan (NAP) and strengthening its institutional capacity to halt financial assistance of militants are the cases in point. Additionally, the country has increased its border security to halt the terrorist movements across its borders. For instance it receives biometric information at land crossings through its International Border Management Security System. Moreover, the military operations against terrorists like, Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-2002), Rah-e-Haq and Rah-e-Rast (2007-2009), Operation Rah Nijat (2009-2010) and Zarb Azb (2014), are also crucial strides taken by Pakistan to eliminate the radical elements from its soil.
Regardless of all above cooperative efforts US has taken no notice of Pakistan’s role in war on terror. Instead, the former repeatedly blamed the country for financial assistance and providing its territory as safe heaven to militant groups. It also breached Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty on various instances. Drone strikes on Pakistani soil, Salala incident and killing of Osama bin laden without informing Pakistani forces divulges the belligerence of US towards Pakistan. Since then the diplomatic ties between the two countries worsened drastically. As, later Pakistan ordered US military to evacuate Salala Air Base as well as Pakistan stopped NATO supplies for US. Likewise, various instances happened in later years. Despite of America’s skeptical attitude, Pakistan is still playing a paramount role in Afghan peace process and helping US military to exit Afghanistan for the sake of regional peace.
Therefore, US should not forget the sacrifices that Pakistan has rendered since it participated with US in Afghan war and its role while exterminating Soviet Union from the region. The country is yet bearing the repercussions of its partaking with US in its South Asian interests. Due to that various radical groups turned to Pakistan and plotted various terrorist attacks on the country. One of the most devastating attacks was on Army Public School Peshawar where the militants killed hundreds of innocent children. Besides that numerous attempts were made and are still being carried out on various points of time by militias in Pakistan. For instance the recent terrorist attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange on 29th June 2020 in Karachi reveals that the country is still under threat of terrorism. Additionally, due to its allegiance with US, Pakistan lost its bilateral ties with Russia for a long time in past. As, in early years of Pakistan, the country had the choice of building allegiance with Soviet Union or United States; however, it opted for the latter.
Thus, US must recognize the enduring efforts of Pakistan to sustain stability in the region. Such, accusations by US would just disrupt the bilateral diplomatic ties between both countries. Resultantly, both sides would have to bear the consequences. Since, Pakistan needs financial aid from US to strengthen its economy while, strategically Pakistan is significant ally of US in the region. Furthermore, the attitude of denunciation by any side would drastically disturb the peace process. Therefore, it is necessary for the two to make joint efforts to fight against the terrorism and keep the peace process on track to pave the way for regional peace and prosperity.
Attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange: A Fuel-to-fire in Southeast Asia
On June 29th, four armed men opened fire in the premises of Pakistan Stock Exchange, Karachi. All four terrorists were successfully gunned down on the spot by the police, whereas one policeman and three guards were shot fighting. A representative account of Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a US-designated terrorist organization, on Twitter claimed responsibility for the attack. Prime Minister Imran Khan pinned this attack on India the very next day. This incident could further escalate the already high tensions between Pakistan and India. Apparently, the shootout lasted for only eight minutes but the context of it has been developing for ages.
BLA is a Baloch separatist militia which aims for an independent Balochistan due to ‘economic exploitation by the rest of Pakistan’. Its ultimate goal is to form an independent state of Balochistan where all the regional resources are used for the development of the Baloch nation.
Both India and BLA see Pakistan as their mutual enemy. India seems to never let go of any opportunity that leads to instability in Pakistan. RAW, leading Indian intelligence agency, has been accused of sponsoring this banned outfit on multiple occasions. In an interview in 2009, Hairbiar Marri, founder of Free Balochistan Movement (FBM), said, “We appreciate any kind of aid for BLA, be it moral or any other kind.” An alleged Indian spy, named Kulbhushan Jadhav, was arrested in 2016 on the charges of terrorist activities in Balochistan. In a video confession, Jadhav said, “These activities have been of anti-national or terrorist nature which resulted in the killing and wounding of Pakistani citizens.”
Since the formation of Narendra Modi’s far-right wing government in India, the relations between the two bitter neighbours have continued to soar. Military stand-off on the Line of Control among the two nuclear-armed states has become habitual. Lockdown in Kashmir, 2016 ‘surgical strike’ and 2019 Balakot Dogfight were some of the significant incidents occurred over the recent years. Ajit Doval, PM Modi’s current advisor on National Security, has allegedly devised what is called the ‘Doval Doctrine’ for carrying out covert operations in Pakistan, especially Balochistan. And now, the attack on the economic hub of Pakistan, claimed by BLA, exhibits a similar pattern. “We have no doubt that it [PSX attack] was planned in India”, said PM Khan while addressing the Parliament.
Earlier in June, New Delhi directed Pakistan High Commission to reduce its staff by half. India blamed Pakistani envoys of espionage. Dismissing it as a false claim, Pakistan did the same for Indian High Commission staff.
The Chinese element
With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the BLA considers its ‘national’ identity in danger. It is repeatedly found to threaten and carry out activities against Chinese-backed projects. Chinese Engineers working in Balochistan were targeted in a suicide attack in August, 2018. In 2018, BLA also took responsibility for the attack on Chinese Consulate in Karachi.
The separatists consider CPEC an underhand exploitation of the resources belonging to the Baloch. In an email to AFP, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed that the PSX attack was not only on “Pakistan’s economy” but also on “China’s exploitative plans for Balochistan”.
Dr. Moeed Pirzada, a Pakistani columnist, has analyzed that RAW is trying to market BLA’s perspective as ‘Anti-China’ militant outfit. He further draws that RAW is attempting to gain sympathy of western powers for Balochistan cause by exposing the neo-imperial mindset of China. The west is already wary of China’s ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ for the poor, developing nations in Asia and Africa. If they get the ear of the west, things might take a new turn.
The hostility between India and China increased over the past months regarding the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The claims of 135,000 square kilometer area along the border is a dispute between India and China, processing via negotiations and dialogues. Years of negotiations between New Delhi and Beijing failed on June 15th when troops of either sides clashed, resulting in death of 20 Indian and several Chinese soldiers.
If the alleged BLA links with India are officially proved, the ongoing Sino-India tensions could take a new hike. This would create grave repercussions for the entire region. The state of affairs in Southeast Asia has alarmed the international society as the malice revolving around three nuclear-powered nations is catastrophic to much bigger geography.
Terrorist groups exploiting COVID-19 in Sahel
COVID-19 is complicating an already complex security situation in the Sahel, with terrorist groups exploiting the pandemic as they step up attacks on national and international forces, the UN’s peacekeeping chief said on Friday.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the Security Council that the last six months have been particularly challenging as the G5 Sahel group of nations – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – deploys a joint force to restore stability to the vast African sub-region.
“We are seeing attempts by terrorists and other groups in the region to capitalize on the pandemic to undermine State authority and destabilize Governments”, with innocent lives being lost daily, schools shuttered and many people denied access to basic social services, he said.
Years to rebuild
“It will take years to rebuild affected communities in the Sahel even under the best of circumstances (as well as) sustained efforts to ensure that nobody is left behind”, added the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations.
“In the face of such loss and devastation, we cannot be passive.”
Mr. Lacroix was briefing a videoconference meeting of the Council as the United Nations considers options for beefing up its support for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, including through its MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali.
He said that the Joint Force is making “tangible and encouraging progress” in building up its ranks and establishing a command structure based in Niamey that will cooperate with other international forces in the Sahel.
Military operation ‘progressing well’
Those efforts have led to an ongoing major military operation, code-named Sama, that is “progressing well”, he reported.
With financial support from the European Union, MINUSMA – the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali – is providing “life support consumables” (food, water and fuel) within its mandate.
Mr. Lacroix warned, however, that the Mission is running at maximum capacity and cannot do more for the Joint Force within its current Council-defined mandate and resources.
Comprehensive support package needed Expanding on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Joint Force, he called for a comprehensive support package, funded by Member States through their assessed contributions to the UN.
“This would not only allow for predictable and sustainable support, it would also make it easier to pursue a long-term strategy to phase out this support and to render the Joint Force autonomous,” he explained.
It would also free up MINUSMA to focus exclusively on supporting the peace process and stabilization of central Mali, he added.
“The G5 Sahel Joint force is on the right track, but there is still a long way to go”, he said, adding that a stronger Joint Force is only part of a comprehensive international approach for the Sahel that includes improving governance, eradicating poverty and protecting human rights for all.
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