The Islamic State has presented to the global community a new extent of cruelty and barbarity with enormous and dangerous destabilizing impacts on regional as well as global levels. This jihadist group is associated with beheadings, the burgeoning of sexual slavery, crucifixions, the annihilation of Christian and Yazidi groups. Its strong reliance on online propaganda and focus on digital technology add power and strength to this organization. Given ISIS’s militant capabilities, limitless brutality, pervasive ideological foundation, and territorial outreach (online and ground), this group is an imminent threat to peace and stability not only within the Middle East, but for every member of the world community. Abdel Bari Atwan’s volume seeks to explain ISIS’s success in terms of its approach to social media.
This book is a good resource for students, enthusiastic readers, policy makers, academic and professional circles. Being a widely known journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan relies on his informants as a source of information for this book. Conducting numerous interviews and online personal correspondence not only provide insight on the problem but make this study unique.
Abdel Bari Atwan’s book offers answers to the following crucial questions: What is the nature of this jihadi organization? How is its propaganda machine functioning? What are the central principals of the ISIS online strategy? What are its purposes and how does the Islamic State fulfill them using the Internet? What are the reasons behind propagandist campaigns? How are the Islamic States different from their ancestors? The study presents a big picture of the ISIS phenomenon in a way that has never previously been captured.
Chapter 1 depicts ISIS’s online appearance and strategy. Considering this group as the most dangerous result of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri heritage, the author stresses that the presence of ISIS in cyberspace and the exploitation of digital communication technologies are behind its successful territorial expansion, worldwide recruitment, and mobilization. Many Islamist groups from the remote areas of our planet, have announced their allegiance to the Islamic State through the internet by posting video messages on popular social networks. Moreover, this overwhelming reliance on the Internet allows ISIS militants to diminish the effectiveness of intelligence services as well as oppositional jihadist groups. Abdel Bari Atwan underlines an interesting paradox between the use of modern technologies and ISIS’s ideological agenda. This jihadist group merges its idea of the return to ancient mores as a society foundation and the use of the most sophisticated theologies to advance this Middle Age societal model. To create and entrench the attractive image of the Islamic State, its cyber teams produce and channel the unstoppable and consistent “stream of information”. A principle of informational consistence is crucial, even in terms of the usage of particular notions such as kufrs (deniers), crusaders, etc.
Chapters 2 through 6 of the work examine the main stages of ISIS’s establishment as an organizational entity and the ideological polarization within the jihadist movement. With the deepening of the ideological disagreement, the influx of radical members to ISIS increased. The upsurge of ISIS’s popularity is directly connected to Baghdadi’s personality, his inherent “boldness, defiance, steadfastness, and reputation as a clever battlefield strategist”. Abdel Bari Atwan explains its first military success by the utterly savage and barbaric content of its online campaign which was full of images and footage of scenes of beheadings, executions, suicide missions, etc. This propaganda had pervasive psychological effects on people and forces that might question ISIS’s power, allowing its militants onward march to take over many territories without resistance.
Chapters 7 and 8 describe the administrative apparatus that governs ISIS held territories. Based on IS informational sources, the author explains the caliphate’s inner institutional system and policymaking mechanisms. The apparatus allows ISIS’s leadership not only to control and manage new territories, including big cities, but to expand its geographical boundaries. Sustainable governance is provided by a wide net of police units, sharia courts, municipal services, gas supplies, and public health and educational facilities. In the eyes of local residents, this strong grip over the previous corrupt and ineffective government looks very promising. As a result, the Islamic State receives considerable public support from the local population.
Chapter 9 examines the main features of ISIS’s recruitment strategy through the phenomenon of foreign fighters (males and females). Drawing om conducted interviews with foreign militants, the author concludes that motivations for traveling to ISIS held areas range “from mundane explanations, speaking of “ordinary life” being “boring” to wanting to fight “like in video games.” Many volunteers, in particular who take entire families, are attracted by economic perspectives and the promise of high wages. For females, one of the main forces to join ISIS, is Islamophobia, because of the visibility of traditional Muslim garb. Despite the fact that every international conflict raises the fears of foreign fighters, the problem of returning fighters cannot be underestimated. The unique nature of the Islamic State and its ideological appeal makes returning fighters very dangerous for their home states. Abdel Bari Atwan projects more coordinated bombing attacks in the Western countries.
Chapters 10 and 11 explore the role of the United States, Britain, and Saudi Arabia for the burgeoning of the Islamic State. Through a historical perspective, the author evaluates American and Great Britain’s poorly calculated manipulations on the international stage, which ended up with substantial support and resulted in the arming of different regional militant groups.
Finally, the author does an admirable job in clarifying many crucial issues about ISIS’s origin, evolution, and structural hierarchy. However, little attention is given to academic or governmental informational sources. The book falls short on the promise made in the title “Digital Caliphate”: there is no in-depth analysis of ISIS propaganda content and its regional ramifications, online radicalization and methods of online crowdsourcing.
Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate. Abdel Bari Atwan. Saqi Books. 2015.
The Legacy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
For exactly one month now, Islamic State, ISIS, has struggled without its charismatic leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed during a U.S. military operation in a northwest Syrian village of Barisha on October 26, 2019. The main question now is whether it will meaningfully undermine the popularity of the ISIS Takfiri ideology or was this simply the death of a symbolic leader who played only a role in the evolution of Sunni Jihadism?
The month after al-Baghdadi’s death
As subsequent events have shown, the violent ideology of Salafi-Jihadi groups has not undergone significant changes. Moreover, ISIS has used al-Baghdadi’s death to strengthen its position and has appealed to its supporters to continue the apocalyptic battle with polytheists and other enemies. On October 31, 2019, the al-Furqan Media issued a statement of the Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who confirmed the death of the group’s previous leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and prior official spokesman, Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir. He also went on to announce the appointment of a certain Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new “commander of the believers and caliph of the Muslims.”
An analysis of this statement by ISIS showed that the main engine of contemporary jihadism is not a specific person, even if he was Caliph himself, but the idea about building the new Caliphate, the fight against idolaters and the idea of achieving the rule of Islam throughout the world. The attractive force, which caused thousands upon thousands of Islamists from all over the world to rush to Syria and Iraq, was not the figure of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rather it was the idea of the Islamic Caliphate. It must be recognized that the professional propaganda machine of the Islamic State has skillfully used Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death and eulogized him as a martyr who gave his life for Allah.
Abu Hamza quoted the Qur’an, Surah al-Nisa’, “God the Blessed and Exalted has said: ‘So let those who sell this worldly life for the Hereafter fight in the path of God and whoso fights in the path of God and is killed or overcomes, We will grant him a great reward’ (al-Nisa’ 74).”It is likely that the ISIS spokesman quoted the Surah al-Nisa’ with the aim of qualifying the death of “the mujahid Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (may God Almighty accept him)” as ‘Shaheed’ (Martyr).
To die a Shaheed in the path of Allah in the Islamic faith is one of the greatest honors. The concept of Shaheed constitutes the basis of the militant ideology of the Salafi-Jihadi movement. ISIS statement leads to the logical conclusion that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi fellShaheed on the path of Allah. He was eulogized as a great mujahid, who with the authority of Allah “revived the jihad,”established the Caliphate and the laws of the religion that had been impeded by the “Tawagheet,”(impurity),of the “Arabs and the non-Arabs” and “protected the honor of the Muslims”. He was described as a warrior of Allah who “…was steadfast on his religion, going forth and not turning back in flight, a mujahid against His enemies.”
Then, the new ISIS representative characterized the new Caliph Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as “the knowledgeable, worshipping, working and God-fearing Sheikh,” an indication that he is a connoisseur of the Islamic Fiqh. The statement conveys that he fulfills “…the symbols of the jihad and amir (leader)of war,” who fought against the protector of the Cross-America – and inflicted on it woes upon woes.”
Apart from this short characteristic from the Quraysh’s tribe, to the general public nothing is known about the new Caliph. Analytics and scholars of Islam cannot yet appreciate his ideological views and theological knowledge without his audio or video performances during the Salaat-ul-Jumu’ah. In the midst of this situation, President Trump has tweeted intriguing information, “ISIS has a new leader. We know exactly who he is!”
Abu Hamza claims the decision of the Caliphate’s Shoura Council about the appointment of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the caliph was taken “after consultation of their brothers and implementing the counsel of the Caliph of the Muslims (may God accept him).” That is, when appointing the new caliph, the testament (wasiyya) of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi himself was also taken into account. The Islamic State’s chief mouthpiece wrote, “O Muslims everywhere, rush to pledge bay‘a to the Amir al-Mu’mineen and gather around him.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “Spiritual Gift”isstill strong
As subsequent events showed, the Islamic state skillfully used the “transition period” to expand its harsh ideology of Jihadi-Salafism (al-Salafiyya al-Jihadiyya). The call for Bay‘a toa new caliph was heard by supporters of the Islamic state around the world. In early November, almost all the wilayah (provinces) of the Islamic state, which are located in different regions of the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caucasus, swore allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.Islamic State supporters around the world are publishing their pictures of the bay‘a campaign on the Pro-ISIS Telegram Channels almost daily.Also, the Caliphate’s official weekly Al-Naba widely published the process of Bay‘a in different countries, which means that the group attaches great importance to the process of “legalizing” the new caliph.The bay‘a campaign intended to illustrate the legitimacy and unanimous acceptance of the new leader.
Over the past two years, due to the shrink and loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has chosen the tactics of building and expanding its regional branches, the so-called wilayah. As is well known, for the time being, besides Iraq, ISIS now claims to have wilayah in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Chechnya, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Turkey. Also, local Islamists in Bangladesh and Tunisia conduct their terrorist activities under the flag of ISIS and the announcement of the wilayat there is a matter of time. The Bay‘a campaign had given the Islamic State’s wilayahs and underground cells an opportunity to once again assert itself, to update its rigid and hard-line ideology and to launch terrorist attacks in some places.As a sign of revenge for the murder of Baghdadi, ISIS supporters conducted terrorist attacks in Tajikistan, Mozambique, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, Mali, DR Congo, and Nigeria during the month after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death.
The hopes of some ideologists of al Qaeda and its offshoot, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), that the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the anonymity of the new caliph, could undermine the morale of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s supporters in the world and inflict a serious blow on the Islamic State’s prospects did not materialize. It seems one of the al-Qaeda ideologists, prominent Salafi cleric Abdullah al Muhaysini, who called al-Baghdadi’s death “a glorious night in Muslim history” and urged ISIS supporters to join al Qaeda, was deeply disappointed by the rise of a new wave of al-Dawla al-Islamiyya’s(Islamic State) ideology in the world.The Bay‘a campaign has now demonstrated the truth, that the death of Al Baghdadi raised to a new level the long-standing competition between ISIS and al Qaeda, the two main Sunni militant groups, for the soul of Islamists in the world.
The new Caliph was challenged not only by al-Qaeda and HTS but also by internal opponents who left the Islamic State and have now become vocal critics.On November 22019, the al-Wafa’ Media Agency published two essays under the titles “The Pincers Tearing Apart the Illusions of the Caliphate’s Claimants” and “The Collapse of the Fiction” in response to the appointment of al-Hashimi. The authors are Nasih Amin and Ibn Jubayr, who, according to the fellow of the Yale Law School, Cole Bunzel, were former Islamic State scholars.The authors questioned the legitimacy of the appointment of the new Caliph due to his anonymity and they denounced the Islamic State as wayward and illegitimate.They ridiculed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, calling him, “secluded paper caliph” (al-khalifa al-kartuni al-mutasardab).
Indeed, according to the Hadiths, a future caliph is traditionally expected to meet seven qualifications, including being Muslim, male, free (not a slave), a descendant of Quraysh, just, sound of mind and learned, or capable to rule the Caliphate.Both writers decried the Islamic State’s new leader for the appointment as caliph a one who is “an unknown nobody” (majhul ‘adam).It should be noted that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was also criticized when in 2014 he declared himself a caliph. Then the prominent ideologists of the modern Salafi-Jihadi movement Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filistini issued written statements against giving bay‘a to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and strongly called on the Mujahideen in Syria to abandon him. Their calls did not, however, stop the wave of Islamists in different parts of the world who swore allegiance to him, accepted the ISIS Takfiri ideology and made Hijrah (migration) to Iraq and Syria. This time, as the post-Baghdadi period showed, cruel criticism and disqualification of al-Hashimi from the point of view of Islamic law, did not stop the flow of the Bay‘a campaign.
What’s the Future of ISIS without Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?
The post-Baghdadi time once again demonstrated that the Islamic State has become a franchise organization with allegiance to a set of aims and ideas, rather than to a hierarchical organization centered upon a single charismatic individual.Therefore, optimistic forecasts should not be built that the bloody path of jihad will stop after the death of the Caliph. Judging by the new wave of the Bay‘a campaign, heated disagreement among prominent ideologists of Jihadi-Salafism about Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi did not particularly concern the ISIS supporters in the world. Islamic State’s ebbs and flows introduced important new ideas to jihadi ideology, most importantly that the ideas of holy jihad are not founded on men, but on creed. Baghdadi’s death has further strengthened this idea, and future ideologists of Salafi-Jihadism will likely invoke the Islamic State’s background to unite militants around the Jihadi’s creed.
Since losing ground in Syria and Iraq, and killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during the last few months, ISIS is likely to change its tactics and strategy of global jihad. Now, it had already started focusing on building and developing its regional wilayahs and underground cells. Its decentralization tactic might divert efforts from the attacks on the West. This does not mean that the menace of ISIS sleeper cells and lone-wolf terrorist attacks in Europe and America has ended.
Additionally, further strengthening of the ideological struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda could be expected. Today both groups are approximately in the same starting conditions, which existed in 2012-13.The ideology and objectives of the group are similar. The audience, faith environment and potential supporters of both groups are almost the same. Disputes over the timeline of the Caliphate’s creation, which al-Qaeda considered premature, turned both Salafi-Jihadi groups into sworn enemies. The fierce competition for leadership among the Sunni-Jihadi movements could only lead to further waves of deadly violence in the world. In reality, al Qaeda and its affiliates remain a threat to the U.S. and its allies in Europe, while the Islamic State attacks are aimed at the Middle East and U.S. interests in Caliphate’s wilayahs area.
The ideological legacy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has already become a spiritual tool for Sunni terrorist groups.It will undoubtedly be used to spread the worldview of militant Takfirismand inspire a new generation of jihadists to new attacks. His heritage carries the banner of terror, caliphate, and jihad.His ideology propagates inter-Muslim war, interfaith hatred, and killing of murtads (apostate) and munafiqs(infidel). Al-Baghdadi’s legacy teaches us that ISIS Salafi-Jihadi ideology cannot be defeated with bombs alone.
Turkey begins the return of ISIS fighters to Europe
Today, Turkey started sending ISIS fighters back to Europe, as it promised last week.
Europe needs to take responsibility for its ISIS fighters. US President Trump is right on that.
As Turkey’s minister of internal affairs said last week, Turkey is not a hotel for foreign terrorists. Europe’s jihadists are its own problem to deal with.
What is interesting however is that Turkey has been releasing ISIS fighters from the region that it held in custody. But not when it comes to European jihadists.
With this move, Turkey’s aim is to actually punish Europe. Erdogan is doing this out of spite because he knows that this is what Europeans fear the most. It is not Erdogan’s priority to try ISIS, as he has shown previously. To piss off the Europeans, yes, that’s a different story.
This recent development comes to remind us that Western Europe has a big problem to deal with. The evidence from conflict zones will not hold in European courts which means that authorities might have to let ISIS fighters that still have their citizenship walk free. That is a European nightmare.
This serves to remind French President Macron that France not Bosnia is the biggest jihadist force in Europe. Macron called Bosnia a jihadist ticking bomb in that unfortunate Economist interview but France is the real problem. No other European country has such a high number of jihadist fighters in the Middle East.
Today a Greek ISIS fighter whose citizenship had been stripped was not allowed in Greece upon return from Turkey. We will see that a lot in the coming weeks. The situation of no citizenship will create a legal question of statelessness which will make the return of ISIS fighters also a human rights question.
The Rise OF ISIS and its Aftermath in Afghanistan
“I will see you guys in Newyork”.Abu Du’a, the leader of ISIS, whose nom de guerre (war name) was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, told his American captors as he was released from a brief detention during Iraq war. After American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Al Baghdadi joined the Arms Resistance against the U.S led coalition troops in Iraq but he was captured and detained in a US. – run Iraqi prison in 2006. Following al Baghdadi’s release in the late 2000s, he joined the predecessor to ISIS: the Islamic State of Iraq(ISI). This group initially affiliated themselves with AL- Qaeda, but was later rejected by AL Qaeda due to their brutal acts and it became Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). IN 2010, al Baghdadi became the leader of ISI and changed the name of the organization to Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013.
On 29 June 2014, ISIS declared the worldwide caliphate under the leadership of “caliph Ibrahim” with publishing a statement of supporting al Baghdadi’s designation as caliph. This concept of caliphate is mainly based on the universal religion and its ultimate goal is the establishment of Islamic state. This political idea of Islamic state is embodied in the concept of the ummah (community) which says that all the Muslims wherever they reside are bounded by a common faith which transcends all geographical, political or national boundaries.
Many other groups had pledged allegiance to ISIS like the Boko haram in Nigeria, the bait al Maqdis in Egypt, the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan, andthe previous leader of TTP Hafiz Saeed, also pledged allegiance to al Baghdadi in Oct, 2014 renaming themselves as the Islamic state of Khorasan (ISK) in Afghanistan. IS-K’s early membership included a contingent of Pakistani militants who emerged in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province around 2010, just across the border from the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Many of these militants were estranged members of TTP and Lashkar-e Islam, who had fled from Pakistan to escape pressure from security forces.
ISK emerged in different provinces of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan but outnumbered in the eastern province of Ningarhar, Achin district, due to some specific reasons. Achin district is one of the backward, underdeveloped and illiterate regions of Afghanistan which makes its population vulnerable to recruitment as new militants. Moreover, peopled welling in this district joined and supported this new group not only for their Islamic ideology but also for the high salaries of $500 paid by this organization.In the beginning of their journey in the region, ISK dealt people in a soft manner and always refrained from offensive language to encourage and inspire the people to join this militant group.
But with the passage of time, ISK changed its behavior and started the forceful imposition of sharia law. People were prevented from the cultivation of opium which was the main source of revenue for the locals of that region, seized drugs and sentenced drug addicted people, however, majority of their own militants were drug addicts and sold drugs seized from the locals to meet their own financial needs. They introduced numerous fabricated laws that were neither in conformity to national, Islamic nor in conformity with the locals laws. The militants of the group were indoctrinated to such an extent that they were willing to sacrifice everything for the interest of the group. One of their militants, involved in a robbery case, accepted his crime in front of the group’s judicial committee. As per the Islamic rules, anyone involved in the robbery would have their hands cut off. Therefore, When the militants were cutting hands, he was chanting ‘’Allah ho Akbar’’-Allah is the greatest.
Taliban and Afghan forces have attacked the Achin district many times but no one of them succeeded in retaking the district from ISK. This region was completely monopolized by this group and they ruled the people according to their own so called sharia law. People started displacement from the region towards Jalalabad, the provincial capital because they were unable to abide by these brutal laws and tolerate the atrocities. Following is a short story which a person told in anonymity about the excessive brutalities perpetrated by ISK in Achin.
“We all flocked outside after Friday prayer, according to announcement in sermon. They brought seven detainees belong to Emirates a Taliban group, Afghan national Army member and spies. All were covered with black ski masks. Meanwhile, an ISIS militant rode on a trained horse, having sharp sword in hands and reached to the spot. He decapitated all of them and shouted “Allah ho Akbar”. With the sound of Allah ho Akbar, we all scattered like flies in the air and no one knows what happened. But later on it was realized by people who delivered us to hospital that the place was targeted by a US drone. Many people were injured, and the ISIS militant who was beheading the prisoners was burned by drone attack. I still have the scene in my mind which has really affected me mentally and can’t take out those thuds of the sword from my mind when he was beheading those innocent people”.
Furthermore, they knelt innocent elders of the Shenwari nation belong to the same district on the bombs accused of in affiliation to the Taliban. A gruesome video also uploaded by them to the YouTube. These kind of brutal acts were the routine of everyday in Daesh or ISK controlled areas.
Afghan Commando assisted by US special forces have been fighting with the ISK in Achin for the last few years and have made significant progress contributing to the liberation of some villages but there are speculations that united states itself is assisting this militant group and supplying food and weapons to them through helicopters which has put the Afghans in doubt. US dropped the ” mother of all bombs” – the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal formally known as GBU-43/B massive ordnance air blast on 13 April 2017 on ISIS Khorasan cave complex in Achin district, Ningarhar. According to a statement from the United States military in Afghanistan, the bomb hit a tunnel complex but they didn’t say how many militants were killed or whether the bombing caused any civilian casualties. The fact is that it was only an experience of their conventional bomb which is clear from the following statement of the Ex-president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai:
“This is not the war on terror but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons”. This claim of Ex-president was further forged by the locals of Achin who stated that there was neither weapons depot nor any single ISIS fighter in the targeted region.
Currently Achin district has been cleared by Afghan Forces from this group but there are opportunities of their return to the region. Afghan Forces should show their strong presence, build the region and rehabilitate former militants. We are the veterans of many regions where US and Afghan forces have operated and lost hundreds of their soldiers for clearing the region but have left the region vulnerable to the insurgents return. Moreover, America should equip Afghan forces with sophisticated weapons to counter these threats. Afghan National Directorate can play a vital role in the dissolution of this group by infiltration of their own spies in disguise.
Moreover, in comparison to ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which have oil resources of about $2 billion and financed by different Arab states, this group is very much dependent on local revenues and neighboring state Pakistan. Pakistan may not be able to support two insurgent groups-Taliban and ISK-simultaneously for a single goal. And the so called jihad vacuum is also filled by Taliban which never want any rival jihadi group in Afghanistan.
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