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Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad: A faithful follower of al-Qaeda from Central Asia

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Jihadists Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad

The ideology of al-Qaeda, based on anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views, is finding more followers among the Jihadi-Salafi groups from Central Asia who consider it their honorable mission to continue the fighting path of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

One of the strong supporters of al-Qaeda is the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, which consists of the militants of Central Asia, mostly Uzbeks of the Fergana Valley. It should be noted that this group was created by a native of southern Kyrgyzstan Abu Saloh (real name Sirojiddin Mukhtarov) in 2014 in Syria, which united the breakaway fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Katibat Imam al Bukhari and Turkestan Islamic Party.

The Al-Qaeda backed Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad is affiliated with the rebel group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and is currently fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Idlib province of Syria. Today, Abu Saloh’s militants are the most combat-ready and well-equipped group among the Central Asian Jihadi-Salafi groups in the Middle East. But not only the military power of this group represents the main threat to security and stability for the countries of post-Soviet Central Asia, Russia and Xinjiang of the Uygur Autonomous Region of China. The greatest danger comes from the ideological doctrine of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad and its ability to successfully spread the ideas of al-Qaeda on a global scale.

The leader of the group Abu Saloh, fluent in Uzbek, Uighur, Russian and Arabic, in the early 2000s received a theological education at the Islamic University of Al-Fatah al-Islamiya in Syria.It was there that he became an ideological supporter of al-Qaeda, deeply studied the theological works of Islamic scholars, the founders of the radical current of Salafism and Wahhabism Ibn Taymiyyah and Abd al-Wahhab.After graduating from university, he returned to Kyrgyzstan, worked as an assistant to the imam in one of the mosques in the Osh region.

The spiritual guide of Abu Saloh was the famous Islamic preacher in Central Asia Rashod Qori Kamolov, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for inciting religious discord and the possession and distribution of extremist materials.As a scientist, who studies the ideology of radical Islam, I met him several times and polemicized about the hostility of the ideology of Salafism and Wahhabism in our Ferghana Valley.It is very sad that the pupil of Rashod Qori Kamolov from the village of Kashkar-Kyshtak of Kyrgyzstan Abu Saloh chose the path of Islamic terrorism and extremism, for which he should be rightly punished before the law.

Leader of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Abu Saloh

The persistent study of the Wahhabi literature and love of the Salafi ideology led him back to Syria in 2012, and he joined the terrorist group Katibat Imam al Bukhari.Thanks to his profound knowledge of the Koran, oratory and leadership skills, Abu Saloh quickly rose through the ranks, became a spiritual mentor of the Mujahideen. In battles with the Syrian government troops, he was wounded in the eye and treated in the city of Gaziantep in Turkey. In the fall of 2014, Abu Saloh decided to withdraw from the Katibat Imam al Bukhari and organized his own group, which he named Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad.The new group included citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and some Uighurs of Western China, which became a structural unit of al Qaeda backed Jabhat al Nusra.

Every day, through the group’s website and via online social media services Telegram, Facebook, VK, Odnoklassniki and YouTube, Abu Saloh actively disseminates his public speeches, audio and video clips,which include stories of the military battles of Uzbek militants in Syria. On the channel Telegram under the nick name Jihod Shomali (Wind of Jihad), Tavhid Xabarlari (News of Tawhid), Abu Salohdarsliklari (Lectures of Abu Saloh), Saad Muhtor, Golos Shama (Voice of Sham), more than 200 audio and video sermons of Abu Salokhaare disseminated with the call to jihad. His secure personal page in Telegram has several thousand followers.His encrypted personal page in Telegram has several thousand followers.

After conducting a comprehensive analysis of audio and video public performances of Abu Saloh, as an expert on the radicalization of the ideology of Islam, I must note that he has a deep religious erudition, knows by heart the Quran’s Ayats and the hadith of Imam al-Bukhari.He brightly and emotionally expresses his thoughts, confidently holds among the crowd and is able to inspire a new generation of Mujahideen to suicide attacks.

It is known that the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad organized three explosions in different parts of the world with the help of suicide bombers.The first time he used the 19-year-old Uzbek youth Babur Israilov from Jalal-Abad in southern Kyrgyzstan as Shaheed, when in the fall of 2015 in the Syrian city Al-Fu’ah he blew up an armored car stuffed with explosives behind enemy lines.The second time he chose a Uighur militant (his name is unknown, but he had a fake passport in the name of Tajik citizen ZoirKhalilov) for the suicide attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan in August 2016.The third victim was Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, an ethnic Uzbek from Osh Kyrgyzstan who blew up the St. Petersburg metro in April 2017, during which 14 passengers were killed and about 50 people were injured.

Now Abu Saloh has become a fanatical follower of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, an ardent propagandist of al-Qaeda ideology and the most wanted terrorist in the post-Soviet space.Thanks to oratory he has no equal among the leaders of terrorist groups from Central Asia in the scale and effectiveness of the propagation of the ideology of al-Qaeda.Bin Laden remains the hero and martyr for the leader of the Uzbek jihadists, and Al-Qaeda’s strategy and tactics uses them as a model in the fight against the “crusaders” of the West.In ideological work, Abu Saloh adopted the style, methods and forms of submitting information al-Qaeda, so that Uzbek jihadists are now on the front flank of the global jihad.Today, after the fall of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the number of ISIS supporters in Central Asia has declined markedly, but Abu Saloh successfully continues to recruit new volunteers for the ranks of al-Qaeda.Below we consider some ideological fragments from the public statements of the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, which are directed against the US, Israel and Russia.

Jihad as Bin Laden’s Covenant

In his public speeches, audio and video materials, Abu Saloh emphasizes the continuation of the jihad against the Jews, Christians and political regimes of Central Asia.

For example, in one of the speeches, called “The Ayats and Hadiths calling for Jihad”, Abu Saloh says: “Islam is the purest religion in the world. Before namaz we do Ghusl (the full-body ritual purification mandatory before the Namaz) and Wudu (the Islamic procedure for washing parts of the body, a type of ritual purification), spiritually and physically purified. Namaz is done only in a clean place. Therefore, we try to ensure that there is no garbage at home. The house of a Muslim must always be clean and tidy. Today in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are based the military of the US and Russia. They polluted these countries. Our task is to purify the sacred land of Islam from “garbage”. We must drive out infidels from Islamic territories. America is a big country, it has modern nuclear missiles, airplanes and powerful military equipment.It is difficult to compete with America in an open battle. But we rely on Allah. And who is stronger? Of course, Allah! Faith in Allah makes us stronger than the enemy. Therefore, we are conducting a jihad against the Crusaders in Afghanistan and Sham. This is our sacred duty to Allah.”

These words of Abu Saloh logically develop the thought of Ayman al-Zawahiri that America is the first enemy of Muslims around the globe. As already known, in a statement distributed by at-Tamkin Media on March 20, 2018, the al Qaeda leader Zawahiri tries to rally jihadists and other Muslims around the idea of striking the US. “The Mujahidin will defeat America – Allah permitting – for the sake of Allah, and the scholars working and the sincere makers of dua’ and the united Ummah under the banner of Tawhid [monotheism]”, said al-Qaeda’s leader.As we see, Zawahiri’s appeal to wage jihad against America was supported by the leader of Uzbek militants Abu Saloh.

Uzbek fighters training in Syria

Jihad in Syria opens the way to Palestine

The subject of jihad Abu Saloh further developed in his speech, which is called “Why we do make jihad in Syria?”.He says: “If they ask why you are doing jihad in Syria? Why do not you do jihad in Central Asia, where many innocent Muslims are imprisoned?Allah neither in the Quran nor in the Ayats said that Muslims should do jihad only in their homeland.Osama bin Laden said that jihad in Afghanistan is a preparation for the liberation of the sacred land of Palestine.He argued that if there is no possibility of doing jihad at home, then Muslims should make Hijrah (the migration or journey of Muslims) to another country in order to better prepare for the jihad.We did not have the opportunity to wage jihad in Central Asia, and we made Hijrah in Afghanistan and Sham. Jihad in Sham is a preparation for the liberation of the fertile land of Palestine and Central Asia from infidels.In Sham we undergo real combat training. Here we learned how to make bombs, shoot down enemy planes, operate tanks and ruthlessly beat in the heart of the enemy. At home, we would not have the opportunity to learn this.We are ready to free Palestine from the Jews. We’ll go there. It’s only a matter of time”.

Abu Saloh also said: “The center of the Umayyad Caliphate was Sham, where we today are involved in jihad. The Umayyad Caliphate brought Islam to Central Asia in the 7th century. Today the descendants of the Umayyads are in a difficult situation. Crusaders advance on the land of Sham. We came here to help the descendants of the Umayyads and conduct jihad against the enemies of Islam. We fulfill our duty to the Umayyads, who have opened our hearts to Allah Most High.”

These words of Abu Saloh synchronously repeat the main idea of Bin Laden and Zavahiri about the need for “the liberation of Palestine and the destruction of the Zionist regime of Israel.”In January 2009, Osama bin Laden declared a “holy war” against Israel, planned to release Palestine from the Jordan River to the sea.”We do not recognize a single piece of Jewish land in the territory of Palestine,” he said.

The fate of Palestine remains the main theme in the speeches of Ayman al Zawahiri, who he is trying to inspire a new generation of Islamists to jihad against the US-led ‘Zionist-crusaders’ alliance.Their appeal was heard by the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad Abu Saloh, who continued the general line of Al Qaeda to liberate the Palestinian lands from the “oppression of Satan”.He added to the list also Central Asia, which should be part of the future Islamic Caliphate.

Is jihad ended in Syria?

In his public Da’wah (preaching of Islam), audio and video performances, Abu Saloh often criticize religious leaders and imams of Central Asia for “they betrayed Islam and serve the interests of official authorities”. So, in one of the speeches, called “Is jihad over in Syria concluded?” he said that “the leaders of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are losing their faith. They are propagating heresy and are promoting apostasy.”

Abu Saloh says: “Some muftis of Central Asia call the Mujahideens who are fighting in Sham “strayed” and claim that the time of Jihad has passed.But they are telling lies. Because the time of Jihad is just beginning. I want to remind them of a story from Hadith.After the conquest of Mecca and Medina, the Sahabahs (Companions) were asked by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to lay down their arms, unsaddle their horses and return home.In their opinion, they defeated the enemies of Islam and the time of jihad ended.And then the Prophet Muhammad answered them that jihad did not end, it is just beginning.Today, those who call the Mujahideen “strayed” and urge them to return home, oppose the will of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).They will burn for their sins in hell. Only with the sword we can spread Islam in the world and protect it from the attacks of the Crusaders”.

His assertion that the jihad has not ended in Syria is clearly synchronized with the thoughts of Ayman al Zawahiri.The continuation of jihad in Syria is important for the further mobilization of the Salafi-Jihadi groups around alQaeda since its fundamental ideology is built on the concept of jihad against the “infidels”.The al Qaeda emir emphasized, that “Levant today is the hope of the Muslim ummah (worldwide community of Muslims),” and urged to continue the jihad to establish the “rightly guided caliphate.”

The US levers against Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad

As this analysis has shown, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, despite its young age, has already taken the leading position among the Salafi-jihadi groups to expand the influence and spread the ideology of Al Qaeda in the Central Asian region.The main role in this belongs to the leader of the group Abu Saloh, who with his emotional lectures successfully continues to recruit young militants into the ranks of regional branches of Al-Qaeda.As a religious disciple of Ayman al Zawahiri, he is loyal to Al-Qaeda, actively fighting the enemies of Islam, not only with weapons in Syria, but also waging an ideological war against the influence of the West.

The sermons of Abu Saloha pose a greater danger than the fighting of all marginal jihadist groups from Central Asia that are in jihad in Syria and Afghanistan.Because he as a successful propagandist of Salafism, managed to infect thousands and thousands of people in the Ferghana Valley with the ideology of Al-Qaeda, win a huge audience and inspire them to wage jihad against the United States, Russia and the secular regimes of Central Asia.This means that al-Qaeda has recently significantly strengthened its global network in Central Asia and created clandestine resources that can be mobilized in case of local needs and emergencies.In the event of an aggravation of the political, economic, social and religious situation, the younger generation of al-Qaeda supporters raised in the sermons of Abu Saloh can destabilize the entire region.

Recently, the US State Department designated Central Asian jihadist group Katibat Imam al Bukhari to the list of global terrorist organizations.Given that Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad poses a threat to US interests in the Middle East and Central Asia, the US authorities should consider including it also in the list of global terrorist organizations.I know that such measures on the part of the US are very effective and sobering for the Central Asian jihadist groups.After being designated as a terrorist group the activity of Katibat Imam al Bukhari significantly decreased, even afterhe had to publish a special exculpatory statement in his defense.Because of possible pin-point US air strikes, many jihadist groups from Central Asia try not to get on the list of the US State Department.

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Towards Increasingly Complex Multipolarity: Scenario for the Future

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A “New World Order” (NWO) is emerging before everyone’s eyes, said Aleksandr Fomin, Russian Deputy Defense Minister, in an interview for RT earlier this month. He is quoted by the outlet as saying that:

“Today we are witnessing the formation of a new world order. We see a tendency for countries to be drawn into a new Cold War, the states being divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’, with ‘them’ unambiguously defined in doctrinal documents as adversaries. The existing system of international relations and the security framework is being systematically destroyed. The role of international organizations as instruments of collective decision-making in the field of security is being diminished. Fundamentally new types of weapons that radically change the balance of power in the modern world are emerging, with warfare getting into new areas – into space and cyberspace. This, of course, leads to a change in the principles and methods of war.”

He did not elaborate any further beyond that but it is still possible to make some reasonable conjectures about the NOW’s contours based on empirical evidence to speculate about possible implications.

Strategic Backdrop

The processes described by the Deputy Minister can be attributed to a combination of Trump’s US-Chinese trade war that provoked a new Cold War mostly between those two great powers—or “superpowers” according to some—and a World War C, the full-spectrum paradigm-changing processes catalyzed by the world’s uncoordinated attempts to contain COVID-19. The former resulted in purging the U.S. permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (the “deep state”) of any pragmatic Chinese-friendly influence as well as comprehensively redirecting the might of the American military more fully against the People’s Republic. This second-mentioned observation made it all but impossible for the supposedly Chinese-friendly Democrats to reverse Trump’s grand strategic designs following Biden’s inauguration, which is why they, too, have finally jumped onto the anti-Chinese bandwagon.

As for the World War C, it exacerbated the already intense global competition between the U.S. and China, thereby putting additional pressure on American policymakers to pioneer a strategic breakthrough designed to give them an edge over their top global rival. The specifics of their strategic calculations can only be speculated upon, but it is apparently the case that the previously Russophobic Democrats have recently engaged much more pragmatically with Russia over the past month. This is evidenced by the seemingly surprising de-escalation in Ukraine back in late April from the brink of what many thought would be an all-out war between the two, the U.S. equally surprising decision to impose mostly superficial sanctions on Nord Stream 2, the Pentagon spokesman’s unexpected declaration that Russia is not an “enemy” as well as the upcoming Putin-Biden Summit—despite the U.S. leader previously calling the Russian President a “killer”.

Strategic Designs of the “Deep State”

The Democrats—or rather the “deep state” forces behind them—evidently realized the strategic wisdom of Trump’s grand vision of repairing relations with Russia so that the U.S. can concentrate more fully on “containing” China. This is not due to any newfound appreciation of the Eurasian great power, which many of them still hate with a passion on account of its pragmatic dealings with Trump and implementation of conservative policies that contradict the much more liberal approach preferred by American elites, but due to simple pragmatism countering the geostrategic consequences of Trump’s previous four years of global disruptions. With the U.S. military-industrial complex (MIC) increasingly redirected towards “containing” China more than Russia, as is evident from the doctrines that were promulgated during Trump’s presidency and the subsequent shifts in policies, the “deep state” basically had no other choice but continue the course, no matter how begrudgingly.

This explains the expectation that Bidenэs EU trip will lead to a comparative improvement of relations with Russia, even if only resulting in each of their “deep states” regulating their comprehensive competition with one another more responsibly. Russia would receive a relative relief in pressure along its Western flank while the U.S. could redirect more of its military-strategic focus from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to the “Indo-Pacific”. The continuation of the Obama-era “Pivot to Asia” under the Trump and Biden Administrations is proven by both of their moves to reduce the U.S. military-strategic commitments in West Asia (Syria/Iraq) and Central-South Asia (Afghanistan). Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was rather unexpected, considering the Democrats’ prior opposition to any of Trump’s policies, but only speaks to how they have been compelled by the circumstances to revise their grand strategic outlook.

The Eurasian “Balancing” Act

The arguably emerging NWO will be characterized by plenty of “balancing”, especially as regards Russian, Turkish, Indian, and Chinese grand strategies in Eurasia:

Russia

The Eurasian great power will seek to optimize its Afro-Eurasian “balancing” act between West and East, the former comprising the U.S./EU while the latter encompassing China vis-a-vis BRI; India with respect to the possibility of jointly leading a New Non-Aligned Movement (Neo-NAM); Turkey insofar as managing their “friendly competition” especially in West Asia, the South Caucasus, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), and perhaps soon in Central Asia as well; and Africa when it comes to scaling up the export of Moscow’s “democratic security” solutions to hybrid war-threatened states.

Turkey

The West Asian great power will double down on its “Middle Corridor” to China via the South Caucasus, Caspian Sea and Central Asia (made all the more viable after its Azerbaijani ally’s victory in last year’s Karabakh War); expand the aforementioned to more closely connect with its Pakistani ally via a revival of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor; further entrench itself in Northern Syria; leverage its Muslim Brotherhood allies for the purpose of expanding its ideological influence throughout the international Muslim community; and continue making inroads in Africa and CEE (especially through arms sales).

India

The South Asian great power will attempt to use Russia and the U.S. as “balancing” partners for preventing disproportionate dependence on China (though probably moving closer to Moscow than Washington in response to the latter’s recent pressure upon it via S-400 sanctions threats, negative media coverage of its government, violation of its exclusive economic zone and continued failure to reach a free trade deal); explore a detente of sorts with China for the sake of pragmatism; and revive the joint Indo-Japanese Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) to attract more (mostly Western) stakeholders to its campaign to economically compete with China across the Global South.

China

The East Asian great power will pursue the formation of a Chinese-Muslim bloc in the Eurasian Heartland by leveraging its strategic partnerships and planned W-CPEC+ connectivity with Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey (which might extend as far as Syria and also facilitate the latter three’s incipient plans to create their own Muslim bloc); increasingly rely on S-CPEC+ to expand Chinese-African connectivity via Pakistan (thus importantly avoiding the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca); intensify trade relations with the RCEP states (especially the neighboring ASEAN); explore improving relations with India for pragmatic reasons (so as to avoid a US-provoked two-front war along their frontier and the South China Sea); and ultimately rally the entire Global South behind it via BRI.

Convergences & Contradictions

With the above insights in mind, it is important to point out some key convergences and contradictions:

Convergences

  • All four great powers are interested in economic connectivity, though India is still reluctant to join BRI and will likely remain that way, hence its desire to revive the AAGC and possibly even incorporate Russia into this trans-continental trade framework (focusing on the Arctic, Far East, ASEAN, and Africa);
  • Neither of these primary players has any interest in provoking instability, though Turkey’s efforts to expand its influence across the Ummah via its Muslim Brotherhood allies could prolong instability in West Asia and North Africa;
  • Each of them is also actively expanding their influence through regional institutions such as Russia’s Eurasian Union, Turkey’s Turkic Council, India’s BIMSTEC, and China’s BRI-linked structures, all of which could better coordinate if Turkey ever joins the SCO (since it is the only of the four nations that is not a SCO member).

Contradictions

-China’s growing economic influence in Central and West Asia could eventually displace Russia’s traditional and newfound role in those two regions, compelling Moscow to increasingly “accommodate” Beijing to gradually cede its current and envisioned leadership there to the People’s Republic;

-Russia is becoming worried that Turkey’s expansion of influence in Moscow’s traditional “spheres of influence” (South Caucasus and Central Asia) might become “unmanageable”, with the worst-case scenario resulting not in “accommodation” like with China but a more intensified trans-regional competition there;

-India’s predicted revival of the AAGC (including with some role for Russia even if in the Arctic and Far East only, as well as a leading role for the U.S.) will heighten China’s threat perception of the South Asian state if it succeeds in expanding its economic influence across the “Global South” and especially along Beijing’s borders.

American Schemes

This forecasted state of strategic affairs will facilitate certain divide-and-rule schemes by the U.S., which might:

-Intensify its information warfare against BRI all across the Global South in order to provoke color revolutions against Chinese-friendly governments there so as to deprive Beijing of the resources and markets that it requires to sustain its planned growth while perhaps also replacing its lost investments there with AAGC ones;

-Refocus its strategic partnership with India on the economically-driven AAGC as opposed to the military-led Quad in order to provide the South Asian great power with financial, leadership and organizational assistance that it requires to compete with China across the Global South and exploit the U.S. planned hybrid war gains there;

-Consider co-opting Turkey sometime in the future in order to leverage its newfound influence in Russia’s traditional spheres of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, thus provoking the earlier mentioned worst-case scenario of intensified competition in the region.

Eurasian Solutions

These speculative schemes can be preempted through the following ways:

-China must successfully convince its targeted audience in the Global South that it is pioneering a truly new model of international relations that is much more beneficial for the majority of their people than that the U.S. seeks to retain (albeit through “Lead From Behind” reforms) even if it still takes time to materialize;

-China and India must seriously consider very difficult mutual compromises in order to restore the lost trust between them, especially in the economic-financial-tech spheres, in order to ensure that BRI and the AAGC converge rather than compete, heralding the best-case scenario of a “Renaissance 2.0”;

-Russia and Turkey must sustainably regulate their “friendly competition” through more than just the trust between their present leaders that has been responsible for managing this so far, necessitating some sort of institutionalized framework among them as well as the states within their overlapping “spheres of influence”.

Conditionals

The NWO that was described up until this point is disproportionately dependent on the following conditions:

-The U.S. and Russia successfully beginning a new era of relations, whereby they sincerely intend to regulate their comprehensive competition more responsibly, with an aim towards eventually clinching a “new détente” that would prospectively consist of a series of mutual compromises all across Eurasia;

-India and Turkey continuing to “balance” between the U.S. and Russia so as to ensure their rise as great powers in an increasingly complex world order, which will in turn improve their strategic leverage vis-a-vis China and enable them to expand their envisioned “spheres of influence” more sustainably;

-China continuing to formulate its grand strategy under the unofficial influence of the Mao-era “Three Worlds Theory” wherein the People’s Republic as the largest developing (“Third World”) nation aims to consolidate its leadership over the Global South through win-win BRI deals that lead to a Community of Common Destiny.

Concluding Thoughts

Nobody seems to know for sure what sort of the NWO exactly Russian Deputy Defense Minister A. Fomin envisioned when he shared his thoughts about this with RT earlier in the month, but the present analysis attempted to compellingly make the case that this emerging scenario will represent a much more complex version of multipolarity than the current one. Trump’s U.S.-Chinese trade war, which in turn provoked the new Cold War between these two great powers, combined with the black swan event of a World War C to inspire the U.S. “deep state” to pragmatically recalibrate America’s grand strategy away from its hitherto unsuccessful attempts to simultaneously “contain” both Russia and China. The resultant outcome could fundamentally transform the geostrategic situation in Eurasia, both by providing the U.S. with new opportunities to divide and rule the supercontinent but also by giving Russia and China a chance to finally stabilize it in a sustainable way.

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UN: Revealing Taliban’s Strategic Ties with Al Qaeda and Central Asian Jihadists

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Afghan peace mediators

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan draws near, the region has been witnessing sudden adjustments. The Taliban have not only intensified assaults against the Afghan government forces and captured new territories but also began to demonstrate their regional ambitions to reduce Washington’s influence in Central and South Asia. As the US military has completed more than half of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban believe that they defeated America after 20 years of grueling war. The Taliban leaders, who were driven by the latest military successes, began further setting their own conditions for the neighbors and stepping on the toes of Washington in order to prevent the establishment of a new US military base in Central Asia.

On May 26, the Taliban issued a statement warning Afghanistan’s neighbors not to allow the US to utilize their territory and airspace for any future military operations against them. The Sunni Islamist jihadi group cautioned that facilitating US military operations by neighboring countries in the future will be a “great historical mistake and a disgrace that shall forever be inscribed as a dark stain in history.” They further emphasized that the presence of foreign forces is “the root cause of insecurity and war in the region.” The insurgent group strictly warned without elaborating that “the people of Afghanistan will not remain idle in the face of such heinous and provocative acts”. At the end of the statement, they exerted political pressure on the Central Asian states, threatening that “if such a step is taken, then the responsibility for all the misfortunes and difficulties lies upon those who commit such mistakes.”

Given the past experience of US military presence in the region, the Taliban’s threatening appeal is most likely addressed to the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.  After the 9/11 attacks the Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek governments hosted the American military to wage a campaign against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their Salafi-Jihadi subsidiaries. But virtually every US military base in Central Asia was suddenly expelled when the personal interests of the regional authoritarian leaders have been infringed upon. Uzbekistan expelled the US base from Karshi-Khanabad amid strong political disagreements over a bloody 2005 crackdown on protesters in Andijan. The Dushanbe and Kulob airports in Tajikistan were used very briefly by the NATO forces. The US base at the Bishkek airport in Kyrgyzstan also was closed in 2014 under heavy Russian hands. It is no secret that following the expel of US military bases, some political leaders of Central Asia became skeptical of Washington, thus further perceiving it as an unreliable partner.

The Taliban’s warning to the Central Asian states is fully consistent with the strategic expectations of Al Qaeda, its loyal and faithful ideological partner in the global jihad, both of which jointly seek to push the US out not only from Afghanistan, but also from Central and Southeast Asia. Based on propaganda releases and the rhetoric on Telegram channels, the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups which are linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, strongly supported the withdrawal of US forces from the region. Consequently, Uighur and Uzbek jihadists potentially see the Taliban and Al Qaeda as powerful parent organizations, whose resurgence in Afghanistan offers major advantages for their military and political strengthening. Unsurprisingly, Al Qaeda and Taliban aims to oust the US forces from the region, hence playing into the hands of Moscow and Beijing, considering that both unlikely to welcome an increased US military presence in their backyard.

Taliban leaders are well aware that the possible deployment of US military assets in Central Asia will impede their strategic goal in rebuilding the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Today Washington is actively working with nations surrounding Afghanistan on the deployment of its troops to support Afghan forces “over the horizon” after withdrawal from the country on September 11. The US air support for the Afghan military could thwart Taliban plans to quickly seize Kabul and force them to sit at the negotiating table with the Ashraf Ghani administration. The Taliban have consistently and clearly emphasized in their numerous public statements opposing the negotiation and power share with the Kabul regime. They consider themselves the only and undeniable military-political force that has the right to rule the country in accordance with Sharia law. The Taliban jihadists are determined to continue waging jihad until establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and their emir, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, becomes the country’s “lawful ruler”.

On June 6, 2021, the Taliban once again appealed to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan “to resolve their border issues through a dialogue” and “seeking a logical solution that would benefit both sides.” Recall, during the two-day border conflict between the armed forces of the two post-Soviet countries at the end of April, more than 50 people were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands were forced to leave their homes. In its statement, the Taliban, called on Tajik and Kyrgyz leaders to value “the peace and security of their respective nations.” According to the local analysts, Taliban’s “peace-aiming appeal” looks like a mockery of the Afghan people suffering from their bloody jihad.

Taliban’s “Soft Power” Under Construction

The question to be posed is what kind of leverage does the Taliban has with the Central Asian states to put pressure on them in preventing the possible deployment of new US military bases in the region?

The Taliban, an insurgent Islamist group that has yet to come to power, does not have any economic or political leverage over the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. But it is imperative to mention that the Taliban holds “soft power” tools, such as Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist groups affiliated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These groups challenged the region’s secular regimes, hence aiming to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the densely populated Fergana Valley, sandwiched between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

It is no secret that the Central Asian post-Soviet countries consider the Al Qaeda-linked Uzbek and Uighur Sunni Salafi-Jihadi groups hiding in Taliban-controlled Afghan soil as a threat to the security of the entire region. Recall, the first group of radical Islamists from Central Asia who found refuge in Afghanistan in the mid-90s was the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which had close and trusting ties with both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Currently, Uighur fighters of Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) from China’s Xinjiang, Uzbek militant groups such as Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and Tajik militants of Jamaat Ansarullah (JA) wage jihad in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s umbrella.

The Taliban still strongly support Uzbek and Uighur jihadists despite the 2020 US-Taliban peace agreement that requires the Taliban to sever ties with Al Qaeda and all Central Asian terrorist groups.

In response to documentary evidence of the UN Security Council and the US Defense Intelligence Agency on the Taliban’s close-knit relationship with Al Qaeda and their failure to fulfill the obligation, the Taliban have adopted new tactics to publicly deny the presence of transnational terrorist groups in the country and their ties to them. The Taliban still insist that there are no foreign fighters in the country. But regular UN reports reveal the true face of the Taliban, who are trying to hide their deep network links with Al Qaeda and Central Asian Islamists — a decades-old relationship forged through common ideology and a history of joint jihad.

Thus, a recently released report by the UN Security Council’s Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Team confirms that there are “approximately between 8,000 and 10,000 foreign terrorist fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus and China’s Xinjiang in Afghanistan. Although the majority are affiliated foremost with the Taliban, many also support Al Qaeda.” The UN report stated that Uzbek and Uighur jihadists’ ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda remain “strong and deep as a consequence of personal bonds of marriage and shared partnership in struggle, now cemented through second generational ties.” Further the UN monitoring team revealed Al Qaeda’s core strategy of “strategic patience,” according to which the group would wait for “a long period of time before it would seek to plan attacks against international targets again.”

According to the report, “several hundred Uighur jihadists of Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) located primarily in Badakhshan and neighboring Afghan provinces, whose strategic goal is to establish an Islamic Uighur state in Xinjiang, China.” To achieve its goal, TIP facilitates the movement of fighters from Afghanistan and Syria to China. Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, who is a member of Al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, leads the Syrian and Afghan branches of TIP for more than two decades. According to the UN monitoring group, “Uighur militant Hajji Furqan, the TIP’s deputy emir, is also a deputy leader of Al Qaeda and responsible for the recruitment of foreign fighters.” Such mixed appointments of group leaders highlight the close and deep ties between the troika: Taliban-Al Qaeda-TIP.

The UN report found more evidence of close cooperation between Uzbek IMU jihadists and the Taliban. The report stated that the “IMU fighters are currently based in Faryab, Sar-e Pol and Jowzjan provinces, where they dependent on the Taliban for money and weapons”. The UN monitoring team also highlighted the activities of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups such as KIB, IJU and Jundullah, which are waging jihad in the northern Afghan provinces of Faryab and Kunduz under Taliban shelter and control. “The Taliban has forbidden these groups from launching independent operations, resulting in a reduction of their income.” In conclusion, UN analysts noted that pressure on the Taliban to cut their ties with Al Qaeda and Central Asian Salafi groups has not succeeded. Thus, the UN report once again refuted the Taliban’s assertion that Al Qaeda and Central Asian jihadists are not present in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Thus, it can be assumed that while US military pressure persists, the Taliban’s tactics will continue to publicly deny their trust relationships and close ties with Al Qaeda, Central Asian jihadists, and other transnational terrorist groups in the country. But as long as the Taliban’s perception of its own level of influence and control in Afghanistan remains high, insurgents will continue to insist that they are abiding by the accord with the US.

The Taliban’s strategy is to build the foundation of their “soft power” through the patronage and protection of Al Qaeda and Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups in Afghanistan. Thus, in this complex process, not only material interests, but also common religious roots originating in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic theology and mutual sympathy for jihadist ideological visions might play a significant role.

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Cyber-attacks-Frequency a sign of Red Alert for India

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The biggest target is in terms of transportations, nuclear power plants, Power system Operation Corporation Limited, V.O. Chidambaram Port Trust, Telangana State Load Dispatch Centre, logistic industries and research organisations which eventually can lead to destruction of the whole ecosystem. The confidentiality breach in the case of medical data leak as reported by a German cyber security firm –Greenbone Sustainable Resilience wherein Picture Archiving and Communication Servers were linked to public internet without any requisite protection is a point of concern. Then, there are certain individualistic attacks such as hacking email and financial crimes (banking), etc. In the last two years the attacks radar of focus has been defence, government accounts and the vaccine manufacturing companies.

Cyber Security – Individualistic awareness need of the hour

The target of the individual in a peculiar case which led to heinous crimes casted was due to opening of a document which was a bait to install Netwire- a malware. The bait was eventually delivered through a file and what prompted a person to open that link was a Drop box sent to him on his email was actually opening a Pandora Box of malicious command and control server. An emphasis to understand the technicality that Netwire stands for a malware which gives control of the infected system to an attacker. This in turn paves way for data stealing, logging keystrokes and compromise passwords. In the similar vein the Pegasus used the tactic to infiltrate the user’s phones in 2019.

Cyber Security – Attacking Power Distribution Systems

The intrusions by Chinese hacker groups in October, 2020 as brought out by Recorded Future was done through Shadow Pad which opens a secret path from target system to command and control servers. And, the main target is sectors such as transportation, telecommunication and energy .And , there are different tags that are being used by the Chinese Espionage Industry such as APT41, Wicked Spider and Wicked Panda , etc.

The institutions backing legitimisation

The Institutions which are at working under the cyber security surveillance are the National Security Council and National Information Board headed by National Security Adviser helping in framing India’s cyber security policy .Then, in 2014 there is the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre under the National Technical Research Organisation mandating the protection of critical information infrastructure. And, in 2015 the National Cyber Security Coordinator advises the Prime Minister on strategic cyber security issues. In the case of nodal entity , India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) is playing a crucial role under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MEITY).But, there is a requirement of clarity in National Cyber Security Policy of 2013 and the needed updates desired in it respectively.

A cohesive approach – Data Protection and Privacy Importance

The Data privacy i.e. the personal data protection bill is an important imperative in which services of private actors can be bridged through a concerned law which is missing link in that sense. The point of Data localisation falls squarely within this dimension of Section 40 and 41 of the draft bill where in the Indian stakeholders have the capacity to build their own data centres .In this contextualisation there also a need to understand certain technicalities involved in terms of edge computing which in a way is enabling the data to be analysed, processed, and transferred at the edge of a network. An elaboration to this is the data is analysed locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without delay. The Edge computing distributes processing, storage, and applications across a wide range of devices and data centres which make it difficult for any single disruption to take down the network. Since more data is being processed on local devices rather than transmitting it back to a central data centre, edge computing also reduces the amount of data actually at risk at any one time. Whereas on the other hand, there is insistence on data localisation has paved the way for companies such as Google Pay to adhere to the policy and synchronise their working with the United Payments Interface (UPI).

What do you understand by Data Share?

In the recent case of WhatsApp privacy issue and drawing in parallel other organisation a similar platform such as Facebook and Google shared the data to the third party with a lopsided agreement and with continuance of the data trade business industry. In 1996 the internet was free so was perceived as carte blanche , a safe harbour falling under the Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act in the United States but with the evolution of the circumstances the laws in that specifications are also required to change in that respect. In relations to the Indian law under the Information Technology Act, 2000 under the Section 69 the Indian government has the powers to monitor and decrypt any information that’s store in any computer resource but on certain conditions such as in regards to the sovereignty, defence and security of the country.

Cyber-attacks understanding on the International Forums

In terms of Lieber Code of Conduct of 1863 or be it Hague Convention of 1899 there is a need of updating the definitions and where in the cyber army falling under the categorisation  of civilians , not possessing any of the warfare weapons cause the main weapon that they possess is a malware which is invisible but can have deep repercussions leading to destruction of that particular economy altogether .So, in recent evolving circumstances there is an undue importance to for the target country to respond with equal force and having a right to self-defence in this manner regardless of the attack being from a non-state actor from a third country and masquerading under the civilian garb .Henceforth , there a thorough understanding of the complex environment that one is dealing with , there is undue emphasis to change and respectively update with the current world.

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