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

Uran Botobekov

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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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Top Uzbek Jihadist Leader Suffers for Loyalty to Al Qaeda

Uran Botobekov

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Well-known Uzbek jihadist leader Abu Saloh

The recent arrest of a well-known Uzbek jihadist leader Abu Saloh al Uzbeki (Sirajuddin Mukhtarov) by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and thereafter resumption of armed clashes between former and current al Qaeda’s jihadi formations in northwest Syria in June 2020 will directly affect the activities of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), dozens were killed during an armed clash between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), former al Qaeda’s strongest branch in Syria, and the newly formed alliance led by current al Qaeda’ s-affiliate Hurras al-Din (HD).

It should be noted that on June 16, 2020, the HTS arrested the fierce ideologist of al Qaeda and former emir of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) Abu Saloh, which caused tension among Russian-speaking militants in Sham and raised eyebrows of the global Salafi-Jihadi movement. A week later, on June 22, the HTS arrested its former senior commander, member of the group’s Shura Council Abu Malek al-Talli, accusing him of fomenting division, insurrection and disarray after his new faction Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar helped establish an al Qaeda-leaning operations room in Idlib.

The cruelty of the HTS’ repressive apparatus towards its former members and the armed clashes between jihadist groups in Idlib was caused by the creation of the new Joint Operations Center Fathbutou (Be Steadfast) on 12 June 2020, which included al Qaida-inspired “hardliners” such as HD, Jabhat Ansar al-Din (JaD), Tansiqiyat al-Jihad (TJ), Ansar al-Islam (AI) and Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar (LMA).

Militants of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad at training camp

Strengthening the position of al Qaeda’s allies seriously undermined the HTS’ stance in the northwestern Idlib province, where it rules over the local Salvation Government with an iron hand and where it established so-called Sharia rule. In order to maintain its status quo and keep dominant position over other rebel groups, HTS began large-scale arrests of those jihadists who broke away from its “Clear Victory Operations Room” and joined al Qaeda-linked Fathbutou Operations Center. At the personal instruction of the HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Joulani the KTJ’s former amir Abu Saloh and its dissenting commander Abu Malek al-Talli were arrested.

If the arrest of Abu Malek al-Talli was seen as an intra-group showdown, the arrest of Abu Saloh caused a broad resonance among al Qaeda members in Central Asia and the Middle East, and it was widely reported in the Arabic, English and Russian press. The US FDD’s Long War Journal devoted twoarticles in a row to the Abu Saloh’s arrest and carefully assessed his Jihadi activity, with one exception. The Washington-based hawkish think tank, for some reason, never mentions the fact that Abu Saloh and his KTJ fighters swore allegiance (bayat) to al Qaeda, and that the main reason for Abu Saloh’s conflict with HTS and his current dissident demarche is related to his unwillingness to break the bayat to al Qaeda.

But some Arab and Russian media were also inaccurate in assessing the reasons for his arrest. Especially Russian experts on the Telegram channel, referring to Zaman alWasl, the Syrian outlet close to HTS, claimed that Abu Saloh was arrested for financial debts (over$ 60,000) to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

KTJ jihadists attack the Syrian Army in Saraqib city, February 2020

However, such a simplistic and superficial assessment neglects to analyze the complex processes taking place inside the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups and the influence of al Qaeda’s ideology on them. The true reasons for Abu Saloh’s demonstrative demarche, who defied Syria’s most powerful militant faction, are due to his ideological differences with HTS and the dominance of al Qaeda’s global ideology among Uzbek and Uyghur Islamists.

Abu Saloh’s radical supporters see the future of Holy Jihad not only within the framework of only one state, as the HTS in Syria does. They are seriously worried about the future of global Jihad in the event of the fall of Syria’s last bastion of resistance if the Assad regime were to succeed in retaking the Idlib province entirely.

In his Jummah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) speeches, he urges jihadists not to “get stuck” in one place, but “to rush to the aid of those Muslims where they need the help of the Warriors of Allah.” That is, his views on global jihad are compatible with the ideological doctrine of al Qaeda.

Abu Saloh’s position on the problem of Jerusalem is identical with al Qaeda. He believes that the Al-Aqsa Mosque can only be liberated with the help of jihad. He claimed that after the victory of jihad in Syria, their path will be directed to Palestine.

Abu Saloh Between Two Fires: Al Qaeda and HTS

Under the Abu Saloh leadership, KTJ grew out of an unobtrusive regional group into a formidable and tough member of the global Salafi-Jihadi movement. KTJ, created by him in 2013, consists of Central Asian militants, mostly Uzbeks and Kyrgyz from the Ferghana Valley.

In early 2015, Abu Saloh and his militants swore allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. In September 2015, however, KTJ rejoined the al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusrah Front (NF) as part of Al Nusrah’s efforts to consolidate various foreign groups inside Syria. Since that period, HTS has become a combat mentor of KTJ’s Uzbek militants. During this time Abu Saloh demonstrated his brilliant ability to successfully spread the al Qaeda ideology on a global scale. He was and remained a faithful and aggressive propagandist of the Jihadi idea into Central Asia.

His ideological disagreements with HTS’s predecessor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)began after it publicly distanced itself from al Qaeda, its original parent organization. Although Abu Saloh never openly criticized the Jihadi line of HTS and its leader Julani, he regularly defended the ideological views of al Qaeda’s former and current leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. And, of course, Julani, from whom Ayman al-Zawahiri openly demanded further submission to al Qaeda, did not like Saloh’s step out of HTS line

Abu Saloh’s growing authority beyond HTS and his close contacts with prominent ideologists of global Jihadism, such as Abu Qatada al-Falastini, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and others also irked Julani. Dissatisfied with his arrogant ideological behavior, HTS decided to remove Abu Saloh from the leadership of KTJ. According to the UN, in April 2019, Abdul Aziz Uzbeki (Khikmatov), a native of the Fergana Valley and deputy leader of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in Afghanistan, was elected the new leader of KTJ.

The intrigues and regional division of jihadists within KTJ also played an important role in the resignation of Abu Saloh. Being a native of southern Kyrgyzstan with Uighur roots, he was considered a “stranger” among jihadists from Uzbekistan, who make up the majority of KTJ. Together with him some jihadists from Kyrgyzstan left KTJ’s leadership.

After his resignation, he actively conducted a preaching mission for Muhajireen (foreign fighters) in Idlib, becoming the ideological mouthpiece of Central Asian jihadism. In his public speeches, he was even more deeply imbued with the ideas of al Qaeda. His Telegram channel has the largest audience among other jihadist figures of post-Soviet countries. He combined the image of a conservative Imam and a modern lecturer with stylish glasses, drawing complex diagrams of the Quran’s Surahs and Ayahs on the blackboard.

Under HTS pressure, the new KTJ leadership continued to further reduce the role of Abu Saloh when his preaching responsibilities were transferred to the new Uzbek imam, Ahluddin Navqotiy, who arrived from Turkey. From March 2020, his public audio and video performances and sermons gradually began to disappear from the KTJ’s website, which pushed him into the arms of al Qaeda.

In ideological friction between al Qaeda’s HD and HTS, which often developed into an armed clash, Abu Saloh sided with al Qaeda. On the sidelines, he supported HD’s demands handing over all of al-Qaida’s weapons from HTS to HD because Julani had broken his bayat to al Qaida. HD has consistently been at odds with HTS, criticizing the group for diluting the religion and monotheism (Tawhid), for adopting the Sochi ceasefire agreement and for establishing a modus vivendi with secular Turkey.

Amid Idlib’s local residents’ dissatisfaction with HTS policies that allowed the Russian patrols to enter the M4 highway, HD managed to convince more jihadists to join its ranks and attempted to lead a rebellion in northern Syria. Step News Agency has confirmed that Abu Saloh recently defected from HTS to Jabhat  Ansar al-Din alongside 50 other members of KTJ. HTS regarded such a step as a betrayal and arrested Abu Saloh and Abu Malek al-Talli.

After the arrest of “defectors”, the situation in Greater Idlib sharply escalated. Fathbutou slammed the arrests and accused HTS of betraying jihad and complying with the “secular” Astana agreement. HD captured checkpoints in the Harem, Armanaz, Kuku and Sheikh Bahr districts, and blocked traffic, demanding the release of the detainees. More than 30 people were killed as a result of the four-day clashes between HD and HTS.

Al Qaeda expressed its support for HD and the arrested pro-al Qaeda’s leaders, urging HTS’ jihadists not to fight against Fathbutou. Famous sheikhs Abu Qatada al Falastini, Abu Muhammad Al Makdisi, Sodik Abu Abdullah Al-Hashimi (Sudan) and others called on the conflicting parties to put down their weapons, stop the bloodshed and focus on the “revolution in Syria”. On June 26, HD and HTS signed an agreement to end the clashes, open all checkpoints, as well as unhindered exit of all civilians from conflict zone under the guarantees of Russian-speaking Jihadi groups Ajnad Al-Kavkaz and Jund Ash-Sham.

Despite the reached “peace” agreements, Abu Saloh still remains in prison.Abu Mohammad al-Julani put forward a condition in which Abu Saloh and his accomplices would be released if they rejoined the HTS. If they refuse, HTS promised to accuse Abu Saloh of embezzlement of money and property, and apostasy against the HTS.

In conclusion, his suffering for loyalty to al Qaeda and his “spiritual heritage” will have an important impact on the development of Jihadism in Central Asia, in spreading the al Qaeda’s ideology and in attracting young Muslims to the path of religious extremism.

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Future of U.S.-Russia Relations After The Bounty Reports

Nasir Muhammad

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A jaw-dropping intelligence story surfaced on 26th June, 2020, in the New York Times, telling that a specialized branch of the Russian Federation’s military intelligence agency GRU, Unit 29155, secretly offered bounties to affiliates of the Taliban inside Afghanistan for carrying out successful deadly attacks on the outgoing U.S. and allied forces there.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trump took to Twitter and called it a hoax and an effort aimed at damaging his reputation and that of the Republican Party especially at a time when the presidential election is just a few months away. Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, told NBC News in a video call that the story is a hundred per cent bullshi*– denying any such role played by Moscow. And the third, last, and most important party to rebuff these reports was the Taliban, who said they do adhere to the terms and conditions of the agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020.

After Donald Trump’s dismissal of the story as “fake,” other top officials of his administration such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’ Brian rushed to the defense of the president, calling the leaked intelligence assessment as “important and serious” but “unverified,” and thus not of the level to be shared with the president, at least verbally so.

Robert O’ Brian, especially, went so far, and perhaps inadvertently so, as to confess that they have actually been deliberating for months to prepare a list of potential responses to Moscow if they reached to the bottom of such reports, while refusing to answer when exactly did they first learn of such reports- further complicating things for the Trump administration in their denial of truth in the leaked intelligence assessment and their apparent unresponsiveness.

On the other hand, top democrats such as Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have accused Mr. Trump of “being soft on Vladimir Putin,” in the broader context though, and have further stressed that the particular reports be pursued relentlessly to ensure the safety of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Joe Biden, a strong democratic candidate in the US presidential race, called the revelation “shocking and horrifying” and, went so far, as to label President Trump’s entire existence in the Oval Office as a gift to Vladimir Putin.  

It is pertinent to mention here that following the late February 2020 U.S.-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar, the number of U.S. troops has just been reduced to around 8,600 from then 12,000. They are expected to witness a full withdrawal from the war ravaged country by mid-2021 if the Taliban shows a wholehearted adherence to the agreement on the ground. 

So far the U.S. alone has lost as much as 28 soldiers in various violent attacks in Afghanistan since 2019. Given the complex multiplicity of militant groups on the Afghan soil, it remains unclear as to which of these attacks were actually orchestrated under the influence and patronage of Moscow.

If the reports turn out to be true, it will have far reaching implications, irrespective of who wins the November 3, 2020 U.S. presidential election: Would it mean that Vladimir Putin wants the U.S. and allied forces to remain trapped in an unending war in Afghanistan, so that he could more aggressively pursue his country’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Europe and even North Africa and South America? Would it mean that Putin wants the U.S. and their partners to stay in the war torn country to actually continue doing his country a big favor- neutralizing and pre-empting the radical jihadist elements from proliferation and intrusion into the central Asian republics that has the potential of ultimately threatening Russia herself? Or, and finally, would it mean that Mr. Putin wants to settle his country’s score with the U.S. from the Soviet times and force the latter into a hasty and embarrassing pull out by unleashing paid mercenaries and Taliban affiliates onto her and her NATO allies?

The above questions do not have easy and quick answers, at least for now, owing to the lack of political stability and the greater number of warring factions and peace spoilers in Afghanistan, the capricious nature of the U.S.-Russia relations, and more importantly, the apparent inability, on part of both academic researchers and policy makers in the U.S. and Europe, in effectively and timely deciphering and predicting the foreign policy overtures of Russia due to Vladimir Putin’s apparently spectacular strategizing and policy-making prowess.

More important, if the reports are corroborated, will be to see how the U.S. will respond, or not respond at all. In the latter case, the U.S. as a superpower will be embarrassed globally and will likely lose the confidence of its allies and partners in terms of security guarantees. In the former case, Russia will more likely be slapped with some more biting targeted economic sanctions. Such a move, nonetheless, will have the potential to nudge Russia, often dubbed as a rogue state in the West, into further collaboration with other anti-America roguish states and violent non-state actors in the world, and creating further chaos and instability that no one can really afford. Then, the million dollar question that the Trump administration should try answering is, how to engage with the powerful bear?

According to a top U.S. based retired Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies, who preferred to remain anonymous, “The only real means that the U.S. really has is sanctions, since anything more is likely to lead to real conflict. However, given the nature and orientation of the current president in Washington and the multiple levels of domestic chaos in the U.S. at the present time, I doubt that anything will occur in the near future.”

Alienating Russia seems to be more disastrous than accommodating her and perhaps this is why Mr. Trump appears not to be too tough on Vladimir Putin. He has said at multiple times that “If we could all get along, that would be great.” The question is, at the cost of what?

Thus, Sir Winston Churchill stands vindicated once again when he called Russia “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Having said all of the above, it is believed that the ball really is in Russia’s court. If she avoids pursuing a belligerent foreign policy especially one vis-à-vis the U.S. in conflict ridden countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Argentina and Venezuela, none other than Russia herself and the Russian people would be the ones to reap the benefits of such a move as it will further her trade ties with the rich West. It is really up to Putin’s Russia now as to which course of action it is going to pursue, which one not to pursue, and why.

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Was gory Galwan scuffle just about 800 metres of land, Or it has deeper roots?

Amjed Jaaved

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After bloody scuffle on Sino Indian Line of Actual Control at Ladakh, China and India have agreed to create a buffer zone, with both sides receding 1.8 kilometers. The joint statement stressed both sides would not violate the status quo.

But why did the Galwan scuffle take place? Galwan shot into prominence because the melee was violent.  Similar scuffles continue to take place at various points on Sino-Indian border.

Indian media portrays the gory brawl as a storm in a tea cup. It says that China stakes claim to territory up to 800 metres into the Indian side from Patrol Point 14 at Galwan. But, Murphy’s Law says `nothing is as simple as it seems’.

Real cause: US military strategist Edward Luttwak rightly pointed out casus belli of friction in an interview. He said, `In the last few months, the BRO [border roads organisation] has taken pro-active steps to develop connectivity over the bordering areas by building roads. The development has triggered the neighbour China, eventually leading to the army standoff at Galwan Valley’ (The Statesman dated July 6, 2020).

The truth is that India had been building roads and bridges all along Sino-Indian borders to improve connectivity between hinterland and the LAC. China repeatedly warned India against changing status quo, but in vain. Both countries have differing perceptions of the LAC. To meet Indian threat in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China built 51,000 km road network.  There are five airfields on the Plateau and one a little off to the East towards Chengdu. A railway line of nearly 1,150 km from Golmo (in the north in Qinghai) to Lhasa was completed in July 2006. Its highest elevation is across the Tanggu La (Pass) at 5072 metres (16,640 feet). It has been further extended 253 km south to Shigatse (Xigaze) on the banks of Tsang Po (Brahmaputra River). There are plans to further extend it another 700 km from Shigatse up to the Nepal border.

Recently China manufactured a light tank, ZQT 15 and tested it extensively in Tibet. It has also inducted the CZ-10 medium attack helicopter for operations in the mountains. It has also inducted the Y-20 heavy-lift transport aircraft which will facilitate troop mobilization in Tibet.

Still China was alarmed by India’s project for developing the Ladakh region through the Galwan valley into Shyok . The stand-off was triggered by China moving in troops to obstruct road construction activity by India. Last year, India completed the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) road which connects Leh to the Karakoram Pass. India also maintains a key landing strip at DBO at 16,000 feet. The broader context for the tensions is the changing dynamic along the LAC.

Why and where face-offs occur? They occur because of overlapping territorial claims in around two dozen spots across the Western (Ladakh), Middle (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), Sikkim, and Eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors of the India-China border. The boundary in the Sikkim sector is broadly agreed, but has not been delineated.

Face-offs occur when patrols encounter each other in the contested zones between overlapping claim lines. Protocols agreed to in 2005 and 2013 are seldom adhered to.

An overview of India’s road network: There are 61 to 73 strategic or defence roads along the India-China border totalling 3,346 km. Of these, 36 roads (1,260 km) have been constructed, while links have been established in 20 others (2,035 km) which are being tested. Work on the remaining five roads has begun and will be completed soon.

Some of the finished roads include the stretch connecting Sasoma and Saseria in the Ladakh sector, the Ghatibagarh-Lipulekh road in the Mansarovar sector, Gunji-Kutti-Jollingkong road in the Uttarakhand sector, Dokala in the Sikkim sector, the Balipara-Charduar-Tawang road in the Tawang sector and the Damping-Yangtze in the Arunachal sector.

Project cost of over Rs 3,000 crore is concealed under budgets of civil ministries.

According to a source in Ministry of Home Affairs, the government has spent Rs 3,728 crore on the project. This includes Rs 781 crore spent in 2016-17, Rs 745 crore in 2017-18 and Rs 890 crore in 2018-19. The proposed cost for the current fiscal is Rs 1,312 crore.The estimated cost to complete the very first phase was Rs 4,700 crore.

Inference: Lest Kashmir dispute be internationalized, India wants to keep cool with China. China too is under stress because of USA’s hostility. Besides Galwan, rival troops repeatedly collided with each other in north Sikkim, particularly Naku La across May and June . However, both countries can’t afford one to mount a full-fledged offensive.  To attack a company’s strength of 120 Chinese soldiers, India will require nine companies or 1000 soldiers.

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