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Afghanistan: A Global Game of Musical Chairs

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Afghanistan’s history is replete with wars and other violent conflicts. Throughout its long and turbulent history, Afghanistan has looked more like a tribal confederacy than a cohesive nation-state. Afghanistan’s emerging outlook remains uncertain due to competing interests of the stakeholders and internal political dynamics. The land locked country is facing complex internal situation with serious ramifications for the region in general and its neighbors in particular. Ongoing peace process and efforts to create reconciliation amongst various factions are critical challenges meriting well thought out response by the key players through intelligent scenario forecasting and response initiation.

It is rather an unfortunate fact that the war torn Afghanistan has been an area of gaining self interests for multiple global players, used by each player involved in accordance to the player’s benefits.

Already dysfunctional governments, interest of multiple internal and external groups, dwelling of various terrorist organizations and the inclusion of multiple countries in the state affairs have resulted in painting a bleak outlook of the country. From the use as a factor towards Soviet defeat to the War on Terror and the indulging of U.S. in war for almost two decades has resulted into what today Afghanistan is.

Certain global players have exploited the country for their own interests while others seeking for opportunity to derive their stated and unstated interests from the war torn country.  Afghanistan has always been a game of musical chairs globally with the players contesting for influence, leaving and coming into the affairs of the country turn by turn, whenever possible.

In the current scenario, the US finally after 17 years has decided to quit Afghanistan while initiating a peace process within the country.  US wish to hold peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and conclude the war on terror. One round of talks has already occurred, whereas the other is being expected soon. Kabul has long been a factor to showcase the US hegemony in the region. With the US exiting, change in Kabul’s fate is being observed. Emerging stated and unstated interests following the US exit of some regional players are as follows:

China

China has drastically increased its influence in Afghanistan. China will reportedly train Afghan troops for deployment in the Wakhan Corridor, which links the Afghan province of Badakshan with western China. It is also considering Afghanistan’s request for combat aircraft. These are the latest developments in a growing military relationship: Beijing has granted $70 million in military aid to Kabul over the past three years. China has also held meetings with Afghan Taliban representatives over the past year, and was rumored (alongside Pakistan) to have brokered and guaranteed the Eidul Fitr ceasefire. China is seeking the opportunity of entering Afghanistan by its diplomatic efforts after observing the US exit. China’s role in Afghanistan is focused on exploiting so said economic opportunities rather than getting entangled in a deteriorating social or security environment. Why China is doing so can be summed up under a few points

Stated Interests 

China has stated that it believes that only an inclusive reconciliation process that is “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” can provide the ultimate solution to the Afghanistan issue. China wishes to forge strategic and cooperative partnership with Afghanistan, curtailing the spread of extremism into Chinese territory and counterterrorism issues, engaging Afghanistan in Road and Belt Initiative and revival of Silk Road, stable and peaceful Afghanistan for regional stability and economic integration, large scale investments to explore untapped mineral resources of Afghanistan and check extremism posing threat to western provinces.

Unstated Interests

The main is protecting Chinese interests vis-a-vis US. China has already acquired a 30 years’ lease for the Aynak Copper mines, and is interested to secure further rights to mine precious metals and earth. Assist Pakistan in an effort to contain Indian growing influence in Afghanistan. China also wishes to end the long lasting US hegemony in Kabul and the South Asian region by indulging in diplomacy with the region.

Russia

Russia is a resurging power and is averse to any potential trouble / challenge emanating from its immediate neighborhood. At present, Russia’s interests in Afghanistan including:-

Stated Interests

The interest are: curtailing the growing influence of non-state actors in Afghanistan, such as ISIS and its spread into Russian territories, reducing the inflow of narcotics into Russia emanating from Afghanistan and establishing a stable Afghanistan as a buffer between the Greater Middle East and Central Asia.

Unstated Interests 

Pursuance of President Vladimir Putin‘s expansionist ideas to restore Russia’s position as a geopolitical player, Accomplish her desire to reach warm waters as part of grand strategic design and Counter or limit US presence in the region.

India

Indian regional strategy is mainly driven by Chanakya Kautilya’s philosophy of “your neighbor is your natural enemy and the neighbor’s neighbor is your friend”. With the Taliban ousted and pro Indian government installed in Kabul, India is pursuing a forward looking policy and perceives its interests not only in terms of the rivalry with Pakistan but also in regional context. Indian interests in Afghanistan are:-

Stated Interests

To exercise a greater role in Afghanistan as a key regional player influencing political, social, economic and military developments in Afghanistan, to prevent the flow of battle hardened Taliban to IHK and oppose any power sharing by the Afghan Government with Taliban[1] and to capture potential Afghan market for export of cheaper Indian goods.

Unstated Interests

Isolation and destabilization of Pakistan, to create political disharmony between Pakistan and Afghanistan by giving fillip to controversial issues, to create a two front war sit for Pakistan and destabilize its western frontiers, to secure transit corridors that connects the oil and gas rich Central and West Asian region through Iran, to play a key role in CARs as well as in world affairs by exploiting international anti-terrorism sentiments to its advantage, to limit China in gaining access to the entire mineral and energy resources in Central Asia and Afghanistan[2] and to exploit Afghan untapped energy and mineral resources and utilize those for own economic gains.

Pakistan 

Primary interest of Pakistan is to have peaceful and stable Afghanistan with inclusive government in Kabul giving due share and power to all factions of society. Edge-out dominant Indian influence in Afghanistan, which could evolve into an alliance between the two countries and trap Pakistan in a two-front war sit. Counter / deter TTP / BLA and anti-government militants seeking refuge in Afghanistan. Greater trade opportunities with CARs as well as with Afghanistan and optimizing benefits of CPEC, Repatriation of over 1.7 million registered and equal number of un-registered Afghan refugees which have negatively impacted the Pakistan economy and deterioration in law and order sit and elaborate border security mechanism to control terrorism, drug trafficking and trans-national smuggling through Afghanistan.

After analysing the strategic culture, conflict history, complexity of prevailing environment and even far more complex interests of external as well as internal players in Afghanistan. Moreover, there are more uncountable irritants than enablers which restrict clearer scenario building and correspondingly arriving at set of policy for stable and peaceful Afghanistan in shorter to longer time frame.

Afghanistan is perceived as an area of competing global players for their interests.  Whereas a peace process in Afghanistan and the rebuilding efforts seem void. Afghanistan may not even have a functional government keeping in mind the scenario in short term time frame. The contesting players make the state affairs of Afghanistan look more like a game of musical chairs rather a sovereign, functional, self decisive and independent state.

  • [1] Ganguly, Sumit, and Nicholas Howenstein, “India-Pakistan Rivalry in Afghanistan”, Journal of International Affairs 63.1 (2009), page 127.
  • [2] Lt Col Zia Riaz, “Pak Army Green Book 2014”, Afghanistan Beyond 2014, 11.

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Russia points to evidence exposing Kiev’s intentions to use biological weapons

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Documents uncovered in the special military operation in Ukraine corroborate the evidence exposing the Kiev regime’s intentions to use biological weapons, Head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Research Center for Chemical and Biological Threats Dmitry Poklonsky said in the run-up to the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. “In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” he said – informs TASS.

“We have obtained reports of investigations into a collection of microorganisms that indicate the accumulation of pathogens in unsubstantiated amounts. There are documents confirming the intentions to acquire unmanned delivery vehicles that could be used for employing biological weapons. Considering the non-transparent nature of this work and the absence of any substantiated responses from the United States and Ukraine, we, of course, regard the documents obtained as proof that Article 1.4 of the Convention was violated,” the defense official said.

The documents obtained in the special military operation in Ukraine, including reports by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense, corroborate that the nature of work carried out there frequently ran counter to pressing healthcare problems, he stressed.

“In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” Poklonsky pointed out.

Neither Washington nor Kiev deny the fact of the existence of biological labs in Ukraine bankrolled by the Pentagon, he pointed out.

“It was confirmed by the 2005 agreement between the US Department of Defense and the Ukrainian Health Ministry. Far more questions arise from the nature of the studies being carried out in these biological laboratories and how this work complies with the Convention’s requirements,” the chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Chemical and Biological Threats said.

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Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)- The Pandora’s Box of Security Issues

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The world, functioning in its numerous forms and dimensions, is primarily perceived and misperceived by individuals through the faculty of the human Mind. A factor that creates a significant difference vis-a-vis human beings and other species is the complex cognitive ability possessed by humans. The mind is fundamentally an expression of thoughts circulated and imbibed through various means of communication. Deconstructing it further, thoughts portray the information consumed by an individual. In other words, this complex combination of the human mind, thoughts, and information shapes and reshapes our psychology.

Psychological war, in this context, can be perceived as a strategically orchestrated arrangement of information derived from variables like history, polity, religion, culture, literature, and philosophy broadly to channel propaganda with the prime objective of influencing and manipulating the behavior of the enemy to further one own interest. The term Psychological war is believed to be coined by a British Historian and military analyst, J.F.C Fuller, in 1920. One can observe that psychological war as an instrument of strategic importance is not of recent origin. Instead, the evolution of this tactic can be traced long back in history since the emergence of the State. It is considered one of the fundamental tools of statecraft and quite often has been put into the application as an instrument of state policy. Drawing a logical parallel, it can be advocated that psychological war has a close resemblance with the ancient notion of the allegory of the cave when applied in the present context.

Relevance of Psychological War

Napoleon Bonaparte once said “There are two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the mind.”  With the gradual progress of human intelligentsia, the world is and will be shaped and reshaped through the use of technology. The hyperconnected nature of a modern globalized world broadly portrays the image of a collective human consciousness deeply engrossed in the overwhelming nature of technology that reverberates with every emerging aspect of human life. When viewed from the prism of the State as a governing body in the international forum, technology will be the emerging axis of geopolitics since no state and its citizen can exist in silos devoid of the influence of other states. This is primarily due to the free flow of data. In this context, due to the free flow of data, the power of propaganda as a significant dimension of psychological war would prove to be an effective instrument used by the State to further its national interest.

In this contextual framework, the role of conscious manufacturing of narratives under the larger ambit of the idea of psychological war must be given due consideration. In his famous book,The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs  How Nations and Intelligence Agency Construct Narratives, Vikram Sood unfolds the idea of how narratives are created, propagated, sustained, and refined in domestic countries and abroad to further the national interest. He emphasizes not only the power of information but also the power of disinformation to de-track and mislead the collective consciousness of the nation. Therefore, it is of critical significance for a nation to enhance its understanding of psychological war, considering it a major security issue.

The cost and the expense of war are also major concerns for the State. In this regard, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval establishes the viewpoint that wars are gradually becoming ineffective in achieving political and military objectives and that they are also highly expensive and are gradually becoming unaffordable. He further puts forward the idea of the 4th generation warfare where the operational target of the objective would be civil society. A fair understanding of the 4th generation warfare is of critical importance due to the fact that the modus operandi to target civil society would primarily be through the perpetual use of psychological war. The cost of psychological war, when compared with other forms of war, is abysmally low and also highly effective in manipulating the behaviour of the State. The cost-effectiveness helps it be more sustainable, which can be continued for an extended period of time.

Materialisation of Psychological War

China

Psychological war is applied by many States as an instrument of state policy. China, in this regard, can be considered a prominent player that has materialized this idea. In the strategic book on statecraft, The Art Of War, Sun Tzu states that “All warfare is based on deception.” China has consciously tried to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of psychological war. The Dhoklam issue in 2017 substantiates how the Chinese government used psychological war as an instrument of state policy to further its national interest.

Pakistan

The hostile approach of Pakistan towards India is not of recent origin. Instead, it is a phenomenon that can be traced back in history during the early germination of the idea of Pakistan when the Muslin League was formed in 1906. After the materialization of this idea by a painful partition of India in 1947, Kashmir became the bone of contention right after Pakistan’s inception as a nation-state. Pakistan, over the years, has become cognizant of the conventional asymmetry between the two nations. Therefore, it has operationalized the path of psychological war in the Kashmir region with a more pinpointed approach of using Twitter as an operational instrument to create misperceptions at a low cost to achieve its objectives.

Psychological War and the Indian Perspective

Taking a momentary glance at the historical evolution of India as a civilizational State, it can be rightly stated that understanding the nature of the mind has been a perpetual theme in the philosophical construct of India. The use of psychological war is not a new phenomenon. The references to it can be prominently found in Indian mythology. In this regard, the epic story of The Mahabharatha is a prominent example.

In one of the instances, Krishna applied this idea of psychological war by disclosing a fact to Karna, which hitherto was kept secret and hidden from him. Krishna, just before the war, unfolded the fact to Karna that he is the eldest son of Kunti, his father is the Sun God, and the Pandavas his brothers. This very fact and the timing of the disclosure of this fact put Karna in a deep psychological trauma that depletes his mental strength. It was at this moment that Krishna offered Karna to join the battle from the side of Pandavas. A similar instance of psychological war used by India was found during The Bangladesh liberation war.

In the context of psychological war, Arthashstra is also a relevant text. It mentions the art of Kutayuddha. In Sanskrit, the word Kuta implies the application of deception, the creation of misperception, and misleading the enemy state; Yudh means war. Kautilya is a staunch advocate of establishing a network of espionage to initiate intelligence and counterintelligence measures as a major security initiative for a state. Therefore, it can be rightly perceived that India has a history of psychological war, which it has implemented to maintain security and stability.

Conclusion

Taking an analogical perspective, if the mechanism of psychological war is like a gun, then information is the potential bullets that are fired from it to target the enemy. The flow of Information can be considered the most important factor that makes psychological war lethal, precise, and effective. Therefore, there exists an urgent need for the establishment of an ‘Information Operations Command’ to tackle the issue of psychological war that is rapidly maturing and enhancing in its nature and methodology, fusing with the 5th generation warfare. 

Another area of critical importance in this regard is the pressing need for a ‘National Security Doctrine.’ A national security doctrine is primarily a broad vision of a nation in the domain of its security from an inclusive perspective. Strong inter-agency coordination and refined analysis of security issues are needed.

Psychological war, as a rapidly evolving tool of statecraft in the security domain, acts as a linchpin vis-a-vis the 4th and 5th generation warfare where civil society and citizens are targeted with a perfect blend of technology and information. This makes it a war that doesn’t have a start or an end date. It is fought every minute, and progress can be achieved, even though at a minuscule level, but on a daily basis. Therefore, India as a major player in international politics with two hostile neighbors on its eastern and western border, must hold into perspective the scope, significance, and emerging dynamics of psychological war to keep herself abreast with other states at the international level on the security front.

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Growing India Israel Relations: A Threat to Sovereignty of Gulf States

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India has developed remarkable ties with the Gulf nations, particularly the GCC, over the past few decades. The significant trade between GCC nations and India and Israel are the main cause.  This gradualist approach and efforts on part of India is to include Israel in a broader Middle East policy. Under the Namenda Modi administration, since 2017 Israel is “special and normal” because India has avoided the negative repercussions and no longer have fears opened relations with the Jewish state.  

However, the point of concern is that India and Israel’s growing ties must not result in a coalition against Muslims. Modi and Netanyahu have many good reasons to rejoice over their thawing ties. But the gulf countries must discredit them if they use that proximity to advance a common narrative of extreme nationalism, exclusion, and labeling Muslims as the enemy.

Since October 25th, 2022, news reports have been making the rounds in the media revealing India’s involvement in global terrorism. Eight former Indian Navy officers have recently been detained in Qatar on suspicion of espionage and terrorism supported by the Indian government. These spy-officers were arrested in August 2022 for their involvement in international terrorism, espionage, and spying while working in Qatar for a private company and providing training and other services to the Qatari Emiri Navy.

Purnendu Tiwari, a retired (Naval commander) who received the Pravasi Samman 2019 (Highest Indian Award Abroad), was the brains behind the transfer of data from a major Gulf Muslim nation to Israel and India. It has been reported in the media that these Indian officers had access to sensitive information while working with Qatar’s enemies and the Defense, Security, and other government agencies. This is not the first time; India has been involved in espionage operations that violate foreign governments’ sovereignty, though it continues to deny it. International terrorism perpetrated by India has also frequently targeted Pakistan in the past. One such instance is the Kalbushan Yadav case.

The relationship between India and Israel is frequently described as a result of a natural convergence of ideologies between their respective ruling BJP and Liked parties. The BJP’s Hindutva and right-wing Zionism are two ethno-nationalist political movements that naturally discriminate against other races and religions because they are based on the majority populations they serve. In comparison to earlier, more liberal iterations of Hindutva and Zionism, both parties have become more racist. Therefore, by all means, India’s continued close strategic, economic, and security ties with Israel are more ideological than pragmatic.

India should make an effort to protect itself ideologically from the threat of Hindutva becoming the state’s guiding principle and a vehicle for incitement both domestically and abroad. Its exclusivist and discriminatory belief that India is only the property of Hindus is dangerous, especially at a time when Muslim minorities are increasingly being lynched in the name of cow vigilantism.

Today, the Gulf is an integral part of India’s ‘extended neighborhood’, both by way of geographical proximity and as an area of expanded interests and growing Indian influence. However, as a result of escalating anti-Muslim sentiment and the Hindutva movement’s flawed ideology, the BJP, government is arguably facing its most difficult diplomatic challenge in its nine years in office. A few years ago in 2020, Muslim nations were outraged by Nupur Sharma’s (a BJP official) insulting comments made during a TV debate about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Islamic-majority nations voiced their opposition through tweets, official statements, and by summoning Indian diplomats. The BJP was compelled to take action against the party officials for posting a screenshot of offensive tweet.

Subsequently, Princess Hend al-Qassimi of the UAE then made a rare public statement in response to the rising Islamophobia among Indians, saying in a tweet, “I miss the peaceful India.” She did this after she specifically called out a tweet from an Indian resident of the UAE as being “openly racist and discriminatory,” reminding her followers that the penalty for hate speech could be a fine or even expulsion. These statements come after the Islamic world, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, urged India to act quickly to defend the rights of its Muslim minority and expressed concern about how the BJP treats Indian Muslims.

This suggests that the relationships New Delhi has worked so hard to build over the past few years drawing on the efforts of the previous administration is now seriously in jeopardy. India’s diplomatic achievement is starting to fall apart due to domestic developments that target its 200 million Muslims. The flagrant mistreatment of India’s Muslim communities now jeopardizes New Delhi’s carefully crafted Middle Eastern diplomacy, particularly with regard to the Gulf States.

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