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The Vostok 2018 exercises and their strategic significance

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The Russian, Chinese and Mongolian exercises known as Vostok 2018 have been particularly important both from a military and tactical viewpoint and due to their geopolitical significance.

Vostok 2018 (a Russian term generally translated as “East”) is an operation reaffirming the new strategic unity between Russia and China. Hence it conveys a very clear message to the West that it would be good for the Atlantic Alliance not to disregard or neglect.

The message is the following: if NATO wants to attack them or, in any case, enter the areas of Russian-Chinese interest in the Heartland, the response of the Sino-Slavic axis will be very harsh, to the point of raising the threshold of a possible Western attack to an intolerable level. Hence the unavoidable response from the “East” will be unbearable at technical, financial and political levels for the attacker alone.

With this really impressive operation – although the number of the forces on the field has not yet be fully defined ex post-Russia certainly wants to demonstrate that the United States cannot attack without expecting severe responses from the Russian Federation, probably capable of blocking the US itself – considering that, in this case, there would be an immediate reunification with the Chinese forces, with the Mongolian Armed Forces and probably also with other forces of the Central Asian region, which is certainly a fact not to be disregarded.

In this case, would Turkey accept a NATO action against the Russian-Chinese axis? It is unlikely. And what about Romania?

Meanwhile, the US theories and doctrines developed by the current Commands work on the assumption of a simultaneous war against the Russian Federation and China, with the deployment of vast land and maritime forces against Russia and mainly air forces against the People’s Republic of China.

The wars on two fronts, however, have never brought good luck to anyone and certainly the deployment of the Vostok 2018 forces conveys a clear message to President Trump’s America, where China is already taking revenge for the economic war unleashed against it by President Trump.

In particular, the Chinese revenge is taken through a strong secret and media commitment against the President in the upcoming midterm elections, while China knows its way around when taking actions in the Syrian region, certainly in agreement – once again – with the Russian Federation.

The Vostok 2018 exercises were above all a large-scale interforce military operation held from 11 to 17 September, involving the Central Russian military districts (Volga and Urals) and the Eastern one (Siberia) and at least 29 regions of the whole Federation, as well as the Russian Northern and Pacific fleets and finally the Aerospace and Aircraft Forces.

In the first stage of the Vostok 2018 exercises, which lasted two days, the Joint Strategic Operational Commands of the Eastern and Central Districts and the Northern Fleet were deployed throughout the Eastern operations theatre for combat preparation and training, in addition to fully deploying the Russian Navy between the North and the Far East.

The second stage, which lasted three days, was dedicated to the organization of the interforce groups to train and prepare the troops for escalating clashes and fights throughout the already defined theatre of operations.

There was a systematic use of the many firing ranges of the Eastern District, with defensive and counter-offensive actions particularly in the Trans-Baikal direction, as well as similar sea operations in the Pacific.

The idea was to support deep penetrations on the ground of naval infantry and specialized land brigades, with a strong protection from the air – a real air denial.

Six shooting ranges were used only for managing ground military operations, four of the Air Forces and the Anti-Air Defence, with actions also in the Sea of Japan, in the Bering Sea, in the Sea of Okhotsk, and then in the Avacinsky Gulf and in the Kronotsky Gulf.

Both Gulfs are located in the Kamchatka peninsula.

Considering the Russian and Chinese soldiers (who participated in all operations, even as mere observers), as well as the Mongolian soldiers, who specialized in land and counterattack actions, approximately 297,000 soldiers took part in the Vostok 2018 exercises, with 1,000 aircrafts and helicopters; 7,000 land vehicles, including 110 tanks; 36,000 guns and pieces of artillery, as well as over 80 ships. Numbers recorded after the operations, which are much greater than what officially expected initially by the Russian Defence Ministry.

It should be recalled that the previous exercises, namely Zapad 2017, focused on the West (in fact, Zapad is a Russian word meaning West), involved “only” 12,700 Russian and Belarusian soldiers.

In the framework of this year’s exercises, China had approximately 3,500 soldiers; 1,100 vehicles; 30 aircrafts and 24 helicopters.

A Russian brigade in charge of communications, stationed in Samara and counting 1,000 soldiers, was, for example, transferred to the Trans-Baikal area, 5,500 kilometres away from Samara.

200 Russian troops were moved from Orenburg for additional 5,000 kilometres eastwards.

It is the operational implementation of the new Russian military doctrines of the Material-Technical Support and Combat Service Support (MTO) theories dating back to 2010, but put in place – in large quantities and at great distances – only with this operation.

Furthermore, while the various joint operations of China and the Russian Federation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) mainly regard counter-terrorist, counter-guerrilla operations and, in any case, asymmetric and non-conventional threats, Zapad 2018 only deals with conventional actions and hence war between States.

Moreover, as early as last year, Russia and China had carried out joint missile exercises.

However, why is the Russian Federation currently focusing on its Eastern flank?

History can help us to answer this question, as is always the case when it comes to strategic issues.

Russia has always been weak, often too weak, in the East.

Since that time, the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905 had placed the whole Siberian and Mongolian East out of the Russian framework, thus pushing Russia towards a disinterested West, towards which the majority of its people was already gravitating.

The current Russian leadership knows all too well how, in the early twentieth century, the British confidential documents considered Russia a “territory suitable for Socialist tests and experiments”. To some extents, the Bolshevik Socialism itself was a largely unfavourable adaptation to the economies and economic systems of the West and, later, of the United States.

When the USSR spent everything possible in the strategic parity of the Cold War, Mao Zedong-who was certain he had to do with the usual “enemies of the North”, namely the Russians -maintained instead that the Cold War was “a paper tiger”. Nevertheless, now the global equilibria have changed, and – just to paraphrase Mao Zedong again – there will be a hundred Cold Wars, a hundred different peaces.

During the Bolshevik revolution, however, Japan, Great Britain, Italy, the United States, Canada and China had occupied the whole Siberia and, hence, were pushing Trotsky’s Red Army to its Western borders, thus putting it in serious strategic difficulty. The Red Army was highly likely to be taken by surprise from the rear by the European countries.

The fact that the Bolshevik Russia defeated China in 1929 was at the origin of Japan’s arrival in Manchuria, which became Manchu-kuo, the first axis of Japanese penetration into Central Asia.

It is in this context that also the ambiguity of Xinjiang- the future area of development of Islamism and jihad in China -between Bolsheviks and Chinese has arisen.

The old Manchu-kuowas an axis capable of fully destabilizing the Chinese set-up, as well as stopping Russia’s economic and political expansion to Siberia and Mongolia – and it is currently still able to do so.

In fact, many Chinese leaders view the Republic of Taiwan as a “new imperial Japan”.

Hence, in a phase of strong tension with NATO and substantial end of the post-Cold War equilibria between the United States and Russia, the latter secures at first its East, so as to avoid a sort of Western “knight move” that could lead to a regionalization of the Russian Federation and to its being relegated to the status of a mid-level power – the US dream since the fall of the USSR.

On the other hand, China needs to control its central terrestrial space well, with a view to securing the Belt and Road Initiative and avoiding the many encircling manoeuvres that the United States has tried so far between India, Pakistan and Iran itself, which the United States tends – often naively – to destabilize also from the inside.

It is also worth recalling the issue of raw materials: in Siberia, for example, the 2,750 kilometre pipeline bringing the Russian-Siberian oil to China is already operating – a tangible sign of Russian autonomy from the oil and gas sales to the West.

According to Russian estimates, Siberia owns 80% of the Russian oil reserves.

Moreover, still today China imports many minerals from Brazil or Africa, but Siberia is rich in gold, iron, manganese, copper, pyrite, aluminium, precious stones and mercury.

Hence defending the Asian axis of Russia and of China itself means securing the Heartland’s future autonomous development.

At operational plan, Russia needed Zapad 2018 to check its forces’ technological preparation, as well as to test the interforce command-control (the so-called C2) and to ensure and verify the strong coordination between the Army Ground Forces, the Navy and the Aerospace Forces.

Moreover, in this great exercise, an important role was also played by the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and by the most advanced robotic technologies applied to Defence.

China participated in these latest joint exercises for some important reasons: firstly, China wants to convey to the West the message that it is allied with the Russian Federation – and not for fortuitous and contingent reasons.

It also wants to convey the message that it does not need the West for planning its defence towards Taiwan and the Pacific, which are US military reference areas eastwards.

During the exercises, however, China and Mongolia had the clear aim of stopping the conventional enemy’s advance.

The strong and stable alliance between China and Russia, which the former wanted to underline, is a clear sign of China’s markedly departing from Trump-led United States.

Secondly, China wants to demonstrate to Russia (and to those observing the political and military moves of two Asian and Euro-Asian countries) that its Armed Forces are efficient – so skilful to enable Russia to be projected onto the West without allowing encirclement or penetration from China towards Central Asia up to the Urals.

Thirdly, China wants to know well – in view of using them – the “hybrid warfare” techniques that the Russian Federation used and is still using in Syria and Ukraine.

It is also very likely that China has sent one of its spy ships between the Pacific and the Arctic – obviously without informing its allies.

Fourthly, China wants to assess how and to what extent the recent restructuring of its Armed Forces have negatively affected the fighting aptitude and the efficiency of its defensive system.

This must be certainly seen in relation to India – the future competitor for hegemony in Afghanistan and Central Asia- and also to Japan, which could thus be deterred from establishing a special relationship with Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China.

Finally, despite playing a marginal, but important role in the Syrian region, China also wants to learn the lessons learned by the Russian Forces in that region, which will be increasingly important for China, both for its counter-terrorist actions in Xinjiang and for controlling the routes of Turkish expansion into Central Asia, as well as to finally prevent the fall of Iran, an essential ally for China both from the economic and geopolitical viewpoints.

Once broken Iran’s defence arc, the US forces would be given free rein up to the Chinese borders, as well as in fighting and putting an end to the sword jihad in Southern and Central Russia.

It should also be recalled that, shortly before the Vostok 2018 exercises, there had also been the SCO operations called “Peace Mission 2018”, focused particularly on the Celiabinsk region, together with the Indian, Pakistani and other SCO forces.

Russia, which is one of India’s traditional ally, strongly wanted that country to be SCO member. Conversely Pakistan has always been China’s best ally in the Asian Islamic world.

Furthermore, the parallelism between these two joint military operations is a clear sign that Russia wants to increasingly use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a valuable asset against its jihadist terrorism, between Chechnya and the Caliphate areas, considering that – as reported by its news agency Amaq – in 2018 ISIS has organized seven terrorist attacks in Russia.

Five Russian policemen have been killed by jihadists between Stavropol and Nizhny Novgorod, and the same holds true for other Russian soldiers as a result of terrorist operations in Dagestan.

Early this year the FSB is supposed to have prevented as many as six jihadist attacks and arrested 189 people for alleged participation in illegal armed actions.

Allegedly ISIS cells operate also in Rostov, as well as in the autonomous area of Yamalo-Nenets, and in Yaroslav, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

In the previous Vostok exercises held in 2010 and 2014 (whereas the two exercises known as Zapad had been held in 1981 and 2017), China had never been invited. The focus and substance of the operations regarded a generic enemy invasion from the East (also from China?) or the simultaneous presence of several terrorist groups along the Russian Federation’s Eastern border.

Hence, by inviting the People’s Liberation Army of China, Russia tested the combat preparation and the doctrinal and technological evolution of an Armed Force that has never fought for decades.

However, the alliance between Russia and China will be stable and lasting: while the Armed Forces of the two countries were involved in the Vostok 2018 exercises, Putin and Xi Jinping met on the margins of the Eastern Economic Forum underway in Vladivostok.

Hence the Russian-Chinese message to NATO is clear: currently Russia is not at all isolated and it can perform effective operations on both the Eastern and Western fronts, with absolute efficiency and rapidity. Moreover, Russia wants to show that its military alliances are strong and expanding.

While, in all likelihood, NATO cannot currently hold operations of the same size as Vostok 2018 and probably has not the political “glue” that China, Russia and Mongolia proved to have in these exercises.

Also Turkey had been invited to take part in the exercises, but it silently declined.

What were the results of the Vostok 2018 exercises? According to Russian Commands, there was an innovation in the success recorded by the new air assault techniques with final operations on the ground, featuring a combined action of heavy aircraft and light attack helicopters.

A mass airdrop with 700 paratroopers and many land vehicles and artillery pieces, was carried out successfully in the intermediate area between East and West Russia.

Furthermore, the Northern Fleet carried out an interforce exercise with its naval infantry and the Arctic Brigade, reaching targets on the ground up to 270 kilometers from the coast.

In short, there was the testing of a strong doctrinal, technological, tactical and logistic evolution of a great Armed Force like the Russian one.

There was also the reaffirmation – often reiterated by Russian Defence Minister Shoigu – that the military alliance with China is and will be stable and that ultimately Russia and its allies – unlike others – can credibly contain a war on two fronts.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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India’s Test of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle and Implications for South Asia

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In September this year, India claimed to have successfully tested scramjet engine technology. This has been indigenously developed for its hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV). As per the Indian estimates, this particular and sophisticated technology would be a key component for the development of the next generation of hypersonic cruise missiles. After attaining supersonic technology and developing supersonic cruise missiles with the help of Russia, India now also aspires to have hypersonic weapons in its inventory. India’s pursuit of hypersonic cruise missiles would bring new security challenges for Pakistan. This would have devastating implications for the strategic equation of the region since it would further enable India to a resort of the first strike against Pakistan. Likewise, this would ultimately destabilize the already volatile South Asian region.

It would be pertinent to mention here that hypersonic weapons are of two types: hypersonic glide vehicles (glide towards the target before dropping) and hypersonic cruise missiles (use scramjet engines). Furthermore, the hypersonic missiles are not just deadly because of their incredible speed (sustained speed of more than Mach 5); even ballistic missiles could reach up to Mach 25 in their re-entry phase. The major difference is the maneuverability and terrain hugging capability of the hypersonic missiles, which allows them to have more unpredictable flight paths. Consequently, they can easily penetrate the advanced air defence systems that are currently available in the world and might even in the near future as well. Furthermore, hypersonic missiles can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. What makes them more lethal is their enhanced speed, with which even a conventional warhead hypersonic weapon can destroy unhardened or underground facilities. Moreover, because of their speed, range, precision, and lethality, they are also considered as ideal weapons against time-sensitive targets and missile defences.  Therefore, it can be said that hypersonic weapons are effective counter-force weapons because of their precision and capability to target and destroy high-value targets with incredible speed and accuracy.

After the successful test of the scramjet engine meant for powering the HSTDV, India has been aiming to become part of the elite group of states that possess this technology. Previously the US, Russia, and China have been part of the arms race to develop hypersonic weapons. Last year in June, India failed to successfully test scram-jet technology. However, the recently claimed success of the September 7th test of HSTDV has been celebrated by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Prime Minister Modi, and the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as a ‘landmark achievement’. According to the Press Release by the Indian Ministry of Defence, HSTDV was launched on top of a solid-fueled rocket; it carried to an altitude of 30 kilometers at the speed of Mach 5 for about 20 seconds.  Though Indian media considers this test as India’s entrance into the “elite league” of nations possessing hypersonic weapons, in reality, the test has been conducted at the speed of Mach 5 which is believed to be the lowest possible speed for hypersonic weapons. This reflects two things: firstly, India has improved its technology from the previous failure, and secondly, there is a long way ahead of India to develop and deploy hypersonic weapons. Moreover, this capability also reflects India’s inclinations towards the development of counter-force and pre-emptive nuclear capabilities, which are contradicting its long doubted policy of ‘no first use’. This situation has become more alarming since India has been acquiring advanced missile defense systems and also developing counter-force technologies like the hypersonic weapons simultaneously. This could result in a false sense of security and superiority within the Indian strategic elite. Inspired by this India could attempt to launch a first strike most probably against Pakistan.

Hence, the development and deployment of hypersonic weapons by India would likely eliminate the existing parity in South Asia primarily ensured by Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Today, deterrence stability exists between both countries because both possess the capability to inflict the damage and it becomes unappealing for them to initiate a nuclear attack. However, if the Indian pursuit of hypersonic weapons goes on with its belligerent policies, the deterrence stability might not hold for long. Therefore to maintain parity and deterrence stability in South Asia, Pakistan might need to think of the probability of developing its supersonic and hypersonic weapons or at least come up with an alternative and a plausible way-out. Moreover, Pakistan needs to further ensure the adaptability of the mutually assured destruction in South Asia and eliminate the chances of the first strike by India. Since hypersonic weapons would reduce the response-time and blur the line between conventional and strategic weapons; Pakistanneeds tofurther develop a mechanism to address this emergent threat to maintain the nuclear deterrence equilibrium in the region.

Summarizing it all, the emergence of hypersonic weapons in South Asia has posed a serious threat to regional security. It seems that India is quite eager to develop and ultimately deploy the hypersonic weapons. There is no doubt that at the moment South Asia is engulfed in an action-reaction spiral between India and Pakistan mainly triggered by Indian offensive strategies and threatening policies vis-à-vis Pakistan. Once becoming operational, India’s hypersonic weapons would likely add up to this chain of action and reaction. This might ultimately compel Pakistan to revisit its existing nuclear posture vis-à-vis India.    

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Evolution of Indian Nuclear Doctrine: From NFU to Preemption

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India’s obscure nuclear doctrine of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) had evolved over the years since it was first declared in 1999 by NSAB’s (Nuclear Security Advisory Board) in the ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine’(DND) that forms the very basis of the official Indian nuclear doctrine. Subsequently, in 2003after a review by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) the DND had emerged as India’s official nuclear doctrine. However, the later developments are quite evident that India has shifted its nuclear posture from NFU to preemption. In August 2019, a statement made by Mr. Rajnath Singh (Indian Defence Minister) made headlines amid rising tensions between India and Pakistan, the two arch-rivals in South Asia. This was an assertion of India’s likely shift from its long doubted NFU policy. This has further exposed the pretense of India‘s NFU policy, to which Pakistan has never given any credence. This shift in Indian nuclear doctrine seems to be purely Pakistan centric.  Such an Indian shift is further evidence of India’s focus towards nuclear war-fighting rather than maintaining deterrence. In the wake of the evolved tensions in the region, India’s offensive nuclear posture of preemption would have dire implications for the strategic stability of South Asia.

Over the period, various statements by the Indian government officials and prominent academicians have raised serious concerns over India’s adherence to the NFU policy. In 2010 Shivshankar Menon, the then National Security Advisor of India stated that according to Indian nuclear doctrine NFU policy is meant only for non-nuclear-weapon states. Hence, it implies that using a nuclear weapon could be a resort against nuclear-weapon states, particularly against Pakistan. Later on, in 2016 Manohar Prakar the then Indian Defence Minister questioned “Why do lots of people say that India is for no first use? Why should I blind myself?”  Moreover, in 2017 a prominent Indian scholar, Vipin Narang while speaking at the conference at Carnegie stated that India would not let Pakistan go first.  These assertions are quite evident that in a crisis, India might take a nuclear first strike against Pakistan. Such drifts in Indian policy have further enhanced Pakistan’s threat perception vis-à-vis India. Similarly, Pakistan would be further compelled to maintain a credible nuclear deterrence posture to overcome India’s offensive nuclear posturing.

India’s pursuit of offensive nuclear capabilities further reveals its aspirations of a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pakistan. This, for instance, is further evident from the fact that India has been involved in developing ground-based and space-based surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence capabilities, and new precision weaponry for the last few years.  These would further embolden India to take any move toward pre-emption or first use. In the same vein, India’s adoption of Pakistan specific policy of first use would likely result in the lowering of the Indian nuclear threshold. This might bring serious implications for Pakistan’s existing nuclear deterrent posture which covers a broad spectrum of threats coming from India including its conventional advantage. It would further generate an unnecessary arms race in the region and might force Pakistan to further revisit its doctrinal and force posture vis-à-vis India’s notions of preemptions. The likelihood of India’s shift towards preemption would also mean that India’s nuclear weapons would be kept in the state of readiness. This would also increase the risk of unauthorized or accidental use of Indian nuclear weapons. Such a scenario would likely create a complex security dilemma for Pakistan, thus undermining the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia, primarily ensured by Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.

In recent years, India’s massive naval buildup is also aimed at maintaining an offensive sea-based nuclear posture. In this regard, India’s acquisition of SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines) is quite significant since along with the assurance of second-strike capability, they are also meant to be used to launch a multitude of nuclear weapons. Other than that, India has been maintaining an operational BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) system; also, it would have the most advanced anti-missile systems like the Russian S-400 in its inventory very soon. Hence, having been assured that it would be protected against any counter-strike by Pakistan by its BMD systems; India might potentially launch a land, sea, or air-based pre-emptive strike against Pakistan. This would create a false sense of security among the Indian decision-makers and they might act aggressively in the time of crisis. Pakistan needs to keep a close eye on India’s shifting nuclear policy to counter the probability of a nuclear first strike initiated by India. Pakistan has already developed MIRV (Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle) capable short and medium-range ballistic missiles. Apart from that Pakistan has also developed a sea-based delivery system such as Babur-3, a Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) which is aimed at ensuring a credible second-strike capability. These would serve as a reliable and credible deterrent against Indian notions of preemption.

Hence, at the present, the assertions of Indian officials to abandon the long doubted NFU policy and a move towards pre-emption is mere irresponsible and belligerent behavior. India in its pursuit to become a regional hegemon would destabilize the already conflict-prone South Asian region by further provoking an arms race. Pakistan needs to further increase international pressure by highlighting India’s aggressive and irresponsible nuclear posturing. The world needs to know that India’s shift from NFU is merely reckless and dangerous. On the other hand, Pakistan also needs to ensure its safety by further enhancing its assured second-strike capability and acquiring advanced BMDs while staying within its existing posture of minimum credible deterrence.

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Afghan Peace Talks And Prospects For Pakistan

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On 3 September 2020, the three brave sons of Pakistan, soldier Usman, Naek Imran and Lieutenant Nasir Khalid embraced shahadat during a patrolling in North Waziristan in a terrorist attack. Since US officials and representatives of the Taliban signed a peace agreement on 29 Feb 2020 in Doha to end the conflict, the various affiliated groups of TTP began launching attacks against the security forces of Pakistan. According to the report of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in August 2020, 12 terrorist attacks were launched in Pakistan. In these terrorist attacks, 14 people lost their lives and 68 people were injured. The terrorist carried out 75 % terrorist attacks against the security forces. These terrorist attacks on the security forces of Pakistan are evident that TTP and its affiliated groups are confident after the peace deal of the Taliban and the USA. It illustrates the scenario of post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Following the deal, the US will withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months. Even though the Taliban are negotiating with the USA and Afghan government but fighting is continued in Afghanistan from both sides.

The US withdrawal will create a power vacuum not only in Afghanistan but also in the South Asian region that is likely to be filled by a stronger state or a group. The US withdrawal is creating the same challenges that are similar to the USSR withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1990. After the withdrawal of the USSR, civil war broke out in Afghanistan for the assumption of power. Taliban emerged as victorious after a deadly civil war. Afghanistan is the home of various terrorist groups and their presence is a threat to the South Asian Region once the USA leaves Afghanistan. The US withdrawal will also affect Pakistan.If the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan then TTP will be strengthened in Pakistan. As soon as the USA making arrangements to leave Afghanistan, various militants groups of Pakistan are uniting. The two militant groups Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have merged into one terrorist group on 17 August 2020. Both of the groups pledged its affiliation to Mufti Noor Wali as its chief. The leader of Punjabi Taliban Asmatullah Muawiya has joined the Taliban. Once the militant groups are on the same page, the impact will be disastrous for Pakistan as it did not chalk out a comprehensive policy following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Over a decade Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) wants to establish Sharia in Pakistan and for that, it is in confrontation with Islamabad. Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban is considered as the spiritual leader of TTP. Since its inception in 2007, TTP has proved to be the deadliest terrorist group in Pakistan. TTP was an ally of Al-Qaeda to operate from FATA. The group has its presence in Swat and Karachi. The TTP launched massive attacks in Pakistan like the terrorist attack on the General Headquarters of Army (2009) attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi (2011) and an attack on the Army Public School (20140in Peshawar. TTP also using different channels to radicalize youth like Sunnat-e-Khaula to radicalize and recruit females in Pakistan. The TTP and Afghan Taliban worked in partnership in the past and they are interconnected. In the past couple of months, TTP has increased its terrorist attacks against Pakistan.  The JuA took the responsibility of an improvised explosive device (IED) thatwas planted on a bike to hit a vehicle that has killed 7 members of the anti-narcotics force in Chamman, Baluchistan in August. 

The report of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) is evident that since 2019, TTP remained a major source of instability in Pakistan. It carried out 82 terrorist attacks in which 69 attacks were taken in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 13 from the province of Baluchistan. It seems that TTP is becoming stronger after living in the shadows for years. According to the UN report approximately 65000 militants of TTP are stationed in Afghanistan. With a merger, it will become a force that cannot be neglected. The merger of various factions of TTP is a threat to CPEC. China has begun the number of development projects like infrastructure and hydroelectric in remote areas of KP.

Currently, Chinese companies are working on Karakoram Highway Phase II,SukiKinari Hydropower Station and the Havelian Dry Port. TTP have kidnapped and killed Chinese from Baluchistan and KP. In 2013, Pakistan banned 3 militant groups that were affiliated to Al-Qaeda namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union and East Turkestan Islamic Movement on the request of China. TTP targets China as a retaliation of mistreating the Uyghur Muslim minority in the province of Xinjiang. In 2014,the leading Al-Qaeda ideologue Mufti Abu Zar al Burmi in a video message that was titled as let’s disturb China stated that the withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan is a victory for the Taliban. In the video message, he also urged the militant groups to carry out attacks on Chinese companies and embassies and kidnap Chinese nationals. Foreign CPEC is hope for Pakistan to bring investment and embark on the road of peace and prosperity. The reunification of militants can’t be ignored as once they are strengthened they will carry out massive attacks against Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan needs to chalk out a comprehensive policy to root out terrorism. It’s up to the policymakers to shake hands with militants like the US or take coercive military operations.

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