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The Conference on Libya hosted in Palermo, Sicily

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It currently seems that the Conference on Libya scheduled in Palermo, Sicily, will finally be a predictable success for the Italian government.

General Haftar, the powerful man of Cyrenaica (and currently also of Sirte) arrived in Rome on October 28 last for an informal visit which, however, was extremely useful for the Palermo Conference and for Italy’s future strategy in Libya.

The Head of the old “Operation Dignity” will certainly be also in Palermo, while Russia will probably be represented by Medvedev or by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Bogdanov. Or even by Dimitri Peskov. Nevertheless, whoever of them will participate in the Conference will have President Putin’s personal instructions to follow.  Moreover, President Putin will follow the Conference debate in Sicily with extreme care.

Russia’s goal is to stabilize its presence in Libya, regardless of the political results reached by the Palermo Conference, and hence to start a strategic relationship also with Fayez al-Sarraj and Misrata’s Seventh Brigade, as well as with the major tribes of the Tripoli area. This can be achieved above all with the Italian support.

Nothing is more distant from the Russian interest than an exclusive bilateral relationship with General Haftar, of whom Russia has even minted the new coins with  Colonel Gaddafi’s profile.

Russia, however, could have Italy’s good offices for establishing relations with Fayez al-Sarraj, with Misrata’s militias and, finally, the Fezzan areas, where Russia could establish itself as a major economic partner.

General Haftar’s Cyrenaica is thus moving away from France, whose intelligence services still fight side by side with his own militias. Why? Because the powerful man of Cyrenaica knows that, having an exclusive relationship with France, he would remain isolated in Europe and, above all, vis-à-vis Egypt.

In fact, President Al Sisi has put pressure on General Haftar to be in Palermo and not trust completely France, which only wants ENI’s oil wells – as at Sarkozy’s time – and in the future would certainly not be sympathetic to the government of Cyrenaica, as it appears today.

Another decisive sign for the positive outcome of the Conference is the fact that General Haftarhas also stated that Italian Ambassador Perrone can return to Tripoli.

Also Aguila Saleh Issa – the President of the Tobruk-based Parliament that recognizes al-Sarraj’s government, but relies on General Haftar’s forces –  will be in Palermo.

He is an excellent and authoritative mediator.

Also Saleh, who has already come to Rome, is a prestigious personality that can possibly Endeavour to reach an agreement for a future unification of the country.

The problem of unification will be posed by Ahmed Mitig, the leader of Misrata – another figure that could take the lead of a new unitary project – as well as by Khaled al-Meshri and even Khalifa Gwell, now defeated by al-Sarraj’s troops (and by Misrata’s 7thBrigade led by Mitig), but always useful-or, indeed, necessary – to reach stable peace in Libya. It will be Italy – if capable to do so – to establish a new hierarchy and provide guarantees to the various leaders for a national, but widely regionalized power, as it was also the case at Gaddafi’s time.

It should be noted that Mitig is al-Sarraj’s No. 2 leader.

The United States has no particular interest in the Libyan dossier, which is outside their African sphere of interest, although recently some US “advisors” have secretly arrived in Sirte.

Nevertheless, the United States is strongly interested in the issue of Islamic terrorism – hence it will favour any credible solution that can stabilize Libya and stop the arrival of jihadists from sub-Saharan Africa in Europe and, possibly, in the United States itself.

The France led by President Macron – whom we do not yet know whether he will manage to participate in the Palermo Conference – is in an obviously difficult situation, also due to Macron’s non-diplomatic illness.

Should the Palermo Conference fail, its only card to play would be to establish a stronger alliance with General Haftar and also with Russia – otherwise France will basically play second fiddle in Libya and in the Maghreb region, with imaginable repercussions on its sub-Saharan and central Françafrique.

Moreover, the French intelligence services have long been operating in Fezzan to thwart the 2017 agreements signed in Rome by the various tribes of the region, with the support of the then Interior Minister, Marco Minniti (but also, fortunately, of the then Foreign Minister).

Sabotage actions, support to the French Armed Forces on the border with Niger, but also mass upheavals in Tripoli in September 2018, most likely triggered by French intelligence operatives and local Islamists.

Hence the wider the attendance at the Conference, the greater Italy’s chances of victory and, consequently, France’s chances of defeat. France, isolated on the Libyan internal chessboard, will probably take its revenge in the area of Niger.

We shall also see what role will be played by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who now lives in a Libyan secret location near Egypt.

Obviously Colonel Gaddafi’s most brilliant son will not be in Palermo, but it would be useful to consider him part of the game.

Saif would still be General Haftar’s card to guide and direct a unified country after the crazy and stupid “Arab spring” made by France and Great Britain, which are even more inept that the United States in the African foreign policy.

A US foreign policy which – only thanks to the fight against “terrorism” – is flooding Africa and the EU borders with drones, satellite networks and military bases to seal the EU itself, control the evolution and developments on its borders and turn the Russian Federation into a middle Asian regional power.

Moreover, should Italy’s project fail, French President Macron could find a role to play in the stabilization of Libya, thus creating a new mediator’s role precisely with al-Farraj, and rebuilding – probably at great cost – a new relationship with General Haftar, who let Russia know he is dissatisfied with France, which, as usual, believes it can dictate the military agenda for those it helps.

Russia, however, could also accept France’s role if the Palermo Conference failed. Russia only wants to reach the intended result. It does not want, however, to antagonize Italy, the oil power needed in Libya and the future destabilizer of the now disturbing EU, which has got in the way with Ukraine and the sanctions and tension with the countries of the old Warsaw Pact, which are now EU Member States. President Trump does not like Europe at all and has showed it everywhere. President Putin, however, who is more reserved and discreet, could be fed up with a European Union that – as a foolish servant – repeats the US propaganda and is no longer useful as business partner as it was in the past. Now time has come for the Russian-Chinese axis, which ensures Russia’s economic growth – an axis passing through the Mediterranean, not the Eurasian peninsula.

Hence we also need to think about the outcome of the meetings that will be held by the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Paris on November 8 next.

These meetings will be attended by some Misrata’s and 7thBrigade’s leaders, and by Abo Kassim Kozeit, member of the High Council of State, as well as by MPs Soleiman Elfaqih and Mohammed Erraid, and GNA advisors Ali Bousseta and Ettaher Elbaour, in addition to Haftar’s military men Salha Juha and Mohammed Eddarat.

Preparation for a coup or for another government in exile? This is the reason why Haftar is worried.

Hence the Paris meetings will be a sort of Palermo Conference – hosted in a cold weather location, with the second and third ranks of the various participants in the Sicilian Conference – to mobilize and anyway activate the French networks in Libya for elections in the near future, which may possibly be interesting for some participants, and for a “plan for Libya” by the French intelligence services which will not convince al-Sarraj, who does not want to die in an attack on his government’s palace. This must be clearly said in Palermo.

Nevertheless, it will not even convince General Haftar, who now fears his arrogant allies and looks to Russia and also to Italy for putting an end to the conflict in a way that, however, does not humiliate him.

At the last Libyan elections only 17% of people voted – certainly not a share of voters that would make us take them seriously.

Elections in the near future, by which the covert operations of the French intelligence services set great store, would only create the conditions for a new fratricidal war – and this must be clearly explained to all the Libyan parties participating in the forthcoming Conference scheduled in Palermo.

For the Italian intelligence services said Conference is a significant turning point.

As far as we know, the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (AISE), Alberto Manenti, who was born in Tarhouna, depends on the outcome of the Palermo Conference, while also the domestic intelligence agency (AISI) and the Department of Security Intelligence (DIS) are under very strong pressure.

Our American friends should also be pointed out that only the future unity of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Haftar’s forces, the Tobruk-based government and other parties is the sole guarantee of a serious struggle against ISIS.

A repression of Libyan jihadism which is not at all a marginal goal, neither for Libya nor for Europe, considering the persisting tensions in Sirte, the reorganization of the so-called “radical” Islam in Fezzan (which could also benefit France, which would direct it towards the North) and the Caliphate’s final penetration also along the coastal lines.

Let us imagine that the recent visit paid by the Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, to Doha, the capital of Qatar, protecting the Muslim Brotherhood and supporting al-Sarraj, together with Turkey, has created a credible pressure of this Emirate on the Government of National Accord (GNA) for a platform – which is allegedly already circulating within the Italian Government – on the gradual unification of the Libyan Armed Forces.

A platform which is also the new goal of Al Sisi’s Egypt – although we do not know to what extent this goal is credible. Probably Egypt is finally fed up with funding and training General Haftar’s expensive army that, however, is still targeting its own offensive on Derna, a jihadist city-State.

It should also be recalled that, just the day before the beginning of the Palermo Conference, Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet in Paris for the future revision of the INF Treaty regarding medium-range missiles, recently rejected by the USA.

President Trump speaks about the Russian missiles, but he actually means the Chinese ones: should the new INF Treaty be reworded as desired by the US Administration, it would lead to the destruction of 95% of Chinese missiles.

And the United States strategically holds China only from the Pacific, from South Korea and from the bases in Japan.

Hence, probably President Macron wants to be credited for a success in the negotiation – even only for media purposes –  but it is much more likely that the Paris agreement on the new INF Treaty would ultimately be just a list of fine words.

Nevertheless, it would count to overshadow the Sicilian Conference and marginalize the Italian government and its image vis-à-vis Libya and the allies.

We do not know yet what Chancellor Merkel will say. She will be in Palermo representing a country that has not participated – except for a small e-warfare brigade -in the Western struggle to support the jihadists of Cyrenaica that led to the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime. In all likelihood, she will also devise a role as mediator, but politically weakened at national level and without a clear strategic direction in Africa which, however, would lead her to support-for want of anything better – the French assumptions and options.

Are we sure, however, that President Macron – so rhetorically pro-European – wants to deal with a German ally he has already antagonized on public accounts and the endless mass of irremovable civil servants? In no case President Macron wants to get involved, in Africa, with the German Armed Forces in disarray and with a primary goal in mind, which is still the Eurasian East?

Certainly France has invited the second and third ranks of the two major Libyan groups, led by al-Sarraj and Haftar, with a view to imitating the inclusion strategy that has characterized the Italian preparatory work for the Palermo Conference scheduled at Villa Igea.

Moreover, thirteen small groups invited by President Macron have already decided not to attend the Paris meeting.

In fact, Prime Minister Conte’s government has involved all the participants in the Libyan game, including the apparently minor ones.

Also in view of weakening al-Sarraj, Khalifa Haftar would like to have –  and probably already has – a good relationship with Misrata’s militias which, together with the other 250 autonomous militias, make up the unsafe, insecure and expensive (also for others) military basis of al-Sarraj’s government.

As already noted, Ahmed Mitig is the powerful man of Misrata and al-Sarraj’sNo. 2 leader.

Last year Mitig had also been to Agrigento, Sicily, for the first Italian-Libyan Forum. Meanwhile the Conference was being prepared.

The Palermo Conference will also be attended by Khaled Meshri, the President of Libya’s Supreme Council of State and No. 3 leader who, upon precise orders, will probably leave the Paris quasi-Summit on Libya and give up its elusive “elections”.

As already noted, the Conference will be also attended by Aguila Saleh Issa, the President of the GNA Parliament. but having excellent relations with the Tobruk-based Parliament.

He is certainly a decisive figure in Libya’s current and future set-up.

Moreover, there are already jihadist infiltrations also in Tripoli and Ghassan Salamè, the UN Special Representative in Libya, has publicly accused al-Sarraj of being weak.

Therefore Al-Sarraj is no longer as powerful within the  Tripoli government as he was a year ago and General Haftar does not fail to let it know that he still wants to get to Tripoli.

We need to ensure a honourable role to al-Sarraj; to let General Haftar know he can now stabilize his conquests, but must also have the support of Tripoli’s and Misrata’s forces, as well as of many Fezzan tribes, with whom the Italian intelligence services have always been in contact; to make it clear also for the old Head of “Operation Dignity” that it is useless to defeat and humiliate his enemies in Tripoli – a harshness that will unleash other tribal wars.

There is also another decisive factor, namely finance. Some of Gaddafi’s assets in the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and in other related investment companies have not yet been requisitioned by the United Nations, which had forgotten to make banking requisition mandatory for governments.

LIA’s division between Libya and Malta is ineffective and has led some Libyan financial transactions to come close to very dangerous environments.

General Haftar controlled the Oil Crescent’s wells, but eventually agreed to reach a reasonable arrangement on the oil sale proceeds.

All the money made or the returns on investment – currently limited -of the funds of Gaddafi’s regime in the EU and abroad must return to the new Libya.

This is the reason why – starting from the Palermo Conference – an Organization for the Financial Autonomy of the whole Libya could be set up which, in view of the future reunification of the area, should establish an equitable and even stable distribution of income between the regions, as well as enlarged representation between tribes and local governments, and the EU protection, with a delegation of powers to Italy, which already controls – with ENI and fully respecting all parties – the oil-related assets.

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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Towards Increasingly Complex Multipolarity: Scenario for the Future

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

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

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

Strategic Backdrop

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

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

Strategic Designs of the “Deep State”

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

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

The Eurasian “Balancing” Act

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

Russia

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

Turkey

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

India

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

China

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

Convergences & Contradictions

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

Convergences

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

Contradictions

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

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

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

American Schemes

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

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

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

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

Eurasian Solutions

These speculative schemes can be preempted through the following ways:

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

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

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

Conditionals

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

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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Afghan peace mediators

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taliban’s “Soft Power” Under Construction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Intelligence

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

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

Cyber Security – Individualistic awareness need of the hour

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

Cyber Security – Attacking Power Distribution Systems

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

The institutions backing legitimisation

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

A cohesive approach – Data Protection and Privacy Importance

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

What do you understand by Data Share?

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

Cyber-attacks understanding on the International Forums

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

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