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Central Asian Jihadists between Turkey and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham

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Frustrated by Jihad Islamists looking for ways to the West

After the signing and implementation of the Sochi Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in Idlib between Turkey and Russia there is a noticeable anxiety among al Qaeda linked-Central Asian jihadist groups, who are fighting in the north-east of Syria against the Bashar Assad’s regime.Over the past two months, the military and propaganda activities of these Sunni Salafi armed groups have significantly weakened.Some militants turned the corner and moved to the territory of Turkey, and are looking for opportunities to return to a peaceful life

During a recent trip to Turkey, I visited the Zeytinburnu region in Istanbul, in which a large Uyghur diaspora from Chinese Xinjiang lives. As I was informed, one of the Uyghur militants of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), after moving to Turkey for fear of being discovered by the Chinese special services, is trying to migrate to Europe or the US under the guise of refugees from Xinjiang.But the problem is that during the fighting in Jisr ash-Shugur in northwestern Syria, he lost his passport, and today is in Turkey illegally.

Recently, a researcher known for his controversial ideological views, a fellow at the Middle East Forum Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi interviewed another TIP fighter from Tajikistan Abu Osaid, who wants to return to peaceful life and migrate to Europe. Abu Osaid, who was born in Tajikistan in 1988, believed in the ideology of al-Qaeda, made a Hijrah (migration) to Syria with his wife to conduct jihad against the kafirs and protect the values of the Islamic Ummah. He went through the hell of captivity, fought side by side with the Uighurs, then became disillusioned with jihad and is now looking for ways to migrate to Europe, where he hopes to get an education, get a job and become a legal resident among Christians.

These two episodes from the life of the two Salafis indicate a certain mood among the Central Asian jihadists in Idlib, who dream of going to the West.It turns out an interesting tragicomedy: some Central Asian Islamists want to wage a holy war for the “purity of Islam” and the establishment of a Caliphate in the Middle East, but they certainly want to live in the homeland of “crusades” in Europe or in the US. At the same time, there is a great danger that in the case of migration to the West, former members of al Qaeda will continue their jihadist activities and there is no guarantee that they will not commit a terrorist act on the orders of their religious patrons. Therefore, counterterrorism and religious extremism specialists should carefully monitor the movements of members of the Salafi-Jihadi groups from Syria to the West.

The al Qaeda’s crossroads

It should be noted that currently in the province of Idlib stationed such as foreign Salafi-jihadi groups from Central Asia’s Fergana Valley and the Chinese province of Xinjiang, Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and Katibat Ghuraba al Turkestan (KGT).The total number of Uzbek, Uyghur, Tajik and Kyrgyz militants are about 4-5 thousand.

KTJ and TIP coordinate all their military operations in Syria and conduct them under the leadership of the most powerful single insurgent organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), former al-Nusra Front. Practically they became an integral part ofHTS.Uzbek militants KIB have closer cooperation with the National Liberation Front (NLF) — a rebel coalition in Syria formed in May 2018 under Turkey’s auspices.But all of them are united by their belonging to the Salafi ideology of al Qaeda.

Despite the fact that al-Nusra Front and al Qaeda formally broke off their relations in 2016, the Central Asian groups did not withdraw from al Qaeda and consider his leader Ayman al-Zawahiri their ideological leader.This is a unique case in which they coordinate their military and religious activities with both al Qaeda and HTS. Thus, the Salafi-jihadi groups of Central Asia became the connecting bridge between al Qaeda and HTS after their quarrels.

Today there is double pressure on the al Qaeda-linked Turkic and Russian-speaking Salafi-jihadi groups from the former Soviet Union in Idlib: from the Turkish special services and his favorite rebel coalition NLF on the one hand, and HTS on the other.Each side is trying to pull them over to its side and use their armed potential in their own interests as the Idlib gambit.

As is known, in accordance with the Sochi Memorandum, Turkey is working to set up a demilitarized zone of a depth of 15-20 km in Syria’s Idlib region, the withdrawal of terrorist groups, including al-Nusra and heavy weapons from the buffer zone between rebel and government fighters and al Assad’s allied Iran-backed groups.As part of this operation, the Turkish intelligence services held talks with all armed groups of the Syrian opposition and al Qaeda-backed Salafi-Jihadi groups, including the HTS and his foreign fighters divisions from Central Asia.In this situation, the Uyghur and Uzbek jihadi groups are trying to keep the “middle ground” by not openly opposing the Turkish initiative, but at the same time not breaking off their close relations with the HTS to please Ankara.

Despite the double pressure, the Central Asian Islamists managed to maintain their ideological loyalty to al Qaeda, who after the fall of the Islamic state became the leader in world Salafi-Jihadi Movement. Therefore, none of the Central Asian militant groups in Idlib made an official statement over the Sochi Memorandum. Only the leader of the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, or KIB, Abu Yusuf Muhojir wrote on Telegram under the pictures of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Syria that “Jihad is not commerce since the honor of Muslims is not for sale. The enemies of Islam will not succeed in destroying the religion of Allah.”

There are several factors that the Uzbek groups KTJ and KIB, as well as the Uighur militant units TIP and KGT will not be able to openly conflict with Ankara.

First, thanks to the common religious, linguistic and cultural identity of the peoples of Central Asia and Turkey, the Islamists of the Fergana Valley and Chinese Xinjiang received the hidden support of Ankara when crossing the Turkish-Syrian border. Erdogan’s Turkey allowed more than 20,000 foreign fighters from Russia, Central Asia, Caucasus and China to pass through her borders to join Salafi-Jihadi terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq from 2013 to 2016.In the event of the capture of Idlib by the Bashar al-Assad army and the fall of the last stronghold of the Syrian opposition, the Turkish territory remains the only transit zone for the Russian-speaking foreign fighters to leave Syria. Therefore, they do not want to burn bridges that will serve them in the future.

Secondly, at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011-14, Turkey considered jihadists from Central Asia as a pro-Sunni force capable of fighting to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. The Turkish authorities have allowed wounded fighters from Central Asia to be treated in the hospitals of Turkey. In 2014 the leader of KTJ Abu Saloh was wounded in the eye in fighting against the Syrian government forces and then was treated in Turkey.

Thirdly, still act the logistics infrastructures of the TIP in Turkey among Uyghur’s diaspora, where collect financial aid from its businessmen for those who are on the Hijrah. The favorable attitude towards the Uighurs is also due to the position of Turkish President Erdogan, who said that “Eastern Turkestan is not only the home of the Turkic peoples, but it is also the cradle of Turkic history, civilization, and culture. The martyrs of Eastern Turkestan are our own martyrs.”

Considering all these factors, Erdogan’s security services today are trying to influence the leaders of the jihadist groups of Central Asia in order to pull them under the NLF’s umbrella.As we already know, Ankara uses the armed potential of the NLF not only fight against the al-Assad regime but also to fight the Kurdish military unit YPG along the Turkish-Syrian border.On November 6, 2018, the Ebaa news agency reported that Turkey called on the NLF members to prepare for the battle in the Eastern Euphrates against the Kurdish YPG units.NLF already participated in the military operation “Olive Branch” to liberate Syrian Afrin from Kurdish groups in February-March 2018.Pro-Turkish Jaish al-Sharqia, one of the NLF’s major factions, has declared its readiness to fight the Eastern Euphrates with Kurdish groups. Therefore, it is possible that in case of joining the NLF, the Uighur and Uzbek jihadists will have to conduct fight against the Kurdish troops. According to religious and ideological views, Central Asian jihadists have always been against Kurdish Communists.

It should be noted that with the help of financial and military leverage, Ankara managed to rally around 30 Sunni Islamist rebel groups around the NLF, including Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki. Today, the total number of NLF fighters is about 100,000, a third of whom are associated with al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Daily Beast, Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) has been deeply involved with the al Qaeda affiliated groups. Therefore, joining the NLF will not cause any ideological differences for al Qaeda-backed TIP, KTJ and KIB.

However, Central Asia’s Salafi-Jihadi groups are also under pressure from HTS, which does not intend to release them from its control.The military wing of the HTS said to Ebaa news agency that those who leave ribat (guard service at the border for the protection of Dar al-Islam), will give up arms or violate the bayat (oath of allegiance to an emir) will be considered traitors and will face severe punishment in accordance with Islam.

In its statement on the Sochi Memorandum, which is titled, “The Syrian Revolution Will Not Die”, HTS thanks all those who have supported Syrians and appreciate who saved liberated areas, including Central Asian Mujahideens who have “emigrated to join us.”HTS seeks to reassure the foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria, implying that they won’t be sacrificed to meet the demands of international actors.HTS refused to surrender heavy weapons and promised to continue jihad against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran.Thus, HTS became a serious obstacle to Ankara’s ambition to create its autonomous protectorate in the north of Syria and reduce Kurdish influence in the border area.

Because of the intransigence of its leaders, the HTS today has made many enemies. The tension between pro-Turkish groups and HTS has reached such a level that the NLF Ninth Division is ready to launch an offensive.The al-Assad army and Iranian-backed Shia militias consider HTS to be their main enemy that is spreading terrorism and preventing the establishment of peace in Syria.

Despite the Sochi Memorandum, armed clashes between HTS and the Syrian Army occur every day. In this situation, the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups became hostage to the ambitions of Abu Mohammed al-Jolani.

Idlib’s Trap

Today the financial position of TIP, KIB and KTJ has deteriorated markedly.External sponsors from Arab countries substantially reduced their economic assistance. The internal resources of these groups are at the verge of exhaustion. The influx of new militants from the Caucasus and Central Asia has almost stopped. The work of recruiting new jihadists from among labor migrants in Russia, Fergana Valley, and Chinese Xinjiang are not being conducted. In this situation, some deserters who managed to escape from their commanders and cross the Turkish-Syrian border are trying to leave for the West.

In October 2018, the leader of al Qaeda-backed Junud al-Sham group, ethnic Chechen militant Muslim Abu Waleedal-Shishani (Murad Margoshvili) made an appeal to the World Muslim Ummah. He acknowledged that the Salafi groups from the post-Soviet space in Idlib are going through a difficult period, some Mujaheeds have come back, closing the doors of a holy Jihad. Therefore, he asked them not to hurry to leave Sham, because all is not lost.He called on the World Muslim Ummah to make donations for “the lions of Allah who migrated to Sham and protect the honor of Islam. “The desperate appeal of al-Shishani witnessed the nervous situation among Salafi-Jihadi groups from Russia, Central Asia and China in Syria.

Today Central Asian jihadists are in Idlib’s trap, where NLF and Turkish special services breathing down their necks, the al-Assad’s army, Iranian Shia militias and the Russian air force attack in front, and a Khawarijis(al Qaeda uses the term “Khawarij” as a synonym for ‘extremist’ to describe members of the ISIS)of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi strike from behind.

Turkey’s flirting with al Qaeda

The prospect of the continued presence of the Central Asian al-Qaida branches in Syria depends on the future actions of regional players – Russia, Turkey and Iran on the Idlib scene. In any case, they all understand perfectly well that the Sochi Memorandum is temporary. Moscow and Ankara declare that it was necessary to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis. But for Damascus the deal in Idlib was necessary to gather strength and al-Assad will try to seize the last stronghold of the opposition by force. And then, to protect not only Idlib but also to retain control over the Syrian border region by Ankara, the military potential of al Qaeda-linked Central Asian jihadists will be required.

But as al Qaeda’s Afghan experience and September 11 tragedy showed, flirting with this global Sunni terrorist organization and using its forces to achieve situational gains can lead to serious religious and political upheavals in the Middle East and Central Asia in the future.

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Sino-Russian regional activities after Afghanistan

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Terrorism

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last August, Russia warned against the threat from the extremist organisation of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the increase in drug trafficking.

The Taliban have decided to cooperate with Russia, China and Iran to maintain regional security. The news agency France-Presse reported that the Taliban had participated in high-level talks in Moscow. During that time, ten countries requested emergency humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan and said that the countries which have recently withdrawn from Afghanistan should provide funds to help with reconstruction. The countries are the following: China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Before that meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that some ten thousand ISIS fighters had gathered in Northern Afghanistan to spread religious and ethnic discord. The Soviet Union once bordered on Afghanistan and Russia still considers this area a zone of influence.

Putin reported in mid-September that the ISIS leader was planning to send people disguised as refugees to neighbouring countries in Central Asia.

The countries participating in the Moscow talks stressed in a joint statement that they were concerned about the actions of terrorist organisations and reaffirmed their willingness to continue to promote security in Afghanistan to contribute to regional stability.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised the absence of US officials during the meeting. He said earlier that ISIS-affiliated fighters and al-Qaeda were trying to take advantage of the power void in some parts of Afghanistan.

In the joint statement, the participating countries urged the Taliban to implement appropriate and cautious domestic and foreign policies and adopt a friendly policy towards Afghanistan’s neighbours.

In terms of internal policy, they demand that the Taliban respect the rights of ethnic groups, women and children. Prior to that meeting, Taliban representatives had met with EU and US officials and had also travelled to Turkey, hoping to gain official recognition and assistance from the international community.

The Taliban are in desperate need of allies at the moment because Afghanistan’s economy is in danger due to the loss of international aid, rising food prices and increasing unemployment.

With specific reference to China and Russia, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the signing of the Sino-Russian Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, relations between the two countries entered the third decade of stability and friendship.

Currently, however, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to at least two negative outcomes for China and Russia: 1) Afghanistan, located in the ‘backyard’ of China and Russia has destabilised; 2) the conflict has been chaotic and the future is uncertain and after thirty years since the end of the Cold War, the United States has freed itself from that burden to focus on the challenges of the two major Eurasian powers.

Before the US withdrawal – although the Sino-Russian-US geopolitical game continued to intensify – Afghanistan was still the place where the interests of the three countries overlapped and the parties were all interested in achieving a “soft landing” on the issue.

Since 2019 the three countries have been working together in the form of an enlarged “troika” to peacefully resolve the Afghan issue. For Russia and China, the US military presence in Afghanistan was a double-edged sword: it did not only represent a geographical threat, but could also effectively contain radical Islamic forces in the region.

Both China and Russia hoped that, after reaching a sustainable peace agreement with the parties involved in Afghanistan, the US military would withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly way to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a “terrorist sanctuary” again.

The quick US defeat in Afghanistan, however, without agreements and/or compromise solutions, was unexpected for China and Russia, especially when, on May 11, the US military evacuated the Kandahar airport without informing the Afghan government, etc.

China and Russia have no choice but to face an Afghanistan whose political future is doubtful. The two superpowers, however, have completely different attitudes towards the Afghan issue: the former is more proactive in contacting all parties inside and outside Afghanistan.

On May 11, at the Second Meeting of the Five Foreign Ministers in the format of “Central Asia and China” held in Xi’an, the Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, had warned that “foreign troops should withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly and responsible manner to prevent hasty actions against Afghanistan”. A few days later, the Chinese Foreign Minister told his Afghan counterpart that China was “willing to host Afghanistan’s internal talks and help its efforts against terrorism”. In mid-July, during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Dushanbe, Wang Yi reiterated that proposal.

It was in that context that Wang Yi paid an official visit to Tajikistan on July 14 and then participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting and met Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Tashkent the following day. Furthermore, on July 16, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with the then Afghan President Ashraf Ghan. Xi Jinping urged “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political dialogue to promote national reconciliation and peace processes”. He also promised to provide more assistance to Afghanistan in the fight against Covid-19 and hoped that the Afghan side would provide more protection to Chinese citizens and organisations in Afghanistan.

Ten days after US forces suddenly withdrew from Bagram Air Base (July 6), i.e. when Xi Jinping and Ghani were in talks, the United States announced that the new deadline for the US withdrawal was August 31, thus causing the Afghan army’s collapse across the country as early as late July.

On July 28, while meeting Taliban political leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin, Wang Yi said: “The sudden withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan marks the failure of US policy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are now faced with an important opportunity to stabilise and develop their country”.

Baradar hopes that China will increasingly participate in the peace-building process in Afghanistan and play a greater role in the country’s reconstruction and economic development. Wang Yi said the Taliban should draw a clear line with terrorist organisations such as ISIS. In response, Baradar promised that the Afghan Taliban would “absolutely not permit any force to do anything harmful to China on the territory of Afghanistan”.

Baradar is not the first to visit China. Before September 11, 2001, the Taliban had contacts with China but, after the tragic events, China supported the Afghan Northern Alliance and the aforementioned contacts with the Taliban were interrupted for several years. Nevertheless, China has never classified the Taliban as a terrorist organisation.

China’s active diplomacy towards Afghanistan has two main reasons: firstly, security concerns, particularly China’s Western borders; secondly, economic interests, because all of Afghanistan’s neighbours are countries linked to the Silk Road Initiative.

In the actual operation, security and economy are closely related and are both essential. On July 14, the shuttle bus of the Dasu Hydropower Project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Northwest Pakistan, was attacked by terrorists. The attack caused the death of thirteen people, including nine Chinese citizens. The Dasu Hydropower Plant is part of the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Moreover, as a neighbouring country to Afghanistan, China has a 92-kilometre-long border at the eastern edge of the 300-kilometre-long Wakhan Valley, which is connected to this war-torn country. According to reports, China provided about 70 million dollars in military assistance to Afghanistan between 2016 and 2018 and helped the Afghan army establish a mountain brigade dedicated to fighting terrorism in the Wakhan corridor.

Furthermore, during the two decades in which the United States occupied Afghanistan, China’s investment there included millions and millions of dollars in economic assistance, including various projects such as schools, hospitals, flats and food assistance, and trained thousands of Afghan students and technicians in China and Afghanistan.

Since 2017 China, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been discussing the possibility of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some major economic projects, such as the 2008 four billion dollar contract for the Anyak copper mine and the 2011 contract for the Amu Darya Basin joint oil and gas field development, have been suspended due to security concerns.

Unlike China, Russia has considered the Taliban a terrorist organisation since February 2003, but this has not prevented it from having contacts with them. On August 13 last, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed: ‘We are in dialogue with all important political forces in Afghanistan, including the Afghan government and the Taliban, the representatives of Uzbeks and Tajiks and others”.

In fact, the representatives of the Taliban visited Moscow as early as November 2018 to participate in the peace Conference hosted by Russia. They also held two meetings in 2021 (on March 18 and July 8) to participate in tripartite consultations, Russia’s preferred format for dialogue. Two days before the Taliban took control of Kabul, Foreign Minister Lavrov envisaged an enlarged tripartite consultation mechanism to include Iran and India in addition to Pakistan. Outside Afghanistan, Russia has invested many resources in Central Asia and has considerable influence in the security field (Collective Security Treaty Organisation).

As important countries, many global problems are related to the relationship between China and Russia. Western countries, like colonies led by the United States of America, have preferred to have hammers in their hands and nails in their eyes. China and Russia have not followed the Western model, but have gone their separate ways. This is a hope for the countries that have been devastated by the US interference (former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, African countries, etc.), and it is also a hope for the Westphalian world order disrupted by the United States after the Twin Towers attack.

The development and progress of human civilisation cannot have only one pathway, nor should there be only one model. As a Chinese saying goes: “Those who are fit for themselves but forgets the others are abandoned by the people; those who deny themselves and rise again are admired by everybody”.

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A More Diverse Force: The Need for Diversity in the U.S. Intelligence Community

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As part of a hiring initiative meant to attract new and diverse hires, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a new recruitment video in March of 2021. The video featured a Hispanic female discussing her background and time in the CIA, as well as why she chose to serve her country. She says at one point, “I’m a woman of color. I am a mom. I am a cis-gender millennial who’s been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder…I did not sneak into CIA. My employment was not and is not the result of a fluke or a slip through the cracks. I earned my way in, and I earned my way up the ranks of this organization”.

The video showed a woman who cares for her family, cares for her country, and desires to see a difference be made in the world. However, some took issue with the advert though, though these criticisms came over a month after the video first was published and made available to the public.

In a tweet, the Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, said, “If you’re a Chinese communist, or an Iranian Mullah, or Kim Jong Un…would this scare you? We’ve come a long way from Jason Bourne”. Many criticized Cruz for his usage of Jason Bourne, a fictional CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer, yet he took to Twitter once again to clarify, saying, “My point is that CIA agents should be bad-asses—not woke, fragile flowers needing safe spaces”.

Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted “China & Russia are laughing their asses off watching CIA go full woke…If you think about it, wokeness is the kind of twisted PSYOP a spy agency would invent to destroy a country from the inside out”. Others, including popular conservative commentators like Dinesh D’Souza and Meghan McCain, also criticized the ad calling a “joke” or “insane” while others went as far to say that the CIA was “actively looking to recruit the most immodest, narcissistic, grotesquely self-serving people in the world”.

Criticism towards the ad did not purely come from the Conservative, rightist personalities either, but also members of the left. Left-leaning publications such as The Intercept and Jezebel both critiqued the ad. It seems that, from all sectors of American public and political life, this advert and total tactic was heavily derided; from members of the left, it was cringey and irrespective of the agency’s long and controversial history while, from members of the right, it was ineffective national security and intelligence policy.

However, what many seem to be forgetting is that diversity within the intelligence world is an extremely important factor in creating effective and accurate foreign policy and in gaining the most up to date and accurate intelligence.

Intelligence analysis is probably the most important part of the Intelligence Cycle and holds just as much, if not more, importance as the end result, the intelligence estimate or packet. To put it simply, if the analysis is corrupted in some way, shape, or form by either the analyst’s personal views or tainted by poorly verified intelligence, then the action taken based upon this intelligence could result in missteps or negative affects to U.S. policymakers, military units, or regions in which the intelligence affects. Throughout history, there are an abundance of examples in which intelligence analysts have misinterpreted situations due to their own biases about a nation, political ideology, or have been selected specifically to sort through intelligence in order to back up a preconceived opinion.

One of the best examples in showing how analysts’ personal views, both conscious and subconscious, can affect their overall analysis is the 1954 coup d’état of Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz.

The coup, which was given the CIA codename Operation PBSUCCESS, was a mission in which the U.S. government, via the CIA and U.S. State Department, engaged in fomenting a coup to remove Árbenz, the leftist president who had approved of agrarian reforms within Guatemala. To justify an invasion, members of the State Department and CIA tried to link Árbenz to Guatemalan communists, yet this proved very difficult as there was “no evidence that Arbenz himself was anything more than a European-style democratic socialist”. A CIA paper, published two months before the coup, also, “did not cite any direct contact between Guatemalan Communists and Moscow. The paper offered ideology, not facts…”. 

A master’s thesis written by a student at West Virginia University extensively and exclusively covers the CIA’s decision making process, detailing how, “CIA reports from the early 1950s also demonstrated this fear [of Communism]… The “red scare,” in essence, affected nearly all Americans. Many in the Eisenhower government also felt that Moscow had a nefarious hidden hand and controlled communist sympathizers around the globe,” while also noting that the, “ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence] did not feel that CIA had valid reasons or enough sources to reach the conclusion it did regarding Soviet intentions in Latin America”. The heightened fears of Communism and the Soviet Union that permeated the minds of analysts within the State Department and CIA (as well as the desires by some to ensure the survival of the United Fruit Company in the country) resulted in intelligence that was skewed to believing that the Guatemalan government was embracing Communism, when, even according to the CIA’s own histories, was baseless.

Based upon this example, as one can see, the intelligence provided to the U.S. government was based upon analyst biases and did not accurately reflect how the Guatemalan government under Árbenz operated nor how entrenched the Communists were in political life. The fear of Communism overwhelmed the amount of solid and fact-based analysis, resulting in an invasion that removed a democratically elected president.

This coup eventually resulted in the emplacement of a right-wing, military government, which would rule until 1996, overseeing a brutal civil war complete with death squads, acts of genocide committed by presidential administrations, political assassinations, and a drastic increase in governmental corruption. Members of the CIA who were involved in the operation too regretted their actions and acknowledged that the outcome did not benefit Guatemala, the U.S., or Latin America. Operation PBSUCCESS did not bring about a U.S.-friendly democracy, but a U.S.-friendly military dictatorship that engaged in war crimes and severely destabilized the entire country. The failure of this operation to bring about a democracy and U.S. intervention in the country in the first place was, in my own view and examination, based upon biased analyses by the CIA which promoted the view that Guatemala was becoming sympathetic to Communists and the operation itself shows just how important intelligence analysis is.

Not only is analysis an incredibly important tool within the intelligence cycle as a whole, but the analyst themselves are highly important. The analysis is only as good as the analyst and if the analyst is biased, limited in their outlook or worldview, or come from a sole section of society, then the analysis will reflect those beliefs. Most of the analysts involved in the Guatemalan operation were white and male, most likely coming from middle-class backgrounds and either having military service or Ivy League education or both. These beliefs and hiring processes which exclude persons beyond the majority of America’s populace can significantly hinder an agency and promote a poor world outlook. The majority of persons in countries in which the U.S. is involved, thinking of becoming involved, or are creating analyses in anticipation of potential foreign policies are not white or male nor from wealthy societies; they are, most often than not, of an extremely different mindset than many Americans, live in poverty or close to poverty, and have an immensely different culture. While the CIA has made some headway in this area, retired CIA case officers and analysts have made claims that the CIA (and the Intelligence Community as a whole) are severely underperforming and not effectively recruiting towards people from outside of that select pool.

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, Jr.’s comments about the CIA lowering their standards and fostering an environment in which the CIA now is ineffective at creating intelligence or defending the United States from foreign threats (not being “badass” enough) is nonsensical. If anything, the inclusion of persons who are not white or male, who have experience outside of the military, who are knowledgeable on issues beyond military, intelligence, and national defense/security makes for a more well-rounded force and an agency more effective at analyzing collected intelligence, crafting accurate and informed recommendations, and allowing past mistakes, the misreading of important political events, to take hold. Including strong, analytical persons from more minority backgrounds into the national security framework will perform wonders for American intelligence analysis and in making influential policy decisions.

To quote Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired CIA officer, “Diversity is an operational advantage. Simple as that. I want case officers who look like the UN”.

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Women Maoists (Naxalbari)

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Every now and then, Indian newspapers flash news about Maoist insurgents, including women being killed. They usually avoid mentioning how many soldiers were killed in encounters, whether fake or genuine.  Here is a glimpse of such news: A woman fighter, along with a male c-fighter, was killed in a clash with government forces in Odisha’s Malkagiri district (Press Trust of India, December 14, 2020).

In another incident, a woman Maoist was killed in an encounter with India’s security forces in Sukma district of Chhatisgarh  (PTI, October 13, 2010). A woman Maoist was killed near Anrapali forest (Visakhapatnam, Andhrapradesh). And, another woman Maoist, carrying Rs. 16 lac reward on her head was killed in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra.

Sometimes there are pitched battles between the Indian forces and the Maoists, including women. For instance, there was a head-on confrontation between a Maoist group and government forces of over 1500 “jawan”, equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and helicopters at the Bijapur-Sukma border. Sans air power, the Maoists, armed only with machine guns, gunned down 22 soldiers belonging to Central Reserve Police Force, Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (Cobra), and Bastariya Battalion of the Central Reserve Police.

Why do women join the Maoist Movement?

They find the Maoist narrative of emancipation attractive. . Not only the low-caste women but also the high-caste ones joined the Maoist ranks in droves. About 30 to 40 per cent of combatants are Maoists. The status of women in the Indian society is no better than that of slaves. They are not supposed to form an opinion or dare express it. Even the high-caste women are supposed to be reticent and coy. They are tutored to be housewives confined to quadrilateral of their homes, rear children, and do household chores. The Maoist ideology ingrained the sense of empowerment in them. The Maoist manifesto teems with such words as “mahila sasahktikaran” (women’s empowerment), “raise their voices” (awash uthaunne), “get their voices represented” (mahilako awaj ko pratinidithyo) and “understand women’s grief” (mahila ko dukka bhujnne).

The Maoist struggle is commonly known as “the people’s war”. The “war” aims at abolishing the feudal system, and creating a democratic egalitarian society. The bulwark of the Maoists is rural population, lower castes and women. Women and men of all castes, classes, ethnic backgrounds and education levels joined the movement.

Pro-women manifesto

The Maoist has incorporated women’s emancipation in their ideological manifesto, actually a “40-point demand-document”. The gender equality is enshrined in points 19, 20 and 21, mentioned heretofore:

“19. Patriarchal exploitation and discrimination against women should be stopped, girls should be allowed to access paternal property as their brothers.

20. All racial exploitation and suppression should be stopped. Where ethnic communities are in the majority, they should be allowed to form their own autonomous governments.”

People’s courts

The Maoist proved their heart-felt commitment to the manifesto by punishing rapists, wresting back the usurped land of single women, penalising men for polygamy, and prohibiting the sale of liquor as drunken men more often beat the women.  Jan adalats (“people’s courts”) ferociously uphold women’s rights on issues of social and domestic violence.

Equal authority

Women were given political or combat position on the basis of merit. Untouchability and gender discrimination has been abolished. The points 19, 20 and 21 of the Maoist manifesto relating to women stress the need to transform state and customary laws to redress gender inequality at all levels.

In 2002, in recognition of their female constituency, the Maoists introduced the so-called “prachanda path,” creating a women’s department in the Central Committee. In several cases, it is the women who slay the incorrigible feudal tyrants. The women realise that they are “agents of change” who have to fight out repression in all its manifestations.  The women have become politically aware that they have the right make decisions about their marriages, children’s education, and other everyday gender needs.

Indian police admit it was the women fighters who were in the vanguard of a deadly attack in Chhattisgarh, where 24 people, including some top politicians, were killed.

 Because of its liberal manifesto, the insurgency has spread to 11 states, with Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha as epicenters. It has become entrenched in all central and eastern Indian states, often referred to as the “Red Corridor.

Fake news

Having failed to subdue the Maoists, the government occasionally resorts to spreading false news about deaths of Maoist leaders. For instance, Hindustan Times dated June 24, 2021 reported that Maoist leader Haribushan, carrying a reward of Rs. 40 lac on his head, had died from COVID19. Her wife rebutted the news (Parveen Kumar Bandari Hans News Service October 5, 2021). “More than 16 senior and middle level level communist leaders have died in the last couple of months due to COVID19…Two senior most leaders of Bastar Ganga, including Dandakaryana Special Zone Committee members Ganga and Sobhroi have died due to infection in the last couple of months”.

Sympathy with Naxals is an offence

In the Bhim Koregaon planted-letters case, several intellectuals and rights activists including Navalakha were declared “traitors” by the Indian government. They were even accused of having links with Kashmiri militants. Fake letters were inputted into their computers. They were even accused of being Pakistan’s intelligence agencies agents through Ghulam Nabi Fai, a US-based Kashmiri leader. Fei has served two-year imprisonment in the USA for having illegally received funds from the inter-services intelligence of Pakistan.

Urban militia

The Maoist are trying to disseminate their message to urban areas also. They understand that the minorities are fed up with the regressive caste system. The rebels want to radicalise youngsters and already have carved out a strong network in premier universities of Delhi and Kolkata. The Maoist want to  create an urban militia to fight the oppressive enforcement machinery of the states and Indian Union.  They are believed to have infiltrated the government intelligence machinery to stay abreact of government’s tactics.

Coordination strategy

The Maoists make no bones about their plan to set up a “coordination network among like-minded outfits in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. They want unhindered movement of left-wing extremists in these territories to exchange arms, ammunition and information”. To counter the Maoist strategy, India rushed its diplomats to capitals of neighbouring countries to plug up the porous border and obstruct the insurgents’ free movement.

Gurkha trainers

In addition, India launched Special teams for simultaneous searches in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka at suspected Maoist training centres and hideouts. The effort was counter-productive because India’s national Investigation Agency framed charges against the innocent people.

During searches, the Indian forces were surprised to know that the retired Gorkha soldiers of both British and the Indian Army harbour sympathy for the Maoists.

They trained the Maoists to use fire arms efficiently. Some Maoists demonstrated their alacrity and military sills in planning bank robberies, and extorting ransom from rich businessmen. Besides arms and ammunition snatched from police stations, the Maoists are believed to have amassed over Rs. 5 billion from bank heists. The general impression in people’s minds is that the Indian forces dare not pursue the Maoists in forests. The insurgents pick up places where to ambush the security forces, and make off with booty with impunity.

Salwa Judum (purification hut)

Having failed to arrest momentum of the movement, India organised a private army ofSalwa Judum ledbyMahendra Karma From among the villagers.  To boost their morale, they were given honorary rank of “special police officer. “As a workaround, the government sponsored counter-militias and split tribes into those “for” and “against” Maoists. Those willing to fight the Maoists were offered guns, money and honorary police ranks.

The Maoists shot dead Mahendra Karma and several members of the ruling Indian National Congress whose brainchild the Salwa Judum was.  It later transpired that the salwa judum had been cobbled up with help of child soldiers recruited under duress or financial allurement. It was involved in gross human rights violations. When People’s Union of Civil Liberties in India brought its atrocities to the Supreme Court’s notice, it declared it illegal in 2011.

Concluding remarks

Charu Mazumdar started the movement as a “revolutionary opposition” in 1965.  The world came to know of it in 1967 when the Beijing Radio reported “peasants’ armed struggle” at Naxalbari (Siliguri division of West Bengal). In July 1972, the police arrested Charu Mazumdar and tortured him to death on the night of July 27-28. The Naxalite ideology has great appeal for marginalized strata (particularly dalit and adivasis) of India’s caste-ridden society. The Naxalites Central Committee’s resolution (1980) visualises creating a base for spreading people’s democratic revolution. It would include : ‘Homogenous contiguous forested area around Bastar Division (since divided into Bastar, Dantewada and Kanker Districts of Chhatisgarh) and adjoining areas of Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, East Godavari Districts of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrapur and Garchehiroli district of Maharastra, Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh, Malkagiri and Koraput districts of Orissa. The Naxalites want to carve out an independent zone extending from Nepal through Bihar and then to the Dandakarnaya region extending up to Tamil Nadu to give them access to the Bay of Bengal as well as the Indian Ocean. 

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