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One Belt-One Road and the South China Sea: Xi Jingping’s Priorities

Kjell Tengesdal

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War between China and the United States over the South China Seas (SCS) is imminent.  This is one example of the alarmist headlines that emblazon many western foreign policy journals and news articles following every incident between the U.S. and China.  Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia offered his warnings during his keynote speech at the “New China Challenge” conference in October2018. He highlighted the issue from the western perspective and called for a third approach aside from “capitulation or confrontation.”But how does China see the South China Sea issue?  Are China’s interests inside the Nine Dash Line considered a ‘core value’ and something that China is willing to go to war over?  How does China’s interest in the SCS compare to those related to its “One Belt-One Road” initiative?  How does President Xi see these issues?  This analysis evaluates these questions from the Chinese perspective.

On September 28, 2018, China surpassed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as the longest surviving communist state.  China sees itself as an ascendant power and Russia in decline.  China seeks to expand its influence in the Asian region and eventually emerge as a global power, equaling or exceeding the influence of the United States. Many economists project that China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will surpass the United States by2025.   Binnendijk compares China’s economy to a speeding bicycle, provided it continues to maintain access to adequate natural resources, energy and trade routes, it will continue to expand.  However, if one or more of these factors become unduly stressed, then the Chinese economy is in great danger of collapsing and it could drive the economy to a halt. Identifying this need to support the economy well into the next decade, President Xi Jinping has implemented a “One Belt-One Road” (OBOR) plan for securing the economic future of China.   China has made ‘excessive maritime claims’ according to many western nations and regional rivals within the South China Sea resulting in many disputed claims, largely perceived as part of its pursuit of natural resources.  China has also moved forward with enlarging and militarizing many of these islands and atolls in efforts to solidify and expand its regional influence (see Figure 1).All of these initiatives place China in direct competition with neighboring peers.

Figure 1: China’s “Nine Dash Line” and Territorial Claims in the South China Seas (source: Finance Twitter)

Like most countries, China has a set of core, vital, and principal interests.  Chinese core interests are those with which it will “never waver, compromise, or yield”, haggle or bargain, and “must stand firm, be clear, have the courage to fight and never surrender [these] principles.”  These core interests are considered non-negotiable and include sovereignty issues like Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.  Vital interests are those that China considers as irrevocably necessary to the safety and survival of the state, which include political and economic independence.  Principal interests on the other hand are negotiable and are targeted to enhance economic trade, foreign relations and friendly ties with regional partners.

Is China’s expansion in the South China Seas a core or vital interest? Western analysts often see the answer as a ‘yes.’  However, from China’s perspective and Xi Jingping’s in particular, it appears that China may be less inclined for military action in defense of its SCS interests than previously thought. China first started to discuss its core interests regularly starting in 2004.  Under President Hu’s regime, state councilor and foreign affairs expert Dai Bingguo declared China’s “core interests included maintaining the socialist system, national security, territorial integrity, reunification with Taiwan and economic development.”   On April27, 2013, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported in an interview with Japan’s NHK news network “that Chinese officials repeatedly told him during his visit to Beijing earlier in the week that the Senkaku islands are ‘one of China’s core interests.’” This would be confirmed later in the week by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official. It is important to note that this occurred before Xi Jingping came to power in 2013.  For Xi, the South China Sea issue, while a principal interest, is less important to the successful execution of his long-term plans and economic policies for China.

Prior to Xi’s election, China had pursued a two-decade foreign policy of ‘keeping a low profile and bidding time. ’Xi sees himself as a strong leader, from a long line of great Chinese leaders and has moved China towards a policy of “striving for achievement.”Early evidence of Xi’s economic plans occurred at China’s Periphery Diplomacy Initiative in November 2013 where he called upon China to “strive for obtaining an excellent peripheral environment for our country’s development, bring even more benefits of our country’s development to peripheral countries, and realize common development.”  A year later, he would make a similar appeal to Asian leaders at the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).  This speech laid the ground work for his One Belt-One Road initiative. (Figure 2).

Figure 2: China’s One Belt-One Road (source Economist.com)

During his opening speech at the G20 summit in 2016, President Xi again called for a course change towards a new global economy that incorporates the following four keystones: (1) innovation, (2) openness, (3) interconnectedness and (4) inclusivity.  In these and subsequent speeches, Xi has sought to highlight that OBOR is a regional initiative that will benefit all countries within its scope, not just China.  Xi sees OBOR as his legacy and will be the driving factor in China’s emergence from a regional hegemon to a truly global power.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), if a nation has territorial control over an island or mainland that borders the sea, then that nation may claim a Territorial Sea (TS) of no more than 12 nautical miles (nm); an Exclusive Economic Zone of no more than 200 nm and a continental shelf of no more than 200 nm. As shown in figure 1, many of China’s maritime claims far exceed these allowed ranges.  There is no question that China has become more assertive in expanding its sphere of influence in the South China Sea since President Xi took office, most notably its exertion of the Nine-Dash Line as territorial waters based on historical maritime claims. Several incidents highlight China’s aggressive stance in the region since Xi’s ascendance to the presidency in violation of UNCLOS. 

First, in May of 2014, the China National Offshore Oil Company, a state run entity, deployed the HYSY-981 offshore oilrig accompanied by several military vessels to a disputed region near the Paracel islands and an area inside Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This move was not successful from the economic perspective as it did not result in any economic gains.  Second, China has occupied, expanded, and militarized several of the Spratly Islands which are outside the UNCLOS recognized control of China as shown in figure 1. Third, in 2009, five Chinese vessels surrounded the USNS Impeccable, a research ship operating approximately 75 miles south of Hainan Island inside China’s EEZ. The ship was conducting routine seafloor mapping and submarine tracking activities.  China saw the U.S. vessel as violating its sovereignty and directly challenged its presence, forcing the ship to take collision avoidance measures. USNS Impeccable would return the next day escorted by a U.S. Navy destroyer.  This event immediately sparked harsh criticism on both sides for the other’s actions, but it should be noted that UNCLOS does not regulate military activities within an EEZ.

Chinese scholars have laid out an historical case for China’s claim to the Nine Dash Line and a legal basis for its actions in the South China Sea (see for example Keyuan, and Xinchang and Yee.)Despite this, the present analysis contends that the South China Sea is not currently a ‘core interest’ for which China will seek to defend with unwavering commitment. For example, Xue Gong’s research shows that several Central State-Owned Enterprises (CSOEs) have lobbied for national policies to expand Chinese economic interests in the SCS, particularly in areas of tourism, oil exploration and infrastructure development.  The author argues that China will continue to support these state-run agencies as “long as business interests converge with the country’s national interests.”China does have economic interests in the SCS, but they largely come from a desire to be the defining influence in the region as opposed to acquiescing and allowing that privilege to remain in the hands of the United States. 

In regards to the SCS issue, China and Xi will continue to “remain vigilant against the incursion of foreign influence in issue areas as disparate as a variety of international regimes, even if it realizes that it cannot deal with complex problems by itself.”  China has maintained bilateral relations with those nations with which it has territorial disputes, many going back centuries.  This is why China rejects decisions by outside global organizations as being shadow arbiters of U.S. interests.  Recent legal decisions on maritime claims against China, as well as its ratification of UNCLOS has superseded any historical claims to territories in the South China Sea.  As such, China is facing a difficult task of convincing other parties of the legitimacy of its maritime claims.  Xi realizes this and will limit provocative actions in the SCS to those that do not threaten the stability of the region.   However, actions that threaten to contain China or challenge his “strong man image” among the domestic population are likely to provoke Xi.  China wants a stable region to facilitate its economic development under OBOR.  An increasingly unstable region threatens that success.  As far as feasibility, Xi can achieve much greater success through OBOR than through the SCS issue

China, under President Xi, has undertaken an historic task to expand its economic influence across half the world through its OBOR initiative.  China sees it is safer to pursue economic advances under the New Silk Road (OBOR),which are seen as beneficial by China’s partners, than to push for aggressive expansion in the SCS over which the United States is most certainly going to challenge.  China will take advantage in the SCS where it can, but it will prioritize OBOR over the SCS for the foreseeable future.  Ever the long game player, China will bid its time until its position for expansion in the South China Sea is more tenable.

Kjell Tengesdal is a Health Physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and has over 35 years of service in the United States Navy and Navy Reserve. He is currently a student in the Doctorate of Strategic Intelligence Program at American Public University. He holds a Master’s in Engineering-Applied Science from the University of California Davis and a Master’s in Physics and Bachelors in Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Arkansas.

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Suppressed OPCW Finding: War-Crime Likely Perpetrated by U.S. Against Syria on 14 April 2018

Eric Zuesse

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On May 13th, Tim Hayward of the Working Group on Syria made public on his website an utterly damning document that had been suspiciously excluded from the final investigative report by the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) regarding the U.S.-and-allied allegation that on 7 April 2018 the Syrian Government had sarin-attacked residents in its town of Douma and had killed a large number of non-combatants. Seven days after that alleged incident, the U.S. and two of its allies, UK and France, massively missile-invaded Syria on April 14th, in alleged international ‘response’ to that alleged national war-crime on the part of Syria’s Government. It now turns out that that alleged national war-crime was totally staged by America’s own proxy-soldiers, Islamic terrorists who were trying to overthrow Syria’s Government, and so the attack against Syria on 14 April 2018 by U.S., UK and France, constitutes an international war-crime, an unequivocal violation of the U.N.’s Charter. 

This excluded finding by the OPCW is proof that “the US Government’s Interpretation of the Technical Intelligence It Gathered Prior to and After the August 21 Attack CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CORRECT”. That’s the way an independent detailed study by the two top U.S. experts had concluded their study of the U.N.’s evidence concerning the U.S.-and-allied allegations that there had been a 21 August 2013 sarin-attack by the Syrian Government against its town of East Ghouta. Their finding then was virtually identical regarding that U.S.-alleged sarin-use by Syria’s Government — identical to this recent OPCW finding. And that finding regarding the earlier ‘incident’ likewise was suppressed, instead of reported by the ‘news’-media. The two investigators in that earlier report, which was issued on 14 January 2014, were MIT’s Ted Postol and Richard Lloyd.

The clearest summary-report about the newer suppressed finding was “signed by Ian Henderson (an investigative team leader for the OPCW” and is best summarized by Kit Knightly’s May 14th “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” at Off-Guardian.org (a terrific website of investigative journalism that exposes lies by mainstream ‘news’-media, such as Britain’s Guardian). As Knightly especially pointed out, that OPCW investigative team’s report to OPCW had concluded: 

“In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.”

As we shall later show, that statement at the end of the OPCW team’s report, was a huge understatement: they had, in fact, proven that “both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations [by the anti-Government side, as a set-up to stage the event and blame it on the Government] rather than being dropped [by a plane, from the Government, as the U.S. alleged].”

So: that’s virtually a clone of the earlier Postol-Lloyd finding regarding the 13 August 2013 incident, except that, whereas the earlier incident was real and had been carried out by America’s Syrian proxy-forces (fanatic Islamists), this more recent ‘incident’ was (as now is clear not only from the latest revelation) entirely staged by the U.S.-and-allied side. It had not existed at all.

Obviously, if that finding is confirmed by an international tribunal not for internal war-crimes but for international war-crimes, then Donald Trump, Theresa May, and Emmanuel Macron, could be sentenced to prison, or worse, but is there any tribunal anywhere that could handle such cases? Almost certainly not. Leaders, such as those, stand above any law. And isn’t that the real problem here?

On 17 May 2019, Russia’s Tass news agency headlined “Militants preparing provocation with chemical weapons in Syria” and reported that, “Militants from Jebhat al-Nusra terrorist group (banned in Russia) are preparing a provocation to accuse Russian servicemen of using chemical weapons in Syria, the Russian Center for reconciliation of the conflicting sides said on Friday [May 17th].” Jabhat al-Nusra is Syria’s branch of Al Qaeda, and U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to overthrow the Syrian Government depended very heavily upon that organization to train the non-Kurdish proxy-forces that the U.S. regime and its press called ‘rebels’ instead of jihadists (which they actually were). The U.S. armed and protected al-Nusra.

Back on 13 February 2018, less than two months prior to the faked 7 April 2018 Douma chemical ‘attack’, Russia’s RT had headlined “Tip-off received on Al-Nusra, White Helmets plotting chemical weapons provocation in Syria – Moscow”, and reported that:

Russia’s Center for Reconciliation in Syria says it’s been warned that Jabhat Al-Nusra terrorists brought in chlorine containers to a local village, where they aimed to work with the White Helmets to stage “a provocation.” … According to the source, on the afternoon of February 12, rebels from the Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) terrorist organization brought three cars packed with more than 20 cylinders of chlorine along with personal protective equipment to Serakab. Additionally, according to the caller, representatives of the local branch of the White Helmets, wearing individual means of protection, conducted rehearsals of “giving first aid” to “local residents” who were supposedly suffering from poisoning.”

That appears to have been an accurate description of what the OPCW investigators found in Douma after the faked 7 April 2018 incident there. However U.S.-allied press didn’t report anything of the kind, neither before nor after that faked incident. The reality was suppressed instead of reported there. The latest suppressed finding by the OPCW is a repeat of that pattern.

Further indication of how clear the evidence actually is that the 7 April 2018 Douma incident was staged has been presented by the excruciatingly detailed May 12th document from the team of Paul McKeigue, David Miller, and Piers Robinson, headlined “Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018”. It explains “that the cylinders were manually placed in position is ‘the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene’,” BECAUSE (and this is quoting now directly from paragraph 32 of the OPCW Engineer’s suppressed report of his team’s findings) “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.” 

The full paragraph 32 opened by saying that “At this stage the FFM engineering sub-team cannot be certain that the cylinders at either location arrived there as a result of being dropped from an aircraft.” But when it went on to say “In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene,” that “alternative hypothesis” referred to the alternative to the cylinder’s “being dropped from a plane.” That “alternative hypothesis” refers to people on the ground having placed it there. That “alternative hypothesis” referred to the event’s having been staged by people on the ground. That “alternative hypothesis” referred to the U.S. side’s proxy-forces — America’s ‘Syrian rebels’) having staged this event and filmed its alleged aftermath so that the U.S.-UK-led White Helmets could then feed it to the U.S.-and-allied ’news’-media so as to enrage their publics against Syria’s Government enough for those publics to think that the subsequent U.S.-and-allied bombing of Syria, On 14 April 2018, was a ‘humanitarian’ action.

The OPCW’s Engineering team stated there, very clearly, that the U.S.-and-allied allegations that those cylinders had been dropped from a plane or planes “CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CORRECT,” as Postol and Lloyd had previously said about the U.S.-and-allied alleged Syrian Government 21 August 2013 sarin gas attack against East Ghouta. This is a tactful way of saying that the U.S. and its allied regimes had lied about it.

Britain’s Daily Mail headlined on May 16th “Strange News from the OPCW”, and Peter Hitchens, at his blog there, reported that “I have received the following reply from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.” It said that, “the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question.” This had been an “unauthorized release”; no question was being raised as to the document’s authenticity.

Who will get the rope to hang Trump, May, and Macron? Of course, nobody. This is the type of world we are living in. Accountability and punishment are only downward, to the individuals below (and many of them are railroaded); credit and rewards are only upward, to the masters above; and so there is no ultimate downside for the people at the very top to perpetrate any crime. There really is no legal jeopardy for people in the positions of Trump, May, and Macron. Such people administer whatever laws actually apply to themselves. There is no accountability for such people, in our world. They are above the reach of any law. And their press say that they are a free press, and that their nation is a democracy. Has the term “democracy” now lost all significant meaning? Or is everything that’s important now, just propaganda, just lies? Is that what we should expect? How can democracy even function under such conditions? It obviously can’t.

The lengthy presentation and analysis of this Engineering report, that the group to which the document had been leaked issued, closed by saying “We thank the OPCW staff members who have communicated with us at considerable personal risk.” All of the decent people there must be terrified, much like a woman who has just been raped is. But this is on a much bigger scale.

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Central Asian Jihadi Groups Joined Taliban’s “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations”

Uran Botobekov

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Al Qaeda-backed jihadist groups Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), consisting mainly of Uzbeks from the Fergana Valley of Central Asia and Uyghurs of Chinese Xinjiang, jointly conduct “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan amid the US-Taliban negotiation. KIB’s online media channel “Katibat Imam al-Bukhari under the Islamic Emirateof Afghanistan” that implies a Taliban’s subsidiary began to regularly publish news about the “victorious offensives of the warriors of Islam.” As well as IJU’s main two social media channels Badr at-Tawhid and al-Sodiqlar TV (al-Sodiqlar in Uzbek, which means ‘The Truthful’) often release videos featuring both the Taliban and IJU on the joint battleground.

For example, on April 14, 2019, KIB’s Telegram channel reported that “al Bukhari’s Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate attacked enemy positions and killed 36 militaries of the Kabul administration, among which 4 were high-ranking commanders.”As evidence of its successful attack, KIB published video and photo materials. Another report, dated May 3, 2019, states that “Mujahideen of our Jamaat blew up the Ranger vehicle in Zabul province as a result 7 government soldiers were killed.”

Telegram’s online channel also published an audio message by the emir of the KIB’s Afghan division Jumabai Hafizahulloh, who calls on the Mujahideen to “commit Istighfar (the act of seeking forgiveness from Allah) to defeat foreign invaders led by the United States of Satan and establish Sharia law in Afghanistan.”In his speech, he frequently refers to religious works of the famous Sunni Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah whose worldviews influenced the development of Salafism and Takfirism and became the basis of the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS. At the end of the speech, he called on all Muslims to join the jihad against the “American occupiers.”

According to audio and video materials distributed by al-Sodiqlar TV on Telegram, Uzbek militants of IJU have frequently taken part in “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” alongside the Taliban, fighting against Afghan security forces. For example, on April 14, 2019, IJU released a video showing how Uzbek militants under the leadership of the Taliban attacking an Afghan security forces’ convoy in Baghlan province’s capital Puli Khumri and seizing heavy trucks on the Baghlan-Balkh highway, part of the Ring Road which links Kabul to the north.

TIP, KIB and IJU’s videos in Telegram once again reaffirmed al Qaeda-backed Central Asian jihadists’ role within the Taliban insurgency, as the jihadists fight together to resurrect the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Features of the Taliban military operation

As is known, the Taliban annually conducts military operations under various formidable names that have an ideological and religious implication. In 2018, its military action was called ‘Al Khandaq Jihadi Operations’ (from the name of the famous Battle of Khandaq led by the Prophet Mohammed in 627), which also involved Sunni violent extremist groups: Uyghurs’ TIP and Uzbeks’ KIB. On April 12, 2019, the Taliban announced the launch of a new “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” (which means Victory), which was published on the website ‘Voice of Jihad’ of ‘the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ (Taliban so refers to itself).

A distinctive feature of “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” from previous military actions is that the Taliban this year applies new tactics of attacks aimed against the government and municipal officials, the military and police forces of Afghanistan, and does not prioritize attacks on US and NATO forces. Perhaps that is why the Taliban-backed Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups often report on successful military operations, as local officials and government offices in remote provinces become an easy target for them.

Another distinguishing feature of “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” that it is conducted against the backdrop of US-Taliban peace talks. Trump administration’s decision to pull American forces out of Afghanistan and begin direct peace talks between the US and the Taliban without inviting official Kabul inspired the Taliban to tighten the “al-Fath Jihadi Operations”, and was ablow to the morale of Afghan generals. The Taliban are already stronger today than they have been since their ouster in 2001, controlling or holding sway over 60 percent of Afghanistan’s districts. Therefore, they in advance methodically and cynically rejectedLoya Jirga (Afghan grand assembly) demands for a cease-fire and shunned direct talks with the Afghan government, describing it with insulting terms like “a US-imposed puppet regime,” “domestic stooges,” “the hollow Kabul administration” and “cabinet offoreign invaders “.

The main topics of Doha’s peace talks between US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, were the full withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and ensuring that Afghanistan is not used as a base for foreign terrorist organizations, above all for al Qaeda and ISIS, to attack other countries.

After the completion of the sixth round of negotiations, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a May 9 statement, assessed the outcome of the meeting as “positive” and the parties made “progress” on some points. But the activities of al Qaeda-linked Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups KIB, IJU and TIP in Afghanistan and their active participation in “al-Fath Operations” testified, there is not any “progress” to cut the Taliban’s cooperation with al Qaida.

To achieve international recognition the Taliban in July 2016 issued a statement for the Central Asian countries, in which it assured its neighbors that “the Islamic Emirate does not seek to interfere in the internal affairs of others nor will it allow anyone to use the land under the control of Islamic Emirate against anyone else.” During the Moscow Conference in February 2019, the Taliban reiterated “we do not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against other countries including neighboring countries.”

But all these false claims are a political ploy aimed at hiding the Taliban’s ties with al Qaeda and its Central Asian affiliates. The KIB, IJU and TIP’s media arm has shown the Taliban keeps using the Uzbek and Uyghur jihadists against West Coalition and Afghan forces, and collaborating with al Qaeda inside Afghanistan, despite assurances to the contrary.

Taliban and al Qaida are the “godfathers” of Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups

As is known, the first contact between Uyghur and Uzbek Islamists with the Taliban and al Qaeda occurred in the early 1990s, when members of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, pursued by the Chinese and Uzbek authorities, fled to Afghanistan. Since then, the Taliban and al Qaeda became the “godfathers” of the Central Asian Islamist groups and widely opened the doors of global jihad for them.

The Taliban have been continuously working alongside Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups that have sworn allegiance both to al Qaeda and the Taliban, and today this bayat (an oath of allegiance) is effectively operating. In turn, the leaders of al Qaeda bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri both swore allegiance to the Taliban, with the result that IMU and TIP (former ETIM) were under double tutelage and control. Although the Taliban staunchly focused on Afghanistan and has not demonstrated al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions outside the country, nevertheless, it continues to host Uzbek and Uyghur militant groups with far-reaching goals.

Under the influence of “godfathers,” ideological views of Uzbek and Uyghur militants expanded significantly with global aspirations. Today, they are not limited to the local agendas to overthrow the political regimes in Central Asia and China and set themselves global tasks to create a world caliphate.

Recently the UN Security Council in its twenty-second comprehensive report confirmed: “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan still commands about 500 fighters in Afghanistan, concentrated in Faryab, Sari Pul, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. Around another 500 Central Asian fighters are distributed between Khatibat Imam Al-Bukhari, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Islamic Jihad Union… The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement commands 400 fighters in Badakhshan” (page 15-16, section “Central and South Asia”).

This Russian and Turkic-speaking terrorist groups are trusted by al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and have become a link in their strategic ties. In different years, TIP, IMU and IJU were added to the United Nations Security Council Sanctions List as being associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban. In addition, the US State Department designated all of these Central Asian jihadist groups, including Katibat al-Imam Bukhari, as “global terrorist organizations” because of their involvement in terrorist attacks alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The Taliban nervously reacts when Central Asian groups break their bayat al Qaeda and considers betrayal an unforgivable crime. In December 2015, the Taliban captured and executed about 60 Uzbek jihadists led by IMU leader Usmon Ghazi in the Zabul province who broke al-Qaeda oath and pledged to Islamic State.

Sometimes the Taliban, as befits a good “godfather,” forgive Central Asian militants who violated their oath to al Qaeda. After the Taliban’s elimination of the self-proclaimed Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS branch in Afghanistan) in the northern Afghan province of Jawzjan,20 Central Asian fighters (citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan)from Qari Hikmatullah’s ISIS network, who surrendered to the Taliban, were evacuated, along with their families, to Kohistanat district of Sar-e Pul province. Today they serve the Taliban, who has become their new master.

Taliban’s religious roots in support foreign terrorist groups

As the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation ZalmayKhalilzad stated in March 2019, the US and the Taliban “agreed in draft”that covers two key issues: a “Coalition’s withdrawal timeline” and “effective counterterrorism measures.”According to this “draft”, the Taliban would provide “counter-terrorism assurances” that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for terrorist groups to attack foreign countries.

Despite the Taliban’s generous promises, after it comes to power in the future (judging by the tone of the negotiations, today’s events are developing precisely in this vein), there are no guarantees that the Taliban will renounce al Qaeda and stop supporting Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups. The problem is not the reluctance of the Taliban, but in its radical Islamist ideology and Sharia law, according to which the framework of relations between Ansar [natives] and Muhajireen [foreign fighters] are clearly outlined.

As is known from the history of Islam, mutual relations between Ansar and Muhajireen relies on Islamic values when the local inhabitants [Ansar] of Medina warmly welcomed, provided shelter and supported the Prophet Muhammad and his followers [Muhajireen], who had left their homes behind for widespread Islam during the fight against unbelievers in 622.

The Surahs of the Qur’an, Al-Anfal [8:72] and Al-Hashr [59:9], detail the responsibilities of the Ansar and Muhajireen relationship. For example, Al-Anfal obliges Ansar to help Muhajireen: “Indeed, those who have believed and emigrated and fought with their wealth and lives in the cause of Allah and those who gave shelter and aided – they are allies of one another. But those who believed and did not emigrate – for you there is no guardianship of them until they emigrate. And if they seek help of you for the religion, then you must help, except against a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty.”

As the ups and downs of the Taliban rule showed, the Taliban is strict followers of the Ansar doctrine. During the rule of the Taliban, its territory, so-called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” became the main shelter for Muhajireen of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups. Central Asian Islamists massively migrated there. During the reign of the Taliban, IMU in 1999-2000 twice attacked southern Kyrgyzstan. These fighting clashes went down in history under the name of the Batken War, during which more than 50 soldiers of the Kyrgyz army were killed.

The ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda proved to be so strong that after 9/11 the Taliban refused to hand over the main terrorist Bin Ladin to the US. There is much evidence, including joining Central Asian jihadists to “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations”, that the Taliban and al Qaeda ties remain strong. Therefore, it can be expected that in the event of the US withdrawal and the coming to power of the Taliban, Afghanistan will again become home to international terrorist groups.

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The Russian Mafia

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Since 1992, the Russian word Mafyia has been officially used in the Russian Federation’s documents to refer above all to organized crime, structured through stable groups that  repeatedly perpetrate severe crimes and offences. In particular, this word refers to the interests of the world “below” – the invisible universe of organized crime – with the world “above”, namely institutions, ruling classes, politicians and companies.

  Both the real Mafia, namely the Sicilian one, and the Russian one were born around mid-19th century.

The Sicilian Mafia became the “parallel State” in a region where the Unitary State did not exist or counted for nothing. A case in point is the Baron of Sant’Agata, the feudal lord of Calatafimi, who ordered his mobsters to “side with the winners”, when he realized that Garibaldi’s troops, the so-called “Garibaldini” were winning in the plain.

  The  Sicilian “organization”, which had long-standing  roots -probably Arab and in any case independent of the Kingdom centred on Naples and the Campania region – discovered its political role precisely with Garibaldi-led Expedition of the Thousand that landed in Sicily, after which it became the primary mediator between the small group of “Piedmontese” soldiers and the great mass of peasants. It immediately agreed with the feudal lords, who helped it considering that it was winning.

The Mafia itself was both the improper bank of the wealthy feudal lords and the only form of effective social control, solely in favour of the Sicilian feudal elites – and hence also of the Unitary Kingdom.

  As happened also in Naples, when Garibaldi appointed Liborio Romano – who was also the Head of Camorra – as Chief of Police. An inevitably very effective policeman.

Conversely, in Russia organized crime was initially used –  in politics – by various revolutionary groups to fight the Tsar.

   Later, there was the magic moment of an important “friend of the people”, namely Nicholai Ishutin.

  He was the first to establish a group of professional revolutionaries, in 1864, simply called “the Organization”.

However, with a view to better achieving the revolutionary, anarchist and violent aims of his Organizacjia, Ishutin created another new structure. It was called the “Hell” and had to engage in all possible illegal activities, together with the already active criminals: murder, theft and blackmail. All this had to happen while the “Organization” was running its lawful social and organizational activities.

  Hence, for the first time politics became the cover for a criminal organization. Goodness knows how many imitators Comrade Ishutin had.

It was the beginning of a very strong bond – also at theoretical level, through many excerpts from Lenin’s texts that exalted Russian revolutionary populism – between organized crime and the Bolshevik Communist Party.

  In fact, on June 26, 1907, a bank stagecoach of the State Bank of the Russian Empire was attacked and robbed in Tiflis, Georgia. It was a robbery fully organized by top-level Bolsheviks, including Lenin and Stalin.

There was also the strong support of local criminals led by Ter-Petrosian (“Kamo”), the Head of the Georgian mob and also Stalin’s early associate.

The relationship between organized crime and Bolshevism – particularly with reference to the “agrarian reform” of 1930-1932 – remained central.

   The Soviet power absolutely needed its extra legem left hand to harshly bring peasants into line and to militarily organize the conquest of factories, as well as to control or physically eliminate the entrepreneurs or bureaucrats of the old Tsarist regime.

Everything changed with Stalin, who, together with the stabilization of the Bolshevik regime, made possible also the verticalization and creation of a unitary command hierarchy in the vast world of Russian crime – and in the Party.

  Hence the Organizatsja was founded, i.e. a strongly verticistic Panrussian structure – as indeed the Bolshevik Party was.

The “Organization” – full of symbols and particular rites, like the many para-Masonic organizations of the revolutionary Napoleonic network in Italy, which imitated the secret society of Carbonari (the so-called Carboneria) or, precisely, Freemasonry, albeit with entirely new mechanisms and symbols – was sung heroically by one of the poets, former “Thief-in-Law” (the generic term used by Stalin to designate all the members of the Organization), but much loved by Stalin, namely Mikhail Djomin, who exalted the achievements of the Vorovskoi Mir, the Thieves’ World, that had only one code of conduct and revenge throughout the USSR.

  Hence the Party established the first organizational structure of the “Thieves-in-Law”, who much operated during the Stalinist regime: the Mir “brigades” were led by a “reserve group” that generated and selected an additional covert group that had to be permanently related to the Soviet political, economic and financial power.

In fact, the “Vory v Zakone”, the Thieves-in-Law, had  relations on an equal footing with the Party and State leaders. They dealt with the various “brigades” and managed the odshak, the cash pool, through an ad hoc Committee.

  Through the odshak, said Committee mainly paid salaries to the Organization soldiers, but above all invested its proceeds in the so-called “white” economy.

 Without the criminal organizations and their autonomous finance, there would have been neither the Soviet normalization after Stalin’s purges, nor the money for  Leninist industrialization and the funds – extremely needed for the USSR – targeted to foreign trade and the related sales of raw materials from 1930 onwards.

 This also applied to the Sicilian Mafia, a true organization between two worlds, the American and the Italian ones, which invested in real estate in Sicily when there was no capital, in the aftermath of the Second World War, or refinanced capitalism in Northern Italy after the political and union storm in the late 1960s and 1970s.

 Without Mafia’s capital and without the protection provided by some entrepreneurs to the most important fugitives in Milan, there would have been no economic recovery after the disaster of 1968.

 Reverting to the Bolsheviks, Stalin accepted the presence of the “Thieves-in-Law” in their main sectors of activity, in exchange for their careful persecution of his personal and Soviet regime’s political adversaries.

 Years later, even de Gaulle did so when proposing to the Corsican underworld – one of the most ferocious in Europe – to fight the OAS and eliminate it, in exchange for some State favours and the transfer of many gangsters of the Brise de Mer – as the Corsican Mafia was called – to Marseille.

 Hence there is no modern power that could do without its particular “Thieves-in-Law”. A case in point was China, in the phase of the “Four Modernizations” and the subsequent Tiananmen Square movement, or the United States itself, which dealt primarily with its various Mafias, especially in periods of severe financial crisis.

 In the 1950s, shortly before Stalin’s death, inter alia, a very close relationship was established between the “Organization” and the Soviet power leaders.

 It was exactly the underground economy – fully in the hands of the “Thieves-in-Law”- which, in Brezhnev’s time, became the meeting point between Mafia and Communists.

 The Organizatsjia already had excellent relations with the parallel “capitalist” organizations – relations which were established upon the creation of the Russian structure in the meeting held in Lviv in 1950 – and it became essential to find the goods which were never found on the Russian market, including weapons and illicit capital flows.

 Corruption became the real axis of bureaucracy and of the Party itself, while there was a spreading of poverty that closely resembled the poverty of Ukrainian and Crimean peasants during the so-called “agrarian reform” of 1930-1931.

 Later, always in agreement with the Bolshevik leadership, Mafyia organized – in every factory or office – “clandestine units”, not falling within the scope of the collectivist system, which created an underground market that, from 1980 to 1991, was even worth 35-38% of the Soviet GDP.

 The proceeds from that semi-clandestine trade were shared between the Party, the “Organization” and the law enforcement agencies. No one could escape that mechanism.

 Again in the 1980s, precisely due to the social and political pervasiveness of the “Thieves-in-Law”, the Organizatsjia was structured into units for each commodity sector, especially with units specialized in oil, minerals, wood, precious stones and even caviar.

 At that stage, however, many Soviet Party and State leaders were officially accepted in the Organizatsjia, thus becoming the necessary link between the “Thieves-in-Law” and the institutions.

 Furthermore, with Gorbachev’s reforms, Mafyia was no longer only an important part of the economic system,but became the economic system in its entirety.

The elimination of the old political apparatus and fast privatizations enabled the old leaders of the various “clandestine units” to quickly collect the initial capital to buy everything going from companies onto the now apparently liberalized market.

 Sometimes Mafia’s intimidation was also needed, when the old employees did not want to assign – for a few roubles – their shares that the law allowed to be allotted between workers and managers of the old State-owned factories.

 In 1992 Yeltsin himself admitted that over two thirds of the Russian production and commercial structure were in the hands of the “Organization”.

 However, in memory of the old ties with similar organizations abroad, only Mafyia did start the first joint-venture contracts with Western companies and 72% of that opening onto the world market was only the work of the Organizatsija.

  That was exactly what Judge Falcone would have dealt with in Russia with his Russian colleague Stepankov, if he had not been killed with his wife and three agents of his escort in a bomb attack.

  The joint venture worked as follows: firstly, foreign capitalists put their money into the companies of the “Organization” and later – without realising it and only with the hard ways – they were in the hands of the old “Thieves-in-Law”.

  Nevertheless, it was from 1990 to 1992 that the Russian Mafia structure penetrated the West with vast illegal funds managed together with the local Mafias.

 Not surprisingly, a few days after the Capaci bombing, Giovanni Falcone was to fly to Russia to talk with the Russian Prosecutor General, Valentin Stepankov, who was investigating into the CPSU funds that had disappeared in the West.

 The intermediary of the operation could only be the “Organization” that knew the Sicilian Mafia very well, at least since the aforementioned meeting held in Lviv in 1950.

  A huge amount of money went from the CPSU to the “sister” parties and probably the issue regarded also the failed coup against Gorbachev in August 1991.

 Each CPSU faction had its autonomous funds – often huge ones – given to “sister” parties but, above all, to their most similar internal wings. Here a significant role was played by the covert bank accounts held in Zurich, together with the Wednesday air transfers to the local Narodny Bank, as well as the money transfers that took place during the visits of the CPSU executives to the various local “comrades”.

 Nevertheless, the cash flows -managed only by the Organization -were regarded by the CPSU’s “old guard” mainly as a source of personal survival and a basis for future political action at national level. Everyone, ranged face to face upon the field of the new CPSU factions, thought to said cash flows.

 Coincidentally, it was exactly in those years and months that the Sicilian Mafia expanded – for its drug business – to the Caucasus and Anatolian Turkey, on the border with the new Russian Federation.

 At that time – as currently – the Russian Mafyia had preferential relations with the Sicilian Mafia, the Neapolitan Camorra, the Chinese triads and the Turkish Mafia.

 Also the relations with Latin American and Arab criminal organizations have been mediated by Sicilians or Calabrians (in South America), Turks (in Central Asia and India) and Chinese (in Maghreb and Africa).

 Currently the Organization’s yearly turnover is still 2,000 billion roubles approximately, with weapons – including nuclear ones – which were provided by the Mafyia sections within the Soviet and later Russian Armed Forces.

 As even Luciano Violante – the former President of an important anti-Mafia Parliamentary Committee –  maintained, both the CPSU and the KGB have long had  excellent relations with the Sicilian Mafia. The Russian Mafyia itself is now the world centre where money laundering strategies, as well as the division of territories at international level and the new strategies of relations with the various ruling classes, are managed.

 Violante used to say that the CPSU and the KGBhad put in place the most recent Russian Mafia, with which they were gradually confused.

 Hence the new post-Soviet oligarchy – selected after Mafia wars that,between 1990 and 1995, exacted a toll of 30,000 victims – has now merged with the ruling class.

As Solzhenitsyn used to say, currently in Russia a maximum of 150 people rules. Putin deals with the “Organization”, but he is certainly not linked to it.

 Furthermore, according to the most reliable Russian sources, currently the “Thieves-in-Law” network is composed of about 50,000 people, including managers and mere “soldiers”.

  Nevertheless, their network of intimidation and capital makes them essential in carrying out any kind of “white” operation. They are the bank of the new Russia, considering that all the official banks are part of the “Organization”.

  In the Russian media jargon, the Russian Mafia bosses who have reinvented themselves in the legal business are called avtoritet(“authorities”).

 The Russian Mafyia also operate abroad, throughout Europe, but does not operate directly in the territory of the various countries. If anything, it seeks relations with the State and bureaucracy, through the national criminal networks, without by-passing them.

 Currently the Russian money laundering hub is still France, while recently the “Organization” has been spreading quickly within the German economic, banking and commercial fabric.

 In Italy, it operates mainly in Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and, obviously, Rome.

 According to the Italian police sources, the capital flows of the Russian “Organization” in Italy are equal to 38.5 billion a year, while the flow of Russian money laundering is still focused on France, albeit with some operations made in Spain and Portugal. A diversification already underway, which could also affect Italy.

 The first channel has always been Latvia, used by Russian mobsters to enter the Euro area directly.

 With a view to penetrating Latvia, the Russian “Organization” created dummy companies based in London.

 Later a Russian company lent money to the company based in London – a company with main headquarters often located in Moldova.

 The Russian company did not repay the debt – hence a corrupt judge in Moldova forced the Russian company to transfer capital to a Moldavian account.

 Hence the money entered Latvia in a perfectly legal way and later the Euro area and Western economies.

  The network has already endangered 753 Western banks – and money laundering is still one of the primary business activities of the Russian “Organization”.

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