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.
Engaging with Local Stakeholders to Improve Maritime Security and Governance
Illicit activity in the maritime domain takes place within a complex cultural, physical, and political environment. When dialogue is initiated with a diverse range of stakeholders, policy recommendations can take into account region-specific limitations and opportunities. As noted in the Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Seas maritime security report, sectors like fisheries, coastal welfare, and maritime security are intrinsically linked, making engagement with a diverse range of local stakeholders a necessity. This collaborative approach is essential to devising efficient and sustainable solutions to maritime challenges. Engagement with local stakeholders helps policymakers discover where in these self-reinforcing cycles additional legislation or enforcement would have the greatest positive impact. Political restrictions against pursuing foreign fishing trawlers in Bangladesh, for example, have allowed the trawlers to target recovering populations of hilsa while local artisanal fishers suffer. In the context of the Philippines, the Stable Seas program and the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation recently conducted a workshop that highlighted the importance of consistent stakeholder engagement, resulting in a policy brief entitled A Pathway to Policy Change: Improving Philippine Fisheries, Blue Economy, and Maritime Law Enforcement in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
Consistent communication with local stakeholders on regional anomalies allows policymakers to modify initiatives to adjust for the physical, cultural, and political context of a maritime issue. The physical environment affects how, where, and why illicit actors operate in the maritime domain. Knowledge held by local stakeholders about uninhabited coastlines, local currents, and the locations of important coastal communities helps policymakers find recognizable patterns in the locations and frequency of maritime incidents. The 36,289 km of coastline in the Philippine archipelago means that almost 60 percent of the country’s municipalities and cities border the sea. The extensive coastline and high levels of maritime traffic make monitoring coastal waters and achieving maritime domain awareness difficult for maritime law enforcement agencies. A Pathway to Policy Change outlines several recommendations by regional experts on ways to improve maritime domain awareness despite limitations imposed by a complex physical environment. The experts deemed collaboration with local government and land-based authorities an important part of addressing the problem. By engaging with stakeholders working in close proximity to maritime areas, policymakers can take into account their detailed knowledge of local environmental factors when determining the method and motive behind illicit activity.
Culture shapes how governments respond to non-traditional maritime threats. Competition and rivalry between maritime law enforcement agencies can occur within government structures. A clearer understanding of cultural pressures exerted on community members can help policymakers develop the correct response. Strong ties have been identified between ethnic groups and insurgency recruiting grounds in Mindanao. The Tausug, for instance, tend to fight for the MNLF while the MILF mostly recruits from the Maguindanaons and the Maranao. Without guidance from local stakeholders familiar with cultural norms, correlations could be left unnoticed or the motivations for joining insurgency movements could be misconstrued as being based solely on extremist or separatist ideology. Local stakeholders can offer alternative explanations for behavioral patterns that policymakers need to make accommodations for.
Local stakeholder engagement allows policymakers to work on initiatives that can accommodate limitations imposed by the political environment. Collaboration with local stakeholders can provide information on what government resources, in terms of manpower, capital, and equipment, are available for use. Stakeholders also provide important insights into complex political frameworks that can make straightforward policy implementation difficult. Understanding where resource competition and overlapping jurisdiction exist enables policymakers to formulate more effective initiatives. Despite strong legislation regulating IUU fishing in the Philippines, local stakeholders have pointed out that overlapping jurisdictions have created exploitable gaps in law enforcement. In A Pathway to Policy Change, local experts suggested that the government should lay down an executive order to unify mandates in the fisheries sector to address the issue. Similarly, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is highlighted as a region that heavily influences maritime security in the Sulu and Celebes seas. Working with government officials to understand how policy initiatives need to adjust for the region’s semi-autonomous status ensures maritime issues are properly addressed. BARMM, for instance, issues fishing permits for its own waters in addition to government permits, which can cause inconsistencies. Working alongside local stakeholders allows policymakers to create initiatives that take into account special circumstances within the political system.
Private Sector Engagement
Extending engagement with local stakeholders to the private sector is particularly important during both the policy research and implementation processes. Encouraging private stakeholders to actively help counter illicit activity can help policymakers create a more sustainable and efficient solution to security threats. As A Pathway to Policy Change highlights, private companies already have a strong incentive from a business perspective to involve themselves in environmental and social issues. Governments can encourage further involvement of private stakeholders like blue economy businesses and fishers by offering tax breaks and financial compensation for using sustainable business practices and for helping law enforcement agencies gather information on illicit activity. Offering financial rewards to members of the Bantay Dagat program in the Philippines, for example, would encourage more fishers to participate. Governments can also double down on educational programs to raise awareness of important issues threatening local economic stability. By communicating consistently with local stakeholders, policymakers can both more accurately identify maritime security needs and more comprehensively address them.
The unique physical, cultural, and political context in which maritime issues take place makes the knowledge of local stakeholders an invaluable asset. While many important types of information can be collected without working closely with stakeholders, there are also innumerable important aspects of any given context which cannot be quantified and analyzed from afar. Engagement with stakeholders provides a nuanced understanding of more localized and ephemerial factors that affect regional maritime security. Engaging with local stakeholders allows policymakers to capitalize on opportunities and circumvent limitations created by the political, cultural, and physical environment surrounding maritime issues in order to create sustainable, long-term solutions.
Turkey Faced With Revolt Among Its Syrian Proxies Over Libyan Incursion
Relations between Turkey and Syrian armed groups that used to be considered cordial due to massive support provided by the Turkish authorities to the Syrian opposition are rapidly deteriorating over Turkey’s incursion into the Libyan conflict, according to sources among the Syrian militants fighting in Libya.
Last month, over 2,000 fighters defected from Sultan Murad Division, one of the key armed factions serving the Turkish interests in Syria. The group’s members chose to quit after they were ordered to go to Libya to fight on the side of the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). This marks a drastic shift in the attitude of the Syrian fighters towards participation in the Libyan conflict: just a few months ago there was no shortage of mercenaries willing to fly to Libya via Turkey for a lucrative compensation of $2,000 – 5,000 and a promise of Turkish citizenship offered by Ankara.
Both promises turned out to be an exaggeration, if not a complete lie. The militants who traveled to Libya got neither the money nor the citizenship and other perks that were promised to them, revealed a fighter of Ahrar al-Sharqiya faction Zein Ahmad. Moreover, he pointed out that after the fighters arrived in Libya they were immediately dispatched to Tripoli, an arena of regular clashes between GNA forces and units of the Libyan National Army despite Turkish promises of tasking them with maintaining security at oil facilities.
Data gathered by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights shows that around 9,000 members of Turkey-backed Syrian armed factions are currently fighting in Libya, while another 3,500 men are undergoing training in Syria and Turkey preparing for departure. Among them are former members of terror groups such as Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, as confirmed by reports of capture of a 23-years-old HTS fighter Ibrahim Muhammad Darwish by the LNA forces. Another example is an ISIS terrorist also captured by the LNA who confessed that he was flown in from Syria via Turkey.
By sending the Syrian fighters to Libya Ankara intended to recycle and repurpose these groups for establishing its influence without the risks and consequences of a large-scale military operation involving major expenses and casualties among Turkish military personnel. However, the recent developments on the ground show that this goal was not fully achieved.
The Syrian fighters sustain heavy casualties due to the lack of training and weaponry. Total count of losses among the Turkey-backed groups reached hundreds and continue to grow as GNA and LNA clash with intermittent success. Until Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan curbs his ambition, destructive nature of involvement of the Syrian armed groups in Libya may result in the downfall of Turkey’s influence over the Syrian opposition.
Covid-19: A New Non-traditional Security Threat
Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee & Ayush Banerjee
Traditional Security vs Non-traditional Security
There exist various types of threats that a nation faces in today’s world. These primordial threats, in turn, affect a nation’s security dilemma in ways more than one. These can be of two primary type- traditional security threats and non-traditional security threats. Traditional security threats are threats to national security that arise out of conventional international issues such as water sharing, land sharing, etc. These disputes often result in a full-scale war or conventional conflicts among the nations involved.
Similarly, non-traditional security threats are the concerns that a nation faces due to the increased complexity in the conduct of foreign relations after the wake of the new world order, post-1945. As more nations gained their independence and as more international organisations were formed, these threats spread throughout the world resulting in diplomatic tensions and, intra-state and inter-state armed conflicts. At times these conflicts also involve non-state belligerents as well. Large scale migration, environmental degradation and climate change action, intensification of ethnocentrism towards ethnonationalism leading to ethnic conflicts, cyberspace security risks, terrorism and violent extremism, etc. are examples of such non-traditional security threats.
Traditional security threats were directly aimed at the system of governance of the involved international actors, often involving various proportions of military conduct and an aggressive foreign policy coupled with intelligence operations. Meanwhile, non-traditional security threats are complex systems of organised opposition to a dominant entity or actor. These may not involve armed warfare or an aggressive foreign policy as such. For instance, the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in the United States by Al-Qaeda affiliates amount to a non-traditional security threat, in general, and terrorism, in particular. This attack was not directly aimed at toppling over the regime in power, rather spread the message of radical extremism globally by a non-state actor of violent nature. Such threats are becoming more and more predominant in the 21st century.
Another instance of a non-traditional security threat stemmed out of the growing resentment for the authoritarian regime in power in Syria, which triggered the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011-12. The rapid displacement of people in rural locals within the nation created large scale dissatisfaction in terms of the economy with a rise in unemployment rates and poverty among with the loss of their means of livelihood. This displaced populace travelled beyond the already fragile Syrian border into several European states that triggered a spillover of the Syrian refugee crisis resulting in a security risk for most south European states such as Greece and Italy. Invariably, most of the European states shut down their borders due to an imminent security risk from extremism and rising ethnocentrism that may have resulted from integrating the refugees into their formal economies. More recently, India shut down its borders on the displaced Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, stating the probable cause of extremism being imminent within such a marginalised, persecuted populace.
The Case of Covid-19
This year shook the global political order. By March 2020, the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan turned into a full-scale health crisis across the world. The virus had spread throughout the globe and new epicentres were discovered almost every week. Nations such as the United States, Spain, Italy, India, United Kingdom, among others have been severely affected ever since. However, alongside the health risks associated with the virus, as most governments focus on the research and development of a safe vaccine, the security risks are becoming more important as a part of this discourse with each passing day. There are restrictions on fundamental freedoms such the freedom of movement and assembly. While most major channels of information have shifted to the domains of cyberspace, governments have become heavily reliant on data infrastructures and domestic resource capacities. The transportation industry alongside others has been severely affected, affecting the national economy. The food supply chain has frayed. There have been no practical international trade operations except for highly politicised transfers of essentials and medicare. Millions have lost their employment and means of livelihood. Fear and panic have spread among the public at large. In a few nations, internal displacement has risen hundred folds.
However, as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads chaos, non-traditional security issues may not result in a nuclear catastrophe, but it may directly or indirectly threaten the survival of States. This time period is extremely important for all governments to reshape their policy processes to curtail the social, economic, political, diplomatic and human security risks associated with the outbreak. While many governments have opted to follow a phased lockdown model to tackle the health-related issues associated with the outbreak, they have failed to implement public policy to curtail the other risks associated with it. This nonchalance has resulted in a new age security dilemma that coerces the States into taking policy actions they never planned to adopt.
There are several security threats that pose a risk to major governments due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the economic context, Covid-19 has increased market volatility such that the price of risk assets has fallen sharply with economies both large and small recording a significant drop of at least 30% at the trough. Tobias Adrian and Fabio Natalucci estimate that “Credit spreads have jumped, especially for lower-rated firms. Signs of stress have also emerged in major short-term funding markets, including the global market for U.S. dollars. Volatility has spiked, in some cases to levels last seen during the global financial crisis, amid the uncertainty about the economic impact of the pandemic. With the spike in volatility, market liquidity has deteriorated significantly, including in markets traditionally seen as deep, like the U.S. Treasury market, contributing to abrupt asset price moves.” It is said that all jobs created since the financial crisis in the US, have been completely wiped away during this Covid-19 outbreak. This creates an atmosphere of public agitation against the government that continues to trigger mass protests and activism. The financial security, housing security, employment security concerns are paramount in this distraught for the public and government alike. International trade is at a standstill affecting all the export-oriented economies around the globe. These nations are now bound by self-reliance on domestic industries creating a need to romp up securitisation efforts at the domestic level itself.
Moreover, Covid-19 is set to increase political instability in countries such as Japan, South Korea, India, Italy, China and the US due to the economic repercussions of the lockdown and also due to the public reaction to governmental policy in efforts towards eradicating the virus. In fact, if the virus causes a global economic meltdown or a global recession, it will perhaps be due to the economic perils the US economy shall face in the coming years. This will also considerably influence Trump’s reelection campaign, as he may be forced to prioritise digital media campaigns over public campaigns due to the risks emanating from Covid-19. There will be rising security concerns with regard to the same considering the fact that there has already been illegitimate involvement of foreign actors in the previous election campaigns wherein Cambridge Analytica was allegedly charged for deliberating manipulating audience content with the help of the Russian Federation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the dependence on cyberspace as software applications such as Google Meet, Skype and Zoom gain in popularity. This gain has been noticeably triggered by the idea of working from home and due to the conversion of physical classroom education to online learning modules. This brings into focus the need for an enhanced cybersecurity mechanism that can allow easy access while also protect the private and personal data of the users. There have already been reports which suggest that the security at Zoom has already been breached. This called for close inspection and proper securitisation of the features to ensure its clients’ next-generation data protection, as a remarkable landmark in the domains of cyberspace security. It is also said that the spread of Covid-19 will increase strategic disinformation campaigns leading to the spreading of propaganda, fake news and manipulated content. Much of this content may also undertake dubious angles on the virus outbreak itself inciting public dissatisfaction leading to panic and mass hysteria. While governments may also attempt at withholding valuable information and data on the actual consequences of the virus especially by downlisting the rate of mortality and infection behind the veil of public security.
The Council of Europe Cybercrimes division has reported that there is valuable evidence that malicious actors are exploiting the cyberspace vulnerabilities to cater to their own advantage. For example, it stated that phishing campaigns and malware distribution through seemingly genuine websites or documents providing information or advice on Covid-19 are used to infect computers and extract user credentials. Attacks against critical infrastructures or international organizations, such as the World Health Organization are becoming seemingly probable. Such agents also use ransomware targeting the mobile phones of individuals using applications that claim to provide genuine information on Covid-19 in order to extract financial information of the user. They can also obtain access to the systems of organisations by targeting employees who are teleworking or video conferencing. Fraudulent schemes where people are tricked into purchasing goods such as masks, hand sanitizers and fake cheap medicines claiming to prevent or cure Covid-19 are also being used for the same purpose by the cybercriminals. These are a few instances that add to the security dilemma the nations face due to the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the world.
Alongside these, the defence industry is set to experience a major slowdown due to the pandemic. Production, manufacturing facilities and supply chains could be affected as the requirements shift towards civilian and police equipment from heavy military equipment. More importance will be given to recovery and aid systems than weapons and ordnances. However, defensive readjustments continue to remain important for ensuring adequate security especially with respect to border control, protection of personnel and institutions, protection of natural resources from exploitation, ensuring law and order as law enforcement and paramilitary operations remain the primary preventive measures at the monopoly of the governments. This crisis will also have profound geopolitical consequences, particularly for the US-China relationship.
Tarık Oğuzlu believes, “the years ahead will likely see the geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China intensify. This power competition will likely transpire within a post-liberal international order in which neither the U.S. will continue to act as the chief provider of global public goods nor China will acquiesce in the role of norm-taker.” We already know that the USA under President Trump’s presidency has already begun questioning the liberal international order from within. Notwithstanding Trump’s reelection in November, the isolationist and nationalist tendencies within the current American society will continue to grow more radical and dominant. There may be smear campaigns that could affect the well-settled Chinese populace in order to expunge them from the integrated American society. Instances of racism and ethnocentrism will grow and lead to civic hostilities threatening public order and human security norms. Similarly, China under President Xi Jinpinghas adopted a more assertive and claimant role in international politics, and China has changed its course from the ‘bide your time and hide your capabilities’ dictum in history. Trade between the two major powers has already come to a standstill.
In the words of Ahyousha Khan, “…it is essential for states to counter non-traditional security threats because they can potentially reduce national resilience of states to prosper. The consequences of these threats would be more damaging for developing world, where there is population density, lack of medical facilities and most importantly economic vulnerability of the state to handle such threats for a prolonged period of time.” It is evident from the aforementioned instances that Covid-19 is, in fact, a non-traditional security threat in ways more than one. It leads to multitudes of security concerns hat encompasses most major domains of politics including the economy and cyberspace. Securitisation and protection services are of paramount importance in the same regard. It can be stated that the need to protect the civilians from such non-traditional security threats will lead States to assume a more authoritarian role whereby the State will increase surveillance on its citizens and will curtail the freedoms of movement and expression. Political leaders often exploit these non-traditional security threats to fulfill their own political interests and to secure their own position as the leader of the party. Such is the security risk arising out of the pandemic at large.
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