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Psychology and indirect strategy

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According to the Greek historian Polybius, Alexander the Great used to say that propaganda “serves to maintain and protect the victories after the cessation of hostilities”.

This quote is still an essential key to understand the mechanisms of contemporary propaganda and psyops.

 The current psychological war, in fact, is aimed above all at radically changing and building from scratch the perceptions of the inhabitants of any target State.

 Whoever wins this war, apparently painless, is spared the costs of the conflict and definitively weakens the opponents, regardless of their military strength-opponents who no longer have the ability to use their conventional or indirect weapons.

 Or they use them against themselves.

 Even in indirect strategies and psyops, however, it is always a matter of stopping and breaking a kill chain.

What counts in these operations is always hitting the enemies where they are weaker.

Hence, always keeping at a safe distance from opponents – also from the cultural viewpoint – to avoid any conventional fight, but using, however, mass psychology like Alexander the Great, so as to “ensure” a victory which is obtained with an economic, financial, cultural and symbolic struggle.

 Or to replace the military victory with that of psyops. Without a fight.

 Contemporary society, however, makes things much easier.

 Today we are in the phase of “attention economy”, of the massive saving of thought – the phase in which all messages, even the “highest” ones, are developed and processed to be consumed very quickly, because of an attention span which is always very short, almost as hypnosis or sleepwalking.

With a view to making the desired content be selected, two mental and material channels need to be used: the “mirror neurons” in the F5 area of the premotor cortex and the maximum use of induced emotions.

It should be recalled that mirror neurons are particular neurons that fires both when an individual acts and when he/she observes the same action (or even an emotion) performed or experienced by another.

 They are the material basis of empathy.

Hence disinformation uses negative emotions and correlates them with messages useful to the sender. A message that is barely abstract, or even completely sensitive and iconic, is related to a fixed emotion of nuisance, discomfort, pain.

 This is the initial core of disinformation.

 The excess of negative emotions, often related to dezinformatsja techniques, always triggers anxiety and stress in the individual subject. It also lowers the serotonin levels and operates on both subjective fears and those already embedded in people’s minds.

 Given this induced state of mind, the information reaching the brain is no longer directed to the prefrontal cortex, which is accustomed to use logical categories, but emotional information is targeted and directly to the motor cortex.

 In this phase the brain is blocked by stress or by those situations that the Palo Alto Psychological School considered to be at the origin of schizophrenia or of “double bind”, which occurs when an individual receives two conflicting messages, a positive and a negative one, sent out by an affective source, with one negating the other and thus being emotionally distressing.

Ultimately there is the almost total material deactivation of the frontal cortex, i.e. the transformation of homo sapiens into an angry robot.

 This is the reason why it is useful for disinformation to always use violent or irregular content in messages – content that increases aggressiveness and hence weakens the cortex.

 The brain area of empathy is then weakened, precisely with the violent content of communication, or even with the mix of noise, rhythm, repetition of sounds, lights and signs that Marshall McLuhan considered typical of our time (and rightly so), as he told us in his book, written with Quentin Fiore, entitled War and Peace in the Global Village.

Hence the geostrategic effect of these operations: when a whole country is gradually flooded with this type of communication, everybody – including the ruling class – will suffer a temporary weakening and inactivation of the frontal cortex.

Hence, when they take decisions, they will anyway operate with pseudo-concepts, automatic reactions, commonplaces, wrong perceptions and old stereotypes.

 Therefore the political link of the future will be the meeting of big data technology with the new neurosciences.

Even without recalling H.G. Wells or George Orwell, the current possibility of manipulating very large sections of the public – in a stable, effective and complete way – is already at its peak.

 Whoever succeeds in manipulating the opponent always stands to wins, while whoever proves to be porous or not to be able to oppose – with an equal and contrary operation – the psychopolitical dezinformacjia of an enemy State always stands to lose.

 And possibly he/she doesnot even realize it.

 We have already reached the time of the IT influence operations.

In this context, however, even in the age of cyberwarfare, the enemy operations use – above all – the old techniques of advertising manipulation typical of the era prior to the Internet.

 Firstly, there is the traditional bandwagon effect, which exploits the natural tendency of human beings to conform to their target group.

 The rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, facts, trends and products. increases the more they have already been adopted by others. In other words, the bandwagon effect is characterized by the probability of individual adoption increasing with respect to the proportion of people who have already done so.

There is nothing better than the “spiral of silence” to reinforce the bandwagon effect. The other side of the coin. Individuals have a fear of isolation, which results from the idea that a social group or the society, in general, might isolate, neglect or exclude members due to their opinions. This fear of isolation consequently leads to remaining silent instead of voicing opinions..

Hence the isolation determined by heterodoxy is a further push to regimentation, a typical trait of the bandwagon effect.

Psychopolitics has also another mechanism available,   Astroturfing – a term derived from Astro Turf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to resemble natural grass, as a play on the word “grassroots”.

It is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information. It entails creating an aura of success and universality that is reinforced by many “testimonials”, often paid, who guarantee the validity of the product or the political idea.

Nowadays, however, we have already reached the era that John Negroponte predicted as early as in the 1990s – the phase in which even the most advanced information technologies would become “customized”, i.e. they would quickly be adapted to every single consumer or voter.

 Obviously the more customization increases, the more information and influence content can be selected for each consumer-voter, with evident effects of invisible manipulation and regimentation.

We also need to study the filter bubble mechanism, i.e. the  effect generated by the algorithms of various social platforms that, with a view to customizing services, create an information trap based on users’ preferences. These algorithms dictate what we find online by creating a unique universe of information for each of us and fundamentally alter the way we encounter ideas and information.

This is matched by the echo chamber effect, which describes an increasingly common situation in which people are only shown content that reinforces their current political or social views, without ever challenging them to think differently. Beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system.

 Therefore, echo chambers and filter bubbles select and divide the online audience, but also the audience outside the Web, thus often polarizing it artificially.

Hence we go back to Ivan Ivanovic Pavlov’s old theory of the  bio-psychological reinforcement of previous beliefs – hence to the construction and confirmation of conditioned reflexes of individuals and groups.

 In fact, nowadays every political message tends to create its own conditioned reflex.

As Pavlov discovered, in people and animals a given stimulus always triggers a response and, when the connection  between a stimulus x and the response y is definitively established, the key stimulus always automatically triggers the same response in both animals and human beings.

 And the stimulus may have nothing to do with the mechanism triggered by the response.

This reminds us of the linguist De Saussure when he said that the relationship existingbetween the signifier and the signified is purely arbitrary and analytical. There is no objective bond between the physical concept of “ox” and the word “ox”, but it is anyway stronger than any natural link.

  In this context, we must also study symbolic actions. They are based on the premise that actions speak louder than words and they are designed to convey a symbolic and powerful value for any fact – an artificial message that is conveyed to a wide audience to prompt a response, in Pavlov’s sense.

 A child shipwrecked in the Mediterranean Sea, a girl killed brutally, a bartender achieving success in London are allexamples of facts isolated from their context, to which an induced symbolic power is attached, which ultimately triggers a mass response to this complex Pavlovian “stimulus”.

Furthermore, each fact is valid only if it is incorporated into a narrative. The human brain is not made to analyse isolated facts at any time, but to organize them into a storytelling, which has a time  dimension and, above all, an end.

 And it always concerns people, even if it speaks about mere facts.

 Personalization is also inherent in the human brain, and every person has a positive or negative value. As in the musical drama typical of Naples, the so-called sceneggiata napoletana,  he/she can only be isso(“he”, the hero), essa (“she”, the heroine) and ‘omalamente (“the villain”).

Therefore our mind reacts only briefly to the stinging action that we call “thought”.

 This was a beautiful idea of the founder of American pragmatism, Charles S. Peirce.

Hence symbolic actions exert their influence when they bring together material actions and symbolic operations.

 All this creates powerful signals, effective on behaviours -including political ones -which are immediately and intuitively manifested in the audience.

 The disinformation narratives are based, above all, on symbolic actions which penetrate, always deeply, into the target public that has been selected for the operation.

Hence disinformation always takes up the following forms: a) the fabrication from nothing of a piece of news and/or a narrative; b) manipulation, i.e. the construction of an “environment” suited to the news useful for disinformation, be it true or false; c)  misappropriation, e.g. the use of others’ data to fabricate  manipulated news which, however, seems to come from the source of the original news; d) the old propaganda, which is used to favour a party, a leader, a “cause”; e) satire, which – as we  Italians know all too well – can influence the  political discourse (suffice to recall Giorgio Forattini’ satirical cartoons of Bettino Craxi dressed as Mussolini or the comic destructuring of Silvio Berlusconi; f) parody, which relates a narrative to an emotional and amusing fact that has little to do with the narrative itself.

The divertissement, the myth of our society, is a very important axis of disinformation.

With a view to better understanding  the manipulation of facts, we should also recall the woozle effect, also known as evidence by citation, which occurs when frequent quotation of previous publications that lack evidence misleads individuals, groups and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence and non-facts become urban myths and factoids.

 There are also the new “Potiemkin villages”, i.e. the fake institutional networks of dezinformatsjia, managed by IT  operators expert on strategic influence.

During the 1930, the Potiemkin villages were fake villages built from scratch by the Soviet secret police, in which important visitors, often pro-Soviet ones, were shown that everything went very well, indeed. Nowadays they are built online.

 After the visit, in the old Soviet villages everything returned to the usual daily tragedy.

Moreover, for all these categories, there are BOTs on the Web, i.e. the “ro”-bots.

 It should be recalled that in 2017 BOTs alone generated over 50% of the Internet total global traffic.

The bot is an automated software, which operates on the basis of some algorithms.

Currently 23% of the Internet traffic is attributable to “good” bots, while 29% is produced from grey or black sources.

 A typical technique of bots and trolls, which are Internet subjects operating through provocative, irritating or out-of-theme and meaningless messages, is to reinforce the polarization induced by other media, both on the Internet and in classic channels.

 We have seen, in fact, that a large part of the propaganda on the Web tends to isolate and polarize the content and the audience.

 Here the practice that – in psychology – is called the Overton window comes to mind.

 For the American psycho-sociologist, the degrees of acceptance of public ideas are roughly the following: 1) unthinkable; 2) radical; 3) acceptable; 4) sensible; 5) popular; 6) policy.

According to Overton, every idea, even the most unthinkable, has its own specific window of opportunity.

 The more it is discussed, the more reasonable it appears. Overton maintains that all ideas, even the craziest ones, can shift from the stage of unthinkable to that of public democratic debate and their subsequent acceptance.

Hence the Overton window wants to ensure that ordinary citizens take possession of a crazy idea and make it their own, possibly working on the assumption that even cats and dogs – as we have recently read in an important Italian newspaper–can and hence must vote in political elections.

 The process is at the origin of a large part of contemporary psychopolitics: initially the problem- such as the vote for cats and dogs – is unacceptable or ridiculous.

  Then, at a later stage, the issue reiterated in all kinds of ways becomes “unacceptable, but with reservations”.

 We must never have taboos, “medieval” residues, preconceived ideas. This is the standard justification.

  In this phase, intellectuals – or what they think they are – advocate the vote for cats and dogs.

 Here the entire sequence of psychopolitical techniques that we have analysed above begins.

 And again, imperceptibly, the issue shifts from the stage of “forbidden, but with reservations” to that of “acceptable”.

 Here the above mentioned techniques of conditioning and influence still operate, especially the improper transition from the specific and particular case to the general categorization.

Still today, any manipulation of information is based on the irregular syllogisms defined by Aristotle.

 Do you remember Fido or Bogey? They were so smart and certainly they would have voted with full knowledge of the facts.

 Then Overton’s window shifts from “acceptable” to “sensible” and here usually two major categories operate: the economic necessity of the minority group – in many cases – or the pseudo-Darwinian natural selection.

 Then comes the testimonial phase, as is the case with advertising, particularly that of consumer goods: don’t you remember Rin Tin Tin? What about “Inspector” Rex?

 How dare you exclude dogs from voting? You are not “progressive”, up to date.

As seen above, the risk is exclusion from the group.

Hence everyone talks about it and the issue is amplified by the show business and the media.

The final stage is policy. You can ultimately take Fido to the voting booth.

It should be noted that these artificial conditioned reflexes are also designed to temporarily forget the real situation of the people and the country.

 With 1.8 million poor families, in Italy -equivalent to 5 million individuals – people take their minds off their problems by talking about the vote for cats and dogs, or about other nonsense like that, which they can believe thanks to the above mentioned “Overton window”.

 We have no doubt that shortly the technologies available for mass psychopolitical manipulation will increase.

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

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The New World Order: The conspiracy theory and the power of the Internet

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“The Illuminati, a mysterious international organisation made up of the world’s top political and social elites, controls the workings of the entire world behind the scenes”. This is the world’s most famous conspiracy theory about the New World Order.

For hundreds of years, legends about the Illuminati have been spread and many people currently believe that the Illuminati still exist. It is believed that the Illuminati operate in various fields such as global politics, military affairs, finance and mass media and control the historical process of the entire world.

The ultimate goal is to establish a New World Order. Nobody can prove it, but many people believe it. This is the greatest paradox about conspiracy theories.

In the 2009 film, Angels and Demons – based on Dan Brown’s best seller of the same name about Professor Langdon, played by Tom Hanks – the story of the Illuminati, who supposedly originated in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment, was recalled. There were physicists, mathematicians and astronomers who questioned the “erroneous teachings” of the authority of the Holy See and dedicated themselves to the scientific field of the search for truth.

Eventually, the Illuminati were forced to become a clandestine organisation and have continued to recruit members for hundreds of years to this day. In Angels and Demons, the historical facts are clearly questionable, and the movie appeared after the great economic crisis of 2007-2008.

The New World Order conspiracy theory has been circulating for a long time and is full of mysterious theories that, however, convince many people who are powerless and dissatisfied with the current state of the world.

The Illuminati, who advocate the establishment of a New World Order through the planning of a series of political and financial events (the financial tsunami of 2007-2008 is said to have been planned by the Illuminati), attempt to influence the course of world history, and ultimately establish an authoritarian world government.

Supporters of the New World Order theory believe that even the powerful US government is now just a puppet government. While another “shadow government” made up of a few people makes decisions that will change the fate of the planet.

You might think that all of the above is just crackpot theories. Many people, however, believe this is true. According to a 2013 poll conducted by the Public Policy Polling Foundation, 28% of US voters believe that the New World Order is actually taking hold.

Brian L. Keeley, a professor of philosophy at Pitts College who devotes himself to the study of modern conspiracy theories, believes that an important feature of conspiracy theorists is that they cite some trivial and overlooked incidents and then propose a perfect explanation compared to an embarrassed official response. The reason why the conspiracy theory explanation can be widely disseminated is that it has no argumentation process to deny. It is just a judgement that jumps directly from hypothesis to conclusion. In the argumentation process, it is only a subjective interpretation of the event.

Nevertheless, for the public that does not fully understand the incident, the conspiracy theory provides an “explanation” for the unknown part of the said incident, and this “explanation” cannot be denied (because its very existence is not corroborated by real arguments and facts). It is therefore recognised as a valid argument by many people.

For example, no one has substantial evidence to prove that the Illuminati actually exist, but no one can prove that the Illuminati are purely fictitious. Therefore, you cannot deny their existence because their existence is “perfection without evidence”.

Columnist Martha Gill wrote in The Guardian on the subject, describing the Illuminati as the most enduring conspiracy theory organisation in world history.

“Conspiracy theories relating to the 1969 moon landing mission, the Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attacks, etc., are all limited to a specific time and place. But conspiracy theories supporting the existence of the Illuminati can connect them. Anything about these connections, however, is difficult to prove”. In other words, the supporters of conspiracy theories may have common imagination and attribute everything to this organisation, so that every irrational phenomenon in the world can be explained.

Although no one can prove the real existence of the Illuminati, there is actually an alleged “global shadow government” in the world whose name is the Bilderberg Group. The Bilderberg Group holds an annual world-class private meeting and participants include elites from all walks of society such as government, business, media, science and technology.

Known as the “World’s Most Mysterious Conference”, the Bilderberg Group invites various famous political and economic figures to participate in its meetings every year.

Prince Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld (1911-2004) held the first meeting in 1954. As the venue for the meeting was the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, that name was used as the name of the group.

The existence of the Bilderberg Group is not a secret, but the content of the topics discussed at the Conferences is absolutely confidential and mainstream media cannot report on the content of the meetings.

The Bilderberg Group issues a press release every year to introduce the Conference participants and the outline of the topics discussed. Over the years, participants have come from many places, including Prince Philip of Edinburgh (1921-2021) of the British Royal Family, Crown Prince Charles, former British Prime Ministers, French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel, former US Presidents Bush and Clinton, and even Bill Gates and other Internet giants. There were also Italians, as reported years ago in a newspaper of our country.

The 2018 Conference was held in Turin, Italy, in June. According to the description on the Bilderberg Group’s official website, the main topics included European populism, the development of artificial intelligence, quantum computer technology and the “post-truth” era. Obviously the actual content and results of the meeting’s discussion have never been reported.

Therefore, the Bilderberg Group has naturally become a locus where conspiracy theorists want to draw material. They describe the Bilderberg Group as true evidence of the theory that a very small number of elites controls the world, and the participants are planning a New World Order.

On the subject of strange things, let us give some examples. In June 2018, the British Royal Family was also caught up in conspiracy theories. When Prince Harry and his wife Meghan attended a show, they were caught on camera motionless, like two stiff and dull robots. Later related clips went viral on the Internet and netizens were in an uproar: many people believed that the distinguished members of the Royal Family were actually robots developed by high technology.

However, the management of the London museum, Madame Tussauds, later explained the mystery by stating that Harry and Meghan were only played by two actors who wore extremely high-realism wax masks on their faces – all to promote an exhibition of wax statues – and inadvertently caused an uproar.

In that short video, Harry and Meghan did not change their facial appearance and their expressions were stiff just like robots. Consequently, conspiracy theorists used this as evidence that they were robots secretly built by the British Royal Family.

This argument is an extension of the ‘trivial evidence’ mentioned above. The argument proponents ignore any argumentation process and directly draw the final conclusion through the above stated “trivial evidence”. This conclusion is highly topical and quite appealing. With the fast spread of the Internet, the “quick truth” will naturally be recognised and sought after by many people.

I think many people still remember the “Mandela effect” that spread wildly across the Internet in the early years as a false memory. The name “Mandela effect” is believed to have come from Fiona Broome, a self-described “paranormal consultant”, who created a website called the “Mandela effect”. Supporters of the ‘Mandela effect’ claim to “remember” that former South African President Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. But in reality, after being released from prison, Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and died in December 2013.

So why should anyone believe this seemingly absurd statement? The Internet has become a support platform for a lot of false content, fake news, as well as unreasonableness and lack of justification. When someone shared that ‘false memory’ with others on the Internet, many people believed it to be true, and even suddenly recalled having that memory: “Mandela died in prison that year”.

As a result, lies inconsistent with facts continue to spread. The lie is repeated thousands of times and many people consider it to be the truth: this learning phase is the first misleading rule on the Internet.

In the Internet era, multidimensional and multiplatform features have generated a number of online “malignancies” of conspiracy theories. Moreover, their dissemination ability is not limited to “believers” only. Since online social media provide a widespread and wide dissemination platform, one passes it onto ten people, ten spread it to a hundred, a hundred to a thousand, and so it goes on in geometric fashion, thus turning a ‘hot’ topic on the Internet into an absolute truth. Those who want to believe are naturally prepared and willing to do so. Moreover, these false opinions on the Internet may even have an impact on the real world.

For example, at the political level, everyone can now comment and participate in the online arena. For politicians to get the right to speak and set the agenda, the key is to rely on the public’s direction on the Internet. The Internet discourse has become the dominant factor of the political storytelling, and not vice versa. The characteristics of social networks are precisely the breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

The Internet is easy to spread among the public and it is exactly the breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

Nowadays, conspiracy theories are enough to influence politics and even political developments. A specific conspiracy theory gains a number of supporters through the Internet that promotes it to become a highly debated topic among the public. Consequently, it enters the real political arena coming from the virtual community and its influence can change the direction of governmental decisions.

Looking at it from another perspective, when conspiracy theories are put on the Internet and continue to proliferate – regardless of whether the Illuminati exist or not – they are enough to establish a New World Order. The real-world public opinions, as well as the composition of opinions and the basis of social discussions are changed, and thus world’s countries, politics and rulers are affected.

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USA and Australia Worry About Cyber Attacks from China Amidst Pegasus Spyware

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Pegasus Spyware Scandal has shaken whole India and several other countries. What will be its fallout no one knows as we know only tip of iceberg. Amidst Pegasus Spyware Scandal USA and Australia both have shown serious concerns about Cyber Attacks on US and Australian interests. Both say that China is hub of malware software and both face millions of such attacks daily.

I am trying to understand why a software is needed to spy on a particular individual when all calls, messages, data, emails are easily accessible from server. In most of cases these servers are located in USA and some cases these are located in host country. In certain sensitive cases Government Agencies have their own server like Central Intelligence Agency and hundreds of other agencies and military establishment world over including India. Now point is who installs those servers.

A couple of years back I had talked to Mr Mike Molloy who is Chief Executive Officer of Orion Global Technologies previously known as Orion SAS. He had explained me how his company installs servers in host countries on request of private or gov bodies. He talks about contract and trust. That means even when a company or Gov buys a server or software for designated uses the “Secrecy” Factor remain on discretion of company which has supplied server or software.

Now  if all data, e-mail, chat, messages, calls are accessible to Gov as per law and technology (Through Server all components of Communication are accessible and thats why  me and you see start seeing call recording of a person even after many years later), I am unable to understand why a Gov will be needing a software to Spy on any one.

Now coming to where Australia and USA wants to carry the whole debate.

Australian Foreign Minister Sen Marise Payne said, “Australian Government joins international partners in expressing serious concerns about malicious cyber activities by China’s Ministry of State Security.

“In consultation with our partners, the Australian Government has determined that China’s Ministry of State Security exploited vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange software to affect thousands of computers and networks worldwide, including in Australia. These actions have undermined international stability and security by opening the door to a range of other actors, including cybercriminals, who continue to exploit this vulnerability for illicit gain”, She further added.

She opined, ”The Australian Government is also seriously concerned about reports from our international partners that China’s Ministry of State Security is engaging contract hackers who have carried out cyber-enabled intellectual property theft for personal gain and to provide commercial advantage to the Chinese Government”.

She warned China by saying, “Australia calls on all countries – including China – to act responsibly in cyberspace.  China must adhere to the commitments it has made in the G20, and bilaterally, to refrain from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage”.

On other hand USA’s The National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a Cybersecurity Advisory on Chinese State-Sponsored Cyber Operations. National Security Advisor said, ”Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity poses a major threat to U.S. and allied systems. These actors aggressively target political, economic, military, educational, and critical infrastructure personnel and organizations to access valuable, sensitive data. These cyber operations support China’s long-term economic and military objectives”.

The information in this advisory builds on NSA’s previous release “Chinese State-Sponsored Actors Exploit Publicly Known Vulnerabilities.” The NSA, CISA, and FBI recommended mitigations empower our customers to reduce the risk of Chinese malicious cyber activity, and increase the defensive posture of their critical networks. 

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Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geopolitical blocs

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pakistan-terrorism

Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini  and Varundeep Singh*

On July 14, 2021 a terror attack was carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in which a number of Chinese engineers, working on the Dasu hydropower project (a project which is part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor) were killed. The attack predictably evinced a strong response from China. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi speaking before a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Minister’s meeting asked the Taliban to disassociate itself from ‘terrorist elements’ and in a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to book. Earlier in April 2021, a car bomb attack took place at Serena hotel in Quetta which was hosting China’s Ambassador to Pakistan (four people were killed and twelve were injured)

Wang Yi significantly praised the Ashraf Ghani government, for its attempts towards building national unity and providing effective governance. Beijing clearly realizes that its economic investments in the country as well as big ticket infrastructural projects can not remain safe if there is no security. Afghanistan also criticized Pakistan for its role in sending 10000 Jihadis to Taliban, this is important in the context of the region’s geopolitics.

 Like all other countries, Beijing and Islamabad, would have expected uncertainty after the US withdrawal of troops but perhaps over estimated their capabilities in dealing with the turbulence which had been predicted by many.

Importance of Chinese Foreign Minister’s statements

Wang Yi’s statements are important because days earlier a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen had praised China and welcomed its role in the country’s reconstruction. He had also assured China that those involved in the insurgency in Xinjiang would not be given refuge in Afghanistan (one of China’s major concerns has been the support provided by Taliban to the East Turkmenistan movement)

While Beijing may have opened back channels with the Taliban and realized that it needs to adapt to the changing geopolitics, recent developments would have increased its skepticism vis-à-vis the Taliban. On the other hand, Russia has been more favorable towards the Taliban. Russia’s Deputy Chief of Mission in India, Roman Babushkin argued that the Taliban are a reality which needs to be accepted, and also that any military activities without a political process are insufficient.

Babushkin did make the point that for successful negotiations, Taliban needed to end violence.

‘that Taliban should deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate, in order to [get] delisted [at the UN Security Council], in order to go ahead with the future Afghanistan and creation of the inclusive government

It would be pertinent to point out, that Zamir Kabulov, Russian President’s Afghanistan envoy went a step further and said that the Afghan government was not doing enough to make talks with Taliban a success.

China’s statements subtle warning to the Taliban, indicating its reservations, and praise of Ghani indicate a possibility of greater understanding between Washington and Beijing (even though Beijing has repeatedly attributed the current troubles in Afghanistan to Washington’s decision to withdraw troops).

Can US and China find common ground

 It remains to be seen if Biden who has exhibited dexterity on a number of complex issues reaches out to Xi Jinping to find common ground with regard to Afghanistan. Significantly, while US-Turkey relations had witnessed a downward trajectory and Biden has been critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and Human rights record, both leaders met on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in June 2021. During the meeting Turkey agreed to secure Kabul Airport. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan while commenting on Turkey’s assurance said

‘The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport, and we are now working through how to execute to get to that,’

Taliban earlier this week warned Turkey of ‘consequences’ if the Middle Eastern nation increased its troop presence in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Russia’s statements with regard to the Taliban indicate that it is not totally on the same page as China (its prior experience in Afghanistan has made it more cautious and circumspect), and that the Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geo-political blocs and traditional lenses. All major stakeholders in Afghanistan, both within the region and outside, seem to be understandably befuddled by the turn of events. It is not just the US, but even China which would be worried not just from an economic stand point but the overall security implications of the turmoil in Afghanistan. The terror attack in KPK indicates that other CPEC related projects could also face threats from militant groups. Beijing would thus need to be quick to react to the overtures from the Taliban in order to secure its economic assets and lives of Chinese workers in neighbouring Pakistan.

 It is especially important for Washington, Beijing and other important stakeholders in the region to work together for dealing with the near term turbulence as well as long term challenges Afghanistan is likely to face.

*Varundeep Singh is an Independent Policy Analyst.

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