According to the Balochistan Liberation charter formulated under Hyrbyair Marri, the division of Balochistan into several parts is a legacy of the British Empire. The ultimate aim of the Baloch Liberation Struggle is to reunify the divided territories of Balochistan into one country and to grant full sovereignty to a single national Baloch state. Balochistan has for long been cheated out of its sovereignty and faced discrimination within Pakistan. Insurgencies against the Pakistani government started after Pakistan annexed the Baloch state of Kalat in 1948. This state is now divided between Iran and Pakistan. Along with continuous suppression of the Baloch in Iran by the government, Pakistan has been accused of committing genocide in the Balochistan region by Baloch Leaders such as Naela Qadri Baloch, a politician who fled Pakistan and in 2016 even asked India to intervene and free Balochistan.
Many, however, call the movement dead or dying and lack of media coverage in the region has shown a lack of detailing of the current Balochistan movement. This movement has not died down in actuality and there seems to be a spike in the number of attacks carried out around the region by its proponents, most of the recent ones centered around Quetta. A majority of these attacks have been aimed at either the military, paramilitary or police forces. Claims have appeared for most of the major attacks especially by the Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar, a coalition of the Balochistan Liberation Front, the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Balochistan revolutionary guards which have been designated as terror groups by the Pakistani Government. However, there have been no claims against the recent attacks in Quetta which are seemingly random in nature. The attacks may lack in intensity but definitely not in frequency.
This Liberation movement for Balochistan does not only occur in Pakistan but in the Iranian provinces of Sistani and Baluchestan as well. However, there are two different, distinct groups on either side. The Baloch on the Pakistan side find support in the BLA and BRAS and the Iranian side finds its support in Jaish Al-Adl. Their attacks are mostly in retaliation to the Suppression on either side. The Jaish Al-Adl was formed in 2012 by Salahuddin Farooqui and has carried out attacks in the Southeastern province of Iran in retaliation to the oppression of Sunni Muslims. According to reports the BRAS and the Jaish Al-Adl have their differences mostly in regards to Jaish Al-Adl’s religious motivations. The aims of both the groups concerning each other are unclear as there have been skirmishes on the border between them. An alliance between the two seems unlikely as the BLA are beneficiaries of Iran’s ignorance of the group, whereas the Jaish Al-Adl are active fighters against Iran.
On September 9th 2019, banners appeared in front of the venue for the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting the acute violation of human rights in Balochistan. There have been massive efforts to internationalize this movement in the past as well, but it has always been impeded by the lack of autonomy the people possess. Suppression and extensive military operations have been carried out against the “insurgents” by the Pakistani army in Balochistan, which has been justified on the same basis. However, as mentioned previously, after 30 years of suppression the Baloch still fight on which is apparent in the spike of their continuous efforts against the suppression. These attacks are highlighted in the table below.
|Date||Death count and attack||Attack details||Location||Perpetrator||Reason|
|30/8/2018||3 Chinese engineers injured||Suicide attack by son of Baloch leader||Dalbandin, Pakistan||BLA|
|16/10/2018||12 Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)||Kidnapped from border outpost||Mirjaveh, Iran||Jaish Al-Adl||In response to previous attack on 4 Sunni militants by IRGC|
|23/11/2018||4 people (Indian police and civilians)||Hour long shoot out at the Chinese consulate||Chinese Consulate, Karachi, Pakistan||BLA||Against Chinese occupation and CPEC|
|6/12/2018||5 dead + 44 wounded||Suicide car bomb||Chabahar, Iran||Jaish Al-Adl|
|14/12/2018||6 Pakistani Soldiers + 14 wounded (Frontier Corps)||Kech District, Pakistan||BLA, BRAS|
|29/1/2019||3 police wounded||Double bombing||Zahedan, Iran||Jaish Al-Adl|
|29/1/2019||9 Killed (5 police+ 4 civilians), 21 injured||Bombing plus firing||Office of deputy Inspector General, Loralai, Pakistan||Terrorists?|
|2/2/2019||1 IRGC killed and 5 wounded||Basij Base, Nik Shahr, Iran||Jaish Al-Adl|
|13/2/2019||27 Iranian border guards killed||Suicide vehicle attacks Bus||Between Zahedan and Khash, Iran||Jaish Al-Adl|
|16/2/2019||2 Frontier corps Killed||Loralai, Pakistan||Unknown|
|18/2/2019||4 Frontier corps Killed||Panjgur district, Pakistan||BLA|
|29/3/2019||Several Chinese engineers and workers killed||22 vehicle envoy attacked by remote controlled bomb||Hamdard University, Karachi||BLA||Seeking termination of CPEC- Coincides with Pakistani Prime ministers visit to Gwadar|
|18/4/2019||14 (10 navy, 3 air force, 1 coastguard)||15 attackers stop bus||Makran coastal highway, between Karachi and Gwadar, Pakistan||BRAS|
|12/5/2019||5 killed (4 hotel workers and naval officer)||Bomb on 5-star hotel||Gwadar, Pakistan||BLA||Retaliation to Chinese projects in Balochistan|
|20/7/2019||1 policeman killed, 10 injured||Double road, Quetta, Pakistan||Unknown|
|30/7/2019||5 killed, 32 injured||Bomb near Police station||Quetta,Pakistan||Taliban|
|26/9/2019||3 policemen wounded||Bypass, Quetta||Unknown|
|29/9/2019||3 killed and almost a dozen injured||Bomb||Chaman, Pakistan||Unknown|
|16/10/2019||1 police killed, 5 injured||Bypass, Quetta||Unknown|
|21/10/2019||3 killed, 9 wounded||Spinny road, Quetta||Unknown|
|30/10/2019||1 policeman killed||Suicide bomber on Motorbike||Loralai, Balochistan||Unknown|
|(Source: Multiple news agencies based in Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi and US) 16/11/2019||3 paramilitary troops killed||Roadside Bomb||Kalach, Quetta||Unknown|
Source: Multiple news agencies based in Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi and US
The general increase in the attacks in the Balochistan region is pretty clear through the data on the aforementioned table. The attacks in Quetta consist of multiple unknown attacks where no groups claimed responsibility. The responsibility of such attacks is generally claimed within one week of the attack but the perpetrators of these attacks are yet to come to the forefront. Seeing that Quetta is the prime factor in Balochistan, being termed as its capital, these attacks must be motivated by the BLA and the BRAS, if not directly carried out by them.
2019 has also seen attacks by the Balochistan against Chinese sponsored enterprises which are part of the China Pakistan Economic corridor. Balochistan sentiments angle away from the investments citing it to be more detrimental to the Baloch rather than beneficial. Hyrbyair Marri, the leader of the Free Balochistan Movement, said that the allegiance of Pakistan to CPEC would be another step in turning Balochistan into a Military Garrison for China. The Baloch now don’t only have to deal with the Pakistanis that have destroyed their sovereignty but also the Chinese influx into the country as well.
The fight for international support has also been on the rise where advertisements have been released in certain prominent papers in the US. A particular advertisement placed by the World Baloch Organization and the Baloch Republican Party in July 2019 in the Washington Post sought support from President Donald Trump. This advertisement addressed to the President calls on the US support in addressing Human rights exploitation, economic deprivation and political exclusion in Balochistan. It also called on the US to bring restriction to the use of US-supplied weapons used on the Baloch nationalist group which were meant to help suppress religious extremist groups rather than them. However, the US government has not issued any official statement regarding the same and it doesn’t seem like it will. The US recently branded both the Jaish Al-Adl and the Baloch Liberation Army as terrorist organizations and seem to classify the entire movement as being motivated by these “terrorists”. Even an appeal from Members of the European Parliament regarding the deteriorating situation in Balochistan in a letter in July 2019 has not received a response from the US government.
On the Iranian side, the Jaish Al-Adl seem to be motivated more by the Sunni identity of the Population rather than the Baloch identity. And therefore, apparent cross border conflicts with the group and the BLA have emerged as well with reports of it being caused due to the over-emphasis on the religious identity. Especially with allegations that the Sunni militant group has support from the Pakistan government, it is unlikely to partake in a unified movement. At odds with Pakistani support, the BLA apparently enjoys covert support through the lack of Iranian attention whereas all the Jaish Al-Adl’s attacks are aimed at the Iranian government. These groups are on two opposing ends of the spectrum not only in terms of their allegiances but also on the basis of religion. The Balochistan Liberation movement in Pakistan aims at a secular Balochistan nation which is at complete odds with Jaish Al-Adl’s Sunni leanings.
The spike in attacks indicates the possibility of a mass resurgence of the Balochistan Liberation Movement. Leaders of the multiple movements have become even more active on twitter such as Hyrbyair Marri, Mehran Marri, Naela Quadri Baluch who have also shown support for the Kurdish cause and the Indian stance on Kashmir in defiance of Pakistan. There has also been a resurgence of protests outside the UN and across cities seeking a Free Balochistan. The Balochistan republican Party in London and the Balochistan Voice Association in other major cities including outside the UN in Geneva have actively protested for Balochistan.
Select active leaders of the Baloch Freedom movement
Hyrbyair Marri was born to the family of Baloch national leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. He completed his early education in Quetta and then moved to study journalism in Russia. In 1997, he was elected to the Balochistan Provincial assembly and became the Education minister of the province. In 1999, after his father was arrested and charged with the murder of Balochistan high court judge, Justice Nawaz Marri, he left Pakistan. He traveled to Europe and was granted political asylum in the UK in 2011. He is the leader of the Free Balochistan movement and Pakistan alleges he is the head of the Balochistan Liberation Army. He has accepted the invitation of, Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior leader and president of Delhi Study Group, Mr. Vijay Jolly to travel to India. On the 10th of December 2019, he will address a seminar on ‘Human Rights in Balochistan,’ in New Delhi.
Mehran marri is the sixth son of Baloch nationalist leader Khair Bakhsh Marri and is believed to be the current leader of the United Baloch Army (UBA). He is the brother of Hyrbyair Marri. The UBA was classified as a terrorist organization by Pakistan and also Switzerland. Since being banned in 2013 by the Pakistani government, the group has been largely inactive with no resurgent attacks on any news websites. Marri was arrested at Zurich Airport and put under a lifetime ban on entry to Switzerland on the 16th of November 2017. He was later deported from Switzerland and currently resides in the United Kingdom. Mehran Marri is active on Twitter and continues to show support for the Baloch insurgency in Eastern Pakistan.
Brahamdagh Khan Bugti or Brahumdagh Khan Bugti is the founder and leader of a Baloch nationalist political organization, the Baloch Republican Party which broke away from his uncle Talal Akbar Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party in 2008. After the assassination of his grandfather Akbar Bugti, a Baloch nationalist politician, he fled his hometown Dera Bugti in Balochistan in 2006. Initially, he lived as a state guest in Afghanistan and was then flown to Switzerland in October 2010 where he has been living in political asylum with his family. In 2018, India was in talks about granting him citizenship. India would have also given citizenship to Brahumdagh’s key lieutenants in Switzerland, including Sher Muhammad Bugti and Azizullah Bugti, his trusted aides. The BRP has held campaigns all over the UK under the banner of End Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan. The month of June saw an increase in campaigns all over London, resulting in newspaper advertisements, billboard signs and joint awareness campaigns with the World Balochistan Organization. These campaigns also included the flying of “Free Balochistan,” Banners during a Pakistan Afghanistan match at Headingley Stadium, London on June 29th this year. On the 27th of August 2019, Brahamdagh Bugti delivered an address during the martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Nawab Akbar Bugti saying, “We do not mourn this day but rather celebrate it, for it reminds us, the Baloch in Balochistan and abroad, how Shaheed Nawab Akbar Bugti founded this movement with his blood.” The Baloch Republican Party held events across Balochistan and overseas in places like London, Switzerland, and Busan in South Korea, and his speech was broadcast in the same. He is also believed to be the head of the Baloch Republican Army by Pakistan.
Khalil Baloch is currently the chairman of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM). This party was one of the strongest in Balochistan during the 1990s. It still retains a stronghold and according to its manifesto will actively form a political coalition outside of Pakistan’s National Assembly. It has pledged its support to the Balochistan freedom fighters under this released manifesto. In an email interview, he stated, “The recent escalation in militant attacks is a direct reaction to Pakistan army’s growing atrocities in Balochistan and China’s relentless plunder of Baloch resources.” This interview was published on the 15th of July 2019, and since then there have been multiple attacks again as can be seen in the table above. He also stated in the same interview that the Baloch National Movement is no longer ready to negotiate autonomy in the Pakistani political system but in fact, will fight for a separate state altogether. Dil Murad Baloch, the cultural secretary of the BNM is also a key proponent against the Pakistani forces and atrocities carried out by them. He posts regularly on Twitter as well, condemning the Pakistani armed forces, recently calling out the kidnapping and continuing torture of BNM member, Rafiq Baloch.
Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch
Allah Nazar Baloch is the founder and the chief of the Balochistan Liberation Front. He was born in Mashkai, Awaran District in 1968 and has a premedical degree. He heads the BLF which was designated as a terror organization since being one of the prime fighting groups seeking Balochistan Liberation. In an interview published on 22nd July 2019, when asked about why democratic means have not been used to resolve grievances with Pakistan he said that there is no democracy in Pakistan and the Baloch are compelled to rebel against the oppression and slavery. In a statement, he said that the Baloch liberation movement was moving towards the right direction and every supporter of the Pakistani state are enemies of the envisioned Baloch nation.
Implications of a Resurgence
This resurgence of activity surrounding the Balochistan Freedom Movement can only signify a shift in the lull it had experienced for a while. Though many may call it dead, a united Balochistan may still be in the making. Details of any resurgent movements in Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan is lacking but it is clear that the movement in Pakistan has begun to regain traction. Coinciding with the increase of attacks in the Balochistan region, active protesting across the world in multiple organizations has emerged. The call for help from India has increased especially since Prime Minister Modi showed support in a speech indirectly instigating Baloch Activists to actively seek help.
Quetta has been termed as the home base of the Balochistan Liberation movement seeing that it is the apparent capital of Balochistan. The increase of attacks in this very city emphasizes the significance of the movement’s resurgence. Perhaps, not all attacks accounted for are carried out by either the BLA or the BRAS but the unrest in the city is apparent, further egged on by the heightened international movements surrounding the Balochistan freedom struggle. The Baloch are spread from Iran to Pakistan and even in southern Afghanistan and an integrated new Baloch nation would lead to an uproar in South Asia. Whether the fight for a unified Balochistan would materialize in success is yet to be seen and if so, how much of the region would actually fall to them is another cause for speculation. A proposed map of Balochistan (image 1.0) shows it to possess a landmass almost equaling that of current day Pakistan. It is very unlikely that any of the countries involved would give up their territory as has been clear in the failures of the previous resurgences in the 1970s and 1980s, but the fight for autonomy and sovereignty still persists. The success of a resurgence in Pakistan would depend greatly on successful movements across the border in Iran. Though the council of Independent Balochistan formed in 2009 under Mir Suleman Dawood the Khan of Kalat did not lay claim to the Baloch dominated region in Afghanistan, who is to predict what new demands may or may not be made.
A new country would not only ruffle a good many feathers of these three neighboring states but also of other countries who have vested interests in the current region, the most prominent of which is China. The China Pakistan economic corridor would be the worst affected which is clear in the Baloch hate for the country and its investment in the region. A unified Balochistan or even a radical resurgent movement would bring a complete halt to all the infrastructural under the CPEC. The total CPEC project was valued at about $62 Billion as of 2017, which has definitely been surpassed as of 2019. The Gwadar International Port along with its international airport and the East-Bay Expressway which fall under this CPEC project, all run through the Balochistan region and have been the site of multiple attacks. Interestingly, unified Balochistan will not only contain this port of Gwadar but also the Chabahar port on the Indian side.
Though this resurgence would be highly detrimental to the CPEC corridor and Chinese investments in the Larger One Belt One Road initiative, it is important to acknowledge an important outcome of the same which is the gains that another particular country would make. India has for long been accused of supporting the Balochistan cause in Pakistan and a resurgent Balochistan movement serves to bolster support for India in laying claim to an extra ally in the region. Whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his speech was meant as anti-Pakistan rhetoric concerning the Kashmir issue or actual support for the movement is yet to be understood. However, it is clear that many vested interests in the region will serve to either bolster the fight or open increased fronts against the Balochistan Freedom Movement. Though the movement seems to be increasing in intensity one can still question the optimism that the Baloch and its supporters can afford to have in seeking their sovereignty.
How Taliban Victory Inspired Central Asian Jihadists
Following the fall of the US-backed Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani on August 15, al-Qaeda-linked Uighur, Uzbek and Tajik jihadi groups widely celebrated the Taliban’s “historic victory” over the “enemies of the Muslim Ummah”. In honor of the Taliban’s rebuilding of the Islamic Emirate, leading Jihadi groups from Central Asia and China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region issued special congratulatory statements, echoed jihadi nasheeds (chants of jihadi glory), arranged a festive feast for their Muhajeers (who immigrated to spread Islam and wage jihad) and gloatingly booed the US military forces leaving Afghanistan on jihadi media.
Turkestan Islamic Party called on all Muslims to unite around the Taliban as one body
Uighur jihadists of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from Western China, were one of the first to congratulate the Taliban victory. On August 16, in a statement of the TIP’s Syrian branch, released by its propaganda arm, ‘Muhsinlar’, Uighur militants congratulated the Taliban’s emir Haibatullah Akhunzada and all Afghan fellow believers on the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Notably, in its statement, TIP ‘discovered’ the root causes of the Taliban’s victory in the Muslim holy book of the Quran, which refers to Surah al-Fatiha “Indeed, we have given you, o Prophet, a clear conquest” (48:1). The TIP further emphasized that “one generation of Muslims have sacrificed themselves for the religion of Allah, for today’s boundless joy and rejoicing.” The Taliban’s victory is “a fruit of long and arduous struggle and God’s big gift to Muslims worldwide”, the statement reads.
The TIP’s Syrian branch has called on all Muslims to make dua’s (invocation of God) for the Afghan Mujahedeen, to cooperate and support their fellows of Taliban. Uighur jihadists emphasized the need for the integrity of the Islamic Ummah, which should be governed only by the rule of the Almighty as one nation and one country. At the end of the statement, TIP noted that “East Turkestan Mujahedeens, as an integral part of the Great Ummah, celebrated the historic victory of the Taliban with boundless joy, and will stand alongside them shoulder to shoulder.”
It is recalled that ETIM was designated as a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1390 on September 11, 2002, for its alleged association with al-Qaeda, its leader Osama bin Laden, and the Afghan Taliban. As part of the “global war on terror,” the US Federal Government designated ETIM as a terrorist organization on August 19, 2002. At that time, China skillfully took advantage of the situation emerging after the 9/11 attacks, achieving the recognition of ETIM as a terrorist group by many members of the U.S.-led “war on terror” coalition.
However, on November 5, 2020, the US Department of State removed ETIM from the blacklist, which provoked a fuming reaction from official Beijing. China on the other hand is pursuing a harsh repressive policy against the Muslim minority in its Xinjiang region detaining more than one million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in so-called “re-education camps.” Despite the US decision, the post-Soviet Central Asian countries, Russia and China did not exclude TIP from their banned list of terrorist organizations.
According to the latest 2021 UN Security Council’s report, “several hundred Uighur jihadists of TIP located primarily in Afghan Badakhshan and neighboring provinces, whose strategic goal is to establish an Islamic Uighur state in Xinjiang, China.” The report stated that TIP affiliated with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and their ties remain “strong and deep as a consequence of personal bonds of marriage and shared partnership in struggle, now cemented through second generational ties.” Moreover, the notorious leader of TIP, Abdul Haq al-Turkestani, has remained a member of al-Qaeda’s elite Shura Council since 2005. For more two decades, the most wanted key Uighur jihadist has been openly loyal to the Taliban’s top leader Haibatullah Akhunzada and the al-Qaeda’s emir Ayman al-Zawahiri. Today, all three top emirs are successfully continuing their faithful jihadi fellowship, skillfully hiding their close relations, and throwing dust in the eyes of the US and its Western partners, tired of the “longest war”.
Thus, it can be assumed that despite the Taliban’s warm relations with the Chinese government after their return to power in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that they will break ties with the Uighur jihadists of TIP. On the contrary, both are expected to remain loyal to the oath of allegiance (bayat). The long relationship between the Taliban, al-Qaeda and TIP has shown that the bayat has a sacred religious value for them.
Taliban is a source of inspiration for Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad
The Uzbek jihadist group Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) on its Telegram channel posted a video congratulating the Taliban on the victory over the most powerful evil empire in the world, which it considers the US. The congratulations were unusual, as the three KTJ leaders via video addressed the Taliban comrades in joint jihad in three official languages of Afghanistan – Pashto, Dari and Uzbek. In particular, the KTJ’s top emir Abdul Aziz al Uzbeki, whom the UN identified as ‘Khikmatov,’ spoke in Pashto, the military commander Sayfiddin in Dari, and the main ideologist of Central Asian Salafi Jihadism, the group’s imam Ahluddin Navqotiy in Uzbek.
Abdul Aziz glorified the Taliban’s victory over the foreign invaders and occupiers as a gift from Allah Almighty to the Ummah. He eulogized the vision of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s first emir, who once said, “Allah has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat, so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled.” Top Uzbek jihadist further noted that “today, after a long-suffering patience, tireless struggle and great jihadi perseverance, finally came Nusrat (victory) in Khorasan, promised by Allah.” “Because the Mujahedeen are stronger in spirit and faith in God than the invaders, who, despite their military might and immeasurable wealth, fled the country in shame”, concluded Abdul Aziz.
Then, in an emotional speech, the group’s hard Salafi ideologist, Ahluddin Navqotiy, congratulated the Taliban Mujahedeen on behalf of KTJ Muhajeers waging a jihad in Syria’s Idlib province against Bashar al-Assad regime and pro-Iranian radical militias. He expressed confidence that today’s Nusrat of Allah in Afghanistan will become the driving force behind the establishment of Sharia rule in Central Asia.
Noteworthy, the KTJ leader, Abdul Aziz, had close ties with al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, in particular with the Haqqani network. As a native of the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan, Abdul Aziz made a hijrah (migration) to Afghanistan fleeing the repressive policies of Uzbek President Islam Karimov in the early 2000s. He waged a jihad in Afghanistan as part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Then, in 2015, along with dozens of comrade-in-jihad, he split the group and joined the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), a splinter faction of the IMU. At the time, Central Asian jihadists split over the internal conflict between al-Qaeda and ISIS struggling for the leadership of global jihad.
On August 20, 2015, when the IMU officially swore allegiance to the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the IJU followed in al Qaeda’s footsteps and renewed bayat to the Taliban’s emir Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. In May 2005, a decade before these events, the US government listed the IJU as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization in May 2005.
He belongs to the first generation of foreign fighters from Central Asia, who went through Taliban’s jihadi school in Afghanistan. He gained prestige among the fellow militants as a military strategist, and not as a deep scholar of the Quran or a public orator-ideologist of Salafi jihadism. In 2008-15, Abdul Aziz, along with the IJU’s leadership, was based in the al-Qaeda’s military hub of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. In one of his Jummah Khutbah preaching he admitted that allowing the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) to take refuge in North Waziristan saved the lives of many Uzbek jihadists from the US drone strikes. In 2019, Abdul Aziz made a hijrah to Syrian Idlib province and became the leader of the KTJ group.
Motivations and Strategies of the Central Asian Jihadism
The congratulations from the Central Asian Sunni militant groups to the Taliban were a vivid manifestation of their long-term and tested joint jihadi cooperation, which began in the late 1990s. Thus, Uighur’s TIP and Uzbek’s KTJ complemented a long list of global jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda’s Central Command and its franchises in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Hurras al-Deen (HD), Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Hamas, congratulating the Taliban on their ‘victory’ over the US and NATO forces.
To celebrate the Taliban’s ‘victory’, Uighur, Uzbek and Russia’s Caucasian Jihadists in Syria also hosted grand feasts for foreign and local Sunni Arab militants and heroized the Afghan Mujahedeen during Jummah Khutbah Sermons. The Central Asian jihadi media widely published photos and videos from these parties and against this background tried to recruit new supporters to make hijrah to Afghanistan and Syria to protect the values of Islam and wage the sacred jihad against the infidels. The dramatic picture of Afghan government soldiers fleeing to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan has made the Taliban and al-Qaeda more attractive for recruiting a new generation of Islamists from Central Asia. Calls to make hijrah, or migrate, to the Taliban’s so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are also surfacing on jihadist forums. If the Syrian province of Idlib falls, al-Qaeda-aligned and HTS-backed Uzbek and Tajik jihadists’ migration to Afghanistan will be inevitable. The Taliban can easily melt them into Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz societies in northern Afghanistan and use them as leverage over rebellious ethnic minorities.
So, analysis of the jihadist media indicated that al-Qaeda-linked and Taliban-backed Central Asian extremist groups, operating in both Afghanistan and Syria, were deeply inspired by the Taliban’s victory over the pro-Western government of Ashraf Ghani. As a result, small and fragmented Salafi-Jihadi groups from post-Soviet countries have received the biggest boost to unite around the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Consequently, conducive conditions after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan are expected to lead to a resurgence of al Qaeda in the Central Asian region. Latent al-Qaeda sympathizers and other radical Islamists in the “Five Stans” view the restoration of the Islamic Emirate on the other side of the border as the beginning of the great jihad’s revival and the approach of Nusrat. With the decline of ISIS and the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, internal divisions, and inter-group feuds between the jihadist jamaats (group) of Central Asia, sometimes accompanied by bloodshed, are expected to diminish, and the volume of clandestine donations to jihad in the region are also expected to increase markedly.
But the main fear for local authoritarian and corrupt pro-Russian governments is that a Taliban victory could provide a historic boost for Uzbek, Tajik and Uighur violent extremist groups encouraging them in their campaigns to overthrow and replace local regimes. And although the Taliban is viewed by the world community as a Pashtun nationalist jihadi movement, and the Afghan jihad has always been more inward and parochial, nevertheless its ideological influence has always been strong among the Central Asian jihadists.
Despite the fact that the Taliban leadership publicly denies the presence of transnational terrorist groups in the country, a recent UN report revealed that there are about 10,000 foreign fighters in Afghanistan, who are members of al-Qaeda, Uighur’s TIP, Uzbek militant groups Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), KTJ, IJU and Tajik’s Jamaat Ansarullah (JA). Moreover, some of them took an active part in the recent military attacks against the Afghan army on the side of the Taliban, which led to the rapid fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, the strategically important capital of the Northern Alliance. As we predicted earlier, the Taliban exploited the Central Asian jihadists during the fighting in the north of the country as their “hard power” and political leverage on the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. When the Taliban captured a strategically important security checkpoint near Afghan border with Tajikistan in July, they assigned a Tajik jihadi group Jamaat Ansarullah (JA) to raise the Taliban flag on the site. They also put JA in charge of security in five districts of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province – Kuf Ab, Khwahan, Maimay, Nusay, and Shekay – near the Tajik border.
Although the Taliban has repeatedly promised not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a staging ground for any attacks, they will not sever their ties with Central Asian jihadi groups and will not violate the bayat. Uzbek, Uighur and Tajik jihadist groups are expected to maintain a safe haven in Afghanistan under the tacit and tight control of the Taliban. In the jihadist world, bayat or pledging allegiance is a heavy Islamic commitment reaching under the holy gaze of Allah Almighty, and reneging it is considered a serious offence. Therefore, the Taliban has never disavowed the group’s pledge.
In conclusion, the high fighting spirit and ideological strength of al-Qaeda-affiliated Central Asian jihadist groups in Afghanistan is associated not only with the Taliban’s lightning victory, but also with the humiliating and chaotic US withdrawal from the country. One of the Kyrgyz jihadists in Syria wrote on the KTJ Telegram channel that “the honor and dignity of America today is under the Taliban’s feet in front of the great Ummah.” This indicates that a new generation of Central Asian extremists has emerged on the scene of global jihadism, absorbing in itself the al-Qaeda’s Salafi-Takfiri military ideology, and synthesizing it with the Islamist nationalism of the Taliban, based on the common kindred Hanafi’s al-Maturidi Aqeedah (Sunni Islamic theology school). As the US counterterrorism capacity in Afghanistan weakened in the foreseeable future, the terrorism threat from Central Asian region will grow symmetrically for the US and the West as a whole.
Russia, Turkey and UAE: The intelligence services organize and investigate
The FSB (Federal’naja Služba Bezopasnosti Rossijskoj Federácii, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) – created in 1995 from the ashes of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoj Bezopasnosti (KGB), the State Security Committee – is ready for additional responsibilities under the new national security strategy. President Putin’s recent redefinition of the FSB’s role provides some indications on the national security strategy that will soon be announced – a strategy that will affect seas, borders and the security of strategically important intelligence.
On June 1, 2021 President Putin issued a decree outlining the new priorities that will be given to the FSB in Russia’s revised national security strategy, which replaces the one that officially ended last year.
The changes to the Intelligence Service’s regulatory framework, including the peripheral one, provides some indications on the Russian security priorities. Some of the main changes include additional responsibilities for intelligence security, counterterrorism, border control and stronger protection of maritime interests.
Border control and the various references to counterterrorism in its broadest sense – as recently defined by Russia – means entrusting the security service with a number of new areas and tasks, including the redefinition of procedures to detect political radicalisation.
Border control is also strengthened in the revised rules, with FSB border guards acquiring records, filing and storing biometric data and obtaining and processing DNA information obtained during border checks.
The details on access to Russian soil shed light on the Kremlin’s problems with its own fellow countrymen. In the article on the FSB’s involvement in controlling entry into Russia, the decree mentions the “territories requiring special authorisation” such as Transnistria, some parts of Georgia and Eastern Ukraine, and states that the FSB will be involved in a national programme to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Russians living abroad.
Intelligence is a valuable asset and its security has always been one of the Kremlin’s main concerns. Therefore, the new strategy makes the FSB the leading agency, not just the end user regarding computers, security and telecommunication encryption.
It will oversee and supervise the implementation of the new technological security throughout the community. All this was outlined in December in a law that redefined the role of the FSB’s Centre for State Licensing, Certification and Protection. It will grant licences for the use of “special technical means and equipment intended to receive information secretly”.
The FSB will also examine patents for classified inventions. In addition to its official role in intelligence warfare, the FSB has been tasked with producing more security measures to protect the identity of Russian intelligence agents, and keep the confidentiality of its own officials, officers and soldiers.
The Internal Security Service will also set up a new procedure to inspect agents and individuals entering the army, the intelligence services and the Federal Administration. Using the protection of marine life as an additional task, the FSB will also have increased responsibilities for the seas, including competence and powers over the protection of fishing grounds outside Russia’s exclusive economic zone, the establishment of checkpoints for fishing vessels entering or leaving the zone, and the power to suspend the right of passage for foreign vessels in certain Russian maritime zones.
The Service will also define the structure of operational offices in maritime zones. These measures follow a law adopted last October outlining the FSB’s role in “establishing control and checks in fisheries and the conservation of sea biological resources”.
An important concept in Russian history and life is the silovik. He is a representative of law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, armed forces and other structures to which the State delegates the right to use force. This concept is often extended to representatives of political groups, but also to businessmen, associated with power structures in Russia or formerly in the Soviet Union.
As a jargon term, this word is used in other languages as a broad political term in everyday conversation and in journalism to describe political processes typical of Russia or the former Soviet Union. The etymology of the word is the Russian word sila, meaning strength, force and power.
Trying to renew the aforementioned concept, President Putin provides momentum and injects new impetus into the meaning of this word. After putting the issue on the agenda of the National Security Council of May 28 last, the President is now pushing for the publication of the national security strategy. It has been delayed despite the fact that the Deputy Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (Sovet bezopasnosti Rossijskoj Federacii), Sergej Vachrukov, had announced it was to be published in February.
As we might commonly believe, the steps to strengthen the Russian secret services are not so much focused on the aforementioned and movie-style “derby” between secret agents, but are mainly targeted to Russia’s traditional “Ottoman” adversary, namely neighbouring Turkey.
President Erdogan’s official meeting with the UAE’s National Security Advisor, Tahnun bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and the renewed ties with Abu Dhabi are the result of behind-the-scenes regional intelligence operations in which the Kremlin wants to see straight and clearly.
While there is still a deep political divide both between Russia and Turkey, and between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, the Turkish President hopes to encourage future Emirates’ investment. Turkish President Erdogan’s unprecedented meeting with the UAE’s national security representative, the aforementioned al-Nahyan, in Ankara on August 18 can be largely attributed to the work of the two countries’ intelligence services over the last few months.
There is a desire to turn a new page after eight years of icy relations, crystallised by the 2013 overthrow of Egypt’s leader Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood’s member close to Turkey and firmly opposed by the United Arab Emirates.
Steps towards reconciliation began on January 5, 2021 at the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in al-Ula. The Summit marked the end of Qatar’s isolation, thus paving the way for a resumption of relations between the UAE and Turkey. After the Summit, al-Nahyan flew to Cairo where he met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who strongly encouraged him to begin a new chapter with Turkey.
At the same time, Egypt’s intelligence service, Mukhabarat al-Amma, engaged in secret talks with its Turkish counterpart, the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatıı. However, it was al-Nahya’s meeting with the Turkish intelligence Chief, Hakan Fidan, in Cairo a few weeks later that achieved the first results.
That meeting was organized by the Chief of the Mukhabarat al-Amma and by Abbas Kamel, al-Sisi’s regional Director, along with Ahmed Hosni, the strongman of Jordanian Dayirat al-Mukhabarat al-Amma, that King Abdallah II had sent from Amman. Since then, there were eight additional meetings between Turkey and Abu Dhabi, which then led to the aforementioned meeting of President Erdogan with al-Nahyan, with the possibility of holding a future Summit between them.
This rapprochement still has difficulty hiding the deep divide between the two countries on key regional issues such as their respective positions on Syria and Libya, in particular. While they have managed to find some common ground for understanding – ending smear campaigns and trade blockades; resuming visa issuance; direct air links and the return of Ambassadors – President Erdogan and al-Nahyan are simply keeping quiet about their current irreconcilable differences.
Political considerations are put aside to facilitate future UAE’s investment in Turkey.
On August 25, the Emirates’ Group International Holding CO announced it would invest massively in Turkey’s health and agrifood industries, while it seems that the sovereign fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is willing to lend Turkey 875 million US dollars.
Is it just business? Russia is investigating.
Power Vacuum in Afghanistan: A By-product of An Incompetent Geopolitical Contract
I still recall the evening of December 18, 2011, when I read the news of the last U.S. troops being pulled out of Iraq, that ended an eight-year-long military involvement in the region. Somehow the news instantly gave me an uneasy feeling knowing that a catastrophic storm was awaiting and will mark the beginning of a cataclysmic civil war. Within hours of U.S. military troops leaving the land, Iraqi’s rival Sunni and Shi’ite factions resumed a kind of political infighting that threatened a lurch back into turmoil. Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered an immediate dissolution of his Sunni deputy and issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni Vice President. Not only Sunnis gradually lost the authority of power in the government and security discourse, but the Sunni elites, who challenged Maliki were subsequently either tortured or killed. Out on the streets, after the ISF raided the home of Iraq’s minister of finance, who was also a member of Iraqiya coalition, Sunni protest broke out in Fallujah; and the fire spread across the country. Iraqi Security forces killed between 50-65 civilians on Maliki’s order. This led to the most notorious consortium in the history of global terrorism – an alliance between the Sunnis and ISIS. On July 21, 2013, ISIS initiated a 12-month campaign called the ‘Soldier’s Harvest’ on Iraqi security forces, teamed up with Sunni tribal leaders and former Baathists, and ultimately forcing ISF to evacuate Fallujah and remnants of its government. Soon after, ISIS attacked Abu Ghraib prison freeing up to 1000 minacious inmates, including senior al-Qaida leaders and militants. Empowered and endued with Sunni support, ISIS officially seized Fallujah, parts of Ramadi and Mosul, by June 2014. By gripping Mosul alone, ISIS gained $480 million in stolen cash and armed itself with two divisions’ worth of military weapons and ammunition that were left behind by the U.S. military troops. And, within six months, ISIS became the world’s most well-funded and equipped terrorist group in the world – controlling approximately 100,00 square kilometers of territory across Iraq and Syria at its zenith. Not just the Middle East, ISIS spread its terror tyranny globally as well with strategic attacks on Paris and Brussels.
So, what led to the birth of ISIS? Two words – Power vacuum; and the U.S. policy in Iraq between 2010 and 2011 actively created this geopolitical conditions in which ISIS thrived.
Stages of Power Vacuum – From The Birth of ISIS in Iraq to Rise of The Taliban in Afghanistan
If one thing that we have learned from the U.S led invasion in Iraq is that an incompetent geopolitical contract abhors a political vacuum. In political science, the term power vacuum is an analogy that deconstructs and artificially manufactures power relations and political conditions in a country that has no identifiable central power or authority. In a critical situation like this, the inflow of armed militia, insurgents, warlords, dictators, and military coups to fill this vacuum becomes an organic response, and it comes with a cost – the cost being a noxious civil war and national unrest. On the other hand, a power vacuum can also thrive in conditions following a constitutional crisis where the majority of the ruling government entities resign or are removed, giving birth to an unclear anecdote regarding succession to the position of power.
What happened in Iraq starting December 2011, and what is happening in Afghanistan today in 2021, is a result of a power vacuum – a by-product of an incompetent geopolitical contract. Twenty years after being forced into power annihilation by the U.S led military bases in Afghanistan, the Taliban is now actively resuming its power as the U.S continues to execute its full exit. Within hours of Joe Biden announcing the official termination of U.S military involvement in the country, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani worded a farewell post on social media, vocalizing that he must leave the country to prevent bloodshed. Today, the only remnant left of his political presence is his departing statement, “Long Live Afghanistan.” With the President fleeing the country, and creating a constitutional crisis of succession to the position of power, what we are witnessing is the manifestation of the initial stage of power vacuum. Soon after the President abandoned the country, the Taliban released a statement declaring that the group has taken over Kabul, a capital city of 6 million civilians, and is working to restore law and order. Considering the reputation of the Taliban – infamous for brutality, repression of women, and execution of religious minorities in the past, the idea of restoration of law and order appears antagonistic.
However, I am not interested in deconstructing the inimical and deleterious ideologies of the Taliban, but unfolding the mechanisms of the power vacuum in Afghanistan. With the Taliban now actively trying to fill this power vacuum created after Ghani’s disappearance, the second stage is at play. The primary question here is not about who will form the national government, but what type of alliance will be established among entities to procure this power. The typology of this alliance – its fundamental values, utility, durability, and workability, will regulate Afghanistan’s democracy and sovereignty in the coming years. If one turns back to 2011 in Iraq, you will recall how the alliance between Sunni tribal leaders and ISIS gave birth to a global terror reign. This was a direct result of abysmal policy deliberation and the abrupt exit of the U.S military troops from Iraq. So, the question is – now that the U.S military troop has ended its twenty-year-long involvement in Afghanistan, what type of alliance will be formed to fill this power vacuum? Will it be as catastrophic as Iraq? As the Taliban continues to coercively occupy the cities, Matthew Levitt, Director of Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy adds, “The possibility is very strong that Afghanistan will have both – a weak government and a government that has a close alliance with the elements of al-Qaeda. To add, there is an element of ISIS, ISIS Khorasan, as well. Although the Taliban doesn’t like them, but as we are witnessing the effort to evacuate people through Kabul airport and the threats of ISIS suicide bombers coming into Kabul, the fact is that the Taliban probably won’t for a very long time have control over all of the city, let alone all of the country. So, there will be an element of a safe haven even for groups that the Taliban doesn’t like – groups and alliances that will use Afghanistan as a base from which to operate and carry out terrorist attacks nationally and globally.”
It is worth noting that the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda started with its leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, who pledged their allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar in kid 1990s, and accepted Omar as Amir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful) of all Sunni Muslims. Al-Zawahiri later re-affirmed this pledge to Omar’s successors. Soon after, al-Qaeda gained substantial freedom to operate in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. In return, al-Qaeda doled out money to the Taliban. Since then, to up till now, the alliance between Taliban and al-Qaeda has flourished mutually. Soon after the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda congratulated the group and spoke about their alliance for Kashmir liberation in India. A letter was addressed to the Taliban by al-Qaeda and was shared on Twitter by a journalist. It read, “Allah! liberate the Levant, Somalia, Yemen, Kashmir, and the rest of the Islamic lands from the clutches of the enemies of Islam.”
If this alliance continues to grow stronger to seize power, the probable birthing of one of the deadliest terror organizations is certain – a terror entity that would not only have passive support of the Taliban but would surpass the atrocities committed by ISIS in Iraq. This is a direct result of Biden’s ham-fisted deliberation to exit Afghanistan abruptly, leaving a space to harbor national unrest, the collapse of a democratically elected government, procurement of this political vacuum by insurgents, and brutal violence by the Taliban against its civilians. In short – the fall down of Afghanistan democracy.
The third stage of the power vacuum is yet to mature in Afghanistan. This stage expediates the process of procurement of power, if any of the entities trying to seize power acquires economic funding and gets equipped with advanced military weapons. Jan Pieterzoon Coen, a leading officer of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, said, “There’s no trade without war; there’s no war without trade”. He was right. The establishing of power requires a trade that allows an alliance of immaterial ideology between groups and hoarding of material resources (weapons and money) to execute the ideology. In 2011, the Islamic State armed itself with two divisions’ worth of military weapons and ammunition that were left behind by the U.S military troops. They used these weapons to terrorize the civilians, execute opposition, and expand their captured territory. Another material resource may include stolen or funded cash apart from military machinery. For example, by gripping Mosul alone, ISIS gained $480 million in stolen cash. And, within six months, ISIS became the world’s most well-funded and equipped terrorist group in the world – controlling approximately 100,00 square kilometers of territory across Iraq and Syria at its zenith. So, what we observe here is that the acquisition of economic funding or military weapons gives birth to an effectively exercised political control through coercive means, and internalization of this coercive mechanisms by the civilians. In both cases, the mission is accomplished – an attempt to seize power vacuum by occupying the land and psyche of its civilians. Today, a similar narrative is at play in Afghanistan. The speed with which the Taliban swept across Afghanistan is reminiscent of Islamic State militants taking weapons from the U.S.- supplied Iraqi forces, who like the Afghan Air Force offered little resistance. Grey Myer and Scott Neuman writes, “The Taliban wasted no time in gloating over their new war booty. Photos and video posted to social media show the Taliban posing with captured aircraft, trucks, Humvees, artillery guns and night-vision goggles captured. Such equipment could be used to suppress internal dissent or fight off their rivals. Before the Taliban captured it, the Afghan air force had more than 40 operational U.S.-made MD-530 helicopters. The Taliban has already shown itself ready and willing to use U.S.-made small arms and other technology. Non-weaponry technology like the Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, U.S. devices containing biometric data, could be used to find potential threats in hiding. I have fallen into the hands of Taliban.” This stage is climacteric
in materializing the procurement of power into a reality. Even if they would be protest in Afghanistan against the rise of the Taliban as the central power, Taliban will use the overwhelming amount of potential weaponry to stifle the dissent and expand their captured territory to places like Panjshir valley.
Who will procure the power in Afghanistan?
The Taliban will eventually seize power, but it would form a weak government, with under-the-table alliance with al-Qaeda; and would potentially foster the inflow and breeding of other groups like ISIS and ISIS Khorasan in Afghanistan. With opium and rich copper deposits, the international intervention is likely to be seen – motivated by self-interest as opposed to the interest of advocating for civil rest and peace in Afghanistan. Beijing has already held a talk with Taliban officials over the implementation for strategic engagement. It is highly possible that the $25 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project is extended to Afghanistan now that the U.S has vacated the country. Financial support would most likely be delivered hand-in-hand with Beijing’s strongest ally in the region – Pakistan, allowing the Chinese government to persuade the Taliban to sever links with East Turkestan Islamic Movement group, who have executed terrorist attacks in Xinjiang province. On the other side of the border, India – a Hindu extremist governed country, is also in injudicious talks with the Taliban. Taliban’s close association with al-Qaeda can potentially create a political defilement and unrest in Kashmir, India. This may manifest into border security threat and infiltration of terrorists – manufactured by al-Qaeda, but with the Taliban’s blessings as the central power. To conclude, to think of Afghanistan as a ‘graveyard of empires’ is a zombie narrative. It is being revived to deflect, distract and distort the failure of Biden and the U.S military policies in Afghanistan. The truth is far simpler than we complicate – The creation of a power vacuum in Afghanistan is a direct result of abysmal foreign policy deliberation and the abrupt exit of the U.S military troops. It is indeed a by-product of an incompetent geopolitical contract. Biden’s administration must be held accountable for harbouring a space for demolition of a democratically elected government and rise of the Taliban terror in Afghanistan.
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