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Foreseeing cyber vulnerabilities of nuclear facilities in South Asia

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In this era of rapidly evolving technology, nuclear facilities are exposed to dynamic and evolving spectrum of cyber vulnerabilities. Cyber-attacks on nuclear facilities are a matter of concern and it’s not for the first time that a cyber-attack has been carried out. Such as attack on nuclear program of Iran to serve the purpose of espionage, attack on Korean Hydro and Nuclear Power Company (2014) for data theft purposes and also Nuclear Regulatory Commission/U.S. Department of Energy (2016) in which was an intentional attempt by an employee to infect computers of U.S. government and he used spear phishing technique for it. Attack on the Indian nuclear facilities of Kudankulam was informed in September 2019, a malware attack on Kudankulam by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team. Indian Department of Atomic Energy, investigated the attack and later on confirmed, that only one computer was targeted, connected to the administrative network’s internet servers.  Later on Nuclear Power Cooperation of India Limited (NPCIL) confirmed that, operational networks at Kudankulam are completely separate from the administrative systems. Recent attack on Iran; July 2, 2020 on its nuclear facility at Nantaz earlier this month, is considered as lethal as Stuxnet attacks and have raised serious concerns about vulnerability of nuclear facilities vis-à-vis cyber security threats. Such type of attacks can cause serious damage to nuclear reactors and can also cause off-site release of harmful radioactive radiations, although there was off-site release of radiations that could create radioactive pollution but states must be careful from cyber in future which could be hazardous. 

Rapid advancement in cyber technology can be a blessing and curse at the same time. Because if on one hand it provides with opportunity of innovation in the domain of network centric warfare and added to the cost effectiveness of war related expenditures, but it also pose serious threats which could possibly by dissemination of information, hacking, sabotage,theft and release of important and covert information related to the critical infrastructure whether it’s civilian, military or nuclear. International community, these days is facing serious cyber threats to nuclear facilities and has already taking measures by designing technical and legal framework to secure the nuclear facilities from any kind of cyber sabotage and threat.  .

In context of South Asia, the region is already exposed to cyber threats and vulnerabilities keeping in view the attack on Kudankulam, although that was administrative breach but with rapid pace of advancement in cyber technology, attacks could also be launched on operational facilities. Cyber technology and security is considered an important pillar of national security and states have already started integrating cyber security policies and initiatives in their national security frameworks. India has already formulated Cyber Security Policy 2013 and inducted in national security framework but Pakistan has not formulated any policy yet but government has taken different initiatives such as establishing National Centre of Excellence of Cyber Security, PAK-CERT etc. India and Pakistan are involved in cyber space rivalry; both states attack each other and breach security using tools, such as cyber spoofing, spear phishing and denial of data services. Pakistan’s digital infrastructure is facing serious cyber security threats from India due to India’s increasing cyber security collaboration with Israel. Region is already under the potential hazard of Advance Persistent Threats along with ongoing cyber espionage campaigns. There are no strong international norms framed yet that could legally bind the states against the acquisition and use of cyber technology. States are likely to exploit their cyber capabilities for both low and high-intensity conflicts in the absence of clear international norms or rules of engagement.

States like India are aiming to pursue the development of cyber weapons which can offset disadvantages in conventional warfare. Hence use of cyber weapons and attacks can cause the serious damages as cyber weapons are offensive in nature because states will may not be able absorb the attack or if inn case state absorb the attack, may not be able to respond in a significant way. Different tools used by malevolent actors can endanger the nuclear facilities, ranging from network based attacks, packet sniffing, cyber-spoofing, radio attacks, crypto attacks, spyware attacks and air-gapped network attacks which increase the intensity of damage. The potential use of offensive cyber operations using such tools will exploit the vulnerabilities exist in nuclear infrastructure and of systems will increase the possibility of war in the future could cause serious damages to nuclear facilities region.

In South Asia, situation may lead to strategic imbalance as India is already aiming to acquire the cyber weapons.  Admiral Suresh Mehta, former Indian Naval Chief in an interview to Start Post admitted that Indian armed forces have invested a lot on network based operations; both in single and in a joint fashion and India cannot afford cyber vulnerability. Information Technology is India’s strength and it would be in its interest to invest in developing a formidable ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ cyber warfare capability. Keeping in view the Indian ambitions Pakistan cannot remain silent so Pakistan has also started acquiring and developing cyber tools and techniques to deal with any future consequences. Pakistan has a multilayered defense for the entire spectrum of any nuclear security threat – insider, outsider, and cyber threats which work on the principle of Five Ds, that is, to deter, detect, delay, defend, and destroy.

However the level of damage that could be inflicted by cyber-attacks and operations may adversely impact the deterrence stability of the region According to McConnell there are four elements that are essential for achieving cyber deterrence which include ‘attribution’ that enables states to guess about who carried out the attack, ‘location’ from where the attack was launched  ‘response’ the capability to absorb an attack and retaliate and ‘transparency’ which explains about the knowledge of enemy’s capability.  Due to the complex nature of cyber technology it seems difficult to achieve all the essential of the cyber deterrence. In global context as well asSouth Asia establishing cyber deterrence seems to be a bit difficult. If in case any of the operations is carried out against nuclear facilities, it may take long time to reach the base of the network or malware technique that how it was used and from where attack was launched and who were the involved actors.

The scenario of global security and strategic balance in South Asia has been changed with advent of cyber tools technology. Never the less recent attacks on nuclear facilities demonstrate an inconsistent approach towards ensuring cyber security. Although the international community is making efforts through various workshops, training and reports and insisted upon collaboration in the cyber security of nuclear facilities. As far as the cyber deterrence is concerned, South Asian states may require a little more effort and time to fulfill the essentials of deterrence.

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Ethnic War a Newfangled Pakistani Forward-policy for Afghanistan

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According to the intelligence information, Pakistan’s ISI is trying to start ethnic and maneuvering war again in Afghanistan, of which distinct objective is to refurbish the age-old enmity between the Achakzai and Noorzai tribes in the southwest zone. Besides, they want to start an ethnic war among Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns across Afghanistan, and between the northern and southern directions, thus, the prominent leaders of the Taliban, who are led by the ISI, have been entrusted with the task. As in the east and north of Afghanistan, Pashtun Taliban militants are oppressing other Non-Pashtuns, raiding their homes; however, no high-ranking Pashtun Taliban officials are preventing them because the ISI network leads this strategy. In order to revamp a civil war in Afghanistan, score of influential figures have been summoned by the Pakistani military establishment. 

The latest examples are as follows: Two days ago, the Pashtun Taliban killed the former police chief and an influential tribal leader in Mandol district of Nuristan province, which caused many emotions against Pashtuns especially about southwest zone of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in order to afresh the years of hostility between the Noorzai and Achakzi tribes in the southwestern region of Afghanistan, the ISI network raised the issue of a mass grave by several leading Taliban militants, especially by the current governor of Kandahar province and Noorzai tribe leading leader, Haji Mohammad Yousef Wafa.

Qari Aslam Noorzai call for by Pak security forces

At a time when the former leader of the Noorzai tribe, the leading smuggler of drugs and heavy weapons in Central and South Asia, and the financial supporter of the first Taliban regime, Haji Bashar Noorzai was released from the US prison in Guantánamo. The Noorzai tribe once again became twice as strong and dominant in Afghanistan, especially in the southwest zone.  Resulting threats towards the Achakzai people, on the other hand, ISI has started rapid efforts to recommence the years of enmity between these two tribes.

Hajee Feyzullah Khan Noorzai meets Pak military Intelligence

Recently, Pakistan’s intelligence network ISI, with the help of some leading social media and high-ranking Taliban officials, has kept the issue of finding a mass grave in Kandahar province in the southwestern zone of Afghanistan broiling, namely by inducing  the blame-game. Meanwhile, local tribal leaders and residents of Spin Boldak district claim that such a grave is the grave of those who were taken out of their homes by the Taliban after August 15.  Since, they were connected to Achakzai tribe and on the other hand, they served in the security departments of the overthrown Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that is why the Taliban night raided their houses, and massively killed them.

Moreover, mass murdering Hazaras at their educational institutions via suicide bombing and meantime blowing up the worship places of Sufi-Muslims, who preach the non-violent form of Islam, while calling for De-weaponization and De-politicization of Islam.

Consequently, by applying such a forward-policy, Pakistan will achieve its fancied strategic-depth in Afghanistan, while subjugating the Afghan Nation.

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Pakistani Intelligence Agencies ignite Tribal Conflicts in Pak-Afghan Region

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According to the intelligence information, Pakistani intelligence community supported by some international rings want to once again spread dispute and disharmony among the tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan; subsequently the centuries-old evils and wars between the tribes will once more take a new color and become fresh. Recently, rumors of the discovery of a mass grave in Kandahar province in the southwestern zone of Afghanistan are spreading; the blame for this mass murder falls on the former police chief of Kandahar province and the former leader of the Achagzai tribe, General Abdul Razaq Achagzai.  In order to afresh raising the reaction of the Norzi tribe against the Ackzai and anew the evil and war between these two tribes. Even though the current governing body of Afghanistan is completely under the control of the Noorzi tribe, because most of the high-ranking leaders of the Taliban, including the leader of the Taliban, Sheikh Haibatullah, are related to the Noorzi tribe, so there is a greater threat posed to the Achakzi tribe.

Even now, in spite of such menaces, more than 6000 Achakzi families live in Kandahar province, whose members served in the security departments under the command of General Abdul Razaq Achakzi, a staunch opponent of the Taliban.  Currently, in such a tense situation that the Taliban administration has control over Afghanistan and the head of this administration is connected to the Nurzi tribe, the harsh criticism of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai’s mass killings is logical, which can cause international and internal outcries.  As a result, the major victims will be the youths and leading tribal leaders of the Achakzai tribe.

By the advent of Taliban on August 15, 2021, in the first four months, more than 600 youths and tribal leaders from the Achakzi tribe were killed in the southwest zone of Afghanistan, while applying night operations or raids by the Taliban. The most famous case happened to the family of Haji Fida Mohammad Achakzai in Spin Boldak district. Haji Fida Muhammad Achakzai, known as Haji Fida Aka, is a leading leader of the Achakza tribe of Spin Boldak district and had close relations with the family of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai.

 When Kandahar province fell to the Taliban before August 15, the two young sons of him were killed by the Taliban on the first night, unfortunately none of the Taliban officials took any action to prevent the tragedy. Nevertheless, this time, there is a plan going on at the international level to renew the age-old differences between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes, which the international media warmly supports.  If this time the internal differences and conflicts between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes in Afghanistan get sturdier, then it will have damaging effects not only in Afghanistan, but also, serious negative measures will be taken against the Norzai under the leadership of Mahmoud Khan Achakzai, the head of the Achakzai tribe, in the Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.

In the meantime, the decision of the Pakistani government to hand over the Pashtun areas in Pakhtunkhwa provinces to the Taliban was approved and supported by the Nurzi tribe, conversely, this action of the Pakistani government was strongly condemned by Mahmoud Khan Achakzai and PTM leader Manzoor Pashtun.

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Afghan Zarqawi is shot dead in Panjsher valley of Afghanistan

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According to intelligence information, the leading Taliban commander Maulvi Habibullah Sheeran, who was known as Zarqawi, a resident of Zhrhai District, Kandahar Province, in the southwestern zone of the Taliban was killed in Panjsher battle.

Meantime, the intelligence report indicates, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, the general military officer of Panjshir and Andrab and the deputy of the Ministry of National Defense, was injured in Panjshir on Friday, September 16 at 3:25 p.m.

Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, who is considered one of the leading and influential war commanders in the southwest zone of the Taliban, has the support of about 4,000 low-ranking and high-ranking Taliban fighters. He is one of the Taliban military commanders who, during the first mobilization of the Taliban, formed the Taliban group with the support of Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, the founder of the Taliban, and attracted hundreds of young men from Helmand province to the Taliban group.

When the Taliban came to power for the second time in Afghanistan, due to internal differences among the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir left the Taliban for a short time and went to his native Kajki district of Helmand province. However, due to the many efforts of the Taliban, especially Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir’s assistant and the current head of security of presidential palace  Mullah Mutaullah Mubarak, He joined the Taliban again and was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Taliban leaders made more efforts to reunite Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir with the Taliban, because he was an influential military leader, and on the other hand, Taliban leaders were receiving reports that Mullah Qayyum Zakir wants to join ISIS against Taliban. Nevertheless, when he joined with the Taliban leaders for the second time, he was assigned the position of Deputy Minister of Defense, So, for a period, he cooperated with the Minister of Defense Maulvi Yaqoub as a military advisor in the Ministry of Defense.

 When the rumors of the fall of the northern part of Afghanistan were spread and the fighting between the NRF or the National Resistance Front and the Taliban in Panjshir and Andrab intensified, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, based on the special permission of Sheikh Haibatullah, Appointed General Military Officer of Northern Afghanistan. In addition, from September 9, under his leadership, a special military operation named Al-Fath began in Panjshir and Andarabs to clear and liberate northern Afghanistan from the fighters of the National Resistance Front.

As a result of the operation, from September 9th to September 16th, dozens of NRF fighters were also killed but the casualties of Taliban fighters are methodically shown below, although scores of Taliban fighters were destroyed.

  • The bodies of 60 to 70 Taliban fighters who were killed in the battle of Panjshir have been transferred to Uruzgan province.
  •  The dead bodies of 50 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kandahar Province.
  • The dead bodies of 33 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Helmand Province.
  •  The dead bodies of 22 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Ghor Province.
  • The dead bodies of 11 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Takhar province.
  • The dead bodies of 6 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kunduz Chahar Dara.
  •  The dead bodies of 12 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Zabul province.
  • The dead bodies of nine Taliban fighters have been transferred to Wardag Province.
  • The dead bodies of 10 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Dandi Ghori in Baghlan province.  

Last Friday, September 16, in the bloody battle, Mullah Qayyum Zakir, the military officer in charge of Panjshir and Andrab, was seriously injured and eight of his bodyguards, who were residents of Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, were killed. Mullah Qayyum Zakir was transferred to the 400-bed hospital in Kabul at 10 o’clock in the evening on September 16, and former Taliban doctor Atiqullah was invited to Kabul from Al-Khair Hospital of Balochistan province of Pakistan for treatment.

There is a bloody war going on in the north of Afghanistan and around 300 al-Fatih forces are going to Panjshir from Kabul tonight and may reach tomorrow. Meanwhile, in Vienna, the plan for the formation of a new military and political movement was announced in a three-day meeting of the anti-Taliban political officials of the former government of Afghanistan. Moreover, based on that military plan, after dividing Afghanistan into five major parts, the political and military leaders of each zone will start preparing their organizations against the Taliban, and they will use such political and military tactics as the Taliban used against the government of the Republic of Afghanistan during the last 20 years of resistance.

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