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Libya: At what point is the night?

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum gets underway in the Tunisian capital, in Tunis. UNSMIL

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On Monday, November 9, the talks that should decide Libya’s future began in Tunis.

After almost a decade of unrest, chaos and civil war, probably the United Nations – with the direct commitment of the new “special envoy”, Stephanie Wilson, will succeed in reasoning with the various factions that have fought one another, with no holds barred, in recent years and in organizing the first national election from which the new Libya after Gaddafi should come out, as hoped for by the whole international community.

During the opening ceremony of the peace conference, before the Tunisian President Kais Saied, Mrs. Williams stated flat out that “the road to the agreement will not be paved with roses and it will not be easy to achieve a good outcome. The conference, however, is the best opportunity in the last 6 years to put an end to civil war”.

Seventy-five delegates, chosen by the United Nations to represent an array of political viewpoints, regional interests and social groups, sit at the negotiating table as the main warring sides that have opposed one another since in 2014 General Khalifa Haftar – in an attempt to put an end to chaos and contain the aggressiveness of Islamist militias – founded the “Libya Liberation Army” and launched “Operation Dignity”, which actually led to the splitting of Libya into three macro geographical areas that roughly correspond to the Velayat, the three regions into which the Ottoman rulers had divided the country: Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica.

In Tripolitania the following entities are present: the “Government of National Accord” (GNA) established in 2015 under the aegis of the United Nations, recognized (but not supported, as we will see later on) by the international community and led by Fayez al-Sarraj, that controls part of Tripolitania; the Tobruk government that occupies the whole Cyrenaica with Haftar’s troops; a conglomerate of tribal militias representing the independent municipalities of Fezzan.

The key players on the scene are, of course, Haftar and al-Sarraj. A few days ago, the latter – after announcing his resignation last September – announced his intention to hold office until an agreement is reached.

 As said by Mrs. Williams, the road is not “paved with roses”, for the additional reason that at the negotiating table there are the long shadows of the external sponsors of the two main warring factions. These sponsors have actually turned the Libyan civil war into a low-intensity international conflict which, however, is potentially very dangerous for the stability of North Africa and the whole Middle East.

 General Haftar is openly supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, France and Russia, while al-Sarraj can count on the support of Erdogan’s Turkey, Qatar and – in its small way – Italy.

 Turkey and Qatar support Tripoli for ideological and religious reasons, as all the militias that have so far kept al-Sarraj’s fragile government alive are strongly Islamist, while Italy – with an uncritically “legitimist” position – has sided with the “Government of National Accord” (GNA) to emphasize its loyalty to the UN decisions.

As we will see later on, however, not only religious or nationalistic interests are at stake, but also the interests linked to Libya’s wealth, thanks to its huge oil and gas fields, which are still partly untapped.

The external sponsors of the civil conflict have come out since last spring, when General Haftar’s “Libyan Liberation Army” launched an offensive on the West, with the aim of conquering Tripoli and getting rid of al-Sarraj and his government once and for all. Faced with this prospect, the Turkish President Tayyp Recep Erdogan – who had already signed an agreement with the Tripoli government for the joint exploitation of oil and gas resources in Libya’s “exclusive economic zone” (practically the whole South-Eastern Mediterranean) – sent his own military and – with a very severe and dangerous move for the region’s future stability – he transferred to the Libyan territory 13,000-20,000 Syrian militiamen, veterans of the anti-Assad civil war, all fierce and experienced veterans and, above all, siding with the most intransigent front of Islamic extremism.

Thanks to Turkey’s decisive support at military level and Qatar’s at economic level, al-Sarraj managed to stop General Haftar at Tripoli’s gates and, since the end of last August, the front has stabilized west of Sirte and a fragile “ceasefire” has brought some calm to a country that is beginning to suffer also under the Covid-19 blows. On October 23, in the Geneva UN headquarters, the truce on the ground was formalized with a “ceasefire” agreement.

While al-Sarraj could rely on Turkey’s active support, throughout last spring’s offensive General Haftar was supported by the Russian mercenaries of the “Wagner Group” – an organization of former members of the Russian special forces that was very active during the Syrian civil war – and on the fundamental support of the United Arab Emirates, which, together with Jordan, constantly supplied the “Libyan Liberation Army” with sophisticated and modern armaments.

From Abu Dhabi, fundamental help has been provided to Haftar’s troops by the parastatal company International Golden Group (IGG), an armament company that has close business relations with similar Western groups, first and foremost the French Thales.

The International Golden Group is in partnership with the “Royal Group”, a holding company owned by Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the powerful National Security Advisor of the Arab Emirates.

IGG is therefore at the forefront in supporting the policy of intervention in Libya decided by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It is also at the forefront in arms procurement for General Haftar’s faction, since it is able to purchase heavy and sophisticated armaments in Russia, such as T-72 tanks, SA-3 surface-to-air missiles, S-300 anti-aircraft batteries, all weapons that Abu Dhabi is firmly intent on delivering to General Haftar’s troops.

According to reliable local sources, considering their complexity, these weapons should be entrusted to the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group, some of whom have already been seen driving Mi-24 helicopters during the spring offensive against Tripoli. These helicopters come directly from the Arab Emirates’ arsenals.

An important source of armaments for the Emirates – and indirectly for General Haftar – is Serbia.

 Thanks to the personal commitment of Mohamed Dahlan – former Head of the Palestinian intelligence service and protagonist of reckless joint operations with Israel against Hamas, who currently holds the position of advisor for the special operations of Crown Prince Mohamed Al Zayed –  the “Serbian connection” was able not only to ensure a constant supply of weapons to Haftar’s troops, but also to provide 80 French Leclerc tanks to Jordan, after the Jordanian State company Med Wave Sippinghad been subject to heavy sanctions by the European Union for violating the arms embargo to Libya on September 21 last.

Jordan, however,is still very active in supporting the Tobruk troops, thus managing to provide to Haftar also a substantial supply of South African Mbombe 6X6 armoured vehicles, which are very useful for fast movements in the desert.

This is the situation at the beginning of the peace talks in Tunis.

The front has stabilized along the border between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania that the Egyptian President, Al Sisi, another supporter of Haftar, declared to be a “red line” that if it were to be crossed by al-Sarraj’s troops, or by Turkish soldiers and Syrian militiamen, would force Egypt to deploy its troops on Haftar’ side.

The most important stakeholders of what in the past was a civil war – later degenerated into an international conflict – side with their protected, in Tripoli and Tobruk, and they will set the time schedule of a possible, but extremely difficult solution to a ten-year crisis, which is infecting the whole Mediterranean basin.

At the centre of this basin there is Italy which, almost unconsciously, under the formal UN umbrella, actually sides in Libya with Turkey and Qatar, two countries which have never made any secret of their sympathies for jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as protagonists of unscrupulous operations in Syria to support Isis.

With these troublesome and embarrassing travel companions, Italy is now facing not only the sensitive issue of protecting its interests in Libya, starting with ENI’s commitment in that region, but also having to manage the delicate affair of the 18 fishermen from Mazara del Vallo, kidnapped by Haftar’s Navy for many weeks and thrown into a prison near Benghazi.

Considering that the Italian government – overwhelmed by the problems related to the spreading of the Covid-19 pandemic –seems unable to carry out – let alone to conceive – an operation for the liberation of the Sicilian fishermen using its excellent special forces, the only way to achieve their liberation is a negotiation with General Haftar, either directly or indirectly, possibly with the support of France, Russia or Jordan, not to mention Egypt, which has spent itself so much to support the Tobruk government’s demands.

The Italian media have leaked news that the fishermen of Mazara del Vallo could be exchanged for a Libyan smuggler and trafficker detained in Italy.

The news appears unreliable, because it is known that all the boats transporting illegal migrants which sail daily from Libya to the Italian coast, leave from the beaches and small harbours of Tripolitania, all controlled – at least theoretically – by the forces of al-Sarraj we support because “recognized and backed” by the United Nations.

In all likelihood, General Haftar detains our fishermen to convince us to have milder political and geopolitical views, certainly not to obtain the release of a Tripolitan thug.

We have talked about the chessboard on which the pieces of the Libyan game are placed.

If we want to positively influence the final outcome of the game and do our best to protect the national economy and the safety of our fellow citizens, unjustly kidnapped and detained in the prison of Benghazi, probably we should give up the role of mere pawns and try to gain more influence in a game in which the key players are Turkey, France, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Emirates.

A game in which you cannot participate simply by reiterating slogans such as “we need to protect the international legality enshrined by the United Nations”, but which would require the same good dose of realism and courage as France has proved to have.

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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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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Pegasus: Human rights-compliant laws needed to regulate spyware

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The UN human rights chief on Monday said the apparent widespread use of Pegasus spy software to illegally undermine the rights of those under surveillance, including journalists and politicians, was “extremely alarming” and confirmed “some of the worst fears” surrounding the potential misuse of such technology. 

“Various parts of the UN Human Rights system, including my own Office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety in order to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition”, said High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in a statement

According to reports, the Pegasus data leak allegations which surfaced through a consortium of media organisations over the weekend, suggests widespread and continuing abuse of the software, which the manufacturers insist, is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists. 

The Pegasus malware infects electronic devices, enabling operators of the tool to obtain messages, photos and emails, record calls, and even activate microphones, according to the consortium’s reporting. The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers which reportedly belong to those identified as people of interest, by clients of the company behind Pegasus, including some governments.  

‘Indispensable role’ 

Surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even killing of journalists and human rights defenders, according to the senior UN official.  

Reports of surveillance also trigger fear and cause people to censor themselves.   

“Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer”, she said, reminding all States that surveillance measures can only be justified in narrowly defined circumstances when necessary and proportional to a legitimate goal.  

‘Deep intrusions’ 

Given that Pegasus spyware, “as well as that created by Candiru and others, enable extremely deep intrusions into people’s devices, resulting in insights into all aspects of their lives”, the UN rights chief underscored, “their use can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats.” 

If recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, she maintained that the “red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity”. 

‘Due diligence’ 

Companies developing and distributing surveillance technologies are responsible for avoiding human rights abuses, she said, and they must take immediate steps to mitigate and remedy the damage their products are causing, or contributing to, and carry out “human rights due diligence” to ensure that they no longer play a part in “such disastrous consequences” now, or in the future. 

States also have a duty to protect individuals from privacy rights abuses by companies, she added.  

One key step in this direction is for States to require by law that the businesses meet their human rights responsibilities by becoming more transparent in their design and use of products and by putting in place effective accountability mechanisms. 

Better regulation key 

Reports also confirm “the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technologies and ensure strict oversight and authorization.” 

Governments should not only immediately stop using surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, but also “take concrete actions” to protect against such invasions of privacy by “regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others”, the High Commissioner said.  

Without human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks, Ms. Bachelet upheld that there are “simply too many risks” that the tools could be used to intimidate critics and silence dissent.

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