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The functionality of Indian diplomatic pragmatism in Afghan political equation

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India and Afghanistan are two oldest friends, and their friendly relationship touches the Bronze Age Civilization, lasting from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. According to the historians, the Southeast Asian civilization under the auspices of Seleucid Empire came under attack by Alexander the great, who was able to conquer the region for a short time. The Seleucid Empire, which is known today as Afghanistan, gave up much of its controlled area to the Indian Mauryan Empire as part of an alliance treaty.  The Mauryans, who controlled the area south of the Hindu Kush, brought Buddhist religion to Afghanistan, and began to promote it. The Mauyans Empire eroded almost 60 year later, when Ashoka’s leadership collapsed. Afghanistan was partly Buddhist, spikily until 500 AC, which ended up with surrender to ancient Islamic forces, and Afghanistan was declared as a Muslim state.

Most importantly, Hindus and Muslims have been living side by side until today no matter, who has ruled the country, the nationalists, Seculars, Socialists, communists or Islamists. India and Afghanistan enjoyed almost good relations, but the relationship crumbled, when the British Empire invaded India in 1608.  Subsequently, the British-India Empire overrun Afghanistan in 18 39, which put the Indo-Afghan relationship under strain, and followed with Anglo-Afghan war. In 1919, when Afghanistan got its independence from British-Indian Empire, the relationship began to improve moderately. Delhi-Kabul relationship significantly improved, when India was declared as independent state in 1947. The Indo-Afghan bilateral relations was meaningfully flourished, when Sardar Dauod Khan renamed Afghanistan as Republic of Afghanistan, and he avowed himself as the president of the country in 1973. In addition, a number of high-level official visits took place between New Delhi and Kabul, to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

Nevertheless Indian diplomacy, interred in the most noteworthy phase, which is called pragmatic diplomacy. Delhi enjoyed very good relations with president Dauod, while promoting its ties with Afghan communist factions, who were counterbalancing Dauod’s presidency, while working as Hybrid Armed Actors with his government and against his leadership. India was the first country, which officially recognized PDPA presidency under Noor M. Tarakis’ leadership in1978. The country (India) is known for pragmatic diplomacy of which main elements are the preservation of National interests, comprehensiveness and confidence building, thru applicable communication in different situations.

 Delhi was one of the closest partner of Soviet Union and Soviet Union back Kabul regime, but the country provided CIA led campaign with Arms during the 80s to neutralize PDPA. One of CIA’s former contractor noticed that the Indians are only interested in lucrative business. He added the Indian knew the arms, which are sold to CIA would be applied to kill their Soviet and Afghan counterparts, but still Delhi agreed with Washington in order to make money.  Delhi endeavored to promote simultaneous relationships with the ruling parties and the insurrections in Afghanistan.  There are some unofficial reports that RAW operatives several times met the commanders and heads of insurrections in Afghanistan, following the collapse of PDPA in 1992, India had established good contacts with Jamyat Islami, which is part of International Muslim Brotherhood in Afghanistan.

Indian foreign office and RAW officials were able to meet Prof. Rabbani under the auspices of KGB in Moscow in 1991, while prof. Rabbani was on official visit in Moscow. Since then Delhi enjoyed significant relations with Jamyat Islami and its successor the Northern Alliance. From 1992 until 1996, Delhi backed Kabul regime in order to minimize Pakistan’s clout in the country. Meanwhile Islamabad sponsored Hizibe Islami another part of Muslim Brotherhood in Afghanistan led by Eng. Gulbudin Hakmatyar. Both India and Pakistan have striven to disqualify each other’s role in the country even in the form of proxy warfare.

From 1992-1996, India was able to marginalize Islamabad’s part in Afghanistan, however Pakistan did its best to bring Kabul under its Yoke. In 194, Islamabad brought a strategic shift in the country’s policy towards Afghanistan, following the origination of Taliban Movement as an alternative to expand Islamabad’s advantage in the Afghan political and security equation.

From 1996-2001, Islamabad kept anti-Delhi regime in power in its neighborhood and Delhi leverage eroded at most. Nonetheless, throughout Taliban rule, India sponsored antiestablishment forces to broaden Delhi’s role in the country. In the event of 9/11, India joined the anti-Taliban campaign. Since then, the country is the first biggest funding state in the region, and the fifth largest economic contributor globally. India has established very close ties with Kabul, offering economic and military aids to Afghanistan roughly 3 billion dollars. The country’s intelligence and counter intelligence networks closely work with their Afghan counterparts in order to curtail ISI part in Afghanistan.

Most notably, Delhi has learned from its past mistakes (1996-2001) that the country throughout Taliban era heavily invested on Northern Alliance. As a result, Delhi’s role was significantly sidelined. Therefore, India instantaneously promotes relationship with Taliban, while providing Kabul with billions of dollars in economic aid and military support. Some undeclared reports describe, Indian foreign office and RAW officials were able to meet heads of Taliban in Moscow, Tehran and Dubai to discuss Delhi’s engagement in the post American Afghanistan. To study Delhi’s involvement in the last 20 decades, India’s activities from 2003-2018 came under the scrutiny of Taliban and other Terrorist networks. According to the data collected by ICM&SATP, a bunch of assaults took place against the Indian installations and personnel across Afghanistan.

2018

May 6, 2018: Six Indian staff members and one Afghan employee of KEC Company responsible for installing an electricity substation were abducted by Taliban militants in Bagh-e-Shamal village of the Pul-e-Khumri City (District) the capital of Baghlan Province. Baghlan governor Abdulhai Nemati confirmed that the Taliban group moved them to the Dand-e-Shahabuddin area of Pul-e-Khumri City.

January 15, 2018: A rocket landed in the premises of Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan has created a panic causing a minor damage to a structure belongs to the embassy; however no casualties in the incident were reported. The Charged’ Affaires informed that all staff members of the Indian embassy in Kabul are safe and no casualties has been caused in the incident, said a tweet released by the spokesperson of the MEA Raveesh Kumar. As of now, no terror outfit has claimed the responsibility, but Taliban and the Haqqani Network had carried out such attacks in the past.

2017

June 6, 2017: Insurgent groups again targeted Indian interests in Kabul, with a rocket landing on the tennis court of Indian envoy Manpreet Vohra’s house. Sources in New Delhi said no injury had been reported in the rocket attack on ‘India House’, which occurred around 11.15 a. m. hours local time (12.15 IST) even as the authorities in the Afghan capital. Apart from the Indian Ambassador, other mission personnel also stay in the compound of the heavily guarded ‘India House’, which is close to several embassies and NATO’s ‘Resolute Support’ headquarters. The rocket attack coincided with the ‘Kabul Process’ meet in which representatives of nearly 25 countries, including India, participated. This is the first of its kind international meeting being held at the initiative of the Afghan President aimed at ending the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan.

2016

June 20, 2016: Two Indians were killed in a blast in Afghanistan capital city Kabul, confirmed the MEA. “We have learnt that 2 Indian nationals, Ganesh Thapa & Govind Singh from Dehradun died tragically in the blast in Kabul today morning,” MEA official spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in a tweet. Three separate blasts claimed 26 lives, including those of 2 suicide bombers and 14 Nepalese nationals, and injured more than 50 others in Afghanistan. According to details, in the first attack, a Taliban suicide bomber hit a minibus carrying Nepalese guards in Kabul along the main road to the eastern city of Jalalabad. The Taliban also claimed a second smaller blast in south Kabul. The third blast took place in a market in Kasham District of Badakhshan province. Islamic State (IS) and Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.

June 9, 2016: Suspected militants abducted an Indian female aid worker, identified as Judith D’ Souza from Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, Indian and Afghan officials said. She was working as a senior technical advisor on gender with the Aga Khan Developmental Network in Kabul, sources in New Delhi said.

January 13, 2016: Three Afghan Policemen were killed and two others were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up 200 meters away from the Indian consulate in Jalalabad. Afghan SFs later exchanged fire with gunmen barricaded in a house near the Pakistan consulate nearby. All Indians are reported to be safe.

January 8, 2016: An explosives-laden vehicle was found near the Indian consulate in Herat and one person was arrested in this regard.

January 5, 2016: A huge blast was reported near the Indian consulate in Jalalabad city in Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. No casualty has been reported.

January 3, 2016: Militants attempted to storm the Indian diplomatic mission in Mazar-i-Sharif. The standoff had ended in the night of January 4 after all the four attackers who entered the building opposite the Indian Consulate were killed. One policeman also lost his life and nine others including three civilians were wounded in the incident.

2015

December 21, 2015: Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the NDS, prevented a suicide-bomb assault on India’s consulate in the city of Jalalabad, along the border with Pakistan.The strike was to have taken place as PM Narendra Modi visits Kabul on December 25, sources said. Indian intelligence sources said NDS had identified the attacker as Qari Nasir, a religious studies student from Tagab District in province of Kapisa. In statements given to Afghan authorities, Nasir is alleged to have said he was trained in a camp across the border in Pakistan, and received final instructions at a Taliban facility in Peshawar (Pakistan).

May 13, 2015: There were four Indians among 14 persons killed in an attack carried out by militants at Park Palace guest house in Kabul’s Kolola Pushta area. Agencies believe India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha was the prime target of the attack. “It was known that the Indian envoy would be visiting the guesthouse on Wednesday evening… it appears the Taliban had accordingly planned the siege,” an unnamed senior intelligence officer stated.

February 22, 2015: Indian agencies have scripted a major success in securing the release of the abducted Christian priest, Father Alexis Premkumar Antonysamy from the captivity of the Taliban in Helmand, Afghanistan and the priest has now safely landed in India. Sources said officials had been monitoring the case, coordinating with Afghanistan officials and the Governor’s office in Herat. Top official sources said that the rescue was the result of a major operation by Indian intelligence and security agencies posted in that region.

2014

September 14, 2014: A new Taliban group, Suicide Group of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, claimed that they had murdered Indian author Sushmita Banerjee in the Kharana area of Paktita Province in Afghanistan on September 4.

August 15, 2014: Three Indian nationals abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan were rescued during a special military operation in Babos area of eastern Logar Province by Afghan troops though at least one more Indian continues to be held by the militants.

August 15, 2014: Indian MEA Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin confirmed in a tweet that three Indians abducted recently had been released from captivity. He further said that another Indian identified as Prem Kumar was “still in captivity”. It could not immediately be ascertained whether Kumar and the three other Indians were abducted at the same time. It was also not clear whether any more persons had been abducted.

August 13, 2014: the Taliban captured the three Indians, all engineers by profession, while they were travelling from Logar to Kabul, Afghanistan.

July 23, 2014: Two Indians were among five foreign guards killed by a Taliban suicide bomber riding a motorbike in an attack on Kabul Airport, the Indian MEA confirmed. MEA Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the two Indians, identified as Ponnappan V Kuttappan and Parambhat Ravindran from Kerala state were employed as security guards with an American security firm named Dyna Corporation in Kabul.

June 26, 2014: India has stressed that it will not “endorse” treating the Afghan government on par with elements of the Taliban, even as it reiterated that terrorism and not ethnicity is the greatest threat to peace in an Afghanistan on the verge of a historic transition. Ambassador Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi, the acting Permanent Representative of India to the UN said that India believes the reconciliation process must remain “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” while respecting the “agreed red lines”. He also noted that the entire NAM member states had recently endorsed the “Afghan-controlled” process of reconciliation.

June 25, 2014: US State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said that there is credible evidence that LeT was responsible for the terror attack on the Indian Consulate (May 23, 2014) in Afghanistan’s Herat Province.

June 15, 2014: IB termed the withdrawal of NATO and allied forces from Afghanistan as one of the biggest challenges to India’s counter-terrorism measures in its presentation to Union Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh.

June 11, 2014: According to intelligence sources, five warnings from the CIA helped authorities defeat the May 23 strike on the Indian Consulate in Herat Province of Afghanistan. The last operational input from the CIA was delivered to India’s intelligence services two hours after the assault began, and identified the assault team as operatives of the Pakistan-based LeT.

June 5, 2014: According to local Afghan Government officials, over 100 LeT militants have been deployed in Nuristan who are trying to set up training camps in Kamdish District. Provincial Governor, Hafiz Abdul Qayum confirmed the presence of LeT militants in Nuristan and said the group has also killed 11 Afghan Taliban militants for failing to disrupt the elections.

June 4, 2014: Afghan authorities arrested a man for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of Indian aid worker Alexis Prem Kumar from Herat Province.

June 3, 2014: A LeT hit squad was assigned to take hostages and lay siege on the Indian Consulate in Herat Province of Afghanistan, to coincide with the oath ceremony of PM Narendra Modi, security sources in the Indian establishment have now concluded after studying the pattern of attack and taking stock of the recovery from the operatives killed.

June 2-3, 2014: unknown gunmen in Afghanistan’s Herat Province abducted An Indian aid worker. The Indian aid worker, Alexis Prem Kumar who was abducted from Herat in Afghanistan by unidentified gunmen, remained in captivity for the second day with local authorities yet to get any “conclusive” clues in the case.

May 23-27, 2014: Gunmen armed with machine guns and RPGs attacked the Indian Consulate in Herat Province in Afghanistan. ITBP personnel and Afghan SFs in an encounter that lasted 10 hours killed all the four attackers. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said that “According to information given to us by a Western intelligence agency, the perpetrators of the Herat attack belonged to the LeT. This was mentioned in writing in the report shared with us”. Afghanistan’s Ambassador ShaidaAbdali said that LeT militants wanted to take Indian officials hostage at the Herat consulate of Afghanistan, just before the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

2013

September 14, 2013: A new Taliban group, Suicide Group of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, claimed that they had murdered Indian author Sushmita Banerjee in the Kharana area of Paktita Province in Afghanistan on September 4.

September 4, 2013: Indian author Sushmita Banerjee (49) was shot dead by the Taliban militants in the Kharana area of Paktita Province in Afghanistan.

August 3, 2013: In a suicide attack intended to target the Indian Consulate at Jalalabad, the capital of the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, nine Afghans, including at least eight children, were killed, and another 24 were wounded. The three attackers were also killed. All Indian officials in the Consulate were safe. Nangarhar Province Police Chief General Sharifullah Amin confirmed that the consulate was the intended target of the blast.

2011

May 10, 2011: Afghanistan National Intelligence Agency spokesperson Lutfullah Mashal said that Inter-Services ISI hired two persons, identified as Sher Zamin and Khan Zamin, to kill the Indian Consul General of Jalalabad province.

2010

December 16, 2010: Indian embassy in Kabul and four consulates in Afghanistan have been put on high alert following intelligence inputs that the Taliban militants may be preparing for a strike at Indian establishments.

October 11, 2010: Two Indian nationals were killed in a missile attack launched by the Taliban militants on an Indian NGO’s office in Kunar province of Afghanistan. Qari Omar Haqqani, a spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, told reporters from an undisclosed location that the militants had attacked the office of the Indian NGO with missiles in which three people, including two Indian workers, were killed. The nationality of the third person who died in the attack is yet to be ascertained.

February 26, 2010: The Taliban militants on carried out coordinated suicide attacks at two hotels in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, killing at least nine Indians, including two Major-rank Army officers. At least 10 others, including five Indian Army officers, were injured in the strike that killed eight others, including locals and nationals from other countries. The bombers, believed to be three in number, struck at the guest houses, particularly at Park Residence, rented out by the Indian Embassy for its staffers and those linked to India’s developmental work in Afghanistan.

2009

October 8, 2009: Targeting the Indian embassy in Kabul for the second time, a Taliban suicide bomber blew up an explosives-laden car outside the mission, killing 17 persons and injuring over 80, including three Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) soldiers. The embassy staff, however, was unhurt. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the bomber as Khalid, Al Jazeera TV channel said.

February 9, 2009: Simon Paramanathan, an Indian from Villupuram in Tamil Nadu held captive by militants in Afghanistan for nearly four months is dead, his family and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in New Delhi. Simon, employed in the Italian food chain Ciano International, was abducted in October 2008. The company had been negotiating with the captors belonging to an unnamed militant outfit, which had sought a ransom of USD 200000. However, the negotiations “to work out a reasonable ransom” reportedly failed to break the deadlock. An MEA official said in New Delhi that Afghanistan authorities informed that Simon died while in the custody of his abductors.

2008

December 24, 2008: A 38-year-old man from Tamil Nadu working with a food store attached to Italian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped by Afghan militants in Herath province, police said, according to Rediff. A group calling itself Mujahideen on October 13, 2008 kidnapped Simon, who hails from Kalakurichi Village in Villupuram District, police said. Simon was working with an Italian food store supplying food to its soldiers in Afghanistan. He was kidnapped along with two other company employees while they were delivering food at the International Security Assistance Force camp in Bagram air base, the sources said.

July 7, 2008: A suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed 66 persons. The killed included two senior diplomats, Political Counsellor V. Venkateswara Rao and Defence Adviser Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta, and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) staffers Ajai Pathaniya and Roop Singh.

June 5, 2008: An ITBP trooper was killed and four others injured in an attack by the Taliban in the south-west Province of Nimroz.

April 12, 2008: Two Indian nationals, M.P. Singh and C. Govindaswamy, personnel of the Indian Army’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO), were killed and seven persons, including five BRO personnel, sustained injuries in a suicide-bomb attack in the Nimroz Province.

January 3, 2008: In the first-ever suicide attack on Indians in the country, two ITBP soldiers were killed and five others injured in the Razai village of Nimroz Province.

2007

December 15, 2007: Two bombs were lobbed into the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, capital of the Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. There was however, no casualty or damage.

2006

May 7, 2006: An explosion occurred near the Indian Consulate in the fourth police district of the western Herat Province. There were no casualties.

April 28, 2006: An Indian telecommunications engineer working for a Bahrain based firm in the Zabul Province, K Suryanarayana was abducted and subsequently beheaded after two days.

February 7, 2006: the Taliban in the western province of Farah killed Bharat Kumar, an engineer working with a Turkish company, in a bomb attack.

2005

November 19, 2005: Maniappan Kutty, a driver working with the BRO’s project of building the Zaranj-Delaram highway, was abducted and his decapitated body was found on a road between Zaranj, capital of Nimroz, and an area called Ghor Ghori, four days later.

2003

December 9, 2003: Two Indian engineers – P Murali and G Vardharai working on a road project in Zabul province were abducted. Afghan tribal leaders released them on December 24 after intense negotiations with the Taliban militia, which was demanding the release of 50 imprisoned militants in return for the Indian engineers.

November 8, 2003: An Indian telecommunications engineer working for the Afghan Wireless Company was shot dead.

 Conclusion: the study implies since the beginning of 2019 the number and scope of assaults against Indians have been dramatically eroded, whereas the number of attacks against the Afghan governmental and civilian installations have been tripled. The recent developments indicate a deep involvement of Indian inter-service intelligence (RAW) in clandestine talks with Taliban. There are some unapproved reports, narrating that Indian intelligence networks offered Taliban millions of dollars in cash to halt their assaults on Indians in Afghanistan.

India plays the same card played during late 80s and beginning of 90s, whereby Delhi promoted diplomatic relations with communist led government and meantime the country-upheld cooperation with anti-communist rule. As of now, there are scores of options on the table namely interim government, broad-based government and even the forceful return of Taliban to the power.

India considers all alternatives to extend its multidimensional engagement in Afghanistan. India sends delegations on official visit to Afghanistan, and at the same time, the country’s foreign office and intelligence bureaucrats are engaged in secret talks with Taliban to counterweight Islamabad extensive advantage if Kabul government led by Ashraf Ghani collapses. To end with, Indian pragmatic diplomacy has really functioned in Afghanistan; therefore, a whole heap of credit goes to the institutions, which stimulate Delhi’s policies relating to Afghanistan.

Ajmal Sohail is Co-founder and Co-president of Counter Narco-terrorism Alliance Germany and he is National Security and counter terrorism analyst. He is active member of Christian Democratic Union (CDU)as well.

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Hybrid Warfare Against Pakistan: Challenges and Response

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The term ‘hybrid warfare’ entered the strategic lexicon in the early 21st century despite having been practiced in various forms for a long time. It is defined as a blend of both kinetic and non-kinetic options to offset conventional power dynamics.  Hybrid warfare includes extensive use of tools like spreading disinformation, propaganda, economic coercion, backing proxy militia and cyber-attacks to achieve strategic objectives. In modern times, owing to the exponentially high cost of men and material used in traditional warfare, not only the great powers but various middle powers engage in hybrid warfare in order to destabilize, demoralize and disintegrate their core adversaries.

The advancement in technology over the 21st century encourages the blending of the different modes of warfare making hybrid warfare a practical option for meeting political objectives. The aspects of ambiguity and deniability that accompany hybrid warfare, make it an attractive option for states to exercise subtle power – they do not have to fear attribution and retribution. Hybrid warfare has become more popular because of the issue pertaining to major wars. The arrival of nuclear weapons in the 20th century even to India and Pakistan, and the different major wars have made conventional warfare much riskier. The consequences of the major wars have led to a transformation in how these wars are viewed. States that want to exert their influence have found other means to do so. There is an on-going debate in the UN about the serious consequences of the internet that can be constituted as acts of war. Its warfare without any direct violence.

Pakistan’s arch enemy, India, has constantly been waging hybrid warfare against Pakistan since partition but it has been recently expedited with increased funding, training of a separatist militia, through economic subversion by politicizing international bodies such as FATF and carrying out diplomatic sabotage in the form of disinformation campaigns disclosure by EU Disinfo Lab. Though the decision was motivated by the political objective of placing Pakistan on the grey list, India’s hybrid warfare against Pakistan jeopardizes South Asia’s stability.

India’s main objective when it comes to hybrid warfare against Pakistan is it to keep Pakistan politically and economically unstable. This helps achieve certain other goals like preventing the rise of Pakistan’s power in Kashmir and pressuring Pakistan to settle on India’s terms in issues like Siachen and Sir Creek. India has tried to employ numerous tools to wage this warfare against Pakistan at the different levels.

India is trying to build a narrative, especially among Indian Muslims and Kashmiris that Pakistan is a failed or failing state and the partition of the Indian sub-continent was huge mistake. They are also generating the idea that the Indian Muslims are far superior to the Pakistanis and even the Bangladeshis. The hybrid warfare against Pakistan also has its internal dynamics, as it is very much part and parcel of India’s domestic politics particularly around elections. Even the Hindutva intoxicated BJP came to power by employing this strategy. India has also given rise to the narrative that she always tried to build good relations but the Pakistani military does not let the relations normalize. Also, it is the Pakistan Army, which is not allowing a solution to the Kashmir dispute because when Pakistan and India were engaged in backchannel diplomacy to work out a solution on the basis of President Musharraf’s four-point formula, it was the Pakistan Army which conducted, supported and funded the Mumbai attack of 2008. Thus, the Pakistan Army is portrayed as a major problem when it comes to Pakistan. It is also being projected that Pakistan’s defense expenditure is illogical as it needs to invest more in its development rather than the armed forces to defend itself against India. India is also exploiting the fault lines of Pakistan – Baluchistan and CPEC. Pakistan is also blamed for not allowing regional peace and integration. India links Pakistan to the Taliban at international level. Certainly, India’s main aim is to weaken the social contract of Pakistan by creating restlessness, divisions and instability within the country.

Pakistan needs a well calibrated strategy in how to counter India’s move at every platform. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to understand the nature of hybrid warfare while concentrating on Pakistan’s social and political harmony. More importantly, we need to realize the potential of CPEC. There must be good governance based on deliverance to overcome the vulnerabilities. There is no denying the fact that this is an era of multilateralism, but multilateral approach works well when there are healthy bilateral relations. While it is good to host conferences and seminars, there is a need for more practical action. We live in world were information spreads quickly. Hence, we need a counternarrative to India’s narrative of ‘talks and terrorism cannot go side by side’ but unfortunately Pakistan always acts in an apologetic manner. The media can potentially be the face of any state but in the case of Pakistan, the media does not care and there is no policy-based discussion between the media and the government. Also, Pakistan does not have enough English news channels to portray the positive image of Pakistan. Furthermore, every part of Pakistani society including the media, the civil society and academia should collectively respond to India’s hybrid warfare against Pakistan. For all of this to be successful, Pakistan’s immune system must be protected through socio-political harmony and improved governance. Last but not the least, India may not be able to sustain its economic lure for long, therefore, India must stop this hybrid warfare against Pakistan, and resume diplomatic activities for stability and prosperity of the region.

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How Putin’s Russia is Exploiting Jihadists Against pro-Navalny Protesters?

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Who is Putin’s terrorist: Navalny or Jihadist?

Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin is considering using old tactics to stem the growing wave of nationwide protests in support of his fiercest critic, popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This tactic was developed in the late 90s by the KGB ideologists and successfully applied in order to bring to power Vladimir Putin, who is ruling the country with an iron hand longer than all his Soviet predecessors except Joseph Stalin. The tactical skills of the Putin’s policy architects were aiming to frighten Russian citizens by Islamist terrorism and Chechen separatism and unite patriotic and nationalist forces around a new leader capable of challenging the West.

Thus, when the nationwide protests in support of Navalny from Yakutia to Kaliningrad became the most serious challenge, the Kremlin began to trumpet the threat of Islamist extremists and international terrorists. This time, the Putin regime is intimidating protesters with impending terrorist attacks of Central Asian and Caucasian jihadists and their Syrian parent organization, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

On the eve of the next nationwide protests on February 14, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russia warned of the inadmissibility of calls to participate in an unsanctioned rally. Russian state news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS have disseminated information that the most powerful Sunni militant faction of HTS in northern Syria is preparing a series of lone-wolf attacks during the upcoming mass street protests of Navalny’s supporters in various Russian cities. In doing so, however, the pro-Kremlin media cited its undisclosed law enforcement sources and ultimately spread merely conspiracy theories.

According to anonymous sources of Russian security services, HTS-backed Uzbek Jihadi battalion Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad(KTJ), Chechen militant groups Ajnad al-Kavkaz (AK) and Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA) are planning to carry out explosions and attack protesters. To achieve these purposes, terrorist groups allegedly recruited Russian citizens and Central Asian migrants, who expect their leaders’ commands.

pro-Navalny protesters

The Putin regime faced the most serious challenge when anti-government protests took place across the Russia in support Navalny in recent weeks. As is known, in mid-January, Navalny returned to the country after recovering from a chemical Novichok poisoning that nearly took his life and was immediately detained and later jailed for alleged parole violations. The robust Putin regime first demonstrated its grave alarm when tens of thousands pro-Navalny protesters demanded his resignation in more than 100 cities and towns, chanting Putin as a ‘thief’. Police detained more than 11,000 people at what they say were unsanctioned protests that the Moscow condemned as illegal and dangerous.

Alexei Navalny’s political creativity and tactical skill inspired Russian liberal youth weary with the corruption-plagued political order presided over by Putin. Fierce clashes between protesters and riot police during the mass rallies indicate that a new generation is not afraid of arrests and the repressive state machine. And to stop the pace of marathon confrontation with the opposition, Putin resorted to his long-standing KGB tactics, intimidating society with possible terrorist attacks and explosions by Islamists.

Will Uzbek and Chechen Jihadists hit pro-Navalny Protesters?

But the fact is, it’s not the first time Putin’s Russia has intimidated society with possible terror attacks by Islamist terrorists and Chechen separatists to achieve political goals. During the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin at the end of the second millennium, Kremlin ideologists successfully tested anti-Islamist tactics to overcome the challenges of the political opposition. The ideologists of Putin’s election campaign created his image as a decisive and strong leader, the one who can defeat Islamist terrorism, Chechen separatism and preserve the integrity of Great Russia. His image as the only savior of the Russian Empire was accompanied by radio and television spots and news about the atrocities of Chechen militants and their beheading of Russian soldiers.

Meanwhile, there is a conspiracy theory in Russian political circles that the powerful FSB orchestrated apartment bombings in the Russian cities of Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 to boost Putin’s approval rating aiming to ensure his victory in the presidential elections. As a result of these “terrorist attacks”, 307 people were killed, more than 1,700 people were injured. Russian officials concluded that there was a “Chechen trail” in the bombings, but no proof of their involvement was adduced. Many still doubt the results of the investigation and consider Putin to be the culprit of this tragedy.

That’s when Putin uttered his famous phrase: “We will pursue the [Islamist] terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, we’ll kill them there. If we catch them in the toilet, we’ll exterminate them in the toilet.” Many still believe that the apartment bombings and the FSB’s tactic against Islamist extremists catapulted Putin into the presidency. Putin soon launched a second war in Chechnya and emerged victorious in the intra-Kremlin struggle. His ratings soared. He met with huge approval in a society weary from the economic collapse, corruption and crime of the Yeltsin era.

Usually people prefer to keep quiet about this tragedy. Russian political figures Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky worked to unravel the mystery of apartment bombings. But all of them were brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances. Ultimately, the Kremlin’s tactics to combat Islamist terrorists not only helped to rocket Putin to the political Olympus, but also increased Islamophobia, nationalism and chauvinism in Russian society.

Today, even 22 years after Putin came to power, the Kremlin’s ideologists have begun to intimidate Russia’s liberal society with likely Islamist terrorist attacks again as the nationwide protests seriously threaten his regime. This illustrates the regime exhaustion and the lack of confidence in face of the strategic sophistication of Navalny’s team.

So far, neither HTS, nor Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups have officially responded to the FSB on the plotting of terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition rallies. However, in encrypted Telegram chats, Uzbek and Chechen jihadists actively discussed the “leak information”.

Thus, one of the KTJ’s followers on Telegram under the name Al Hijrat said in Uzbek: “Kafir Putin frightens his people with the just sword of Allah.But the people of the blessed land of Sham know that he himself is the main terrorist. Russian infidels and Putin’s Nusayri puppy (Alawites regime of Bashar al-Assad) bomb Greater Idlib to destroy Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. Executioners will have to hold a harsh response before the Almighty for their crimes.”

A pro-Jihadi chat “Inspire” in Telegram wrote in Russian: “the information about the impending attacks by Ajnad al-Kavkaz is fake. The authorities are trying to hold Russia’s awakening people from mass protests against Putin’s criminal group. To intimidate civilians, the Russian siloviki (FSB) can and are ready to commit terrorist acts, blaming HTS for this, which are not interested in what is happening there in Russia. The Putinists have a lot of experience in killing their own citizens and blowing up their houses.” In this message, Chechen militants indirectly protect HTS from accusations by pro-Kremlin media on impending terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition protests. This is no coincidence, since Ajnad al Kavkaz is known for its close ties with HTS.

On Telegram channel, some Russian-speaking jihadists from the post-Soviet space mocked at the ‘leaked information’, some expressed their anger against the “Russian occupants” in Sham, some advised protesters to be vigilant before the FSB provocation. A pro-Jihadi chat Icharkhoin Telegram recommended Muslims of Caucasus be ready for new repressions of Russian infidels and local Murtad (apostate), because after the bombings of houses in Volgodonsk, Putin started the 2-Chechen war and took away the independence of Ichkeria. The Telegram chat “Muhajireen” says that the Kremlin is preparing for a harsh suppression of the mass protests.

It is not the first time the Russian authorities have accused Central Asian and North Caucasian Jihadi networks of organizing terrorist act. On April 3, 2017, the Russian FSB blamed KTJ for the bombing on a subway train in St. Petersburg that killed 16 people and injured 67 others. On October 15, 2020, the FSB once again accused the Uzbek KTJ militants of preparing subversive and terrorist acts in Russian cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Maikop and Volgograd. In a statement, the intelligence services claimed that during the counter-terrorist operation, they prevented explosions and eliminated two members of KTJ. Then FSB distributed photos and videos of firearms, ammunition, IED’s chemical components, and religious literature seized during the operation.

On October 16, 2020, KTJ in its statement denied the Russian authorities’ accusation in these attacks. The Uzbek militant group stated that “according the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s policy, our activities are limited to the territory of Sham, and we do not conduct jihadi acts outside of it.” Further, KTJ assured via its Telegram channel that it “does not have its cells in Russia and is not involved in organizing terrorist acts there.”

Jihadi factor of Russian democracy

The Russian authorities often make thunderous statements about plotting terrorist attacks by “international terrorist groups” and how siloviki (FSB) successfully prevented its. This time, trumpeting about terrorist plots by HTS and its foreign subsidiaries during mass protests in various Russian cities, Moscow hoped to hit two birds with one stone. First, the Kremlin hopes that alarm on terrorist attacks could become a cold shower for Navalny’s supporters, as a result of which the activity of protesters will subside and the scale of the rallies will decrease. Second, by accusing HTS of plotting terrorist attacks, Russia is trying to justify its bloody bombing in northern Syria before the international community.

However, experts on jihadism and political Islam were skeptical about accusations of HTS for plotting terrorist attacks in Russia.HTS, Syria’s most powerful rebel group, is trying to implement a new strategy to transform itself from a global jihadist outlook into a local “moderate national liberation movement”. Today its new agenda is entirely dedicated to Syria and the Syrian local Sunni community. Within this new strategy, HTS severely restricted external attacks by its subsidiaries – Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups –KTJ, AK and JMA. Consequently, HTS, which holds the last major rebel bastion in Idlib province and backs the local Salvation Government, is focused only on the internal Syrian jihad than organizing external terrorist attacks.

HTS emir Abu Mohammed al-Julani is well aware that any terrorist attacks in Russia could place his group among the global terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, from which he decisively disavowed. HTS pursues a pragmatic approach to the political context, and its external attacks outside of Syria could undermine its fragile legacy, which Julani has achieved with great difficulty.

According to the new strategy, HTS has excluded Central Asian and local hardliners from its ranks. Those jihadists who did not want to submit to its new policy, such as former KTJ emir Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki and HTS Shura Council member Abu Malek al-Talli, were arrested or taken out of the Syrian jihad zone. Given the ability of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to pressure Russian-speaking militant groups to abandon its global jihadist ambitions, it can be concluded that the Russian FSB’s accusation against HTS raises many questions.

In conclusion, the Russian authorities alert about Islamists terrorist attacks during pro-Navalny protests is aimed at an internal audience and pursues exclusively domestic political goals. And these goals are clear as plain as the nose on the face. Using these methods, the Kremlin wants to stop the turbulent development of mass protests and divert the attention of people from the Navalny factor. If they succeed, the authorities will take time out to gather strength for the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2021.But if the wave of protests grows ever stronger and threatens Putin’s regime, then a repetition of the 1999 scenario is quite possible. As then, radical Islamism and terrorism can become a starting point for strengthening authoritarianism in Russia.

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Corona pandemic: Realism limitation in solving 21st century security threats

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Today, most serious threats of the 21st century are not ones we can protect ourselves by using armies or advanced weapons. Indeed, the popularity of extreme-right politics, unilateralism based on nationalism and COVID-19 are threatening the world’s post-war security architecture. 

The state-based unilateralism and the trends of national response to the 21st century’s biggest security threat trigger lack of coordination, diplomatic divisions, and incoherent global answer to COVID-19. Hence, as we face the biggest challenge of the contemporary century today, we need to rethink the very nature of our comprehension of national security threats. By doing so, we need a different approach to facing security threats.

With the Corona pandemic as a security threat, one of the foundational international relations theories, the realism, has been revealed to be far limited in terms of its explanatory power than it declares. The argument is that realism has a valid logic and reasons for confidence since answers to the pandemic have confirmed the supremacy of sovereign states, the grounds for the state’s power competition. Nevertheless, the pandemic also presents realism’s weaknesses as a source for successful policy answer to this security challenge. In other words, realism is better at defining risks and threats than suggesting solutions. Put simply, realism’s explanatory power lies in diagnosis rather than treatment or prevention. To make this clear, one insight the theory emphasizes is the representation of states as the fundamental actors in world politics. 

As the coronavirus hit, states shifted quickly to close or tighten international borders, controlled movement within their borders. However, while much independent national action is understandable from a realism’s point of view, it’s insufficient. Unilateralism and state-based measures, such as border controls did not spare states from the pandemic, and unilateral measures risk ending up in national economic and social crisis. 

To fight the Corona pandemic most efficiently, policymakers will have to shift to other theoretical traditions to overcome this security threat. They will depend more and more on greater international openness, trust and cooperation. Hence, while from the realism’s view, unilateral and state-based actions may serve national interest to fight the pandemic “within the national borders”, the pandemic is a global security threat and thus remains unsolved so long as other states and non-state actors have not done the same and states move on unilaterally. 

Solving global crises and security threats such as a pandemic, similar to world economic or other security crises cannot be solved based on the realist considerations of zero-sum competitive logic. Instead, transnational security threats, such as Coronavirus, is unmasking the limitations of individual states actions in the global system. Thus, while realism does an excellent job of “diagnosing the problem”, it does not offer solutions to that problem.   

Considering the necessity of worldwide medical items and actions, coordinated and offered by international organizations and non-state actors, the uncoordinated state-based actions result in an ineffective solution to this security crisis. The perspective this article aims to offer is that given the limitations of realism, we need more faith in international transboundary cooperation based on mutual trust, especially trust vis-a-vis international institutions. However, neither the United Nations nor the World Health Organization (WHO) nor any other non-state actor can overcome the Coronavirus on its own; nor non-state actors such as international institutions are alternatives to national states in international relations. 

Instead, they are an instrument of foreign policy and statecraft and states need to rely on them, incorporating them in finding solutions to global security threats. According to constitutionalists, Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin, “States are indeed self-interested, but cooperation is often in their interest and institutions help to facilitate that cooperation.”

From our partner Tehran Times

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