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Pakistan is Not Duplicitous When It Comes to Militancy – It is Just Trapped

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Pakistan’s Dilemma

Pakistan being labeled as duplicitous today when it comes to militancy by external governments and the international media is not only misinformed but outrageously inaccurate. When it comes to tackling militancy and extremism, Pakistan is one of the only countries that has successfully defeated major terrorist groups (whilst keeping in line with humanitarian standards) and has thwarted a massive insurgency.

Nonetheless, it is also true that the country remains stuck between a rock and a hard place. This predicament originates because of militant groups that are not inherently anti-Pakistan. Pakistan has conducted various military operations against numerous terror outfits, of which the most recent Operation Zarb-e-Azb was, and continues to be, the most successful in undermining terrorist efforts in the country – the security condition has vastly improved in the country in recent years. Unlike the Sri Lankan counterinsurgency model which militarily defeated the Tamil Tigers using indiscriminate means (leading to countless civilian casualties), Pakistan’s Zarb-e-Azb adopted a more humane approach, and was praised by US commanders and the Pentagon. The process in Zarb-e-Azb was generally as follows: A militant-infested area was cordoned off while the villagers/townspeople were conveyed to leave the area. After this, the village elders, the local government, and the military screened exiting people to ensure that no insurgents were trying to escape in the guise of civilians. The civilians were then relocated to internally displaced people (IDP) camps until the battle had ceased – the army and air force fought against terrorists only when all civilians had left.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb, led by the Pakistan Army and supported by the Pakistan Air Force, “broke the backbone” of the biggest purveyor of terrorism in the country, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). As peace and security return to the country, there still exist small pockets of radical groups in certain areas that are not anti-Pakistan, but target other countries and forces instead.

The issue, therefore, is how to engage such residual groups, specifically the Lashkar-e-Taiba or LeT (now known as the Jamat-ud-Dawa) and the Haqqani network, which comes under the umbrella of the Taliban, both of whom have enjoyed Pakistani patronage in the past. The operative word being “past”.

Historical Context

Some historical context here is required to cognize why the country is between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. Since the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, which led to the newly formed states of Pakistan and India, Kashmir’s territorial dispute has become the raison d’être for the hostility between both countries, with each claiming jurisdiction over the former princely state. To undermine India and counter Indian hostilities in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan (post-independence) initiated a policy of empowering and funding non-state militias such as the LeT. Although Pakistan once supported these groups, it clamped down on such efforts since 9/11 and the war on terror due to international pressure that proved disastrous for the country. Regardless of this suppression by Pakistan, some groups remain active as they view themselves as freedom fighters similar to Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. These groups could attack India with or without the authorization or complicity of state authorities in Pakistan. India cites Pakistan as the oxygen for the Kashmiri freedom movement and maintains that it supports militancy in the valley, while Pakistan claims that it does not support any proxy groups anymore and that Indian barbarities against Kashmiris are the true fuel.

Many international commentators today agree with the Pakistani stance, that is, that Pakistan had supported militant groups such as the LeT in Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK) in the past, but it has significantly reduced these efforts and therefore the current resistance and the anger of Kashmiris against India is considered homegrown. Indian scholars like Mridu Rai also state that “the oft-asserted contention that Pakistan has created the turmoil in Kashmir ab nihilo is unconvincing”.

Pakistan, with material and financial aid from the United States and Saudi Arabia, trained and assisted Mujahideen forces to combat the Soviet invasion from 1979-1989. The strategy proved successful and the Soviets were defeated. In a continuation of this policy, Pakistan supported the Taliban (and the Haqqani network), helping them seize power in Afghanistan (1996-2001) as they showed promise of being pro-Pakistan.

Pakistan’s woes, however, began when the September 11 attacks took place. After 9/11, President Musharraf faced a stark choice when America arrived with essentially two options: help America or risk war with it. Choosing to side with the Americans or else face a potential war, the country had to publicly rescind their support of the Taliban as they were hosting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and other groups like the LeT. This led to a massive blowback of unfathomable proportions as it plummeted the country into a state of mass internal conflict. Although the LeT and few other groups did not turn anti-Pakistan, many like-minded militant groups did as they discerned the government to be a puppet of America. Pakistan has since then been fighting a predominantly U.S. war that has led to negative spillovers and repercussions for its internal security. India took spectacular advantage of Pakistan’s bleak security situation and poured fuel to the fire, that is, India, akin to Pakistan in the past, initiated its own proxy warfare in the country.

Since the mid-2000s, India has and continues to use Afghanistan to carry out attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan province – this was proven by the confession of the apprehended Indian spy, Khulbashan Jadav. The Armed Forces of Pakistan have been fighting these extremist elements since 2001, with terrorism only declining to record lows in recent years. As earlier mentioned, the country has fought and militarily defeated various militant groups such as the TTP, Punjabi Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, etcetera. Other than these anti-Pakistan groups, there remained certain groups that displayed no or a lack of hostility towards the country regardless of events unfolded – the two most influential being the LeT and the Haqqani network. The absence of anti-Pakistan inclinations in these groups due to them still maintaining relations with the country’s intelligence agencies has been heavily debated. The international community especially America and India see both these entities as terrorist groups that must be neutralized – with India especially mentioning the LeT and America mainly identifying the Haqqanis.

What is the “Rock” and What is the “Hard Place”?

Fingers have repeatedly been pointed towards Pakistan’s alleged support to both groups, which the country has vehemently denied ad nauseam. The question then arises: why not target these groups if the allegations are faux? The answer is rooted in history and its acrimonious reminder to Pakistan, that is, the country cannot antagonize these outfits and risk staring down the barrel of another mass insurgency as was the case after 9/11 – this is the “rock.”

Groups like LeT have a significant popular base in Pakistan as they engage in social work (schools, hospitals, rehabilitation, and so on) besides militancy and the country would not want to cause a civil uproar in certain areas by targeting them. Conversely, the Haqqani network is well connected to various extremist groups including ones that the military has targeted and fragmented due to its operations – hence antagonizing the Haqqanis will not only bring forth their wrath but also might reinvigorate fragmented extremist groups if they align themselves or get subsumed by the Haqqanis. Secondly, since the Haqqanis are a part of the Taliban umbrella, targeting them could mean the withering away of the America-backed intra-Afghan peace process in which Pakistan has played a pivotal role. It would frankly be an exercise in absurdity if the Haqqanis are targeted while the Taliban is negotiating with the Afghan government and the United States. Simultaneously, however, Pakistan cannot afford to be constantly labeled as duplicitous by the international arena despite previous and ongoing counterterrorism endeavors and sacrifices made by thousands of its soldiers and citizens.

The pressure after Trump taking office augmented spectacularly on the country, and Pakistan was publically called out by Trump for harboring terrorists; in January 2018, the White House moved to block $2 billion in military aid allocated to Pakistan – therefore international pressure to “do more” is the “hard place”. Although, since Imran Khan’s visit to America and the inception of the previously mentioned intra-Afghan dialogue, relations seem to have relatively improved between the two countries – however, international pressure still remains and Biden’s stance is yet to be ascertained. One avenue this pressure is manifested through is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the FATF is a global watchdog that combats money laundering and terror financing. Pakistan has been on the FATF’s (Financial Action Task Force) grey list for over two years. Pakistan obviously wants to exit this list and improve its global image. The worst-case scenario would be for the country to descend into the blacklist.

Stuck within these limitations of not being able to militarily engage such groups because it could initiate another insurgency and being internationally called out for not neutralizing all militant groups, Pakistan is at a crossroads. Pakistan must engage the LeT and Haqqani network in such a manner that it demilitarizes them without any repercussions for the country itself. For countries to doubt Pakistan’s motivations to eliminate militancy, after so much blood has been shed, signals that a departure from this rigid mindset is required.

Pakistan has proven to be one of the few countries in the modern world to have militarily defeated a terrorist insurgency (without indiscriminate means) – although much remains to be done on the non-military level. Behind Afghanistan, Pakistan has suffered the most in terms of lives lost as well as economic damage due to the American-led war on terror – therefore Pakistan understands better than most the ignominious consequences of an insurgency. This rightfully indicates that Pakistan does not want to act precipitously and antagonize militant outfits which might lead to another bloody war, especially with a frail economy and IMF loans to pay off. On the other hand, Pakistan must also show the world that its targeting of militant groups is not selective but extends to all others.

Conclusion

Pakistan is walking a tightrope regionally and internationally and will have to continue to do the same until a permanent solution can be found. Currently, the Hindutva-oriented India of the BJP and Pakistan are more likely to go to war than to achieve any kind of rapprochement. However, if Pakistan can find a way to dismiss this opinion of being duplicitous and that it supports militancy, then things could improve between India (assuming the BJP’s Islamophobic and pro-Hindu policies also change) and Pakistan as well as Pakistan augmenting its international image. Although offering solutions is beyond the scope of this article, one possible way would be to politicize the LeT and Haqqani Network, the former of which already has a political party. History is full of examples of militant groups disarming and becoming a part of the political arena; from the Sinn Féin/IRA (Irish Republican Army) in Northern Ireland to the Nelson Mandela-led uMkhonto we Sizwe in South Africa. There is even an example as recently as 2017 when the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) unarmed itself and started a political party in Colombia. Lastly, the two primary takeaways from this article are:

  1. The international arena should give Pakistan the credit it deserves in dismantling one of the biggest terror groups in the world and discern that Pakistan’s support for militancy is a thing of the past.
  2. Concurrently, Pakistan needs to stop the tightrope walk and create an implementable plan that disarms the remaining militant groups, or else the “do more” rhetoric of the Americans and Indians will never cease.

Sarmad Ishfaq works as a research fellow for the Lahore Centre for Peace Research. He completed his Masters in International Studies and graduated as the 'Top Graduate' from the University of Wollongong in Dubai. He has several publications in peer-reviewed journals and magazines in the areas of counter-terrorism/terrorism and the geopolitics of South Asia and the GCC.

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UN: Revealing Taliban’s Strategic Ties with Al Qaeda and Central Asian Jihadists

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Afghan peace mediators

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan draws near, the region has been witnessing sudden adjustments. The Taliban have not only intensified assaults against the Afghan government forces and captured new territories but also began to demonstrate their regional ambitions to reduce Washington’s influence in Central and South Asia. As the US military has completed more than half of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban believe that they defeated America after 20 years of grueling war. The Taliban leaders, who were driven by the latest military successes, began further setting their own conditions for the neighbors and stepping on the toes of Washington in order to prevent the establishment of a new US military base in Central Asia.

On May 26, the Taliban issued a statement warning Afghanistan’s neighbors not to allow the US to utilize their territory and airspace for any future military operations against them. The Sunni Islamist jihadi group cautioned that facilitating US military operations by neighboring countries in the future will be a “great historical mistake and a disgrace that shall forever be inscribed as a dark stain in history.” They further emphasized that the presence of foreign forces is “the root cause of insecurity and war in the region.” The insurgent group strictly warned without elaborating that “the people of Afghanistan will not remain idle in the face of such heinous and provocative acts”. At the end of the statement, they exerted political pressure on the Central Asian states, threatening that “if such a step is taken, then the responsibility for all the misfortunes and difficulties lies upon those who commit such mistakes.”

Given the past experience of US military presence in the region, the Taliban’s threatening appeal is most likely addressed to the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.  After the 9/11 attacks the Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek governments hosted the American military to wage a campaign against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their Salafi-Jihadi subsidiaries. But virtually every US military base in Central Asia was suddenly expelled when the personal interests of the regional authoritarian leaders have been infringed upon. Uzbekistan expelled the US base from Karshi-Khanabad amid strong political disagreements over a bloody 2005 crackdown on protesters in Andijan. The Dushanbe and Kulob airports in Tajikistan were used very briefly by the NATO forces. The US base at the Bishkek airport in Kyrgyzstan also was closed in 2014 under heavy Russian hands. It is no secret that following the expel of US military bases, some political leaders of Central Asia became skeptical of Washington, thus further perceiving it as an unreliable partner.

The Taliban’s warning to the Central Asian states is fully consistent with the strategic expectations of Al Qaeda, its loyal and faithful ideological partner in the global jihad, both of which jointly seek to push the US out not only from Afghanistan, but also from Central and Southeast Asia. Based on propaganda releases and the rhetoric on Telegram channels, the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups which are linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, strongly supported the withdrawal of US forces from the region. Consequently, Uighur and Uzbek jihadists potentially see the Taliban and Al Qaeda as powerful parent organizations, whose resurgence in Afghanistan offers major advantages for their military and political strengthening. Unsurprisingly, Al Qaeda and Taliban aims to oust the US forces from the region, hence playing into the hands of Moscow and Beijing, considering that both unlikely to welcome an increased US military presence in their backyard.

Taliban leaders are well aware that the possible deployment of US military assets in Central Asia will impede their strategic goal in rebuilding the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Today Washington is actively working with nations surrounding Afghanistan on the deployment of its troops to support Afghan forces “over the horizon” after withdrawal from the country on September 11. The US air support for the Afghan military could thwart Taliban plans to quickly seize Kabul and force them to sit at the negotiating table with the Ashraf Ghani administration. The Taliban have consistently and clearly emphasized in their numerous public statements opposing the negotiation and power share with the Kabul regime. They consider themselves the only and undeniable military-political force that has the right to rule the country in accordance with Sharia law. The Taliban jihadists are determined to continue waging jihad until establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and their emir, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, becomes the country’s “lawful ruler”.

On June 6, 2021, the Taliban once again appealed to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan “to resolve their border issues through a dialogue” and “seeking a logical solution that would benefit both sides.” Recall, during the two-day border conflict between the armed forces of the two post-Soviet countries at the end of April, more than 50 people were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands were forced to leave their homes. In its statement, the Taliban, called on Tajik and Kyrgyz leaders to value “the peace and security of their respective nations.” According to the local analysts, Taliban’s “peace-aiming appeal” looks like a mockery of the Afghan people suffering from their bloody jihad.

Taliban’s “Soft Power” Under Construction

The question to be posed is what kind of leverage does the Taliban has with the Central Asian states to put pressure on them in preventing the possible deployment of new US military bases in the region?

The Taliban, an insurgent Islamist group that has yet to come to power, does not have any economic or political leverage over the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. But it is imperative to mention that the Taliban holds “soft power” tools, such as Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist groups affiliated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These groups challenged the region’s secular regimes, hence aiming to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the densely populated Fergana Valley, sandwiched between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

It is no secret that the Central Asian post-Soviet countries consider the Al Qaeda-linked Uzbek and Uighur Sunni Salafi-Jihadi groups hiding in Taliban-controlled Afghan soil as a threat to the security of the entire region. Recall, the first group of radical Islamists from Central Asia who found refuge in Afghanistan in the mid-90s was the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which had close and trusting ties with both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Currently, Uighur fighters of Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) from China’s Xinjiang, Uzbek militant groups such as Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and Tajik militants of Jamaat Ansarullah (JA) wage jihad in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s umbrella.

The Taliban still strongly support Uzbek and Uighur jihadists despite the 2020 US-Taliban peace agreement that requires the Taliban to sever ties with Al Qaeda and all Central Asian terrorist groups.

In response to documentary evidence of the UN Security Council and the US Defense Intelligence Agency on the Taliban’s close-knit relationship with Al Qaeda and their failure to fulfill the obligation, the Taliban have adopted new tactics to publicly deny the presence of transnational terrorist groups in the country and their ties to them. The Taliban still insist that there are no foreign fighters in the country. But regular UN reports reveal the true face of the Taliban, who are trying to hide their deep network links with Al Qaeda and Central Asian Islamists — a decades-old relationship forged through common ideology and a history of joint jihad.

Thus, a recently released report by the UN Security Council’s Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Team confirms that there are “approximately between 8,000 and 10,000 foreign terrorist fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus and China’s Xinjiang in Afghanistan. Although the majority are affiliated foremost with the Taliban, many also support Al Qaeda.” The UN report stated that Uzbek and Uighur jihadists’ ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda remain “strong and deep as a consequence of personal bonds of marriage and shared partnership in struggle, now cemented through second generational ties.” Further the UN monitoring team revealed Al Qaeda’s core strategy of “strategic patience,” according to which the group would wait for “a long period of time before it would seek to plan attacks against international targets again.”

According to the report, “several hundred Uighur jihadists of Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) located primarily in Badakhshan and neighboring Afghan provinces, whose strategic goal is to establish an Islamic Uighur state in Xinjiang, China.” To achieve its goal, TIP facilitates the movement of fighters from Afghanistan and Syria to China. Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, who is a member of Al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, leads the Syrian and Afghan branches of TIP for more than two decades. According to the UN monitoring group, “Uighur militant Hajji Furqan, the TIP’s deputy emir, is also a deputy leader of Al Qaeda and responsible for the recruitment of foreign fighters.” Such mixed appointments of group leaders highlight the close and deep ties between the troika: Taliban-Al Qaeda-TIP.

The UN report found more evidence of close cooperation between Uzbek IMU jihadists and the Taliban. The report stated that the “IMU fighters are currently based in Faryab, Sar-e Pol and Jowzjan provinces, where they dependent on the Taliban for money and weapons”. The UN monitoring team also highlighted the activities of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups such as KIB, IJU and Jundullah, which are waging jihad in the northern Afghan provinces of Faryab and Kunduz under Taliban shelter and control. “The Taliban has forbidden these groups from launching independent operations, resulting in a reduction of their income.” In conclusion, UN analysts noted that pressure on the Taliban to cut their ties with Al Qaeda and Central Asian Salafi groups has not succeeded. Thus, the UN report once again refuted the Taliban’s assertion that Al Qaeda and Central Asian jihadists are not present in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Thus, it can be assumed that while US military pressure persists, the Taliban’s tactics will continue to publicly deny their trust relationships and close ties with Al Qaeda, Central Asian jihadists, and other transnational terrorist groups in the country. But as long as the Taliban’s perception of its own level of influence and control in Afghanistan remains high, insurgents will continue to insist that they are abiding by the accord with the US.

The Taliban’s strategy is to build the foundation of their “soft power” through the patronage and protection of Al Qaeda and Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups in Afghanistan. Thus, in this complex process, not only material interests, but also common religious roots originating in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic theology and mutual sympathy for jihadist ideological visions might play a significant role.

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Cyber-attacks-Frequency a sign of Red Alert for India

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The biggest target is in terms of transportations, nuclear power plants, Power system Operation Corporation Limited, V.O. Chidambaram Port Trust, Telangana State Load Dispatch Centre, logistic industries and research organisations which eventually can lead to destruction of the whole ecosystem. The confidentiality breach in the case of medical data leak as reported by a German cyber security firm –Greenbone Sustainable Resilience wherein Picture Archiving and Communication Servers were linked to public internet without any requisite protection is a point of concern. Then, there are certain individualistic attacks such as hacking email and financial crimes (banking), etc. In the last two years the attacks radar of focus has been defence, government accounts and the vaccine manufacturing companies.

Cyber Security – Individualistic awareness need of the hour

The target of the individual in a peculiar case which led to heinous crimes casted was due to opening of a document which was a bait to install Netwire- a malware. The bait was eventually delivered through a file and what prompted a person to open that link was a Drop box sent to him on his email was actually opening a Pandora Box of malicious command and control server. An emphasis to understand the technicality that Netwire stands for a malware which gives control of the infected system to an attacker. This in turn paves way for data stealing, logging keystrokes and compromise passwords. In the similar vein the Pegasus used the tactic to infiltrate the user’s phones in 2019.

Cyber Security – Attacking Power Distribution Systems

The intrusions by Chinese hacker groups in October, 2020 as brought out by Recorded Future was done through Shadow Pad which opens a secret path from target system to command and control servers. And, the main target is sectors such as transportation, telecommunication and energy .And , there are different tags that are being used by the Chinese Espionage Industry such as APT41, Wicked Spider and Wicked Panda , etc.

The institutions backing legitimisation

The Institutions which are at working under the cyber security surveillance are the National Security Council and National Information Board headed by National Security Adviser helping in framing India’s cyber security policy .Then, in 2014 there is the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre under the National Technical Research Organisation mandating the protection of critical information infrastructure. And, in 2015 the National Cyber Security Coordinator advises the Prime Minister on strategic cyber security issues. In the case of nodal entity , India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) is playing a crucial role under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MEITY).But, there is a requirement of clarity in National Cyber Security Policy of 2013 and the needed updates desired in it respectively.

A cohesive approach – Data Protection and Privacy Importance

The Data privacy i.e. the personal data protection bill is an important imperative in which services of private actors can be bridged through a concerned law which is missing link in that sense. The point of Data localisation falls squarely within this dimension of Section 40 and 41 of the draft bill where in the Indian stakeholders have the capacity to build their own data centres .In this contextualisation there also a need to understand certain technicalities involved in terms of edge computing which in a way is enabling the data to be analysed, processed, and transferred at the edge of a network. An elaboration to this is the data is analysed locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without delay. The Edge computing distributes processing, storage, and applications across a wide range of devices and data centres which make it difficult for any single disruption to take down the network. Since more data is being processed on local devices rather than transmitting it back to a central data centre, edge computing also reduces the amount of data actually at risk at any one time. Whereas on the other hand, there is insistence on data localisation has paved the way for companies such as Google Pay to adhere to the policy and synchronise their working with the United Payments Interface (UPI).

What do you understand by Data Share?

In the recent case of WhatsApp privacy issue and drawing in parallel other organisation a similar platform such as Facebook and Google shared the data to the third party with a lopsided agreement and with continuance of the data trade business industry. In 1996 the internet was free so was perceived as carte blanche , a safe harbour falling under the Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act in the United States but with the evolution of the circumstances the laws in that specifications are also required to change in that respect. In relations to the Indian law under the Information Technology Act, 2000 under the Section 69 the Indian government has the powers to monitor and decrypt any information that’s store in any computer resource but on certain conditions such as in regards to the sovereignty, defence and security of the country.

Cyber-attacks understanding on the International Forums

In terms of Lieber Code of Conduct of 1863 or be it Hague Convention of 1899 there is a need of updating the definitions and where in the cyber army falling under the categorisation  of civilians , not possessing any of the warfare weapons cause the main weapon that they possess is a malware which is invisible but can have deep repercussions leading to destruction of that particular economy altogether .So, in recent evolving circumstances there is an undue importance to for the target country to respond with equal force and having a right to self-defence in this manner regardless of the attack being from a non-state actor from a third country and masquerading under the civilian garb .Henceforth , there a thorough understanding of the complex environment that one is dealing with , there is undue emphasis to change and respectively update with the current world.

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Incidents of Uranium Theft in India: Depleting Nuclear Safety and International Silence

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Terrorism

In yet another incident of the capture of nuclear-related materials from unauthorized persons in India has made headlines in the Indian media but largely ignored in the international media. On 4th June 2021, as reported in the Indian media, the authorities arrested seven people possessing approximately 6.4 kilograms of Uranium in the Eastern State of Jharkhand. This is the second time in less than a month where Indian authorities have captured such a gang in an attempt to sell uranium illegally. An incident of the same nature was reported just a few days ago in May 2021 where authorities apprehended unauthorized persons, who were trying to sell nearly 7 kilograms of natural uranium on the black market. Notably, Indian authorities themselves believe that these events might be linked to a “national gang involved in illegal uranium trade”. This is a very serious issue because it means two things; first, that Indian local uranium reserves, radioactive nuclear materials, and facilities are not protected and are prone to black marketing. Secondly, this scenario has emerged because India is not adhering to international bindings of nuclear safety and security such as UN resolution 1540 and (Convention on Physical Protection on Nuclear Material) CPPNM under IAEA to secure its materials, reserves, and facilities. But, the most damaging aspect in this scenario is the discriminatory behavior of the international community, which is criminally silent on the violations of norms, practices, and regulations necessary for nuclear safety and security.

Though in both incidents, Uranium was in natural condition, which cannot be used for making bombs; however; it should be of great concern, as even in its natural state the Uranium can spread considerable radioactivity if used with conventional explosives. Moreover, Indian authorities themselves are considering that these activities could be linked with national gangs involved in the illegal supply of uranium. This raises the point that actually how much natural uranium is illegally sold in the black market by India. Since these are only incidents that are being reported in the Indian media, there might be many incidents that have never been reported. Also, this gang was captured from near the area where Indian Uranium mines of Jharkhand are allocated, the likelihood of access of non-state actors to these mines cannot be denied. These incidents are critical for international security and stability because such radioactive material when sold in black markets could be brought by the non-state and states aspiring for nuclearization. Unfortunately, in such a scenario all the efforts currently going on to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be hampered. The recurring of these incidents reflect that India, despite being a member of CPPNM is not ensuring the protection of its nuclear materials from theft and sabotage by proper regulations, stringent mechanisms, and control. Other than CPPNM, India has also signed UN resolution 1540, which makes it mandatory for the states to ensure security regulations, mechanisms, equipment required for the security of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) from the non-state actors. But, surprisingly, so far the UN or any other international organization has not taken notice of these recurring events. Rather, these mishaps by Indian authorities are shoved under the carpet. These incidents have been reportedly re-occurring in India, media reported these events in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2019, and now again in 2021. 

Nuclear safety and security is a national matter of any state; however, against the backdrop of the potential damage, which these weapons can bring, they have become an international concern. Specifically, to an extent, where states are sometimes criticized, lauded, and sometimes rewarded for their behavior in this realm. In this regard, India appears as an exceptional case, where the formation of Nuclear Suppliers Group NSG to stop such events in the future has its roots in the Indian so-called peace nuclear explosion (PNE) in 1974. Ironically, a few years down the road, the same NSG gave a waiver to India for conducting nuclear export. Moreover, India was made part of many other regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement. Although, these decisions were carried out in lieu of geo-political realities, where the West regards India as a balancer against China but it gave a free hand to India. Even the US-based NTI Report on Nuclear Security Index gives India less score in nuclear safety and security regulations. At a time when many nuclear theft-related incidents have occurred in India in recent years, disgracefully, India still desires to become a member of NSG based on its so-called nuclear record.

To sum up the situation, the occurrence of back-to-back nuclear theft-related incidents has further exposed India’s nuclear credentials and its non-adherence to international practices of nuclear safety and security. If legal bindings such as CPPNM and 1540 would not be implemented in the future by India, the South Asian stability, as well as the international security, would be undermined. Moreover, if the international non-proliferation continues to remain lenient towards states like India, the rest would likely regard the international non-proliferation mechanism not just as discriminatory but even as hoaxing. Many states might prefer to proliferate for their own interests, which would not serve the non-proliferation mechanism and regime. A very candid example is that today even after two years of the last NPT review conference, the next has not been conducted and chances are that it might not be conducted this year.

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