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Sino-Russian regional activities after Afghanistan

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After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last August, Russia warned against the threat from the extremist organisation of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the increase in drug trafficking.

The Taliban have decided to cooperate with Russia, China and Iran to maintain regional security. The news agency France-Presse reported that the Taliban had participated in high-level talks in Moscow. During that time, ten countries requested emergency humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan and said that the countries which have recently withdrawn from Afghanistan should provide funds to help with reconstruction. The countries are the following: China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Before that meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that some ten thousand ISIS fighters had gathered in Northern Afghanistan to spread religious and ethnic discord. The Soviet Union once bordered on Afghanistan and Russia still considers this area a zone of influence.

Putin reported in mid-September that the ISIS leader was planning to send people disguised as refugees to neighbouring countries in Central Asia.

The countries participating in the Moscow talks stressed in a joint statement that they were concerned about the actions of terrorist organisations and reaffirmed their willingness to continue to promote security in Afghanistan to contribute to regional stability.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised the absence of US officials during the meeting. He said earlier that ISIS-affiliated fighters and al-Qaeda were trying to take advantage of the power void in some parts of Afghanistan.

In the joint statement, the participating countries urged the Taliban to implement appropriate and cautious domestic and foreign policies and adopt a friendly policy towards Afghanistan’s neighbours.

In terms of internal policy, they demand that the Taliban respect the rights of ethnic groups, women and children. Prior to that meeting, Taliban representatives had met with EU and US officials and had also travelled to Turkey, hoping to gain official recognition and assistance from the international community.

The Taliban are in desperate need of allies at the moment because Afghanistan’s economy is in danger due to the loss of international aid, rising food prices and increasing unemployment.

With specific reference to China and Russia, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the signing of the Sino-Russian Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, relations between the two countries entered the third decade of stability and friendship.

Currently, however, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to at least two negative outcomes for China and Russia: 1) Afghanistan, located in the ‘backyard’ of China and Russia has destabilised; 2) the conflict has been chaotic and the future is uncertain and after thirty years since the end of the Cold War, the United States has freed itself from that burden to focus on the challenges of the two major Eurasian powers.

Before the US withdrawal – although the Sino-Russian-US geopolitical game continued to intensify – Afghanistan was still the place where the interests of the three countries overlapped and the parties were all interested in achieving a “soft landing” on the issue.

Since 2019 the three countries have been working together in the form of an enlarged “troika” to peacefully resolve the Afghan issue. For Russia and China, the US military presence in Afghanistan was a double-edged sword: it did not only represent a geographical threat, but could also effectively contain radical Islamic forces in the region.

Both China and Russia hoped that, after reaching a sustainable peace agreement with the parties involved in Afghanistan, the US military would withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly way to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a “terrorist sanctuary” again.

The quick US defeat in Afghanistan, however, without agreements and/or compromise solutions, was unexpected for China and Russia, especially when, on May 11, the US military evacuated the Kandahar airport without informing the Afghan government, etc.

China and Russia have no choice but to face an Afghanistan whose political future is doubtful. The two superpowers, however, have completely different attitudes towards the Afghan issue: the former is more proactive in contacting all parties inside and outside Afghanistan.

On May 11, at the Second Meeting of the Five Foreign Ministers in the format of “Central Asia and China” held in Xi’an, the Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, had warned that “foreign troops should withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly and responsible manner to prevent hasty actions against Afghanistan”. A few days later, the Chinese Foreign Minister told his Afghan counterpart that China was “willing to host Afghanistan’s internal talks and help its efforts against terrorism”. In mid-July, during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Dushanbe, Wang Yi reiterated that proposal.

It was in that context that Wang Yi paid an official visit to Tajikistan on July 14 and then participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting and met Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Tashkent the following day. Furthermore, on July 16, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with the then Afghan President Ashraf Ghan. Xi Jinping urged “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political dialogue to promote national reconciliation and peace processes”. He also promised to provide more assistance to Afghanistan in the fight against Covid-19 and hoped that the Afghan side would provide more protection to Chinese citizens and organisations in Afghanistan.

Ten days after US forces suddenly withdrew from Bagram Air Base (July 6), i.e. when Xi Jinping and Ghani were in talks, the United States announced that the new deadline for the US withdrawal was August 31, thus causing the Afghan army’s collapse across the country as early as late July.

On July 28, while meeting Taliban political leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin, Wang Yi said: “The sudden withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan marks the failure of US policy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are now faced with an important opportunity to stabilise and develop their country”.

Baradar hopes that China will increasingly participate in the peace-building process in Afghanistan and play a greater role in the country’s reconstruction and economic development. Wang Yi said the Taliban should draw a clear line with terrorist organisations such as ISIS. In response, Baradar promised that the Afghan Taliban would “absolutely not permit any force to do anything harmful to China on the territory of Afghanistan”.

Baradar is not the first to visit China. Before September 11, 2001, the Taliban had contacts with China but, after the tragic events, China supported the Afghan Northern Alliance and the aforementioned contacts with the Taliban were interrupted for several years. Nevertheless, China has never classified the Taliban as a terrorist organisation.

China’s active diplomacy towards Afghanistan has two main reasons: firstly, security concerns, particularly China’s Western borders; secondly, economic interests, because all of Afghanistan’s neighbours are countries linked to the Silk Road Initiative.

In the actual operation, security and economy are closely related and are both essential. On July 14, the shuttle bus of the Dasu Hydropower Project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Northwest Pakistan, was attacked by terrorists. The attack caused the death of thirteen people, including nine Chinese citizens. The Dasu Hydropower Plant is part of the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Moreover, as a neighbouring country to Afghanistan, China has a 92-kilometre-long border at the eastern edge of the 300-kilometre-long Wakhan Valley, which is connected to this war-torn country. According to reports, China provided about 70 million dollars in military assistance to Afghanistan between 2016 and 2018 and helped the Afghan army establish a mountain brigade dedicated to fighting terrorism in the Wakhan corridor.

Furthermore, during the two decades in which the United States occupied Afghanistan, China’s investment there included millions and millions of dollars in economic assistance, including various projects such as schools, hospitals, flats and food assistance, and trained thousands of Afghan students and technicians in China and Afghanistan.

Since 2017 China, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been discussing the possibility of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some major economic projects, such as the 2008 four billion dollar contract for the Anyak copper mine and the 2011 contract for the Amu Darya Basin joint oil and gas field development, have been suspended due to security concerns.

Unlike China, Russia has considered the Taliban a terrorist organisation since February 2003, but this has not prevented it from having contacts with them. On August 13 last, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed: ‘We are in dialogue with all important political forces in Afghanistan, including the Afghan government and the Taliban, the representatives of Uzbeks and Tajiks and others”.

In fact, the representatives of the Taliban visited Moscow as early as November 2018 to participate in the peace Conference hosted by Russia. They also held two meetings in 2021 (on March 18 and July 8) to participate in tripartite consultations, Russia’s preferred format for dialogue. Two days before the Taliban took control of Kabul, Foreign Minister Lavrov envisaged an enlarged tripartite consultation mechanism to include Iran and India in addition to Pakistan. Outside Afghanistan, Russia has invested many resources in Central Asia and has considerable influence in the security field (Collective Security Treaty Organisation).

As important countries, many global problems are related to the relationship between China and Russia. Western countries, like colonies led by the United States of America, have preferred to have hammers in their hands and nails in their eyes. China and Russia have not followed the Western model, but have gone their separate ways. This is a hope for the countries that have been devastated by the US interference (former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, African countries, etc.), and it is also a hope for the Westphalian world order disrupted by the United States after the Twin Towers attack.

The development and progress of human civilisation cannot have only one pathway, nor should there be only one model. As a Chinese saying goes: “Those who are fit for themselves but forgets the others are abandoned by the people; those who deny themselves and rise again are admired by everybody”.

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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Russia points to evidence exposing Kiev’s intentions to use biological weapons

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Documents uncovered in the special military operation in Ukraine corroborate the evidence exposing the Kiev regime’s intentions to use biological weapons, Head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Research Center for Chemical and Biological Threats Dmitry Poklonsky said in the run-up to the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. “In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” he said – informs TASS.

“We have obtained reports of investigations into a collection of microorganisms that indicate the accumulation of pathogens in unsubstantiated amounts. There are documents confirming the intentions to acquire unmanned delivery vehicles that could be used for employing biological weapons. Considering the non-transparent nature of this work and the absence of any substantiated responses from the United States and Ukraine, we, of course, regard the documents obtained as proof that Article 1.4 of the Convention was violated,” the defense official said.

The documents obtained in the special military operation in Ukraine, including reports by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense, corroborate that the nature of work carried out there frequently ran counter to pressing healthcare problems, he stressed.

“In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” Poklonsky pointed out.

Neither Washington nor Kiev deny the fact of the existence of biological labs in Ukraine bankrolled by the Pentagon, he pointed out.

“It was confirmed by the 2005 agreement between the US Department of Defense and the Ukrainian Health Ministry. Far more questions arise from the nature of the studies being carried out in these biological laboratories and how this work complies with the Convention’s requirements,” the chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Chemical and Biological Threats said.

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Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)- The Pandora’s Box of Security Issues

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The world, functioning in its numerous forms and dimensions, is primarily perceived and misperceived by individuals through the faculty of the human Mind. A factor that creates a significant difference vis-a-vis human beings and other species is the complex cognitive ability possessed by humans. The mind is fundamentally an expression of thoughts circulated and imbibed through various means of communication. Deconstructing it further, thoughts portray the information consumed by an individual. In other words, this complex combination of the human mind, thoughts, and information shapes and reshapes our psychology.

Psychological war, in this context, can be perceived as a strategically orchestrated arrangement of information derived from variables like history, polity, religion, culture, literature, and philosophy broadly to channel propaganda with the prime objective of influencing and manipulating the behavior of the enemy to further one own interest. The term Psychological war is believed to be coined by a British Historian and military analyst, J.F.C Fuller, in 1920. One can observe that psychological war as an instrument of strategic importance is not of recent origin. Instead, the evolution of this tactic can be traced long back in history since the emergence of the State. It is considered one of the fundamental tools of statecraft and quite often has been put into the application as an instrument of state policy. Drawing a logical parallel, it can be advocated that psychological war has a close resemblance with the ancient notion of the allegory of the cave when applied in the present context.

Relevance of Psychological War

Napoleon Bonaparte once said “There are two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the mind.”  With the gradual progress of human intelligentsia, the world is and will be shaped and reshaped through the use of technology. The hyperconnected nature of a modern globalized world broadly portrays the image of a collective human consciousness deeply engrossed in the overwhelming nature of technology that reverberates with every emerging aspect of human life. When viewed from the prism of the State as a governing body in the international forum, technology will be the emerging axis of geopolitics since no state and its citizen can exist in silos devoid of the influence of other states. This is primarily due to the free flow of data. In this context, due to the free flow of data, the power of propaganda as a significant dimension of psychological war would prove to be an effective instrument used by the State to further its national interest.

In this contextual framework, the role of conscious manufacturing of narratives under the larger ambit of the idea of psychological war must be given due consideration. In his famous book,The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs  How Nations and Intelligence Agency Construct Narratives, Vikram Sood unfolds the idea of how narratives are created, propagated, sustained, and refined in domestic countries and abroad to further the national interest. He emphasizes not only the power of information but also the power of disinformation to de-track and mislead the collective consciousness of the nation. Therefore, it is of critical significance for a nation to enhance its understanding of psychological war, considering it a major security issue.

The cost and the expense of war are also major concerns for the State. In this regard, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval establishes the viewpoint that wars are gradually becoming ineffective in achieving political and military objectives and that they are also highly expensive and are gradually becoming unaffordable. He further puts forward the idea of the 4th generation warfare where the operational target of the objective would be civil society. A fair understanding of the 4th generation warfare is of critical importance due to the fact that the modus operandi to target civil society would primarily be through the perpetual use of psychological war. The cost of psychological war, when compared with other forms of war, is abysmally low and also highly effective in manipulating the behaviour of the State. The cost-effectiveness helps it be more sustainable, which can be continued for an extended period of time.

Materialisation of Psychological War

China

Psychological war is applied by many States as an instrument of state policy. China, in this regard, can be considered a prominent player that has materialized this idea. In the strategic book on statecraft, The Art Of War, Sun Tzu states that “All warfare is based on deception.” China has consciously tried to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of psychological war. The Dhoklam issue in 2017 substantiates how the Chinese government used psychological war as an instrument of state policy to further its national interest.

Pakistan

The hostile approach of Pakistan towards India is not of recent origin. Instead, it is a phenomenon that can be traced back in history during the early germination of the idea of Pakistan when the Muslin League was formed in 1906. After the materialization of this idea by a painful partition of India in 1947, Kashmir became the bone of contention right after Pakistan’s inception as a nation-state. Pakistan, over the years, has become cognizant of the conventional asymmetry between the two nations. Therefore, it has operationalized the path of psychological war in the Kashmir region with a more pinpointed approach of using Twitter as an operational instrument to create misperceptions at a low cost to achieve its objectives.

Psychological War and the Indian Perspective

Taking a momentary glance at the historical evolution of India as a civilizational State, it can be rightly stated that understanding the nature of the mind has been a perpetual theme in the philosophical construct of India. The use of psychological war is not a new phenomenon. The references to it can be prominently found in Indian mythology. In this regard, the epic story of The Mahabharatha is a prominent example.

In one of the instances, Krishna applied this idea of psychological war by disclosing a fact to Karna, which hitherto was kept secret and hidden from him. Krishna, just before the war, unfolded the fact to Karna that he is the eldest son of Kunti, his father is the Sun God, and the Pandavas his brothers. This very fact and the timing of the disclosure of this fact put Karna in a deep psychological trauma that depletes his mental strength. It was at this moment that Krishna offered Karna to join the battle from the side of Pandavas. A similar instance of psychological war used by India was found during The Bangladesh liberation war.

In the context of psychological war, Arthashstra is also a relevant text. It mentions the art of Kutayuddha. In Sanskrit, the word Kuta implies the application of deception, the creation of misperception, and misleading the enemy state; Yudh means war. Kautilya is a staunch advocate of establishing a network of espionage to initiate intelligence and counterintelligence measures as a major security initiative for a state. Therefore, it can be rightly perceived that India has a history of psychological war, which it has implemented to maintain security and stability.

Conclusion

Taking an analogical perspective, if the mechanism of psychological war is like a gun, then information is the potential bullets that are fired from it to target the enemy. The flow of Information can be considered the most important factor that makes psychological war lethal, precise, and effective. Therefore, there exists an urgent need for the establishment of an ‘Information Operations Command’ to tackle the issue of psychological war that is rapidly maturing and enhancing in its nature and methodology, fusing with the 5th generation warfare. 

Another area of critical importance in this regard is the pressing need for a ‘National Security Doctrine.’ A national security doctrine is primarily a broad vision of a nation in the domain of its security from an inclusive perspective. Strong inter-agency coordination and refined analysis of security issues are needed.

Psychological war, as a rapidly evolving tool of statecraft in the security domain, acts as a linchpin vis-a-vis the 4th and 5th generation warfare where civil society and citizens are targeted with a perfect blend of technology and information. This makes it a war that doesn’t have a start or an end date. It is fought every minute, and progress can be achieved, even though at a minuscule level, but on a daily basis. Therefore, India as a major player in international politics with two hostile neighbors on its eastern and western border, must hold into perspective the scope, significance, and emerging dynamics of psychological war to keep herself abreast with other states at the international level on the security front.

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Growing India Israel Relations: A Threat to Sovereignty of Gulf States

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India has developed remarkable ties with the Gulf nations, particularly the GCC, over the past few decades. The significant trade between GCC nations and India and Israel are the main cause.  This gradualist approach and efforts on part of India is to include Israel in a broader Middle East policy. Under the Namenda Modi administration, since 2017 Israel is “special and normal” because India has avoided the negative repercussions and no longer have fears opened relations with the Jewish state.  

However, the point of concern is that India and Israel’s growing ties must not result in a coalition against Muslims. Modi and Netanyahu have many good reasons to rejoice over their thawing ties. But the gulf countries must discredit them if they use that proximity to advance a common narrative of extreme nationalism, exclusion, and labeling Muslims as the enemy.

Since October 25th, 2022, news reports have been making the rounds in the media revealing India’s involvement in global terrorism. Eight former Indian Navy officers have recently been detained in Qatar on suspicion of espionage and terrorism supported by the Indian government. These spy-officers were arrested in August 2022 for their involvement in international terrorism, espionage, and spying while working in Qatar for a private company and providing training and other services to the Qatari Emiri Navy.

Purnendu Tiwari, a retired (Naval commander) who received the Pravasi Samman 2019 (Highest Indian Award Abroad), was the brains behind the transfer of data from a major Gulf Muslim nation to Israel and India. It has been reported in the media that these Indian officers had access to sensitive information while working with Qatar’s enemies and the Defense, Security, and other government agencies. This is not the first time; India has been involved in espionage operations that violate foreign governments’ sovereignty, though it continues to deny it. International terrorism perpetrated by India has also frequently targeted Pakistan in the past. One such instance is the Kalbushan Yadav case.

The relationship between India and Israel is frequently described as a result of a natural convergence of ideologies between their respective ruling BJP and Liked parties. The BJP’s Hindutva and right-wing Zionism are two ethno-nationalist political movements that naturally discriminate against other races and religions because they are based on the majority populations they serve. In comparison to earlier, more liberal iterations of Hindutva and Zionism, both parties have become more racist. Therefore, by all means, India’s continued close strategic, economic, and security ties with Israel are more ideological than pragmatic.

India should make an effort to protect itself ideologically from the threat of Hindutva becoming the state’s guiding principle and a vehicle for incitement both domestically and abroad. Its exclusivist and discriminatory belief that India is only the property of Hindus is dangerous, especially at a time when Muslim minorities are increasingly being lynched in the name of cow vigilantism.

Today, the Gulf is an integral part of India’s ‘extended neighborhood’, both by way of geographical proximity and as an area of expanded interests and growing Indian influence. However, as a result of escalating anti-Muslim sentiment and the Hindutva movement’s flawed ideology, the BJP, government is arguably facing its most difficult diplomatic challenge in its nine years in office. A few years ago in 2020, Muslim nations were outraged by Nupur Sharma’s (a BJP official) insulting comments made during a TV debate about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Islamic-majority nations voiced their opposition through tweets, official statements, and by summoning Indian diplomats. The BJP was compelled to take action against the party officials for posting a screenshot of offensive tweet.

Subsequently, Princess Hend al-Qassimi of the UAE then made a rare public statement in response to the rising Islamophobia among Indians, saying in a tweet, “I miss the peaceful India.” She did this after she specifically called out a tweet from an Indian resident of the UAE as being “openly racist and discriminatory,” reminding her followers that the penalty for hate speech could be a fine or even expulsion. These statements come after the Islamic world, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, urged India to act quickly to defend the rights of its Muslim minority and expressed concern about how the BJP treats Indian Muslims.

This suggests that the relationships New Delhi has worked so hard to build over the past few years drawing on the efforts of the previous administration is now seriously in jeopardy. India’s diplomatic achievement is starting to fall apart due to domestic developments that target its 200 million Muslims. The flagrant mistreatment of India’s Muslim communities now jeopardizes New Delhi’s carefully crafted Middle Eastern diplomacy, particularly with regard to the Gulf States.

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