21 August 2021

Social Media in Violent Conflicts – Recent Examples

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Alan Rusbridger, the then editor-in-chief of the Guardian in his 2010 Andrew Olle Media Lecture, stated, “News organisations still break lots of news. But, increasingly, news happens first on Twitter. If you’re a regular Twitter user, even if you’re in the news business and have access to wires, the chances are that you’ll check out many rumours of breaking news on Twitter first. There are millions of human monitors out there who will pick up on the smallest things and who have the same instincts as the agencies—to be the first with the news. As more people join, the better it will get. ”

The most important and unique feature of social media and its role in future conflicts is the speed at which it can disseminate information to audiences and the audiences to provide feedback.

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.”

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Sumit Ganguly

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has significant ramifications for South Asia, beginning with the rush of refugees Pakistan may soon see at its western borders. But few countries in the region have as much at stake in Afghanistan’s future as India, its fifth-largest aid donor and one of the most effective. Nonetheless, the United States kept India at arm’s length from most political negotiations over Afghanistan, owing to Pakistan’s strenuous objections. During the Troika Plus talks this month among China, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, India remained noticeably absent.

Kept out of these forums, India now finds many of its critical investments in human and physical infrastructure in Afghanistan in jeopardy as the Taliban take control. Worse still, the crisis following the U.S. withdrawal leaves India’s foreign-policy and security interests at considerable risk on two fronts. First, a new Taliban government will likely foster safe havens for anti-Indian terrorist organizations and other groups that could sow chaos in Indian-administered Kashmir. Meanwhile, China’s willingness to work with the Taliban could expand its footprint in the region.

In the last two decades, India had become one of Afghanistan’s most significant donors, providing scholarships to Afghan students, offering food assistance, and helping restore the country’s war-ravaged power grid. But based on its past experience with a Taliban government, India’s security establishment now faces serious fears about its interests in the country.

Pakistan is the true winner from the Afghan debacle

David Patrikarakos

'Everyone is getting out – and fast', the man tells me over a crackling line. He is tired, clearly subdued. A UN staff member, he was in Afghanistan until very recently and is still trying to process what happened. 'We knew this was going to happen,' he continues, 'but everyone was caught by surprise at the speed of the Taliban advance.'

UN staff are now being evacuated to Almaty in Kazakhstan, from where they will make their way to their respective countries. But what about the local Afghans that worked with them? 'Our Afghan colleagues were given letters of support for country visas in the region: Iran, Pakistan, and India. Some were able to leave before, mostly to Turkey, and we helped evacuate hundreds of colleagues to Kabul, but the UN cannot evacuate everyone out of the country'. He pauses, and with great sadness says, 'so essentially they are on their own'.

'We’re already dealing with the Talban,' he continues. 'Recently, a delegation of theirs came to the gate of one of our compounds: they were very respectful: we still have staff in Kandahar that we haven’t been able to evacuate, and they promised that when the time came, they would escort them to the airport. At another location when thieves tried to break into one of our compounds, they repelled them.'

Analysis: Afghan central bank's $10 billion stash mostly out of Taliban's reach

Karin Strohecker and Simon Lewis, David Lawder

LONDON/WASHINGTON, Aug 18 (Reuters) - The Taliban took over Afghanistan with astonishing speed, but it appears unlikely that the militants will get quick access to most of the Afghan central bank’s roughly $10 billion in assets.

The country's central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), is thought to hold foreign currency, gold and other treasures in its vaults, according to an Afghan official.

But most of the assets are held outside Afghanistan, potentially putting most of them beyond the insurgents' reach, according to Afghan officials, including the bank's acting governor, Ajmal Ahmady, who has fled Kabul.

"Given that the Taliban are still on international sanction lists, it is expected (confirmed?) that such assets will be frozen and not accessible to Taliban," Ahmady said in a Twitter thread on Wednesday.

Former British commander cautions Taliban may get control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons

JERUSALEM: Contending that the Taliban could not have sustained its campaign or secured victory in Afghanistan without the active support of Islamabad, a former Commander of the British Army on Monday raised concerns over jihadist elements getting control of nuclear material in Pakistan to weaponise themselves.

Addressing a virtual conference organised by Jerusalem-based non-profit organisation Media Central, Col. Richard Kemp, a former British Commander who led troops on the front lines of some of the world's toughest hotspots, including Afghanistan and Iraq, said "Pakistan created the Taliban, funded the Taliban and supported the Taliban".

The brutal war in Afghanistan reached a watershed moment on Sunday when the Taliban insurgents closed in on Kabul before entering the city and taking over the presidential palace, forcing embattled President Ashraf Ghani to join fellow citizens and foreigners to flee the country.

Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan Extend Hands to Taliban Now in Control of Afghanistan


As the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan shakes the international community's commitment to the country, regional powers Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan continue to maintain their embassies in Kabul while expressing their willingness to work with its new leaders.

Just as the Taliban was getting settled in the capital, Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov met with the group on Tuesday to discuss embassy security. Following his talks, he spoke highly of a group he said was conducting itself "in a responsible and civilized manner" since its largely peaceful capture of Kabul.

"They want to be sure there will be no provocations, to avoid shooting," Zhirnov said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 outlet. "Because practically everyone possesses weapons, even teenagers. It looks like they are afraid that should anything happen not through their fault it may cast a shadow on them as masters of the situation. They don't conceal it."

Speaking in Kaliningrad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also saw "a positive signal" from the Taliban, specifically in the infamously hardline group's public commitments to respecting the views of others.

How U.S.-Backed Army Became a 'Paper Tiger' That Let Taliban Take Afghanistan


The sudden, dramatic collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the wake of a U.S. military withdrawal immediately followed by rapid Taliban advances has captivated international audiences, eliciting fear and awe across the globe.

But a new report released Tuesday by the U.S. government's congressionally mandated watchdog on Afghanistan and obtained by Newsweek details two decades of failures that led up to the historic events still unfolding in the capital city of Kabul and across the country.

A devastating array of shortcomings are outlined in the latest report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), including attempts to establish mismatched Western institutions to shifting missions throughout successive administrations, and fueling Afghanistan's endemic corruption with corner-cutting projects that ultimately never came to fruition.

"After conducting more than 760 interviews and reviewing thousands of government documents, our lessons learned analysis has revealed a troubled reconstruction effort that has yielded some success but has also been marked by too many failures," the report said.

Afghan Government Collapses, Taliban Seize Control: 5 Essential Reads

Catesby Holmes

There would be “no transitional government in Afghanistan," Taliban officials told Reuters news service. The insurgent group “expects a complete handover of power" - though many nations may not recognize a Taliban government that took power through armed struggle rather than by continuing the now-failed internationally mediated peace negotiations.

Fearful citizens aiming to escape the rule of radical Islamic fighters were “lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings," according to the Associated Press, and overrunning the Kabul airport’s tarmac as U.S. military evacuation flights tried to take off.

The fall of Afghanistan came just three months after the U.S. began to withdraw its troops from the country following a 20-year war that killed 2,448 U.S. service members, 3,846 U.S. military contractors and some 66,000 Afghan national military and police.

We All Lost Afghanistan:Two Decades of Mistakes, Misjudgments, and Collective Failure

P. Michael McKinley

As Afghanistan tumbles into Taliban hands, the avalanche of recrimination and outright condemnation of the Biden administration’s withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has become unrelenting. Former National Security Adviser General H. R. McMaster echoed the sentiments of many when he declared that Afghanistan is a “humanity problem on a modern-day frontier between barbarism and civilization” and that the United States lacks the will “to continue the effort in the interest of all humanity.”

What is happening is a terrible tragedy, but the blame cannot be laid at any one door. The Biden administration’s short timetable for withdrawal, tied to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and in the middle of the fighting season, was a mistake. But the situation on the ground is the result of two decades of miscalculations and failed policies pursued by three prior U.S. administrations and of the failure of Afghanistan’s leaders to govern for the good of their people. Many of the critics speaking out now were architects of those policies.

‘I’m Furious. I Feel Helpless.’

Amy Mackinnon

Current and former U.S. diplomats who served in Afghanistan have watched the events of the past week with horror as the Taliban stormed through the country and ultimately seized control of the capital, Kabul, on Sunday, undoing two decades of hard-won progress in the country.

For many American officials, the collapse of the Afghan government and the hasty evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul are deeply personal, something that will leave a profound mark on America’s diplomatic corps.

Around one-quarter of the U.S. diplomatic corps has served in Afghanistan or Iraq over the past 20 years. In interviews with a dozen people who held posts in Afghanistan, current and former diplomats conveyed feelings of deep anger, shock, and bitterness about the collapse of the government they spent decades trying to build. Several currently serving officials, who spoke to Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity, said the events had prompted thoughts about resigning from the foreign service.

But mostly the diplomats said they felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and fear for the lives of the former Afghan colleagues and local staff whom the American government left behind.

Why Afghanistan’s Tribes Beat the United States

Jeremi Suri

The rapid collapse of the U.S.-constructed state in Afghanistan is a poignant reminder that states are not the only form of political organization. Far from it. The early decades of the 21st century are dominated by evidence of state collapse across the global south. States in the developed world are also in crisis, even in the most historically stable countries, including the United States and Britain. Authoritarian strongmen have risen in many crisis-ridden states to protect order against threatening collapse; they are responding to fears of collapse among the most privileged beneficiaries of the current institutions.

Sumit Guha’s slim and learned book Tribe and State in Asia Through Twenty-Five Centuries offers crucial context for understanding one of the most powerful forms of political organization pushing against states: the tribe. Guha is a historian of South Asia with a sociological orientation. He focuses on what he calls the “political ecology of tribal life.” Climate and topography, he argues, empower pastoral and decentralized forms of social organization on the edges of empires and states. The groups in these regions survive through kinship networks and adaptation to the land. They resist powerful intruders, and they adapt creatively to wider changes in politics and the economy.

Pakistan and the United States Have Betrayed the Afghan People

C. Christine Fair

U.S. President Joe Biden has defiantly asserted he does not regret his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan even as Kabul has fallen to the Taliban and as desperate Afghans scramble for the last flights out of the country. The United States is begging the Taliban for assurances they will not attack U.S. personnel as Washington scrambles to evacuate its personnel, leaving its long-standing Afghan partners to fend for themselves as the Taliban hunt them and their families down.

U.S. officials are busy offering sanctimonious repines that justify the U.S. exit. They have announced to U.S. and international audiences that the time has come for Afghan National Security Forces to seize the reins of their nation’s defense, that Afghan leaders must unite and fight for their country—that the United States has done enough. This is rank nonsense, and Biden knows it. The United States did not do enough—and even enabled the current onslaught.

Biden did not come to this situation unawares. The Obama administration in which Biden served benefited from a raft of experts, including former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel and longtime South Asia watcher Peter Lavoy, who was the national intelligence officer for South Asia. Prior to the 2008 election, there were numerous assessments about the Afghanistan War and the myriad ways in which Pakistan was undermining U.S. efforts there. Then-President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming team, led by Riedel, spearheaded the so-called “assessment of assessments” and offered refreshingly blunt insight into how Pakistan, which benefitted handsomely from U.S. emoluments, aided and abetted the Taliban and undermined U.S. efforts.

Will the Taliban Keep Their Promises in Afghanistan?


“We reached a victory that wasn’t expected,” argued the Afghan Taliban’s deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar, who languished in a Pakistani jail for eight years between 2010 and 2018, is projected to return to Kabul as a leading figure—maybe even president—of the reestablished Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

No one, Baradar included, could have predicted the Taliban’s speedy victory. There are many reasons for the rapid fall of provincial capitals across Afghanistan and ultimately the administrative collapse of Kabul. These include U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration’s obsession with a quick withdrawal and the lack of coordination involving U.S.-led efforts in Doha—where Baradar and his team have been housed since 2018, although the Taliban office was created more than a decade ago—in light of the unexpected changes on the ground in Afghanistan. Other factors include an intelligence failure on the part of the United States and its allies, the clandestine flight of former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, a patchy network of messy and local agreements between security forces and Taliban military and political leaders, and the sheer scale of desertion of Afghan soldiers and administrative officials.

Fear and Uncertainty Grip Kabul

Lynne O’Donnell

The Taliban have said they will not engage in retribution against former Afghan administration figures, but fighters from the group have been going door to door in Kabul since seizing the city Sunday, according to residents, searching for and in some cases interrogating people with perceived ties to the U.S.-backed government and others.

Gunmen are also stopping cars for spot checks across Kabul, prompting residents to remain mostly indoors and generally stoking the sense of uncertainty and panic. Some people heading to the airport earlier this week were stopped, searched, and had their passports seized and burned. (I reported from the city in the weeks leading up to the collapse of the Afghan government, leaving when the Taliban moved in.)

Most businesses, offices, schools, and universities remain closed, including shops and banks—bringing economic activity to a screeching halt. All commercial flights are grounded, and the civilian airport, trashed and looted on Monday by desperate crowds, is closed.

The Taliban leadership is yet to indicate how it will govern and who will lead whatever administration it forms. But senior Afghan political figures from the past two decades have formed a “coordination shura,” or council, to negotiate with the Taliban leadership in the hope of averting civil war.

The Ides of August

I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been silent about Afghanistan for longer. But too many things are going unsaid.

I won’t try to evoke the emotions, somehow both swirling and yet leaden: the grief, the anger, the sense of futility. Instead, as so often before, I will use my mind to shield my heart. And in the process, perhaps help you make some sense of what has happened.

For those of you who don’t know me, here is my background — the perspective from which I write tonight.

I covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR, making my way into their former capital, Kandahar, in December 2001, a few days after the collapse of their regime. Descending the last great hill into the desert city, I saw a dusty ghost town. Pickup trucks with rocket-launchers strapped to the struts patrolled the streets. People pulled on my militia friends' sleeves, telling them where to find a Taliban weapons cache, or a last hold-out. But most remained indoors.

The Biggest American Fuck Ups That Screwed Afghanistan

Christine Fair

The images of the fall of Kabul will forever represent one of America’s biggest diplomatic failures: Americans occupying the airport in Kabul, focusing on evacuating their own while terrified Afghans cling to the departing C-17 aircraft.

Virtually every American news channel has been focused on the fate of hundreds of thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to support the U.S. military and civilian mission. Everyone knows that the Taliban has a list of the so-called collaborators who are being hunted down and killed along with their families. But many Americans are in a quandary. They hear the figures recited: 2,448 U.S. service members killed through April; all at an estimated price tag of $2.3-6.5 trillion. What they are less likely to hear are these figures: at least 111,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured since 2009 alone. The Taliban killed so many members of the Afghan National Defense and Security forces in 2016 that the American and Afghan governments decided to keep casualty figures a secret for fear of further eviscerating their morale.

Biden Could Still Be Proved Right in Afghanistan

Thomas L. Friedman

For years, U.S. officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me: We are there to train the Afghan Army to fight for its own government.

That turned out to be shorthand for everything that was wrong with our mission — the idea that Afghans didn’t know how to fight and that just one more course in counterinsurgency would do the trick. Really? Thinking you need to train Afghans how to fight is like thinking you need to train Pacific Islanders how to fish. Afghan men know how to fight. They’ve been fighting one another, the British, the Soviets or the Americans for a long, long time.

It was never about the way our Afghan allies fought. It was always about their will to fight for the corrupt pro-American, pro-Western governments we helped stand up in Kabul. And from the beginning, the smaller Taliban forces — which no superpower was training — had the stronger will, as well as the advantage of being seen as fighting for the tenets of Afghan nationalism: independence from the foreigner and the preservation of fundamentalist Islam as the basis of religion, culture, law and politics.

Roundtable : Strategic Futures for the Indian Ocean

Arzan Tarapore, David Brewster

In April 1989 a Time magazine cover story declared that India was “determinedly transforming itself into a regional superpower.” The trends were compelling: India was strenuously building its military, it was already the world’s largest weapons importer, and it was on the cusp of building nuclear weapons. Its military had recently seized control of the Siachen glacier, muscled its way into Sri Lanka, and decisively intervened in Maldives. But New Delhi’s strategic intentions were unclear. Some countries around the Indian Ocean were looking upon this newly brawny India with a degree of unease. “What,” the article asked, “does India intend to do with all that power?”1 Australia was one of those uneasy countries. Even if bilateral relations were cordial, there was significant concern that India’s rapidly growing military power and “disconcerting predisposition to use force” could destabilize the Indian Ocean region.2

The world changed quickly. The end of the Cold War, India’s economic opening, and the emergence of new regional threats—especially Chinese power—clarified not only New Delhi’s strategic preferences but also regional states’ views of the country. The United States, followed in quick order by allies like Australia, brushed aside any lingering qualms and embraced India as a favored strategic partner. India would be particularly important in securing the Indian Ocean, a thoroughfare of globally critical sea lanes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on the shores of the Indian Ocean at Chennai in 2011, proclaimed that India was, “with us, a

Expanding China’s Central Asia Playbook to Afghanistan

Niva Yau

For almost 30 years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has deployed various strategies to increase its economic and political influence in Central Asia. In 1994, then-Premier Li Peng suggested a plan to develop economic connectivity and “revive the old Silk Road” (Xinhua, December 25, 2013). This paved the way for a China-Kazakhstan oil pipeline which became operational in 2005 and was followed in 2009 by a China-Central Asia gas pipeline reaching Turkmenistan. With these pipelines, China has gradually undermined Central Asia’s energy export reliance on Russia (a legacy of the Soviet Union). In addition, China-Europe cargo rail lines via Kazakhstan offer Central Asian economies the quickest access to sea-based trade through Chinese territories and have played a significant role in growing trade linkages between China and the region. State-owned Chinese companies have repaired and modernized a number of decaying Soviet infrastructure projects throughout Central Asia and helped to transfer some industrial capacity crucial to individual economies, such as aluminum processing and renewable energy. China is likely to deploy the same investment-driven playbook used in Central Asia under the pretext of post-war reconstruction in the Taliban’s re-established Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan after advances in Kabul on the eve of August 15 (AP, August 15).