10 October 2021

The Last Days of Intervention

Rory Stewart

The extravagant lurches of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan—from a $1 trillion surge to total withdrawal, culminating in the reestablishment of a Taliban government 20 years after the 9/11 attacks—must rank among the most surreal and disturbing episodes in modern foreign policy. At the heart of the tragedy was an obsession with universal plans and extensive resources, which stymied the modest but meaningful progress that could have been achieved with far fewer troops and at a lower cost. Yet this failure to chart a middle path between ruinous overinvestment and complete neglect says less about what was possible in Afghanistan than it does about the fantasies of those who intervened there.

The age of intervention began in Bosnia in 1995 and accelerated with the missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Over this period, the United States and its allies developed a vision of themselves as turnaround CEOs: they had the strategy and resources to fix things, collect their bonuses, and get out as soon as possible. The symbol of the age was the American general up at 4 am to run eight miles before mending the failed state.

Deterrence Theory– Is it Applicable in Cyber Domain?

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)


The Deterrence Theory was developed in the 1950s, mainly to address new strategic challenges posed by nuclear weapons from the Cold War nuclear scenario. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union adopted a survivable nuclear force to present a ‘credible’ deterrent that maintained the ‘uncertainty’ inherent in a strategic balance as understood through the accepted theories of major theorists like Bernard Brodie, Herman Kahn, and Thomas Schelling.1 Nuclear deterrence was the art of convincing the enemy not to take a specific action by threatening it with an extreme punishment or an unacceptable failure.

Chinese Cyber Exploitation in India’s Power Grid – Is There a linkage to Mumbai Power Outage?

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)


On Feb. 28, 2021 The New York Times (NYT), based on analysis by a U.S. based private intelligence firm Recorded Future, reported that a Chinese entity penetrated India’s power grid at multiple load dispatch points. Chinese malware intruded into the control systems that manage electric supply across India, along with a high-voltage transmission substation and a coal-fired power plant.

The NYT story1 gives the impression that the alleged activity against critical Indian infrastructure installations was as much meant to act as a deterrent against any Indian military thrust along the Line of Actual Control as it was to support future operations to cripple India’s power generation and distribution systems in event of war.

The New Rulers of Afghanistan: The Taliban’s Campaign to Rob Villagers of Their Land

Christoph Reuter und Thore Schröder

The narrow, unpaved road winds though a world of rock for hours on end, navigable only at a snail’s pace. Rocky, weathered crags line the horizon, their color ranging from a pale ochre to dark granite in the glistening sun, as though all life here was extinguished long ago. Only a couple of crows can be seen rising on the thermals along the cliff walls.

This makes what appears far below all the more intense as we round a bend: a bright, emerald-green strip of trees, fields and lush greenery along meandering waterways. A hidden paradise created over four decades by farmers who dug wells and hundreds of meters of subterranean channels, transforming the valley into arable farmland.

But down below, in the Tagabdar Valley, among the pomegranate trees, cornfields and blackberry bushes, family patriarchs step fearfully out of their homes. Sixteen days earlier, says village chief Said Iqbal, in a story echoed by several of the farmers, the Taliban showed up in captured police pickups. The armed men called together the village’s men and delivered them an ultimatum: All residents, they were told, had 15 days to leave their homes, land and belongings and disappear. The valley they had farmed for several decades and had never been claimed by others, no longer belonged to them, they were told. The Taliban ordered them to leave on their own, otherwise they would be driven out with force. Deadly force, if necessary.

Bild vergrößern Farmland in the Tagabdar Valley Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

"But where are we to go?” one of the men asked. Doesn’t matter, the Taliban answered, just depart this Garden of Eden surrounded by an inhospitable landscape. Then the Taliban left. The ultimatum supposedly expired yesterday. Some of the roughly 300 families – around 2,000 people – have already left Tagabdar, they say. And those that remain listen in fear to each approaching vehicle.

Four days after DER SPIEGEL’s visit to the valley, the rest were driven out, fleeing to relatives in other villages, to the cities or to the slums of Kabul.

The brutal landgrab in the Tagabdar Valley and two other villages in the area began in early September. Over the subsequent weeks, the expulsions were expanded to include more than a dozen other villages in the remote and difficult-to-access mountains of Daykundi, a province in central Afghanistan. Taken together, they suggest a conflict which could ultimately lead to ethnic cleansing across the country if Afghanistan’s largest ethnicity, the Pashtun, feel emboldened by the Taliban victory to take land and rights from minorities.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Afghanistan has been a fragmented country ever since gaining independence in 1919, not just because of its different religious confessions. The opposing ethnic groups in the country have repeatedly gone to war, often out of conviction that they must avenge an injustice visited upon them – and in doing so, committed yet more injustices.

Should the Taliban wish to hold onto power and, beyond that, establish peace in the country, they must break this cycle of violence.

But the victims of the expulsions in Daykundi have been almost exclusively Hazara, members of the mostly Shiite minority long been considered by the Taliban to be infidels and second-class humans.

Their more recent history is one of fear and suffering. The Hazara are thought to have descended from Mongolian migrants and today makes up around a fifth of the Afghan population. They primarily live in the mountains and high plains of central Afghanistan.

There used to be many more of them, and they lived elsewhere as well. But their history of suffering began with the violent campaigns of the "Iron Emir,” Abdur Rahman Khan, who brought all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups under his control at the end of the 19th century and imposed taxes. Many Hazara wanted to maintain their de facto independence and rebelled against the army of the Pashtun ruler in Kabul. They lost, and hundreds of thousands of them were massacred, expelled or enslaved. By 1893, more than half of the Hazara population are thought to have been killed or have fled the country.

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Village elder and dispossessed farmer (l.) in Lorashiv: "This is my life. How am I supposed to just give it up?” Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

In remote areas of the country like Daykundi, systematic disenfranchisement is again the order of the day. And the pattern is almost always the same: A group of Taliban shows up in the village and calls all the men together in the mosque or on the main square. They are given an ultimatum to clear out of the village, with a deadline ranging from five to 15 days. Otherwise, they are told, they will be driven out with violence.
A Chimera

In the initial days following the Taliban takeover, many described a new leniency displayed by the Taliban, but that forbearance, such as it was, vanished as soon as the world looked away. That appears to be the strategy of the radical new rulers of Afghanistan, who took over on August 15 after the collapse of the previous government. In their initial statements and appearances – even on the banner flying over the reopened airport in Kabul – they sought to present an image of placidity which portrayed the Taliban as peaceful partners on the global stage and the keepers of security on the streets back home.

But that image has since proven to be a chimera. First came the government made up almost exclusively of Taliban mullahs. Then came the images from the provinces of bodies of alleged kidnappers put on display. And the announcement that amputation would be reintroduced as a punishment for theft, that all girls’ schools would be closed. The new beginning promised by the Taliban was over before the emerging state could even pay initial salaries to public servants.

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Inhabitants of the village of Dahan-i-Nala Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

And in the remote mountains of Daykundi, the Taliban have put their other face on full display, as if they had bet on the farmers giving up quietly in their isolated villages – settlements, which, until just a few years ago, could only be reached from the nearest district capital after a two-week trek on the back of a donkey. The Pashtuns, the largest ethnicity in the country and the group that produced the Taliban, have lived here alongside the Hazara for centuries, repeatedly competing with them for the scarce farmland.

In more recent times, the Hazara have also had been penalized for the injustices committed by others. In 1997, after Uzbek militias killed 3,000 Taliban prisoners in the areas surrounding the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif during the civil war, the Taliban took revenge on a group that had nothing to do with the massacre but that they hated anyway: the Hazara. The Taliban went from house to house and killed at least 2,000 people, slitting their throats and firing anti-aircraft guns into groups of civilians.

In a move to consolidate his support, Taliban governor Mullah Niazi said the Hazara are kuffar, non-believers, and deserving of death. Then, in early 2001, Taliban commandos blew up the giant, world-famous Buddha statues that had been carved into the cliff wall above the city of Bamiyan, in the heart of the Hazara region, more than a thousand years earlier.

The regional governor, a former school director named Ghulam Hazrat Mohammadi, chose an unexpected channel for resistance against the new rulers. He recently assembled villagers to make a protest video, which he then posted to Facebook. It has had no effect, but the villagers don’t want to simply capitulate. The situation, though, reflects today’s Afghanistan: Just as they did decades ago, the Taliban want to steal land from farmers who still till their land as they did centuries ago – harvesting by hand and plowing with oxen – but launch a social media campaign in response. Mohammadi himself has fled to Kabul and is hiding from the Taliban on the outskirts of the capital.

The Advantage of Isolation

It took the team from DER SPIEGEL two-and-a-half days to travel from Kabul to the Tagabdar Valley. Two cars broke down on the way, their mufflers dislodged and shock absorbers unable to withstand the drive over dizzying mountain roads and creaky wooden bridges and through dry riverbeds. Mobile telephones have no reception in this mountain valley, which is remote even by Afghan standards. Which for quite some time was an advantage.

"Nobody was ever particularly concerned about us,” says the Hazara farmer Ya Mohammed, owner of the last bit of land full of mulberry and almond trees in the valley. Behind his farm, the greenery ends abruptly, with the barren, rocky valley floor continuing for another few hundred meters to the cliff walls. "That’s what it used to look like everywhere here when I arrived from a nearby village 38 years ago.”

For years, he says, they worked with picks, shovels and buckets to set up a Karez system, traditional subterranean channels that divert groundwater from higher elevations to their fields. They planted trees, that have now grown large enough to provide shade, and the ground has become more fertile with each passing year. "This is my life,” says the 66-year-old with trembling voice and tears in his eyes. "How am I supposed to just give it up?”

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"Now law and order has been reestablished": The Taliban regional chiefs in Gizab receive DER SPIEGEL. On the left sits Mullah Ahmed Shah, the infrastructure chief, on the right sits security chief Mullah Abdulrahim Maywand. Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

Several weeks before they took control of Kabul, the Taliban conquered Daykundi. In June, when the apricots were still ripening, it was quiet. By the time of the wheat harvest in July, though, Ya Mohammed recalls, he had begun losing sleep, with the first fighters having reached nearby villages and blown up a few houses belonging to civil servants and members of the army. Even then, though, he had hoped the storm would quickly pass.

But when the Taliban commando rolled in to deliver their ultimatum, it became clear to him that nobody would be spared. "They said that the true owner of the land had presented documents to the Taliban court proving his ownership,” he says, recalling the announcement made by the intruders. "They held up a document, but nobody was allowed to approach to read it, much less take a picture of it.”

He and the other farmers, he says, now hope to defend themselves peacefully in court, the Taliban court. But nobody here believes the court is in any way neutral. Armed resistance would be akin to suicide, he says. "Plus, the last time they were in power almost 30 years ago, the Taliban took my three Kalashnikovs that I owned when I was a young man.” Since then, he says, he hasn’t touched a weapon. "Why should I? Nobody came here.”

If they are now driven out of their valley, "where should we go?” he asks quietly. "If the Pashtuns take every place with fertile land, we won’t be welcome anywhere.”

His neighbor Said Iqbal, the head of the last village before the end of the valley, has returned from his hiding spot for the day. "If I and the heads of the other villages are here when the Taliban return, they will force us with violence to sign documents releasing claims to the area, or at least seal them with our thumbprint.” They went into hiding to prevent such a scenario.
Periodic Eruptions of Violence

Now, though, he has gathered his family in front of their mudbrick home. Mulberries, grapes and tomatoes are drying in the afternoon sun on straw spread out on the roof. A calf pulls against his rope and chickens are fluttering about. Smoke from the kitchen is swelling out from under the soot-stained porch roof. Iqbal’s mother-in-law, a woman with a nose ring and blue eyes, serves pomegranate, grapes, bread and hot milk with honey. Iqbal shrugs his shoulders. Even though they are facing an existential threat, entertaining visitors takes precedence.

Then he begins to talk. Half a century ago, he says, his grandfather and a handful of others from the village of Sahor came to the infertile valley. Before their arrival, everyone had avoided the area due to the robbers who attacked passing tradesmen and even herdsmen. It sounds almost as though he is narrating a story from centuries ago, but he is actually talking about the time before the 1970s.

He says they can prove that the land belongs to them and sends one of the children to retrieve the ownership paper. It is a folded-up document, written in ballpoint pen and authenticated with fingerprints, issued around 1983 to his father, Haj Nour Mohammed. The document is signed by a mujahedeen commander named Said Mohammed Hassan Malawi. Iqbal says that there are 24 such documents in the valley for 24 communities, which each have their own irrigation channel.

In 1983, though, there was no state power that was recognized throughout the country. A puppet regime under Moscow’s control held power in Kabul while large sections of the country were ruled by mujahedeen rebels. Since then, Afghanistan’s inner conflicts have repeatedly produced eruptions of violence, a vicious cycle of mutual vengeance exercised by a rotating roster of victors – one which has now suddenly hit the villages of Daykundi. "But every subsequent government has recognized our papers,” says Said Iqbal. "The Taliban back then, later Karzai and Ghani. All of them.”

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This building in Gizab was damaged during fighting between the Taliban and former government forces. Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

Even before the Taliban issued their ultimatum, he says, an old Pashtun acquaintance from a nearby village dropped by and threatened him with a smile on his face. "We have always left you Hazara in peace, even back when the Taliban were in power. But then we saw how you helped the Americans! The government in Kabul! How you spread democracy and heresy. In doing so, you have lost your right to exist! Now, we can take everything from you, even your lives. So give up on your own and disappear.” Then, Iqbal says, he left.

The Hazara never lost their fear of the Pashtuns and of state power after those horrific years more than a century ago. When the Taliban once again rose to power in August, thousands of Hazara fled the country, with many even going into hiding in their stronghold of Bamiyan. "We don’t trust peace,” they say almost in unison, even though there have been no public reports of attacks in Kabul or other large cities. In rural areas, though, the situation is quite a bit different.

Many inhabitants of the villages strung along the valley have similar stories of open threats and describing a pogrom-like atmosphere. The Taliban themselves, though, have taken a subtler approach. They stoke the flames while acting as though they have nothing to do with it. They can get away with it because the alleged owner of all the villages in the Tagabdar Valley, the man whose claims the Taliban is so eager to enforce, is likely not a Pashtun at all, but a Shiite, just like the Hazara being expelled in his name.

Reaping the Benefits

The landowner, Zahir Khan, whose estate clings to the slopes of the middle section of the valley, has been a secret supporter of the Taliban for years, the villagers say. One of his relatives is the right-hand man of the new Taliban governor of Daykundi province. Back in July, the villagers say, they watched as he blew up the house of Mohammadi, the former school director, together with three Taliban fighters armed with Kalashnikovs.

Now, this Taliban-allied neighbor would like to reap the benefits of his alliance and take ownership of the farmland on the valley floor. According to the villagers, he or his father was even present when some of the ultimatums were issued and threatened to dig up the bones of the villagers’ ancestors in the cemetery should they not leave of their own accord. The fact that some of the farmers were able to present tax documents or deeds of purchase for their land, in which their legal ownership was even confirmed by the signature of Zahir Khan himself, was ignored.

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Mohammed Sufi, a village elder from Dahan-i-Nala: "Two people have laid claim to our land.” Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

Whether the Taliban are enriching themselves or whether they are allowing their followers to benefit in exchange for political loyalty is of no consequence for the Hazara. For them, it’s the same old story: They are treated as second-class citizens and have no recourse to the law.

On the way back out of the Tagabdar Valley, two men are waiting shortly before dusk in the shade of giant plane trees to bring us to the Lorashiv Valley, a two-hour drive away. It wouldn’t be good, they say, for us to cross paths too early with the local Taliban commanders. It is better, they insist, to never stay in one place for too long and to arrive late at the place where we will be spending the night. It is an awkward zigzag between the fronts. The site of our meeting in Dahan-i-Nala, one of the first villages in Lorashiv Valley, is on a small meadow among the harvest-ready cornfields. It is, we are told, safer – for the night as well, in case the Taliban make a sudden appearance.

The farmers are also being forced out of Dahan-i-Nala. Here, too, the Taliban court in the city of Gizab issued a surprising ruling that the cornfields and fruit orchards do not belong to the families who established them two generations ago and have lived there ever since. "Two people have laid claim to our land,” says Muhammed Sufi, one of the village elders. "Actually, it’s three, but we haven’t heard anything more from one of them.” Both are Pashtuns who didn’t even go through the trouble, Sufi says, of proving their claims with documents, instead issuing threats based on their close ties to the Taliban. It is a story that has become common in the region. Two guests who made the two-and-a-half-hour trip from the village of Kindir to speak with us tell their story of what happened when they appeared in a Taliban court.

They say they received a summons several weeks earlier ordering the village elders to appear in court – without being told exactly what the reasons were. Seven representatives set off for the district seat of Gizab. "Why just you seven?” the judge demanded and had them all locked up. Three of the seven, they say, were still jailed. Such despotic behavior, they say, has nothing to do with Sharia law.

At daybreak, the elders of Dahan-i-Nala want to show off the pride of their village, indeed the reason it is there in the first place: their Karez, an almost one-kilometer-long, subterranean channel that supplies water to the village’s fields and gardens. They began digging the 20-meter-deep well shaft in the late 1980s before then excavating the ditch for the covered channel. The concept of accessing groundwater in higher elevations and then guiding it down to the valley has been known from Iran and the Middle East since antiquity. And the construction techniques used in Dahan-i-Nala are roughly unchanged from those times. "We worked on it for five years,” says Mohammed Sufi proudly, "with shovels and buckets, in three rows, one above the other, each comprised of more than 100 men.”
A Visit to the District Capital

To ensure that they still had light at the end of the shaft, he says, they bought some mirrors at the bazaar in Gizab and positioned them to reflect sunlight into the channel. "One man’s only job was to correctly position the mirrors” – for years on end. At one point in the early 1990s, he says, a group of Taliban happened by and saw what they were building. With a mixture of respect and distaste, they said they would never build such a thing.

"Could you ask in Gizab what has become of our three brothers who are still being held there?” the village elders ask in parting.

The journey to Gizab isn’t actually that far, but as always in this region, it is a strenuous obstacle course past mountain peaks and along deep valleys – six hours on an unpaved track until a broad plain opens up.

The district capital is situated idyllically in the middle of the largest valley in the area, an expansive, green oasis among the desolate mountains. But the place feels like a mix between a spaghetti western and an apocalypse film. The building belonging to the district administration is a bullet-pocked ruin alongside the wrecks of shot-up, green police pickups.

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This government building in Gizab was damaged during fighting between Taliban and former government forces. Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

On the other side of the dusty main road is a large, solitary building: the girls’ school. Supposedly the structure was built in 2002 by Mercy Corps, an American aid organization, as a school for girls, but never actually used because nobody was willing to buck tradition and send their daughter to the institution. And because the Taliban, which regained a foothold in Gizab early on, banned it.

Now only men wander around just after sunrise behind the walls of the school, which have been blown open in several places. They leave their feces on the cement strip on the wall, concealed from view. Like an endless row of brown pagodas, the piles are lined up one after the other. It would be hard to express more indifference, more disdain for foreign education aid.

The construction was "a waste of money,” says the operator of the only hotel, whose walls are pocked by bullet holes. When asked about the court, he says that it begins work at 8 a.m. in the ruins of the district administration building next door.
Taking Advantage of Moments of Strength

A third of the building is mere rubble and drooping rebar, provisionally cordoned off with chunks of mortar. First, a guard explains, the Taliban conquered the town in spring. Then the government military fired rockets at the building in the hopes of driving the Taliban away.

Gradually, the seven sofas – some of them also in tatters – fill up with court employees and petitioners. "Land theft,” says the first when asked why he came. "Land theft,” says the second. "Land theft,” says the third.

After the Taliban takeover, they explain, men suddenly showed up, referred to their excellent relations with the new rulers, and then laid claim to the fields belonging to those now sitting on the crumbling sofas hoping for justice. The adversaries on both sides on this morning are Pashtuns. The conflict no longer has to do with a campaign against a minority ethnicity. It is all about greed and lawlessness.

These arbitrary attempts at thievery, the entire setting in the middle of the shattered administrative building, seem like a miniature version of Afghanistan. Individuals are behaving like large power blocks, seeking to take advantage of moments of strength to enrich themselves – all the while destroying their own country.

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In this government building in Gizab, the court rules on land grabbing allegations. Foto: Juan Carlos / DER SPIEGEL

The orders from Taliban leadership that foreign journalists are to be treated with the utmost courteousness appear to even have reached this remote outpost: After a brief moment of confusion at seeing the DER SPIEGEL team, the arriving Taliban police chief gushes: "We would like to extend our warmest welcome! We are hardly even seen as humans abroad, so we are happy you are here to see things for yourself! No matter what you might need – tea, melons, a security escort to the provincial capital – don’t hesitate to ask!”

The district governor, the head of the secret service and the judge who ordered the expulsions and landgrabs all have plenty of time for questions. There is no other furniture in the room: "It was all stolen,” we are told. A Talib with fingernails dyed red with henna serves green tea, and then the district leader presents his version of the situation. "These Hazara arrived here 40 years ago. They killed many, raped women and even skinned people alive. They are dangerous criminals,” he says, speaking in all seriousness of the farmers in the Tagabdar Valley and in the other villages. "Hardly anyone dared go there in recent years. But now, law and order has been reestablished!”
More on Afghanistan

It’s the classic oppressor narrative: Using outlandish fabrications to portray oneself as the victim to nourish the hunger for revenge. The vicious Afghan cycle: It is once again revving up here in this remote, mountain province.

Judge Maulawi Mohammed Daoud takes over. "Zahir Khan,” the landowner from Tagabdar, "has presented convincing ownership deeds from the days of the monarchy. This is a clear case of property theft!” Unfortunately, he says, he doesn’t have a copy on hand of the document that nobody in the villages has seen. "But I’ve seen them,” the judge insists. The property registry of Gizab, he continues, was also unfortunately destroyed in the fighting. But in such a clear case of land theft, he says, Sharia law foresees the immediate return of the property.

Should the expellees not agree, "they can hire a lawyer and submit their complaint in Kabul.”

And what about the prisoners from the village of Kindir, we ask. "Yes, we kept three people as a security. But we released them several days ago.”

An hour after the hearing before the judge, the three men stumble down the dusty main road toward the DER SPIEGEL team’s driver. They say they were just released from custody. But weren’t told why.

Will Turkey’s Afghanistan ambitions backfire?

Email Galip

At a time when many countries are leaving Afghanistan, Turkey has been searching for ways to stay. By helping run Kabul airport, Ankara believes it can gain a foothold in Afghanistan, which would in turn help it achieve its broader goals. However, the Afghanistan crisis is becoming increasingly regionalized and Afghanistan’s neighbours are likely to play a more prominent role, while Turkey – devoid of a security role – will at best be a marginal player.

In order for Ankara to leverage Afghanistan for other purposes, it first needs to ensure any role it plays at Kabul airport has a security dimension to it and is not a strictly technical or civilian role, partly because Ankara lacks other sources of influence in the country.

For instance, Qatar plays an important role in the diplomatic space as facilitator, as many countries engage with the Taliban in Doha, but can also provide Afghanistan with both civilian and technical assistance. Turkey also does not share a land or a maritime border with Afghanistan and its potential influence would therefore not be comparable to places like Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh or Libya, where Turkey plays a prominent role.

The Taliban appear to approve of Turkey taking on a role in the running of the airport – along with Qatar – partly to maintain links with international actors and avoid international isolation, but they are also wary of attaching any significant security dimension to it. To overcome the Taliban’s resistance, Turkey appears to be flexible and instead of using its military, it could consider a private security company supported by a limited number of special forces at the airport.

On the political front, Turkey wanted the Taliban to include Turkic figures from minority Uzbek or Turkmen backgrounds in Afghanistan’s new cabinet, as this would have helped the Turkish government’s domestic narrative. However, the Taliban have not met Turkish demands on either the political or security front and, even if the Taliban agree to a limited security role for Turkey, this is unlikely to help Ankara achieve its ambitions.
What is Turkey hoping to achieve?

Ankara wants to use Afghanistan as leverage to improve its relations with the US, gain a source of leverage vis-à-vis Europe – particularly regarding migration – play a role in the eventual reconstruction of Afghanistan and gain a modest foothold in the geopolitics of Central and South Asia.

As such, Turkey’s goals appear to be misplaced. The overarching motivation for Erdogan’s government was to use Afghanistan to repair ties with the Biden administration. Relations between Turkey and the US/the West have been in deep crisis in recent years and the growing tide of authoritarianism in domestic politics and geopolitical decoupling in foreign policy have driven wedges between the two sides. The Erdogan government appeared to have bet on a geopolitical crisis to remind the US of its value and it believed Afghanistan to be the crisis that could help mend ties with the Biden administration.

The situation in Afghanistan has certainly brought a change in the language used in US-Turkey relations. US officials increasingly refer to Turkey as a strategic ally and invaluable partner – something the Biden administration hitherto has avoided. But that is probably as far as it goes. How much Afghanistan will matter for the US a year or two from now is questionable at best. The US is eager to leave the Afghanistan dossier behind, whereas Ankara aspires to use it for non-Afghanistan related purposes in years to come. Thus, there is a notable misalignment in their approach to Afghanistan. The fact that Erdogan returned from a recent US trip to attend the opening of the UNGA without having secured a meeting with Biden is illustrative of how much importance the US attaches to Turkey’s aspirations in Afghanistan.

European governments are concerned about the prospect of new waves of Afghan refugees heading for the continent and would be keen to work with Turkey – a transit country – to stem such a tide. The cooperation on migration and refugees has been one of the most tangible areas of engagement between Turkey and the EU in recent years. However, the prospect and depth of such a cooperation will be very much dependent on the size of refugee flows. Plus, Turkey already hosts the largest number of refugees in the world and additional refugees would undermine the government’s popularity.

As for playing a role in the eventual reconstruction of Afghanistan, any role Turkey could play here would pale in comparison to that of China.

As the US angle of Turkey’s Afghanistan policy is unlikely to pay off as much as the Turkish government hoped, Ankara is now likely to reframe its role around the importance of Afghanistan. In official discourse, the Central Asia/Turkic world dimension of Turkey’s involvement in Afghanistan is set to become more pronounced. However, in terms of foreign policy this would be self-defeating as the Taliban are unlikely to approve of such ethnic solidarity language and China and Russia would also frown upon such a discourse. Despite this being a shortsighted narrative, Ankara is likely to go ahead as it would do well with domestic audiences.

In terms of the South Asia dimension, Turkey has well-established cultural, political and commercial links with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a large Afghan diaspora, that predate and will outlast the Taliban.

Ankara may have hoped that in order to achieve international acceptance, the Taliban would have gone for a more inclusive cabinet, with more non-Pashtun names, and more pragmatic governance, particularly when it comes to the application of Sharia law and the rights of women. This would have made engagement with the Taliban, and even a future recognition of a Taliban government, less costly for Turkey. But the Taliban’s new government has already dispelled such hopes.

And as the international spotlight on Afghanistan fades, the Taliban are likely to apply a strict interpretation of Sharia law, making any association and cooperation with the Taliban potentially very costly for Turkey. The debate around radicalization and jihadism that has been focused on developments in the Middle East is now more likely to shift towards Afghanistan and there is a risk that the Taliban’s practices might trigger Afghanistan’s isolation from the international community.

In this context, an ill-conceived Afghanistan policy, let alone association with the Taliban – even a potential recognition of the Taliban government – is likely to be so costly for Turkey it would outweigh any benefits it was hoping to gain by leveraging a security role at Kabul airport.

Comparing textbooks: Even Afghanistan scores better than Pakistan

James M. Dorsey

Societal struggles and reform often take unexpected turns in vast swaths of land stretching from the Middle East into Central Asia.

Take education for example.

The Taliban have yet to fulfil their promise to allow girls to return to school but primary and secondary Afghan textbooks appear to be a relative bright spot amid all the doom and gloom about the group’s rule.

It’s a bright spot that highlights the deep societal impact of decades of ultra-conservative Saudi influence in Pakistan at a time that an Israel-based NGO is reporting significant progress in the way the kingdom’s textbooks describe non-Muslims and discuss violence in the name of Islam.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear scientist and Pakistani human rights activist, concluded from a recent survey of Urdu-language Afghan textbooks that they were light years ahead of what Pakistani schools offer.

Turnbull: AUKUS Subs Deal Is an ‘Own Goal’

Jack Detsch

It only took hours for the Biden administration’s deal to build nuclear-powered submarines with Britain and Australia to create a diplomatic firestorm. France, whose contract to build diesel-electric submarines for Canberra was subsequently canceled, recalled its ambassadors from both Washington and Canberra. And now, the controversy is kicking up back in Australia.

Some of the harshest words for the trilateral submarine partnership, popularly known as AUKUS, are coming from a surprising source: former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who recently spoke out publicly against the move. He fears that his successor, Scott Morrison, has flat-out deceived the French, an emerging power in the Pacific, something that could have long-lasting consequences for Australian relations with Europe. (Turnbull’s criticism might not be too surprising: his government signed the deal to buy French submarines in 2016).

“The bottom line is, if you double-cross people, there is a price to pay. And what Morrison did was reprehensible,” Turnbull said in an interview.

Bangladesh Is Clothes-Minded

Sanjay Kathuria

Bangladesh is feted for its robust growth performance over the last three decades; sterling record of poverty reduction; and well-above-peer-level performance on many health, education, and demographic outcomes. Given its abject poverty at the time of its independence in 1971 and poor rankings on cross-country governance indicators, these achievements have together been labeled a “development surprise.”

A big part of Bangladesh’s success story comes from labor-intensive, export-oriented industrialization. It boasts the biggest manufacturing sector (as a share of GDP) in South Asia, and it continues to grow. In 2001, Bangladesh’s merchandize exports amounted to $6.6 billion; in 2019, they were $47.2 billion, which more than doubles its share of world exports from 0.1 percent in 2001 to 0.25 percent in 2019.

But this success story derived from exports comes from an extreme concentration in garment manufacturing: The share of garments in Bangladesh’s total exports increased from 75 percent in 2000 to more than 86 percent in 2019. For a single product to dominate exports is rare in history; we could call it Bangladesh’s “second development surprise.” Even Vietnam, the fastest growing apparel exporter of the 21st century, has seen its total exports’ share of garments fall from 12.7 percent in 2000 to 11.3 percent in 2019.

Why China Is Alienating the World

Peter Martin

In early 2017, China appeared to be on a roll. Its economy was beating estimates. President Xi Jinping was implementing the country’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and was on the cusp of opening China’s first overseas military base in Djibouti. Most important, Xi seemed poised to take advantage of President Donald Trump’s determination to pick fights with U.S. allies and international institutions. In a speech in Davos in January of that year, Xi even compared protectionism with “locking oneself in a dark room.”

Nearly five years on, Beijing is facing its biggest international backlash in decades. Negative views of China are near record highs across the developed world, according to a Pew Research Center survey from June, which showed that at least three-quarters of respondents in Australia, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, and the United States now hold broadly negative views of the country. The European Union, which Beijing worked to court during the Trump era, has officially branded China a “systemic rival,” and NATO leaders have begun to coordinate a common response to Beijing. On China’s doorstep, the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States have revitalized the “Quad” grouping of nations in response to concerns over Beijing’s intentions. And most recently, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to share sensitive nuclear secrets with Australia to help it counter China’s naval ambitions in the Pacific.

Why the World Can’t Abandon Taiwan


Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has written a tour de force essay making the case for why Taiwan’s ability to defend itself from Chinese aggression matters to the world, as Chinese warplanes swarm her country.

“A failure to defend Taiwan would not only be catastrophic for the Taiwanese; it would overturn a security architecture that has allowed for peace and extraordinary economic development in the region for seven decades,” wrote Tsai in a new piece for Foreign Affairs magazine.

She’s clearly right. If Beijing successfully took the island, Chinese forces would cut straight through the first island chain that blocks Beijing from projecting power into the pacific. It would weaken key U.S. allies in the region, potentially forcing them to accept some sort of settlement with China and obliterate U.S. influence over the region.

Perhaps just as important, as Tsai also emphasizes at length in the piece, the party would also kill a thriving modern, democratic society that embodies everything the party strives to delegitimize.

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Tsai’s essay seems initially to have been written to align with the Taiwanese government’s annual push to reverse Taiwan’s exclusion from the U.N. Much of the piece deals with how the country has contributed to solving international problems, such as climate change, global public health, and more.

But the article has taken on a slightly different significance in the aftermath of a spike in Chinese military incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone at the start of this month. Fighting pandemics and manufacturing critical technologies are important, and particularly relevant to the question of Taiwan’s U.N. exclusion. What’s more pertinent in light of China’s recently stepped up aggression is what Tsai bills as her country’s role “as a liberal democracy on the frontlines of a new clash of ideologies.”

That ideological dimension has a massive bearing on the strategic element of this conflict. The democratic world, for the most part, is locked into a struggle with Chinese authoritarianism, which sees fit to corrupt and stamp out anything that stands in the way of the party’s ability to perpetuate its rule. Taiwan demonstrates that there can be Chinese democracy, and for this reason, among others, Beijing seeks to conquer its neighbor.

Tsai wrote that her country is making the necessary investments in its security:

In addition to investments in traditional platforms such as combat aircraft, Taiwan has made hefty investments in asymmetric capabilities, including mobile land-based antiship cruise missiles. We will launch the All-Out Defense Mobilization Agency in 2022, a military reform intended to ensure that a well-trained and well-equipped military reserve force stands as a more reliable backup for the regular military forces. Such initiatives are meant to maximize Taiwan’s self-reliance and preparedness and to signal that we are willing to bear our share of the burden and don’t take our security partners’ support for granted.

But no one believes that Taiwan can repel a Chinese attack by itself. Tsai’s article explains why the U.S. and likeminded countries must join a potential future effort to defend the country, if they are to avert the national-security catastrophe that would result from a dominant Chinese position in the Indo-Pacific.

Is A Chinese Military Attack On Taiwan Inevitable?

James Holmes

Even though some commentators are confident that the chance of war between China and Taiwan is remote[1], the odds of military action are growing by the day. In large part because Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping has publicly vowed, again and again, to wrench control of the island from its inhabitants.

He also may have set a deadline, amplifying the pressure. It is less clear when that deadline falls. Party leaders routinely cite 2049, the centennial of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, as the date when the national rejuvenation project[2] must be complete.[3]

Earlier this year, however, outgoing US Indo-Pacific Command chief Admiral Phil Davidson told Congress that Beijing might move against Taiwan far earlier than the centennial – perhaps within the next six years (closer to five now).[4] China-watchers have taken to calling this interval the “Davidson window”, meaning China’s window of opportunity to seize this prime real estate.

White Paper on Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence

At present, the new generation of artificial intelligence (AI) technology is developing rapidly, and its penetration into all fields of society is accelerating, bringing profound changes to human production and life. While AI brings great opportunities, it also contains risks and challenges. When presiding over the ninth collective study session of the Central Committee Politburo in October 2018, General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized that “it is necessary to strengthen our judgment of the potential risks of the development of artificial intelligence and to strengthen our watchfulness against them, to safeguard the interests of the people and national security, and to ensure the security, reliability, and controllability of artificial intelligence.” Enhancing confidence in the use of AI and promoting the healthy development of the AI industry has become an important concern.

The development of trustworthy AI is becoming a global consensus. In June 2019, the Group of Twenty (G20) proposed the “G20 AI Principles,” emphasizing the need to be people centered (以人为本) and develop trustworthy AI. These principles have also been universally recognized by the international community. The European Union (EU) and the United States have also placed the enhancement of user trust and the development of trustworthy AI at the core of their AI ethics and governance. In the future, translating abstract AI principles into concrete practices and implementing them into technologies, products, and applications is an inevitable choice when responding to social concerns, resolving outstanding contradictions, and preventing security risks. It is an important issue related to the long-term development of AI and is an urgent task that industry must quickly address.

Press Conference on the “Launch and Implementation of the National Key R&D Program”: Summary Transcript

[Director of the General Office (办公厅) of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and MOST Spokesperson] Wu Yuanbin (吴远彬): Good morning to our friends in the press, and welcome everyone to MOST’s first regular press conference of 2016. We thank all our friends in the media for their concern and support for science and technology (S&T) endeavors. Since fully launching management reform of the central government fiscal [budget-funded] S&T programs (special projects, funds, etc.) at the end of 2014, under the correct leadership of the Party Central Committee and the State Council, and under the kind care and guidance of Vice Premier [Liu] Yandong, MOST, the Ministry of Finance, the [National] Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and relevant departments, reform tasks have been actively assigned and implementation of reform has been promoted, a number of breakthroughs have been made, and the work is beginning to show results. Today [February 16, 2016], with the first batch of guidelines for key special projects of the National Key Research and Development (R&D) Program (国家重点研发计划) beginning to be issued, the reform work has taken an important step forward. In the following, we asked Vice Minister of Science and Technology Hou Jianguo (侯建国) to brief us on the relevant progress of the National Key R&D Program.

Hou Jianguo: The core tasks of national program management reform are—in accordance with the requirement to fully implement the innovation-driven development strategy—to improve the efficiency of S&T programs, enhance innovation capacity, establish an open and unified national S&T management platform, build a new framework and layout for the S&T program system, and focus on solving the major deep-seated problems that constrain the innovation and development led by China’s S&T programs. While following the objective laws of S&T development, and giving full rein to the enthusiasm and creativity of S&T personnel, we shall better promote S&T innovation as the core of comprehensive innovation.

AI Education in China and the United States

Dahlia Peterson, Kayla Goode Diana Gehlhaus

Executive Summary

Many in the national security community are concerned about China’s rising dominance in artificial intelligence and AI talent. That makes leading in AI workforce competitiveness critical, which hinges on developing and sustaining the best and brightest AI talent. This includes top-tier computer scientists, software engineers, database architects, and other technical workers that can effectively create, modify, and operate AI-enabled machines and other products.

This issue brief informs the question of strategic advantage in AI talent by comparing efforts to integrate AI education in China and the United States. We consider key differences in system design and oversight, as well as in strategic planning. We then explore implications for maintaining a competitive edge in AI talent. (This report accompanies an introductory brief of both countries’ education systems: “Education in China and the United States: A Comparative System Overview.”)

Both the United States and China are making progress in integrating AI education into their workforce development systems, but are approaching education goals in different ways. China is using its centralized authority to mandate AI education in its high school curricula and for AI companies to partner with schools and universities to train students. Since 2018, the government also approved 345 universities to offer an AI major, now the country’s most popular new major, and at least 34 universities have launched their own AI institutes. The United States is experimenting with AI education curricula and industry partnership initiatives, although in a piecemeal way that varies by state and places a heavier emphasis on computer science education.

China’s Economic Coercion Is More Bark Than Bite

Pratik Jakhar

Economic warfare has been part of statecraft for centuries, so it’s no surprise Beijing is leveraging its growing economic clout for political ends. But what might be unusual is how ineffective the tactic is becoming. China has been increasingly obsessed with deploying coercive economic measures against countries that have supposedly offended it, such as Australia, Canada, and Lithuania. Last week, China suspended imports of sugar apples and wax apples from Taiwan over supposed pest concerns—but actually in retaliation for Taiwan’s plans to rename its representative office in Washington. Earlier this year, it imposed a similar ban on pineapples from Taiwan amid deteriorating ties.

Often targeting symbolic and visible areas of trade, China usually employs informal tools that are difficult to call out or challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO) or other bodies, such as customs delays, market access denial, stricter import inspections, phytosanitary concerns (as in the case of Taiwan), and anti-dumping. Typically, Beijing denies any link between the measures and any prevailing political tensions with a country, but it makes sure the target gets the message. Further, state media outlets also encourage supposedly spontaneous popular boycotts, citing public rage against the targeted country.

The Real Reasons Behind China’s Energy Crisis

Lauri Myllyvirta

More than half of China’s provinces have been rationing electricity over the past couple weeks, disrupting the daily lives of tens of millions of people. Elevators have been turned off, stores’ opening hours have shortened, and factories have had to reduce operating days and power consumption. Some provinces have experienced outright blackouts. Meanwhile, September saw industrial output decline for the first time since China started recovering from the COVID-19 lockdowns.

It’s the worst electricity crisis China has faced in a decade. The immediate cause is that China is still highly dependent on coal, which provides 70 percent of the country’s power generation. The electricity prices paid to generators are regulated by the central government, while coal prices are set on the market. When coal prices rise, unless regulators increase electricity prices, it doesn’t make economic sense for coal power plants to keep supplying electricity. Plants can then avoid generating at a loss by claiming they have a technical malfunction or by failing to purchase the coal they need to run, both of which happened in the run-up to the current crisis.

But the reasons for the crisis can also be traced back to a string of policy missteps and poorly thought-out market interventions after the beginning of the pandemic. The crisis has put China’s continued dependence on coal in stark relief, even as its market shares of renewable and nuclear energy have continued to increase.

Beijing’s Global Ambitions for Central Bank Digital Currencies Are Growing Clearer


As central banks around the world contemplate the risks and benefits of issuing central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), Beijing is likely to leverage frustrations with the inefficiencies of existing cross-border payments channels to strengthen support for its vision of lower-cost alternatives built upon CBDCs. If realized, such arrangements could allow Chinese firms and their trading partners to reduce usage of the U.S. dollar for cross-border transactions and circumvent payments channels that the U.S. government can shut off to entities it sanctions for national security reasons.

China’s state-sponsored digital currency, the digital renminbi (or e-CNY), is already being designed to achieve these ends. The country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, stated in a July 2021 white paper that the digital renminbi is “ready for cross-border use.” Yet for Beijing’s grandest ambitions for its state-sponsored digital currency to be realized, the digital renminbi must be interoperable with the CBDCs of other countries. Hence, the People’s Bank of China is supporting the development of global CBDC standards and working with other monetary authorities to launch a multi-CBDC arrangement.

One Of The Navy's Prized Seawolf Class Submarines Has Suffered An Underwater Collision


The USS Connecticut, one of the U.S. Navy's highly advanced and secretive nuclear-powered Seawolf class submarines, is on its way back to port after suffering an underwater collision. The service says that there were no life-threatening injuries among the members of Connecticut's crew as a result of the accident. The submarine itself is in a "safe and stable condition" and its reactor plant was unaffected and remains fully operational.

USNI News was first to report on this accident, which occurred on Oct. 2. The Navy would not say where the submarine was at the time of the collision, beyond in international waters somewhere in the Indo-Pacific region, or what it hit. The service also only said that Connecticut was now headed to a port in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, which includes the Western Pacific Ocean and a significant portion of the Indian Ocean, as well as various bodies of water in between. U.S. 7th Fleet has its main headquarters in Japan.

Why Biden’s Foreign Policy Looks so Similar to Trump’s

Sumantra Maitra

Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass recently wrote for Foreign Affairs that President Joe Biden is determined to carry on a Trumpian nationalism that rejects American internationalism at precisely the time when it is needed most. The dawn of a new consensus looms in Washington, DC: The dawn of America First. Despite the Biden administration’s rhetoric of internationalism, “there is far more continuity between the foreign policy of the current president and that of the former president than is typically recognized,” Haass writes. The new consensus perhaps pushes aside a strategy that evolved in the wake of World War II. The present paradigm is hardly isolationist, but it rejects the core tenet of internationalism that the United States has a vital stake as a shareholder to actively prevent collapse and preserve the international liberal order.

Haass admits there were mistakes made during the hubristic “unipolar moment” after the end of the Cold war, including a failure to stem China’s rise, decisions to expand NATO that sparked Russian revanchism, and of course the Iraq War. But Haass is wary of the nationalism that accompanies the new emerging realism and restraint consensus:

From Cold War Sanctions to Weaponized Interdependence

Adam Kline andTim Hwang


CSET is providing this annotated bibliography as a resource for researchers interested in studying the history and future of international competition and control over emerging technologies. We hope that this review will prove useful for scholars interested in the history of Cold War economic and technological policies, technological competitiveness, economic statecraft, and the escalating technological rivalry between Beijing and Washington. It covers decades of scholarship on technology and strategic economic competition, drawing from a wide variety of sources, from journal articles to declassified CIA documents, and a range of perspectives, from academics to policymakers.

The bibliography includes five main sections. Each section features an introduction synthesizing its contents and then lists and briefly summarizes individual sources in chronological order. First is a section surveying the hefty theoretical literature on economic interdependence, conflict, and economic statecraft, including perennial debates over the “commercial peace” theory and the efficacy of sanctions. The next two sections review strategic economic competition, export controls, and technology transfer policies during the Cold War and the post-Cold War era. The fourth section concentrates on U.S. fears of domestic economic decline and technological dependence on Japan in the 1980s and early 1990s. The final section focuses on scholarly discussions of China’s rise, U.S. export controls and technology transfer policies toward Beijing, and a potential U.S.-China decoupling.
Observations and Key Takeaways

This review suggests several important lessons for scholars and policymakers grappling with the thorny challenges of strategic economic and technological competition.

The Fatal Flaw in the West’s Fight Against Autocracy

Casey Michel

To hear Western politicians tell it, liberal democracies are in an existential fight against the forces of autocracy, despotism, and dictatorship around the world. That framing has found a home in U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent rhetoric and is the raison d’être for his upcoming Summit for Democracy.

Biden and the other Western politicos echoing his calls are correct in their diagnosis. Rising illiberalism, swelling autocracies, and increasingly muscular dictatorships from Beijing to Moscow are smothering democratizing efforts on the ground and threatening the broader liberal order.

But their efforts to thwart rising autocracy have overlooked a critical way Western democracies themselves enable such regimes to thrive: by providing anonymous financial secrecy tools that allow kleptocrats around the world to move, hide, and launder their ill-gotten wealth, safely away from the prying eyes of their own people.

These tools by now form a familiar playbook. On the one hand, you have such devices as shell companies and trusts that effectively anonymize wealth, stripping the money from any identifying information. On the other hand, you have an entire range of industries more than happy to process the proceeds of this now-anonymous wealth, from real estate and luxury vendors to auction houses and the art market writ large.