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Lima Charlie News reports on the latest stories from around the world.

The Trouble With Turkey’s Economy

Image The Trouble With Turkey’s Economy [Lima Charlie News]
The Trouble With Turkey’s Economy [Lima Charlie News]

How did Turkey go from rapid growth to economic crisis so quickly? The Turkish economy has become a truly perplexing case.

Investing in emerging markets is always a risky game to play. Trying to sift through volumes of information and then place it in the proper context when some of the most reliable sources are not even available in English, can leave a novice investor befuddled. But even by the standards of emerging markets, the Turkish economy has become a truly perplexing case.

A short time ago, Turkey looked like a great opportunity for robust returns. Turkey has averaged 5.8% GDP growth since 2002 and is now the 13th largest in the world by purchasing power parity. In 2017, Turkey grew faster than India or China. As recently as last November, emerging markets guru Mark Mobius said that it was time to buy Turkey because he thought it presented excellent prospects for 2019.

Things look very different just a few months later.

Turkey is in the grips of a currency crisis, beset by 20% inflation and 11% unemployment, and facing a political showdown over who will control the country’s central bank. How did Turkey go from rapid growth to economic crisis so quickly? What went wrong?

Image graph Turkey economy
[Courtesy Bloomberg]
To understand what’s happening it helps to understand why Turkey’s growth was so rapid for so long in the first place. Turkey’s boom was driven by rapidly expanding credit. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came to power in 2002 hoping to make Turkey a more Islamic country. Erdogan’s views on economics are influenced greatly by his religious beliefs, especially his deep suspicions of high interest rates. Erdogan believes high rates are a form of usury prohibited by Islam. Consequently, he has consistently worked to keep interest rates low.

The President of Turkey does not directly control interest rates, but Erdogan has used his influence to push rates down. His ability to affect monetary policy has only grown as he has consolidated power. Just last summer, he gained the authority to appoint the central bank’s Governors.

The result was a prolonged economic expansion fueled by easy credit. There was a boom in construction fueled by easy loans in real estate. There was growth in manufacturing output driven by business lending.

Consumer loans were one of the greatest areas of credit growth. Consumer loans constituted about 4% of Turkey’s economy in 2002 but in recent years that number has been closer to 18%. The emergence of cheap credit was a huge structural shift and it drove rapid growth across nearly all sectors of the economy.

[Download the full Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey (CBRT) 2019 Inflation Report]

Rapid growth caused by easy money is one of the oldest stories in economics. In Turkey’s case, there was a dangerous wrinkle: the loans were denominated in foreign currency.

Unlike the United States or Europe, where borrowers nearly always run up debts that can be paid back in their own currency, borrowers in emerging markets often borrow in foreign currency. This approach leaves emerging markets vulnerable to changes in the relative value of currencies. (If the emerging market sees its currency fall in value, it can be much more expensive to pay back the foreign loans). It requires them to hold reserves of foreign hard currency to pay off foreign debts.

The mechanics of this problem can be illustrated by a simplified example. Let’s say a consumer in Istanbul takes out a loan for one thousand Turkish Lira (about $188) from a commercial bank. The bank was able to get access to the necessary capital to make this loan by borrowing on international markets in Euros or US Dollars. The consumer is going to pay back his loan in Turkish Lira but if the value of the Lira falls, the one thousand Lira the bank collects when the loan is paid back may no longer be enough to pay off the foreign debt.

Multiply this across billions in loans to millions of borrowers and you have the classic recipe for an emerging market financial crisis.

This is what’s happening in Turkey right now. A year ago, one Lira was equal to about 26 cents. Today, it’s down to about 19 cents. That is a substantial decline of about 27%. Among major currencies, only the Argentine Peso fared worse over that time. This is a problem because Turkey’s foreign debt ballooned to nearly $470 billion by early 2018, an 18% increase from the summer of 2016. After a hard year of deleveraging, Turkey’s foreign debt is still at $450 billion – more than 50% the size of the entire Turkish economy.

Image graph Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, 2019 Inflation Report
Turkey commercial / consumer loan rates [via Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, 2019 Inflation Report]
This kind of situation is not unforeseeable – in fact, because currencies fluctuate it is entirely foreseeable. This is why most emerging economies make sure their central bank holds a healthy reserve of foreign hard currency so it can continue to import needed foreign goods. Unfortunately, Turkey has not maintained an adequate cushion of foreign currency reserves. As of August, Turkey had enough foreign currency to cover only 75 days’ worth of imports. This imposed hard choices on Turkey. The central bank had to raise interest rates to control runaway inflation and stabilize the Lira.

This slammed the breaks on Turkey’s economic growth.

After a hard 2018, where does Turkey stand today? The interest rate hike imposed serious costs on the real economy. Industrial output has been falling for months and unemployment has risen by almost 20% in the last year. On the positive side, the Lira’s free fall has ended.

Turkey remains seriously vulnerable to a balance of payments crisis because of its large foreign debts and depleted currency reserves. However, one salutary effect of economic trouble is that Turkish consumers are spending less on imported goods. More conservative spending behavior and a drop in oil prices have left Turkey with a small net current account surplus in recent months. Turkey is slowly rebuilding its cash position and adding to its foreign currency reserves instead of depleting them.

None of this is cause for excitement for investors. Turkey appears to be moving from an acute crisis to a prolonged slowdown. Yes, the currency has stabilized and current accounts are being replenished, but the size of Turkey’s foreign debts means the process will take many years. Turkey can stabilize its balance of payments if consumers spend less but it can’t return to dynamic growth unless they spend more. Turkey is now trapped by the very debts that allowed it to grow so quickly for so long.

Investors should not hold their breath waiting for a quick turnaround.

John Ford, for Lima Charlie News

John Ford is an attorney in California and a reserve officer in the US Army. He writes about global strategy and international economics, focusing on the Asia Pacific. You can follow him on twitter at @johndouglasford.

For up-to-date news, please follow Lima Charlie on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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Organised Crime in Asia – An [In]convenient Relationship: Part 2

Image Organised Crime in Asia - Part 2 (Photo: Anton Kusters)

There is an escalating crisis in Asia. A crisis developing from the symbiosis of organised crime, terrorism and the covert domestic and foreign policy ambitions of several Asian nations. Dr. Gary K. Busch examines organised crime and international politics in Asia — Part 2: Greater China [Read Part 1: The Subcontinent: India and Pakistan].

China has a unique and complicated history; one in which the Chinese Government, the Chinese Communist Party (‘CCP’), China’s military forces, the Peoples Liberation Army (‘PLA’), and criminal organisations like the Triads, all played important roles. To a high degree this history has been one of internal military strife, weak central governments, widespread criminal organisations, and a post-war consolidation of political power in the hands of the Communist Party.

These three actors, the CCP, the PLA, and the Triads, have played a major role in expanding the criminal activities of organised crime across the world, and especially in promoting and expanding Chinese political policies towards Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. In many areas, the Triads have also played a major role in Chinese economic and political interactions with China’s neighbours and trading partners, especially in the international trade of drugs, chemical substances and people smuggling.

Triads and the Road to China’s Military Industrial Complex

The influence of the Chinese military in the economic affairs of China has been extensive for the last three thousand years. It has always dominated the agricultural sector, and, after the death of Mao Tse Tung, it has been the dominant force in Chinese industry and politics. There has been a long tradition of warlords in China, especially from 1916 to the late-1930s, when the country was divided among military cliques, a division that continued until the fall of the Nationalist government in the mainland China regions of Sichuan, Shanxi, Qinghai, Ningxia, Guangdong, Guangxi, Gansu, Yunnan, and Xinjiang.

Image Zhang Zuolin, warlord of Manchuria
Zhang Zuolin, warlord of Manchuria within the Republic of China (1912–1928).

In this period a warlord maintained his own troops loyal to him, dominated and controlled the agriculture and mining in his area or region, and acted as the de facto political power in that region. To maintain themselves they often fought with their neighbouring warlords and against any attempt by the Emperor or central government to control them. Some of the most notable warlord wars, post-1928, including the Central Plains War, involved nearly a million soldiers. The central government was weak and relied on the power and support of these fractious warlords.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the discovery of China’s wealth by the European colonial powers and the Japanese resulted in demands on the ruling emperors and “unequal treaties” that created foreign concessions in China’s ports. The weakness of the central government allowed the rise of regional warlords whose armies fought with each other for territory and plunder and were funded in this by foreign powers.

After a period of ever-increasing presence of foreign traders, Christian missionaries, foreign troops and British-supplied opium, a violent surge of protest occurred among the Chinese. This included many of the warlords, the landowners and the newly urbanised poor. Their rebellion against foreign rule and in support of Qing Dynasty reforms led to their capture of Beijing where they attacked the foreign legations – the 1899 “Boxer Rebellion”.

Initially they were successful, but the foreign imperial powers formed an Eight Nation Alliance (UK, Russia, Japan, France, U.S., Germany, Italy and Austro-Hungary) against the Chinese. They assembled 50,255 foreign troops (expeditionary forces) plus 100,000 Russian troops to occupy Manchuria. The Imperial troops were defeated; Beijing was seized and these eight foreign powers extracted further concessions from the weakened Qing government.

Image China map 1900

By 1911-12 the Chinese military instigated a series of revolts by reform-minded officers. This led to the Proclamation of the Republic of China under Sun Yat-sen and abdication of the last Qing emperor. Sun Yat-sen attempted to build national institutions but was unable to stand up to the growth of warlordism and the rise of the Communist Party in China after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In 1912 Sun Yat-sen became the first president of the Provisional Republic of China, founding the Kuomintang (‘KMT’) and serving as its first leader. Sun Yat-sen, known as the “Father of the Nation” had been a Triad member from an early age. While he had lived in Honolulu and Chicago he was known as a ‘426 fighter’ of the Triads (the chief enforcer of the Three Harmonies triad Kwok On Wui). These connections and sympathetic goals helped him launch the revolution, which in 1911, officially ended imperial rule in China and restored Han dominance. [i]

With the formation of the Communist International (‘Comintern’), which had formed in Russia after the 1917 revolution, numerous unionists were sent to China to help strengthen the nascent Chinese communist trades unions and parties which had begun to organize after the fall of the imperial system. The Communist Party of China drew its strength from the urban working class in such large cities as Shanghai and Canton.

During this time, however, power in China remained firmly in the hands of the local warlords whose min t’uan (private armies) controlled much of the rural areas. By far the most important development emerged in 1923 when the workers, students and peasants began to form national parties. Among the first was the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party. The other major party was the Kung Ch’antang, the Communist Party. The Kuomintang found a close ally in the communist party of the Soviet Union which sent down instructors and advisers to shape the Kuomintang into a disciplined Bolshevik party.

The Soviets sent advisers to instill communism in the military forces and set up a training facility known as the Whampoa Military Academy. The Russians also shipped in arms and instructors to bolster the Kuomintang forces. The leadership of the Kuomintang would soon rest on the director of the Whampoa Military Academy and the military hero, Chiang Kai-shek.

In support of the Kuomintang, workers in the communist unions of Shanghai had begun a series of major strikes. At the height of this demonstration more than half a million workers went out on strike backed by an armed workers’ militia of more than five thousand. On 26 March 1927 Chiang Kai-shek marched into Shanghai, welcomed by the striking workers as their liberator.

At that time, Shanghai was known as the vice capital of the world. Organised crime in Shanghai was controlled by the notorious Green Gang Triad. Under Du Yuesheng, it specialised in opium (which was supported by local warlords), gambling, and prostitution.

Chiang Kai-shek had barely been in the city for a few days when he contacted the leaders of the Green Gang to make a deal with them. Allied with these forces, Chiang began a purge of all the communists, especially the unionists. By the end of what would become known as the White Terror massacre approximately 5,000 pro-communist strikers in the City of Shanghai would lose their lives. When the strikes ended in May of 1927, communist control had been wrenched from the unions by the Kuomintang. [ii]

The Soviets had inadvertently succeeded in creating a Kuomintang which devoured the local communist party. The Kuomintang set about obliterating the communists, driving them from the cities to their stronghold in Hunan.

Image Chiang Kai-shek
[Chiang Kai-shek]
The Chinese communists, led by the son of a wealthy Hunanese peasant, Mao Tse-tung, adopted these lessons to the communist struggle in China. After the defeat of the Kuomintang leadership of ex-warlord Chiang Kai-shek in the wake of the Second World War and Japanese occupation, a ravaged China was left in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Tse-Tung. Mao ruled as both the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party as well as the Chairman of the Central Military Committee. His rule was personal, direct and disastrous. The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution led to the virtual self-destruction of China. Millions starved to death; many more were exiled or driven away from the cities.

One major aspect of China didn’t change much under the rule of the CCP; the official Chinese Government’s structure for the military regions of the PLA remained, generally, the ancient divisions of China in the period of the warlords. This is very important to the understanding of the early development of the Chinese military industrial complex.

The Origins of the Chinese Triads

The Triads have an almost mystical version of their history, mixing nationalism and rebellion in equal parts. They started as “Robin Hood”-like groups fighting against the excesses of the emperors, organising in rural China. They took part in the many rebellions of the Chinese people against their emperors but were somewhat constrained by the military might at the regional level by the warlords.

The first reference to a secret society in China was a group known as the “Red Eyebrows” which appears to have been established when the Western Han Dynasty was collapsing in AD 9. The group played an important role in helping Wang Mang, a Han Dynasty official, overthrow the Dynasty and found the Xin (“renewed”) replacement. However, after his rule from AD 9-23 the Han Dynasty was restored.

In AD 184, a group of rebels known as the “Yellow Turbans” turned against the Han Dynasty, and although their efforts failed, they helped hasten the fall of the Han Dynasty in AD 220. In AD 618, the Tang dynasty came into power, marking a pivotal moment for China’s secret societies, as Buddhists became targets of purges that forced them underground. Organizations like the “Red Turbans,” led by Zhu Yuanzhang (who eventually became emperor) later fought against the Mongolian rulers and in 1367 managed to overthrow the Yuan Dynasty.

Following the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty the Ming Dynasty was the ruling government for almost 300 years, but in 1644 another outside force overthrew the Empire of the Great Ming, and the precursors of what today are called the Triads established themselves. The Ming dynasty in Beijing fell into the hands of rebel Li Zicheng. Some 20 years later the White Lotus Society (the Buddhist sect which the Red Turbans had previously formed around) morphed with the Heaven and Earth society, or Tiandihui, as they were known, and became the Triad society. [iii]

Image Sun Yee On
[Symbol of the Sun Yee On Triad, founded in 1919 and still one of the leading triads in Hong Kong and China.]
This is also the period where early worker associations formed, more like guilds than unions, but active in social movements within their regions or cities. They were separate and distinct from the nascent Triads. When another rebellion began against the newly installed Qing, the Emperor requested assistance from his subjects to help fight against the Ming attackers. Among those heeding this request were the Shaolin monks at the Siu Lam monastery. Despite being pro-Ming, they decided to help the Emperor because they didn’t want the empire taken over by barbarians. They were also skilled warriors and wanted to show their warlike skills in the hopes they might impress people to join them when the time came to revolt. Finally, they hoped that by pretending eagerness to fight for the Emperor, it might get them greater autonomy.

Once victorious, Emperor Shunzhi was not only impressed with their skills, but he also began to see them as a potential liability. Just to be on the safe side, he ordered them to be executed and their monastery burned. After the assault, eighteen survivors escaped, although thirteen of them died from their wounds and malnutrition. The remaining five Shaolin monks (Tsoi Tak Chung, Fong Tai Hung, Ma Chiu Hing, Wu Tak, Lee Shik Hoi) became the five ancestors of the new Triad society.

They found shelter and eventually began recruiting for their rebellion, vowing loyalty to their code of overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming. They gathered new forces and attacked the Emperor. They lost and disbursed to safe havens abroad or in the Chinese main urban centres where they turned from patriotism to crime. [iv] They found a ready ally in the foreign imperial forces taking over their concessions in China and peddling their opium to the masses.

Image [Mural painting, Shaolin Monastery, Henan Province, China.]
[Mural painting, Shaolin Monastery, Henan Province, China.]
These Chinese criminals weren’t always private sector entrepreneurs seeking to earn a quick, if dishonest, buck. They felt they were part of the rebel movements seeking justice under the emperors. When their efforts were defeated, they turned to a more profitable profession, crime.

The Triads developed a set of rituals and practices to preserve their anonymity and to bind each member to the society; a lot like the Freemasons. They set up a triangle of power that reflected the Heavens, the Earth and Man. Things were explained as variations on the triangular theme.

However, power was vertical as in a pyramid; “the Shan Chu (Mountain Master) was the overall leader responsible for making the final decision on all matters. The Fu Shan Chu (Deputy Mountain Master), when appointed, was the deputy leader and directly assisted the leader. The Heung Chu (Incense Master) was responsible for all ceremonies of initiation and promotion. The Sin Fung (Vanguard) was responsible for recruitment and organising and assisting in ceremonies. The Hung Kwan (Red Pole) was the ‘fighter’ rank of the society. The Pak Tsz Sin (White Paper Fan) was responsible for the general administration of the society. The Cho Hai (Straw Sandal) was the liaison officer for the society. The ‘49 Chai’ was the ordinary member usually recruited to follow a particular office-bearer.” [Yiu Kong Chu, The Triads as Business, Routledge 2000].

Triads also use numeric codes to distinguish between ranks and positions within the gang. For example, “426” refers to “fighter” while “49” denotes a rank-and-file member. “489” refers to the “mountain master” while 438 is used for the “deputy mountain master”, 415 for “white paper fan” and 432 for the “straw sandal”. “25” refers to an undercover law enforcement agent or spy from another triad, and has become popularly used in Hong Kong as a slang for “traitor”.

When a triad member is sworn in he must take thirty-six oaths of loyalty to his brothers that include secrecy and obedience. Should he violate them, he will most likely suffer what is known as a slashing or more charmingly, “the death of a thousand cuts.” It is an orchestrated attack where the victim is cut multiple times by a meat cleaver and left for dead. The multi-faceted ritual oaths taken by Triad recruits repeatedly refer to the death penalty for violation of any aspect of the Triad code. [v]

Image Triad structure
[Triad structure]
When the KMT was driven south by the communists, many fled to Taiwan. Others were trapped in South China. Among them was the 997th Brigade of the KMT which settled in northern Burma. There they promoted the production of opium and began its export to the rest of the world, including the use of US aircraft sent in to deliver supplies to the 997th and with nothing to take back. This became a thriving business (Air America). Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, notable warlords with fuzzy motivations arose in the Shan State. It was often unclear whether they were ethno-nationalists or communists, drug lords, cronies of Rangoon, or a combination of these.

The most predominant such leaders were: General Li of the KMT (commanding groups in Burma from Thailand); Li Hsing Ho of the Rangoon-supported “home guard,” also known as the Ka Kwe Ye (KKY); Kyi Myint (Zhang Zhiming) of the CBP; and the infamous Khun Sa of the Shan United Army (SUA). The refining of this morphine base was undertaken by the Union Corse (the Corsican Mafia) operating in French Indo-China as ‘anti-communist’ allies of the French Colonial Government up until Dien Bien Phu.

When the French and the Corsicans were driven out of Indo-China the drug business reverted to the triads and gangs who had stayed loyal to the KMT and who had taken up residence in Taiwan, along with local nationalist Burmese and Vietnamese. For a long time, the drug business was dominated by the Taiwanese gangs (United Bamboo, Four Seas, Hung Mun , Hip Shing, Hop Shing, On Leong, Three Mountains, Tsung Tsin, Ying Ong, Suey Sing) because of the close ties with the KMT government in Taipei. However, by 1954 power had passed from Taiwan to the relocated Triads on Hong Kong (including the KMT drug trade). This was largely because the KMT Government in Taipei was becoming increasingly concerned with the rise of Communist China and its attempts to impose a “One China” policy, especially in the UN.

The triads found a welcoming home in Hong Kong and Macau. Besides the usual trifecta of illegal gambling, drug trafficking and sex work, modern triads also exerted their influence through extortion of businesses from small newsstands to huge construction companies. They regularly shook down wealthy businessmen and were always busy in the kidnaping for profit business. The Triads traditionally engaged in drug trafficking, loan sharking, prostitution, smuggling, gunrunning, extortion and protection rackets. They eventually moved into credit card fraud, call-girl rings, trade in illicit substances, people smuggling, and computer software and music and video pirating. Working outside the law they were able to accrue large sums of unvouchered cash which they used to fund many building projects in the expanding Hong Kong building boom and provided working capital (at a price) to many new businesses.

Just as in the integration of the Indian gangs with the growth of “Bollywood” the triads have helped create a film industry in Hong Kong (and later China) which they controlled. Their first successes were the scores of films about the triads; action films which glorified their role.

The Young and Dangerous film series were popular with young and old alike. “The appeal relied on the protagonist’s careful balance of sinister, saintly and cool. Despite their crime affiliation, the gangsters were often depicted as loyal and just individuals navigating a corrupt society.” [vi]

Image [Young and Dangerous (1996), the first film in the series]
[Young and Dangerous (1995), the first film of many in the series]
The Triads control an empire worth many billions of dollars. The largest and most powerful, Sun Yee On, (composed mostly of Chiu Chow from Eastern Guandong) has more than 45,000 members, many in Hong Kong. The Sun Yee On is well connected with the Hong Kong tycoons and Communist party elite and is well-integrated with the Hong Kong police.

Among the most popular ventures shared by Chinese officials and Hong Kong triads are the businesses that triads know best–nightclubs, karaoke bars and brothels. In Shanghai, the People’s Liberation Army owns a string of nightclubs with the Sun Yee On, and where the Public Security Bureau (police) operates several high-class houses of prostitution (including one called the Protected Secret Club).

The second and third largest Triads respectively are Wo Sing Wo and 14K (14 stands for the road number of a former headquarters and K stands for Kowloon). In September 2017, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that 14K and the Taiwan based United Bamboo Triad are now running the drug trade in the Philippines.

[List of Major Chinese Triads]

Image Kwok Wing-hung
[Alleged leader of the Hong Kong triad Wo Shing Wo, Kwok Wing-hung (rear), aka “Shanghai Boy” after being arrested for laundering more than HK $100 million in November 2017. (Photo: Dickson Lee / South China Morning Post)]
There is also a particularly brutal Triad group which developed in Hong Kong formed initially to stop Triad extortions in the city. However, its violent and cutthroat behaviour soon won them a place in the hearts of the Triad societies who used them for some of their most brutal offenses. This is the Big Circle Gang formed by ex-Red Guards after their purge and rustication by the PLA. During 1968 and 1969, a large number of these Red Guards were purged by the PLA and exiled to Guangzhou for re-education. Many escaped and travelled to Hong Kong after the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1975. Since the mid-1970s, the term ‘Big Circle Boys’ has been used explicitly to refer to criminal groups based in mainland China by the Triads and the police in Hong Kong. Their criminal enterprises extend around the globe, with a high level of activity in Africa, in the trade in illicit chemicals, abalone, gold, diamonds and ivory. [vii]

Most recently, the Big Circle Boys has been connected to a massive, billion dollar fentanyl ring in Canada. A 2003 U.S. Library of Congress report found that the triad had established cells in New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and was extensively engaged in sex slave rings, alien smuggling, prostitution, gaming offenses, vehicle theft, and various financial, intellectual property rights, and high-tech crimes. The report also called the Big Circle Boys “the most active Chinese crime group operating in Canada,” with hundreds of members in Toronto and Vancouver.

The Triads have been equally as strong in Macau as they were in Hong Kong, especially in the casino business where the largest and most notorious triad is the 14K. Their boss or “dragon head” was the infamous Wan Kuok-koi, known as “Broken Tooth” Koi. After a brutal conflict between 14K and Shui Fong, 14k eased out most of their rivals. The Chinese made a film about Broken Tooth Koi which gained a worldwide audience. [viii] In July, 2018, Wan Kuok-koi, through his company World Hung Mun Investment, said it raised US$750 million in less than five minutes at a star-studded event in Cambodia in an initial coin offering (ICO) for his “HB” cryptocurrency. Wan  partnered with “a mysterious Beijing firm” to back chess and poker tournaments in mainland China.

While criminal enterprises are not unique to China, the development of the Triads has a special degree of intensity because they have become linked with the emergence of a military-industrial complex of corporations controlled by the Chinese military and then, as the result of the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping, a close working relationship with the Chinese Communist Party inside China and abroad.

The Chinese Military-Industrial Complex

Mao Tse-Tung left China in a weak position. He was succeeded by Hua Guofeng who attempted to keep a tight control over the power structures of China, including the Central Military Committee. However, his power waned, and control was transferred to the reformer Deng Xiaoping who revolutionised the economy of China. Deng never held office as the head of state or government, but he did serve as the de facto leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to the early 1990s as leader of the Communist Party of China (CCP).

Deng represented the next generation Chinese leadership and was instrumental in introducing Chinese economic reform, also known as the socialist market economy, and he partially opened China to the global market. Deng is generally credited with pushing China into becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world and for raising the standard of living. Deng Xiaoping’s ouster of Hua Guofeng was the moment when the market policies of economic reform began. This reform was carried on primarily by the military companies created in the various regions by the armies which controlled them.

With this opening into market reforms and a relaxation of control by the CCP the military groups began to form companies on their own in their own regions. It is not difficult to see why. The People’s Liberation Army (‘PLA’) controlled the security situation in its region. That meant it issued permits to enter or leave the region; it controlled the communications network in the region; it had the trucks and other transport under its control; and it was charged with maintaining order. It was, in fact, in charge. This was not controlled by one central PLA group but was under the control of the individual army for each military region; some, like the 28th Army and the 39th Army were in economic hotspots and were able to thrive quickly. The Northern Army was quick to exploit its opportunities.

These burgeoning military corporations were aided in their efforts by the presence of the Triads, especially in the urban areas. While the military had the physical control of the region and the industries, the Triads had the seed capital and the local administrative, middle-management, people. The local civil administration had become enmeshed in the activities of the Triads and was able to operate corrupt enterprises without a reliance on the Chinese Communist cadres who were notionally in charge of the regions. Usually, they too became part of the corrupt enterprise.

Until the end of Hua Guofeng’s rule the CCP was opposed to the activities of the Triads. As a general rule, Communist parties don’t like the criminal fraternity as they want no competition from the private sector in stealing from the people. However, with the accession to power of Deng Xiaoping, the situation had changed.

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping initiated a series of economic reforms that led to the opening of China. The reforms allowed for economic decisions to be made at the local level. This let states and townships take greater responsibility for their own economic activities. As a result, China’s economy grew to be less regulated by the central government. This opened the door to the development of corporations and the integration of the Triads into the system of administration. Deng was famous for his saying, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white; as long as it catches mice, it’s a good cat.” In essence, the “black cat” and “white cat” stood for “planned economy” and “market economy,” and Deng was saying that whichever one gets the job done will be adopted.

Image Deng Xiaoping’s ‘cat theory,’ parodied by the political cartoonist Rebel Pepper. (Rebel Pepper)
[Deng Xiaoping’s ‘cat theory,’ parodied by the political cartoonist Rebel Pepper. (Rebel Pepper)]
This greatly improved the power of the Triads and created a dependency by the local Party and civil administration to the military and the Triads for their sustenance. These included gifts or donations as a tool for organized criminals to purchase the cooperation of the police. At the highest level of political corruption was the practice known as “maiguan maiguan,” or the selling of government posts to criminals or action by government officials to protect criminals, and heijin, the penetration of mobsters into the legitimate business sector and the political arena

An interesting aspect of the role of the Triads came during the civil disturbances of the Tiananmen Square uprising, when the Chinese Communist Party, under Li Peng, cracked down on China’s democracy movement, ordering in the troops to battle the students. The PLA was ambivalent about this and seven retired senior military officers openly criticized the martial law order imposed by the Beijing government and called for the ouster of Premier Li Peng. The populace was outraged, and the authority of the Communist Party waned.

The PLA had realised it was free from the controlling hand of the Party and became agents of change, primarily corporate change, encouraged by Deng Xiaoping (retired but active). During the march for democracy, the Triads were used to rescue some of the leading protestors.

“Operation Yellowbird” was a plan to rescue activists from Beijing to a safe haven in Hong Kong and then abroad. After the Chinese government quashed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Beijing issued a wanted list of ringleaders of the protests. In response, activists in Hong Kong, including the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, set up Operation Yellowbird in mid-June 1989 to help wanted activists escape from China. They raised large sums of money from the Hong Kong democrats and engaged the Triads to sneak the dissidents beyond the CCP control.

Closely following the aftermath of the protests, seven of the twenty-one most wanted students escaped China through the operation’s assistance; although some had no knowledge of its existence at the time. Yellowbird successfully helped more than four hundred dissidents, who were smuggled through Hong Kong, and then onwards to Western countries.

Chan Tat-Ching, or Brother Six, was the mastermind of the escape as the Triads had the speedboats and other smuggling equipment which could get the protestors out. The U.S. and British intelligence agencies offered their assistance and the French consulate prepared the diplomatic papers and passports to get them out of Hong Kong. This was achieved with the co-operation of two of the PLA armies. [ix]

The build-up of PLA corporations had began in earnest. They already had numerous companies under PLA control manufacturing goods for the defence sector. During Mao Tse-tung’s rule and the era of Sino-Soviet tensions, the military moved many of its factories inland in case of a possible attack on China. Manufacturing purely military products such as arms and ammunition, as well as electronics, plastics and metals for military applications, these so-called “third-line” factories were built in remote mountain regions, far away from transportation routes and power sources. The factories bought supplies at subsidized costs from other factories, manufactured the weaponry and related products — generally low-tech and low-quality — and then sold them to the military at subsidized prices.

Image Tiananmen Square
The bodies of dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989. (AP)

After Mao’s death in 1976, the new leadership encouraged the military plants to begin exploring civilian uses for their products and to engage in the broader liberalizing economy. The nimblest managers were free to exploit new markets for their goods. During the early 1980s, the PLA’s share of the national budget declined, spurring it to look to other sources for cash, especially hard currency. The higher organizational levels of the PLA created trading companies like China Xinxing, China Poly and China Songhai to take advantage of the opening of China’s economy to the international market.

They formed banks, holding companies and international trading companies like Everbright to market these goods worldwide. The PLA ran farms, factories, mines, hotels, brothels, paging and telephone companies and airlines, as well as major trading companies.

The number of military-run business exploded during the boom of the late 1980s. The “third line” factories opened branches in the coastal areas, earning increasingly high profits from the manufacture of civilian goods. Even the lowest levels of the PLA set up production units. In fact, the PLA had a largely captive audience of Chinese who had never really had the chance to acquire personal goods produced in China before. In addition to their international arms sales, their production of consumer goods for the domestic market soared.

The government first attempted to regulate the PLA’s business activities in 1989. It issued a series of decrees that included a prohibition on active military personnel holding positions at commercial enterprises. The reforms were intended to prevent lower-ranking officers from becoming involved in the daily functioning of the military companies.

In the wake of the rejection of the Party in 1989 these government strictures fell away. The government tried again the early 1990s, when the central leadership of the military took steps to coordinate the production of the vast number of military factories by tying the plants together under “group companies.” The groups, acting like conglomerates, were successful in centralizing management and production, running the trading companies and expanding the groups’ business operations. The PLA acted as a state within a state, with its power growing substantially along with the wave of Chinese economic expansion.

Many of these companies then listed themselves on capital markets in Hong Kong and elsewhere. These so-called red chips, companies listed on the Hong Kong Exchange, but which were in fact mainland Chinese firms, were the hottest stocks on the market. Hong Kong is the PLA’s favoured stock exchange because of its loose disclosure guidelines.

Foreign companies looking for a foothold in China like partnering with the PLA because of the stability it can offer to any long-term project. Companies with military partners get the added security of knowing that the top “management” of many of the PLA companies are from the ranks of the “princelings,” the children and relatives of senior Chinese Communist Party officials. These influential princelings assure that the business operations of the PLA will have the government connections that are so important in China’s corrupt system. In the case of China Poly, chair Wang Jun and president He Ping act as brokers between the government and the military. Wang Jun is the eldest son of the late Vice-President Wang Zhen. He Ping is the son-in-law of the late Deng Xiaoping. Wang Jun’s brother, Wang Bing, is the chair of the PLA Navy Helicopter Company. China Carrie’s president is Ye Xuanning, the second son of late PLA Marshal Ye Jianying. [x]

These military companies established joint ventures with many of the largest international firms; making full use of their intellectual property. This dominant role of the PLA corporations grew after Tiananmen Square as the Communist Party was in some disarray. By 1998 the Party tried to reassert itself in control. There was an effort by the Chinese Government to try and rein in some of these companies but to no avail. More than a year after the Chinese military was ordered to disband its octopus-like business empire (1999) and return to the barracks, its influence over the nation’s economy continued. During 1999, some PLA high-profile investments, such as Beijing’s five-star Palace Hotel, were handed over to central government shareholders with great public fanfare. At least 150 large, profitable enterprises were grabbed up by the central government. Most, however, stayed with the PLA.

By the mid-1990s, the so-called “PLA Inc.” included over twenty thousand companies in everything from agribusiness to electronics to tourism to arms exports. The 1989-1990 reforms had only a marginal effect. The Party had diminished control of these companies.

Enter Xi

With the rise to power of Xi Jinping in 2012 the party began to reassert control of the military and its companies. In addition to his role as Chairman of the Communist Party Xi Jinping took over the leadership of the Central Military Council (‘CMC’) the Party’s control organisation in charge of the military. He used his position to dramatically reduce the number of soldiers and he reorganised the military structures.

Most importantly, Xi embarked upon a strict anti-corruption campaign.

President Xi Jinping concentrated on the “rule of law” within China. An important part of the “rule of law “was the eradication or, at least suppression of corruption. Since the start of his anti-corruption drive in November 2012, more than forty high-level officials have been investigated and shamed. These officials include current and former municipal and provincial party secretaries and vice governors, senior government officials, and executives at state-owned enterprises.

This anti-corruption campaign was not embarked upon solely to punish Party and Army leaders who had stolen from the State. It was also a means of removing from the leadership of the Party many of Xi’s enemies; both on the Left (Bo Xilai and the “New Left” in China); and the Right Jiang Zeminists (Zuo Yongkang, Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong). Xi and Wang Qishan, Politburo Standing Committee member and head of the powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, made it clear that the ‘new’ PLA will not tolerate a senior military leadership that has its loyalties anywhere but the CMC. Many of the leaders of the PLA military corporations had to choose between the companies and their ranks in the Army. This effectively returned many of the companies to Communist Party discipline.

At the same time, after 2014 and the collapse of the real estate market, the large and mostly unregulated “Shadow Banks” in China were brought back under the control of the large state banks. By far the most important development was the gradual expansion of the State-Owned Enterprises (‘SOE’ yangqi) under State-Party control. There are about 120 large SOEs in China, managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) as well as several large banks and insurance companies not supervised by the SASAC.

Image Xi corruption cartoon
President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption (Credit Heng).

President Xi Jinping was seen as an unlikely leader of the Party or as a reformer of the economy at the time of his accession to power as he had no apparent political base supporting him. He was never viewed as part of either the conservative or reformist factions of the Party but wavered around a broadly centrist stance. Perhaps this is due to his background and his experience. Unlike his predecessors in the office Xi has had a prolonged military experience and is a “princeling” of the military establishment. After graduating from Tsinghua University in 1979, Xi’s father was able to get him a job as a secretary to the Central Military Committee, the nerve-centre of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (‘PLA’). His father was Xi Zhongxun, a former vice-premier and a crony of then defence minister General Geng Biao. Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, a popular singer with the PLA Song and Dance Troupe, has the rank of major-general.

Xi is known to be on good terms with the disproportionately large number of princelings who have since the early 2000s risen to the post of major-general or above. These “military princelings, who were recently made full generals with high military ranks included Political Commissar of the Academy of Military Sciences Liu Yuan, Political Commissar of the Second Artillery Corps, Zhang Haiyang, and the Vice-Chief of the General Staff Ma Xiaotian

Perhaps Xi’s greatest success has been the relentless purging of the PLA of corrupt leaders. Starting in 2012 Xi shook up the structure of the PLA and the CMC. He eventually netted two of the biggest fish in that pond. In January 2015, Xu Caihou, 71, a former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and a member of the powerful Politburo, confessed to taking “massive” bribes in exchange for assisting in promotions. He was found guilty and expelled from the party. In April 2016, China’s top general Guo Boxiong was arrested and expelled from the party for massive corruption (along with members of his family). The man who ran the world’s largest army was charged with accepting $12.3 million in bribes.

The result of this attack on corruption changed the balance between the military and the party leadership. The PLA was presented with the option of allowing many of the major military-industrial companies to morph into state-owned enterprises in return for a proper funding and reorganisation of China’s military. The PLA chose to return to its more military pursuits and leave much of the business to the State and Party leadership. In return, the PLA got new equipment, a reorganised structure and a more focussed program.

The withdrawal of the PLA from many of its business ventures and its reorganisation into a more solidly military configuration has increased its efficiency and made the military-Triad relationship much less important. However, the Triads have continued to prosper throughout China as they still retain a lot of the cash circulating through the economy.

While the CCP may use ‘reform’ and ‘anti-corruption’ to weed out its enemies in the political structure it still needs the Triads to help manage the commerce across the vast areas of China. Most importantly, the CCPF and the PLA have been using their symbiotic relationship with the Triads to engage in policies in which it cannot or will not be seen to be engaged.

Image Chinese President Xi Jinping Reviews Parade in Field for First Time
[Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews parade for the PLA’s 90th birthday.]

The Triads As Adjuncts to Chinese Foreign Policy Goals

There are three key areas in which the Triads act to promote the foreign policy of the Chinese state; the suppression of dissent and labour activism in Hong Kong and Macau; the preparations for the Chinese military takeover of the island of Taiwan; and the expansion of the new Belt and Road initiative of the Chinese state.

As the Chinese government cracks down on dissent in supressing the discontent of workers across China in strikes and demonstrations, the local administration frequently calls on the local Triads to suppress the dissent.

However, this took on a more important role in the use of the Triads in suppressing the dissent in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution. From 26 September to 15 December 2014 the CCP in Beijing demanded that they pre-screen all candidates for the election of new leaders for Hong Kong. The students and other activists took to the streets and blocked traffic and commerce to protest the violation of the “separate system” agreed with the British when they vacated the colony. When London and Beijing signed their agreement returning Hong Kong to Chinese control on July 1, 1997, the fear was that the colony’s criminal syndicates would relocate to Europe or the United States. Instead, the syndicates moved into southern China.

On the sixth day of the democracy protests in Hong Kong, in both the Central District and Mong Kok on Kowloon, a new and violent force engaged in the clash between the authorities and the student demonstrators. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, even when the police used tear gas against the students, there seemed to be reluctance on both sides to enter into pitched and violent battles. But, on the sixth day of the protests, a violent group of anti-Occupy protestors joined the conflict and engaged in trashing student tents and hurling obscenities and projectiles against the students.

On that Friday in Mong Kok they beat the students and destroyed their banners and posters and chanted “go home”. Water bottles and other missiles were thrown. Abandoned buses that had stood at the site since activists occupied it were boarded and driven off to loud cheers. For a long period, the police were unable, or unwilling, to separate the two sides. Female activists were sexually abused, and foreign journalists attacked.

This was the result of the CCP engaging the Triads in the suppression of dissent. In fact, the Big Circle Gang of ex Red Guards who had practice in breaking up crowds as well as the Sun Yee Ong were employed. Since 2014 the CCP and local CCP officials in Hong Kong have mobilised the Triads, especially the Big Circle Gang, in suppressing any dissent, labour, student or democrat.

The main current thrust of CCP and Triad co-operation is the determination by China that the island of Taiwan must be returned to the control of the Chinese state. There have been many abortive efforts by the PLA to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan, but they were never actually conducted. As part of the bargain made by Xi Jinping with the PLA was an agreement that the PLA would be allowed to ’liberate’ Taiwan.

One of the keys to preparing for the invasion of Taiwan has been the activation of the Triad organisations in Taiwan as an adjunct to CCP power. A primary vehicle for this move has been the China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP), a pro-mainland group created by Chang An-le, former head of one of the most powerful triads, the Bamboo Union. About 500 of his followers attempted to physically remove anti-Beijing protestors from the Taiwanese parliament in April 2014. The CUPP is known to regularly contribute manpower to violent protests organized by other groups. There is also evidence of growing collaboration and coordination between pro-Beijing triads in Hong Kong and the CUPP in Taiwan. [xi]

Tensions continue to grow between China and Taiwan. China is trying to limit Taiwan’s international space and undermine support for the island’s incumbent ruling party. The U.S. actively supports Taiwan, as part of its policy towards China. This year, one may expect an increase in Chinese pressure on Taiwan because of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for early 2020 on the island.

Snake Heads

The Chinese triads are one of the world’s largest organisations involved in international criminal activity. Their ‘snake heads’ smuggle men and women all over the world. They supply or carry much of the world’s trade in amphetamines, ephedrine, heroin, opium, mandrax and similar drugs. They have a large stake in the success of the new Chinese Belt and Road initiative which will engage international trade using Chinese transport facilities.

This engagement with Chinese vessels, trains, ports and handling facilities is breathing new life into Chinese organised crime and offers a bonanza in business to the Triads; especially with the support of the Chinese Government.

During the Cultural Revolution in China the theme song of the movement was “The East is Red”. The Cultural Revolution may have passed into history but, indeed, the East is still red. The Belt and Road initiative will spread the power and control of the CCP across the globe and, with it, the power of the Triads.

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Dr. Gary K. Busch, for Lima Charlie News 

[Edits by Anthony A. LoPresti] [Main image: adapted from a photo by Anton Kuster]

Dr. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting professor at several universities. He was the head of research in international affairs for a major U.S. trade union and Assistant General Secretary of an international union federation. His articles have appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit, Wall Street Journal, WPROST, Pravda and several other news journals. He is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations www.ocnus.net.

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

Sources

[i] Booth, Martin. The Triads: The Growing Threat from the Chinese Criminal Societies. Grafton, 1990

[ii] Brian G. Martin, The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics and Organized Crime, 1919-1937

[iii] Prof. Zha Daojiong, From Temples to Chinatowns: The evolution of Chinese Organized Crime,, Peking University, January 2015

[iv] ibid

[v] Basham, Richard. “The Roots of Asian Organized Crime.” IPA Review 48.4 (1996)

[vi] https://chinachannel.org/2018/10/02/triad-tested/

[vii] Wang, P.. “Vicious Circles: Gang Legacy of the Cultural Revolution. Jane’s Intelligence Review, 2011

[viii] https://theculturetrip.com/asia/china/articles/macaus-mafia-influence-of-triads-on-the-las-vegas-of-the-east/

[ix] Lam, Jeffie,. “‘Operation Yellowbird’: How Tiananmen activists fled to freedom through Hong Kong”. South China Morning Post, 26 May 2014

[x] David Welker, “The Chinee Military-Industrial Complex Goes Global”, Monopoly Makers, June 1997

[xi] J. Michael Cole, “Nice Democracy You’ve Got There. Be a Shame If Something Happened to It”., Foreign Policy, 18 June 2018

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The Fears of Iran and its Forgotten Kurds

Image The Fears of Iran and its Forgotten Kurds [Lima Charlie News]
The Fears of Iran and its Forgotten Kurds [Lima Charlie News]

In the West much is heard about the struggles of the Kurdish peoples of Iraq and Turkey. Yet, little is heard about the Kurds of Iran.

To most Iranians, Kurds are simply a non-people. Any mention of Kurdish symbols, such as the sun logo of the Kurdish flag, or even the term “Kurd” does not appear in Iranian media. Unless of course, it pertains to some other country mistreating their Kurds.

This fact is indicative of the overall Iranian fear of revolt from within. Successive Iranian regimes, even more so than the governments of Iraq and Turkey, have long followed a policy of forced assimilation by forbidding the instruction of the Kurdish language in schools and following a policy of divide and rule by subdividing the Kurdish region into three governing districts.

Taking a step back, it is imperative to note that, overall, Iranians or Persians (a distinction of great importance) as Graham E. Fuller once observed, tend to think of themselves as the center of the universe. Such a notion may seem quaint to most Americans, who tend to associate Iran as just another backward middle eastern country ruled by religious fanatics. Moreover, as Fuller observed in another study, Persians overall tend to regard themselves as a people under siege by hostile forces. Rulers from the Qajars through the Pahlevis to the Islamic government of today, have conducted their foreign policies in consonance with this fundamental belief.

The present Iranian regime uses these beliefs as a solidifying factor to hold together their multicultural country, a country in which only an estimated 40 percent of the Iranian people are of the Persian ethnic group. The remaining 60 percent consists of Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Baluchis, Arabs, and Turkoman. With varying intensity, many of these non-Persian groups feel little loyalty to the Iranian state.

While factions within Iran often strenuously emphasize the danger of the “Great Satan,” the United States and the West in general, the real danger to Iran’s regime, and one it acutely recognizes, is the internal threat.

Image [A diverse crowd of Iranians in Tehran watch the World Cup after a 40 year prohibition against women attending public sporting events. June 20, 2018, Azadi Stadium, Tehran. (ANADOLU AGENCY)]
[A diverse crowd of Iranians in Tehran watch the World Cup after a 40 year prohibition against women attending public sporting events. June 20, 2018, Azadi Stadium, Tehran. (ANADOLU AGENCY)]

The Kurdish Divide

The third largest population in Iran are Kurds. And they are a restive people.

Kurds in Iran suffer from the same maladies that seemingly infect the Kurdish people everywhere. Tribal and clan loyalties, political ideologies, which include a strong communist influence, and rural versus urban differences, divide them. In fact, the latter divisive factor has been one of the primary reasons for Kurdish continued subservience to the Iranian regime. Most of the fight to obtain independence or autonomy has been perpetuated by the elite and urban Kurds. Frequently Persians have exploited this difference gaining collaboration with rural tribes against their fellow urbanites. This was particularly critical in the Kurdish revolt against the Khomeini regime in 1979-80.

Iranian Kurds are also divided by communication difficulties. Turkish Kurds use the Roman alphabet, while Iranian Kurds use the Arabic script. Although the Persian alphabet is Arabic, the Persian language (Farsi) is very different from Arabic, being a non-Semitic language. The Iranian regime has tried for decades to erase the use of the Kurdish language, not only in the public sphere but in the home as well.

A further component of disunity among the Iranian Kurds is the geographical distances that separate segments of the Kurdish community. While most live in the northwestern region of Iran, many are located hundreds of miles to the east, isolated from the struggle of their fellow Kurds. Many Kurds are also located within Azeri lands. The Azeris, a large Turkish speaking, Shi’a minority within Iran, have not exhibited any affinity for joining Kurdish attempts to establish independence from Persian Iran. Their relations to the Kurds, with whom they often live in close proximity, has never been cordial. Many Azeris have apparently assimilated into Persian society. Nevertheless, they are still viewed with suspicion by the Tehran regime.

The Kurds are by majority Sunni Muslims, as opposed to the Persian majority which is of the Shiite persuasion. The Iranian leadership is further on of a more radical version of Shi’ism. This religious difference is a lasting cornerstone in the Persian-Kurd conflict. While the Persian regime often courts Arab Sunni regimes, internally Sunnis are very limited in ability to practice their distinctive version of Islam. In fact, one reputable Arab source claims that a Sunni mosque has yet to be built in Tehran.

The Persians exploit this bitter division in Islam, portraying themselves as the champions of Shi’a Islam. They are considered so by many, if not most, Shi’a in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This has resulted in Arab claims (and some Western) of a Shi’a arc stretching from Iran across Iraq through Syria to Lebanon. The impact of this on Iranian Kurds is that their cause is invisible amidst all the middle eastern turmoil.

The Iranian Persian regime, which has a well oiled and well funded propaganda machine operating in Washington D.C. and in many Western capitals, maintains a great deal of influence. It can roll out a number of scholars and spokesmen who will testify to the equality and commonality of interests of all the people of Iran. This writer has sat through a number of conferences in Washington attended by many intelligence professionals who seemed impressed by the speaker, invariably blaming the problems of American-Iranian relations on a lack of American “understanding.”

Many of these supporters of the Iranian regime appear to be true believers, but others are paid public relations personnel. Iranian funded scholarly centers for the study of Iran as well as Potemkin tours are available for interested journalists and students. Iranian Kurd public relations are minuscule in comparison.

Of the 30 million Kurds scattered across the region, the Iranian Kurds, 8 to 10 million of them, live in a void of isolation.

While Azeri nationalists can rely on Turkish sources to promote their cause (when beneficial to the Erdogan regime), and the Arab struggle in Khuzistan is supported by most Arab Gulf media, the Kurds of Iran have few outside advocates to promote their fight. Even the Iraqi Kurds in their quest to put space between themselves and the Iraqi government do not want to agitate their Iranian neighbor. The Barzani Kurds have had a bitter relationship with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Talabani Kurds have had a cozy relationship with the Iranian government since the fall of Saddam. It is clear the Iranian Kurds have no friends.

The Iranian government propaganda machine is adroitly managed and persuasive. Yet history clearly reveals the often brutal treatment meted out to dissident activist Kurds, giving lie to Iranian government claims of a constitutionally based country of equality and fraternity.

The Iranian Persian regime, which has a well oiled and well funded propaganda machine operating in Washington D.C. and in many Western capitals, maintains a great deal of influence.

A Long and Bloody Struggle

The history of the Kurdish struggle in Iran is a long and bloody struggle that has continued for more than five hundred years. In 1639, after military defeats, Shah Abbas signed a treaty with Sultan Murad which formalized the partition of Kurdistan, the borders of which have changed little since then. For the next 500 years, Kurds have struggled to maintain independence from various Iranian regimes.

When Reza Shah came to power in 1925 he tried to create a centralized state in which minority communities were expected to assimilate into the Persian culture. Revolting against the oppression of Kurdish culture, Kurdish leader Ismail Agha (Simko) tried to establish a Kurdish state in Iran. He was invited to a conference with Iranian military leaders, and was assassinated. The assassination of Kurdish leaders became the method of choice to intimidate and weaken the Kurdish nationalist movements, especially under the Islamic government. Iranian Kurdish leaders in exile were sought out by Iranian agents and murdered.

The crucible of Iranian Kurdish history began during World War II. In what today is known as the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, allied armies invaded the Persian nation in 1941. The Soviet-British lead forces quickly brushed aside the weak Iranian military and unseated the Nazi-Germany sympathetic Reza Shah. A weak, but the Western-Soviet backed government was installed and the central Iranian government lost control of the Kurdistan region. This new Persian government would be lead by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

By 1943 American forces would join the Anglo-Soviet military in propping up the rule of Pahlavi. The Soviets, who had long coveted the northern part of Iran, occupied northern Iran and established strong ties with Kurdish leaders. Ironically, it was in the Kurdish city of Mahabad, occupied by neither Soviets nor Americans, that the nationalist movement gained momentum. Under their leader Qazi Mohammed, it evolved into the Komala movement, which later became the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).

Soviet tanks of the 6th Division on the streets of Tibriz, Iran (August 27 – September 17, 1941).

With Soviet support, the KDP would establish a state named the Mahabad Republic on 1 January 1946. Despite an agreement that foreign armies would withdraw from Iran, the Soviets stayed on assisting the short-lived republic for about a year. When the Soviets were prevailed upon to leave by the United States, Iranian government forces overpowered the Kurdish military. As so often happens in Kurdish history, some Kurdish tribes cooperated with the Iranian government forces. The Kurdish state collapsed and Kurdish leaders were arrested. After giving the American ambassador assurances that the Kurdish leader Qazi Mohammed would not be “shot,” Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi had him hanged.

Some observers of Iranian Kurdish history opine that the Kurds, under the reign of the two Pahlevis, with their constant oppression, evolved from a linguistic entity to an ethnic entity. This then led to a nationalist enclave. Under the last Shah, there were numerous revolts and protests, all put down by the Imperial Iranian government forces. Engineered by the Shah’s government, the “white revolution” – a revolution from the top to bring Iran into the modern industrial world – resulted in further impoverishment of Iran’s citizens, the destruction of the lingering elements of the tribal / clan system, and generally Kurdish societal structure. The Shah completely ignored the Kurdish people and their aspirations. In his autobiography, Mission for my Country, he does not even mention the Kurds.

Image Shah of Iran
[Banners criticizing the shah, during the 1979 Iranian Revolution Source: Raphael Saulus]
Western historians have generally lamented the 1953 coup d’état fomented by the CIA and the UK’s MI6, which toppled the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh was an opponent of foreign power intervention in Iran and assumed to be a liberal answer to the repression practised by the Shah. He had assumed power in 1951 and as his reforms began to erode the power of the Shah, instilling fear into many segments of the Iranian society, his rule became more dictatorial.

Yet, despite the liberal portrait painted by Western historians, his rule did not include any provisions for self-rule or recognition of Kurdish rights. His programs were aimed at reforms of the “Iranian peoples,” with no mention of the minorities. With the resumption of the full power of the Shah in 1953, repression of the people became more severe, with the Kurds bearing the brunt of the punishment. In fact, the Kurdish areas were effectively military zones with very visible police and military elements. The agents of Savak, the Iranian government secret security organization, were omnipotent and omnipresent.

From 1953 till 1978, Kurdish opposition was driven underground. In fact, one of the few outlets for Kurdish aspirations was the program of the Tudeh (communist) party of Iran that ostensibly championed the rights of minorities. The Tudeh did however not support an independent Kurdistan.

Other underground organizations that attracted a few Kurds were the Mujahideen el Khalq (MEK), and the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerillas. Both organizations proclaimed the need for more self-determination, but not independence.

The most important organization for the Iranian Kurds was, and still is, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran. It was originally the Kurdish Democratic Party but ideological and power-sharing issues resulted in the Iranian branch splitting from the Barzani group. Established in 1945, it has remained the major political party for promoting Iranian Kurdish aspirations, underground, until 1978. In sum, as the Iranian born Kurdish writer A. R. Ghassemlou wrote, “in the Kurd’s struggle against the Shah’s regime, the democratic forces of Iran were more reliable and significant than even our fellow Kurds of Iraq or Turkey.”

Image Ethnic map of Iran
[Ethnic map of Iran]
The long, sad history of the Kurds in Iran seemed to have entered a new and more hopeful period, when in 1978 the Islamic Revolution evicted the Pahlevi regime and seemingly offered hope for Kurdish autonomy aspirations. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini promised an “Islamic” government as opposed to the Persian imperial government of the Shah.

Naively the Kurds set about creating their own government and the KDPI came out of hiding to set up a Kurdish government. However, by 1979 it dawned upon the Kurds that the imperial designs of the Iranian Islamic government had not changed. Meanwhile, in characteristic Persian fashion, the Supreme Leader launched a surprise attack on the Kurds driving them out of the cities and into the mountains. The conventional army of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army known as the ARTESH, failed to pursue and after several months the Kurds had returned to drive the Persians out of the Kurdish cities. The Persian army, crippled by massive purges and desertions of officers was in a chaotic state. ARTESH officers were also often reluctant to order their troops to fire on Kurdish protestors. Twelve were executed for failure to do so.

The Islamic Republic had, by 1979, created the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard), an organization separate from the ARTESH, composed of officers and men devoted to the Shi’a Persian government. Like praetorian guard units all over the Middle East, they were given the best of everything. Zealous and well equipped, they were sent against the Kurds. Kurdish militias, armed only with light weapons looted from ARTESH depots, fought on bravely for months, with hundreds being killed and many other hundreds, when captured, being summarily executed. By 1981 the Kurdish rebellion had been declared crushed. In reality it sporadically continued for the next seven or eight years.

Image [An Iranian Kurdish woman holds a Kurdish flag as she takes part in a gathering before the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, which was held on September 25, 2017. (AFP)]
[An Iranian Kurdish woman holds a Kurdish flag as she takes part in a gathering before the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, which was held on September 25, 2017. (AFP)]

Will there ever be an Iranian Kurdish referendum?

The Kurds of Iran demonstrate the often-bloody consequences of multi-ethnic states in the Third World. In states such as Iran, in which the regime is fearful of its people, power is always ultimately in the hands of those with the weapons. That is why the “Arab Spring” failed and why the ongoing protests in Iran will lead nowhere.

In states like Iran and in most of the Arab world, a declaration similar to the Magna Carta has not taken place. In terms of a democratic tradition, such states are 800 years behind the West. Curtailing the time period to develop a democratic tradition is unlikely, as it cannot be imposed from the top and the process itself is very perishable and often unstable.

Meanwhile, the Tehran regime remains ever vigilant and fearful of the Kurds rising once again. This was manifestly evident during the 2017 Iraqi Kurd referendum. Iranian leadership placed troops on the border between Iran and Iraq and halted all flights to Erbil and Sulaimaniya. The Iranian Mullahs were fearful of the independence fever spreading to Iran.

Fortunately for the Iranian regime, the results of the referendum were virtually meaningless. A straw vote demonstrating the Kurdish fervent desire for an independent state.

Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine, Lima Charlie News

U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine spent nearly nine years of his 30-year military career in the Middle East as a military attache, student or political military officer. After retirement he taught for 18 years as the Middle East seminar director at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Following his retirement from the JFK Center, Colonel DeAtkine held positions with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Iraqi Intelligence Cell and Marine Corps Cultural and Language Center. He has written a number of articles for various periodicals on primarily Middle Eastern military topics.

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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The struggle for Poland’s soul – religion, ultra nationalism and a populist priest

Image The struggle for Poland's soul [Lima Charlie News]
The struggle for Poland's soul [Lima Charlie News]

OPINION | Through the veils of religion, ultra nationalism and increasing tribal societal divides, Poland faces critical choices.

It was not long ago that the world described Poland as an economic and political success story. Poland proved to the West that nations could emerge from under the mantle of decades-long totalitarian rule by Moscow in under a generation. Today the world is looking upon Poland again, but this time with apprehension. As the nation enters its 2019 Parliamentary election campaign cycle, it appears clear that Poland is destined to continue its trajectory into the surging “nationalist international” – to borrow a Varoufakian locution – bloc of European countries.

In recent years the fringes of the European right-wing movements have surged in popularity, growing influential and stronger with each political cycle. A growing number of European nations have elected nationalist parties and leaders to create their governments. Many of these democracies have an inadequate democratic foundation to protect them from authoritarian political operators. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Slovakia are just a few of the nations that have nationalist, authoritarian leaders heading up their governments.

It is not just nations with a weak democratic foundation that are increasingly leaning towards the nationalistic political spectrum. On December 18th 2017, the Kurz-coalition formed the new Austrian government. Then 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, leader of the conservative Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP), became chancellor. The radical right Freedom Party of Austria, also known as Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ), also returned to power. The FPÖ’s long-term leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, became Austria’s vice-chancellor. The coalition was elected with the promise of restricting immigration and integration.

In Sweden’s 2018 September national election the Swedish Democrats, viewed as extremists, also tapped into immigration fears and became the third largest party in the country. The party was able to prevent the formation of a new government for 128 days. Meanwhile in France, arguably the birthplace of the West’s present-day democratic value system, the Russian supported far-right politician Marine Le Pen – who ran on a campaign platform aimed at capitalizing on the rising isolationistic and Islamaphobic tendencies in France – came in second winning the highest share ever given to her party.

[Photo: Janek Skarżyński]

Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?

Poland remains a conservative nation with a staunch Roman Catholic tradition and a culturally conservative society. In fact, while Christianity was largely on the retreat in Europe throughout the 1900s, the percentage of Abrahamic-religious adherers in Poland barely changed. Census polls in the country have continuously reported numbers in the high 80s or low 90s. The latest such polling, conducted by Poland’s Central Statistical Office (GUS), indicated that 87.5 per cent of Poles identify as Roman Catholics.

Even the Soviet Union, which considered religion not just a competitor to the state but also a threat, was unable to budge Poland’s Christian leanings. The Roman Catholic Church was not only culturally dominant but carried immense political influence, which was further cemented by the 1978 election of a Polish-born priest as the 264th Bishop of Rome. Karol Józef Wojtyła became known as Pope John Paul II. The new pope had a long history as an outspoken critic of communism, of Poland being part of the Soviet Union, and of unions having masters in Moscow.

With the Roman Catholic church being led by a pope overtly critical of the communist regime in Warsaw and its puppet masters in Moscow, the various pro-democracy and so-called solidarity movements in Poland surged. Backed by the Vatican, which is known to operate a premier human intelligence (HUMINT) network, John Paul II directed engagement with demonstrators on a grassroots level to show the world the inhumanity of Soviet rule. This was especially the case when Moscow resorted to violence to quell protests. Often times Roman Catholic priests would spearhead demonstrations, the idea being that their presence would shield demonstrators from the worst. Often times, these priests would stand on the frontline of the crowds and be the first to be struck down.

In early 1980, John Paul II announced that he would carry out a pilgrimage to Warsaw amidst a series of late 1979 and early 1980 protests and the violent response from the Russian-Polish militaries. This pilgrimage allegedly pushed the conflict to the edge. America’s CIA, along with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope’s longtime private secretary, would later accuse KGB director Yuri Andropov of instructing “the wet jobs” (i.e., black ops department within the Bulgarian State Security) to find a solution to this priest and his meddling. Andropov was apparently convinced that John Paul II was a direct threat to the state that had to be dealt with:

The Pope is our enemy…. Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor he is dangerous, because he charms everyone, especially journalists …. Because of the activities of the Church in Poland our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop…. In this respect all means are allowed and we cannot afford sentiments.

Andropov’s request to deal with the Pope was allegedly adhered to at 17:17 on Wednesday, May 13th 1981. Minutes earlier, Pope John Paul II had entered St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, in an open-top, white Fiat SUV, commonly referred to as the “Popemobile”. The Pope’s presence was expected. He appeared in St. Peter’s Square weekly to give a speech and meet believers. Four rounds fired from a 9mm Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol rang out. John Paul II clutched his chest and slumped into the arms of Cardinal Dziwisz who was sitting next to him in the vehicle. A bright red stain slowly ran across the Pope’s white cassock robe.

Image POPE John Paul II
[Pope John Paul II prays in 1993 at the Hill of Crosses in Siauliai, Lithuania](Photo: Arturo Mari, L’Osservatore Romano)]
The 61-year-old was critically wounded. Two of the rounds had been lodged in his lower intestines, one round having passed through his right arm and another one having struck his left hand. Two nearby bystanders were hit by the through-and-through rounds.

John Paul II would survive to serve for another 24 years. His would-be-assailant was quickly identified as Turkish national Mehmet Ali Ağca. In the aftermath, Ağca would testify that the attempt had been orchestrated by the Bulgarian intelligence agency, at the behest of the KGB. Ağca claimed that the operation had been commanded by Zilo Vassilev, the Bulgarian military attaché in Italy.

As one might expect, Moscow quickly and continuously denied the veracity of the allegations. This denial has lived on into present day. In 2006, an Italian parliamentary investigation commission would state that it had evidence the KGB was behind the plot and that Ağca did not act alone.

The news and images of the Pope being gunned down would set off a domino effect in Poland, and against communism throughout Eastern Europe. While Moscow might have seen Polish Roman Catholicism as a problem, never budging on what a menace the meddlesome priest was, leaders in Warsaw were more in tune with the local atmosphere and opted to embrace the Church. Former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev once said that the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II.

The Soviet and communist rule over Poland ended in 1989, but the influence of Catholicism never did. Today, many Poles believe that they have the Catholic Church to thank for the fall of the Soviet Union, and that Poland was spared the relative worst of Soviet rule.

Great Expectations

After decades of only glimpsing Western plenty through slits in the Iron Curtain, the brave new world of blue jeans, Coca Cola, and decent cars was Eastern Europe’s for the taking. Out with the old communist stagnation, and in with Western democracy, investment and technology. To say hopes were high would be an understatement.

Reality would quickly rear its ugly head.

For awhile, the European Union played the saviour. It provided cheap credit and free movement for Polish labour, along with promises of democracy and the rule of law for the countries of Eastern Europe.

But the credit dried up, cheap Eastern European labour was forced to compete with even cheaper Middle Eastern labour, and, courtesy of the Euro, no one could devalue their currency to bring labour costs down. The dreams of an economically vibrant Eastern Europe died in the teeth of the Asian Tiger economies. Massive imports of cheap Asian manufactured goods rendered Eastern Europe’s cheap labour pool redundant. The shipyard in Gdansk, where striking workers formed the backbone of the Solidarity Movements, along with Poland’s steel industry have yet to see a return of heavy industry jobs.

Levity Quote

“To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.”

– Douglas Adams, Author, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Politics is a Meat Market

The ongoing European right-wing and nationalist political trend is mostly a populist reaction. This reaction is, essentially, founded upon a growing sense of loss of national and regional identity, combined with the perception of worsening financial conditions, amid a backdrop of increased immigration to the European Union.

In the relatively progressive Europe that emerged post-Cold War, voters often found that little time or mind was spent by their elected officials tackling these concerns. With the recent turbulence in the Middle East sending refugees across Europe’s open borders, many voters struggled to find a representative voice independent of the far removed governing apparatus in Brussels that is perceived as pro-immigration. These often emotionally charged convictions were easily tapped for political gain.

In Poland, this political market share of voters is covered by the national-conservative Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS)) which is headed by its founder and former Polish Prime Minister, Jarosław Kaczyński. PiS formed the current Polish government in August 2014, with Andrzej Duda becoming the 6th President of Poland. In December 2017, the party further cemented its control of the political landscape when the PiS-politician Mateusz Morawiecki became the 17th Prime Minister of Poland. PiS efforts to increase government control over the judiciary and the public media prompted organizations, such as Freedom House, to call PiS “a political movement devoted to overturning Poland’s existing constitutional order and the democratic principles that underpin it.” PiS has also been accused of tacitly encouraging fascist and anti-Semitic groups.

To counterbalance the PiS dominance and respond to the political market trends, a new social-democratic, pro-European and secular party was announced in February 2019. This new party is called the Spring Party, or Wiosna Party. While opinion polls show that the party has already become the third largest in the run-up to autumn elections, it remains to be seen if the party will have a noticeable impact on the political course laid by its leading competitor, the PiS party.

Image Jarosław Kaczyńsk
[Jarosław Kaczyński, current leader of Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS) Photo: pis.org.pl]
While Wiosna’s advances raise hope amongst European observers, it is not the first time that a Polish liberal socialist party has made political advances, only to falter at the proverbial finish line. In 2011, a coalition of liberal left-leaning parties headed by the Palikot’s Movement, an anti-clerical and liberal party, gained 10 per cent of the votes and 40 seats in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, in the national election. This made the movement the third largest political entity on the Polish scene at the time.

However, almost immediately after the election, the coalition crumbled due to infighting. By the 2014 election coalition members crumbled one by one, falling under the electoral threshold. Today the Palikot’s Movement is known as the Your Movement (Twój Ruch, also translated as Your Move or TR), which holds no seats in the Sejm and has little influence on political developments.

The Wiosna Party is headed by Robert Biedroń, a former member of the Palikot Movement and the first openly gay member of the lower house of the Sejm. While this fact alone helps to differentiate Biedroń from his competitors, it is also likely to be a significant contributing factor to why his party will not gain the favour of many undecided voters. In the political landscape of Poland, the number of voters willing to side with a secular pro-European party is likely to be a relatively small and finite number.

The second largest party, the Civic Platform or Platforma Obywatelska (PO) is also struggling. The PO is a liberal-conservative coalition that has formed a government on two occasions, in 2007 and 2011. By 2011 the party had to share its voters with the Palikot Movement, which also targeted the urban-centric voter. This, in turn, led to a 15.09% loss in voters in the 2015 election, the majority of which went to the PiS, making it the majority party. The PO has yet to recover from this election loss and is primarily seen as having been unable to formulate a coherent political strategy or candidate to combat the situation.

Incommunicado ad Clerum

But, what about the all-powerful Catholic Church? What does it say about the current trends in the electoral brawl?

The Vatican clergy is largely maintaining radio silence. Pope Francis, the current Pope, is busy playing defense over sexual abuse scandals. After riding high in the late 1980s, Catholicism, and the Vatican along with it, have not fared well.

To the degree that the Catholic Church is playing any role in the upcoming Polish elections, it seems focused on distancing itself from one of its own priests who has broken rank; a priest that has for years faced accusations of propagating anti-Semitism and xenophobia through a “media empire“.

While the Catholic Church has often been an intricate part of the political scene, it has rarely placed itself inside the scene itself, instead favouring an éminence grise approach. Father Tadeusz Rydzyk broke with that tradition. Rydzyk operates a small but powerful conservative radio station. He does this not on the behalf of the church, but on his own accord. The radio station, Radio Maryja, which refers to the Virgin Mary, has continuously been used to offer a voice for the individual local priest who supports “Law and Justice” (PiS). In 1998, the New York Times dubbed the station “hate radio” and reported that as the 4th largest radio station in Poland, its 5 million listeners helped at least 18 members of Parliament win because the station had endorsed them.

Rydzyk also founded, in 1998, a nationalist newspaper Nasz Dziennik (“Our Daily”) and the television station Trwam (“I Persist”) in 2003, through his Lux Veritatis Foundation.

In 2018 Rydzyk reportedly created a new party, the “True Europe” Party (“True Europe Movement”), which is running to the right of the PiS. The motivation behind the creation of what was dubbed the “Rydzyk party” remains in debate, leading to threats of prosecution and demands to retract such claims by Radio Maryja.

A recent poll for the 2019 Parliamentary election shows the party holding at only 1%, with PiS leading at 37%.

Image Tadeusz Rydzyk
[Father Tadeusz Rydzyk (Photo: Jozef Ostrowka / East News)]

A Time to Decide

When an economy is perceived as deteriorating, fueled by protests and even riots, voters often look towards authoritarian rule to resolve the immediate problem. This is when the average voter turns to nationalistic, right-wing fringe parties. While true in Poland, the opposing spectrum is now viewed as too liberal to be voted on even during the good times. Even the PO’s liberal-conservative coalition is regarded by the conservative voter spectrum as too liberal right now. And the divide is only growing larger.

The perception within progressive and liberal circles is that PiS is drawing the country deeper and deeper away from the West, towards nationalistic and authoritarian rule, all with the backing of the rural ochlocracy. At the same time, Warsaw is growing and the economy is booming, and many companies are opting for Poland to set up their East-facing operations.

With PiS and PO both being led by old-school politicians that date back to the era of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, many urban and young voters are clinging to the hope that the Wiosna / Spring Party will redraw the political landscape.

Such a rebalancing is unlikely.

POLEXIT?

In 2019, Poland will face two crucial choices which will dictate its future.

First is the upcoming Parliamentary election. This is immediately followed by the lower houses election. It is likely that the outcome of these two decisions will all favour the PiS. If the PiS does well in these elections, a Polish movement to leave the European Union, commonly referred to as POLEXIT, will likely emerge. The outcome of these elections will likely shape and determine the political landscape for the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election.

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

[Anthony A. LoPresti and Diego Lynch contributed to this story]

[CORRECTION: Feb. 25, 2019 – The sentence referring to Marine Le Pen as “nearly elected in 2017” was corrected to “came in second winning the highest share ever given to her party.” – Editors]

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

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Killing al Baghdadi – SOF operation sparks attempted coup against ISIS leader

Image al Baghdadi
Killing al Baghdadi - SOF operation sparks attempted coup against ISIS leader [Lima Charlie News]

As the sun sets on the Islamic State, its notorious leader faces a radical decision – a decision by his own men to remove him. After a Special Forces operation led by U.S. and British troops closed in on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an unlikely coup ensued.

At 0730 ZULU+2 on January 2nd a convoy of Toyota Hiluxes and Landcruisers approached the Iraqi-Syrian border at high speed. Inside the unarmoured vehicles were members of America’s and Britain’s premier fighting forces – one Alpha Detachment from the US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and a six-man team from the British Army’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR).

On the Iraqi side, the Western special operations team was under the protection of an 18 man strong detachment from the Iraqi Army’s 1st Iraqi Special Forces Brigade, also known as the battle-hardened Golden Division. The Golden Division flanked the sides and rear of the convoy using an up-armoured HMMWVs, with their guns aimed at enemies unseen but always present.

The Golden Division would only be able to protect the Westerners while on the Iraqi side. Once the convoy crossed into Syria, which would be at 0755 through a small checkpoint referred to only as X-Post One, the Golden Division would turn back. They would entrust their wards to the awaiting members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG)’s Anti-Terror Unit (YAT), the Special Forces of the YPG. Since its inception in 2014, the YAT has continuously been involved in every facet of the war against the Islamic State, always leading from the front, while fighting under the banner of the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Kurdish-Arab coalition.

Accompanying the YAT team to meet the incoming group of operators was a member of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Operations Group (SOG). Referred to as “Steven”, the former U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant had been in-country working alongside the YAT, YPG and the SDF for the past 3 months.

Acting upon intelligence received, the task force consisting of three special forces groups would be united by a common goal: the capture of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

Image Lima Charlie News Headline al Baghdadi JUN22 J.Sjoholm

January 4th

Utilising a combination of drone surveillance, familiarity of the terrain, and cover of night, the task force infiltrated the outskirts of the small border-town of al Marashidah. In February 2014, Marashidah had fallen under the control of the then aggressive conquests of the Islamic State. The town became a logistics and gathering point for operations in Iraq and for supplies flowing across.

In the past two years, as the fortunes of war turned against the Islamic State, Marashidah became a key control point that the self-declared caliphate would prove reluctant to part with. By the early weeks of 2019, Marashidah would be one of the final remaining Islamic State-controlled towns in Syria. With the Salafist-Jihadist group no longer in control of the immediate terrain, only holding on to very specific routes in and out of the town, Marashidah would become part of the highly mobile frontline.

Intelligence indicated that the founder and leader of the Islamic state, al Baghdadi, was visiting the al Marashidah frontline to encourage the troops to not just hold, but to advance. Reportedly, the intelligence received came, in part, from the recently captured IS-Commander Osama Awaid al-Ibrahim, aka Abu Zeid. If the information proved accurate, it was believed that al Baghdadi would have to leave the town within the coming hours, less his whereabouts would become commonly known and spur a large scale offensive on the position.

With only a handful of roads available to him, it was deemed likely that al Baghdadi and his always present security force would travel along a back road, as opposed to the heavily controlled Road 7 or 715, which connects Markadah with nearby Deir Ezzor. The backroad believed most likely to be used was designated “Road Designated 1624” or RD1624 in the planning.

RD1624 can barely be referred to as a road. Featuring hard topsoil, varying landscape with occasional dips and areas of brush, it is but a dirt road. As a natural path for grazing livestock, it became a locally known road after years of farmers and ranchers using it.

With the task force on the scene, it quickly sought out optimal terrain to create a so-called kill zone. A kill zone is a prepared area with limited access, ideally with a dip in the middle, which limits visibility from advancing enemies and can be fired down into by the awaiting forces. A well-prepared and executed attack on a kill zone is often over in under a minute, and rarely lasts for longer than a few minutes, even if the incoming target travels in a hard-shell vehicle. Satellite imagery and planning had already designated a series of potential sights for such a zone. With the zone quickly surveyed and prepared, all the men had to do was wait.

Image Syria map
[Courtesy of syria.liveuamap.com]

January 5th

Members of the British SAS team moved up ahead, towards the town, where they set up scouting positions from which they could conduct forward reconnaissance using air coverage assets. This consisted of small infantry deployed drones featuring powerful camera equipment.

By 1520 ZULU+2 that same day, a convoy of five vehicles was detected leaving the town travelling down RD1624. It consisted of three pickup trucks (two Toyota Hiluxes, one tan and one blue, and one tan Nissan Frontier), one grey Nissan X-Terra SUV, and one white Nissan Patrol SUV. Fitting the description of the al Baghdadi convoy, approval was given to engage once it entered the designated kill zone.

Mere minutes later, the convoy entered the dip, where special operations members lay in wait.

It still remains somewhat unclear what went wrong. The American and British operators engaged the convoy, quickly stopping the Nissan vehicles and one of the Toyota Hiluxes using a mixture of pre-prepared but small explosive charges and precision fire. The individuals inside the vehicles were permanently disabled as part of the ensuing firefight. It was quickly found, however, that the Nissan Patrol SUV was set up not just to transport the bodyguards of al Baghdadi, but also as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), i.e. a car bomb with a deadman’s switch.

The kill zone had been set up anticipating such a tactic. Yet, the timing of the explosion, combined with other circumstances, appears to have been fortunate for the Jihadists. A rear gunner on the open cargo area of the still moving Toyota pick-up was disabled, but the vehicle kept moving forward — leaving the kill zone along with the X-Terra, which appears to have had some degree of up-armouring, as rounds fired into the side of the truck reportedly did little to stop the vehicle.

The task force was forced to withdraw, as it otherwise ran the risk of encountering a numerically responding superior force from the nearby town. It is unclear if the ground had been prepared with other passive ways to disable vehicles, such as tire-shredding spikes, and if so why this did not stop the two remaining vehicles. It is however clear that the objective of the ambush was not met.

Despite the operations being seemingly a failure, it would come to set off a dramatic set of chain reactions within the ranks of the Islamic State; perhaps even setting off a civil war within the groups’ ranks.

Enter the Foreigner

Much like the last phases of World War II, where Adolf Hitler refused to acknowledge or believe that his decimated and logistically challenged German army could not hold terrain amidst the coordinated strikes of Allied forces, al Baghdadi is refusing to yield. Despite horrific losses, al Baghdadi has clung to the notion that his caliphate will persevere, determined to hold onto terrain at the cost of the lives of his largely untrained in military tactics, but battle-hardened fighters.

A multitude of reports indicate that Islamic State commanders tasked with holding what territory remains, which by recent reports totals a mere four-square-kilometres, are willing to first sacrifice the Islamic State’s foreign volunteers. Estimates say that between 400 and 600 fighters in total remain inside its remaining pockets of control. Particularly those perceived to be of “lesser ethnicities”, such as Asians or Americans, these foreign fighters from far away nations, are used as cannon fodder.

As such, it is of little surprise that those lower ranking commanders of foreign descent are looking at the situation with concern for their own well-being if not their men.

As a result of this perceived reality, along with the overall feeling that the enemy is preparing yet another offensive, an increasing number of low-level commanders, many of which are of foreign descent, are advocating a surrender of all-terrain held in exchange for the option of disappearing into the desert to fight again another day. Such a tactic would by no means remove the caliphate, it would instead move it to where its enemies can do little to hurt it; into the virtual sphere.

Such a move would also leave its adherers to focus more on asymmetrical warfare across the Middle East and to strike against the heart of the true enemy— the increasingly progressive Muslim communities and the enemy in the West.

A Radical Conclusion

Much like the last phases of World War II, where Adolf Hitler refused to acknowledge or believe that his decimated and logistically challenged German army could not hold terrain … al Baghdadi is refusing to yield.

January 10th

Despite an estimated half of his security force removed, al Baghdadi made it to the relative safety of a safe house outside of the former capital of his self-declared caliphate, Hajin. A small city in the southern parts of the Deir Ezzor Governorate, Hajin sits along the Euphrates River located some 92 miles, or about four hours by vehicle, from RD1624.

Once settled in, al Baghdadi began to meet with his commanders to plan a counter-offensive against the SDF and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Several plans were reviewed. Most of these featured standard insurgency tactics with the aim of disrupting enemy advancements enough to make it possible for the relatively minuscule number of remaining loyal forces to make a counter-offensive possible. At this point, it would appear that no matter which strategy is deployed, the Islamic State will suffer a heavy death toll on its remaining forces.

With this in mind, along with the knowledge that al Baghdadi’s personal security detachment was severely depleted from the recent western commando attack, a low level IS commander named Abu Muath al Jazairi came to a radical conclusion: al Baghdadi must be removed from power.

Al Jazairi is believed to have been born in the Iraqi city of Basra in 1995 to a medium income family. Amidst the Western incursion into Iraq, members of his family were radicalized and joined a Sunni militia aligned with al Qaeda. Al Jazairi would follow in their footsteps, and soon find himself trading alliances between Sunni militia groups operating in the security vacuum of the Syrian civil war.

A group consisting of eight like-minded foreign fighters were quickly gathered.

Upon nightfall, the eight men, led by al Jazairi approached al Baghdadi’s safehouse. During their approach, they were spotted by a sentry who called out a warning. A firefight broke out. With the men inside the safehouse now aware of the attempt, al Baghdadi’s bodyguards quickly grabbed their leader and escaped into the desert night.

The firefight, and attempted uprising, was quickly quelled. In the end, two of al Jazairi’s men lay dead and the surviving members of the group were on the run. A few hours later the Islamic State would announce a sizeable bounty on the capture of al Jazairi.

The Aftermath

On January 28th, the SDF launched its final offensive on the town of al Marashidah. By February 7th the town was described as liberated from the Islamic State’s control.

On February 8th, the SDF launched a large scale offensive on the last remaining pockets under IS control in eastern Syria. It is described as “the last full measure” against a dying foe.

Mustafa Bali, SDF spokesman, stated in Arabic on Twitter that “The SDF have started to launch … the decisive battle to finish off the remaining ISIL terrorists in the village of Baghouz”.

As of yet, the bulk of the fighting has been concentrated near Syria’s largest oil field, the al Omar oilfield. Since the offensive began, the SDF has reportedly captured or destroyed 41 IS-positions and fortifications. IS launched a counteroffensive at 0400 ZULU+2 on February 10th inside a nearby village to the al Omar oilfield, which was pushed back using intense air support assets from the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition.

SDF spokesman Bali stated, “The battle is very fierce. Those remaining inside are the most experienced who are defending their last stronghold. According to this, you can imagine the ferocity and size of the fighting.”

Despite the fierce opposition, the SDF leadership has stated that it believes it can finish off the last remaining pockets of resistance within the coming week.

While the coup attempt on al Baghdadi became known within a few days, he himself has continued to remain incommunicado. Last time al Baghdadi is believed to have made a public announcement was in August 2018. During that pre-recorded and undated speech, al Baghdadi called for renewed efforts to strike in Europe and North America. It was this speech that is believed to have inspired the Strausberg attacker, Chérif Chekatt, who on December 11th, 2018 fired into the crowds at a Christmas market.

Al Baghdadi’s whereabouts is currently unknown. But reports indicate that the US-British-Kurdish special operations team remains in Syria.

[This article was written with the help of sources in the American, Iraqi, Kurdish, Lebanese, and Jordanian intelligence and military community.]

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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Europa – Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war)

Image Lima Charlie News

OPINION | With the awakening belligerence of Putin’s Russia and China’s growing diplomatic and economic bluster, is Europe really prepared?

Si vis pacem, parabellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. This age-old adage formulated some 1,600 years ago by the famed Roman General Flavius Vegetius Renatus has not only withstood the winds of time, but its prescience has been continually reaffirmed by Western history.

The axiom’s meaning, that a strong defence is required to ensure lasting peace, is a simple but true insight that has been oft reflected upon since Flavius first uttered it. It has, however, represented yet another chasm between the mindset of military strategists, their political masters, the needs of the defender and the potential victim. In the civilian political world the axiom is frequently denounced as an excuse for needless aggression. Warmongering by frightful military leaders.

Yet, some from the political side of the aisle have wisely taken it to heart. Former Latvian president, Raimond Vejonis, once remarked in succinct fashion at a Swedish military conference, “nothing provokes Russia as much as weakness”.

Since the early 2000s, Russia has steadily increased its defence appropriations. Today its military budget amounts to approximately 4 per cent of Russia’s GDP. It is not the old, massive and often wasteful Soviet-era military service brigades that are being restored or upgraded. Instead, Russia is investing in high tech, new generation fighting machinery. Hypersonic cruisers, fifth-generation offensive air assets (including the Sukhoi Su-57 and the Tupolev Tu-22M3M planes) and new tanks are just some of the projects that will soon be incorporated into the national arsenal.

European countries have few answers to many of the measures Russia has taken in developing its military capabilities. Considering this, one can only wish that Flavius’ message might find a home in more of Europe’s politicians.

Image Sukhoi Su-57
[Sukhoi Su-57]
Congruent with these developments, Russia has learned from its mistakes and refined its battle doctrine. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Western experts were amazed at the speed and effectiveness of the attack.

Russia is not alone on its path.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has apparent ambitions far beyond its immediate territorial area. For the time being China has not done anything analogous to Russia’s Crimean adventurism. Instead, it has been leveraging infrastructure projects to project power.

One example is the Chinese railway network that is growing westward through the purchase of important infrastructure nodes in gladly accepting European countries. For example, China’s direct rail link with Finland is being expanded to the rest of the baltic states. These infrastructure projects do not just give western politicians a financial incentive to be quiescent. They also open the door for the Chinese to potentially disrupt key technological and transit infrastructures – should they choose the stick over the carrot. In addition to this, China is showing increased interest in the northeastern passage in the Arctic.

The closeness of China’s defence apparatus with its private industry has been demonstrated by the state’s willingness to go to bat for the legally embattled tech giant Huawei Technologies.

[See Lima Charlie’s recent report: Huawei – China’s telecom giant hits a giant wall].

In addition to Huawei’s legal troubles, which focus on its alleged circumvention of Iranian sanctions, Huawei’s consumer products are suspected to be replete with backdoors which could be exploited for intelligence gathering, according to the heads of the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA.

There is no doubt that, as its economic interests abroad continue to grow, China will try to guard these interests. To an even greater extent than Russia, China has invested in both defence research and equipment. Perhaps the most obvious evidence of China’s ambition to become a global power is its domestic construction of aircraft carriers.

As the Russian threat continues to grow, either militarily or by an economic infiltration strategy similar to China, Russia might well end up on an overlapping and conflicting trajectory with China over Western matters.

One fact stands amid this backdrop – Europe has not done remotely enough to meet these growing threats.

However, in recent years, particularly in 2018, that has begun to change. Even Sweden’s perennially peacenik politicians have awoken to the emerging threats at their doorstep. This, after years of Swedish intelligence services loudly declaring, in as many venues as possible, that the Socialist Democrats (the premier party of Sweden) are being naive in regards to the nation’s defensive capabilities and the intent behind China’s infrastructure investments.

Si vis pacem, parabellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.

Yet despite this realisation, Sweden still does not hold membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Sweden’s Defense Minister, Peter Hultqvist, has tried to compensate for this through a network of bi- and multilateral agreements with the U.S. as the centre of gravity. These agreements were largely supported by former U.S. Secretary of Defense (SecDef) James Mattis. With SecDef Mattis’ recent resignation, the transatlantic link has become less reliable, and now Sweden fears that it must actually pay the piper to gain the safety that it so direly needs. Despite its left-wing leadership, which has traditionally been against overt military coalitions, Sweden may soon be forced to join NATO in order to gain the much-needed advantages.

Regardless, Europe’s defence appropriations need to be raised. Since the end of the Cold War, many European NATO members have failed to meet the required military spending of 2 per cent of their GDP. In some cases, such as Belgium, they have never reached the spending requirement. This must change. It is high time to take Europe’s defence issue seriously.

The profession of defending Europe from outside foes must be made more attractive. Commanding higher salaries, more benefits and a well-functioning system for veterans are starters. These are things that European countries, with the possible exception of France, lack.

Inspiration can flow from the United States, where soldiers, for example, are given scholarships for post-graduate education. To facilitate this, the European Union (EU) could tap the European Defense Fund (EDF). The EDF is a €500 million per year fund managed by the EU to help coordinate and increase research and development in the defence market segment throughout the union. By 2021, the fund is set to have a budget by €13 billion. It could be made for implementing the necessary reforms.

It won’t be cheap to bring Europe up to the level. Equipping Europe will require appropriate technology investments. EDF intends to distribute EUR 1.5 billion per year after 2020 to various types of defence research and development. This is a good start, but the sum needs to be higher if the EU is to keep pace with developments in Russia and China. Targeted investments for the development of breakthrough technologies in cyber, A.I., electronic warfare, hypersonic weapons, etc., are needed.

Image satellite defense
[Sweden’s defence ministry issued a warning that a Chinese “built and operated” satellite communication station in Kiruna, a remote part of Sweden, could be utilized by the Chinese Military. Photo: ESA]
The U.S. spends $3.4 billion on its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) per year. The individual arms branches have their own technology research and development budgets on top of that. Perhaps it is unfair to expect the EU to match the U.S. military expenditures. After all, the EU has a significantly less ambitious military mindset than the U.S. However, it is certainly high time for the EU to invest in similar organisations to ensure innovation and competence in breakthrough defence-related areas.

It certainly won’t be easy. Prioritizing where the funds must go will be a challenge, especially in the less centralised and more-open European democratic landscape. For instance, what budgetary space should cyberspace and psychological warfare (PSYWAR) and defences receive? After the latest U.S. presidential election and the BREXIT campaign, both having suffered from suspected Russian influence, this is a threat that the EU must spend significant resources in combating. If Russian involvement altered either decision, it managed to create deep gaps in the Western alliance without firing a single shot. This must not happen again.

After all, if the EU is to stand against Russia, it must do everything possible to stop Russian or Chinese interference in its political scene, as well as prevent espionage against its industries. Europe’s economic and cultural capital is a glittering prize, and unless Europe is protected by a prickly multi-layered defence apparatus, it will prove an irresistible political adventure for outside interests.

In other words, if we want a lasting peace, we must also prepare for the opposite.

[Main Photo (filtered): Joakim Elovsson]

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

In case you missed it:

Image Lima Charlie News Headline - Huawei China

Image Lima Charlie News Headline - Organised Crime Asia FEB 8 2019

Image Lima Charlie News Headline Iran vs. the European Union - JAN 14 2019

Organised Crime in Asia – An [In]convenient Relationship

Image Organised Crime in Asia - A Convenient Relationship [Lima Charlie News]

There is an escalating crisis in Southeast Asia. A crisis developing from the symbiosis of organised crime, terrorism and the covert domestic and foreign policy ambitions of several Asian nations. Dr. Gary K. Busch examines organised crime and international politics in Asia — Part 1: The Subcontinent (India and Pakistan).

On June 19, 2017, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organised a General Assembly debate to warn that crime groups are globalising and are now primary threats to security and development. The debate also featured a special briefing on Southeast Asia, a region that is particularly vulnerable to the reach and influence of organised crime.

The study found that transnational organised crime groups have expanded their operations to this illicit traffic and are engaged in smuggling drugs, people, weapons, counterfeit goods, and even timber and wildlife across borders. The conservative annual estimated value of this regional illicit market is a staggering US$100 billion dollars. The regional illicit drug market is estimated to be worth over US$30 billion per year.

With organised crime groups in China, the Triads, producing and trafficking significant quantities of methamphetamine into and throughout the region, Southeast Asia is now the world’s largest methamphetamine market. Southeast Asia is also the second largest opium and heroin market, with the majority of heroin being produced inside the so called Golden Triangle area of northern Myanmar and parts of Laos. The overall production and trafficking of drugs generally hinges on widespread government corruption, weaknesses in the cooperation between regional law enforcement agencies, and the absence of restrictions and regulations towards access to necessary chemicals.

Image Map - Generalised flows of criminal trade - China (UNODC)

Southeast Asia’s markets are not only confined to the region but extend to Europe, North America and especially, Africa. The word used for methamphetamine in Africa is “tik”- that is methamphetamine in a powdered crystalline form. It is widely distributed by Asian organised crime gangs from Pakistan and the Chinese Triads. Indian organised crime gangs specialise in “Mandrax”. After its discovery in 1950, mandrax abuse became the legal way to get high. It produces a state of euphoria and sensual or intimate moods.

With this in mind, there is little wonder as to why the drugs are as popular as they are. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of both legitimate and black market pharmaceutical firms produce and distribute drugs throughout India, usually through the major Indian logistics hubs, Delhi, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It costs only 99 paise (about 4 cents) to manufacture one tablet of Methaqualone (sold under the brand name Quaalude and Mandrax), which can then be sold for around Rs. 40 (about 50 cents) on the market. With profits like that, it is near impossible for South Asian governments to stop it.

India is just one, albeit large, part of the equation. The drug lords of Myanmar have used the availability of modern pharmaceutical production capabilities to no longer be dependent on their traditional product— heroin and opium. Instead, they are hitching their wagon to a small pink tablet which contains a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine. In Thailand the tablet is known as “Ya ba” while in Malaysia it is known as “pil kuda”. Each year, two to six billion pills are exported from these labs reaching the hands of users in neighbouring Thailand, China, and more recently Bangladesh.

With many of the ruling parties in the nations of Southeast Asia consisting of military regimes or regimes dominated by the military, there has been a concomitant growth in the symbiosis of these governments and organised crime. Groups like the Triads, the warlords of the Shan States, the Afghan Pashtun mafia and the international criminal gangs of India and Pakistan have prospered under this relationship. While not an entirely new phenomenon, it has also opened the door wider to the massive funding of Islamic terrorist groups which exist in the same political space. The payoff for militaries in tolerating and working with terrorists and organised crime has been a surge in their revenues and the ability to use these groups as covert mercenaries in the subversion of their neighbours and throughout the worldwide community.

Image [Thailand makes one of its 'largest ever' crystal methamphetamine busts seizing US $22.42 million worth of the drug; news conference in Bangkok, Thailand April 3, 2018. REUTERS / Panu Wongcha-um]
[Thailand makes one of its ‘largest ever’ crystal methamphetamine busts seizing US $22.42 million worth of the drug; news conference in Bangkok, Thailand April 3, 2018. REUTERS / Panu Wongcha-um]

D-Company is a coalition of criminal and Islamic terror groups based around its leader, Dawood Ibrahim

Enter ‘D-Company’

The impact of this relationship became evident to the wider world in March 1993 with a series of 12 explosions in Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). Following local riots and disorders emanating from India’s secular divide, a series of thirteen bombs were exploded resulting in 257 fatalities and 713 injuries. These attacks were co-ordinated by the largest organised crime gang in the area, known as “D-Company”.

However, the planning, funding and direction of this bombing campaign lay elsewhere. Across the border in Pakistan, the ISI Department of the Pakistan Army had controlled and directed the attacks. The D-Company leadership of the bombings included its leader, Dawood Ibrahim, and the brothers Tiger Memon and Yakub Memon. Dawood and Tiger Memon escaped, but Yakub was caught and later executed.

Indian security authorities had been on a high state of readiness before the bombings, yet failed to use clear evidence they had before them. Three days before the bombing police had apprehended a criminal tied to the personal team of Tiger Memon, ‘Gullu’ (Gul Noor Mohammad Sheikh). He had just returned from Pakistan and had been trained by the ISI in terrorist tactics. He was one of nineteen such trainees sent by Tiger Memon to Pakistan. When apprehended at Nav Pada police station, Gullu confessed his training in Pakistan and revealed the bombing plot. The police ignored his confession.

After the bombings and the international outrage at the enormity of the attack on India the police arrested hundreds of suspects. In a subsequent trial a hundred of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to long terms in prison. In reality, many of the convicted just disappeared rather than serve a sentence, including Tiger Menon, the mastermind of the bombings. Those who were detained often had their sentences diminished or quashed. The Muslim ones tied to Pakistan who were caught were incarcerated by Indian police, but many members of the Mumbai underworld, who had worked closely with the Hindu regional authorities, found their sentences less onerous.

Image Dawood Ibrahim
[“D-Company” founder and leader, Dawood Ibrahim]
Dawood and much of D-Company escaped to the safe haven of Pakistan where they live in security, guarded and protected by the Pakistan Army. The remnants of D-Company in Mumbai split off from Dawood and pledged their fealty to Chotta Rajan, Dawood Ibrahim’s right-hand man. Rajan’s departure divided the criminal enterprise within D-Company along communal lines; among them the leadership-level Hindu aides of Chotta Rajan, including Sadhu, Jaspal Singh and Mohan Kotiyan.

The ensuing gang war between Muslim and Hindu criminals took the lives of more than a hundred gangsters and still continues. Seven of D-Company accused (Salim Kurla, Majeed Khan, Shakil Ahmed, Mohammed Jindran, Hanif Kadawala, Akbar Abu Sama Khan and Mohammed Latif) were assassinated by Rajan’s hitmen.

There has also been a growing symbiosis of Indian and Pakistani organised crime gangs and the security arms of the two rival nations. This symbiosis has expanded, especially in Pakistan, with ties between organised crime, Islamic terrorist groups and underground criminal enterprises of drug smuggling, counterfeit currency smuggling, illegal pharmaceutical smuggling and a web of international criminal and terrorist ties across the globe in support of these enterprises. This has spread across Southeast Asia.

Control is exercised by the brutal assassinations of his competitors, in addition to international trade in narcotics, smuggling and quasi-legitimate businesses.

India’s Organised Crime – a Background

There were organised gangs of ‘thugs’ in India for years (the term ‘thug’ is an Indian word). A ‘thug’ was a member of an organization of robbers and assassins; devotees of the goddess Kali. The Thugs waylaid and strangled their victims, usually travellers, in a ritually prescribed manner. They were suppressed by the British in the 1830s. This violent aspect of Indian criminality was only a small branch of the tree of crime.

Most of Indian crime consisted of supplying goods, credit and services which were unavailable or outlawed by the various governmental organisations. This included kidnapping and ransoming rich Indians, and ‘shylocking’ among the rural and urban poor to whom the ‘zamindars’ (tax collectors and landowners) had shown little mercy or credit. Some of the bandits (better known as ‘dacoits’), like Man Singh, became legends in their lifetime due to their Robin-hood image of giving stolen money to the poor.

When India became independent many of the states which were formed were ‘dry’ states; alcohol was banned. This Indian Prohibition resulted, as it did in the U.S. and, later Russia, in a windfall of profits for the criminal communities. This illicit sale of alcohol has continued during the succeeding prohibitions both nationally and regionally.

Image [Phoolan Devi - known as the Bandit Queen; she rose to fame after she allegedly massacred 22 Rajputs in Behmai village in February 1981, after the upper caste Rajputs of the village allegedly raped her for three weeks before she escaped. (Photo: Jean-Luc MANAUD / Gamma-Rapho)
[Phoolan Devi – a legendary dacoit known as the Bandit Queen; she rose to fame after she allegedly massacred 22 Rajputs in Behmai village in February 1981, after the upper caste Rajputs of the village allegedly raped her for three weeks before she escaped. (Photo: Jean-Luc MANAUD / Gamma-Rapho)

Mumbai Central

India remains a major transit point for heroin from the Golden Triangle (Shan states) and Golden Crescent (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) en route to Europe. India is also the world’s largest legal grower of opium, and experts estimate that 5–10% of the legal opium is converted into illegal heroin and an additional 8–10% is consumed in high quantities as concentrated liquid. The pharmaceutical industry is also responsible for a lot of illegal production of mandrax, much of which is smuggled into South Africa. Diamond smuggling via South Africa is also a major criminal activity. In addition, a lot of money laundering takes place within the country, and with the Middle East mostly through the use of the traditional ‘hawala’ system. The traditional illegal import of 10-tola bars of gold from the Gulf into India is a business which has gone on for centuries.

Indian organised crime has multiple centres. The criminal empires are usually found inside major cities, with perhaps the most important such centre being in Mumbai. In 1947, the aftermath of Indian independence from the British empire, the Government of Maharashtra cracked down on the trade of alcohol. This in turn made bootlegging an incredibly lucrative business for emerging criminal groups. The first such group to rise to notoriety was headed by Varada Rajan Mudaliar, popularly known as Vardha bhai. Mudaliar was a Mumbai-based ethnic Hindu who started as a porter at the VT Railway Station, and took to thievery at the Bombay docks. Under Varada’s guidance, his group of thieves would graduate to bootlegging in the early 1960s. These activities enabled him to acquire great wealth, becoming an influential individual in Indian society to the point that he would hold “durbars” in his area, to settle disputes.

Another such gang was headed by Karim Lala, who commanded the majority of smuggling and illegal construction financing in south and central Mumbai. Karim Lala and his group, consisting primarily of family members, emerged as a dangerous entity in the city in 1940. Their focus on hashish trafficking, protection rackets, extortion, illegal gambling, gold smuggling and contract killing enabled them to take a central role in the Mumbai underworld. The group, which consisted mainly of individuals which were ethnic Pashtuns from Afghanistan’s Kunar province, was often referred to as the Pathan or Afghan mafia as they operated out of the Mumbai docks. By 1985 the group had become the indubitable kings of the trade.

Other, often competing entities, followed much the same trajectory. Haji Mastan, who had begun as a member of the Karim Lala gang, and Yusuf Patel both began as mere small-time criminals only to become notoriously successful gold and silver smugglers. Like many others of the era, both sought a modicum of legitimacy by vesting portions of their ill-gotten gains into legitimate businesses, mainly the booming trades of construction and real-estate. Mastan would go on to become the first “celebrity mobster” of Mumbai. He invested large sums of money into the emerging Bollywood film production market. As his influence grew, he would come to take an active part in the production of films himself.

These Mafia leaders found that the traditional forms of criminality were no longer the best routes to fortune and power as India began to open up into an entrepreneurial giant. Their place as leaders of the criminal underworld were challenged by younger and more aggressive criminals. After a decade of violence, a new leadership took over and moved away from the criminal pursuits of their former leaders. They began to adapt to India’s new capitalist opportunities, using their cash to finance otherwise unfinanceable deals.

Image [Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, popularly known as Chhota Rajan, served as the boss of a major crime syndicate based in Mumbai. He is currently serving a life sentence at Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai.]
[Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, popularly known as Chhota Rajan, served as the boss of a major crime syndicate based in Mumbai. He is currently serving a life sentence at Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai.]
There are now four major crime families operating in Mumbai. The largest and most powerful is D-Company. By the terms “large” or “powerful”, D-Company cannot be viewed as a stereotypically structured crime cartel. D-Company, rather, is a coalition of criminal and Islamic terror groups based around its leader, Dawood Ibrahim, and his circle of control and leadership. This control is exercised by the brutal assassinations of his competitors, in addition to  international trade in narcotics, smuggling and quasi-legitimate businesses.

Ibrahim spends most of his time in Pakistan where he is protected by the Pakistani Army. When he lived in Dubai it frequently refused to extradite him. He was early in realising the opportunities a developing India presented. He used his funds to invest in legitimate and almost-legitimate businesses. Financing illegal construction projects earned him high revenues and providing finance for Bollywood films earned him even more.

Dawood’s brother, Anees Ibrahim (or Anis, a.k.a Shaikh Anis Ibrahim Kaskar), operates the drug and contract killing operations, whereas Noora Ibrahim – before being shot dead in 2009 – operated film financing and extortion from media personalities. Iqbal Ibrahim holds a significantly lower profile, instead focusing on appearing to be the legitimate side of the family. His businesses includes noteworthy holdings on the Hong Kong stock exchange as well as jewelry and gold businesses. All in all, the gang consists of about 4,000 to 5,000 men (most of which come from the Muslim areas of Mumbai and neighbouring districts). A further 25% of the group is believed to originate from the Muslim outskirts of the Uttar Pradesh area.

Today D-Company has a wide criminal portfolio, with contract killing, drug trafficking, smuggling computer parts and illicit trade in arms and ammunitions making up the major areas of endeavour. They have been supplying arms both to criminals and terrorists. Dawood Ibrahim has invested heavily in projects like the Diwan Shopping Centre in Mumbai and is also said to have financial stakes in the Diamond Rock Hotel in Mumbai. Noora runs Suhail Travel in Mumbai. Dawood reportedly has huge financial stakes in East West Airlines.

Unfortunately, Dawood mixed crime with politics. After the 1993 Bombay bombings, which Ibrahim allegedly organised and financed with Tiger Memon, both became India’s most wanted men. According to the United States Department of Treasury, Ibrahim had ties with Osama bin Laden. As a consequence, the United States declared Ibrahim a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” in 2003 and pursued the matter before the United Nations in an attempt to freeze his assets around the world and crack down on his operations. In 2015, Dawood’s brother Anees was also added to the U.S. Treasury’s designation as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) due to his ties to D-Company.

Indian and Russian intelligence agencies have pointed out Dawood’s possible involvement in several other terror attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as per Interpol. In 2010, a US Congressional report claimed that “D-company has a ‘strategic alliance’ with Pakistan’s ISI”. Ever since he took to hiding, his location has been frequently traced to Karachi, Pakistan, a claim which Pakistani authorities have denied.

Image [US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) entry for Dawood Ibrahim, July 13 2006]
[US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Listing of Blocked Persons, Specially Designated Nationals, Specially Designated Terrorists, Specially Designated Global Terrorists, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers entry for Dawood Ibrahim, July 13 2006]
Another present day Mumbai criminal gang is the Arun Gawli gang, based out of Dagdi Chawl in Byculla, Mumbai. Gawli began his criminal career by keeping kidnapped persons, torturing them, extorting money from them and often murdering them. Despite multiple arrests for these crimes, it was proven nearly impossible to convict him as witnesses have a habit of refusing to testify.

Today, Gawli operates his own political party, the Akil Bhartiya Sena. The party has gained a great deal of support among the Mumbai slum dwellers. However, as his profile rose he was found guilty of the 2007 murder of a political rival, Shiv Sena leader Kamalakar Jamsandekar. In August 2012, Gawli was sentenced to life in prison, along with several of his associates. Since then, his group has been involved in violently contesting the turf of D-Company.

Image [Arun Gawli, Indian politician, underworld don and former gangster.]
[Arun Gawli, criminal, gangster and Indian politician, serving a life term for murdering another politician.]
Reshma Naik heads up the third group of organised criminals, known as the Naik Gang. The Naik gang appears to have emerged in the 1980s in the Dadar area of Mumbai collecting protection money. When Ram Bhat, the founding leader of the gang, was sentenced in the early 1990s for his involvement in a robbery case, Amar Naik took over. The group’s primary business appears to be a combination of collecting kickbacks or “haftas” from vegetable vendors, hawkers, bootleggers and smugglers with a protection racket as the backing entity. The group has had a number of skirmishes with the Arum Gawil group. In 1996 local police took an aggressive stance against the group, resulting in a shootout which saw the death of Amar Naik. The mantle then fell to the kingpin’s 11-year old son, Reshma Naik.

The fourth major criminal group in Mumbai is the Chhota Rajan Gang, headed by Chhota Rajan, who began as part of the Dawood gang. In 1993, he had a falling out with Dawood, forming his own gang which consists of mainly Hindus. Their focus appears to have been on the illicit drug trade, which put him at odds with his former boss. As a result of several attempts on his life, Rajan relocated the majority of his operations to the Gulf area.

There are hundreds of smaller criminal gangs across the vast territory of India and in its major cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mangalore, and Calcutta. Goa is one of the major hubs of the international drug trade where the Indian Mafia has joined up with Russian, Israeli and Nigerian criminal groups involved in the trade.

Many more criminal groups, significantly smaller and less well organised, continue to operate. In recent years, the Indian and Punjab mafia groups expanded internationally, with Canada appearing to be a focal point.

[To read more about this, I recommend the Infogalactic entry on Indo-Canadian organised crime.]

In recent years, several members of the Mumbai criminal gangs have been arrested in Thailand, Indonesia and Dubai and sent back to India for trial. Many more were gunned down as contract killers from rival gangs. Others suffered from the communalism in the security forces’ response to D-Company. Several properties of Dawood in India have been seized and confiscated to the extent that none of his aides can live in local properties. Dawood lives in ostracism, surrounded by troops in Pakistan with little to no chance of his return. Many of Dawood’s aides have either been eliminated by state police or have been executed. Abu Salem remains in the custody of the Indian government and stands a very slim chance of making any comeback, while Chhota Rajan has also been in the custody of the Indian government for few years now. The recent gang members convicted of the train blast of 2006 have received harsh punishment.

Image [D-Company, courtesy of U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)]
[D-Company, courtesy of U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)]

Pakistan’s Role in the Security-Crime Symbiosis

One of the most difficult aspects of the symbiosis of organised crime and the security forces of Asia is the appreciation of the domination of the military and security forces over the political and economic structures of the countries in which they rule. Perhaps the best, and the most germane case, is Pakistan.

Pakistan has the world’s sixth-largest standing army, at 653,800 strong. However, as many third world armies, its upper echelon of officers have long since realised the advantages of focusing their attention, and powers, on commercial ventures. As a result, since its independence in 1947, Pakistan has seen its military leadership interject itself not just in the political scene of the country, but in its economy. This has grown to a point where it can be difficult to tell the military apart from the nation’s pseudo-free-market.

This dynamic is fairly well documented. For instance, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa wrote in her 2007 book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy an extensive expose of the problem. Dr. Siddiqa estimated the military leadership’s net worth at more than £10 billion. If accurate, that would make the leadership’s net worth four times the total amount of foreign direct investments generated by Islamabad in 2007. The book also details that the army owns roughly 12 per cent of Pakistan’s land, most of which being the most fertile land areas in a country with little of it to spare.

Yet more disturbing is Dr. Siddiqa’s finding that the majority of Pakistan’s largest corporations are in fact controlled to a large extent by retired military personnel through foundations. The three largest foundations in Pakistan, at least in 2007, Fauji, Shaheen and Bahria, were all controlled by retirees from the highest echelons of the Army, Air Force and Navy respectively. All in all, these holdings represent billions of pounds worth of value.

[Read more about the topic in Dr. Saddiqa’s excellent book and this Spectator article from January-2008.]

There is a deep and strong interlink between the Pakistani Army, organised crime (especially D-Company) and Islamic terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan on behalf of the military’s irregular war against its neighbours in India and Afghanistan.

Dawood Ibrahim still controls one of the most comprehensive organized crime networks in Mumbai with deep collusive roots among elements of Maharashtra’s political leadership. Meanwhile, D-Company has become a major Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) asset and a continuous collaborator with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other Pakistan-backed terrorist groups, facilitating the movement of arms and explosives, as well as of finances across international boundaries. It is useful in this context to briefly examine the sheer multiplicity of sources of finance for Islamist terrorist groups operating in India, and the near impossibility of effectively targeting these networks.

Image [Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa (2R), Pakistani Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi (C), Pakistani Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan (top-R) and Pakistani Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Zubair Mahmood Hayat (2L) arrive to receive Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2018. (Photo: Aamir Qureshi / AFP)
[Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa (2R), Pakistani Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi (C), Pakistani Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan (top-R) and Pakistani Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Zubair Mahmood Hayat (2L) arrive to receive Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2018. (Photo: Aamir Qureshi / AFP)
Other researchers have discovered similarly disturbing aspects. For instance, it is widely believed by observers that Pakistan not just supports terrorism in India, but it uses counterfeit currency to do so. Allegedly, the currency is printed at the Pakistani Security Presses at the Mlair Cantonment in Karachi and at Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar. In part the currency is used to avoid putting a strain on Pakistani state coffers, instead putting the strain on India, which then has to divert resources to detect and filter out the forged currency.

In April 2009, an article titled “Blood Money” published in Defence & Security of India, reported that estimates suggest approximately 120 million to 130 million INR (Indian rupees) in counterfeit money were smuggled annually through clandestine Pakistani intelligence channels, and that some estimates believe that 25 per cent of India’s total currency in circulation could be fake. The article details how the money is injected into the Indian economy, the logistics of the operation and the likely relations that the Pakistani security agencies have with organised crime and terrorism in India. “Blood Money” is required reading for those interested in the topic.

Unsurprisingly, the fundamental basis for these money laundering networks and injection of forged currency is the “hawala” system. In its most basic variant, Hawala is a worldwide honour-based system where money is transferred in cash or goods between Hawala brokers, or hawaladers. The use of these networks is one that Jihadist organisations often rely on to fund their operations. While Hawala does not have to equal money laundering, it is undeniable that it is often utilised to help facilitate this. There are many reports of how the system has been used to help the conversion of illegal and ill-gotten money into legal money so that it can be intergrated into a legitimate economy.

One of the keys to its growth has been the Pakistani military presence in Afghanistan and the “Tribal Territories”. Pakistan’s military does what it wants in Afghanistan, just as it does in Pakistan. That is not a secret because about half of the time since Pakistan was created in 1947 the military has openly run the government until popular opposition forced its generals to allow elections again. Terrorism related deaths are overwhelmingly caused by the Islamic terrorists, mainly Taliban and Haqqani Network attacks. To maintain control of the Afghan Taliban, the ISI calls on another of its “protected” Islamic terror groups, the Haqqani Network. This group was once a faction in the 1990s Afghan civil war but always had a good relationship with the ISI.

Image [Jalaluddin Haqqani (c), former head of the Haqqani network]
[Jalaluddin Haqqani (c), former head of the Haqqani network]
Over the last two decades the Haqqani have turned into a criminal gang that also manages terror operations in Afghanistan for ISI. On September 2, 2018, the United States announced that $300 million in military aid to Pakistan was suspended because of the continued refusal of Pakistan (specifically the military) to shut down Islamic terrorist operations inside the country. The Pakistani military showed, in 2014, that it could do so against Islamic terror groups (e.g., Pakistani Taliban, ISIL) that threatened the Pakistani government. Yet Pakistan has refused to admit it protects Islamic terror groups, like the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and several groups that carry out attacks in India.

However, on December 19, 2018 President Trump announced the removal of a substantial number of troops from Afghanistan. The US military will quickly pull nearly half of its forces from Afghanistan, and likely withdraw the rest by the end of 2019. This proclamation was an outright victory for the Taliban, al Qaida and other jihadists, opening the door to Pakistan’s ISI domination of the criminal and terrorist links in both countries. This will have a dramatic effect on the Kashmir-Jammu battle between India and Pakistan.

As stated by Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio in “The costs of withdrawal from Afghanistan” (Long War Journal, December 21, 2018): “Pakistan’s use of jihadism as a foreign policy tool has been validated. Pakistan also has much to gain from a US withdrawal. It says much about America’s ineptitude and confusion that not a single Pakistani official was ever sanctioned or designated as a terror supporter throughout 17+ years of war. Besides the Trump administration’s decision to withhold some military aid, Pakistani officials never paid a real price for harbouring the same forces that were attacking Americans and their allies.”

Pakistan’s use of jihadists to advance its goals on a geostrategic level throughout the region appears thus fairly well cemented. Its intelligence service sponsorship and usage of the Taliban and other similar groups have long been part of the Pakistani regional security strategy. This is not a clean strategy to apply, which is self-evident in the fact that a large number of Pakistani soldiers and officials have themselves fallen to the same groups that their intelligence and military uses. Despite this, the Pakistani military and intelligence organisations continue to export jihad to countries and regions which they seek to disrupt, most notably the Indian state of Kashmir.

In the past few years it has become more difficult for state-sponsors of terrorism to maintain direct links to terrorist organisations as the threat of sanctions and economic pressure from the West has expanded. This has led to increased terrorist dependence on organised crime for financial viability and organisational survival. Structurally, terrorist groups will increasingly mirror organised crime groups and utilise their access and control of the market and the hawala system.

While the bulk of the terrorist groups will retain their political content, the potential for a few terrorist groups to degenerate into pure criminal groups will, nevertheless, increase. The linkage between organised crime and its ability to thrive in a web of corruption among politicians and militaries and its access to the international market for illegal trades in people, drugs, raw materials, weapons of war and equipment make it an invaluable resource for their partners.

Pakistan has refused to admit it protects Islamic terror groups, like the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and several groups that carry out attacks in India.

The Key Role of Dubai

The geographic and financial hub of the growing symbiosis of organised crime and terrorism has been the city-state of Dubai. This is especially true of the success of criminal groups like D-Company being sheltered there and protected by its government.

Image Dubai (Photo: Anna Om)
[Dubai (Photo: Anna Om)]
As reported by the South Asia Intelligence Review:

“One of the largest and most unregulated financial centres in the world, with huge turnovers in undocumented movements of gemstones – including those originating in the world’s worst conflict areas – gold and cash, and located at the strategic crossroads of the Gulf, South Asia and Africa, Dubai has long been a financial hub for organised criminal and Islamist extremist groups, as well as a primary transit point for the shipping of contraband. The Dawood Ibrahim gang controls much of this contraband movement from and to South Asia, as well as, crucially, a large chunk of the illegal hawala transactions in the region.”

Lord Robertson, Secretary General of NATO, said back in 2002, “How easy it was for Al-Qaida’s bankers to have five hundred thousand dollars wired from a bank in Dubai for anonymous use in automatic teller machines in Florida and Maine. How difficult it has been, even with the backing of United Nations resolutions and 150 nations, to find out who raised or sent those dollars… illegal money doesn’t just feed other security threats – it also causes them.”

Of particular interest in Dubai has been the important shelter it has offered to many figures in the international crime scene, especially D-Company. Occasionally, under pressure, it has arrested several of its members, including those involved in the 1993 Mumbai bombings. However, they have often escaped prosecution and their extradition to India has not been honoured.

Some of Dawood’s D-Company people were taken into custody in Dubai; that included twenty-six of the Dawood Ibrahim gang, as well as two of Dawood’s brothers – Noora (Noorul Haque) and Mustaqim. Both Noora and Mustaqim – along with Mohammed Dossa, another of the arrested gangsters – were accused in the 1993 Bombay blasts. Both Noora and Mustaqim are permanent residents of Dubai, with substantial business interests in this City State. Indian authorities were unable to extradite them. They were later released for ‘lack of evidence’. Some were allowed to leave for Pakistan.

This set the scene for the liberation, once again, of the most important brother, Anees. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities had announced on December 8, 2002, the arrest of Anees Kaksar Ibrahim in Dubai, just days after he arrived from Pakistan. However, by December 13, Anees had been released on bail and extradited to Pakistan. Back in January 1996, Bahrain authorities had arrested Anees, but he was later sent to Dubai and, on the alleged wrangling of some of Dubai’s rulers, he found his way back to Pakistan. By 1998, he was arrested again in Dubai, charged with the murder of a former associate, Irfan Goga, and freed within two days for ‘lack of evidence’. Anees traveled regularly to Dubai, where he owns several properties, and a combination of legitimate and illegitimate businesses. Anees has been the working head of D-Company, ever since Dawood’s role was reduced because of his depression, and visits to doctors in Karachi, Pakistan where he is ‘protected’ by Pakistani soldiers.

He is not alone in Dubai. “Indian Mafiosi” who substantially owe their success to operations based in Dubai at one time of their career or another, include: Abu Salem currently in custody in Portugal on charges of travel documents fraud, but wanted by both the US and India for involvement with terrorist activity; Aftab Bhatki, who controls the entire fake currency operations in India on behalf of Dawood Ibrahim, and who has an Interpol Red Corner notice against him on India’s request; Raju Anadkar, perhaps the largest money launderer in the region; Babloo Shrivastava, who controlled his kidnapping and extortion empire in India from Dubai, until he made the mistake of travelling to Singapore and was nabbed and extradited to India where he currently bides his time in jail; Chhota Shakeel, another D-Company associate, who controlled operations in Mumbai from Dubai; Chhota Rajan, a former Dawood man, now a bitter enemy, who the ‘Company’ tried to assassinate in Bangkok in November 2000; and, of course, Dawood Ibrahim himself, though he now finds residence in Karachi, under the ISI’s protection, where it is safer than Dubai.

A substantial volume of illegal trade to and from Russia also passes through Dubai, and the Russian mafia has now established a significant presence there. The US is also said to be ‘advising’ Dubai on how to prevent the ‘abuse’ of its facilities as a free trade zone by criminal and terrorist groups. US investigators are currently looking into large volumes of clandestine (hawala) financial transactions by various terrorist fronts connected with al Qaeda, especially the movement of escalating volumes of gold in innumerable unaccountable transactions since the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Indeed, Dubai is a veritable Utopia as a secure base for criminal and terrorist financial operations that target other countries.

Although Dubai hosts a wide variety of gangsters from the subcontinent, they don’t always get along with each other. This was particularly true in the battles, assassination attempts and mayhem between the forces of Dawood and Chhota Rajan after their split and the rise in communalism in the ranks of organised crime. Dubai authorities have always said that the reason they didn’t extradite the various Indian gangsters, but let them ‘escape’ to Pakistan or India, was that they wanted to avoid a ‘turf war’ in Dubai’s streets. An additional factor was the struggle within D-Company between Dawood’s right-hand man, Chhota Shakeel and Anees Ibrahim over who would control D-Company in Dubai. This conflict has come to a head with the death of Chhota Shakeel.

Who Was Chhota Shakeel?

The life story of the man known as Chhota Shakeel is an interesting one. Shakeel was born Mohammed Shakeel Babu Miyan Shaikh, and began his professional life as a travel agent in the Dongri in south-central Mumbai, a lower-middle class area. Little is known how he ended up in organised crime, but by the late 80s he appeared as one of the early members of D-Company, along with Bishal Cheetah, Johnny Akhawat and Liger Bhai (also known as Mushu Bhai). Originally he was part of the inner circle that fixed matches, gambling and hawala deals. By the late 80s, he had become a vital part of the group and was among those that Dawood brought over with him to Dubai in 1988. As the Mumbai Mob civil war kicked off in the early 90s, Shakeel fled to Pakistan where he received protection by the ISI.

While in Pakistan he worked hard at establishing a relationship with Rahim Merchant, a wealthy Pakistani that lived in an affluent area of North Karachi and often went under the name ‘Dogla’. Dogla would come to be an intermediary on behalf of Shakeel, often speaking on the man’s behalf. While keeping a healthy set of investments in real-estate, weapons and narcotics in association with Afghan and Colombian criminal groups, he began to diversify. The new focus became mines in Africa, which produced so called conflict diamonds. These diamonds would then be smuggled to Ukraine, where the Odessa Mafia would sell arms in exchange for them.

Using the profits from the diamond-for-arms trade, Shakeel continued to invest heavily in Africa as well as building his real-estate empire. Soon, he had invested enough to receive citizenships in Botswana and Malawi, and have property investments across the Middle East and Africa in addition to his existing real-estate in India, Pakistan and the US.

As many other Mumbai-mafiosas, he became a principal financier in Bollywood and of Hindi films.

Image [Known as the "CEO of D-Company, Chhota Shakeel is not one for photographs. In 2018, via Indian agencies, India Today accessed an old picture of Chhota Shakeel (L)(1980s) and a photo (R) believed to have been taken in 2016]
[Known as the “CEO of D-Company, Chhota Shakeel was not one for photographs. In 2018, via Indian agencies, India Today accessed an old picture of Chhota Shakeel (L)(1980s) and a photo (R) believed to have been taken in 2016.]
In fact, as Dawood found his ability to travel freely severely restricted, Shakeel took over the day-today business of D-Company. This carried on without internal challenges until mid-2016 when Dawood’s brother, Anees, began skimming money from D-Company in Dubai and threatening to oust Shakeel from his leadership post.

Shakeel organised his own group of followers in response and the ISI had to intervene to try and make peace between Shakeel and Anees and to stop any internal fighting in D-Company. Dawood played only a passive role and seemed to become even more reclusive. He wanted to maintain his thirty-year friendship with Shakeel (who had attempted the assassination of Chhota Rajan for him in Bangkok), and his ties with his brother Anees. This created problems in the organisation as D-Company chiefs in Mumbai and overseas were never sure whose orders were to be obeyed.

This confusion continued until it was confirmed that Chhota Shakeel had died on January 6, 2017. The two sides agreed on a minor figure in D-Company to take over active leadership of the organisation until Dawood and the ISI agreed on how to proceed. That replacement, however, died of a heart attack in Tajikistan in mid-2018. Dawood announced that his brother, Anees, would take over the key post in D-Company on January 5, 2019, at the anniversary of the death of Shakeel a year earlier. There had been some confusion about whether Shakeel had really died because the voice of ‘Dogla’ his speaker was intercepted on phone monitors, confusing the confirmation of Shakeel’s death.

The Continuity of the Criminal-Political-Terrorist Enterprise

Despite the change in the structure of D-Company, the symbiosis of organised crime, terrorism and the competing nation states of the subcontinent has not ended. Still less has the powerful role played in this endeavour by Dubai.

The U.S. pullout of Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate these divisions. Corruption and terrorist activities will give financial impetus to the various criminal fraternities which support and thrive on these conflicts.

[Read more in Part 2: Greater China]

Dr. Gary K. Busch, for Lima Charlie News 

[Edits by Anthony A. LoPresti, John Sjoholm and Diego Lynch]

Dr. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting professor at several universities. He was the head of research in international affairs for a major U.S. trade union and Assistant General Secretary of an international union federation. His articles have appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit, Wall Street Journal, WPROST, Pravda and several other news journals. He is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations www.ocnus.net.

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

Part 2: Greater China:

Image Lima Charlie News Headline Organised crime in Asia Part 2 G.Busch FEB 24 2019

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Huawei – China’s telecom giant hits a giant wall

Image Huawei – China’s telecom giant hits a giant wall [Lima Charlie News]
Huawei – China’s telecom giant hits a giant wall [Lima Charlie News]

This Monday, in a 13-count indictment unsealed in a federal court in New York, four defendants affiliated with Chinese telecom juggernaut, Huawei Technologies were named, including Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s president and founder. The charges relate to an alleged scheme by Huawei and its CFO to circumvent Iranian sanctions. Are these charges, along with the ongoing pressures placed upon Huawei worldwide, part of the trade war between the U.S. and China, an attempt to stop Huawei’s dramatic advance into the world marketplace, or something more?

There is a storm brewing. At the vortex of the storm, we find the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world, also the second-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world – Chinese telecom juggernaut, Huawei Technologies Corporation. Having passed Apple in 2018, Huawei falls just behind Samsung for smartphone manufacturing.

In the past few months, Huawei’s products have been banned in several countries, several of its employees have been arrested for espionage, and one of its key chief executives has been arrested for dealings with Iran.

When Huawei’s 46-year-old Chief Financial Officer boarded a flight on December 1st, 2018 to Mexico City from Hong Kong, it was an ordinary business trip. Upon arriving at the stopover airport of Vancouver International, that all changed for Meng Wanzhou. The daughter and heir of Ren Zhengfei, the founder and president of Huawei, was met by police officers who had waited for her on the sky bridge of the plane. Meng was then arrested on charges of having breached U.S.-imposed bans on doing business with Iran. Her arrest had been at the request of the United States.

Many believe that the timing of the arrest was part of a pivot in the trade war between the U.S. and China. Yet, the facts indicate that this connection is incorrect. Rather, it is an ambitious and interrelated attempt by five Western governments to stop Huawei’s dramatic advance into the marketplace of the world’s democracies.

The drama took place on the day of U.S. President Donald Trump’s dinner with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A White House official would later state that the President “did not know about a US request for [the CFO’s] extradition from Canada before he met Chinese President Xi Jinping.” John R. Bolton, the U.S. National Security Advisor and close confidant of the President, did, however, state during a press conference on December 6th that he “knew in advance” of Meng’s arrest.

This Monday, in a 13-count indictment unsealed in a federal court in New York, four defendants all of whom are affiliated with Huawei, were named. The indicted defendants include Huawei and two Huawei subsidiaries, Huawei Device USA Inc. and Skycom Tech Co. Ltd., as well as Meng. The charges relate to an alleged scheme by Huawei and Meng to circumvent Iranian sanctions.

Image US v. Huawei et al.

[Download U.S. v. Huawei Technologies, et al. – Eastern District of New York]

The charges leveled against Huawei and Skycom include bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Huawei and Huawei USA were charged with “conspiracy to obstruct justice related to the Grand Jury investigation in the Eastern District of New York” and Meng was charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud.

In a statement Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said, “As I told Chinese officials in August, China must hold its citizens and Chinese companies accountable for complying with the law.” FBI Director Christopher Wray added, “These charges lay bare Huawei’s blatant disregard for the laws of our country and standard global business practices. Companies like Huawei pose a dual threat to both our economic and national security, and the magnitude of these charges make clear just how seriously the FBI takes this threat. Today should serve as a warning that we will not tolerate businesses that violate our laws, obstruct justice, or jeopardize national and economic well-being.”

According to the Department of Justice statement, “In 2017, when Huawei became aware of the government’s investigation, Huawei and its subsidiary Huawei USA tried to obstruct the investigation by making efforts to move witnesses with knowledge about Huawei’s Iran-based business to the PRC, and beyond the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, and by destroying and concealing evidence of Huawei’s Iran-based business that was located in the United States.”

[Photo: Reuters]

A Stately Favourite

In 2012, Huawei overtook Sweden’s Ericsson to become the world’s largest manufacturer of telecom equipment. By 2018, it had overtaken Apple for smartphones and could overtake Samsung by 2020.

As part of this climb, Huawei’s revenues are expected to exceed $100 billion in 2019, from $92 billion in 2017. This would place the company at the 72 spot on the Fortune Global 500. For reference, Microsoft falls in at 71.

Huawei was founded in 1987 by Meng Wanzhou’s father, Ren Zenghfei. Between 1967 to 1983, Ren served in the engineering corps of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) but reportedly held no rank throughout this time. At the time of Ren joining the PLA, China was just emerging from the chaos left by Mao’s cultural revolution, and the nation’s technological infrastructure was severely neglected.

As a result of this, Chinese operators generally tried to gain access to foreign technologies through joint, state-sponsored ventures with companies that wanted to operate in China’s market. These joint-ventures allowed China to leverage access to the emerging Chinese market, with access to a cheap labour force. The advantages offered to foreign technology companies enabled China to gain access to devices that it could copy with a few modifications.

Ren, however, advocated a different methodology from his competitors. Instead of copying what other foreign firms were doing, Ren wanted to reverse-engineer the devices and learn from that. By dismantling devices that were built in Chinese factories, he could enable his engineers to understand how they worked. Huawei then started its operations with a modest production of computer-controlled telephone private branch exchange (PBX).

But Ren’s plans were much more ambitious than just providing cut-rate telephone switch systems. At the time, China was forced to import all technologies relating to telecommunication infrastructures. Ren therefore wanted to create a company that would not just replace the foreign players in the naturally protectionistic Chinese market, but would also eventually replace them on the world market.

By 1994, largely thanks to contacts within the Chinese military, Ren met with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin. During the meeting, Ren argued that it was in the best interests of Chinese national security to not just develop China’s own data exchange systems, but to further utterly replace all foreign devices on their networks.

This was a spiel that the strongly patriotic President Jiang felt was very compelling. By 1996, Jiang’s government had introduced an explicit policy of supporting domestic telecommunications manufacturers, while disallowing the established foreign operators from spreading on the quickly growing Chinese market. Through a combination of government contracts and subsidies, Huawei growth trajectory quickly aligned with the overall Chinese government.

Image [Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou][Photo: Alexei Druzhinin]
[Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou][Photo: Alexei Druzhinin]

The Others”

 During the 2000s, Huawei refocused their efforts away from the domestic market, which they viewed as under control and highly saturated, and onto the worldwide market. In 2000, the company established a research and development centre in Stockholm, poaching many of its researchers from Nokia and Ericsson, whose offices were within walking distance. The company continues to devote considerable resources to its in-house research and development. Almost half of its 180,000 employees work in this area, and its R&D budget has increased dramatically from $5 billion in 2013 to $13.8 billion in 2018.

In 2004, Huawei won its first European contract and began building the Dutch Telforts 3G network. This project was soon followed by joint-ventures with British Telecom and Vodafone. By 2005, Huawei’s orders abroad were quickly exceeding those from its domestic market.

This kind of success would, of course, inspire critique from others, especially in the domestic market, where foreign companies found it difficult to gain the necessary approval from the Chinese government. Huawei was accused of unfair business practices and competition. Even fellow Chinese companies expressed critique and publicly decried the amount of support that Huawei received from the Chinese government and its affiliated banks.

Could it be that the Chinese government was driving Huawei’s success while protecting it for the purpose of creating a global espionage tool?

The state shall protect individuals and organisations that support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.

-Article 7, Chinese National Intelligence Law

Huawei’s close relationship with the military and authorities continued to fuel the suspicion. It did not help that the company was anything but transparent. Huawei has never, seemingly, considered introducing itself on the open stock market. Instead, it has remained in private ownership throughout its existence. In fact, from 1986 until 2010 the company never divulged its own board members. It wasn’t until the U.S. and European Union jointly demanded such information be made available that the company relinquished.

Huawei is neither private nor governmental, instead describing itself as “a collective” where Ren Zhengfei owns only less than 1.5 percent of the shares. The remaining content is said to lie with the employees themselves, via a kind of trade union committee. Many critics believe that this is done to mask Huawei’s dependence on the state.

In 2003, Cisco sued Huawei for patent infringement claiming that it had copied source code from Cisco routers and switches. A year later Cisco dropped the lawsuit in exchange for a promise that Huawei would change its ways. A quick read between the lines of an open letter published by Mark Chandler, Cisco’s Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, in October 2012 offers some insight.

In the letter Chandler clarifies that “the litigation was […] not between governments.” In all likelihood Cisco was pressured into dropping the lawsuit, by the sword of Damocles penalty of no longer finding the Chinese market available to it.

Both Huawei and Chinese authorities have categorically dismissed allegations of espionage, subsidies and technology theft. Yet, Western governments and intelligence/security agencies appear unnerved by the impact Huawei appears to be having on the Western telecom infrastructure market. To Huawei’s defence, not much concrete evidence has been presented – at the very least not publicly – for any of the above.

Perhaps most damning of all is Article 7 of the recently introduced Chinese National Intelligence Law (国家情报法). The law, which was introduced in November 2017, explicitly states:

“Any organisation and citizen shall, in accordance with the law, support, provide assistance, and cooperate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of any national intelligence work that they are aware of. The state shall protect individuals and organisations that support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.”

Things get worse when Article 7 is combined with Article 22 of the 2014 Chinese Counter-Espionage Law (反间谍法) which states:

“When State Security organs carry out the tasks of counter-espionage work in accordance with the law, and citizens and organisations that are obliged to provide facilities or other assistance according to the law refuse to do so, this constitutes an intention to obstruct the state security organs from carrying out the tasks of counter-espionage work according to law.”

Image Robert Long (L) and Ada Yu hold signs in favor of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou outside her bail hearing at British Columbia Superior Courts following her December 1 arrest in Canada for extradition to the US, December 11, 2018. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP)
Robert Long (L) and Ada Yu hold signs in favor of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou outside her bail hearing at British Columbia Superior Courts following her December 1 arrest in Canada for extradition to the US, December 11, 2018. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP)

A Western Alliance

Huawei has, at the very least, a perception problem. Among other things, India introduced a temporary ban on imports of Huawei network equipment for safety reasons in 2010. In 2012 Huawei was blocked from participating in the expansion of Australia’s broadband. In that same year, the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence declared Huawei, along with its competitor ZTE, a threat to national security, after which the company was not allowed to bid on US government or military procurement.

The situation continued to worsen in 2018 with Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton describing Huawei as “effectively an arm of the Chinese government,” closely followed by the heads of the lion’s share of the head of American intelligence and security agencies decrying Huawei smartphones as security risks.

In July 2018, the Five Eyes ((FVEY) an intelligence coalition consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) met and discussed the matter further. The Sydney Morning Herald recently documented this secret meeting where the FVEY decided unanimously to act against Huawei’s increasingly suspicious activities. A month later, a district court in New York City issued the arrest warrant for Meng Wanzhou, due to alleged bank fraud and criminal sanctions by selling equipment to Iran on behalf of Huawei.

More importantly, after the FVEY meeting, the heads of the four other countries’ intelligence services began to echo the warnings from the heads of the FBI and the CIA against Huawei’s products. These warnings would soon be followed by action. In August, Australia introduced a ban on Huawei to participate in the expansion of its 5G network. In November, New Zealand followed suit at the advice of its intelligence service, banning Huawei from participating in the construction of the 5G networks there as well.

British Telecom announced at the beginning of December that it had removed Huawei components from its 3G and 4G networks and that it had done so at the explicit advisement of MI6. British Telecom also stated that it would not use Huawei products in the “most important parts” of its future 5G network. In Canada, the networks are currently investigating the matter at the advice of multiple security agencies and observers.

More to Come

In November, the Wall Street Journal stated that the U.S. is continuously trying to convince other allies to renounce Huawei’s products. U.S. officials were said to have had meetings with their colleagues in Germany, Japan and Italy. The U.S. has even gone as far as offering financial incentives to encourage bans.

Following these meetings, Taiwan announced that it would extend its ban on Huawei products, and Japan stated that it is about to introduce a similar ban. Orange, France’s largest cellular network provider, also stated that it would not utilise Huawei’s products in its 5G network. The Czech’s National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA) warned in mid-December against the use of any hardware or software manufactured by Huawei.

At the same time, the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has stated that it has not yet been presented with any evidence that Huawei poses a direct security threat, and would therefore not recommend a ban on the company. The U.S. has responded to this in its usual fashion, by stating that the world should just believe, and take the U.S. at its word.

Huawei is presently participating in the Swedish 5G procurement auction, despite warnings from the Swedish Armed Forces Radio Agency (FAR) about the risks of foreign equipment in the telecom networks. A risk that, according to FAR has been verified through a series of in-house tests.

Notwithstanding the Germans or the Swedes, the overall global trend is to be wary of companies with strong connections to the Chinese Communist Party. Particularly if the companies provide the West with vitally important Information Technology (IT) infrastructure products, Huawei being the prime example. Other Chinese tech companies, such as ZTE, Tencent and Alibaba all have long running party affiliations and appear to be functioning with the support of the Chinese state.

But, of course, if one is to listen to Huawei’s president, then not only is he not a spy, but also a sincere Trump admirer, and thus could not possibly pose any threat.

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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Arabs and Kurds – Why can’t they just get along?

Image Arabs and Kurds - Why can’t they just get along? [Lima Charlie News]
Arabs and Kurds - Why can’t they just get along? [Lima Charlie News]

U.S. Army Colonel Norvell DeAtkine examines the age old clash between Arabs and Kurds.

The young Kurdish interpreter for American troops pointed to a tattered Iraqi flag flying over a small government building. He told me with bitterness in his voice that just seeing that flag made him feel humiliated.

In 2004, I was on a visit to an American Civil Affairs unit stationed near Suleimaniya and was able to observe first hand some of the remarkable qualities of the Kurds. Like many American soldiers, I was in awe of the fighting qualities of these people and their ability to not only survive, but also thrive, in one of the most hostile environments in the world.

The Kurds, a “people without a country” (as coined by French writer Gerard Chaliand), seemingly have every attribute necessary to establish their claim for independence. Mehrdad Izady, one of the foremost historians on Kurdistan, believes the Kurdish claims for nationhood are based “on a long common historical experience, their common world view, common national character, integrated economy, common national territory, and collective future aspirations.”

This summation is all the more remarkable because the Kurds, while having their own language, albeit in several dialects which can be as different as French from Italian, must read and write it in Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi in different scripts. As a tribal people, they are divided into hundreds of tribes and there exists a major fissure between urban and rural Kurds. Kurdologists also point out the significant cultural differences between the Kurds of the Erbil region and those of the Suleimaniya region.

The Kurds also have a long history of bitter internecine warfare. The internal conflicts are repetitive and tragic. Perhaps one incident sums up this tragedy best. When the “George Washington” of the Kurdish movement, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, died he was buried in the Kurdistan region of Iran. Later, Iranian Kurds, embittered by his memory dug up his grave and desecrated it.

Most observers would point to these divisions as the major reason the Kurds have not yet acquired an independent national state. Yet the most salient reason is that they remain landlocked, surrounded by neighbors who either claim they don’t exist, or have been trying to assimilate them. Turkish officers in my classes at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, referred to the Kurds as “mountain Turks.” Using highly coercive measures, neighboring Arabs have tried to assimilate the Kurds for decades.

Image Lunch with a Kurd warlord. [Author Col. Norvelle DeAtkine (left)]
Lunch with a Kurd warlord. [Author Col. Norvelle DeAtkine (left)].
The nations containing the Kurdish inhabited regions are usually bitter rivals, but they agree on one thing; absolute aversion to any attempt by the Kurds to establish an independent nation. In particular, the Iraqis, especially under Saddam Hussein, went to great lengths to forcibly relocate Kurds, bringing Iraqi Arabs into Kurdish lands. That, or they used the crushing power of the Ba’ath State to “reeducate” them, basically erasing the Kurdish problem by means of cultural genocide.

Of course, Saddam did not hesitate to use extermination operations, as with the Anfal operation, where an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds died at the hands of the Iraqi military and security forces. In this campaign, the Iraqis used weapons of mass destruction, most notoriously at the town of Halabjah, in which about 5,000 Kurds, mostly civilians, perished.

Image Photo from the of refugees fleeing the Al-Anfal campaign.
Iraqi Kurds during the mass exodus fleeing the Al-Anfal campaign (Kurdistanonline Photo).

He told me with bitterness in his voice that just seeing that flag made him feel humiliated.

On the surface it would seem that the commonalities between Arab and Kurd would predict a more harmonious relationship. Both are originally tribal and primarily Sunni Muslim. Both are family-based cultures. Customs are similar, and in urban settings, there is a great deal of intermarriage.

Some observers, who seek to soft-pedal the acrimony between Kurd and Arab, point to the dysfunctional and rapacious leadership of both communities as the primary reason for the strife between them, and not any interpersonal rancor. They also point out the role of outside powers manipulating the Kurds. The United States and the West are usually singled out as the primary culprit, but in fact, Russia has played a very critical role. The Soviets were supplying arms to the Barzani Kurdish rebels, while at the same time Russian crews were flying the Tupolev T-16 bombing Kurdish rebels.

There is also no doubt that the Americans have, in Kurdish terms, betrayed the Kurds numerous times. This began with the failure to pursue President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points declaration, and the promises of a Kurdish state thereafter. Most recently, the U.S. failed to support the 2017 Kurdish Referendum for Independence. This resulted in a humiliating retreat by Kurdish forces.

celebrations of the referendum
Celebrations over the the Kurdish referendum vote (Photo: SBS Kurdish)

The increase of Kurdish-Arab intermarriage, ironically, can be explained by the mass exodus of both Kurds and Arabs fleeing the violence of Baghdad to the relative safety of Kurdistan, ending up as refugees living in close proximity to another. Both Shi’a and Sunni militias and criminals targeted the close to half-million Kurds living in Baghdad. One source indicated over 300,000 departed Baghdad during the civil war.

One can hardly go wrong in impugning corrupt leadership in the Arab world for every ill that innervates the region. But these leaders know how to manipulate sectarian animosities that have been in place for a very long time.

Saddam Hussein, in his conferences with his inner circle, never uttered a disparaging word about Kurds or Shi’a (normally referred to as “people of the south” or “people of the north”). Yet his intelligence apparatus disseminated deprecating jokes about the Kurds. They were intended to portray Kurds with a slow mentality, perhaps comparable to a less politically correct time in the United States when Polish jokes were frequently heard. Another often heard rumor linked Kurdish antecedents to an ancient Jewish community. The Arab use of the derogatory term was all part of the powerful and often successful Ba’ath campaign to Arabize the Kurds. Many urban Kurds assimilated to simply make their lives more comfortable among their Arab neighbors and to secure better jobs in a state-run economy in which all employment and benefits flow from the top.

The Arabization program was both subtle and violently overt. It was often accomplished by simultaneous resettling of Kurds in Arab areas, scattering them to avoid too many in one region, and settling Arab families in Kurdish areas, moving them into former Kurdish homes. One of the more onerous missions of the Iraqi provisional government, after the liberation of Iraq, was the determination of who were the legitimate owners of homes in the Kirkuk area. Arab residents presented deeds issued by Saddam’s government, and the returning Kurds showed the authorities deeds dating back to the Ottoman era.

While arrests, executions, and forcible resettling of the Kurds was going on, the Ba’ath party was successful in recruiting a significant number of Kurds, especially women, ostensibly attracted by their superficial secular face. Meanwhile, Iraqi government officials toured Kurdistan, listening to hear grievances, and allowed the use of Kurdish in schools, along with various other simulations to assuage Kurdish sensitivities and probing naïve journalists. The sum and substance of the Iraqi government program was assimilation, willingly accepted or forcibly induced. Saddam used arts, literature and revisionist history for the task of eradicating the Kurdish culture.

Image The mass graveyard for those who died in the gas attack on Halabja, Kurdistan region of Iraq (AP).
The mass graveyard for those who died in the gas attack on Halabja, Kurdistan region of Iraq (AP).

The Ba’athi programs were clever and, combined with the climate of fear, obtained results that were at least partially successful. According to Denise Natali, who worked for twelve years in Kurdish regions of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein’s nomenclature used an ultra clever rewriting of history to promote a “Mesopotamian” identity over that of the non-Sunni Arab populations, then imperceptibly moved it toward an Arabized “Mesopotamian” version. The Saddam propaganda machine then implemented this program using Arab metaphors which “negated Kurds’ Median ancestry as an integral part of local Iraqi identity.” The pervasive and insidious effects of Ba’athist influence on the Iraqi population, Arab and Kurdish, is usually underestimated by the numerous “experts” who have emerged since the liberation lamenting the baleful effects of the “de-Ba’athification” program.

The Kurds in Arab Iraq suffered a great deal of discrimination, even before the war, but with the advent of the sectarian war, they became targets for both sides. The Sunni Arab Islamist terror groups considered them insufficiently Islamic and collaborators with the Western occupation forces. The Kurdish population, especially in the Suleimaiya region, has always been noted for a more liberal approach to the place of women in society. The “Islamic lite” social life of the Kurds has brought the wrath of Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In this regard, notes that I took during my visit to the Suleimaniyah region of Kurdistan are instructive in understanding the issues today.

The two primary fears of the educated elite with which I spoke were: (a) a deeply rooted fear of Arab nationalism which the Kurds believe is merely an extension of the Caliphate dream of Bin Laden, i.e., a twisted Islamism with a mystic belief in pan-Arabism; Kurds see Arab Nationalism as simply a hegemonic Sunni vehicle for power; and (b) a fear of Shia triumphalism in which the Shia gain control of Iraq and impose a draconian religious government on very unwilling Kurds.

Again and again, the Kurds, officials and others, voiced the belief that Islam acted as a retardant to progress and stability. They took pains to point out by way of old photographs, the lack of Islamic dress on females in the ’50s and early ’60s. The refrain often heard was that the Arabs imposed Islam on the Kurds. One Kurd told me that Suleimaniyah has more bars than Mosques. I do not believe this is true, but alcohol is certainly everywhere and easily obtainable.

Image A liquor store in Suleimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan [Photo: Col. Norvell DeAtkine]
A liquor store in Suleimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan [Photo: Col. Norvell DeAtkine]

The ‘Islamic lite’ social life of the Kurds has brought the wrath of Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), containing large segments of the Saddam intelligence and special security forces, sought revenge for the Kurdish “betrayal” of Saddam’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war. The Shi’a, although they often referred to the Iran-Iraq war as “Saddam’s war,” were equally bitter about the Kurds acting as an arm of the Iranian military, keeping in mind that 80% of the Iraqi army rank and file were Shi’a and presumably at least 80% of the casualties were Shi’a.

Most writers on the Kurdish aspirations, e.g., Michael Gunter, Gerard Chaliand, Thomas Bois, and David McDowall, tend to be sympathetic to some degree. All of them recognize the immensity and complexity of bringing about a solution to the Kurdish issue. One writer, however, Edmund Ghareeb, a Lebanese–American professor, provides a scholarly presentation of the Arab view. He wrote in 1981, referring to the defeat of the Kurdish insurrection in 1975, “The demise of the Kurdish revolt, and the granting of limited autonomy to the Kurds in Iraq can be viewed as a victory for the Ba’ath Government and a step toward interregional accommodation and stability.” Ghareeb’s more tolerant view of the rapacious Saddam regime was a common one in the eighties, as his regime seemed to be a secular anecdote to the rise of fundamentalist Islam. As it turned out, the Iraqi government promises to the Kurds were worthless, something anticipated by the Kurds.

There is, however, another side of the Kurdish-Arab conflict.

Image Author Col. Norvell DeAtkine (rt) Meeting with Kurdish leader Barham Salih, now President of Iraq.
Author Col. Norvell DeAtkine (rt) Meeting with Kurdish leader Barham Salih, now President of Iraq.

Arabs will insist that the Kurds have been the betrayers as much as they have been betrayed. The Kurdish inclination has been to side with any force threatening the interests of the country in which they reside. This has defined them as a permanent fifth column in whatever country they reside. In Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds actively sided with the Iranians against their countrymen in a primordial struggle of Arab against Persian, creating a bitter taste among non-Kurdish Iraqis toward the Kurds to this day. Moreover, minorities within the Kurdish regions have not fared well, especially the Assyrian Christians. A great deal of persecution has been documented.

The Syria Kurds have in some ways a very different recent history than the Iraqi Kurds. They have, since the independence of Syria, been part of the “coalition of factions,” a tacit coalition of non-Sunni Arabs, who constitute 80% of the Syrian population. In their efforts to avoid Sunni domination, the Kurds, Druze, Christians and the Alawis have resisted either quietly or in armed insurrection. So for most of the history of the two Assad Alawi regimes, the Kurds have cooperated with the government. In fact, for a number of years, the Syrian government used their Kurds to augment the Turkish Kurd fight against the Turkish regime. The Turkish Kurd insurgent organization, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) greatly influenced the Syrian Kurdish formation of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in 2003 and later the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a militia which appears to have risen to its crescendo during the 2011 rebellion in Syria.

Mirroring the history of the Iraqi Kurds, political parties with a litany of names and ideologies have appeared, dissolved, and re-emerged, mostly with a strong strain of Marxist ideology. Like the Iraqi Kurds, despite their episodic cooperation with the Assad regime, they have been denied rights of basic citizenship, and often subjected to draconian measures of arrest, torture, and execution to keep them pacified. Because of the strong influence on the Syrian Kurds by the PKK, the Turks see them, especially the YPG, as virtually part of the PKK movement in Turkey.

What exactly is the conflict?

While some observers and pundits, principally Western, try to define the Kurdish-Arab conflict in terms of economic (oil) factors, outside regional and world power manipulation, and the ambitions of indigenous leaders, other analysts, particularly in the late ’50s and ’60s, saw it in terms of race and class.

In Iraq: the Search for National Identity, Liora Lukitz, writing about Kurdish opposition to integration within the Iraqi state, views all of the above factors, and others, as germane to the conflict. Yet Lukitz emphasizes that above all, the Kurdish-Arab conflict “was a cultural reaction from the Kurds, as a community with deep-rooted religious, cultural, and social characteristics.” “Culture,” notes Lukitz, embraces religion, traditions, symbols, and sets of beliefs “that mould the structure of a human group and determine the parameters of its members’ identities.”

In essence, the clash between Arabs and Kurds is a nativist and atavistic conflict in which the usual palliatives of political initiatives will not suffice.

Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine, Lima Charlie News

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine spent nearly nine years of his 30-year military career in the Middle East as a military attache, student or political military officer. After retirement he taught for 18 years as the Middle East seminar director at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Following his retirement from the JFK Center, Colonel DeAtkine held positions with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Iraqi Intelligence Cell and Marine Corps Cultural and Language Center. He has written a number of articles for various periodicals on primarily Middle Eastern military topics.

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

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Sweden provides ‘quiet diplomacy’ for U.S. – North Korea talks

Image Sweden provides ‘quiet diplomacy’ for U.S. – North Korea talks [Lima Charlie News][Image: REUTERS / Janerik Henriksson]
Sweden provides ‘quiet diplomacy’ for U.S. – North Korea talks [Lima Charlie News][Image: REUTERS / Janerik Henriksson]

A sequestered, off the record meeting in Sweden drives U.S., North Korea, South Korea diplomacy.

At a sequestered conference facility outside of Stockholm top diplomats from North Korea, the U.S. and South Korea are now meeting under the protection of Swedish military and paramilitary forces for a week long off-the-record gathering. The facility and the area around the facility are off-limits for observers, including accredited journalists.

The meeting began on January 19th and is being held at the Hackholmssund Conference Hotel, by the Mälaren Lake, north-west of Stockholm. The area is under lock down by the Swedish paramilitary police force “Nationella Insatsstyrkan” and the Swedish military is conducting training of several of its elite quick response counter-terrorism units in the vicinity.

Sources within Rosenbad, the nerve centre of Swedish politics, tell us that the meeting was initiated and coordinated by the Swedish Foreign Affairs ministry. The same sources tell us that the topics at hand are the future of nuclear weapons in the Korean Peninsula. The results of the meeting are intended to be disclosed during the late-February meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un.

Buster Mirow Emitslöf, the Swedish Foreign Affairs ministry’s press communications officer, stated that Choe Son-Hui (North Korea’s vice-Foreign Affairs Minister), Lee Do-Hoon (South Korea’s special representative in matters relating to North Korea), and Stephen E. Biegun (U.S. Special Representative for North Korea) are present during the meeting. Using the “round table” discussion form, the meeting is being held under the guidance of Margot Wallström, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Jan Eliasson, former vice General Secretary of the United Nations.

The meeting is expected to last until Tuesday, January 22nd, with sources stating that all participants are “cautiously optimistic” about potential diplomatic advances in the sensitive discussions. Lima Charlie News reached out to Margot Wallström on January 20th who responded “no comment” clarifying that “it is a matter of establishing confidence and trust between all parties.”

Image Security outside of meeting facility near Stockholm, Sweden, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 [ANDERS WIKLUND /TT / via AP]
Security outside of meeting facility near Stockholm, Sweden, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 [ANDERS WIKLUND /TT / via AP]

“Tyst Diplomati”

Sweden has in recent years been seen as helping American diplomatic interests by playing the pseudo-unbiased role of a behind-the-scenes mediator for sensitive matters.

Sweden has long championed a particular branch of “preventive diplomacy” that is referred to as “quiet diplomacy”, or “tyst diplomati” in Swedish. This approach stands in contrast with what is referred to as “gunboat diplomacy” or “public diplomacy”. Gunboat diplomacy relies primarily on being able to enact the unspoken, or spoken threat of military force, whereas public diplomacy relies on creating world pressure to forward a particular dogma or interest. Quiet diplomacy, in turn, seeks to establish trust and the ability to speak freely about each side’s goals and interests. The hope is that by being able to keep off-the-record conversations, clarity and true mutual interests can be established between discoursing parties.

Quiet diplomacy is backed rather by intelligence assets, knowing more about the true state of the participants in any negotiations than what is generally known. Sweden’s behind-the-scenes role in recent international diplomacy has largely been attributed to the fact that Sweden has maintained not just diplomatic connections with a lot of politically turbulent third-world nations, but also economics ties. This is apparent when one looks at the customer base for many of Sweden’s recently sold Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) systems as well as its low-profile armament sales to the third world.

As part of this policy, Sweden has retained diplomatic presentation in North Korea since 1975, longer than any western nation. Sweden has often sold equipment to North Korea at a loss or neglected to collect payments, all in the name of retaining positive relations with the North Korean dictatorship. Sweden also carries out limited consular functions for the United States, Canada and Australia in North Korea. For the past 55 years Sweden, along with Switzerland, has been part of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) security detachment.

As such, Sweden has pitched itself in a diplomatic laissez-faire fashion to the western world to negotiate with extremist nations on behalf of western interests. As part of this, Sweden carried out a series of behind-the-scenes talks with the North Korean leadership that helped get three Americans who had been held in North Korean captivity since 2017 released. This, in turn, helped facilitate the summer 2018 North Korea–United States summit in Singapore.

It is, however, important to note that the particular brand of diplomacy that Sweden has become famous for can often result in prolonged negotiations with a public perception quickly being created that very little is actually being accomplished, or that the negotiations have even broken down. For example, Sweden is also presently engaged in quiet diplomacy negotiations between the warring parties of the Yemen Civil War conflict. A cease fire agreement was brokered during negotiations in Stockholm earlier this year, but it only lasted mere minutes before it was shattered.

The Grounds  

The Hackholmssund Conference Hotel has long been a popular spot for diplomatic and business off-the-record negotiations. It is owned by Midroc Real Estate AB, which in turn is owned by the Ethiopian-Saudi businessman Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi. Al Amoudi remains under house arrest at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh since November 4th, 2017 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered his arrest as part of the 2017 Saudi purge. The conference hotel was bought by Midroc in 1994 and underwent extensive refurbishment from 1995-1996 using specifications from al Amoudi himself.

The hotel features a private boat dock, helicopter landing area, and has an enhanced security profile. The hotel had blast protective walls and blast and bulletproof glass installed on both the inside walls and the outside facade. Access to the hotel grounds is also designed with a tactical advantage in mind, with access routes being easily controlled and observed from specific security vantage points.

The hotel grounds also feature two private houses, one of which is known as the “executive house” and is often used by al Amoudi during his visits.

[Main Photo: Janerik Henriksson]

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

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What’s ailing South Korea?

Image What’s ailing South Korea? [Lima Charlie News]
What’s ailing South Korea? [Lima Charlie News]

Investors may look at the prevalence of South Korean brands, and the success of South Korean companies, and see an appealing investment destination. They should be wary.

It is true that South Korea is an economic miracle, exhibiting stupendous growth over the last few decades. When the two Koreas first split, North Korea had a higher per capita GDP than the South, but today South Korea is 15 times richer.

Recently, however, South Korea’s growth has been sluggish with mediocre equity market returns.

From December 2011 to December 2016, the KOSPI, an index of all stocks traded on the Korean exchange, barely grew – rising only 2.8% total. Not 2.8% per year. Total. Then, a bull run started that saw the KOSPI go up 30% over the next 13 months. Since then, the KOSPI has lost nearly all of its gains and is only 4% above where it was eight years ago.

No investor would be happy with returns like this. These troubles are reflected in South Korea’s GDP, which regularly rose by 5-7% until 2009. Over the last few years, the numbers have been less impressive. Since 2012, the growth rate has hovered between 2.3% and 3.3% per year.

According to the latest Green Book, the report from Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance released on January 11th, “[i]nvestment and employment remain weak, and concerns have been rising over a pessimistic outlook for semiconductor manufacturing. External uncertainties linger amid ongoing trade conflicts between the US and China.”

So what happened to the booming South Korean miracle?

To understand what is going wrong, we should start with the basics. South Korea’s economy is dominated by a few large conglomerates called chaebol. Many of these chaebol are well known in the United States because South Korea’s economy is heavily driven by exports and companies like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai, which sell an enormous volume of products overseas. This concentration of business activity in a few firms put the government in a position to direct a great deal of economic activity. It chose to pursue a strategy of encouraging exports to boost growth. While the strategy was highly successful and produced results for a long time, South Korea is now running up against its limits and is having a hard time reorienting the economy to a different model.

The economic data may actually understate the scale of the problem. Trade represents 77% of South Korea’s GDP, one of the highest figures in the world, and one good year by a few chaebol can mask underlying weakness. This is what happened in the last two years. South Korea’s exports fell in 2015 and 2016, the first time this had happened since 1958. In 2017, exports rose again thanks almost entirely to one company – Samsung – having a banner year. Samsung rode the chip market to new heights through most of 2018, but chips are cyclical and the bottom has now fallen out.

In its most recent guidance to investors, Samsung reported a highly negative outlook predicting that slowing growth in China and the end of the semiconductor chip cycle would dampen profits by 18%. Semiconductor chips account for three times as much of South Korea’s exports as cars. Samsung’s chip sales were propping up the data, but now those days are over. South Korea is likely to see overall exports decline in 2019 again.

Because South Korea is so export dependent, it is highly susceptible to the strength of its trading partners. South Korea’s biggest trading partner is now China. South Korea sells twice as much to China as it sells to the United States. And, as everyone now knows, China’s growth is slowing. This slowdown is a big reason Samsung’s chip sales are disappointing.  The ongoing Sino-U.S. trade war has not helped matters either.

South Korea’s leaders have promised to transition away from export dependency by building up its domestic consumer market. But, as has been the case for other countries, this transition has proven difficult. It is not made easier by the fact that South Korean household debt, currently at 96%, is double the G20 average. It’s hard for consumers to drive the economy when their incomes are spent paying down credit cards.

Image [via South Korea Ministry of Economy and Finance JAN. 11, 2019][www.moef.go.kr]
[via South Korea Ministry of Economy and Finance JAN. 11, 2019][www.moef.go.kr]
It’s also hard to shift to a consumer driven economic model when you have an aging population. With a population of 51 million, South Korea is on a similar demographic curve as Japan. It’s just not as far along in the process. It is aging faster than any developed country on Earth, and its fertility rate has fallen to barely over one child per woman. While its population grows older, young South Koreans expected to shoulder the burden of the lagging economy are less and less able to do so. Youth unemployment is now at 11.6%.

An aging society burdened by debt, where young people struggle to find disposable income, does not seem fertile ground for a transition to a consumer driven economy. These trends have been visible for some time, but now they are impossible to ignore. The government is not oblivious to these challenges, but that doesn’t mean it knows how to solve them. South Korea has begun bringing in more immigrant workers to address its aging population, but it isn’t taking in enough to make up for the shortfall. The government has also provided subsidies to women who have more children, but apparently not enough to significantly change behavior.

President Moon Jae-In has tried to implement economic reforms to boost consumer spending. He raised the minimum wage in an effort to raise real incomes for people with a high propensity to spend and is proposing further increases. This has met with resistance from the business community, which blames Moon’s policies for the weak economy when circumstances are at fault. Moon is also proposing changing the rules to allow more competition with the chaebol. This may boost growth in the long term, but in the short term there may be dislocation. There is a very real risk the political system will abandon needed reforms because tough economic conditions make it appear that the reforms are failing.

Investing in emerging markets can be attractive to investors because of the promise of rapid growth and high returns. But investors need to be aware that with these potential rewards come great risks. South Korea is no longer an emerging market. It is a mature economy that faces serious structural challenges and has not demonstrated it can overcome them. Investors would be advised to tread carefully.

John Ford, for Lima Charlie News

John Ford is an attorney in California and a reserve officer in the US Army. He writes about global strategy and international economics, focusing on the Asia Pacific. You can follow him on twitter at @johndouglasford.

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Iran vs. the European Union – A Murderously Difficult Balancing Act

Image Iran vs. the European Union - A Murderously Difficult Balancing Act [Lima Charlie News]
Iran vs. the European Union - A Murderously Difficult Balancing Act [Lima Charlie News]

Europe faces a balancing act between security and Iran’s hard-liners.

Iranian intelligence services have long been suspected of actively carrying out operations to target Iranian dissidents in Europe. According to European intelligence agencies, in the past 5 years, Iranian intelligence operatives have successfully carried out at least two assassinations and have attempted many more. The EU is now seeking to employ sanctions to both penalise and prevent Iran’s intelligence agencies from carrying out further operations inside the continent.

In May 2018, US Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was carrying out assassination operations throughout Europe. Such an assertion at the time was viewed with skepticism by civilian security observers throughout Europe. Since then, however, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Denmark have leveled accusations against Tehran for having carried out, or planned assassinations within their borders.

A Blood Soaked Operational History

Operatives from Iran’s two primary intelligence agencies, the Intelligence Organisation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (Vezarat-e Ettela’at Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran, commonly given the acronym VAJA), are believed to have carried out a series of assassination operations. Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi (56), and Ahmad Molla Nissi (52), are among the victims.

Samadi is believed to have been involved in an attack on the Islamic Republic Party’s headquarters in 1981. The attack killed 73 people, including women and children. In 2015, Samadi was killed on a street in Almere, a city east of Amsterdam.

Nissi was founder of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), a separatist movement in the Khuzestan Province of Iran. He was shot in the head while leaving his home in The Hague in 2017.

At the time of their deaths, both Samadi and Nissi had been given sanctuary in the Netherlands, citing security concerns. Their overall active security threat profile was not considered severe enough to warrant further security considerations.

Iran is accused of being behind further operations inside Europe’s mainland. In October, 2018, French authorities announced that operatives from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence were responsible for a failed Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attack in Paris at a gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in June. NCRI is an Iranian political organisation based in France. Present was former New York mayor and present-day lawyer for President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani.

Found carrying 500 grams of the explosive compound triacetone triperoxide (TATP), a popular home-made explosive produced with commonly available chemicals, and a detonation device, were two individuals, one 38-year-old male (referred to as “Amir S.”) and one 33-year-old female (referred to as “Nasimeh N.”). Believed to be involved in the operation, they were intercepted by Belgian police. Both remain in the custody of Belgian authorities.

Image Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran's (PMOI) political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani take part in a rally in Villepinte, near Paris June 18, 2011. [REUTERS / Benoit Tessier]
Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran’s (PMOI) political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani take part in a rally in Villepinte, near Paris June 18, 2011. [REUTERS / Benoit Tessier]
NCRI is widely considered to be the political wing of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) movement, an Iranian militant organisation with a history of attacks against government targets inside Iran. EU, Canada and the U.S. formerly listed the MEK as a terrorist organisation. The EU changed this listing in January 2009 followed by the U.S. government in September 2012 and Canada in December 2013. Yet the group remains designated a terrorist organisation by both Iran and Iraq.

In late September 2018, operatives from Iran’s intelligence services are believed to have participated in operations in Copenhagen to assassinate ASMLA members in exile. The threat caused a country-wide manhunt by Danish police and the closing of the nation’s borders. Three individuals from the ASMLA were placed in protective custody where they have since remained. The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (DSIS) stated in December that it believes the threat to remain active.

In October 2018, a Danish-Swedish-Norwegian counterterrorism operation was carried out in Gothenburg, Sweden, resulting in the arrest of one Iranian male carrying Norwegian citizenship. The individual is believed to have been traveling from Denmark and to have been involved in the planning and preparation of the September 2018 Copenhagen operation. The detained individual was turned over to Danish intelligence operatives mere hours after the conclusion of the operation. Sofia Hellqvist, press secretary at the Swedish Security Services (Säkerhetspolisen, or SÄPO), told Lima Charlie News that the suspect remains in the custody of the Danish civilian security services.

Iran has denied any involvement in these operations.

Since then, multiple arrests have occurred against would-be terrorists in Sweden and Norway, the majority of which are not believed to be directly related to Iran, but rather with Central Asia Salafi-Jihadi movements.

Without the Iranian nuclear deal, the West will have few non-military options to attempt to balance Iran’s place in the world.

Sanctions and the JCPOA

It is predicted that EU sanctions may not have any major effect. As of this writing, two government-affiliated individuals specifically targeted are a Deputy Minister, and a former Iranian Ambassador, Asdollah Assadi. Assets registered to these individuals in Europe have been frozen, and their names added to the EU Terror Watch List. Otherwise, the sanctions are very limited in scope, targeting the Iranian Intelligence and Security apparatus.

However, the sanctions may negatively impact the moderate segments of Tehran’s political circles, particularly affecting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s moderates are dependent upon Iran successfully joining the world stage in order to facilitate needed reform.

The 2015 JCPOA, otherwise known as the P5+1-agreement (referring to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, France, UK, China and Russia, plus Germany), was intended to provide transparency of Iran’s atomic energy programme while preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Access was granted in exchange of the easement of UN sanctions towards Iran.

In May 2018, President Trump announced the withdrawal from the agreement, along with a series of new sanctions. The EU countries that had signed JCPOA, along with Russia and China, stated that they would remain part of the agreement. Since May 2018, the US has pushed the EU to adopt the US line, with little success. The EU has instead continued to work towards circumventing US sanctions to enable the JCPOA. If these efforts were to stop, Iran, which is already facing a faltering economy, would find itself further cut off and would likely withdraw its relatively progressive social reform programs.

Image [U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, Washington, May 1, 2018. REUTERS / Leah Millis]
[U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, Washington, May 1, 2018. REUTERS / Leah Millis]

A Balancing Act

The EU-sanctions decision highlights the difficult balancing act Europe faces in checking Iranian aggression abroad on the one hand, while maintaining what balance exists. Without the Iranian nuclear deal, the West will have few non-military options to attempt to balance Iran’s place in the world. Politically, the situation is precarious. The nuclear agreement was directly tied, domestically, to the relative moderate rule of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who sold it to Iran as a way to revive the nation’s economy.

If the EU’s relations with Iran falter, and along with it the JCPOA, it would only serve Iran’s hard-liners that staunchly oppose the normalisation of relations with the West.

Iran’s hard-liners appear to face a win-win situation. The success, or failure, of the Iranian operations in Europe is to their advantage. If the operations succeed, it means the removal of meddlesome individuals that threaten Tehran’s political or security might. If the operations fail, it still increases the friction between Tehran and the West. Either way, it provides ammunition to further undermine the credibility of Iran’s moderates.

With President Rouhani already hard-pressed by Iran’s hard-liners, who believe that the JCPOA was a mistake and that Europe is not to be trusted, any move is their move.

[SUGGESTED READING: For more on the history of Iran’s assassinations abroad, as well as an analysis of its operational patterns check out “Analysis: New pattern of Iran-backed assassinations abroad? by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Ali Alfoneh]

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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Leaving Syria – a misstep continues to haunt America’s allies

Image Leaving Syria - a misstep continues to haunt America's allies [Lima Charlie News][Photo: JOSHUA ROBERTS]
Leaving Syria - a misstep continues to haunt America's allies [Lima Charlie News][Photo: JOSHUA ROBERTS]

Trump’s proclamation that the U.S. would leave Syria caught America’s allies off balance.

On December 19th, 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted that “we have defeated ISIS in Syria,” thus eliminating the need for U.S. troops to remain in the Syrian area of operations. Shortly thereafter, the president said that the U.S. would withdraw its forces from Syria within 30 days.

A video of Trump followed in which he said “it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

Now, three weeks later, the sabers are in the centrifuge. Turkey’s Foreign Minister announced yesterday that his country would attack the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) if the U.S.  withdrawal “is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds.” Given the intermixing of American and YPG forces, such a statement constitutes nothing less than a de facto threat to the U.S.

With Turkey threatening to kill Kurds if the U.S. doesn’t stop saying that it kills Kurds, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintained that the U.S. is committed to withdrawal, defeating ISIS, and expelling “every last Iranian boot” from Syria.

So what has happened?

Trump’s initial announcement of a Syrian withdrawal sent shockwaves through the hallways of power of America’s allies joined in the battle against the Salafist-Jihadists of ISIS. This was in part because no other ally perceived ISIS to no longer be a threat, and more so, because it would mean an immense change in the geostrategic and tactical landscape of the Middle East. Members of the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) protested en masse, as did Israel.

More importantly, the president’s statement sent chills down the spines of the frontline fighting men and women of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Not only does the U.S. provide the bulk of air-to-ground capabilities, it also provides tactical level equipment and training, along with vitally important intelligence resources to the SDF and affiliated frontline troops. While European and other regional allies provide particular operational capabilities, overall such contributions pale in comparison to the U.S.

“I got this” – RTE

The decision to withdraw seemingly traces back to a conversation Trump had with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan vowed to take over the struggle against the enemy in Syria, if the U.S. left.

No doubt President Erdogan voiced this offer with a smile, all the while hoping to avoid any clarification as to just what enemy Turkey intended to fight, and how it intended to fight them.

Since their inception, Erdogan has used both the Syrian Civil War and the Western-backed counter-ISIS campaign as excuses or cover to enable attacks on Kurdish enclaves throughout Syria and Iraq. These enclaves are seen, in the eyes of the Erdogan-led Turkish nationalists, as a threat to Turkish national integrity.

“Erdogan has very convincingly informed me that he will wipe out what’s left of ISIS in Syria … and he is a man who can do it,” Trump stated.

The Kurdish enclaves of immediate concern to Erdogan are generally under the control of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, or PYD), the political party which in turn controls the YPG militia — which make up the majority of the U.S.-supported SDF coalition in the war against ISIS. This coalition, along with the Assad government in Damascus, constitute the bulk of the ground forces in the Syrian campaign against ISIS.

As a NATO member (the only member in the Eurasia region), Turkey’s decision to enter the Syrian Civil War in the aftermath of a U.S. military ground presence exodus raises serious questions about its intent.

Image [President Trump with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, May 16, 2017. (JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)]
[President Trump, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, May 16, 2017. (JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)]

Support, outcry and resignations

When the U.S. began Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) the operation had a secondary objective: to counter the growing Shi’a-Iranian influence in Syria and the upper Levant. This aspect, in particular, is one in which both the Jewish state of Israel and the region’s Sunni-ruled Arab states remain especially interested. Yet, much to their alarm, Trump’s plans of withdrawal appeared to abandon these interests as well.

The international perception of the policy shift did not improve after Turkish, Russian and Iranian leadership expressed support for the decision.

In between congratulating a decision well made and praising Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to point out the Moscow-Damascus perspective that the U.S. presence in Syria is illegal. Putin’s remarks caused slight embarrassment for Trump who had earlier that same day tweeted that Russia and Iran were unhappy with the U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria.

To many, the proposed exodus was seen as a betrayal, particularly to the Kurds and their supporters. This perception was also expressed by some in the U.S. political sphere, such as  heavyweight Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who rejected the financial benefits of withdrawal while highlighting the betrayal of America’s tactical and strategic allies.

Initially, the President seemingly dismissed anyone who objected to the decision. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, whom Trump has praised as a true warrior, resigned in protest of the decision. Soon thereafter, on Dec. 25th, Brett McGurk, the U.S. Special Envoy to the coalition against ISIL, also resigned in protest.

Course correction

The loss of SecDef Mattis and Special Envoy McGurk in such short order amounted to a devastating public relations blow to President Trump’s Syria policy approach. Both National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both widely considered hardline anti-Iran operatives, reportedly began lobbying for reversal of the 30-day withdrawal deadline almost immediately.

While in Jerusalem on a four-day trip to Israel and Turkey, Bolton announced last Sunday that a prevailing condition for U.S. withdrawal from Syria is Turkey guaranteeing not to attack Kurdish positions in Syria. Bolton and Pompeo’s advocacy inside the White House, combined with the outcry of allies from Tel Aviv to London, appears to have made Trump change course. Republican Bob Corker, head of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, stated in an interview that he believes the President now “knows he’s made a mistake.”

Image [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton in Jerusalem, January 7, 2019 (Photo: Matty Stern)
[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton in Jerusalem, January 7, 2019 (Photo: Matty Stern)
On Jan. 8th and 9th NSA Bolton was scheduled to hold meetings with President Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. Erdogan, however, abruptly cancelled the meeting citing Bolton’s comments.

“Bolton has made a serious mistake, and whoever thinks like this has also made a mistake. It is not possible for us to make compromises on this point,” Erdogan said in the Turkish Parliament on Jan. 8th, dropping the conciliatory tone he struck in his New York Times op-ed earlier this week. “Those who are part of the terror corridor in Syria will receive the necessary lesson. There is no difference between the PKK, the YPG, the PYD and ISIL. We are determined to take steps against these terrorist organizations. We will mobilize to neutralize them in Syrian lands very soon.”

Syria SITREP

It is, at any rate, unlikely that ISIS will be gone anytime soon. The battles continue to be fierce, and despite continuously shifting policies and the uncertainty that it brings, the operational tempo in Syria is not slowing down. Even if ISIS is running out of static enclaves, it will continue to operate as a band of bandits, and terrorists, across the region.

As such, it is no surprise that the counter-ISIS coalition, along with the SDF, increased its operational tempo in recent weeks. The U.S. increased air-to-ground sorties, along with the British and French increasing their ground operations. The SDF, along with western special operations assets, continued their push to drive out the last remaining static enclaves of ISIS in Hajin and remaining pockets along the Euphrates River and the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Winter season sandstorms, however, have been disrupting the availability of air capabilities for advancing ground forces. This allowed ISIS to launch counter-offensives against the SDF. One such offensive, outside of Deir Ezzor, reportedly resulted in 23 members of the SDF killed in action, with the enemy force suffering a loss of nine.

“Twenty-three SDF fighters were killed and, nine IS jihadists were also killed in fighting that lasted all night and into Monday morning,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

ISIS propoganda video showing an attack the SDF forces under cover of a sandstorm.

It is not just the SDF and ISIS that are suffering frightful casualty rates. On January 5th at least two British soldiers from the Special Air Services Regiment (SAS-R) were killed, with a further four injured in an ISIS rocket attack in Deir Ezzor. One YPG-SDF soldier was also killed.

As part of clearing operations along the border region, the SDF claims to have captured a group of five foreign fighters that were seeking to escape into Iraq. Among the five were two individuals described as holding American citizenship; Warren Christopher Clark (aka Abu Mohammad al-Ameriki), and Zaid Abed al-Hamid (aka Abu Zaid al-Ameriki). Clark has been named as holding a residence in Houston and is believed to be one of the at least 64 Americans who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join Jihadist militant groups.

In security-political circles, the general belief is that the U.S. will remain involved in Syrian affairs for the foreseeable future and that any deadlines will accrue extension upon extension until it becomes a protracted and undefined abstraction. For the past week, both NSA Bolton and SecDef Pompeo have been on separate trips to the Middle East, with Pompeo primarily focusing on the Arab Gulf state leaders and Bolton focusing on the Israel-Turkey aspect.

[Main Image: Photo by Joshua Roberts] 

[UPDATE: Friday, January 11, 2019: Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, announced that the U.S. has begun withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria. Colonel Ryan said the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” adding that he would provide no further information about “specific timelines, locations or troop movements.” Via AP]

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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The rise and dominance of Colombia’s private military contractors

Image The rise and dominance of Colombia's private military contractors [Lima Charlie News]
The rise and dominance of Colombia's private military contractors [Lima Charlie News]

As security and stability in Colombia has ebbed and flowed, the U.S. and the Colombian government have treated the symptoms of the country’s problems by turning to the private sector. It may not have solved Colombia’s problems, but some people are making a lot of money.

Back in 2011, when the New York Times reported that Erik Prince, founder of the private military company Blackwater, had teamed up with the United Arab Emirates to create a standing army of private military contractors, one aspect of the world of PMCs became even more evident – Colombians tend to be exceptional mercenaries. While such a conclusion may indeed be subjective, Colombians do comprise a disproportionate percentage of the world’s PMCs.

By 2015, the UAE had dispatched dozens of Colombian PMCs to Yemen to fight in the growing civil war.  A December 9th, 2017 ambush by Yemeni al Houthi rebels would leave 15 contractors dead, 10 of which were Colombian.

Colombian PMCs, many having spent decades battling FARC in the jungles of Colombia, are preferred over other Latin American soldiers as being more “battle tested” in guerrilla warfare. Add to this, for years the U.S. effectively subsidized spec-ops and helicopter training in the “war on drugs,” helping create a unique domestic industry for the fighting of asymmetrical war. As a result, over the course of the last three decades, the number of domestic Colombian PMCs has proliferated.

This is the full extent of what Erik Prince and the UAE grasped – the military and police from Colombia are well trained in asymmetrical and constant conflict, and are less expensive than similarly trained U.S. PMCs. Colombian PMCs also have a history of working with little oversight from the Colombian government, constituting less of a PR risk. These traits are ever more valuable commodities in a world gripped by ever more civil conflicts.

And the export of Colombian security services is being helped along by Colombian government policy. Now that FARC is effectively defeated, Colombian Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas is attempting to make the defense sector more profitable, because “the post-conflict period doesn’t mean a budget reduction.”

“The changed political and military context with the newly found peace in Colombia led our defense and security sectors to develop technology with an international focus,” Villegas said at the opening ceremony for ExpoDefensa 2017 (an annual expo of Colombian defense products).“[We want to] join the peacekeeping missions of organizations like the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

Colombia secured entry into NATO just last year.

Yet, the drain of well trained Colombian soldiers has become a concern, as it potentially undercuts the effectiveness of the Colombian military.

“I can’t compete with Abu Dhabi,” said Villegas, explaining that the Colombian military was only able to pay less than 15% what fighters could make working in the Middle East.

Image [Colombian soliders on parade in Bogota. Photo: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda]
[Colombian soliders on parade in Bogota. Photo: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda]

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

The 1980s were a dramatic decade in Latin America, marked by multiple U.S. interventions and the war on drugs. The death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 and the crackdown on other cartels, were the last breath of this tumultuous period.

Yet, the battering of the cartels was a boon to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s decades old left wing paramilitary group. FARC would rapidly take over the formerly cartel-controlled coca production. As FARC ascended, a new right wing paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), came into being.

The AUC was a unification of assorted local anti-FARC defense groups and former members of Colombian drug trafficking groups. In fact, some of the primary leaders of the AUC were former lieutenants of Pablo Escobar.

While paramilitaries were running an extra-legal campaign against FARC, the government enabled a key reform to allow Colombian civilians to participate in the fight. Part of the Seguridad para la gente (Security for the people), the policy of Colombian President César Gaviria (1990-1994) was that if it was easier for local landowners and citizens to participate in self defense legally, they would be less likely to participate in other illegal activities, particularly the drug trade.

Decree 356 of 1994 loosened the regulations surrounding security companies. It allowed individuals or corporations to set up “special security services,” referred to as the Convivir (live together) for non-offensive operations, and allowed them access to heavy weaponry. They rapidly proliferated in rural areas where land holders, especially banana growers and cattle ranchers, contracted their services. 740 Colombian defense companies worked under the program as of 2014.

“The dilemma for the country is not to choose to have rural security cooperatives or not,” said then Defense Minister Fernando Botero Zea, arguing that non-government paramilitaries were inevitable. “The real choice is between allowing cooperatives supervised by the state or having the uncontrolled development of self-defense and paramilitary groups created outside the law.”

One of the most active advocates for the Convivir was Álvaro Uribe, who was elected as governor of Antioquia in 1994 and would go on to be president of Colombia. Antioquia was beset by violence, especially in Urabá, and Uribe, who came from a family of wealthy landholders, saw Convivir as a god-send for his province.

Image It is not just nation states that contract Colombian private military contractors; the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel has been hiring Colombians as well.
[It is not just nation states that contract Colombian private military contractors; the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel has been hiring Colombians as well.]

Breaking Point

Determined to crush FARC, the Colombian military gave leeway and even support to the right wing paramilitaries as they engaged in campaigns of kidnapping, assassination, rape, and massacres, targeting FARC and civilians in FARC controlled areas.

By 1999, FARC-AUC violence had done serious damage to Colombia; the economy shrank by 4.5%, unemployment jumped up to 20%, and FARC had grown their fighting force to 18,000 taking control of almost one third of the country.

The Clinton administration responded launching “Plan Colombia,” a $1.3 billion military and economic aid plan. Congress, wary from past controversial Latin American interventions and protracted fights with rebel groups, attached provisions to Plan Colombia limiting the number of U.S. security contractors in Colombia to 500.

Contractors were used especially for “drug interdiction” programs, which sent small prop planes to search for drug traffickers and fumigated coca fields with defoliating chemicals. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

”Congress and the American people don’t want any servicemen killed overseas,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Myles Frechette. ”So it makes sense that if contractors want to risk their lives, they get the job.”

In spite of Congress’ hedging, the program received bad press when contractors working for Aviation Development Corp. misidentified a missionary plane as drug runners, shooting it down with the assistance of the CIA and the Peruvian Air Force. Two of the people in the plane, a mother and an infant, were U.S. citizens.

”There wasn’t one person aboard that plane sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” one counter-drug operations veteran pointed out, referring to the private contractors in the plane. ”They were all … businessmen!”

Congress responded by limiting the number of U.S. citizens working as mercenaries in Colombia to 300.

From counter-narcotics to counter-insurgency

In spite of trying to keep its citizens out of the headlines, the U.S. Congress continued to balloon the program.

In July 2001, the Bush administration had advanced its own plan through Congress: the $675 million Andean Counterdrug Initiative. Months later, the 9/11 attacks caused Congress to kick the war on drugs down the list of priorities, and in August 2002 Congress increased military aid for Colombia and removed rules that forced the Colombians to use the aid almost exclusively on counter-narcotics.

“I guess we’re really *expletive deleted* now,” said Mono Jojoy, FARC’s second in command and chief negotiator, on December 24th, 2001, during his last meeting with the Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Camilo Gómez. Jojoy went on to be one of the many FARC members killed by the Colombian Air Force, which was flush with new U.S. technology.

By 2003, the State Department diplomatic compound in Bogotá, despite caps on the numbers of U.S. citizens, had nearly 5,000 staff, the largest diplomatic compound in the world at the time.

A Fictional Demobilization

The increased involvement by the U.S. made relying on paramilitaries to fight FARC politically unsustainable, and in 2001 the U.S. designated the AUC as a terrorist organization.

By the summer of 2003, the new President of Colombia, Uribe, was ready to unveil his new “democratic security” plan. This included a push to demobilize and disarm the AUC, and have the government take over the fight against FARC.

Demobilization ceremony of AUC members, in which they publicly surrender their weapons. Around 20,000 paramilitary members demobilized between 2003 and 2006. (AP / Fox News)

However, the demobilizations may have just been theater. There has been widespread reporting by human rights groups and the media that the demobilized soldiers were working for private security companies, and often continued to extract protection money. Some former AUC members also went to work protecting landholdings in Honduras, and assisted in plotting the 2009 Honduras coup.

What is more, demobilized AUC members started handing over documents to the police, revealing the extent of the ties between the government, military and the AUC. This “parapolitics scandal” sent 60 congressmen and seven governors to jail, and triggered investigations into over 11,000 politicians and businessmen.

The Convivir were also implicated in the scandal. Parapolitics revealed that these companies had been passing information between security forces and paramilitaries (often to facilitate assassinations), and had served as middle men for protection money for agricultural businesses such as Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte. For example, Arnulfo Peñuela Marín, the mayor of Carepa, was found to have  used a Convivir as a liaison between the paramilitary “bananero block” and banana producers.

Many people close to Uribe were convicted, such as his brother, and in July of 2018, Uribe resigned from the Senate because he was being investigated for witness intimidation in another investigation into allegations that he founded a death squad.

Leahy Law, helicopters and specialized training

One hurdle for Plan Colombia was the Leahy Law, which outlawed subsidising any unit of the Colombian military that committed crimes such as murder. Because of decades of civil war, it was difficult to find Colombian military units which were not implicated in any crimes. To fulfill the requirements of the Leahy Law, $600 million of the initial $1.3 billion aid package was directed to the training of elite counter narcotics battalions through the recruitment of vetted individuals.

These training spec-ops programs were replicated across Latin America.

“We’re restricted from working with them [foreign military forces], for past – ‘sins,’ in the 80s. The beauty of having a Colombia – they’re such good partners, particularly in the military realm, they’re such good partners with us. When we ask them to go somewhere else and train the Mexicans, the Hondurans, the Guatemalans, the Panamanians, they will do it almost without asking,” said current National Security Advisor and 2012-2016 Southern Command leader General John Kelly.

Another initial budget priority in Plan Colombia was helicopters, which ended up accruing $400 million. The decision was slightly controversial at the time, with Congress fighting over whether to supply the expensive Blackhawk helicopters or to upgrade surplus Vietnam era Huey helicopters.

”This would be a great relief package — for the state of Connecticut,” said Representative Cass Ballenger (R-NC), who was bitter that the Blackhawk won out. He argued that, even if you supplied the Colombians with a full package of Hueys, ”you’d [Congress] still have $100 million or $200 million left over to buy Democrats or Republicans or whatever you still needed [to pass the bill].”

One firm that capitalized on the influx of American helicopter equipment was Vertical de Aviación, which worked for the U.S. in Afghanistan. The firm accrued billions of dollars in contracts before the DOD found that it had shoddy safety standards for its helicopters, and that the firm was under the control of Byron Lopez Salazar, a storied money launderer for the cartels.

[Title Image: Original photo by Fernando Vergara – with Colombian flag overlay]

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Diego Lynch, LIMA CHARLIE NEWS

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

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Ambitions Never Laid to Rest – An Open Society vs. The Terrorist

Image Ambitions Never Laid to Rest - An Open Society vs. The Terrorist [Lima Charlie News] (Image: Patrick Hertzog)
Ambitions Never Laid to Rest - An Open Society vs. The Terrorist [Lima Charlie News] (Image: Patrick Hertzog)

Part 2 of a 2 part series. The recent terror attack in Strasbourg has kindled something that may change the face of France. Worldwide, terrorism is likely to increase following the battlefield defeat of ISIS. [Part 1]

The French city of Strasbourg calls itself “the capital of Christmas” and every year more than two million people visit its famous Christmas Market. It is widely considered a winter paradise for those seeking Christmas magic. Yet now, instead of a lively marketplace packed with little stalls lining picturesque cobblestone alleys, dark and rainy streets lie empty.

Late evening of December 12th:

Less than 24 hours earlier, the city was the scene of a horrific terror attack on families visiting the Christmas market. Five people would die, with 11 injured.

A force of more than 700 police officers and the paramilitary gendarmerie, including members of the nation’s premier civilian counter-terrorism police units, patrol the streets. On the street corners of the main pass-throughs members from the gendarmerie have taken up stations. FAMAS-F1s and similar battle rifles are ready to hand, slung across their shoulders, in a show of force the likes of which the city had not seen since the 1950s. Above the city, the French military deployed several of its specially equipped Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters to aid the search for a foe in the dark.

A Swedish journalist from Svenska Dagbladet walked the streets earlier in the day asking people if they believed the attack would change French society into something angrier. The unified answer – a resounding “YES!”

One woman named Léa said that earlier that day she suddenly felt as if someone had put a knife against her throat, only to find it was her scarf that had gotten caught. On French TV, some “experts” declared Strasbourg to be a centre of radicalised Islam and affiliated young radicals. There were whispers from the police to the media that upwards of 10 percent of those with a so-called “S”-file (security file) are located in the city.

The Strasbourg railway station was shut down weeks after the attack for a suspicious package; the city is still on high alert. (Vincent Kessler)

For the citizens of France the events in Strasbourg and the changing face of the city itself have become symbols of how vulnerable their country has become, and Europe along with it, against the will and acts of terrorists.

Tears in the Rain

With midnight quickly approaching in the district of Strasbourg known as Neudorf, less than two kilometers away from the Christmas Market, Chérif Chekatt’s journey came to an end at 21:05 on December 12th.

A police search unit consisting of three police officers, on foot from the local constabulary, had seen an individual matching the description cross the street (“29 years of age, 1.80M tall, normal body build, short hair, possible beard, matte skin, mark on the forehead”). They called in a possible contact and requested immediate assistance from the nearby counterterrorism unit. The responding unit was less than 700 meters away and was quickly heading towards the site when the police ordered Chekatt to stop in his tracks as he ventured toward the doorway of a youth hostel.

Chekatt complied to the order by turning towards them as he pulled out a 9mm sidearm, later identified as a Glock 19 in black. He pointed it at the police officers and pulled the trigger, firing twice. The police officers responded per their training. Two of the officers shot centre mass into their opponent. Chekatt kneeled down, falling towards his left side, into the rain-soaked cobblestone street. Two rounds had penetrated his upper torso, a third having struck the left side of his lower torso. Fearing the possible presence of explosives on his body, none of the three police officers dared approach to check for vital signs of the downed suspect. Instead they called out to Chekatt to remain still as he drew his last breath.

Image Chérif Chekatt
[Chérif Chekatt]
The police quickly cordoned off the block, while emergency response units searched for explosives and recorded the evidence. By all accounts, the shooting was just, and the officers followed the rulebook as well as the asymmetrical and charged situation allowed them to.

Outside of the now blocked off scene it did not take long before masses of people gathered to watch the spectacle, and to feel hope that the episode which had terrified and hurt them so, was over. As the police officers involved in the shooting left the area under protective escort by their fellow officers, the crowds broke out in applauds. Many yelled out “Bravo!” according to the newspaper Le Figaro. Within hours of the shooting the French Minister of Interior, Christophe Castaner, praised the response of the three police officers exclaiming that he was “proud.”

Order had been restored to the City of Christmas. For now.

The Dilemma of the Open Society vs. The Terrorist

A United Nations report in August 2018 stated that the Salafist-Jihadist group known as the Islamic State has between 20,000 and 30,000 battle ready individuals at its command. In order to maintain a force of that size the group needs only a modicum of financial resources compared to more traditional military and organized outfits.

To maintain necessary revenue streams the UN report stated that the group engaged in oil sales, extortion, kidnappings and forced taxation. Those activities have primarily occurred inside the occupied and surrounding areas in the Middle East and Africa.

Yet, that is not how the group makes its big money. Following the familiar approach of al Qaeda the Islamic State has infiltrated and invested money in businesses that have direct access to hard currency. Examples listed in the report are construction companies, currency exchanges, kiosks, restaurants, the agricultural industry, hotels and even fish farming facilities. The proceeds are then dispersed throughout the world using informal money exchange networks such as the Hawala network of brokers, or even commercial wire transfers.

Hawala networks have analog book keeping and conduct transactions by phone, making them ideal for criminal activity. (Graham Crouch)

To accomplish this the group has recruited individuals and structured large-scale networks throughout the Western world. The majority of its ground networks of foot soldiers are recruited in prisons.

The prison systems throughout Europe have growing numbers of individuals of foreign descent, of vulnerable social standing and with little sense of community. These individuals make excellent recruiting material for targeted, religion based, recruitment drives. The majority of these individuals are incarcerated for relatively minor crimes, such as the sale of narcotics or armed robbery. According to multiple reports the security services in Europe are watching with dismay as radical Islamist dogma rises inside prisons.

The radicalisation often comes from individuals in jail on terror-related crimes. Several attacks planned from prisons have been prevented. However, many of those individuals involved in the planning were convicted of terror-related crimes. French authorities report that in 2018, 40 individuals were released from prison that were sentenced for having carried out terrorist activities.

Chekatt followed this pattern of unravelling social identity down to the proverbial letter. The police considered him a “gangster-jihadist,” a term referring to people with an immigrant background, who get sentenced for a string of petty crimes, drug dealing and robbery, only to graduate to full-fledged terrorism after finding religion in jail.

Chekatt overtly began his descent into extremism in 2013, while in prison, and would come to work for Salafist groups seeking to profit off of organised crime in Europe. In 2017, he was expelled from France. This expulsion was not enacted; instead Chekatt was allowed to roam Western Europe as an enforcer and overall foot soldier of the Islamic State. By the time of his death Chekatt had 27 convictions for theft, armed robbery, drug crimes and a string of enacted violence.

Another even more disturbing example is the militant Salafist Djamel Beghal who, during his time in prison, mentored at least three individuals that would later take part in the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo, a French newspaper headquartered in Parisand the Hypercacher kosher supermarket in 2015.

Amongst those that Beghal mentored were Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, who on January 7th carried out the bloody attack on Charlie Hebdo leaving 12 dead and 11 wounded. Just a few days later, a Beghal recruit named Amedy Coulibaly entered the central Paris Hypercacher Kosher Supermarket, killing four people and holding fifteen hostage until the police stormed the store and killed him.

“The Calendar of the Islamic State?” a  face asks from behind a fortified door on the cover of the Jan. 6 2018 Charlie Hebdo Magazine. In the new year it is common in France to go door-to-door selling calendars. The cover acknowledged that many are still fearful of another attack.

Beghal is set to be released from prison in the latter half of 2018, and will then be expelled to Algeria.

French authorities alone report that more than 500 people have been incarcerated on terror-related crimes, while documenting well over 1,200 individuals who have become radicalised while in jail having been convicted of “ordinary” crimes.

“The likelihood is very high that those who leave prison do not repent in the slightest, but on the contrary become more extreme during their time in prison,” said the Paris public prosecutor, Francois Molins, to French BFMTV in May.

The situation is similar across Europe. In a recent interview, one of the chief analysts at the Swedish Civilian Police Agency, Säkerhetspolisen (“SÄPO”), Ahn-Za Hagström, stated that the European security apparatus is facing a “great challenge.” As many as 1,500 individuals deemed radicalized are to be released from jails across Europe in the coming months. Hagström pointed out that the majority of these individuals became radicalised due to exposure while in prison.

Guidance on this extreme phenomenon can be found in the writings and teachings of applied behaviour psychologists, such as B.F. Skinner, Walter Reich and Daniel Antonius, as well as the more clinical anthropological studies based on Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death,” from Jeff Greenberg and Sheldon Solomon’s Terror Management Theory (introduced in “The Worm of the Core”). Along with pattern analysis, as applied by security professionals across, it becomes clear that the Strasbourg shooter, 29-year-old Chérif Chekatt, was a sadly predictable case study in what is quickly becoming one of the most substantial tactical-level problems facing Europe since the Red Terror wave of the Cold War.

With such a high number of prospective enemy combatants throughout Europe, the potential for violence is immense.

[Title Image: French soldiers stand guard at Place Kleber, in central Strasbourg. (Patrick Hertzog)]

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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Image Headline Ambitions Never Laid ISIS Strasbourg DEC 12 2018Image Lima Charlie News Headline Arabs Manufactured People DEC 24 2018

Image Lima Charlie News headline Afghanistan Bold Solution DEC 21 2018

Afghanistan – A Bold Solution

Image Afghanistan – A Bold Solution [Lima Charlie News]
Afghanistan – A Bold Solution [Lima Charlie News]

Opinion: After nearly two decades at war, the U.S. effort to build the Afghan state has been for the most part, a failure. In order to turn its sails towards victory, America needs to reassert its influence on Afghanistan’s economy, governance and security.

One year after the Trump Administration’s formal reassessment and strategy shift on the war in Afghanistan, it seems that our regional adversaries are getting closer to a checkmate. The question we are asking now is, “how do we not lose?” Winning, it seems, is no longer an option … Or is it?

After seventeen years and $132 billion in direct U.S. assistance, the “crawl, walk and run” strategy for Afghanistan has come to a impasse somewhere between crawl and walk. There is no denying that Afghanistan has made substantial advances in its social, economic and political sectors since the 2001 U.S. toppling of the Taliban regime. Yet, thirty-nine years after Soviet tanks rolled through downtown Kabul, the country is still at war with no clear end in sight.

Despite being overthrown in 2001, the Taliban has yet to be offically labelled a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Instead, the Taliban are considered a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, thus confusing everyone.

“The Taliban, per se, is not our enemy,” said former U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden, a decade into the war in Afghanistan. The indecisive position of U.S. policy is rooted in potential political reconciliation. Since the U.S. government does not negotiate with terrorists, the U.S. could not assist the Afghan government in negotiating peace with the Taliban if they were labeled a terrorist organization.

Labels aside, U.S./NATO troops, Afghan security forces, and civilians are targeted by the Taliban on a daily basis. Who is the enemy and more importantly, why are we in Afghanistan?

Image [TORKHAM, March 7, 2017 -- Vehicles en rout to Afghanistan line up near Pak-Afghan border in northwest Pakistan's Torkham on March 7, 2017. (Xinhua/Sidique)]
[TORKHAM, March 7, 2017 — Vehicles en rout to Afghanistan line up near Pak-Afghan border in northwest Pakistan’s Torkham on March 7, 2017. (Xinhua/Sidique)]
Our war in Afghanistan is insurance against future attacks similar to those of the morning of September 11, 2001. Afghanistan is the front line on the war against global terrorism. A loss in Afghanistan is a loss for global security. Much needed is a clear, focused and unified policy that both the Defense and State Department can agree upon. Until that happens, a stalemate will remain, with the potential to lose the war.

U.S. strategy and policy in Afghanistan has been dysfunctional on so many levels that last year’s reassessment triggered a sigh of relief by both the Afghan government and U.S./NATO command on the ground. The U.S. has been outmaneuvered politically, militarily and economically by the “Fantastic Four” – Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and China. Not only does the U.S. need to rethink its strategy, it needs to rethink whether asserting leadership in the region is a priority. This does not seem to be the case for many at the White House.

Critical to any analysis, the U.S. needs to focus on the three pillars of economics, governance and security. While the current US/NATO advisory mission assists the Afghan government in these areas, its focus is highly skewed towards security assistance. Without heavily assisting the Afghan government towards good governance and building its core economy, this 17 year effort will be useless.

The Economy

The Afghan economy is completely reliant on foreign aid and a military presence. A sustainable economy with foreign direct investments is essential for the creation of long-term employment opportunities and a stable middle-class. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, its GDP was $3.7 billion (adjusted for inflation). This is approximately 33% greater than its GDP in 2001 when U.S. Special Forces parachuted into Tora Bora. Afghanistan was in a prolonged state of economic decline for 22 years, and then, with the toppling of the Taliban regime, it was infused with billions of U.S. dollars a year in foreign aid.

Today Afghanistan’s GDP is hovering at approximately $20 billion, a significant increase. Yet, the country has transformed into a military economy funded by foreign aid. Without the $5+ billion in annual contributions from the U.S. and its NATO partners, Afghanistan, a nation that last year collected approximately $2 billion in total revenues, would be unable to support its $7 billion national budget.

What about foreign investment?

From dealing with local strongmen to fending off bribes from government officials, investing in Afghanistan is nearly impossible. When facilitating private investments on behalf of the Pentagon, the biggest hurdle I came across was not convincing investors, but rather, convincing Afghan government officials to engage. On paper, Afghanistan is an ideal place to invest, but strictly on paper. Not only are most laws unenforced, they’re unknown to those in charge of enforcing them.

The Afghan government does currently promote investment. Yet this promotion is mostly rhetoric. In practice, the heavy burden of research into available investments has been placed mostly upon potential investors. Neighboring countries, meanwhile, provide much greater deal facilitation. Afghanistan needs its own foreign investment direct investment office to formulate comprehensive medium-large scale opportunities for investors. This office should do most, if not all of all the research and legwork, then simply present these opportunities to internationals while leveraging off the nearly 40 embassies located in Kabul. A professional investment office should be able to hand a draft business plan to investors, one that, in the least, outlines the details of investment return, capital costs, operations, government assurances, and multilateral guarantees.

The Contractprenuer

The U.S. distributes billions of dollars per year via government contracts in Afghanistan, thus spawning a new type of entrepreneur: contractpreneuers. Contractprenuers are not real entrepreneurs, rather, just implementing partners on short to medium term assignments with very lucrative financial incentives. When the contract is up, so is the business and its employees.

Afghanistan’s economy needs to be revamped by investment in industries with long-term sustainability and strong multiplier effects for the economy through trickle-down employment opportunities. The U.S. Department of Defense used to have a specialized investment team that facilitated large-scale FDI’s in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO). A new, but more focused, version of TFBSO needs to be created with a strong working relationship with senior officials from the Presidential Palace’s investment office. One of the biggest hurdles for investors in Afghanistan is not insecurity, but rather, the Afghan government itself.

Legislation and fiscal reforms need to be enacted in Afghanistan to allow for an investment-friendly environment – not just on paper, but in practice. TFBSO worked with NASA and the US Geological Services in determining that Afghanistan has over a $1 trillion in mineral wealth. Some argue that the number is actually closer to $3 trillion. Before mineral wealth can be attained, the supporting industries need to be established first, i.e., energy generation, railways, dry-ports, cement and steel manufacturing, etc. Afghanistan needs its industrial revolution. With a businessman at the helm of the U.S. government, this can be accomplished as a win-win for both the U.S./international investors and the Afghan people.

Regional countries are very interested in Afghanistan’s economy, yet the U.S. is not. This disinterest is baffling. For many years, the U.S. Department of Commerce only had two in-country employees, before it fired the last remaining representative on the eve (literally the eve) of a significant investment conference it assisted in hosting in Dubai. China continues investing in Afghanistan for its One Road, One Belt initiative through Central Asia, including hoarding mining rights without making any real stakes. China is now extending its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) investment initiative to Afghanistan.

Will the U.S. continue to sit on the economic sidelines as foreign rivals capitalize on her security efforts, or will it work with Afghanistan to create win-win investment opportunities?

Image A money changer holds a stack of U.S. dollars at Kabul's largest money market April 23, 2014. (Reuters)]
[A money changer holds a stack of U.S. dollars at Kabul’s largest money market April 23, 2014. (Reuters)]

Corruption

Corruption, not the insurgency, is the real existential threat to Afghanistan. Given the tremendous influx of capital into Afghanistan since 2001, corruption should be expected but never tolerated. Anti-corruption rhetoric in Afghanistan has become precisely that: rhetoric.

General John Allen, former Commander of the U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan was once quoted as calling the Taliban a nuisance compared to the corruption. A national survey estimated that in 2015, nearly $3 billion was paid in bribes. To put that in perspective, that is 50% greater than the entire national revenue. It is appalling that the former Senior Advisor on Good Governance (Ahmad Zia Massoud, former Vice President under the Karzai administration) to President Ghani got caught landing in Dubai with $52 million in cash.

The Afghan government needs to get serious about systematically eradicating the culture of corruption in Afghanistan from the executive level down.

Though the government’s recent establishment of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) is promising, it’s not enough. The U.S. also has to make it a priority over all other considerations and put in place a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption.

The Afghan government must give its fullest support to an undercover unit that apprehends corrupt officials, from low-level police officers to high ranking ministers. It then needs to immediately prosecute violators through a special court (such as the ACJC) and enforce jail time without the intervention of Wasita (personal connections). Additionally, a unit needs to be created that strictly focuses on bringing to justice former accused government officials. Past offenders should not be beyond the arm of the law.

Also effective, extradition treaties should be a baseline requirement of every country that donates to Afghanistan – no extradition, no donations. The U.S. still does not have an extradition treaty with Afghanistan, even though most dollars stolen in Afghanistan are U.S. taxpayers’ hard-earned income. A message has to be sent that if you engage in corruption with U.S. granted money, you may land in a U.S. penitentiary.

Without a strong economy and increased job opportunities, disenfranchised Afghans will continue turning towards alternative methods of income generation – if not abandoning the country and fleeing in hoards. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have already left for, among other places, Europe with many more preparing their exodus. Working for foreign-funded insurgencies and cultivating illicit crops (Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium supply) are two income generators that immediately come to mind, both of which are global security threats.

Image Road construction near an iron ore mine near Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2012. The country’s lack of infrastructure has hindered efforts to exploit its natural resources. Credit: Mauricio Lima]
[Road construction near an iron ore mine near Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2012. The country’s lack of infrastructure has hindered efforts to exploit its natural resources. Credit: Mauricio Lima]

Governance and Security

Governance and security are different sides of the same coin in Afghanistan. Weak governance has led to greater insecurity, and insecurity has led to a loss of confidence in governance.

Over the past few years, the aforementioned “Fantastic Four” have tried to undermine the political leadership of the United States and the Afghan government. A term has been coined for this new reality: multipolarism.

By hosting meetings and reconciliation discussions, and by maintaining direct communication with terrorist and insurgent groups, these four countries are jockeying for their own self-interests at the expense of Afghanistan. Most recently, Russia hosted a peace summit giving the Taliban a global voice, and for the most part, the Afghan government was utterly unprepared for the meeting. These reconciliation meetings need to be led by the United States, not hostile governments who have covertly undermined the Afghan people for decades. The U.S. needs to reaffirm is political leadership.

Pakistan is a complicated case and any efforts to simplify it are bound have unpredictable consequences. On the one hand, Pakistan’s support for destabilizing actors in Afghanistan is hardly debatable. Yet it still holds the key to Afghanistan’s stability and therefore should be treated with exceptional care. Could Pakistan be convinced to forgo treating Afghanistan as an extension of its “strategic depth” and instead treat Afghanistan as a sovereign state, an equal, and a trading partner? Could Pakistan be assured that India’s presence in Afghanistan is an economic necessity, not a political and security threat as the Pakistanis perceive it? Should he engage, President Trump faces a historic challenge with the odds stacked staggeringly against him. If proven successful, however, “deal maker” Trump would be the first.

“We ought to think about Afghanistan as a modern-day frontier between civilization and barbarism.” – (ret.) Lt. Gen. and former National Security Adviser HR McMaster, October 23, 2018  

Beyond the macro level geo-political regional conflicts there are additional problems within the advisory mission in Afghanistan. The current U.S./NATO advisory and diplomatic mission has a major elephant in the room – force protection or better known as, security protocols. U.S. and International advisors are bound to the walls of their concrete fortresses and only allowed to truly engage with their Afghan counterparts for a few hours a week if they’re fortunate.

Some advisors can go months without leaving the base, conducting advisory sessions through “telephonic sessions” – which is mostly useless in my humble experience. When advisors do leave the compound they are accompanied by multi-vehicle convoys (usually armored Land Cruisers or MRAPS), armed military “guardian angels” (sometimes inside the same room), with a rifle strapped around their chest. A great way to build trust.

The force protection measures are set in place to decrease the risk of losing life, but they directly undermine the entire purpose of advisors. My team’s advisory mission was targeted primarily at the Ministry of Finance, a non-security ministry, with mostly young, foreign-educated staff members. Suited and booted, we’d have to constantly re-adjust our pants while walking through the marble floored hallways since we all had pistols strapped to our belts. In order to “build-trust” we would break down our M4 rifles and put them in backpacks. Afghans are not stupid, they all knew we wearing bullet proof vests underneath our dress shirts and more heavily armed than Rambo. We wanted them to trust us with extremely sensitive information, while we didn’t trust them over an afternoon tea.

You cannot advise and build capacity in a frontier (pre-emerging) market environment while bogged down inside your headquarters 90 percent of the time. There needs to be a review of the force protection rules to allow for the advisory mission to actually advise while still having basic protective measures in place. Keep in mind, these are the security protocols in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Now imagine how much less trust and interaction there is as you move into the provincial areas of the country – it’s almost non existent. This is a war zone, and a certain amount of risk has to be accepted.

Image Maj. Gen. Richard G. Kaiser
Maj. Gen. Richard G. Kaiser, commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, with Afghan Maj. Gen. Ahmadzai Sakhi, assistant director of the Ministry of Defense for technology, acquisition and logistics. (U.S. Navy photo: Lt. J.G. Egdanis Torres Sierra)

Let’s Be Honest With Ourselves

The recent reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Afghan-led, but Pakistani based Hizb-e-Islami, a radical extremist organization led by Gulbudeen Hekmatyar came out of desperation. The government signed a highly controversial peace accord because the government has been unable to secure Kabul, let alone the country. Though the U.S. supported the reconciliation, the issue is still highly contentious within Afghanistan, especially to the thousands of families that lost loved ones when the “Butcher of Kabul” indiscriminately bombarded Kabul during the Civil War of 1992. This peace deal was a reminder to all how ineffective U.S. strategy has been in Afghanistan, where a proxy of Pakistan and Iran is welcomed by the government to avoid a complete loss of the country to the Taliban.

America needs to call its mission in Afghanistan for what it really is – state capacity building. An admittedly less inspiring phrase than the lofty ideals found in “state-building” but significantly more honest.

Where the U.S. and its allies initially fought against the insurgency, it’s now being fought mostly through a proxy, the Afghan government. The U.S.’s state capacity building mission has been to build Afghan capacity towards managing and defending themselves, and conveniently enough, towards defeating a common enemy – the overall insurgency and extremism in the region.

U.S./NATO dollars work to build almost every aspect of Afghan life including, but not limited to, governance, military, police, health, media, infrastructure, education, agriculture, cultural preservation, gender equality, civil societies, etc. After re-building the Afghan state for the past seventeen years there is little to show for it. The insurgency is getting stronger, political instability is increasing, drug cultivation is at an all-time high and civilian deaths are at the highest rate since the war began.

To salvage the vast time, money and energy expended over the last seventeen years, a critical measure must be implemented: co-administration. The U.S. and NATO needs to have a partial co-administration of the Afghan government. For vital government offices (defense, police, education, urban development, and health) there needs to be a co-administrator who is a representative of U.S./NATO. The co-administrator would be responsible for the capacity development of the crucial ministries, fiscal administration, counter corruption and professional development. Working shoulder-to-shoulder (a famous US Defense Department mantra in Afghanistan) the international co-admins and Afghan officials should work together in building up institutional capacity, rather than the current “here’s the money, report back to us weekly” strategy.

While Afghans will certainly decry the idea due to its perceived encroachment on their sovereignty, given the current rate at which the government is deteriorating, there is no other choice. The “National Unity Government” has proven to be incapable of governing itself. The only thing that is holding back an ethnic civil war is the presence of foreign powers and their fiscal contributions. Embedding co-administrators is the only option left for helping Afghanistan transition from a failed state to an efficient administration.

Conclusion

Operation Enduring Freedom (Oct. 7th, 2001 – Dec. 28th, 2014) and now Operation Freedom Sentinel (Jan. 1st, 2015 – ongoing) have marked America’s longest war. The Afghan people have sacrificed tremendously in refuting extremism. They have believed in America’s promises that Afghanistan can be a peaceful and stable country. But if the migration of hundreds of thousands out of Afghanistan is any indication, it shows Afghans have stopped believing in empty promises.

It’s only a matter of time before the political and economic winds in Washington change, and the ongoing intervention in Afghanistan gets written off. The longest war can’t actually be perpetual. Yet even a measured drawdown can have severe consequences, as it did in Iraq. If Washington leaves, vital private donations from across the globe will follow. The only alternative to success is a narco-state that is used as a terrorist launching pad against the West.

Rather than abandonment, America needs to pursue a holistic approach that encompasses economic, governance, and overall security matters. Without security, there’s no governance, and without governance, there’s no investment.

America must reaffirm its commitment to Afghanistan and its fight against global terrorism.

Waheed Majrooh, Lima Charlie News

Mr. Waheed Majrooh is a former Senior Advisor within U.S. Department of Defense (Pentagon) where he led numerous substantial reform and investment programs in Afghanistan and is currently a Senior Advisor at FRONTIERistan, a frontier market advisory firm (www.frontieristan.com) that focuses on Afghanistan and Iraq. Majrooh is an Afghan-American subject matter expert with over seven years of on-the-ground experience. He currently resides between San Francisco and Washington, DC, while traveling to Afghanistan frequently. He can be contacted directly at wmajrooh@frontieristan.com.

Lima Charlie provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans and intelligence professionals Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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