July/August 2015 Newsletter

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July/August 2015 Newsletter
 
The Jamestown Foundation Leadership: Glen E. Howard, President
At a Glance

Abubakar Siddique Interview on the Taliban

New Book Available on Chinese Anti-Piracy Operations

Event Re-cap on Ukrainian Military Challenge and Reform

Senior Fellow Alex Vatanka’s Latest Book on Iran-Pakistan Relations

Media Appearances

Azerbaijan and the New Energy Geopolitics of Southeastern Europe on Sale

Most Read Articles

Commanders, Clerics and Affiliates of the Islamic State Report

Developments in North Africa, South Asia & the Middle East
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An Interview With Abubakar Siddique: 5 Questions on the Taliban Leadership Transition
In light of recent events in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kathryn Basinsky of The Jamestown Foundation interviewed Abubakar Siddique, a contributor to Terrorism Monitor and Militant Leadership Monitor, about the leadership transition within the Taliban. Siddique is a long-time analyst of the region and edits RFE/RL’s Gandhara website. 
 
1. Who is the new leader of the Taliban?
 
The Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, is among the founding members of the hardline movement. He was a close confidant of Taliban founding leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and was considered part of the inner core of the Taliban when they emerged in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar in the fall of 1994. Mansour was the Minister of Civil Aviation under the Taliban regime and, like most Taliban leaders, is thought to have fled to Pakistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
 
He effectively became the deputy leader of the Taliban after the arrest of his predecessor, Abdul Ghani Baradar, in 2010. Once in that role, Mansour appointed confidants to key leadership positions, which helped him claim the Taliban’s leadership after Mullah Omar’s death became public knowledge in late July. Mansour is reportedly pragmatic and permitted Taliban negotiators to talk with Afghan officials in July. But we must remember that he presided over a significant expansion of the Taliban war effort to the extent that this year they are undertaking their biggest offensive since the demise of their regime in late 2001.
 
2. Why are there conflicting reports over who is in charge?
 
I won’t characterize these conflicting reports. There was a lot of unease and resentment over Mullah Omar’s invisibility during the past few years because Mansour was taking important steps in his name, but nobody was able to reach the Taliban supreme leader or even verify that he was alive. So when Mansour swiftly moved to succeed Omar last month, these internal differences came to the surface. Some Taliban splinters have been very critical of Mansour’s leadership for quite some time.
 
Right now, a group of senior Taliban leaders and Mullah Omar’s son and brother oppose Mansour’s leadership. But, it seems most Taliban field commanders accept his leadership, and pro-Taliban clerics have backed his candidacy. It is important to note that Sirajuddin Haqqani is one of his two deputies. This is significant and shows that the Taliban’s deadly Haqqani branch is backing him. The Haqqanis, the family of former mujahideen leader and former Taliban minister Jalaluddin Haqqani, has been a close ally of Pakistan. Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin is now in charge of his war effort, and his promotion within the Taliban ranks shows that Islamabad backs Mansour, which again is central to asserting leadership over the secretive movement.
 
3. Why has Mullah Omar’s death only become public knowledge now?
 
Taliban leaders—and Mansour in particular—deliberately kept it a secret. Perhaps it was easier for him to justify unpopular actions, such as firing senior commanders, in the name of Mullah Omar. He could also justify major policy shifts, such as the decision to negotiate with Kabul, by saying Mullah Omar had sanctioned it. Mansour’s supporters now justify it by saying he wanted to keep the Taliban united at a time when most NATO forces were leaving the country.
 
4. What does this leadership issue mean for the peace talks that were occurring between the Afghan government and the Taliban?
 
The peace talks are on the back burner for now. After assuming office last year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reached out to Pakistan in the hopes that Islamabad would deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table and help control their violent campaign. Ghani also approached Pakistan’s close allies China and Saudi Arabia to persuade Islamabad to give up its longstanding support for Afghan insurgents.
 
Contrary to Ghani’s efforts, this year, the Taliban launched their biggest summer offensive in more than a decade. A recent wave of spectacular attacks in the Afghan capital Kabul and somewhat open Taliban activities in Pakistan finally convinced Ghani to abandon hopes for a major Pakistan-sponsored breakthrough in a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. In addition, the divisions within the Taliban make it very difficult for Mansour and others to sell the talks to their ranks, most of whom have only known violence as a form of political activism and mobilization.
 
5. How does Mullah Omar’s death and Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour’s succession impact Al-Qaeda?
 
Al-Qaeda has already declared its support for Mansour. Both the Taliban and al-Qaeda feel threatened by the emergence of the Islamic State. While al-Qaeda is actively fighting the Islamic State in Syria, the Taliban feel threatened by the emergence of the group in Afghanistan. I would, however, like to note that despite accepting al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s recent pledge of allegiance, there is still no definitive indication that the Taliban are eager to transform into a transnational jihadist movement instead of an overly Afghan one. While the two follow distinct schools of Sunni Islam, a major Taliban victory might provide al-Qaeda with a new sanctuary in Afghanistan. We also have to remember that al-Qaeda has been much weakened during the past decade and is in no way capable of leading or uniting the increasingly divided jihadist movement in the region.
 
It is worth noting that some Western experts have spent a lot of energy in demonstrating that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are distinct entities. I think they will be surprised by the ability of these groups to coalesce if needed.
 
Abubakar Siddique is the editor of RFE/RL’s Gandhara website and author of the book The Pashtun Question. 
Six Years at Sea… And Counting: Gulf of Aden Anti-Piracy and China’s Maritime Commons Presence
SYASThe Jamestown Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of Six Years at Sea… And Counting by Andrew S. Erickson and Andrew M. Strange. Well over six years of Chinese anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden have directly supported People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) modernization goals and provided invaluable experience operating in distant waters. Lessons learned have spawned PLAN innovations in doctrine, operations, and international coordination. Many of the insights gleaned during deployments are applicable to security objectives closer to home; some officers enjoy promotion to important positions after returning. Anti-piracy operations have been a springboard for China to expand considerably its maritime security operations, from evacuating its citizens from Libya and Yemen to escorting Syrian chemical weapons to their destruction and participating in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. So great are the benefits to China’s global maritime presence and enhanced image at home and abroad that when Gulf of Aden anti-piracy operations finally wind down, Beijing will have to develop new means to address its burgeoning overseas interests. 

Six Years at Sea… And Counting is available through our website, Jamestown.org, as well as through Brookings University Press.
Ukraine’s Security Challenges in the East and Military Reform
On July 27, 2015, The Jamestown Foundation hosted former Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense, Admiral Ihor Kabanenko, and Vice President of Kyiv-based high-technology firm KM Core, Bohdan Kupych. The two men discussed the state of reforms in the Ukrainian military, the role of high-technology development in Ukraine’s defense industrial sector, and the developing security environment in and around Russian-occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Admiral Kabanenko stressed that since the Maidan revolution, Ukrainian civil society and government rhetoric has been pushing hard to reduce corruption in all aspects of political and economic life, but corruption still remains a major problem, including in the Armed Forces.
 
Due to its relative size and substantially smaller resource base, Ukraine needs a high-technology advantage in order to win on the battlefield—and such technology includes both physical products and changes in mentality. During the question-and-answer session with the audience, the point was made that Ukraine—though it did not ask for the war with Russia—is currently a laboratory for how to fight the next war; and this is an export of sorts that the Ukrainian leadership needs to think about. Finally, the speakers talked about the progress that has been made in incorporating the volunteer battalions into the regular Ukrainian military and National Guard, as well as on the subject of Russia’s likely next steps against the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence Now Available
Vatanka BookThe Jamestown Foundation is pleased to announce the latest book by Senior Fellow Alex Vatanka, Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence. The respective policies of the governments of Iran and Pakistan pose serious challenges to U.S. interests in the Middle East, Asia and beyond. These two regional powers, with a combined population of around 300 million, have been historically intertwined in various cultural, religious and political ways. Iran was the first country to recognise the emerging independent state of Pakistan in 1947 and the Shah of Iran was the first head of state to visit the new nation. While this relationship shifted following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and tensions do exist between Sunni Pakistan and Shi‘a Iran, there has nevertheless been a history of cooperation between the two countries in fields that are of great strategic interest to the United States: Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Yet much of this history of cooperation, conflict and ongoing interactions remains unexplored. Alex Vatanka here presents the first comprehensive analysis of this long-standing and complex relationship.
 
Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence is available through I.B. Taurus’s website, www.ibtaurus.com. Please use the code AN2 to receive a 30% discount (excluding postage and packaging).
Recent Media Appearances
Jamestown Foundation President Glen Howard was interviewed by The Daily Beast on Russian counter-terrorism efforts and coordination between the FSB and FBI.
 
The AP discussed former Iraqi Baathist leaders who are now high-ranking commanders of the Islamic State with Senior Fellow Michael Ryan.
 
Fellow and former China Brief Editor Peter Mattis wrote “A Guide to Chinese Intelligence Operations” for War on the Rocks.
 
Stephen Blank was interviewed by European news portal The Intersection Project on Moscow’s relationship with Beijing.
 
CNN cited Abubakar Siddique’s Terrorism Monitor article The Quetta Shura: Understanding the Afghan Taliban’s Leadership in their report on the new leader of the Taliban, Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.
 
Pavel Baev was discussed the state of Russia’s military reforms, industry and capabilities with Politico.
Azerbaijan and the New Energy Geopolitics of Southeastern Europe
AZ BookThe Jamestown Foundation is proud to announce the release of Azerbaijan and the New Energy Geopolitics of Southeastern Europe, an edited volume of ten essays, written by U.S. and regional experts, on energy security issues in the Balkans, the Black Sea region and the South Caucasus. The editors are Jamestown Director of Programs for the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia, Margarita Assenova, as well as Zaur Shiriyev, a Senior Research Fellow at ADA University, in Baku, Azerbaijan. This book, which will be available soon, comes at a critical time when concerns about Russian gas supplies are growing in Europe in the midst of the Russian-Ukrainian war in eastern Ukraine. As the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor from Azerbaijan to Europe is advancing, natural gas from the Caspian region will challenge for the first time Russia’s gas monopoly in Southeast Europe, thus changing the geopolitical landscape in the region.
 
Azerbaijan and the New Energy Geopolitics of Southeastern Europe enhances our understanding of Southeastern Europe’s energy security, Russia’s ambitions for energy domination in the region and the potential impact of the Southern Gas Corridor. Since channeling Caspian gas to Europe is an essential part of Azerbaijan’s national strategy, the book also analyzes Baku’s foreign policy and investment pursuits in Southeast Europe. Finally, the book focuses attention on Azerbaijan’s aspiring role as an energy supplier and contributor to energy security in Southeastern Europe, its evolving relations with countries in the region—from Greece to Croatia—and consequently Baku’s expanding relations with the European Union and the United States.
 
This fascinating and important book is available from our website, jamestown.org, as well as via Brookings University Press.
Most-Read Articles
Who’s Who Among the Islamic State’s Commanders, Clerics and Affiliates: A Militant Leadership Monitor Special Report
QSROne year after the capture of Mosul on June 9, 2014, the militant movement known as the Islamic State has become one of the world’s most widely known terrorist organizations. The rise of this jihadist group has set off shock waves in Western capitals as the militant movement declared the creation of its caliphate with dual capitals in Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq. Commanders and clerics of numerous militant groups have stepped forward around the world to declare their oath of allegiance to the Islamic State as many new faces join the movement, including defectors to the Islamic State from other groups. Several key personalities have emerged at the helm of the movement in Iraq and Syria while others in more distant parts of the Islamic State universe have pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State and self-declared caliph.
 
Understanding who these commanders and clerics are is a major challenge for policymakers seeking to assess the impact of the Islamic State outside of the Middle East. The expanded Islamic State remains a relatively new organization so keeping track of the commanders, clerics and affiliates who have pledged their support is an enormous challenge, but the baseline biographies of these militants do provide a foundation to assess the evolution and cohesion of those groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, which extends from Northwest Africa to Southeast Asia. To this end, Militant Leadership Monitor has compiled a Quarterly Special Report (QSR) on key individuals that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and are key commanders and faces in various insurgencies around the world. The QSR profiles 10 key figures within this network, some of whom are already well known, ranging from Abu Muhammad al-Adnani (the spokesperson of the Islamic State) to Hafiz Saeed Khan (the now-deceased leader of Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan—Khurasan Province) and a timeline of the Islamic State’s development through to the latest declarations of allegiance.
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