Archive for July, 2010

A longer piece in Survival exploring the question of China’s interests and desires in Afghanistan. It was initially longer, so some detail has been lost, but at the same time I hope it captures the debate that I have encountered in some detail. This is a subject that I am thinking of exploring more and is going to be the first in a number of substantial pieces I have been working on about China while I am in the Middle Kingdom.

Unfortunately, it is behind a firewall, so if you want a copy drop me a note through the contact form and I can help out. In the meantime, here are the first 500 words.

China’s Afghan Dilemma

Survival 52-4 cover

by Raffaello Pantucci

Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 52, no. 4, August–September 2010, pp. 21–27

Order a copy of the issue here

The announcement that American forces in Afghanistan would start to draw down by July 2011 highlighted, for China, the need for a conversation about what exactly its interests in its neighbour are, and what it is willing to do about them. Beijing’s primary security concern with Afghanistan is the potential that instability and terrorism might be exported to China’s far-western Xinjiang province, where the ethno-separatist tendencies of the large Uighur Muslim minority have in the past been linked to al-Qaeda militancy. Currently, China is reliant on the United States and NATO to deal with Uighur separatists within Afghanistan, which occurs as a by-product of operations against the Afghan Taliban and related groups. Many Chinese analysts remain unconvinced that NATO will succeed. Most see Afghanistan as the ‘graveyard of Empires’, an assessment they gleefully share with foreign analysts, and which captures a residual sense amongst some Chinese planners who see the United States as an enemy whose losses are advantages to Beijing. Operating from this strategic calculus means that China must be prepared for the eventuality that NATO forces will leave Afghanistan in the control of Taliban or affiliated groups. Beijing has no interest, therefore, in appearing to take sides against the Taliban and finding itself in an awkward bargaining position after an American withdrawal. And beyond Afghanistan, there is the risk that China might be perceived as taking sides in the global conflict between Islam and the West.

China’s interests in Afghanistan extend beyond security considerations. In 2007 China Metallurgical Group won a contract for a 30-year lease on the Aynak copper mine in Logar province, south of Kabul. The site is believed to hold one of the biggest copper deposits in the world; the initial call for tenders cited Afghan and British Geological Survey estimates of some 240 million tonnes. The initial expectation in the press was that the sale would raise some $1.8 billion, but the Chinese offered almost $3bn, as well as to build a 400MW coal-fired power plant and other infrastructure which would supply both the mine and nearby villages. The total cost of the project to the Chinese firm has since been estimated to be as high as $4.4bn.

Aynak is likely to be the first in a number of large mining concessions offered in Afghanistan. Next is a 2bn-tonne iron mine in Bamiyan province northwest of Kabul, for which a Chinese firm, a Saudi firm and five Indian firms had bid (the call was extended for unspecified reasons). In an attempt to map Afghanistan’s natural wealth, the government commissioned the US Geological Survey to conduct a $17m survey of the nation. According to reports ahead of publication, the country is sitting on some $1 trillion in mineral and petroleum reserves.

However, it is through Xinjiang (literally ‘New Frontier’) that China’s interests in Afghanistan must be primarily understood. The province holds many of China’s natural resources and provides a gateway to access further resources from Central Asia and Russia. Some two-fifths of China’s coal is …

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Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), where he is currently based as part of the EU STF China Programme, and a former Consulting Research Associate at the IISS.

A new piece for Jamestown looking at an odd plot in Dubai. One point which I should clarify is that ETIM, or Uighur extremists, have in the past also been linked to possible events in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan – so in a way this is not the first time they may have attempted something outside China. The whole thing, however, is very murky, and any pointers for new information on it would be appreciated of course.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 29
July 22, 2010 04:42 PM Age: 1 hrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Terrorism, China and the Asia-Pacific, Middle East
Site of the attempted attacks, Dragon Mart mall in Dubai

On June 29, a court in Dubai found two ethnic Uyghurs guilty of plotting to attack a massive shopping mall made up of 400 shops selling Chinese-made goods (The National [Abu Dhabi], June 30). This attempted attack was not only the first terrorist plot to be disrupted in Dubai, but also the first time that a cell tied to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has taken aim at a Chinese target outside China and Central Asia. In what appears to have been intended as a largely symbolic attack, the Uyghurs’ target was not the mall itself, but a statue outside the mall of a dragon wrapped around a large globe.

According to court documents, key plotter Mayma Ytiming Shalmo, 35, was first recruited by ETIM in Mecca in 2006. [1] While in Saudi Arabia, possibly on Hajj, Shalmo met the deputy leader of ETIM, with whom he discussed the “premise of jihad in China.” Having agreed that he was interested in doing something about the Uyghurs’ plight, Shalmo traveled with the deputy leader to Pakistan’s Waziristan region and was trained in weapons and how to manufacture explosives from easily available materials. He was then introduced to ETIM’s electronics expert, who taught him how to make detonators. Shalmo claims to have spent a year at the mujahideen camps.

After his year of training, Shalmo was given orders from the head of ETIM, relayed through the deputy, to target the Dragon Mart mall in Dubai. He flew from Islamabad to Dubai on July 28, 2007 and spent autumn in Dubai, twice visiting the mall on what were presumed to be scouting missions. He then left the country and went back to Saudi Arabia before re-entering the UAE on December 22, 2007 by bus. At this point, his co-conspirator, Wimiyar Ging Kimili, 31, also an ethnic Uyghur, entered the picture, giving Shalmo a place to live upon his return to Dubai. At some point during this period, the men entered into discussions about China and jihad, and Kimili agreed to help Shalmo in his operation.

From a practical perspective, Kimili’s assistance appears to have been essential. Shalmo apparently spoke neither Arabic nor English, and thus would have been completely reliant on Kimili to go with him to purchase the necessary materials from pharmacies and paint supply shops. When police captured the men, they had in their possession alcohol, potassium permanganate, aluminum, chloride acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, sulfur, acetone and other “tools to be used in the preparation of explosives.”

It is unclear exactly when or why the local police started watching the men. According to one report, they were first alerted by the local Chinese Embassy, which was monitoring the men due to their ethnicity. The same report, however, also highlights that in court documents released in January, the men were first noticed after they made a 50,000 Dirham ($13,600) wire transfer to China, which was then forwarded to Saudi Arabia (The National, June 30). The implication is that this was funding for the attack, though the purpose of these transfers remains unclear, as is who first noticed the money movement. In court documents released at the end of the trial, Kimili describes Shalmo receipt of $10,000 via a hawala network from Turkey to fund the plot.

The same court documents released at the conclusion of the trial highlight the fact that local security services were first alerted to the men in early June 2008 after receiving information that Shalmo was a known ETIM member who was planning an operation in the UAE. They appear to have wasted little time in obtaining a court order to search his property, and on June 28, 2008 they raided his house in al-Ain, discovering the chemicals and other equipment. During his interrogation, Shalmo admitted Kimili’s role in the plot and his help in obtaining the bomb making materials. On July 16, 2008, police arrested Kimili.

Kimili claimed during the trial that, fearing for his family, he had a change of heart about the attack and told Shalmo of his concerns. At this point, he claimed that Shalmo “told him he wanted the chemicals only to use them for black magic” (The National, July 9).

Casting a shadow over the case was the allegation that the men’s initial confessions had been coerced “through fear,” though the court ultimately dismissed this claim, saying fear alone does not constitute coercion.  Furthermore, the trial was delayed while the courts sought out relevant interpreters – in the end translations had to be made first from Arabic into Mandarin and then into Uyghur (and vice versa). Translators were apparently provided by the Chinese Embassy, which also sent representatives to attend the duration of the trial (The National, June 30).

The men were ultimately given sentences of ten years each, with the court noting the attack was ultimately aimed at the UAE, as the mall is government owned. The death penalty, the usual tariff for terrorism charges in Dubai, was dismissed by the court since the plot was still in its “preliminary stages” (The National, June 30). However, upon release both men are to be deported, presumably to China, where they will likely face further punishment as admitted members of ETIM.


1. Unless otherwise indicated, the information is based on court documents released by the courts at the conclusion of the trial. The ETIM leader and deputy leader went unnamed in those documents.

A new piece for, exploring an issue I believe I have mentioned before, but not in any great detail. Since this was written, it now emerges that a chap who had been listed in the SIAC judgment as being under risk of torture if he was returned to Pakistan, has now in fact returned. All a real mess with no resolution on the horizon.

UK-US Face Problems in Terror Suspect Extradition

by Raffaello Pantucci

Monday, 19 July 2010

European court refuses to withhold suspects from going into US custody.

It is a strange quirk of fate that while on the one hand American and British security operators work hand in hand against a common threat, their governments seem unable to deport terrorist suspects between each other. As the UK marked the fifth anniversary since July 7, 2005 when an Al Qaeda trained suicide team attacked London, this reality came into focus as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked one extradition request and the United States launched another.

The first case is one which has been winding its way through the British courts system since May 2004 when British police first arrested Abu Hamza in furtherance of an extradition request by the United States. His extradition was sought for his role in assisting a terror plot in Yemen in December 1998 which ended with the deaths of four hostages and the conviction of a group of British Muslims (two of whom were directly related to him), his role in facilitating introductions to the Taliban, and finally his role in attempting to organize a terror training camp in Bly, Oregon. Co-conspirator Haroon Rashid Aswat (who was brought into British custody on August 2005) is also wanted in connection to the charges surrounding the Bly, Oregon training camp case, while the other two, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan (respectively arrested in August 2004 and July 2006), are instead wanted in connection to a series of websites supporting terrorism that they are alleged to have run.

Aside from Abu Hamza, none of the men have been charged with crimes in the United Kingdom – and at this point, Hamza has all but served the seven-year charge he was handed down for inciting hatred in the United Kingdom. They all remain in custody while their lawyers argue that the men cannot expect a fair trial if they are deported to the United States, that they might be subject to extraordinary rendition and that the terms under which they are likely to be detained in the United States (most likely in the Federal Supermax penitentiary ADX Florence in Colorado) would impinge on their human rights. Last week, the ECHR in Strasbourg dismissed many of the men’s complaints, but admitted “the applicants’ complaints concerning the length of their possible sentences,” and Aswat, Babar, and Ahsan’s concerns about being detained at ADX Florence, “cannot…be considered manifestly ill-founded.” Given Hamza’s infirmities and a letter from the prison warden, the court was prepared to believe that it was unlikely that he would be spending much time in the jail and would instead be moved to a medical facility.

The point of concern rests around the fact that it seems as though the court is unsure whether the men’s human rights are being breached if they are going to be detained at ADX Florence under stringent circumstances in which it can appear there is no possibility of parole or release. In essence the ECHR is determining whether the U.S. penal system is compatible with European human rights standards, something highlighted by one of the suspect’s lawyers in the Guardian newspaper. “It’s a very important test of whether the way the US treats its prisoners meets international standards.”

This something of a shift from previously, when the concerns were in part focused on the official upturning of international norms that the previous administration announced when President Bush declared that the “world had changed” after the September 11 attacks. The decision to carry out extraordinary renditions, abrogate the Geneva conventions for certain prisoners and the establishment of Guantanamo Bay all created a legal environment which might cast doubt on U.S. government reassurances. As the applicant’s case before the court put it, “It was not sufficient to rely on the history of extradition arrangements with the United States, as the [British] Government had done: the attitude of the United States Government had changed fundamentally as a result of the events of 11 September 2001.”

In a move which no doubt provided some reassurance to governments on both sides of the Atlantic, the court dismissed such concerns, stating, “Whatever the breadth of the executive discretion enjoyed by the President in the prosecution of the United States Government’s counter-terrorism efforts, the Court is unable to accept that he, or any of his successors, would commit such a serious breach of his Government’s assurances to an extradition partner such as the United Kingdom; the United States’ long-term interest in honouring its extradition commitments alone would provide sufficient dissuasion from doing so.”

This is in contrast to the case of Abid Naseer, who the British government has already tried to deport to more contentious ally in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan. Arrested on April 8, 2009 as part of a group of eleven individuals picked up as part of a counter-terrorism operation codenamed Pathway, Naseer has been repeatedly identified in the press and subsequent official reports into the plot as being connected to Al Qaeda. In a previous judgment which highlighted why he could not be deported to Pakistan, the judges concluded, “we are satisfied that Naseer was an Al Qaeda operative who posed and still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom.” The same judgment concluded that due the high likelihood of mistreatment if Naseer was returned to Pakistan having been exposed as an Al Qaeda agent, the court “would not be willing to accept confidential assurances as a sufficient safeguard against prohibited ill-treatment in a state in which otherwise there was a real risk that it would occur.”

At the time of the decision, the government did not appear to react, failing to even put Naseer on a control order (something which would have been particularly awkward for the new government which had expressed a great concern with the tactic). It now appears that this might have been part of a knowing strategy to wait until the United States completed its superseding set of charges linked to the so-called Subway Plot allegedly led by Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi. It was already public knowledge that the initial lead to Zazi had come from the United Kingdom, but it now appears as though the United States has repaid the favor for the tip by using the connection as grounds to include Naseer in the indictment linked to Zazi’s plot. In a press release put out on July 7th, the Department of Justice alleged, “Naseer sent messages back and forth to the same email account that ‘Ahmad’ was using to communicate with the American-based al-Qaeda cell.”

Currently, all five men remain in British custody. While this may alleviate security services concerns, in the longer term it is not sustainable that individuals remain in jail without facing a jury. Officials in the UK believe that the men will be eventually deported, but as Babar Ahmad pointed out in an interview published the day after the decision by the ECHR, “whilst in prison I have outlived the the Blair/Brown Labour Government,” something which highlights how long he has been sitting in prison without having been convicted of any crime.

Raff Pantucci is an correspondent based in the UK

My latest missive from the Shanghai Expo for the Interpreter – this one took a while to get there for a variety of technical reasons. At least one more to come in this series.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Afghanistan Pavilion

by Raffaello Pantucci – 19 July 2010 6:35PM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

Unlike most of the nations covered thus far, Afghanistan does not have its own pavilion and is instead crowded into the ‘Asia Joint Pavilion II’, adjacent to the Yemeni pavilion (and Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria apparently, though I cannot recall seeing them all).

There are a number of these sorts of communal areas highlighting the more unfortunate parts of the globe, mostly sponsored by the Chinese government. According to someone working in the Afghan one, the Shanghai government paid $600,000 for theirs, which apparently included the rent for the space.

Aside from a couple of strategically-placed pictures of Hamid Karzai looking majestically into the distance, there is little to distinguish the nation which the pavilion is intended to represent (and I suppose unless you are aware of who he is, this is also not a useful indicator).

When I asked an Afghan running one of the carpet selling stalls inside the space whether Chinese visitors were interested in Afghanistan, he reassured me that they were only interested in getting a picture taken and a ‘visa stamp’ in their expo passports. Only foreigners wanted to know more about the country, and those were mostly individuals who had previously served on deployment in the country.

According to the website, the space is meant to be a reconstruction of the Blue Mosque at Herat — something of a far-fetched comparison in my mind, though I have admittedly never been to Herat. In fact, there is little evidence of Afghan history or culture in the pavilion beyond the array of stalls selling Afghan stuff. In the center a couple of South Asian women do henna tattoos on visitors, while a tent in the corner is as close to a cultural exhibit that is offered.

Photo (1) by Flickr user nozomiiqel, used under a Creative Commons licence, and photo (2) by the author.

A rather long-lost post finally is up at Free Rad!cals – this one exploring an issue which clearly needs deeper research. I have heard less of it of late, but I recall when the financial crisis first hit, hearing about the possible risks in quite alarming language from someone in government.

It has become something of an article of faith to say that poverty and economic misfortune are not drivers of terrorism. This seems a sensible conclusion to reach when one considers the volume of poverty and misery in the world and the relatively small volume of terrorists that emerge from it. Were poverty truly a determinant of a predilection for terrorist radicalization then theoretically speaking there would be far more terrorists in this world than there are.

But at the same time, it seems clear that there is some sort of correlation between social deprivation and radicalization – even if only from the perspective that it often appears as a constant in communities where radicalization seems able to take root (though of course this is not always the case). This is a difficult correlation to understand as it is not one that appears to exist on a steady or universal gradient, but it is clearly plays some sort of a role in the radicalization picture.

Understanding this question, however becomes increasingly salient as we enter ever tighter economic times, as theoretically speaking we are increasing one of the possible drivers. The core point is: are we are going to see an increase in radicalization amongst communities as they feel the economic squeeze?

One possible vision of the consequent trends can be seen in the recent annual Europol report on terrorism trends in the EU (which I wrote about for the Jamestown Foundation). Amongst other things, it highlighted a growing level of concern about left-wing and anarchist radicalization: “In 2009, the total number of left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks in the EU increased by 43% compared to 2008 and more than doubled since 2007.”

These trends are discernable at a wider level too: the emergence in the UK of far-right groups like the English Defence League appears to at least in part be the product of social disaffection stirred up by disenfranchisement. Rioting in Greece has taken an increasingly violent turn and there has also been a more general increase in anarchist violence and extremist activity. And German officials have expressed concern about the discovery of an 80-page pamphlet entitled “Prisma” which offers ideas for bomb-making, avoiding detection by police and other tips for urban guerrillas. They have also marked a 53% jump in left-wing attacks in 2009 which has included some large scale acts of vandalism and violence.

All of which would point to an increase in radicalization amongst communities that do not appear to be so directly influenced by the Al Qaeda narrative. So does this mean that the poor economic climate is directly contributing to radicalization in general: youths are becoming angry at the system and fighting against it, is the free time they are left with due to their economic disenfranchisement giving them the time to indulge in such activity? Well, possibly, but it seems as though it would be best not to leap to any conclusions about this quite yet or any draconian reactions. Anyway, what exactly would be the abrupt security reaction be: pour security funding into economic stimulus packages?

At the end of the day what we might assess as the underlying causes of some of the increase in right/left/anarchist violence may indeed be the economic crisis, but care must be paid to not exaggerate our response to this particular cause over others. As previous experience has shown, an exaggerated response leads to mistakes the impact of which is impossible to measure.

My latest in a series from the Expo for the Interpreter, this time looking at the Iranian pavilion. There was actually a lot more to tell about the pavilion which I didn’t have space to include – it is a very crowded (with stuff) and colorful place and is amongst the better ones I have seen from the perspective of introducing people to the nation and showing off the country. More in this series is forthcoming, and I will likely be making trips back to the Expo, so let me know through the new contact page if there are any you are particularly interested in.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Iran pavilion

by Raffaello Pantucci – 6 July 2010 9:37AM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

Unlike its baffling neighboring pavilion (North Korea), the Iranian pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo is actually quite effective in providing a potted introduction to the nation.

Often, when talking to Chinese waiting to go to pavilions, they have no clear idea of which nation they are going to see or where it is, geographically. But outside the Iranian pavilion, the first thing to welcome the visitor is a map of Eurasia showing both where Iran lies in respect to China, and highlighting the various Silk Roads that linked the two in ages gone past.

Once inside, the visitor is greeted by a smiling picture of President Ahmadinejad with this rather cryptic (but no doubt well-meaning) message:

Empathy, justice and compassion are the main features of “Better city,” where a “Better life” is meant not just through “being with each other” but through “being for each other.” Such a view results into pure life, real prosperity, and human excellence in an “ideal city” filled with love, devotion and understanding and builds the human security and dignity based on faith, knowledge and wisdom. The human outlook in such a city is “being divine.”

A smiling and waving picture of Ayatollah Khamenei and a rather more grim Ayatollah Khomeini surround the entrance to the exclusive ‘guangxi’ room sponsored by the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Oddly, there were not that many Persians wandering around.

The day I was there, the stalls were manned by Chinese – both the ones selling objects and the ones promoting the nation. The girl running the stand promoting inward investment in Iran was a Physics student at a local university who, while battling with a costume which looked out straight out of Aladdin, told me that most of the people who had expressed an interest in investing were Southeast Asians.

The heart of the space is a giant fountain, in the middle of which is a raised platform with a couple of seats and a standing microphone on it. I did not stick around long enough to see a show, but I understood that musicians occasionally perform.

Within the body of the room are a series of models which show off a variety of Iranian hydrocarbon fields and related extraction machinery. Most popular was the selection of Iranian home-grown machinery. None of it seemed nuclear (though mine is an untrained eye); instead there was medical equipment, an inkless finger print machine and, most popular of all, an electronic harp which had lasers instead of strings.

The Chinese visitors were particularly entranced by this and more generally seemed quite entertained by the colorful atmosphere of the place. Unlike its neighbor to the West (DPRK), this pavilion likely provided a pretty good introduction to the nation.