Security Brief: Counter Threat Strategic Communication Week of July 19, 2021
Week of Monday, July 19, 2021 | Issue 17
Dja Camara, Counter Threat Strategic Communication (CTSC) Team
Strategic Dialogue During Negotiations
Date: July 19, 2021
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Parties involved: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić; Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti; European Union (EU) representative Miroslav Lajcak
The event: On Monday, July 19, 2021, the latest series of negotiations between Serbian and Kosovar government representatives ended without any concessions made on either side. However, the parties did agree: to refrain from escalating already high tensions, to amplify investigations into the remaining missing persons cases, and to continue negotiations within the EU setting. Several key points were made after the close of this session: Vučić claimed that “this was another attempt to push Serbia to recognize Kosovo, and that EU diplomats ‘could not believe what they were hearing’ when Kurti accused Serbia of genocide.” Kurti claimed that “Serbia had refused to include the words ‘deal with the past’ in a joint document, despite the EU diplomats being in favor of it.” On behalf of the EU mission, Representative Miroslav Lajcak stated that "as far as the EU is concerned, it's important to stress that the European future for both Serbia and Kosovo depends on the normalization of their relations and that they are expected to work together to overcome the past and solve the current issues among themselves.”
As far as strategic dialogue goes, the most recent negotiations have been part of a larger ten-year diplomatic effort, after Kosovo claimed independence. Ultimately, Kosovo’s claim of independence and the universal failure to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence have had two outcomes: (1) the need for continuous negotiations, which are now in their second stage, and (2) the inability for relations between, as well as around, Kosovo and Serbia to fully normalize. In all likelihood, the negotiations will come down to Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo as a sovereign state, which seems to be undesirable to Serbia politically, but will ultimately decide if negotiations continue. Should negotiations dissolve out of resolution, relations will most likely begin to normalize, but should they dissolve out of a failure to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state, relations will most likely deteriorate. Larger implications that are still not very likely but may include a return to traditional warfare would then involve the EU as well as Russia and China, and would very likely destabilize the region.
In regards to communications, the specific messages that further concessions would likely be deploying are at issue. Serbia acknowledging that it committed genocide could open itself up to prosecution domestically or internationally, and so a symbolic apology, much like Germany offered Namibia, may satisfy both parties. Kosovo attempting to frame the historic implications into a joint statement may be more successful if reframed as “current” implications, which would be understood differently by both parties, but could still satisfy both their political objectives. Kosovo is continuing to deploy the narrative of the “victim” which may have served its purpose initially during the “Technical Dialogue” but has implications in the “victim-victimizer” cycle. Due to this narrative being tied into Kosovo’s claim of independence, it almost becomes impossible for Serbia to publicly acknowledge either one as the order effects will likely harm public perception and the sense of nationalism Serbia deploys in its own communications. However, should Kosovo reframe its narrative and offer an international treaty to Serbia to ensure that government representatives are given immunity or amnesty from future prosecution, this could act as the safeguard Serbia needs to progress current relations.
The fundamental political objectives of both parties will likely not result in traditional warfare but do have diplomatic and economic implications. Serbia’s alliances with Russia and China make it the less reliable EU partner while Kosovo’s interest in becoming an EU member state and NATO ally is in stark contrast. Should Serbia acknowledge Kosovo’s independence as a sign of good faith, profound effects could be felt considering that Serbia’s current failure to recognize the state as sovereign is being leveraged at it within a broader human rights narrative. Due to proximity, Serbia could instead become a stronger diplomatic and economic partner with Kosovo and other EU member states, which could mitigate Serbia’s fear of retribution from the EU and/or NATO. The “High Level Dialogue” does require not only assurances but action from Kosovo, which is predictably leveraging the Serbian majority municipalities and fair representation of its Serbian population, until it has gained full independence. It is not clear at this time whether Kosovo will uphold this agreement, but it would be in its political best interests to do so once it has achieved full sovereignty. Statements made by Serbia about this leveraging reflect its own strategies, which also indicate how little trust there currently is between the two parties. It is, therefore, possible that trust-building between the parties and the negotiation process is needed before real resolutions can be passed and upheld after the fact.
Propaganda has continued to be targeted at political representatives and social figures since the Kosovo War (1998-1999), which deployed themes of “nationalism,” as well as “brotherhood” and has elements of tribalism. The use of rhetoric within and outside of the traditional negotiation setting prevents communications from transitioning from political speech to strategic dialogue, which may be necessary for the modern age of non-traditional warfare. Rather than exploiting the say-do gaps of the opposite side, it would be strategic for Serbia and Kosovo to both optimize their own say-do gaps through development, which would almost certainly result in the inadvertent strengthening of international relations.
Date: July 19, 2021
Location: Doha, Qatar
Parties involved: Taliban; Afghan government; Qatar’s counterterrorism envoy Mutlaq al-Qahtani
The event: On Monday, July 19, 2021, the latest series of negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government representatives ended without any concessions made on either side. However, both sides agreed to “work to prevent civilian casualties,” although no ceasefire was agreed to, and committed to continue negotiations until a settlement has been reached. Several hours after this statement was made, fifteen diplomatic missions and NATO’s Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo urged the Taliban to halt their military offensives.
The negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are stagnating despite the international treaties both parties have with one another, as well as with international parties including the United States. The Taliban's “failure” to mitigate attacks on civilians as well as security forces, law enforcement personnel, and government officials can be interpreted as propaganda by deed, although the organization has not claimed responsibility for these attacks. This could instead be understood as the Taliban undermining the legitimacy and authority of the Afghan government given their influence across the region and the Taliban’s ability to mitigate these attacks. The leveraging of civilian lives can be a negotiation tactic that puts undue pressure on the Afghan government to make the ultimate concession: the resignation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Despite the Taliban’s claim that they were willing to come to an agreement with the Afghan government, their actions could be viewed as a power grab, indicating that the Taliban is willing to destabilize the entire region to reinstate themselves politically.
The Taliban have also been utilizing the say-do gap in its undermining of the Afghan government, as NATO forces withdrawing from the country has led to a massive territorial gain for the organization. With not only power, but also territorial control, the Taliban has “earned” the ability to make certain demands from the Afghan and United States governments, especially with backing from Russia, China, and Iran. Should the Taliban control the majority of formerly occupied territory, it would threaten the ability of the government and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to provide security and mitigate terrorist threats posed by the Taliban as well as Da’esh and al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, the Afghan government and the ANSF can be described as failing in their duties, which is likely reflected in several interactions, including military and diplomatic exchanges. Should the Taliban’s territorial expansion continue at this pace, the Afghan government is more than likely going to face a direct challenge in the form of a coup d'état. This may result in foreign intervention, although it is unclear whether the Biden Administration will re-engage during their official withdrawal.
While NATO forces withdraw, the United States-led operation has continued to face criticism from both sides (pro-withdrawal vs anti-withdrawal). The Taliban has continued to threaten the United States and framed the occupation as an injustice, which has been coupled with Ghani’s relationship with the NATO forces. It is more than possible that the president’s ousting will almost certainly include other party members, and that there is also a possibility that the Taliban intends to replace the political party in power. Should the government dissolve, it can be understood that this remains part of the Taliban’s political objectives although the United Nations (UN) might not recognize a new state under Taliban rule. The UN’s authority and investigations will likely be undermined by the Taliban, who will in all likelihood attempt to leverage the human rights, the sovereignty of the state, and just war narratives at the international body. It is very unlikely that the Taliban will respect international law and diplomatic immunity, possibly creating international incidents in the targeting of UN representatives and staff inside Afghanistan.
Neighboring states who cooperated or partnered with NATO may become the subject of traditional warfare, although the Taliban have deployed information in their strategy, and it is very unlikely that normal relations will be possible. Rather, it is expected that similar-minded jihadist organizations and sects will flood the area and pledge allegiance to the Taliban in order to create the so-called Caliphate. A populist wave may then attempt to challenge the international body and its partners as “infidels” and “traitors,” which has the capability of destabilizing the entire region. Again, should NATO members or partners attempt to intervene without winning the “hearts and minds” of the population, it is more than likely that Afghanistan will cement itself as a NATO adversary under Taliban rule. It remains unclear whether emigration that surmounts to a “refugee crisis” will occur, or whether the Taliban and its allies will ethnically cleanse those attempting to flee.
__________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)
 Dialogue Meeting Ends in Standstill as Serbia Refuses Peace Deal with Kosovo, Exit News, July 2021, https://exit.al/en/2021/07/19/dialogue-meeting-ends-in-standstill-as-serbia-refuses-peace-deal-with-kosovo/
 Serbia-Kosovo Talks Make No Progress, Each Side Blames The Other, Radio Free Europe, July 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/serbia-kosovo-normalization-talks/31366485.html
 Ramet, S. “Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989,” Cambridge University Press, 2010
 Afghan Government, Taliban Delegations To Meet Again As Doha Talks Inconclusive, Reporterly, July 2021, https://reporterly.net/live/newsfeed/july-19-2021/taliban-delegations-to-meet-again-as-doha-talks-inconclusive/
 Foreign missions in Kabul issue joint call for Taliban ceasefire, The Economic Times, July 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/foreign-missions-in-kabul-issue-joint-call-for-taliban-ceasefire/articleshow/84546571.cms
 To reach a peace deal, Taliban say Afghan president Ashraf Ghani must go, The Economic Times, July 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/to-reach-a-peace-deal-taliban-say-afghan-president-ashraf-ghani-must-go/articleshow/84670631.cms