Karachi-Born Ukrainian Billionaire Believes “Ukraine is Going to be Next Afghanistan for Russia"
Pakistani-Ukrainian billionaire Mohammad Zahoor believes “Ukraine is going to be the next Afghanistan for Russia". Talking with Arab News, he said: “This is time, actually, for us not to keep quiet. We have to take sides". After the Russian invasion, Zahoor left Kiev for Britain along with his wife and two daughters. Zahoor owns real estate and steel businesses in Ukraine. He is also a British citizen. He was recently in Pakistan to attend the funeral of his sister-in-law who died of COVID-19.
|Mohammad and Kamaliya Zahoor|
Zahoor told Arab News that the Russian invasion of Ukraine may have consequences for Russia similar to the fallout from the Soviet-Afghan war from 1979 to 1989, which drastically weakened Russia's military and economy. That defeat in Afghanistan was one of the major reasons for the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“Ukraine is going to be the next Afghanistan for Russia,” he said. “I don’t know how many years they are going to be in Ukraine, but once they are out, they will be broken into pieces.
Zahoor's prediction can only be realized if there is a frontline state in Europe that is willing to take enormous risks that Pakistan took in the 1980s by supporting and providing sanctuaries to the Afghan Mujahideen insurgents who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan Air Force took on the Soviet Air Force and shot down several Russian fighter aircraft in dogfights. Pakistanis did this knowing that the US provided no security guarantees to Pakistan. Are Poland and Romania, both NATO members, willing to take such risks? Would the United States allow these NATO members to risk a broader war with Russia?
Oligarchs have shaped politics in post-Soviet Russia and other former Soviet republics including The Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Among them is Karachi-born Pakistani Ukrainian Mohammad Zahoor, a member of growing Pakistani diaspora which is already the world's 7th largest. He owned the Kyiv Post newspaper which is widely believed to have led the campaign to topple pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Zahoor's father Khushal Khan worked for Pakistani government. He migrated to Karachi from Hasnaina village in the Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Zahoor was born in 1955 in Karachi. His ISTIL Group operates from a head office in Kiev. It also has offices in the UK, Pakistan, UAE.
"When I arrived in Moscow in the late 80s, I started supplying spare parts to a company," he said. "At the same time, I told my company that moving steel from here could be a lucrative deal. Almost everyone in the steel mills knew me." His company exported steel to Pakistan using a barter system with payment from Pakistan coming in the form of clothes instead of cash. He said it was a highly lucrative business.
He later moved back to Pakistan. “Having a Russian wife limited my career development there,” he told Newsweek. “The secret services were also very active during the ’80s, and I thought it better to leave.” He moved to Moscow to work for a Pakistani steel company in the late ’80s, and hasn’t looked back since
He learned Russian and metallurgy well. Then he eventually found a way to apply those skills in Ukraine, one of the world’s top 10 steel-exporting nations. Zahoor also displayed a talent for knowing when to get out of a business, as he did in 2008 by selling his Donetsk steel mill for a top-drawer price of $1 billion, according to Kyiv Post. He has since invested in media and real estate businesses.
|Zahoor With Trophy Wife Kamaliya. Source: Politico.eu|
Zahoor divorced his first wife to marry Kamaliya (born as Natalya Shmarenkova in 1977) in 2003. Kamaliya won the Mrs. World title in 2008. She is involved in charitable work in both Ukraine and Pakistan. Before the Russian invasion, they lived in a mansion designed to resemble Dubai’s hotel Burj al-Arab in the suburbs of Kyiv. The couple has 8-year-old twin daughters. Zahoor has two grown children, Arman and Tanya, from his previous marriage.
|L to R: Kamaliya, Arabella, Mirabella and Mohammad Zahoor. Source: Dad.CEO|
Zahoor and Kamaliya have starred in a Fox Entertainment reality show "Meet the Russians". Kamaliya has a singing career with hit singles like "Crazy In My Heart," "Rising Up," and "Butterflies," and she is also famous for singing duets with Russian pop star Philipp Kirkorov.
Here's a BBC Urdu interview with Mohammad Zahoor:
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Bruce Riedel Thursday, February 24, 2022
President Jimmy Carter rapidly mobilized a strategic alliance to fight the Russians. Within two weeks he had persuaded Pakistani leader Zia ul-Huq to support the mujahideen with refuge, bases, and training in Pakistan. The United States and Saudi Arabia would jointly fund the insurgency. The Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), would be the patrons of the mujahideen; the CIA and the Saudi intelligence service would be the financiers and quarter masters of the war. No CIA officer ever was deployed in Cold War Afghanistan. Our British counterparts, MI6, did send officers into Afghanistan to deliver select weapons and training. The ISI did all the rest; it was Zia’s war. The ISI trained and occasionally led the mujahideen in battle, even striking into Soviet Central Asia.
Being the frontline state behind the mujahideen brought considerable risk and danger for Pakistan. The Russians supported Pakistani dissidents who organized terror attacks inside the country including hijacking Pakistani civilian aircraft and attempts to assassinate Zia (who died in a suspicious plane crash in 1988). Pakistani fighters engaged Soviet aircraft in dogfights. The Pakistani tribal border areas became dangerous and unruly. A Kalashnikov culture emerged that still haunts Pakistan today.
The Afghan people paid a horrible cost for the war. As I wrote in “What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan,” at least a million Afghans died, five million became refugees in Pakistan and Iran, and millions more were displaced in their own country. But they won.
The Soviets never sent enough soldiers to defeat the insurgents and could not recruit enough Afghans to fight with them. The Pakistanis were not intimidated by the Russians. The Afghan people fought for their independence.
The Afghan analogy offers important questions for the new war in Ukraine. Which state or states will be the frontline sponsor? Are they ready to take the heat from Russia? How much support will the United States and NATO provide? Will the insurgency spark a broader conflict, and can it be contained? Are Ukrainians prepared to pay the price?
Poland and Romania are the states closest to the Ukraine. Both are NATO members with U.S. troops deployed in their territory. The U.S. has an explicit commitment to come to their defense in Article Five of the NATO Treaty; we had no such commitment to Pakistan. (Ironically, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is in Moscow this week for a long-planned visit.)
I believe the United States and NATO should help the Ukrainian resistance but we should understand the potential consequences, risks, and costs up front. Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine could well prove to be another geopolitical catastrophe for Russia but only if we help the Ukrainian resistance.
Warsaw and Washington wrestle with how to provide aid to Kyiv without drawing NATO into conflict with Russia
The Pentagon’s move came a day after Poland stunned Washington when it said it would make its Soviet-built MiG-29 combat jets available, though to the U.S., and not directly to Ukraine. Rather than sending the planes to Ukraine, Poland suggested they first go hundreds of miles in the other direction to the Ramstein air base in Germany.
The idea caught Washington by surprise. “I think it’s pretty clear, it doesn’t require a military expert to understand why having planes fly from a U.S. air base into a contested part of a country where there is a war is not in our interest and not in NATO interests,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
Soon after, the Pentagon’s Mr. Kirby called the proposal “high risk” and said it would not “significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities.”
The spat between two close NATO allies comes as Vice President Kamala Harris heads to Poland. On the agenda: “how best to provide a variety of security assistance to Ukraine,” a senior administration official said.
Since Russia’s invasion began, NATO otherwise has largely operated in lockstep to help Ukraine fend off Russian forces, delivering weapons to the neighboring country and running reinforcement to the alliance’s eastern front to protect allies there. And NATO is starting to listen to longstanding requests from Poland and other Central European members to permanently base troops there to reinforce defenses.
The issue of the planes surfaced after Ukrainian officials for weeks pleaded with Western countries to supply them weapons to help counter Russia. As Russian helicopters and fighters attacked Ukrainian cities, government officials there increasingly urged allies to provide equipment to shoot down those aircraft.
Providing combat planes in what would be the highest profile transfer of arms from the West to Ukraine began as a low-level point of discussion among European militaries. It blew into the open when European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell 10 days ago made a passing reference to those conversations in public. “We are going to supply arms and even fighter jets,” he said Feb. 27.
At that point, technical discussions were ongoing, but meant to be discreet, Polish officials said. Officials were looking at whether the planes could be somehow transported across its eastern border into Ukraine, surreptitiously, to avoid the possibility of provoking a wider war that could directly involve NATO.
To some the idea was always a nonstarter. “Turning a NATO jet into something Ukrainians could fly would mean ripping out hugely complicated systems,” an American defense industry official in Poland said. Warsaw upgraded its MiGs with systems so allies could identify the planes as friendly and to communicate securely, he said, noting that some of that equipment isn’t transferred beyond the alliance and would have to be removed from the planes before handing them to the Ukrainians.
“If there were a plan to do so, this would be at least a multi-month project, even operating at warp speed,” he said.
Ukrainian pilots likely would be able to adapt to the Polish planes relatively quickly, but that doesn’t mean they would be proficient enough to take the MiGs to war, said Justin Bronk, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank. “It is a question of if they could be combat effective immediately? Probably not,” he said, adding it would take weeks to reach that level of proficiency.
Since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in late February, Zahoor, who used to live in Ukraine and was the former owner of the Ukrainian newspaper Kyiv Post, has been pushing to ensure the safe evacuation of Ukrainian citizens, according to a Khaleej Times report.
The report said that the Karachi-born billionaire had been attempting to mobilize funds and help evacuate refugees to the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. Zahoor has continued to meet with heads of state and other influential people to ensure safe passage for Ukrainians.
He has also called on the people of the world to support and side with Ukraine as it fights back against Russian aggression.
"This is time, actually, for us not to keep quiet. We have to take sides," Zahoor told Arab News in March. "I am openly taking the side of Ukraine because after seeing [reports from] Western, Ukrainian and Russian media, I can see and decide who is telling the truth. This is the time actually for everyone to speak up for Ukraine otherwise every big country is going to swallow its next-door neighbor."
He continued: "I think we are in the worst crisis in the world since the Second World War. We are in the middle of Europe, in fact. If something happens to those nuclear power plants, and Ukraine has got 15 of those...The nuclear power plant which was shelled is six times more powerful than the Chernobyl plant."
"The Russian equipment, I must say, they are not very precise," he added. "So, they're sending 10 rockets in order to get one to the destination."
More recently, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has tweeted about the importance of international support and the progress made by countries to help Ukraine.
"Finished a long and meaningful phone conversation with [French President]
@EmmanuelMacron," Zelensky tweeted on Tuesday. "Told about the course of hostilities, the operation to rescue the military from Azovstal and the vision of the prospects of the negotiation process. Raised the issue of fuel supply to Ukraine.