*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.
At the beginning of this week, a series of terror attacks shook Russia's North Caucasus and proved that President Vladimir Putin's concerns about security in this region are definitely justified:
A suicide attacker set off a powerful bomb near a police station in Russia’s Chechen Republic, killing three officers. His possible accomplice injured two policemen in neighboring Ingushetia while a third one wearing a suicide vest was detained.
Local law enforcement officials suspected that the attacks in Chechnya and Ingushetia were organized by the same militant group. The men of Beslan Makhauri's gang, who operate from mountainous forests at the Chechen-Ingush border, were identified as the likely perpetrators. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) confirmed this and accused NATO's favorite Chechen freedom fighter, Doku Umarov, of ordering the terror campaign:
The head of Chechnya's FSB branch, Andrei Seryozhnikov, accused Umarov of ordering the attacks but said the commander of the Sunzha wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, Beslan Makhauri -- who was reportedly killed three years ago -- actually organized the bombings.
Syrian Terror Threatens Eurasian Balkans
So these latest attacks might be a foretaste of what is to come during the Sochi Winter Olympics which were not only threatened by Umarov but also by his boss Bandar Bush. Moreover, the FSB is worried about the possible return of several hundred jihadi mercenaries from Syria to the North Caucasus:
After a session of the Council of Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (RATS SCO), First Deputy Director of Russia’s Federal Security service Sergei Smirnov said: “As far as our country goes, we believe, that 300-400 people have ventured out to Syria, thus they’ll come back. This poses serious threat.”
FSB Deputy Director Smirnov added that although the issue had not been thoroughly discussed at the session of the SCO Council of Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), it was concluded that "all SCO countries are affected by this problem". The recent arrest of three battle-tested terrorists in Kyrgyzstan's Osh province most likely contributed to this conclusion [emphasis mine]:
Members of terrorist group, preparing attacks in Osh and Bishkek, arrested According to security services, prior to the Independence Day of the Kyrgyz Republic and SCO summit in Bishkek, a terrorist group of the Islamic Jihad Union International Terrorist Organization was revealed and arrested at the end of August of 2013 in Osh province. “Members of the group were transported to the Kyrgyz Republic from the Syrian Arab Republic in order to prepare and commit sabotage and terrorist attacks.
The group consisted of one citizen of Kazakhstan and two Kyrgyzstanis, natives and residents of Osh, who took part in the military operations against government forces in Syria as members of terrorist groups,” the National Committee for National Security informed.
As previously reported, Kyrgyz citizens have been recruited in local mosques and then sent to Syria via Turkey to fight on behalf of Washington against the Syrian government:
Deputy Dastan Jumabekov said at a parliament meeting on April 17 that "teenagers are being recruited in the Aravan district of the Osh region and being convinced to go to Syria." Supposedly, they are being recruited for fighting in Syria and are transported there via Turkey.
Kyrgyzstan in Great Demand
Terrorist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), famous for radicalizing the Muslim population, has been quite active in Osh and is probably involved in these jihadi recruitment centers. Furthermore, according to Kyrgyzstan's intelligence service GKNB, Hizb ut-Tahrir is working together with the Kyrgz opposition to destabilize the country. This collaboration was severely criticized:
And the fact that our so-called opposition doesn’t disdain to collaborate with such radical organizations as Hizb ut-Tahrir is fraught with serious consequences. Experts note that the merger of these social stratums becomes stronger, if not to mention that some representatives of political elite are implicated with criminal world.
But not only Kyrgyzstan's political elite is closely connected to the criminal world. In the Central Asian country, it is becoming more and more difficult do distinguish between the criminal world and religious organizations. Local authorities are concerned about the effects this could have on the Kyrgyz youth:
Kapar Batyrkanov: Criminal world is merging with religious organizations “Criminal world is merging with religious organizations,” Head of the Main Interior Department of Chui province Kapar Batyrkanov said today at a joint meeting with participation of the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Zhantoro Satybaldiyev. According to him, members of organized crime groups actively visit the mosques and read prayers. "A work is carried out to prevent the merger of the underworld with religious organizations," he said, and noted that talks and meetings with teenagers are held to improve prevention of juvenile crime.
Meanwhile, the government of Kyrgyzstan strengthens its questionable relationship with the world's leading exporter of terrorism and religious extremism, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Both countries will sign a number of bilateral agreements covering economic and cultural cooperation and plan among others to create a business club. In addition to Riyadh, Brussels is also showing increasing interest in Kyrgyzstan. This week, a Kyrgyz delegation led by President Almazbek Atambayev visited the Belgian capital and acquired more financial support from the European Union:
EU Vows To Increase Aid To Bishkek Barroso said 30 million euros in macroeconomic aid will be disbursed soon to help Bishkek and that an additional 13.5 million euros will be allocated to support the rule of law.
During the visit to Brussels, Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Dzhoomart Otorbayev met with heads of the infamous International Crisis Group (ICG) to discuss his country's efforts in building a parliamentary democracy. But as previously discussed, the ICG is not really interested in promoting democracy and the only objective of this NGO is to promote the interests of the corporate-financier oligarchy it is representing. A brief look at the title of the latest ICG report on Central Asia tells us what this means for the region. Beijing observed the trip of Kyrgyz officials to Belgium most certainly, especially the meeting of President Atambayev with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of U.S. presence in Manas were reportedly high on the agenda. Rasmussen also offered the Kyrgyz leader to expand cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization:
Kyrgyzstan: NATO Partner on the Chinese Border NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev on Tuesday (17 September 2013) that the Alliance is open to expand its cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, as well as providing support to democratic reforms. “Kyrgyzstan is a valuable partner for NATO,” the Secretary General said. “We appreciate your commitment to dialogue and cooperation and we appreciate your commitment to develop your country’s democratic institutions.”
With Bishkek moving closer to Moscow and Beijing in recent months, Rasmussen would be well-advised not to count on Kyrgyzstan as future ally. Nonetheless, Washington's military alliance will continue trying to absorb every country on Chinese and Russian borders. In the South Caucasus this strategy has proved to be successful. Rasmussen's Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, noted that NATO and Azerbaijan will take their cooperation to the next level in the coming months:
James Appathurai: NATO and Azerbaijan will discuss taking overall cooperation forward in coming months J.Appathurai said that Azerbaijan and NATO look to update the NATO-Azerbaijan Individual Partnership Action Plan. "I believe there is real scope for a more substantial relationship. NATO is keen to strengthen its cooperation with Azerbaijan," he said.
Since the special relationship and close military ties between soon-to-be NATO member Azerbaijan and NATO member Turkey are frequently mentioned, a planned joint exercise should not be surprising. However, the participation of another Turkic-speaking country, which has long been a prime target for NATO membership, is noteworthy:
Azerbaijani, Turkish and Kazakh Armed Forces to hold joint exercise The Armed Forces of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Kazakhstan will hold a joint exercise in the short run, military sources told APA.
The Struggle for Afghanistan
Azerbaijani and Turkish neighbor Georgia is still the most likely candidate to become the next member of the military alliance. Tbilisi contributes significantly to the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan and Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania visited the country this week to discuss Georgia's role after the completion of its peacekeeping mission. Alasania and the Afghan Defense Ministry reached some agreements including assistance in military training for Afghan soldiers:
The parties discussed the issues of strengthening bilateral relations after completion of ISAF mission, Cooperation on Defence sector and training Afghan soldiers in the Georgian military schools, Georgian Defence Ministry said on Thursday.
At this point, Afghanistan's army is essentially a proxy force of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization but President Hamid Karzai offered Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent SCO summit in Bishkek an opportunity to change this:
Karzai said that the government of Afghanistan is keen on Russia’s technical support in military and security related issues, since Afghan national security forces need more support from Russia in this regard. In the meantime, Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to provide Afghanistan with the military equipments and weapons, besides providing training opportunities for the Afghan national armed forces.
Moscow could use the NATO drawdown to gain influence in Afghanistan and protect its own interests. One of these interests is the security of state borders in the region which will be discussed at the session of the CSTO Collective Security Council tomorrow. Especially the Tajik-Afghan border is threatened and Tajikistan can expect support from fellow CSTO countries in order to strengthen security on its border:
The presidents will also be briefed on the situation at the Tajik-Afghan border and on proposals on improving the efficiency of its protection, the spokesperson said.
"The current situation at the border and within the Afghan border zone as a whole and the trends of its development remain quite negative. The presidents will consider the provision of military-technological assistance to Tajik border guards," he said.
With the situation in Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province further deteriorating, Dushanbe will need some outside assistance to prevent a spillover of the violence:
In northern Afghanistan, the faith in Karzai's government and his puppet masters appears to be at a new all-time low. Qazi Abdul Hai, the governor of the northern Sar-e Pol Province, is believed to be the highest-ranking civilian offical to have defected to the Taliban:
Afghan District Governor Defects To Taliban A northern district governor and former Afghan senator has defected to the Taliban, citing corruption and a lack of faith in the central government and its Western supporters.
While NATO troops continue to suffer from 'insider attacks' und the United States struggles to protect its own consulate, the Taliban are gaining ground. Furthermore, militants in neighboring Pakistan are reportedly massing along the border in expectation of an ethnic-based civil war in Afghanistan after coalition forces leave the country [emphasis mine]:
Pakistan militants prepare for war in Afghanistan In the past two years the number of Punjab-based militants deploying to regions bordering on Afghanistan has tripled and is now in the thousands, says analyst Mansur Mehsud. He runs the FATA Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank studying the mix of militant groups that operate in Pakistan's tribal belt running along much of the 2,600-kilometer (1,600-mile) Afghan-Pakistan border.
So with the supposed NATO withdrawal approaching, the threats for Afghanistan's security are ever-increasing. As James Corbett has emphasized in a recent BFP EyeOpener Report, this is no coincidence and the Taliban and other terrorist groups provide the perfect pretext for continued NATO presence in the region:
"In order for NATO to justify the maintenance of its forces, or some portion thereof, in the country after 2014, some plausible pretext for that presence is needed. The Taliban, of course, is that pretext, and the ever-present menace of Taliban forces present that boogeyman that will justify the ongoing occupation of the country until such time as they are eradicated or local Afghan security forces are deemed capable of holding their own against these terrorist forces."
Washington is not interested in withdrawing completely from Afghanistan and, according to Pakistani senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, the United States will also count on a large number of contractors to conduct its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan:
Speaking at a news conference, he also said according to informed sources in Kabul, there were over 100,000 U.S. contractors who were engaged in various security and other related responsibilities for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“This number would not be affected by the draw-down of NATO troops,” Mushahid Hussain said.
Private military or security firms offer many advantages like for example maintaining plausible denial in covert operation while at the same time reducing or eliminating the oversight powers of government.
Chinese Police Raids Terrorist Camp
Afghanistan is vital for the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the New Great Game against Russia and China will therefore not be abandoned. The war-torn country is the ideal staging area for operations aimed at sabotaging economic projects which are not sanctioned by Washington. China's proposed $18 billion trade corridor with Pakistan is one of these projects. Unrest in the Pakistani province Balochistan and China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, both bordering Afghanistan, are the two biggest threats to the implementation of the corridor:
Restive regions may yet spell trouble for China's Gwadar planBalochistan and Xinjiang are the largest, least developed and restive provinces in the two countries. China wants to develop Gwadar as a gateway port for Xinjiang, which is also called Eastern Turkestan, where the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a militant Muslim separatist group, has been involved in many terror attacks on China. Balochistan also faces a separatist insurgency. Seven security personnel were killed on July 27 in an act of terrorism in Gwadar.
Terrorist organizations operating in Balochistan as well as groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Xinjiang are supported by the United States and its allies and are doing Washington's bidding. Beijing does not tolerate outside interference and takes a hard line in its fight against foreign-sponsored terrorism:
3 sentenced to death for Xinjiang terror attack A court in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Thursday sentenced three persons to death and one person to 25 years in jail for a violent terrorist attack in the region's Shanshan County on June 26.
Additionally, the Chinese authorities try to conceal as much information as possible about the War on Terror in Xinjiang. So the latest incident, which occured just three days after a deadly shootout between police and terrorists, became not publicly known until this week:
Uyghurs shot dead in 'munitions center' raidAuthorities in China's restive northwestern region of Xinjiang have shot dead up to a dozen Uyghurs and wounded 20 others in a raid on what they said was a "terrorist" facility, according to local officials and residents. While police refused to give details of the incident, which had been kept under wraps for about three weeks, local officials and residents said it occurred in Jigdejay village around the Kuybagh township on August 23 during a raid on an alleged training camp and munitions center operated by a group of about 30 Uyghurs.
According to eyewitness accounts the terrorist camp was only discovered by chance due to the ineptitude of the Uyghur militants:
He said the camp had been discovered after the Uyghurs had made rocket launchers that exploded on testing, killing one of them. "One of them blew their own head off, or they wouldn't have been discovered," he said. "[We live] on the edge [of the county town]. The Gobi desert is right next door to us."
Beijing is not amused by the advancing terrorist activities in Xinjiang and the associated propaganda campaign blaming the Chinese government's "sustained repression and provocation" of the Uyghur community for the violence. Efforts to promote the independence of East Turkestan were heavily criticized by Li Congjun, the current president and Party chief of Xinhua News Agency, in a recent column:
Fear and Loathing Between Rivals: Head of Xinhua says Western media pushing revolution in ChinaWestern media organizations are trying to demonize China and promote revolution and national disintegration as they hate seeing the country prosper, the head of China’s official Xinhua news agency said in comments published on Wednesday. “Some hostile Western forces and media do not want to see a prospering socialist China and target the spear of Westernization, separation and ‘color revolution’ at China,” Li wrote in a column.
Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here