Last Off Ramp for Korean Peace Ahead! Will the Deep State Let Trump Take It?

You want to worry about North Korea?  Go ahead!  But worry more about the emerging Indo-Japanese axis and the implications for anti-China adventurism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And we’ve got a sneak peak at my documentary on a US conspiracy to bring the PRC to heel via an Asian war…in 1951!

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Show notes

Transcript: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on “Face the Nation”, Sept.17, 2017

Why is Shinzo Abe being hosted in Gujarat and not Delhi? Congress asks

Narendra Modi accompanying Shinzo Abe to Sidi Sayyed mosque is an exercise in image makeover for PM

Is Narendra Modi the leader of the world’s largest democracy or the world’s most successful fascist?  Or Both!

Political documentary “Major-Country Diplomacy” well received in China, abroad

Newsbud Exclusive- Agents of Terror on Government Payroll- Part II: Ali Mohamed.

A Notorious Terrorist, a Major in Egypt’s Army Intelligence, a CIA Operative, a Member of the Elite Green Berets & an FBI Informant

Let’s say a script writer approaches a Hollywood production company with a proposal for a realistic spy-action thriller that features a dark action hero who is a Major in the Egyptian Army's Military Intelligence Unit, who is selected by an Elite Special Forces Unit in the United States Army, simultaneously gets recruited by the CIA as an operative, teaches courses at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and is on the FBI Payroll. Then he triple crosses the Elite U.S. military Forces, the CIA and the FBI, uses his U.S. military information to train al-Qaeda and other radical Muslim militants, becomes Bin Laden’s bodyguard (all this while he is still on the payroll of the U.S. military, the CIA and the FBI), blows up U.S. embassies around the world (while still on the triple payroll) - is the most dangerous man in the world according to the U.S. Justice Department. Then he gets caught, is tried and indicted in a secret U.S. court behind closed doors, yet manages to evade sentencing, skips jail, and continues his terror operations around the globe.

What do you think the production company’s response would be? An unrealistic, far-fetched delirium, probably imagined and written while under some sort of psychedelic drug?

What if I were to tell you that everything in the script above, and some more, is a well-documented, government-confirmed, real life case?

Meet Ali Abdul Saoud Mohamed. One of the highest-ranking Al Qaeda terrorists. A man known to and marketed by the U.S. government and Mainstream media as a notorious Triple Agent Terrorist. A man described by U.S. Justice Department Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, as the most dangerous man in the world I’ve ever met.

Are you dizzy yet? Let’s breakdown Ali Mohamed’s background in a more orderly fashion:

Mohamed was a Major in the Egyptian Army's Military Intelligence Unit.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was selected by U.S. Army Special Forces, who sent him to Special Warfare School and encouraged him to pursue a doctorate in Islamic Studies and teach courses on the Middle East.

He was highly educated and spoke fluent English, French, and Hebrew in addition to his native Arabic.

In 1984 the CIA recruited him to be a junior intelligence officer.

The FBI publicly used him as an informant for years.

While in the United States, working for at least three government agencies, including the U.S. Army, he helped train a number of Jihadis, including El Sayyid Nosair and Mahmud Abouhalima, who assisted Ramzi Yousef in his 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

During the 1980s, while in these three U.S. government entities, he was involved in the training of Anti-Soviet forces, which included members of the mujahideen, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and terrorist members responsible for the bombings of two U.S. embassies.

In 1992 he made at least 58 trips to Afghanistan to participate in the training of terrorist cells, while under the surveillance of the CIA, and the FBI.

In 1998 he was charged with the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy to kill nationals of the United States and to destroy U.S. property.

Although indicted, secretly, behind closed court doors, Ali Mohamed was never sentenced.

Just as in the case of Awlaki, all court sessions and documents, all reports and all investigations pertaining to Ali Mohamed are highly classified and not available to even those with TS clearance. Unlike Awlaki, who was fried and turned into ashes by a U.S. drone, Mohamed was allegedly jailed in a high-security prison, and has not been interviewed or seen by any outsiders. Because he is nowhere near any U.S. jail! He has been continuing his work and travel for CIA-NATO Operation Gladio B.

Okay, now let’s begin laying out the facts with links, documents and witnesses… [READ MORE]

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Trump, Afghanistan, and 9/11

President Donald Trump, led by his generals, will continue America’s longest war in Afghanistan. On this episode of The Geopolitical Report, we look at the history of the war and the effort by the CIA, aided by Pakistani intelligence, to manufacture both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Prior to 9/11, the US did business with the Taliban and considered them a suitable partner for a pipeline deal. After 9/11, the Taliban offered to hand Osama bin Laden over to the United States, but the Bush administration refused, preferring instead to invade and create the longest war. If we take Trump’s airstrikes in Syria and Iraq as a gauge, the escalation in Afghanistan will result in thousands more dead innocent civilians, every single one illegal under US and international law.

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Show Notes

Taliban closes Laden case

Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden, and the Taliban

Afghanistan: Soviet invasion and civil war

US Supports Taliban Rise to Power

Taliban Arise in Afghanistan; Quickly Co-opted by ISI

Enron Gives Taliban Millions in Bribes in Effort to Get Afghan Pipeline Built

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and UAE Officially Recognize Taliban Government

Did 9/11 Justify the War in Afghanistan?

War on Afghanistan is Illegal

Afghanistan War Has Cost Trillions of Dollars

UN condemns targeting of civilians, infrastructure as airstrikes hit Syria’s Raqqa

Deaths In Other Nations Since WW II Due To Us Interventions

Newsbud Exclusive-Trump’s Afghan War: Based on Neocon Lies.

Standing before a podium at the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia, President Donald Trump addressed an audience of soldiers on August 21. Trump said the consequences of an exit from Afghanistan “are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.”

In order to believe this, facts must be put aside and the official version of events be unquestioningly accepted. There is no evidence the attack of September 11 was “planned and directed from Afghanistan.” Then Secretary of State Colin Powell said two weeks after the attack he would “in the near future… to put out… a document that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking [Osama bin Laden] to this attack.”

However, the following day during a press conference in the Rose Garden with President Bush, Powell said the American people would not be permitted to see the evidence. He added the United States had irrefutable proof of bin Laden’s complicity, but “most of it is classified.” Powell’s remark was an effort to conceal the fact the Bush administration had no evidence Osama bin Laden planned and orchestrated the attack from a cave in Afghanistan. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cited officials from the CIA and the Justice Department as saying there was no solid evidence of this.

In 1998, following the US embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, the Taliban government offered to turn over bin Laden, but the Bush administration refused. Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, the Taliban foreign minister, told Al Jazeera his government had made several proposals to the United States to turn over the Saudi to stand trial.

“Even before the [9/11] attacks, our Islamic Emirate had tried through various proposals to resolve the Osama issue. One such proposal was to set up a three-nation court, or something under the supervision of the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC]," Muttawakil said. “But the US showed no interest in it. They kept demanding we hand him over, but we had no relations with the US, no agreement of any sort. They did not recognize our government.”

After the Taliban made the proposals through the US embassy in Pakistan and an informal Taliban office at the UN in New York, the CIA station chief in Pakistan, Robert Grenier, dismissed the offer as a ploy. In mid-September 2001, Grenier had a secret meeting with Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, considered the second-most powerful figure in the Taliban at the time, at a five-star hotel in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. He said if the Taliban were serious about avoiding a US invasion, they would turn over bin Laden immediately for prosecution. Alternatively, as CIA Director George Tenet put it, the Taliban could “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly [takes] him off the table,” in other words, the CIA wanted the Taliban to assassinate bin Laden.

The ultimatum was rejected by Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Following this, during a second meeting at a villa in Baluchistan, Grenier said Osmani should overthrow Omar and get rid of Osama bin Laden. This was also rejected. Osmani was later killed by a smart bomb during an attack by the US Air Force in Helmand Province.

The reclusive Omar had previously attempted to establish a dialogue with the United States. In response to an inquiry on bin Laden’s alleged terror activities prior to the September 11 attack, a cable sent by the United States to Omar stated: “We have detailed and solid evidence that Osama bin Laden has been engaged and is still engaged in planning, organizing, and funding acts of international terror.” The US did not provide supporting evidence to back up the accusation and this resulted in the Afghan supreme court acquitting bin Laden in October 1998.

A few months earlier, in August 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in retaliation for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The US insisted the al-Shifa factory in Khartoum “was actually a disguised chemical weapons factory” that produced VX nerve gas. British engineer Thomas Carnaffin, who worked as a technical manager during the plant’s construction between 1992 and 1996, told reporters he never saw any evidence of the production of an ingredient needed for nerve gas. The attack violated numerous articles of the Hague Conventions.

Moreover, the owner of the Shifa factory gave interviews in which he “emphatically denied that the plant was used for anything other than pharmaceuticals, and there was never persuasive evidence to contradict his assertion. At the same time, members of the administration retreated from claims they made earlier that Osama bin Laden had what [Defense Secretary William] Cohen called ‘a financial interest in contributing to this particular facility.’ It turned out that no direct financial relationship between bin Laden and the plant could be established,” writes Richard Bernstein in his book, Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11, 2001.

The factory was Sudan's largest commercial manufacturer of prescription drugs for both medical and veterinary purposes, producing 50 percent of the country's supply. “Probably the most important was an anti-diarrhea remedy. They also made drugs against TB and they brought in the basic stock for antibiotics,” Carnaffin explained. It was estimated the destruction of the plant resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Sudanese. [READ MORE]

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Newsbud Exclusive- NATO-CIA-Pentagon: Junction of the Real Druglords & Warlords_

The Casualties of CIA-NATO Afghan Operations Include Heroin-Related Deaths

Are you aware of the heroin epidemic that has been on fire all across America- since 2001? Thanks to the government-corporate media outlets you probably are not.

Between 2002 and 2013, heroin-related overdose deaths in the US quadrupled, with more than 10,000 people dying of heroin overdoses in America in 2014 alone. Afghanistan has been the number one source globally of both opium and heroin:

Heroin from Afghanistan has killed more people than the 55,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War. An American now gets killed every 32 minutes by Afghan heroin. With US heroin deaths tripling every four years, an American will get killed by heroin every 16 minutes by 2020.

There were 189,000 heroin users in the US in 2001, before the US-NATO invasion of Afghanistan. By 2016 that number went up to 4,500,000 (2.5 million heroin addicts and 2 million casual users).Heroin deaths shot up from 1,779 in 2001 to 10,574 in 2014 as Afghan opium poppy fields metastasized from 7,600 hectares in 2001 (when the US-NATO War in Afghanistan began) to 224,000 hectares in 2016. (One hectare equals approximately 2.5 acres). Ironically, the so-called US eradication operation in Afghanistan has cost an estimated $8.5 billion in American taxpayer funds since the US-NATO-Afghan war started in October 2001.

Interestingly, while the mainstream and pseudo-alternative media outlets keep playing up drugs from Mexico, we hardly hear a peep on the massive amount of Afghan-sourced heroin. To put it in perspective: In 2014, according to the DEA drug threat assessment, Mexico produced an estimated 42 metric tons of heroin. Afghanistan produced 6,400 metric tons of opium that same year. The largest share of US heroin is Afghanistan-sourced. It is coming from US-occupied Afghanistan. There is no other mathematical possibility:

Mexico with 10,500 hectares of opium could not possibly supply even 1/20th of the heroin demand in the US. What has the DEA been doing about the vast majority of heroin which is coming in from Afghanistan?

Looking at facts and figures regarding the heroin epidemic, it becomes obvious that the DEA has been a colossal failure and they refuse to answer most questions asked of them. Perhaps, the DEA would answer questions (or plead the 5th) at Congressional Hearings.

First, ‘the Mexicans did it” which is to say that the 173 tons of raw opium from Latin America (from 10,500 hectares in Mexico and 1,500 hectares in Colombia) were converted into 17.3 tons of heroin and all 17.3 tons were imported into the US, where it would not supply even 5% of the US heroin demand.

If all countries on Earth growing opium, except Afghanistan, were to convert their opium to heroin and send it to the US, it wouldn’t be enough for even half of the current US heroin demand.

With the obvious parallels and undeniable correlations, any critical mind would begin spewing the following questions: How did Afghan opium spread from 7,600 hectares prior to the US-NATO invasion to 224,000 hectares since the invasion? What is the correlation between US heroin deaths rising from 1,779 in 2000-pre Afghan invasion, to more than 10,000 in 2014 alone?

Parallels & Flashbacks

Forty years ago the United States was hit by another major heroin epidemic. During the 1970’s, during the Vietnam War, heroin making its way to the United States from the Golden Triangle became an epidemic. It was estimated that more than 200,000 people in New York City alone were using heroin. At one point in time, you were able to find used syringes on public playgrounds. As in the case of Afghanistan, the CIA-Pentagon WarLords-DrugLords were at the top of the chain:

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the CIA recruited the Laotian Hmong tribe to fight communist forces in the region. The CIA encouraged the Hmong to grow opium instead of rice to make them dependent on CIA air drops of food. The agency could then force their compliance by threatening to withdraw the food aid. To make the deal even sweeter, they even located a heroin refinery at CIA headquarters in northern Loas and used Air America, a passenger and cargo airline that was covertly owned and operated by the CIA, to export the Laotian opium and heroin. Much of it ended up in Vietnam, causing an epidemic of heroin addiction in US soldiers.

CIA ties to international drug trafficking goes back to the Korean War:

In 1949, two of Chiang Kai-shek's defeated generals, Li Wen Huan and Tuan Shi Wen, marched their Third and Fifth Route armies, with families and livestock, across the mountains to northern Burma. Once installed, the peasant soldiers began cultivating the crop they knew best, the opium poppy.

When China entered the Korean War, the CIA had a desperate need for intelligence on that nation. The agency turned to the warlord generals, who agreed to slip some soldiers back into China. In return, the agency offered arms. Officially, the arms were intended to equip the warlords for a return to China. In fact, the Chinese wanted them to repel any attack by the Burmese.

Soon intelligence began to flow to Washington from the area, which became known as the Golden Triangle. So, too, did heroin, en route to Southeast Asia and often to the United States…

The CIA did, however, lobby the Eisenhower administration to prevent the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the DEA's predecessor, from establishing monitoring posts in the area to study the traffic.

Let’s take a few documented facts from records and reports submitted to the US Congress in 1999 by FAS:

1960s- In support of the US war in Vietnam, the CIA renewed old and cultivated new relations with Laotian, Burmese and Thai drug merchants, as well as corrupt military and political leaders in Southeast Asia. Despite the dramatic rise of heroin production, the agency's relations with these figures attracted little attention until the early 1970s.

MAY 1970- A Christian Science Monitor correspondent reported that the CIA `is cognizant of, if not party to, the extensive movement of opium out of Laos,' quoting one charter pilot who claimed that `opium shipments get special CIA clearance and monitoring on their flights southward out of the country.' At the time, some 30,000 US service men in Vietnam were addicted to heroin.

1972-The full story of how Cold War politics and US covert operations fueled a heroin boom in the Golden Triangle broke when Yale University doctoral student Alfred McCoy published his ground-breaking study, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. The CIA attempted to quash the book.

1973- Thai national Puttapron Khramkhruan was arrested in connection with the seizure of 59 pounds of opium in Chicago. A CIA informant on narcotics trafficking in northern Thailand, he claimed that the agency had full knowledge of his actions. According to the US Justice Department, the CIA quashed the case because it might `prove embarrassing because of Mr. Khramkhruans's involvement with CIA activities in Thailand, Burma, and elsewhere.'

For those who consider alternative media outlets such as Newsbud conspiracy hubs, here is a report, albeit watered-down, by the New York Times, published in 1993:

During the Vietnam War, operations in Laos were largely a CIA responsibility. The agency's surrogate there was a Laotian general, Vang Pao, who commanded Military Region 2 in northern Laos. He enlisted 30,000 Hmong tribesmen in the service of the CIA.

These tribesmen continued to grow, as they had for generations, the opium poppy. Before long, someone - there were unproven allegations that it was a Mafia family from Florida - had established a heroin refining lab in Region Two. The lab's production was soon being ferried out on the planes of the CIA's front airline, Air America. A pair of BNDD agents tried to seize an Air America.

A pair of BNDD agents tried to seize an Air America DC-3 loaded with heroin packed into boxes of Tide soap powder. At the CIA's behest, they were ordered to release the plane and drop the inquiry.

Author and activist William Blum noted in his book Rogue State, “The CIA flew the drugs all over Southeast Asia, to sites where the opium was processed into heroin, and to trans-shipment points on the route to Western customers.”

Do you remember the Iran Contra scandal and the days when Crack Cocaine was the major drug that destroyed communities and lives across the United States in the early 1980’s? Another fact obscured by the mainstream media, so that many still have either not heard about it or consider it another conspiracy story.

The United States supported the Contras in their fight against the Sandanista government in Nicaragua. Officially barred from arming and funding the Contras by Congress, the CIA came up with a scheme to sell arms to Iran and use the funds to illegally arm and supply the Contras. CIA-protected drug smugglers flew down to Nicaragua loaded with arms to supply the Contras and flew back loaded with Columbian cocaine. A decade later, investigative reporter Gary Webb used official government documents to prove that the CIA had sheltered these drug smuggling operatives and followed the trail of this cheap Columbian cocaine to the beginning of the crack epidemic in South-Central LA. Ironically, again, during this same period American Taxpayers were funding DEA operations that were supposedly countering crack-cocaine suppliers and operations. [READ MORE]

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The NGGR January 18: From Kabul’s Damage Control after Wild Accusations against Russia-Tajikistan to Georgia’s Main Opposition Party Split

The Great Game Round-Up by Newsbud’s Christoph Germann brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Georgia's Main Opposition Party Splits but the Drama Ain't Over

Georgia's largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), has split amid disagreements over the role of UNM leader and former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who gave up his Georgian citizenship for a new political career in Ukraine.

Leading UNM members who regard Saakashvili as a liability announced last week that they would leave the party and start a new political movement to challenge the Georgian Dream government.

The split came after months of infighting fueled by the UNM's devastating defeat in the October 2016 parliamentary elections and the dispute over the upcoming party congress, which is scheduled for January 20.

Several UNM leaders, including former National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria, former Parliament Speaker Davit Bakradze and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, decided that it was time to move on.

"Saakasvhili was the party's founder, but he has become its undoing," Ugulava stated at the January 12 press briefing, just a few days after his release from prison.

"This man does not radiate leadership anymore. It pains me to say this, but he is not the Mikheil Saakashvili who united the people in 2002 [ahead of the 2003 Rose Revolution] . . ." Ugulava said, calling on the party's supporters "to look forward."

Saakahvili, who had welcomed Ugulava's release from prison a few days earlier, responded on Facebook that he "felt pity" for Ugulava, "who spoke more about me than the Oligarch who imprisoned him."

In Saakashvili's world, the United National Movement just got rid of a few "losers" and foiled another plot by Georgian Dream godfather Bidzina Ivanishvili to take over the party.

In reality, the anti-Saakashvili faction includes half of the party's leadership and most of the party's Members of Parliament. 21 out of 27 United National Movement MPs defected, causing a parliament shake-up. 38 heads of municipal and regional organizations also left the party.

According to the transcript of a supposed conversation between Saakashvili and loyal UNM MP Koba Nakaopia published on the Ukrainian Wikileaks website, Saakashvili is already planning to take revenge on "those ungrateful idiots" who abandoned him.

Among other things, Saakashvili and Nakopia allegedly talked about paying a woman named Eliso who is "working on [Giga] Bokeria and others."

"I’m going to make her fully discredit Bokeria's followers and the Chergoids [possibly Bokeria's wife Tamara Chergoleishvili]," Saakashvili told Nakopia according to the transcript.

It is not the first time that the obscure Ukrainian Wikileaks website has published such material.

In 2015, the site published a transcript alleging that Saakashvili and Bokeria discussed staging an attack on UNM-linked TV station Rustavi 2 in order to provoke mass anti-government protests.

Both Saakashvili and Bokeria dismissed the transcript as a fabrication, but this didn't stop Georgia's State Security Service from launching an investigation. Shortly thereafter, another murky Ukrainian website released authentic recordings of two phone conversations that Saakashvili held with Bokeria and Rustavi 2 director Nika Gvaramia, lending some credence to the previous Saakashvili-Bokeria transcript.

Regardless of whether or not there is any truth to the latest Ukrainian Wikileaks release, it is safe to say that the United National Movement drama is far from over.

Kabul Doing Damage Control after Wild Accusations against Russia & Tajikistan

Current and former Afghan officials have leveled serious accusations against Russia and Tajikistan in recent weeks, forcing Kabul to start off the new year with damage control.

Last month, former Kunduz Governor Muhammad Omar Safi made the bold claim that Russian military engineers based in Tajikistan were repairing tanks and heavy weapons that Taliban fighters had seized from Afghan security forces. Such cooperation between the Russian military and the Taliban has been going on for nearly two years, according to Safi.

The statement came amid increasing criticism of Moscow's ties to the Taliban. A few weeks earlier, Afghan officials alleged - without providing any evidence - that Russia was supplying weapons to Taliban fighters.

Safi's wild claims were a bit too wild for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry. MoD deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanish cast doubt on whether it was possible to transport heavy weaponry across the Amu Darya River that separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

"[The Taliban] usually drives small vehicles, such as pickup trucks with heavy weapons mounted on them, but they do not have heavy vehicles, such as tanks," Radmanish noted.

Tajikistan's border guard agency quickly dismissed the allegations and the Tajik Foreign Ministry described Safi's statement as "thoughtless and unfounded," concluding that the remarks were "aimed at creating a negative image of the Republic of Tajikistan in Afghan society."

The Tajik Foreign Ministry also harshly criticized remarks made by Afghanistan's Ambassador to Russia, Abdul Qayum Kochi, that caused further tensions.

Kochi, who is an uncle of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, appeared last month in a YouTube video with Afghan-American TV host Shafie Ayar, making a number of controversial statements.

"I met with a senior Russian official and told him that drug crops were grown in Afghanistan but that you [Russians] and the Tajik mafia were behind that," Kochi claimed.

To make matters worse, the Afghan diplomat also demonstrated his lack of knowledge about Tajikistan, saying: "Tajikistan is a very small country, it has five million population and over a million of them are Russians. They have Russian culture and Russian is their official language. They don't have the right to write in Farsi alphabets. Mafias are actively operating the country."

Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry responded by summoning the Afghan Ambassador in Dushanbe and lodging a diplomatic protest. This happened at the end of December, but it became only publicly known when Afghan media obtained Tajikistan's protest note about one week later.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the remarks, stressing that it was Kochi's personal opinion and did not reflect Kabul's official views. But calls to remove Kochi have been getting louder.

"Russia is very important country for Afghanistan and government should appoint a capable envoy to the country," Mohammad Naim Nazari, the executive director of Afghanistan's Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), was quoted as saying.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan called Kochi's remarks "absolutely unacceptable and abusive," noting that he would discuss the issue with the Ambassador during an upcoming meeting.

Afghan parliamentarians told Russian media that they already sent a letter to President Ghani demanding Kochi's removal. Russians and Tajiks wouldn't shed any tears.

# # # #

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Author & Analyst,  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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 20, 2015

Turkmenistan to CIS: ‘Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!,’ United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom & More!

*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.

Islamabad's recent offer to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table for renewed peace talks with the Afghan government is just one example of Pakistan's influence over the Taliban movement in general and its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in particular. According to some Taliban sources, Pakistan is now taking a two-pronged approach in dealing with the movement. On the one hand, the Pakistani authorities are backing Mansoor and negotiations with Kabul but, on the other hand, they are also supporting the hawkish anti-Mansoor faction in order to keep the new supremo in check and continue the fight in Afghanistan. A senior Afghan intelligence official confirmed this, pointing out that Pakistan recently helped Mansoor's rival Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" launch large-scale offensives in the south of the country, which prompted Mansoor to offer Zakir to become his first deputy or Taliban shadow defense minister. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that the United States is now implicating Pakistani intelligence in the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz as well:

APNewsBreak: US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned.

The special operations analysts had assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons. After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country's Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

U.S. Keeps Troops in Afghanistan as Kabul Takes Desperate Measures 

The Associated Press emphasizes that it is unclear whether the responsible commanders knew about these reports or that the site was a hospital. But although the U.S. keeps changing its story every few days, it is becoming more and more evident that the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was deliberately targeted. The American military's "unannounced and forced entry" into the hospital compound immediately after the bombing suggests that Washington is not telling the whole truth. Interestingly, there is no public evidence to suggest that a Pakistani was killed in the attack, which makes the allegations against the ISI even more curious. Meanwhile, government forces have managed to drive the Taliban out of Kunduz - the Taliban claim to have withdrawn by their own choice "to avoid further civilian casualties" - but the situation remains highly volatile. The fall of Kunduz has put Afghanistan back on the map and U.S. President Barack Obama used the opportunity to announce that thousands of American troops will stay in the country when he leaves office:

Citing 'very fragile' security in Afghanistan, Obama slows pace of U.S. troop withdrawal Reversing policy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will prolong the 14-year-old U.S. military engagement there, effectively handing off the task of pulling out troops to his successor. Calling it a "modest but meaningful" adjustment to winding down the American presence in Afghanistan, Obama said Afghan forces were not yet as strong as they needed to be given a "very fragile" security situation and the United States will maintain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016. Obama had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small U.S.-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before he leaves office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and will be based at four locations - Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

It comes as no real surprise that Obama won't keep his promise to end the war in Afghanistan. First of all, Obama is not known for keeping his word, and second, it has long been painfully obvious that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the deteriorating security situation. U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani and the American military, which had been lobbying for slowing the withdrawal, immediately welcomed Obama's decision but the announcement also engendered criticism. The Taliban reacted as expected, emphasizing that this "means they aren't sincere about a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis." Russia's Foreign Ministry joined in the criticism as well and stressed that "this forced step is another graphical evidence of the full blunder of the 14-year Washington military campaign and its allies in Afghanistan." And nothing illustrates this better than Kabul's latest idea:

Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns With the Afghan security forces gravely challenged by Taliban offensives, the government is moving to rapidly expand the troubled Afghan Local Police program by thousands of members, Afghan and Western officials say. The move to expand the police militias, prompted by the disastrous loss of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban almost three weeks ago, is being described by officials speaking privately as an attempt to head off panic in Afghan cities threatened by the insurgents. But the expansion also amounts to an open admission that the United States’ main legacy in Afghanistan — the creation of nationalized police and army forces numbering more than 350,000 members — is failing under pressure even before any final American military withdrawal. On Thursday, President Obama called off that pullout, originally due at year’s end, leaving 9,800 American troops in the country for at least another year.

The Afghan Local Police (ALP) is part of the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan. U.S. planners created the ALP in 2010 to support the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). General David Petraeus modeled the program after the 'Sons of Iraq' initiative. Many ALP members are former Taliban who are now on the payroll of the United States. It is not difficult to imagine what will happen when the money dries up. But the biggest problem are the serious human rights abuses at the hands of ALP units, which are nothing more than village militias with AK-47s. Contrary to what the name suggests, Afghan Local Police members don't have police powers and don't care about the law. Although ALP forces have repeatedly been accused of all kinds of heinous crimes, including torture, rape and murder, Kabul is now planning to expand the program. This shows that the Afghan authorities are becoming increasingly desperate in the face of Taliban advances across the country:

Another Afghan district falls to the Taliban Reports from the northwestern province of Faryab indicate that the Taliban has overrun yet another district in Afghanistan. Ghormach, a district that borders Turkmenistan, is now effectively under Taliban control, according to the jihadist group and the Afghan press. The fall of Ghormach took place just 10 Days after the Taliban seized the districts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot in Faryab; the Afghan government later claimed to have liberated Garziwan. On week prior, the Taliban attempted to seize control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab. The two districts are on the outskirts of Maimana, and control access from the east.

Turkmenistan to CIS: Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!

Ghormach's seizure by the Taliban is not only noteworthy because the district borders Turkmenistan but also because warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum and his family are still being celebrated for the successful government offensive in Faryab province. As previously discussed, the success in Faryab was short-lived. The insurgents picked up where they had left off as soon as Dostum returned to Kabul. Faryab has long been one of the most contested provinces in Afghanistan and it looks as if this won't change anytime soon. To make matters worse, the situation on the Tajik border isn't much better either. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about Russia's possible return to the Tajik-Afghan border. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov fueled the speculations in the run-up to last week's Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) meeting, which focused on the issue:

Russia, ex-Soviet states to jointly defend borders in crisis The leaders of ex-Soviet states, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, responded to growing instability in Afghanistan on Friday by agreeing to create a joint task force to defend their bloc's external borders if a crisis arises. The move could mean that Russian troops, as part of collective forces, will be deployed to Afghanistan's borders as the U.S.-led coalition gradually withdraws from the country, leaving behind a power vacuum. They agreed on the creation of what is described in a summit document as a "grouping of border (forces) and other institutions from CIS member states designed to resolve crisis situations on the external borders".

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to convince his CIS colleagues that closer military cooperation is necessary because the situation in Afghanistan is "close to critical". However, it remains to be seen how much this agreement is actually worth. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, for his part, remarked after the meeting that the CIS is pretty much useless and that the issues discussed "are detached from reality." Disagreements between CIS members have often rendered the organization useless. So Karimov might have a point. At any rate, Russian President Putin and Kazakh President Nazarbayev used the latest CIS meeting in Kazakhstan to draw attention to the alarming situation in Afghanistan and to call for closer cooperation in dealing with the problem. Whereas Tajikistan welcomed the initiative, Turkmenistan preferred to deny that there is any problem and to attack anyone who suggests otherwise:

Turkmenistan Strongly Denies ‘Incidents’ at Afghan Border Turkmenistan has registered no incidents at its border with Afghanistan, the Central Asian state's government said on Friday, denouncing as untrue a remark by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The strongly worded statement came ahead of a meeting of ex-Soviet nations to discuss the security of Afghan borders, among other issues, and followed comments by Nazarbayev who said he was aware of "incidents" that had happened at the Afghan-Turkmen border, but did not elaborate. "The Turkmen side expresses its extreme concern and incomprehension with regards to such a statement by the president of Kazakhstan about the situation on Turkmenistan's state border, which is untrue," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Turkmenistan's strongly worded statement indicates that Nazarbayev struck a nerve by bringing up the situation on the Afghan border. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry was not impressed by the harsh words coming from Ashgabat and defended Nazarbayev's remarks. After all, it is absolutely ludicrous to deny that there has been unrest on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Last year, Turkmen forces even crossed the border in order to drive the insurgents back and there have been several "incidents" ever since. According to the foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan, the Turkmen military has stationed up to 70 percent of its combat-ready military equipment along the Afghan border. The Turkmen government is obviously aware of the alarming situation in northern Afghanistan, but for some reason Ashgabat is now trying to play down the issue. Perhaps this has something to do with Turkmenistan's efforts to push the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, regardless of whether or not that makes any sense:

Hunt on for leader to lay $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline The four-nation consortium has revived the search for a leader to help lay the $10-billion TAPI gas pipeline, laying bare the lack of confidence among the countries to go ahead on their own and threatening to delay the project further. Just two months back, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India had agreed to co-own the project with TurkmenGaz, the state-owned firm of Turkmenistan, expected to make the majority investment in laying the 1800-km pipeline that would begin the construction work in December. Now again the timeline looks shaky. "The key challenge is to select a consortium leader or a partner. We are still looking for one," said BC Tripathi, chairman of GAIL, the state-run firm that represents India in the consortium. The top executives of GAILBSE 1.97 % and other state companies representing three other nations have been negotiating the terms between themselves and figuring out the nuances of the project for the last two months since the oil ministers of the four countries agreed in Ashgabat to go on their own without waiting for a firm with experience in laying and operating pipeline to lead the consortium.

United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom

Although a TAPI consortium leader is nowhere to be found and the Taliban are making themselves at home on the Turkmen-Afghan border, Turkmenistan is already starting with the construction of the ambitious pipeline project in an attempt to diversify its gas exports. In order to lessen the increasing dependence on China, the Turkmen authorities are also turning to Japan and still promoting the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Russia's launch of cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea should serve as a warning to supporters of the Trans-Caspian project but Ashgabat and Baku refuse to give up on the pipe dream. Azerbaijan's efforts to strengthen its position in the energy market suffered recently an unexpected setback when close ally Georgia announced its plans to buy more gas from Russia and Iran. The words of Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze caused a great stir and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had to travel to Baku to calm the waves:

Georgian PM Reaffirms ‘Friendly, Strategic’ Relations with Azerbaijan PM Irakli Garibashvili said on October 12 that Tbilisi’s relations with Baku will remain “friendly and strategic” and dismissed talk of “diversification, replacement of Azerbaijani gas” supplies as “utterly absurd”. 

Georgian Energy Ministry said late last week that Tbilisi was open for talks with Gazprom on possible gas supplies for private entities in Georgia in order to, as Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze and his deputy put it, “diversify” energy supplies for the country. Kaladze, who met Gazprom chief executive in Brussels in late September, reiterated on October 12 that private entities might be interested in purchasing Russian gas if the price is acceptable. After the Georgian Energy Minister spoke about possible gas supplies from Gazprom last week, PM Garibashvili made a brief and unannounced visit to Baku on October 10, where he met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, triggering speculation in Tbilisi that the surprise visit aimed at mending ties after potential fallout caused by Tbilisi’s suggestions over Gazprom gas supplies.

Georgian opposition parties tried to exploit the situation and some people went as far as alleging that the government plans to revise the country's relations with Azerbaijan. Garibashvili vehemently denied this and assured everyone that things will stay as they are. The Georgian Prime Minister stressed that talks with Gazprom are just about a possible increase of transit of natural gas to Armenia. Neither President Giorgi Margvelashvili nor the Georgian opposition were entirely convinced by Garibashvili's words. Last Friday, Tbilisi police detained Tamar Chergoleishvili, the head of pro-Saakashvili TV channel Tabula TV, one of her producers and another activist when they were hanging up posters mocking former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and Gazprom. One day later, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of the central government building to protest against the negotiations with Russia's energy behemoth:

Tbilisi Protests Russia’s Gazprom On Saturday, at the State Chancellery, the protest ‘No to Gazprom’ rallied against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market. Energy giant Russia is believed to attempt to re-enter Georgia and is said by some to be a non-trivial tool for the Russian government to manage political processes on the ground. The concerns arose after the government initiated talks with Russian energy company Gazprom. The rally involved politicians, public activists and members of the National Movement, as well as concerned citizens from all over Georgia. Tabula, a political magazine, organized the protest action against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market.

Tamar Chergoleishvili is not only the head of Tabula TV but also the editor-in-chief of the Tbilisi-based Tabula magazine. Tabula is known for its pro-United National Movement (UNM) views, which is hardly surprising considering that Chergoleishvili is the wife of senior UNM leader Giga Bokeria. As mentioned last week, the opposition party is currently trying to prevent the government from taking control of another important pro-UNM media outlet. According to the latest polls, neither the Georgian Dream ruling coalition nor the UNM have benefited from the endless fighting. Although many voters are disappointed by the government, the UNM isn't gaining any support as more and more Georgians don't know which party they should vote for. But more worrying for the West are the rising pro-Russian sentiment and the declining support for joining the European Union and NATO:

NDI Poll on Foreign Policy Issues

Number of Georgian respondents who support “government’s stated goal to join the EU” has dropped by 17 percentage points over the past year to 61%, according to a public opinion survey, commissioned by the NDI and fielded by CRRC in August. Asked whether they support or not Georgia joining Russia-led Eurasian Union, 31% responded positively, same as in April 2015, and 46% negatively, up by five percentage points from four months earlier. When the respondents were offered a choice between two answers – “Georgia will benefit more from joining EU and NATO”, and “Georgia will benefit more from abandoning Euro-Atlantic integration in favor of better relations with Russia” – 45% chose the former and 30% the latter.

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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

Processing Distortion with Peter B. Collins: Any Opposition to Endless Afghan War?

Peter B. Collins Presents David Swanson

With Obama’s about-face on withdrawing almost all American troops from Afghanistan, the reaction of most Americans seems to be “Whatever”. The new non-exit plan is Obama’s 5th or 6th in 7 years, and David Swanson is one of the few voices demanding a complete withdrawal now. We discuss how Obama has created the perception that he has ended the Afghan war, and despite the recent events at the hospital in Kunduz, most Americans and elected officials are passive in the face of this perpetual war.

*David Swanson is a long-time activist and author of War is a Lie. You can sign his petition here

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DisInfoWars with Tom Secker: How to Catch Brzezinski in a Lie

Deep state intellectual Zbigniew Brzezinski turns up everywhere but he is perhaps most known for his role in the founding of Operation Cyclone - NATO's program to support the mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. The media coverage, both mainstream and alternative, has focused on misleading interpretations of what happened and when, much of which has been encouraged by Brzezinski himself. I examine this coverage and identify the key questions - when did the arming of the mujahideen begin: before or after the Soviet invasion at the end of 1979 and what role did Brzezinski play in that?

To answer this I go through several documents from both the American and British governments that prove that Brzezinski is lying when he says the arming of the mujahideen did not begin until after the invasion. I also show that he is lying when he says he wrote a memo to Carter describing Afghanistan as the Soviets' Vietnam. Finally I show that The Real News were being misleading when they, at Brzezinski's stimulation, reported that he played no role in the decision to arm the mujahideen with lethal weapons.
Sources

Brzezinski on The Real News

'Outside the System' Memo to Brzezinski from Marshall Brement, December 28th 1979

'Outside System' Memo from Brzezinski to Carter

Record of Special Coordination Committee meeting 17th December 1979 (version 1)

Record of Special Coordination Committee meeting 17th December 1979 (version 2)

Cold War International History Project: Towards an International History of the War in Afghanistan 1979-89

Record of Meeting in Paris on Afghanistan Operations, January 1980

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The New Great Game Round-Up: August 5, 2015

Turkish Meddling in Xinjiang Overshadows Erdogan's China Visit, Russia: ISIS Comes- NED Goes & More

*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.

On July 31, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban were scheduled to meet in Pakistan for the second round of the recently launched Afghan peace talks. The first round of talks in the hill resort of Murree just outside Islamabad was hailed as a "breakthrough," raising hopes that the warring parties could come to an agreement. Pakistan's efforts to facilitate the meeting and the attendance of Chinese and U.S. officials signaled widespread support for the peace talks. But just as people were getting their hopes up, two days before the next meeting in Pakistan, BBC's Afghan Service dropped a bombshell by reporting the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Two weeks earlier, the Taliban leader had purportedly endorsed the peace talks in a statement posted on the Taliban's official website, making the reports of his death all the more surprising. It was not the first time that Mullah Omar's death has been reported but this time everyone agreed that Mullah Omar was dead:

Afghan government formally confirms death of Mullah Omar The government of Afghanistan formally confirmed the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. A statement by the President Palace said “The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan.” The statement further added “The government of Afghanistan believes that grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process.”

Mullah Omar's Death Spoils Afghan Peace Talks

Pakistan reportedly confirmed the death as well and the U.S. deemed the reports credible. According to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS), Mullah Omar died in a hospital in Karachi in April 2013. A former Afghan Taliban minister and member of the central leadership mentioned the same time of death and added that Omar died of tuberculosis. Last but not least, Mullah Omar's family and the Taliban leadership officially confirmed the death after Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor had been chosen as Omar's successor. As usual, the Taliban put their own spin on the whole story by claiming that "Mullah Omar never visited Pakistan or any other country except Afghanistan" but all parties agreed to finally acknowledge the death of the long-time Taliban leader and move on. However, the choice of Mullah Omar's successor didn't go down well with everyone:

Mullah Omar's son says he cannot support new Taliban leader

No sooner had the Taliban selected a new chief to replace Mullah Omar than deep fractures emerged on Friday, as the former leader's son said he rejected the choice of successor. Mullah Yacoob, Mullah Omar's oldest son, said he and three other senior leaders walked out of a meeting called to elect a leader, and were demanding a wider vote. “I am against the decision to select Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as leader,” he told The Associated Press.

Signs of deep fractures within the Taliban movement have already surfaced during the Afghan peace talks. Mansoor endorsed negotiations with Kabul, whereas battlefield commander Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" went as far as threatening to join ISIS if the talks continued. Zakir is now spearheading efforts to form a new leadership council that would replace the existing Quetta Shura because he wants to see Mullah Omar's son Yacoob as the new supremo. With the Taliban in disarray, the prospects for the Afghan peace talks are bleak. Although Mansoor is clearly more inclined toward dialogue, he felt the need to pander to his audience by distancing himself from the peace process. Moreover, he offered to meet his critics and address their grievances. Mansoor emphasized the "need for unity" as "the world tried its best to create rifts in our ranks." His top priority is to stop the factionalism that has been fueled by Mullah Omar's death. Otherwise, the Taliban are also going to lose more fighters to ISIS:

IMU Pledges Allegiance to Islamic State Only days after the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar was announced, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan terrorist group has reportedly sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. In a video posted by the IMU-controlled Furqon TV on July 31, a figure identified as the group’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Muhammad Ali, stands in front of the black flag of IS and pledges loyalty to the organization. The rest of the 16-minute video shows IMU militants carrying out attacks on Afghan army posts in Zabul province, which borders Pakistan. Usman Ghazi, the IMU’s leader since 2012, features in the clip. This is the first time the IMU’s central leadership has formally sworn allegiance to ISIS. But it is not the first report of IMU-linked militants allying themselves with ISIS.

Mullah Omar's jihadist credentials have long prevented more insurgents from joining ISIS. The confirmation of his death is going to have profound ramifications for the Taliban movement and the Afghan peace process. Remarkably enough, shortly after his death was finally confirmed, Pakistani media reported that Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani network, has also been dead for some time. Members of the Haqqani family and the Taliban immediately denied the reports and published a statement purportedly quoting Jalaluddin Haqqani as mourning the loss of Mullah Omar and giving his backing to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Jalaluddin Haqqani's son Sirajuddin was recently named as Mansoor's deputy. Considering that the Haqqani network is a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service, there is some evidence to suggest that Pakistan used Mullah Omar's death to put more easily controllable leaders in charge of the Taliban. After all, the Pakistani authorities don't want to take any chances in light of the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [emphasis mine]:

Any attempt to obstruct, impede CPEC will be thwarted: COAS The army chief on Friday reiterated that any attempt to obstruct or impede the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be thwarted. According to a statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Friday evening,, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif congratulated the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) on its 88th anniversary. He also commended the deep ties between Pakistan and China. Gen Raheel also fired broadsides at state and non-state actors trying to destabilise Afghanistan. “Our cooperation for regional stability will squeeze space for state and non-state actors for a stable Afghanistan,” the statement added.

Turkish Meddling in Xinjiang Overshadows Erdogan's China Visit

It remains to be seen whether or not the 'all-weather friends' Pakistan and China will be able to walk the talk. Given that new Taliban leader Mansoor has to put his house in order first, it is unlikely that the Afghan peace talks will resume anytime soon. As the Taliban are already killing each other over Mansoor's appointment, China is also getting worried about how Mullah Omar's death will affect previous understandings with the Taliban regarding Xinjiang. Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura normally promised Beijing not to allow Uyghur jihadists to operate autonomously or launch attacks against China from Afghan territory. These kind of guarantees are more difficult to obtain when dealing with various warring factions. The Chinese authorities spare neither trouble nor expense to convince other state and non-state actors of supporting China's war on terror. Mullah Omar and the Taliban more or less kept their promises but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not to be trusted in this regard:

Turkish president opposes terror against China Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed to cooperate with China to fight against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) during his visit to Beijing, a clear signal that observers say indicates Turkey is ready to remove obstacles in Sino-Turkish ties and seek closer economic cooperation. 

During his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Erdogan said that Turkey will respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, oppose any terrorist acts against China, including those launched by ETIM, and will not allow any force to harm Sino-Turkish ties. He added that Turkey is also a victim of terrorism, China Central Television reported.  Zan Tao, an expert on Turkey affairs and an associate professor at Peking University, told the Global Times that Erdogan's remarks about ETIM are very clear and strong, compared with his previous remarks over similar matters.

Erdogan's visit to China came at a crucial moment in Sino-Turkish relations. China is Turkey's second-largest trade partner and both countries want to boost economic cooperation in order to build a new Silk Road but disagreements over China's Uyghur minority have strained the relationship significantly in recent months. Beijing publicly reprimanded Ankara twice for its support of the East Turkestan independence movement by revealing damning information about Turkey's role in Uyghur smuggling and terror operations. The latest disclosure was prompted by an ongoing row over Uyghur refugees in Thailand and a vicious propaganda campaign during Ramadan, which has given rise to anti-China sentiments in Turkey. In the run-up to his China trip, Erdogan eventually tried to defuse the situation as Asians in Turkey were about to get lynched. A few days ago, the Turkish President then continued his reconciliation efforts in Beijing, much to the dismay of the East Turkestan crowd at home:

Erdoğan’s ’terrorism’ reference regarding Uighurs draws public criticism Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's use of the term “terrorism” in reference to Uighurs -- an ethnic Turkic minority in western China -- while in Beijing where he pledged to cooperate with the Chinese government to combat terrorism, including activities by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), have drawn fierce criticism from the Turkish public as well as opposition lawmakers. "For the president of Turkey, these remarks were not proper. Just to make a gesture to China, Erdoğan's remarks are not only misleading and wrong, but also will encourage Chinese officials to treat Uighurs as they used to do in the past," veteran Turkish diplomat and former deputy for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Faruk Loğoğlu told Today's Zaman. "Considering the fact that Uighurs have been subjected to restrictions and pressure over their identity and religion, this reference to ETIM would likely to undercut righteous struggle of Uighurs to fully realize their cultural and religious rights," said Oktay Vural, deputy chairman of opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The far-right MHP and its paramilitary youth wing, the Grey Wolves, have been leading Turkey's fight against Asian tourists and "China's brutality in East Turkestan" but Erdogan and the Turkish government are doing their bit as well. Ankara's support of the East Turkestan independence movement is being exposed more and more. A few weeks after Beijing complained that Turkish diplomats in Southeast Asia are handing out travel documents to Chinese Uyghurs, Reuters revealed lately that the documents even list "East Turkestan" as their nationality. Erdogan's pledge to respect China's territorial integrity and to support Beijing's war on terror should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. Even Ankara's flirt with a Chinese air defense system cannot disguise the fact that relations between the two countries remain uneasy. To make matters worse, Turkey's favorite terrorist group has recently called on China's Uyghurs to join its "caliphate," which means more work for Turkish border guards:

Turkey detains 457 Syria-bound 'foreign terror' suspects Almost half of the 457 people detained by Turkish authorities on the Turkish-Syrian border between January 1 and June 30 are Chinese nationals, Turkish Armed Forces sources told Anadolu Agency Wednesday. According to the sources, out of the 457 people detained, 241 are Chinese, 13 British, seven Afghans, five Germans, two Americans, one Australian, five Azerbaijanis, one Bangladeshi, five Belgians, one Brazilian, two Bulgarians, one Danish, one Moroccan, 12 French, 30 Palestinians, six South Koreans, five Dutch, one Kazakh, two Maldivian, one Egyptian, one Romanian, 56 Russians, two from Trinidad and Tobago island, one Slovakian, nine Saudis, six Tajiks, two Tunisians, 29 Turkmen, three Uzbeks, two Iranians, two Spanish and two Italians.

The suspects were detained at the Turkish border when they tried to enter Syria illegally and were being treated by authorities as suspected “foreign terrorist fighters", the sources added.

Russia: ISIS Comes, NED Goes

The exceptionally high number of Chinese nationals detained on the Turkish-Syrian border suggests that either the Turkish authorities are deviating from standard operating procedure by actually preventing Uyghurs from crossing into Syria or previous estimates of Uyghur fighters in Syria were dead wrong. Turkey has now officially declared war on ISIS but wannabe caliph al-Baghdadi and his minions don't have to be afraid because the Kurds are the real target. Only a small fraction of the more than 1000 "terrorist suspects" recently detained in Turkey were ISIS supporters while over 80 percent of the suspects were linked to the PKK. The Russian authorities can consider themselves fortunate to have convinced the Turks of arresting two suspects linked to ISIS recruitment in Russia. LifeNews just reported that the man in charge of ISIS recruitment in Russia has been identified and that two of his subordinates in Turkey were detained. This comes shortly after ISIS made headlines in the North Caucasus:

Russia says security forces kill 14 Islamist militants Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) forces killed eight Islamic State militants on Sunday and six other Islamist rebels on Monday in the North Caucasus, the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said. NAK said the rebels killed on Sunday in the republic of Ingushetia were involved in "terrorist crimes" including killing law enforcement officials and extorting money. NAK identified one of those killed in Ingushetia as Adam Tagilov, who it said was behind fighting in the city of Grozny, capital of Chechnya, that killed more than 20 people — policemen and militants — in December 2014.

The killing of eight ISIS "rebels" on Sunday was one of the first major incidents involving ISIS in Russia. Given that ISIS has taken over from the Caucasus Emirate as the leading terrorist group in the North Caucasus, it was certainly not the last one. Russian officials have been hyping the ISIS threat from day one and the actual emergence of ISIS supporters in the North Caucasus provides the perfect pretext for ramping up the war on terror. Human rights activists have their work cut out but they have to look for new sources of funding if they don't like the "foreign agent" label. After the Kremlin has long been threatening to go after organizations that receive funding from abroad, they are now finally walking the talk. The Russian NGO "Committee Against Torture," which has long been a thorn in the side of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was one of the first groups to adapt to the new circumstances:

Igor Kalyapin announces creation of "Committee to Prevent Torture" The "Committee against Torture" (CaT), liquidated because of being put on the registry of "foreign agents", will be replaced by the "Committee to Prevent Torture" (CPT). The new organization will continue working in Chechnya, said its chairman Igor Kalyapin. "This week we'll submit documents (to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of the Russian Federation – note of the "Caucasian Knot") on the liquidation of the organization; and on the following week, the CaT ceases to function. On August 3, another interregional organization – the "Committee to Prevent Torture" – will start working," the TASS quotes Mr Kalyapin as saying. He stressed that the new organization will not receive any foreign funding and will exist "solely on donations of Russian citizens," the RIA "Novosti" reports.

Russian NGOs will now have to make do without grants from the U.S. government, George Soros and other generous foreign sponsors. Although Russia is just following the example of the Foreign Agent Registration Act in the U.S., the West is of course freaking out. On July 21, Russia's Justice Ministry issued warnings to the Committee Against Torture and 11 other Russian NGOs that were identified as "foreign agents." The MacArthur Foundation, which is one of the foreign NGOs on Russia's "patriotic stop list," announced shortly thereafter that it is closing its branch office in Moscow because the new regulations make it "impossible to operate effectively" in Russia. George Soros' Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) are just two of the many high-profile NGOs on the "patriotic stop list." The Khodorkovsky Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Jamestown Foundation and others could join them soon. These organizations are at risk of being banned from Russia:

U.S. National Endowment for Democracy Becomes Russia's First 'Undesirable Organization' The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S.-based international organization that exists to promote democracy, was declared an “undesirable organization” Tuesday by Russia's Prosecutor General's Office, meaning all its activities are banned on Russian soil. “Using the capabilities of Russian commercial and non-commercial organizations under its control, the National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to recognize election results as illegitimate, to organize political action with the goal of influencing government policy, and to discredit Russian army service,” the Prosecutor General's Office said in an online statement. Earlier this month, senators of the Federation Council — the upper chamber of the Russian parliament — proposed a list of 12 foreign NGOs whose work they said posed a threat to national security and who should therefore be declared undesirable. The NED was one of them.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 23, 2015

Latest ISIS Defection Spells the End for Caucasus Emirate, Taliban Gaining Ground in Afghanistan & More!

*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.

Every few days, Afghanistan is making headlines due to the deteriorating security situation in the country, the most recent example being the Taliban attack on the Afghan parliament on Monday. As Afghan lawmakers were trying to confirm a defense minister, a large explosion rocked the parliament building in Kabul. The attack by a suicide bomber was the signal for fellow Taliban fighters, who had taken positions in a nearby building, to open fire. After an intense firefight, security forces managed to kill all six gunmen but the latest Taliban attack, which left two civilians dead and 40 injured, raises again questions over the government's ability to maintain security. Statements by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid suggest that the purpose of the attack was to embarrass the "puppet administration" in Kabul "at a time which they were casting confidence vote for the minister of defense." It is safe to say that the Taliban achieved their goal. The Kabul government is looking increasingly shaky:

Taliban and Afghan Government Dispute Status of Kunduz After Taliban insurgents said Sunday that they were on the verge of taking their first city, Kunduz in the far north of Afghanistan, officials there expressed alarm as residents began to flee the area. But the central government in Kabul said there was no cause for concern. The Afghan government also announced Sunday that it had retaken the administrative center of Yamgan District, in northern Badakhshan Province, from the Taliban. But that only deepened the government’s credibility problem because just a week earlier officials in Kabul had claimed that they had already retaken Yamgan.

For months now, several districts in both Kunduz and Badakhshan Provinces in the north have gone back and forth between government and Taliban control, as the insurgents have intensified their fighting in parts of northern Afghanistan where they traditionally had been weak.

Taliban Gain Ground in Afghanistan, Call For Jihad Under One Flag

While the central government tried to downplay the situation in Kunduz province, local officials confirmed that Taliban and Central Asian fighters are advancing on the provincial capital after capturing Char Dara District. A few hours later, Kabul's statement looked even more absurd when it became clear that the insurgents had seized another district bordering the city of Kunduz. Afghanistan's fifth largest city is on the verge of falling to the Taliban and Mohammad Omar Safi, the governor of Kunduz, doesn't want to take any chances. Kunduz province is already facing a humanitarian crisis and if the Taliban conquer the capital, it won't get any better. The Afghan government is now under increasing pressure to act. One of the few good news coming from northern Afghanistan in recent weeks was Kabul's recapture of Badakhshan's Yamgan District but if the government forces don't manage to repeat this success in Kunduz, Tajikistan's fears of an Afghan spillover might come true:

About 1,500 militants mass in Afghan areas near the border with Tajikistan Commander of Tajik Border Troops Rajabali Rahmonali has warned of about 1,500 militants, including members of the Islamic State (IS) group, concentrating in the Dahsti Archi and Imam Sahib districts of Afghan Kunduz province along the Tajik border.  In a statement released at the 73rd meeting of the Council of Border Troops Commanders of the CIS member nations in Dushanbe, Rahmonali noted on June 18 that that there members of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Ansarullah among the militants concentrating along the Tajik border in northern Afghanistan.  “They are fighting against the Afghan government forces in the immediate vicinity of the border with Tajikistan,” Rahmonali noted. He expressed concern about a tense situation in the Afghan provinces of Takhar, Kunduz and Badakhshan, which directly border Tajikistan.

The possibility of a spillover of violence from Afghanistan was high on the agenda during the CIS meeting in Dushanbe. Sherali Khairulloyev, national security advisor to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, complained that many CIS members states had not lived up to their promise to support Tajikistan in strengthening its border defense and he called on the other border services "to actively cooperate with Tajik border troops in strengthening the CIS southern border." Khairulloyev emphasized that one of the main tasks of the Commonwealth of Independent States is to prevent the region from becoming a center of geopolitical confrontation between the major world powers, pointing out that "if the countries and secret services that have keen interest in the Islamic Caliphate project try and implement it through Afghanistan, the zone of political instability will then protrude to the CIS and China." While the U.S. doesn't seem to be worried about ISIS's expansion into Afghanistan, countries in the region and the Taliban would prefer al-Baghdadi & Co. to stay out of Afghanistan:

Taliban Warns IS Leader To Stay Out Of Afghanistan The Taliban has warned the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group against waging a parallel insurgency in Afghanistan, following several defections and reported clashes with militants loyal to IS. In a June 16 letter addressed to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Taliban insisted that "jihad (holy war) against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under one flag and one leadership." "The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) does not consider the multiplicity of jihadi ranks beneficial either for jihad or for Muslims," said the letter signed by the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor.

Mansoor argues that the Taliban movement is the only rightful representative of jihadist activities in Afghanistan, noting that the group has been endorsed by great jihadist leaders such as Osama bin Laden. Moreover, he criticizes the Islamic State's actions in other countries and warns ISIS against dividing jihadists in other Muslim nations into two camps. Considering that al-Baghdadi doesn't respect Taliban leader Mullah Omar and doesn't care much for other terrorist groups, Mansoor's words will probably fall on deaf ears. The Taliban are now waiting for al-Baghdadi's response before they will "chalk out a strategy on how to deal with those who are using the name of the Islamic State to create disunity among the Mujahideen." This spells more trouble. Clashes between the Taliban and ISIS have been escalating in recent weeks, with the eastern province of Nangarhar turning into the epicenter of the conflict. Hundreds of families have already been displaced due to the fighting and recent developments suggest that the two groups won't settle their differences anytime soon:

Islamic State’s Khorasan province beheads former shura member who defected back to the Taliban The Islamic State’s Khorasan province is said to have brutally executed one of its former shura members, purportedly for defecting back to the Taliban last month. The execution, as well as the assassination of the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nangarhar province, likely by the Islamic State, preceded a warning by the Taliban’s deputy emir to the leader of the Islamic State to end discord between the jihadist groups in Afghanistan. The Islamic State released a video purpoting to showing the execution of Sa’ad Emarati, a senior commander as well as a member of the “Khorasan Shura,” the province’s executive council. Emarati’s head was placed on his back after it was removed.

Latest ISIS Defection Spells the End for Caucasus Emirate

Former Taliban fighters will now think twice before defecting back to the Taliban. Al-Baghdadi & Co. have shown time and again that they know how to deal with traitors and nasty rivals. The Taliban will have to be on their guard if they don't want to suffer the same fate as other prominent terrorist groups which have been sidelined by ISIS. One of the latest victims is the Caucasus Emirate (IK), formerly the most powerful terrorist organization in Russia. Ever since Russian security forces eliminated Emirate leader Doku Umarov and then a few months later his successor Aliaskhab Kebekov, the continued existence of the Imarat Kavkaz has been in question. Many Chechen and Daghestani commanders had already retracted their oath of obedience to IK leader Kebekov and defected to ISIS. This trend continued after Kebekov's killing and the latest defection may very well spell the end for the Caucasus Emirate:

ISIS opens a new front on Europe's doorstep: Chechan jihadi group with 'up to 15,000' fighters pledge allegiance to terror horde ISIS has spread its tentacles further around Europe after a major terrorist group which commands 'as many as 15,000' in the Caucuses region of southern Russia pledged its allegiance to it. The leader of the Caucuses Emirate, which has carried out over 900 terrorist attacks on Russian soil since its formation in 2007, personally declared his loyalty to ISIS commander-in-chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. 'We need to hurry up and unite so we can cut off the heads of the infidels,' Aslan Byutukayev says in a new propaganda video allegedly filmed inside the predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya.

Although the Caucasus Emirate doesn't command 15,000 fighters and is not headed by Aslan Byutukayev, the Daily Mail was right to highlight Byutukayev's bay'ah to wannabe Caliph al-Baghdadi. Byutukayev is the leader of the Caucasus Emirate's Chechen wing and one of the most powerful insurgent commanders in the North Caucasus. As Chechen analyst Mairbek Vatchagaev noted, his defection to ISIS "buried the Caucasus Emirate once and for all." ISIS has accepted the bay'ah and lost no time in claiming a "Wilayat Qawqaz," which includes Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and "Kabika." Russian officials have been hyping the ISIS threat at home and abroad for quite some time, most recently at a meeting of the CIS Anti-Terrorism Center. Now they have finally a good reason to do so, which means that Russia's imams can look forward to more lessons on fighting ISIS recruiters:

Moscow's Muslim Leaders Get Lessons on Fighting ISIL Recruiters More than 300 imams from across Russia are taking part in an educational program to counter the influence of recruiters to militant Islamic organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Russian imams are taking courses to help them counter the influence of recruiters to radical Islam, with classes covering topics such as methods to communicate with young people, aspects of Islamic history, Islamic theology and secular subjects like politics and geography.

"In the course of the program we touch on difficult topics, which cause people to be attracted to radical movements," deputy head of the Moscow Islamic Institute, Rais Izmailov, told the Izvestiya newspaper.

After the recent scandal surrounding a 19-year-old Russian student who tried to join ISIS, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the government's Investigative Committee, downplayed the issue of ISIS recruitment in Russia, saying that there have been only few cases. Many experts share this assessment and Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolkoltsev emphasized that the law enforcement agencies are in control of the situation. In the end, the rise of ISIS in the North Caucasus comes down to a few defections from the Caucasus Emirate and doesn't pose a real threat but the Russian authorities will nevertheless use this opportunity to clamp down on terrorist recruitment and introduce harsher anti-terrorism measures. One wonders what Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov will say when he hears of ISIS's new "Wilayat Qawqaz." Kadyrov is usually quick to comment on these things but lately he has been busy trying to steer the Nemtsov murder investigation "in the right direction":

Kadyrov: One should look for Nemtsov murder trail in Ukraine and U.S. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov believes that Ukrainian special services could stand behind the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. "In my opinion, one ought to look for the trail of this crime not in Chechnya, but in Ukraine, SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) and subsequently in the U.S.," Kadyrov told Interfax on June 18. When asked whether or not he knows the whereabouts of Ruslan Geremeyev, whom the media call a possible organizer of Nemtsov's murder, Kadyrov said: "I know Ruslan Geremeyev very well. We fought against terrorists together. I know him as a patriot of Russia, and, in my opinion, it is a mistake to accuse him of these actions."

Not Everyone Escapes Georgia's Lax Criminal Prosecution

Kadyrov pretended that he had nothing to do with Geremeyev's escape via Chechnya and tried to pin the Nemtsov assassination on Chechen terrorist Adam Osmayev, who became famous for trying to kill Russian President Putin and is now fighting for the Kiev regime in eastern Ukraine. But in contrast to Kadyrov's close associate Geremeyev, Osmayev is not a prime suspect in the Nemtsov murder. Aside from the fact that he is hardly capable of organizing any assassinaton, Osmayev hailed Nemtsov as a "true hero" for condemning Russia's second war in Chechnya and "Russian aggression" in Ukraine. The new leader of the Dudayev battalion should be prosecuted for a number of crimes but the killing of Boris Nemtsov isn't one of them. If it were not for the coup d'état in Kiev, Osmayev would still be sitting in jail. Fortunately, the "new Ukraine" offers endless opportunities for every criminal who hates Russia:

New head of Odessa Police escapes prosecution in Georgia Georgia does not continue criminal proceedings against Giya Lortkipanidze, who on June 16 was appointed the head of the Odessa Police. This was stated by experts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot". The Georgian Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) have no claims against Giya Lortkipanidze, the "United National Movement" (UNM) Party reports.

As previously discussed, former Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Gia Lortkipanidze has joined his old boss Mikheil Saakashvili in Odessa. While Saakashvili is clearly in his element, Lortkipanidze seems to be less convinced of his new job but at least he won't have to worry about prosecution anymore. The two former Georgian officials can now pick up where they left off in Georgia: provoking conflict with Russia. During Saakashvili's rule in Georgia, Lortkipanidze was responsible for coordinating the recruitment and training of Chechen jihadists. The current government claims to have ended these terror operations but the increasing number of Georgian jihadists traveling to Syria has put pressure on Tbilisi. Critics were not impressed with the government's attempt to solve the problem by making a few adjustments to the anti-terrorism legislation and the recent special operation in Georgia's notorious Pankisi Gorge was not much better either:

Cousin of ISIS leader released from detention in Georgia The Georgian police have released four of the five Kistis (Georgian Chechens) who were earlier detained in the Pankisi Gorge (Kakhetia region, Eastern Georgia). According to Georgian media reports, among the released people is Merab Tsatiashvili, a cousin of Tarkhan Batirashvili, one of the leaders of the terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS). The only person the police did not release is Ayuf Borchashvilia, imam of the village of Jokolo.

Borchashvili denied any involvement in terrorist recruitment in Pankisi. The special operation led to some tensions in the valley region. Borchashvili's family and friends staged a protest against his arrest but some Pankisi residents welcomed the operation, saying that the raid "was long overdue." Moreover, Georgian police also arrested three young men at Tbilisi airport as they tried to leave the country for Syria. The prosecution claims that the three were heading to Syria to join ISIS after they had been recruited by Borchashvili. This all begs the question of why it took the Georgian authorities so long to take some action against terrorist recruitment in the country. Perhaps they didn't want to ruin Georgia's chances of hosting a training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" or they were just too busy buying weapons from NATO allies in order to demonstrate their commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration:

Georgia Finalizes Controversial Air Defense Deal With France Georgia and France have finalized a blockbuster air defense deal that was the source of a major political crisis in Tbilisi last year, though many of the details of the deal and the crisis remain shrouded in mystery. Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli on June 15 signed an agreement with the company ThalesRaytheonSystems in Paris on the purchase of “advanced” air defense systems that will “guarantee country’s air defense,” Khidasheli said, according to Georgian news website Civil.ge.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 16, 2015

Poroshenko-Saakashvili Open Another Front in Ukrainian, Iran Backs Taliban to Counter U.S.-ISIS in Afghanistan

*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.

Ukrainian oligarch-turned-President Petro Poroshenko is not very popular among his people but at least his equally criminal friends continue to support him and that is what really matters. Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was so thrilled about Poroshenko's first year in power that he wrote an op-ed for Newsweek lauding Poroshenko's reform program, better known as the "4-Ds"- de-regulation, de-bureaucratization, de-centralization and de-oligarchization(!). According to Saakashvili, his buddy Poroshenko "has succeeded in nation-building, at a rapid pace." Never mind that most Ukrainians think that Poroshenko and the current regime are to blame for Ukraine's economic problems and that they are not doing enough to stop the war in the country. One wonders what they will say when they realize that Poroshenko and Saakashvili are trying to open another front in this war:

Saakashvili announces plans to reinforce border with Transdniestria Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region Mikhail Saakashvili said on Tuesday he plans to reinforce Ukraine’s border with the unrecognized republic of Transdniestria. "We have two major tasks - to reinforce the border and curb corruption. Drug and weapons trafficking across this border mean nothing good," he told a news conference in Odessa.

Engineering works aiming to block movement of military hardware and contraband started at the Transdniestrian section of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.

Poroshenko & Saakashvili Open Another Front in Ukrainian Conflict

As discussed two weeks ago, there is some evidence to suggest that the United States and its client regime in Ukraine want to provoke a conflict with Russia by squeezing Transnistria. Saakashvili is clearly not telling the whole story when he talks about reinforcing the border and curbing corruption. Transnistria's Foreign Minister Nina Shtanski recently pointed out that Ukrainian toops are massing at the border, causing panic in the pro-Russian breakaway state. A coalition of Transnistrian activist groups immediately sent an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him to protect the people in Transnistria and recognize the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. Moscow's worst fears appear to be coming true. One ominous development cited by the Transnistrian activists was the deployment of S-300 air defense missile systems on the border, which would raise the stakes significantly:

Ukraine to place S-300 antiaircraft missiles on border with Transdniestria

Ukrainian authorities will deploy S-300 antiaircraft missile complexes on the border with Transdniestria - a mostly Slavic-populated breakaway region of Moldova that has existed as an unrecognized Dniester Republic since the early 1990. A report published by Odessa-based Taimer newspaper quoted the Ukrainian Defence Ministry officials as saying the missile complexes will be deployed in the Bolgrad district of the Odessa region. "Officials at the war ministry said the S-300 missiles will ensure defence of the country in the south of the Odessa region on the border with the Dniester Republic," Taimer said.

Reports of Ukraine deploying S-300 systems in the Odessa region have sent shockwaves through Transnistria and Russia. It is seen as "an ultimatum upsetting the possibility of an air bridge" between Russia and the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. Even the guys from Stratfor noticed the significance of this development: "Although the potential cost of interdicting Russian flights would be incredibly high and would essentially constitute a declaration of war against Russia, the deployment of these systems establishes the capability to do so." Only few people in Ukraine are crazy enough to shoot down Russian planes but it is probably worth mentioning that the new governor of Odessa is one of them. To make matters worse, Saakashvili is bringing in his old crew from Georgia. Media reports saying that former Georgian Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili will get a job in Odessa haven't been confirmed so far but former Deputy Interior Minister Gia Lortkipanidze is about to join his old boss:

The dark past of Saakashvili’s appointee in Odessa Gia Lortkipanidze served under President Mikheil Saakashvili when he was in power in Georgia. A Ukrainian media outlet now reports that Lortkipanidze will head the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s Odessa department, the city where Saakashvili is now the governor. His appointment is controversial, as there are questions asked about his background not only by the public in Georgia, but also by UNM members. For years, he was the deputy of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili (now in jail in Tbilisi), but he never received media attention until the so-called Lapankuri special operation on August 28, 2012. He was one of the leading figures in this operation. After the police operation, relations between him and Saakashvili, and with Data Akhalaia, became strained.

Saakashvili praised Lortkipanidze as "a man of absolute honesty" when he talked about his appointment during a news conference in Odessa. Georgian media seems to have a different take on the former Deputy Interior Minister. As regular readers of the New Great Game Round-Up may recall, the Lapankuri special operation refers to a shootout between Georgian special forces and Chechen militants in the Caucasus gorge of Lopota near the Russian border. An investigation by Georgia's Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili showed that the Saakashvili government "recruited, trained and equipped Chechens living in exile in Europe to join the North Caucasus insurgency." Nanuashvili’s report names Lortkipanidze as having coordinated the recruitment and training. So he is definitely the right man for the job in Odessa. Although the current government maintains that terrorist recruitment and training in Georgia ended with Saakashvili's rule, the country is still exporting a lot of jihadists:

Police in Georgia conduct special operation in Pankisi

Georgian police on Sunday carried out a special operation in Pankisi, a valley in the northeast of the country mostly inhabited by Kists, who are ethnic Chechens. Omar Al-Shishani, or Tarkhan Batirashvili, one of the field commanders of ISIS, was born and raised in Pankisi. He left for Syria a few years ago to join the war. His father and relatives still live in Pankisi. According to the most recent information, the special operation aimed at detaining those who allegedly have helped Georgians go to Syria, also because of suspected ties to ISIS.

Iran Backs Taliban to Counter U.S., ISIS in Afghanistan

It is remarkable that Georgia is now cracking down on terrorist recruitment considering that only a few months ago, the country was making headlines with an alleged offer to host a training center for NATO's "moderate Syrian rebels." The Georgian government would do anything to join the U.S.-led military alliance but more and more people in Georgia are beginning to question their NATO ambitions. Especially the country's huge contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of 30 Georgian soldiers, is a contentious issue. About 880 Georgian soldiers are currently serving in NATO's Operation Resolute Support, meaning that the country is making the second-largest contribution after the United States. New Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli visited the soldiers in Afghanistan on her first foreign trip late last month to boost the troops' morale but it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell the mission in Afghanistan as a success:

Taliban seize villages in Sar-i-Pul Taliban militants have seized several villages in the Sayad District of northern Sar-i-Pul province. Officials say That Taliban captured these village after a clash with security forces that also left a policeman martyred and a militant killed. A security official said that Taliban launched the attack while security forces were offering Friday prayers.

After Badakhshan, Kunduz, Faryab and Badghis, the northern province of Sar-e Pol is now also in the grip of violence. The fighting in northern Afghanistan is intensifying day by day, the Afghan security forces are a mess and the government in Kabul is nothing but a "show." Not exactly the best conditions for ending the violence. Moreover, the insurgents are also fighting among themselves. Ever since ISIS gained a foothold in the war-torn country, the group has been trying to outstrip the Taliban. Former Guantanamo inmate Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who is now leading ISIS in Afghanistan, told BBC Persian in an interview that ISIS "found other ways to wage jihad after realizing Taliban are receiving instructions from Pakistani intelligence." Given the fact that neither ISIS's rise in the Middle East nor its rise in Afghanistan would have been possible without the support of foreign intelligence agencies, Dost and his fellow jihadists should probably avoid this topic:

ISIS rise in Afghanistan would threaten Russia and China: Karzai

The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group in Afghanistan would not be possible without the foreign backing.

“So, if you hear ever in the coming days, or months, or years that Daesh is on the rise in Afghanistan, and is strong and expanding militarily, it will mean that it is a foreign-backed force intending to destabilize the region, particularly Central Asia, China and Russia,” he added. Karzai put the blame for the rapid expansion of IS on “foreign interference” in Iraq and Syria saying that it was all “the result of events” there.

It is not difficult to guess which "foreign interference" Karzai was referring to. After sidelining its competitors in Syria, ISIS is now looking to expand in Afghanistan, much to the dismay of the Taliban. At the end of last month, ISIS's Afghan chapter released a video threatening the Taliban and in particular its camera-shy leader Mullah Omar. ISIS also vowed to take revenge for the fighters who had been killed by the Taliban in Nangarhar province in the middle of May. Shortly after the video was released, the group followed up its words with actions. ISIS captured and then beheaded 10 Taliban members in Nangarhar and used this for another propaganda video. While the U.S. is "taking time" to assess ISIS's expansion in Afghanistan, Iran has apparently seen enough and decided to take action. If anonymous officials and the Wall Street Journal are to be believed, Iran has begun to support the Taliban with cash and weapons in order to counter U.S. influence in the region and stop the rise of ISIS:

Iran Backs Taliban With Cash and Arms

When Abdullah, a Taliban commander in central Afghanistan, needs more rifles and ammunition, he turns to the same people who pay his $580-a-month salary: his Iranian sponsors. “Iran supplies us with whatever we need,” he said. Afghan and Western officials say Tehran has quietly increased its supply of weapons, ammunition and funding to the Taliban, and is now recruiting and training their fighters, posing a new threat to Afghanistan’s fragile security. Iran’s strategy in backing the Taliban is twofold, these officials say: countering U.S. influence in the region and providing a counterweight to Islamic State’s move into the Taliban’s territory in Afghanistan.

New Pipeline Projects Leave "Land Of Fire" Out in the Cold

Betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban is probably not the worst idea but the Israel lobby in the U.S. will certainly use this information to torpedo the Iran nuclear talks, which have "virtually stalled." A diplomatic source told Russian news agency TASS that the June 30 deadline may have to be postponed again. Europe is desperate for Iranian gas but as long as the sanctions remain in place, European countries will have to make do with gas from neighboring Azerbaijan. This has led some people in Baku to believe that Azerbaijan has major leverage over Europe and can pressure European leaders into endorsing the European Games in Baku. The absence of European leaders at the lavish opening ceremony of the Games didn't go down well in the energy-rich country and Trend News Agency's Aynur Gasimova lost no time in warning the Europeans that they might regret this:

Europe, it is time to stop playing with the Land of Fire. You can get burned Azerbaijan is known worldwide as the Land of Fire, and today Europe is playing with that fire. The result of playing with fire is for Europe itself to decide. But all the recent actions taken by the European countries’ leaders suggest that they aren’t complying with the “don’t play with fire!” rule. The entire world’s attention was focused on the opening of the European Games in Baku. But at the same time, this same place witnessed another important event. The heads of states, which today decide the fate of Europe’s security, gathered in Baku, however, Europe itself, because of its own stupidity, was not represented.

As Gasimova points out, the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Turkmenistan used the opportunity to discuss major energy projects in Baku but the notion that Europen leaders missed out on important deals and are "sacrificing their citizens' energy security" is absurd. Most energy projects discussed in Baku are spearheaded by Brussels and are aimed at bringing gas from the Caspain Sea to Europe, bypassing Russia, except for Russia's Turkish Stream pipeline. After Russian President Putin let his Turkish counterpart Erdogan wait for a couple of minutes, as usual, the two leaders held "constructive" talks on the Turkish Stream project behind closed doors in Baku. Gazprom has sent the coordinates of the onshore section of the pipeline to Turkey and is doing its best to start the construction as soon as possible. Turkish Stream's progress has not gone unnoticed in Austria, where OMV is now looking for a new project after recovering from the loss of Nabucco and South Stream:

Die Presse: OMV May Be Planning 'Russian Nabucco' Gas Pipeline The future head of Austria’s OMV Rainer Seele appears to be planning a new route for Russian gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine jointly with Gazprom, according to Austrian newspaper Die Presse. According to the Austrian newspaper, the new route appears to resurrecting the closed gas pipeline project Nabucco – with one major difference: instead of carrying Caspian gas to Europe it will transport Russian and possibly Iranian natural gas via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria.

The original Nabucco pipeline project, officially buried in 2013, was designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey and the Balkans to a central European hub in Baumgarten near Vienna in order to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Two years later there are signs that OMV is considering a 'Russian Nabucco pipeline', according to Die Presse.

Some people in Washington and Brussels will probably fall off their chairs when they hear of OMV's plans. The pipeline which was supposed to bypass Russia and Iran could celebrate an unlikely comeback by bringing Russian and Iranian gas to Europe. Reinhard Mitschek, the former managing director of the Nabucco consortium, will promote the new project. Mitschek had already tried to win Russia and Iran as suppliers for the old Nabucco project despite strong opposition from the United States. So he knows what he is getting himself into. Although Washington and Brussels spared no effort to build Nabucco, they had to settle for the smaller and less expensive Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will eventually bring gas from Azerbaijan to customers in the EU. One wonders what the "Land of Fire" thinks of OMV's new Nabucco plans considering that Azerbaijan hasn't been mentioned as a gas supplier but the Aliyev regime is apparently too busy "promoting" the European Games:

Azeri government behind foreign media ban, say European Games officials A decision to ban some foreign media from attending the inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan this month rested with the government and was not taken by the event’s organisers, officials said on Saturday. Journalists, including the Guardian’s chief sports correspondent Owen Gibson, have been refused entry visas but organisers of the event in Baku said it was the government who was clearing individuals to enter the country based on their own set of criteria. Apart from media, several representatives from international human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also been blocked from entering the country, ruled by the Aliyev family since 1993.

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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

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 9, 2015

Aliyev Regime Kicks Out OSCE, Afghan Spillover High on the Agenda During CSTO- SCO Meetings & More!

*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.

After the United States has been bombing Afghan wedding parties for years, it should come as no real surprise that Afghan funerals are now becoming a popular target for U.S. drone attacks as well. The Afghan government was quick to assert that all victims were Taliban, pointing out that the funeral ceremony was for a slain Taliban commander. Therefore, according to Kabul's logic, all the mourners must have been Taliban too. Afghan MPs from the region and the Taliban beg to differ. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also stated that most of the victims were civilians and he condemned the U.S. drone strike in the strongest possible terms. Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who has been doing his best to please Washington since taking office, prefers not to comment on such incidents. Considering that Ghani is already under fire for a lack of leadership, the silence won't help his case:

Leader in Afghan north dismisses Kabul government as a 'show' Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful governor in northern Afghanistan, visited a local amusement park last week and grabbed a video arcade gun. Firing on fictional aliens made a break from the frequent target of his ire: the government in Kabul. Noor, a former general hardened in wars against the Soviets and Taliban but now suited and affluent, complains of a lack of leadership by President Ashraf Ghani and is angry his warnings of rising militant violence in the north were not heeded. "They told me that they will take action, but unfortunately they didn't," the governor of Balkh province told Reuters, recalling a warning he gave Kabul several months ago to prepare for more Taliban violence in the north. 

Afghan Spillover High on the Agenda During CSTO, SCO Meetings

Despite early warnings, the Kabul government has failed to stop the Taliban advances in the north of the country. The latest alarming development is the Taliban's capture of Badakhshan's Yamgan district. Badakhshan and other northern Afghan provinces have seen heavy fighting in recent months, thus the neighboring countries are getting increasingly worried about a spillover of violence. Tajikistan lost no time in taking measures to address the issue and appealed to its allies for support. Russia and the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) immediately promised to help out but Russian military aid has been slow to arrive. Moscow tried to silence the Tajik complaints by promising more military aid and CSTO chief Nikolay Bordyuzha assured Dushanbe that CSTO forces could be at the Tajik-Afghan border within three days if need be. The situation in northern Afghanistan was again high on the agenda during the recent meeting of the CSTO Defense Ministers in the Tajik capital:

CSTO defence ministers agree to change military-technical policy A number of significant measures, including on upgrading the military-technical policy, will be taken following meeting of the Council of Defence Ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held earlier on Thursday in Dushanbe, CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha told reporters. "This concerns, above all, upgrading the organization’s legal framework and legislations of CSTO member-countries, especially in the light of issues we encountered during the transfer of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force to Tajikistan," Bordyuzha said after the meeting, reports TASS. The CSTO Secretary General noted that prior to the meeting the defence ministers had been received by Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, adding that the meeting "grew into a very serious discussion of the situation in the Central Asian region, the challenges faced by Tajikistan and other regional countries and the processes under way in Afghanistan."

Tajik leader Rahmon and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu also discussed the deteriorating situation in northern Afghanistan as well as military cooperation between the two countries. Shoygu stressed the importance of "enhancing the combat capabilities of Tajikistan's armed forces and the Russian military base deployed in Tajikistan" and vowed to implement the "extensive plans" both countries had agreed upon. In addition to the support from Russia and the CSTO, Tajikistan will get assistance from China. The Interior Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) were recently meeting in Dushanbe as well and China's Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun generously offered his Tajik counterpart technical aid with no strings attached - much to the delight of President Rahmon. Moreover, the two countries are reinforcing their cooperation in the fight against terrorism:

A joint exercise for Tajik and Chinese special operations forces to be held in Vahdat on June 6 More than 100 servicemen of special operations forces of the Ministry of Public Security of China have arrived in Dushanbe for participation in a joint anti-terror exercise that will be conducted at the mountain training ground that is located in the Marghov area of the Romit Gorge, not far from the Vahdat Township on July 6, according to the Tajik Interior Ministry press center. The purpose of the exercise is reportedly to rehearse coordination and interaction between the special operations forces of the Tajik Interior Ministry and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security in anti-terror mission in mountain terrains. Interior Ministers of Tajikistan (Ramazon Rahimzoda), Kazakhstan (Kulmukhanbet Kasymov), Kyrgyzstan (Melis Turganbayev), Russia (Vladimir Kolokoltsev) and Uzbekistan (Adham Akhmedbayev) as well as the Minister of Public Security of China (Guo Shengkun) will observe the exercise, the Interior Ministry press center reports.

The meetings in the Tajik capital underline growing concerns in the region about a possible spillover of violence from Afghanistan and the threat of ISIS, which is now being hyped even more due to the defection of Tajikistan's OMON commander. While the CSTO Defense Ministers and SCO Interior Ministers were traveling to Dushanbe, Moscow hosted an important meeting of the SCO Foreign Ministers. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov used the opportunity to point out that ISIS is gaining a foothold in Afghanistan and he urged the SCO to play a bigger role in fighting ISIS in the war-torn country. To this end, Moscow is willing to strengthen cooperation with Kabul "in all spheres." Afghanistan is very much interested in closer cooperation with the SCO countries and wants to join the organization as a full member but the country still has to meet some criteria before it can follow Pakistan and India:

Welcome! SCO Foreign Ministers Agree to Grant Membership to Pakistan, India The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers decided to grant India and Pakistan the status of members of the bloc, which is to be confirmed at the SCO summit in July, Pakistan's ambassador to Russia told Sputnik on Thursday. "The council of ministers met yesterday and there is an agreement to allow Pakistan, along with India, to be upgraded [to SCO member states]. The decision of the council of ministers will be put forward to the summit in Ufa [in July]," Zaheer Janjua said. "We both [Pakistan and India] have requested for association with the SCO by becoming full member-states. Our application for a full member status is under active consideration. We are hopeful that this summit will endorse the membership of Pakistan along with that of India," he added.

Russia: Tough Life for ISIS, Human Rights Groups

The upcoming SCO summit in Ufa is shaping up to become the perfect opportunity for Russia to demonstrate the "international community" how isolated the country really is. Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted during the SCO Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow that twelve new nations are showing interest in working with the SCO and he emphasized that the SCO's main projects, the New Silk Road and the Eurasian Economic Integration, are in the interests of all SCO members. One of Moscow's biggest concerns is that the U.S. and its allies could try to impede Eurasian integration and create problems for Russia and China by fueling conflict in the region, for example with the help of ISIS. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolkoltsev told his counterparts during the recent meeting in Dushanbe that the Russian authorities have already taken measures to contain the ISIS threat at home:

ISIL recruitment spots in Russia known, under surveillance - Kolokoltsev Russia is concerned about new sources of instability threatening Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member countries, in particular, the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev told reporters on Friday. "In the past few months, the Russian law enforcement authorities have seized several dozens of persons on suspicion of terrorism. Fifteen members of terrorist groups have been killed," he said after a meeting of the SCO Council of Interior Ministers. He declined to disclose possible places where Russian and foreign citizens were recruited for the "jihad" and said that information was classified.

Russia's problems with terrorist recruitment have been documented time and again in recent years as more and more jihadists traveled to Syria from Russia. Moscow's Central Asian migrant workers are particularly susceptible to recruitment by ISIS and other terrorist groups but even Russian philosophy students fall for ISIS recruiters. Due to the fact that the Caucasus Emirate has been losing its leaders as well as its appeal, ISIS is also making inroads in the North Caucasus. One leader of a local militant group in Dagestan, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS, was just killed in a firefight with police after they stopped his car. Pledging allegiance to ISIS makes for headlines in Russia but it can have adverse effects on the insurgents' life expectancy. In Chechnya, even just spraying ISIS graffiti can get you into real trouble. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is known for his strong-arm tactics, regardless of whether that concerns dealing with terrorists or dealing with activists:

In Chechnya, Human Rights Group’s Offices Are Vandalized Cheered on by a small crowd, masked men vandalized the offices of a human rights advocacy group in Grozny, the capital of the Russian region of Chechnya, on Wednesday. Employees of the Committee Against Torture, some of whom fled through windows as the vandals smashed into the office with crowbars, said the local authorities had ignored calls pleading for help. They suggested that the attack was officially sanctioned by the government of Chechnya, which is led by Ramzan A. Kadyrov, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. It was not the first attack on the Committee Against Torture, which seeks to draw attention to human rights abuses in Chechnya and throughout Russia. In December, the group’s offices were firebombed.

Kadyrov stirred up the public against the Committee Against Torture at the end of last year when he implicated the group's head Igor Kalyapin in organizing the attack on Grozny on December 4. Shortly thereafter, the offices of the Committee Against Torture were firebombed after a huge rally against terrorism. This week's attack came again after a rally in Grozny, closely resembling last year's actions against the group. While Kalyapin and his colleagues filed a complaint over the inaction of the police, Kadyrov suggested that they had provoked the unrest themselves in order to attract more media attention and obtain more U.S. grants. The Chechen leader vowed to find those responsible for trashing the offices but this should be taken with a grain of salt. He is probably just trying to find out who deserves a thank-you letter. So it is not difficult to understand why Kalyapin and Co. prefer other investigators:

Russian Rights Group Doesn't Want Chechens To Probe Attack The leader of a prominent Russian human rights group whose office was trashed by unknown individuals in Grozny does not want Chechen authorities to investigate the incident. Igor Kalyapin, the chief of the NGO Committee Against Torture (KPP), said at a session of Russia's Presidential Council for Human Rights on June 4 that the doesn’t trust Chechen authorities and wants the incident to be investigated by officials from at least the regional level of the North Caucasus.

Aliyev Regime Not Interested in "Western Democracy", Kicks Out OSCE

Chechen Republic head Kadyrov demonstrates on a regular basis that he knows how to deal with pesky activists, journalists and dissidents but there are a few leaders from whom he can still learn a thing or two - Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev being one of them. In recent months, Aliyev has been making headlines with an unprecedented crackdown on critics. He didn't shy away from jailing U.S.-backed journalists and activists and even CIA propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) was forced to close its Baku bureau. RFE/RL is still operating in the country but the U.S.-backed Azerbaijani opposition has been dealt a heavy blow. Aliyev knows exactly how far he can go without crossing the red line. As long as he doesn't come up with the idea of changing Azerbaijan's close energy or military cooperation with the West, Washington is willing to turn a blind eye to the democratic deficits:

U.S. to hold off democracy dialog with Azerbaijan until it makes sense Washington decided to hold off on carrying a bilateral dialogue over civil society and democracy with the Azerbaijani officials, TURAN’s U.S. correspondent was informed by the diplomatic sources. State Department official Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, was planning to visit Baku early last week to focus on current challenges between the two countries in a wave of an ongoing crackdown against civil society and western institutions in Azerbaijan. The trip, however, got cancelled at the last moment, according to the diplomatic sources, leading to rumors that the Azerbaijani side prevented it. Baku previously snubbed another top U.S. government delegation’s trip prior to 2013 presidential election,which was supposed to be lead by then DAS Thomas Melia on democracy and human rights.

Of course, the U.S. will never stop meddling in Azerbaijan and continue to support the opposition but the pro-government media doesn't mind pointing this out whenever the opposition holds a rally. With the 2015 European Games in Baku just around the corner, the Aliyev regime is getting worried that "anti-Azerbaijani circles" will step up their efforts to discredit the country. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) was the first major European sports authority to join these "anti-Azerbaijani circles" and others will hopefully follow. Baku is already rallying the troops, in this case the pro-government media, which have been ordered to look out for any enemy propaganda about the Games. Aliyev's adviser Ali Hasanov also accused the UN representative for Human Rights and the OSCE of double standards, saying: "If this is Western democracy, then we do not need such democracy." Shortly thereafter, the OSCE was ordered to close its office:

Azerbaijan Orders OSCE To Close Baku Office The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says Azerbaijan has given it one month to halt its operations in the country and that Baku provided "no explanation" for the decision. OSCE spokesman Shiv Sharma told RFE/RL on June 5 that Azerbaijani authorities this week "informed us of their intentions of closing the office" of its project coordinator in Baku and that the 57-member security organization is "now assessing our options." The move comes amid heightened criticism of Azerbaijan's record on civil society and media freedoms by Western officials and international human rights watchdogs.

Unperturbed by all the enemy propaganda, Azerbaijan's pro-government news agency APA uncovered an evil plot by the European Union's mission to Baku and the Greek Embassy to keep Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos from attending the Games' opening ceremony. Understandably, the Embassy of Greece in Baku was "deeply outraged and unpleasantly surprised with unprecedented lies and unfounded accusations, spread by the local media." It is only fitting that Aliyev adviser Hasanov had praised APA & Co. for their "sound journalism" during his recent meeting with pro-government media. The head of Azerbaijan's Press Council, Aflatun Amashov, assured Hasanov that the media will do its best to "preserve the European Games in history." He also complained to Hasanov about the criticism on social media. Hasanov told him to ignore it but that's of course easier said than done:

Azerbaijani Diplomat Criticizes Government On Facebook, Sparking Scandal An Azerbaijani diplomat could be in hot water after he publicly criticized the government following a deadly Baku apartment-building fire. Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry has launched an internal investigation into a scandal that erupted over the Facebook comments made by Arif Mammadov, the chief of mission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's delegation to the European Union. Fifteen people died in the high-rise fire in May, prompting Baku residents to criticize the city's beautification efforts ahead of the inaugural European Games that will be held this month in the Azerbaijani capital.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 4, 2015

Saakashvili's Appointment Spells More Trouble for Transnistria, Tajikistan's War on Islam Backfires as OMON Commander Joins ISIS & More!

*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.

The disappearance of Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, commander of Tajikistan's Interior Ministry paramilitary squad (OMON), has caused a great stir in the Central Asian country. Tajik media reports suggested early on that Halimov had traveled to Syria in order to join the West's beloved terrorist army ISIS but his family dismissed these reports as "baseless" and portrayed him as a dedicated policeman and father of eight. While his brother insisted that Halimov had never spoken about ISIS, Asia-Plus quoted a friend as saying that he had turned into an ISIS fanatic. The story got even more confusing when Tajik law enforcement agencies denied a report by news agency TojNews claiming that Halimov had been arrested in Turkey while trying to cross into Syria with a fake passport. As the speculations were getting out of hand, ISIS eventually cleared up the mystery of Halimov's disappearance by releasing a new shiny propaganda video featuring none other than Tajikistan's missing OMON commander:

Missing Tajik Police Commander Appears On Internet, Says Has Joined IS A top Tajik police commander who has been missing for weeks has reappeared on the Internet, claiming that he has joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group in protest at official restrictions on religious observance back home.

In a video posted on YouTube, Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, the commander of the Tajik Interior Ministry's Special Forces, known as OMON, singled out Tajikistan's crackdown on Islamic dress and limitations on public prayer as reasons for his radicalization.

Halimov, a father of eight, says that Tajik labor migrants "must stop serving infidels" in Russia and join IS in Syria and Iraq in order to establish Shari'a law in other countries, including Tajikistan.

Tajikistan's War on Islam Backfires as OMON Commander Joins ISIS

After vowing to bring jihad to Tajikistan and Russia, Halimov also added a threat for the United States: "We will come to your cities, to your homes, and we will kill you." The OMON commander turned ISIS fighter pointed out that he is well-prepared for future battles thanks to the counterterrorism training that he received on American soil: "Listen, you American pigs: I've been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims." State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala confirmed to CNN that Halimov participated in five counterterrorism training courses in the U.S. and in Tajikistan, through the Department of State's Diplomatic Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. While much of the media coverage focused on Halimov's training by Blackwater and his references to the U.S., some analysts suggested that his threats to Russia might be more significant. But one thing is certain: the radicalization of the OMON commander was driven by Tajikistan's repression against religious activities, which is now reaching grotesque proportions:

Tajiks Probe Fake Permits For Hijab, Beards Tajik prosecutors have launched an investigation into suspected fraud in connection with the sale of bogus permits to unsuspecting people hoping to avoid falling afoul of official efforts to combat religious extremism.

The "permits" -- which grant permission to Muslims to wear long beards in the case of men, or head scarves (hijabs) in the case of women -- purport to be from the State Committee for Religion and Traditions and Rites Regulations.

Officials at the Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL on May 18 that investigations are targeting the "repeated forgery of documents" and the "incitement of religious, ethnic, racial, and social hatred."

In addition to targeting hijabs and beards, the Tajik government is now mulling a ban on names which sound too Arabic. This won't do much to calm the waves as more and more people question President Rahmon's ongoing secularization campaign. Halimov's defection to ISIS shows that radicalization of the population is a major problem and by no means limited to Tajikistan's poorer citizens, as is often said, but banning hijabs, beards and Arabic names is clearly not the solution. Shutting down schools affiliated with the shadowy movement of CIA puppet Fethullah Gülen makes much more sense. At the beginning of this year, the Tajik authorities announced that they are going to review the licenses of Gülen's schools and the review didn't end well for the Gülen movement. According to Tajikistan's Minister of Education and Science, the schools will be be shut down and reopened as state-run schools with different names. After taking the first step in the right direction, the Tajik regime should also consider taking measures against jihadi TV channels brainwashing the population:

Undeclared information war going on against Tajikistan

Several radical Islamic TV channels now broadcast to Tajikistan from abroad, Tajik journalist Nourali Davlat told Asia-Plus in an interview.

“These are Ahli Bayt, Tavhid, Fadak and Nour and Visoli Haq joined them this spring,” said the journalist. “These TV channels are engaged in brainwashing the youth in the Islamic world, especially in the Persian-speaking countries – Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.”

“Meanwhile, Afghan newspaper 8 Subh says this radical Islamic TV channels broadcasting to Afghanistan and Tajikistan have been established by Arabic sheikhs from the Persian Gulf countries,” said the journalist. “According to the newspaper, the Arabic sheikhs intend to spread war from Afghanistan to Central Asia’s countries. For this, the radical Islamic TV channels use problems existing in relationships between the governments and Muslim communities, in particular the problem of wearing beard or hijab, which is widely discussed in Tajik society.”

The democracy-loving petro-monarchies in the Gulf use every opportunity to find new comrade-in-arms in the fight for freedom and democracy in Syria, or wherever Washington deems it necessary. Halimov was not the first Tajik to join the terrorist gangs in Syria and he won't be the last one. Another high-profile Tajik fighter, Nusrat Nazarov, who came to prominence after claiming that 2,000 Tajiks are fighting for ISIS, was reportedly killed in Syria just recently. Tajikistan's Prosecutor General's Office has already opened criminal cases against 417 citizens on charges of mercenary activities. Halimov is the latest addition to the list. The defection of the former OMON commander highlights Tajikistan's struggle with extremism and it comes at the worst possible time considering that the country is currently trying to prevent a spillover of violence from Afghanistan. Dushanbe has lifted the ban on entry of foreign citizens to Gorno-Badakhshan but the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border remains volatile:

A joint military exercise conducted for Tajik and Russian servicemen in Gorno Badakhshan

A joint military exercise with a final phase featuring live-fire mission has been conducted for units of the Tajik national army and the 201st Russian military base in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on May 21.

In connection with the possible deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, Russia pays a special attention to strengthening its borders with Central Asia’s nations and helps train personnel for the national armies of the Central Asian countries, the Russian Central Military District press center was cited by RIA Novosti as saying.

Renewed Hope for Afghan Peace Talks

Strengthened by the arrival of foreign fighters who were forced to leave Pakistan due to a large-scale military operation, the Taliban and other groups have been making inroads in northern Afghanistan. The neighboring Central Asian countries are keeping a very close eye on the situation as NATO-trained Afghan forces are struggling to fend off the insurgents. China is equally concerned. This year's spring offensive by the Taliban is particularly noteworthy for the strong involvement of foreign fighters. According to eyewitness reports, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pakistanis, Arabs, Chechens and Uyghurs are involved in the fighting. Beijing has been trying for months to restart the stalled Afghan peace talks and the presence of Uyghur fighters in northern Afghanistan is certainly an extra motivation for the Chinese to get the Afghan chaos under control. China's efforts to bring Kabul and the Taliban to the negotiation table have been undermined by Obama's decision to slow the "withdrawal" but Beijing won't give up that easily:

Taliban and Afghan Peace Officials Have Secret Talks in China

A peace envoy from Afghanistan met in western China last week with former Taliban officials with close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, in an attempt to keep open the possibility of formal Afghan peace talks, officials said Monday.

The meeting, hosted by China and, in part, organized by Pakistani officials, took place Wednesday and Thursday in Urumqi, capital of the western region of Xinjiang, which has mountainous borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan and is home to many Muslims.

The fact that China agreed to host the talks was the latest sign that Beijing is encouraging peace efforts and an end to Afghanistan’s 13-year civil war. In late 2014, two Afghan Taliban officials came to Beijing with Pakistani officials to discuss peace moves.

Although Beijing denied any knowledge of the talks and the Taliban rejected the reports as "propaganda," it is fair to assume that talks did take place and that they were brokered by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on behalf of the Chinese government. In recent months, China has been putting a lot of pressure on its all-weather friend to crack down on foreign fighters in North Waziristan and play a constructive role in the Afghan peace talks. It remains to be seen whether China's efforts to stabilize the region will be successful but they might have contributed to a rapprochement between Kabul and Islamabad. A few weeks ago, Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan's ISI signed a intelligence-sharing deal despite lots of opposition. Opponents of the agreement include NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil, former President Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. Nevertheless, President Ashraf Ghani got his way:

Afghan Unity Government Split On Intelligence-Sharing Deal

Cracks in Afghanistan's unity government are appearing following the signing of a controversial intelligence deal with neighbor and archrival Pakistan.

According to an inside source, the divide over the memorandum of understanding signed this week between the two countries' spy agencies is evident at the highest levels of the Afghan government.

The source -- a government official who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity -- said Abdullah considers the document "unacceptable" and has made his opposition known to Ghani and senior security officials.

Since many other people share Abdullah's opinion, Ghani came under fire at home for selling out to Pakistan. In order to silence the critics, the Afghan President quickly wrote a letter to Islamabad demanding that the Pakistanis take stronger action against the Taliban. But behind the scenes Kabul and Islamabad are apparently pulling together. NED-sponsored Afghan newspaper Hasht-e-Subh quoted a source as saying that the Afghan government is going to issue 210 political passports to Taliban leaders. During the recent visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Kabul, it was reportedly agreed that the Taliban will be allowed to reopen their political office and that some of the Taliban leaders will be removed from the United Nations blacklist. One of the first steps is exchanging the Pakistani passports that they are currently using for Afghan passports. As the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, peace talks with the Taliban are probably the only way to stop the violence:

Wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan leave 150,000 dead, US study estimates

The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan have left nearly 150,000 soldiers and civilians dead since 2001, a new US study estimates.

Another 162,000 have been wounded since the US-led offensive that toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, says the study by the Costs of War project, based at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

The war in Afghanistan is intensifying rather than moving toward an end, it added, as the number of deaths and injuries has increased significantly in recent years.

Saakashvili's Appointment Spells More Trouble for Transnistria

Although the U.S. and its allies have not achieved any of their objectives in Afghanistan, except for boosting the opium production, they are still hailing the Afghan war as a major success. When Georgian civil society activist turned Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli recently visited the war-torn country during her first foreign trip, she congratulated the Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan for proving that "Georgia struggles for global security alongside with the civilized world." These are of course exactly the words one would expect from a Rose Revolution veteran and Soros-approved politician. Khidasheli picked up where her predecessors left off and she will certainly do her best to lead Georgia into NATO. Meanwhile, her former Rose Revolution ally Mikhail Saakashvili is dominating the headlines once again. The disgraced Georgian ex-president has spent a lot of time in Kiev since the Euromaidan protests. Lately, he has been advising President Petro Poroshenko, presumably on how to start a war with Russia, but now he can finally do this himself - one more time:

Ex-Georgian president, wanted at home, becomes governor in Ukraine

Georgia's former President Mikhail Saakashvili, wanted by his country's prosecutors for embezzlement, abuse of power and politically-motivated attacks, has been appointed governor of Ukraine's Odessa region.

President Petro Poroshenko personally appointed Saakashvili to the post, saying the former Georgian leader is "a friend of Ukraine." In a statement at Saakashvili's nomination in Odessa, Poroshenko said the two had known each other for 25 years, since university days.

According to Poroshenko, Saakashvili "has proven with deeds, not words that he can not only give birth to creative ideas, but also put them into practice." He added Georgia's ex-president had changed his country "in the direction of transparency, effectiveness, anti-corruption, appeal for foreign investors, fair justice, protection of citizen's rights, democracy," something Poroshenko "would like to see very much" in Odessa.

"Delusional" does not even begin to describe Poroshenko's statement. Saakashvili's appointment as governor of Odessa is crazy, to say the least. It came as a huge surprise because the former Georgian President had rejected previous offers to take a post in the government saying that he doesn't want to give up his Georgian citizenship. He reiterated this only a few weeks ago but he suddenly changed his mind. This begs the question of whether Saakashvili had a change of heart or whether his friends in Washington told him to take the governor post. The timing of Saakashvili's appointment is curious. Some have suggested that Poroshenko is trying to reduce the influence of his rival Igor Kolomoisky but there might be more to this story. Odessa Oblast borders Moldova and more importantly Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. Only a few days before Saakashvili was named as governor of Odessa, Ukraine and Moldova began restricting Russian access to Transnistria:

Russian Troops In Transnistria Squeezed By Ukraine And Moldova

Ukraine and Moldova are restricting Russian military access to the breakaway territory of Transnistria, where Russia maintains about 1,500 troops.

Last week Ukraine's parliament voted to suspend military cooperation with Russia. And while much cooperation was of course already suspended, throughout the current crisis Russia has been able to use Ukrainian territory to supply its troops in Transnistria, a slender territory on Ukraine's western border. No longer.

Further complicating Russia's predicament, on May 25 the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Moldova has quietly been arresting and deporting Russian soldiers who try to fly into Moldova en route to Transnistria. Moldova hasn't stopped all Russian soldiers from traveling through its territory -- only those not in the Moldova-supported peacekeeping mission, and only those who don't give a month's notice that they will be traveling to Moldova. (Of the roughly 1,500 Russian troops stationed in Moldova, about 1,000 are in the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova, which Moldova does not support; the rest are peacekeepers regulated by the Joint Control Commission, which includes authorities from Moldova, Transnistria, and Russia.)

As The Saker and others have pointed out, there is a very real danger that Washington and its lackeys will try to provoke a conflict with Russia by squeezing Transnistria. A columnist in the Russian newspaper Izvestia warned a few days ago that Russia "seriously faces the prospect of a repeat of 08.08.08, now around Transnistria." Who better to run the crucial Ukrainian region of Odessa at this moment in time than the man who started the Russo-Georgian War in 2008? And Saakashvili is not alone. Ukrainian media reported that he will be joined by his former Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, who is also wanted in Georgia. Adeishvili was reportedly appointed as chief prosecutor of Odessa. A few months ago, Tbilisi asked Kiev to extradite both Saakashvili and Adeishvili, to no avail. The Georgian authorities didn't object to Saakashvili's appointment as governor of Odessa but they heavily criticized the former president for renouncing his citizenship and they will certainly cancel it - sooner or later:

‘We’ll cancel Saakashvili’s citizenship when we want’

The Georgian government is not in a hurry to go through with the formal procedures that will strip ex-President Mikheil Saakashvilli of his native citizenship after being appointed governor of Odessa and acquiring Ukrainian citizenship.

“Let this issue hang over his head like a sword of Damocles. This is a political decision and we will make it when it is necessary,” Justice Minister Thea Tusulukiani said. In January Ukraine appointed as its Deputy Justice Minister former Georgian official Gia Getsadze, who served on various high-ranking positions in ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration till mid-2005.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: March 31, 2015

Guangzhou: New Hot Spot of China's War on Terror, Obama's Decision to Slow Withdrawal Undermines Afghan Peace Talks & More

*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.

In recent weeks, Uyghur terrorists have been making headlines in several countries, ranging from Turkey to Indonesia and of course China. The Chinese authorities are increasingly concerned that Uyghur would-be terrorists who travel to the Middle East could return and fuel the insurgency in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Xinjiang's party chief Zhang Chunxian revealed during a meeting at the annual session of the National People's Congress that local authorities "have broken up terror groups who were plotting violent attacks on Chinese soil after fighting in battles in Syria with the IS." Although ISIS's threat to China is often exaggerated, Beijing's concerns are not unfounded. As discussed in a recent episode of Porkins Great Game, efforts are underway to smuggle Uyghurs out of China and turn them into jihadist mercenaries for U.S.-NATO terror operations. In order to nip the threat in the bud, Beijing wants to prevent Uyghurs from fleeing the country and catch those who have left:

China's Secret Plan to Track Militants and Bring Them Home Days after Indonesia arrested four Uighur terrorism suspects in September in the country’s east, China dispatched three intelligence officers to ask authorities to hand them over. While Indonesia initially demurred, China has now secured a preliminary agreement for the men to be returned after a trial in Jakarta, according to Irfan Idris, a senior official at Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency. The four, who are yet to be charged, face potential execution if repatriated. China pressed for the deal as part of a global operation begun last year to return terrorism suspects to Chinese soil, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the initiative is confidential. Many of the suspects are members of the Turkic-speaking Uighur Muslim minority, they said.

Guangzhou: New Hot Spot of China's War on Terror

The suspects in question are believed to be part of the group that carried out the horrific knife attack at Kunming's railway station in March of last year. Given that China just executed three men for leading the Kunming attack, it is safe to assume that the arrested Uyghurs will be executed if the Indonesian authorities hand them over. The four men and five other Uyghurs, who managed to escape, had entered Indonesia from Malaysia with Turkish passports, posing as asylum seekers. This has become a preferred strategy among Uyghur insurgents. Turkey's role in all of this was exposed at the beginning of this year in the course of the ongoing tug-of-war between Beijing and Ankara over Uyghur refugees in Thailand. While Turkey is playing the benevolent guardian of all Uyghurs, China is trying to convince the rest of the world that not all Uyghurs leaving the country are innocent refugees:

South China now favoured way out of country for IS recruits: terrorism expert China's southern seaboard has replaced the mountainous and tightly guarded western frontier as the preferred route for Islamic extremists to slip recruits out of the country, according to a leading expert on terrorism. Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, claimed that "over 400 Uygurs have left, most through Hong Kong via Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to join the IS [Islamic State]". Gunaratna's claim comes as a leaked Guangdong police document revealed that the authorities broke up a Pearl River Delta syndicate that smuggled at least six Uygurs to Macau on February 18 and 24. The document said the syndicate was planning to smuggle more Uygurs hiding in Guangzhou, Foshan and Zhongshan to Macau before police busted the ring on March 2.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Police Force played down the issue, saying that the city's terrorist threat level remained moderate but the recent emergence of ISIS flyers in Hong Kong suggests that there might be something to Gunaratna's claim. Citing Hong Kong news reports, U.S.-based Chinese political news outlet Duowei News pointed out that Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been receiving leaflets encouraging them to join ISIS. Even more interesting is the flyer's assertion that recruits will be sent to "carry out missions" in Xinjiang. The authorities in Hong Kong are clearly alarmed by the ISIS flyers and the same is probably true of the authorities in mainland China. As the above-mentioned break-up of another smuggling operation shows, China's fight against terrorists and would-be terrorists is not confined to Xinjiang. Southern China is becoming an increasingly important part of the battlefield. Uyghurs who are hiding in and around Guangzhou, the capital and largest city of Guangdong province, have caused a lot of trouble in recent weeks:

Police shot dead two Uygur women before railway knife attack in Guangzhou Police shot dead two ethnic Uygur women who resisted arrest and detained more than a dozen Uygur men during a late-night raid in a village outside Guangzhou just hours before the knife attack at the city's main railway station on March 6, which left 13 people injured, witnesses said. Residents of Xiniujiao - or Rhino Horn - village who witnessed the police raid told the Sunday Morning Post that more than 100 officers, some of them armed, had swooped on the suspects during the Lantern Festival on March 5. Three knife-wielding men attacked passers-by and passengers at random in the rail attack earlier this month. Police have been tightlipped about the ethnicity of the assailants, saying only that one had been shot dead and another arrested.

According to Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, the perpetrators of the knife attack at Guangzhou's railway station had planned to be smuggled to Macau before traveling to the Middle East via Southeast Asia to join ISIS. But they were forced to stay in Guangzhou after the boat they had arranged sank late last month. Four days after the break-up of the above-mentioned smuggling ring and hours after police raided a group of 40 Uyghur terror suspects from Xinjiang hiding in an apartment in Guangzhou's Baiyun district, the men launched the attack, resembling the Kunming attack in many ways. Guangzhou appears to be the new hot spot in China's fight against smuggling and terrorism. A few days ago, the South China Morning Post broke the very interesting story of a self-claimed "American scholar," who visited South China Normal University to recruit Uyghurs and smuggle them to Malaysia:

Terrorists 'recruited Uygur students at Guangzhou university' Uygur students in Guangzhou have been warned to stay away from "outsiders" after several were recruited by a suspected religious extremist and had been missing since last year, various sources told the South China Morning Post. A man claiming to be a US national conducting social science research visited the campus of the South China Normal University [SCNU] last year. Sources said the man recruited several Uygur students, gave them money and arranged for them to flee to Malaysia. It is not clear if Malaysia was their final destination, or whether they were headed for Turkey or Syria, as some believe.

Obama's Decision to Slow Withdrawal Undermines Afghan Peace Talks

As usual, the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress lost no time in playing down the issue but this story highlights that the Chinese authorities have to be on their guard. And although "China's southern seaboard has replaced the mountainous and tightly guarded western frontier as the preferred route for Islamic extremists," the situation in neighboring Afghanistan gives reason for concern as well. On March 22, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah traveled to Washington for a five-day visit. The two Afghan leaders met with President Barack Obama and senior U.S. officials to discuss the troop withdrawal, reconciliation talks with the Taliban and other important issues. Ghani began the visit by thanking the Americans "who have sacrificed continuously since September 11th to bring us freedom and hope" before asking Obama to keep more troops in Afghanistan. Obama didn't know exactly which Afghan President he was talking to but he needed no second invitation:

Obama slows withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan President Barack Obama on Tuesday granted Afghan requests to slow the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and said he would maintain a force of 9,800 through the end of 2015 while sticking to a 2017 exit plan. Capping a day of VIP treatment for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, Obama said the U.S. force would be kept at its current strength to train and assist Afghan forces, who took over responsibility for the fight against Taliban and other Islamic militants at the start of the year. Obama said the pace of the U.S. troop reduction in 2016 would be established later this year and the goal remained to consolidate U.S. forces in the country in a presence at the Kabul embassy at the end of 2016.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. will really retain only a small force at the Kabul embassy after 2016. There are already some doubts and Afghan leader Ghani has expressed a need for foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016. Since taking office in September of last year, Ghani has been doing Washington's bidding and this has finally paid off. During his visit to Washington, the Afghan President received the "Distinguished Leadership Award" from the Atlantic Council and the United States Institute of Peace, presumably for being a better puppet than predecessor Hamid Karzai. Ghani also secured more U.S. funds for the Afghan security forces who are suffering from a number of problems, including "serious combat losses" and desertions. But American taxpayers will be relieved to hear that Afghanistan will be able to pay for its own security forces within a decade - at least this is what Ghani promised U.S. lawmakers. Possibly, the problem will resolve itself when the Taliban take over:

Slowing down of US pullout to affect peace efforts: Taliban President Barack Obama’s decision to slow the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would hamper peace efforts, the Taliban said on Wednesday, vowing to continue fighting. “Obama’s announcement to continue to keep troops in Afghanistan is a response to the peace efforts,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. “This damages all the prospects for peace. This means the war will go on until they are defeated,” he said.

Not everyone was happy with Ghani's U.S. visit and the news from Washington. It is to be feared that Obama's decision to slow the "withdrawal" will undermine the peace talks, which had seen some progress due to China's efforts. Ghani attracted a lot of criticism for pushing for U.S. troops to stay longer. The Afghan High Peace Council, the official body overseeing the Afghan peace process, and other influential players in the region warned that Ghani is sending the wrong message to the Taliban. The statement by Taliban spokesman Zabuhullah Mujahid proves them right. Perhaps Ghani was too busy hyping the ISIS threat to recognize that there is a downside to keeping U.S. toops in the country. Just ahead of his visit to the U.S., the Afghan President acknowledged for the first time that ISIS is gaining influence in Afghanistan and by the time he arrived in Washington, Ghani was hyping the threat like none other:

Ghani: Islamic State 'terrible threat' to western, central Asia Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that Islamic State and its allies pose a "terrible threat" to the countries of western and central Asia. In a speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Ghani said Islamic State militants are already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan "to test for vulnerabilities."

Turkmenistan Looking for Help to Defend Afghan Border

Nobody is going to deny that ISIS flags are becoming more popular in Afghanistan but ISIS doesn't pose a "terrible threat" to Central Asia. Furthermore, the links between ISIS in Afghanistan and the "original" ISIS in the Middle East are tenuous at best. Some insurgents who have previously fought for the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or other groups are now pledging allegiance to ISIS. This has prompted a lot of fear-mongering in Central Asia and Russia. As previously discussed, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have every reason to be worried in light of the deteriorating security situation along their borders and the massing of fighters in northern Afghanistan but ISIS is not going to conquer Central Asia anytime soon. Turkmenistan is arguably the country which has been affected the most by the volatile situation in northern Afghanistan:

Four Said Killed By Police In Violence Near Afghan-Turkmen Border A local leader in an ethnic Turkmen village near Afghanistan's border with Turkmenistan says police killed at least four people and wounded at least seven others while dispersing a protest. The head of Qarqeen village council, Gulam Rasul Qaryadar, told RFE/RL that police fired shots on March 16 after ethnic Turkmens gathered in front of the district administration building, demanding help from the authorities to stop what they say are efforts by Turkmenistan to take land they claim as their own.

The villagers have said that Turkmen forces are grabbing their land on an island that was formed several years ago in the Amu River, which serves as part of the border between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

Territorial gains by the Taliban and other groups prompted Turkmenistan last year to "invade" Afghanistan and the situation on both sides of the border has been highly volatile ever since. While ethnic Turkmens in northern Afghanistan are urging the Afghan authorities to investigate the deadly shooting by police, the Turkmen authorities are reportedly using the Taliban/ISIS threat to arrest would-be protesters. But Ashgabat doesn't take the situation lightly. General Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, revealed during a recent Congress hearing that Turkmenistan has approached the U.S. asking for military aid to address the instability on the Turkmen-Afghan border. And if the Turkmen exile website Chronicles of Turkmenistan is to be believed, even foreign troops have already been deployed to the border:

Report: Troops From Uzbekistan And Russia Deployed To Turkmenistan-Afghanistan Border Troops from Russia and Uzbekistan are helping Turkmenistan guard its border against militant incursions from Afghanistan, an Turkmenistani exile website reports, citing residents of border areas. According to the report on Chronicles of Turkmenistan, "residents of Afghan border villages have recently noticed the presence on Turkmen territory border units from Uzbekistan." And it added: "About a month ago military instructors from Russia also appeared on the border. Obviously, the Turkmen authorities appealed to the Russian leadership for help guarding the border with Afghanistan, a situation where, with the arrival of warm weather, has begun to heat up."

The report should be taken with a grain of salt because there have not been any independent verifications of the information but it underlines concerns about the situation on the Turkmen-Afghan border and Ashgabat's ability to deal with the threat on its own. Turkmenistan is now experiencing the disadvantages of its neutrality. Neither American nor Russian help will come with no strings attached. It is not unlikely that this will affect Turkmenistan's pipeline politics. Unperturbed by the chaos in Afghanistan, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow just instructed his country's oil and gas leaders to accelerate the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Turkmenistan plays a decisive role in two major U.S.-backed pipeline projects, TAPI and the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which is now back on the table despite vehement Russian opposition:

EU wants to revive gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan The European Union is seeking to revive a gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan to Europe and involve European energy companies, an EU diplomat in Turkmenistan said. Denis Daniilidis told Reuters that Maros Sefcovic, the EU's head of energy union, was going to visit Turkmenistan in coming months to restart talks about the TransCaspian pipeline. While he did not provide other details, Turkmen officials said earlier this month that "active" negotiations were under way to supply Europe with between 10 and 30 billion cubic metres of gas per year.

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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