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

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 13, 2015

U.S. Tries to Keep Georgia in Line, Afghanistan Turns to Russia for Help as Taliban Gain Ground & 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.

New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor faced a lot of opposition within the movement, when he officially took over from Mullah Omar two months ago. Several leading Taliban commanders decided to go their own ways and Mullah Omar's family only reluctantly endorsed the new supremo. Despite all that, the Taliban have stepped up their game in the first few weeks of Mansoor's reign, dashing Kabul's hopes that the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death would weaken the group. It seems like an eternity ago that Kabul and the Taliban were holding peace talks to stop the fighting. At the end of July, the two sides were about to meet in Pakistan for the second round of talks when Afghan intelligence leaked Omar's death to the press, thereby unleashing a new wave of violence. After the Taliban demonstrated their power in Kunduz, Pakistan renewed its offer to restart the talks and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reminded his Afghan colleagues that they should have kept their mouth shut:

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif says working for revival of Afghan peace talks The Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he is trying to revive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban group which was stalled by the announcement of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death. In televised remarks to the media Nawaz said “The news of Mullah Omar should not have been broken just before the start of the second round of talks.” Sharif further added “We are now trying to resume the (peace) process and pray to God to crown our efforts with success.”

Afghanistan Turns to Russia for Help as Taliban Gain Ground

Given that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) more or less controls Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the Pakistani government should be able to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, or at least the faction that is interested in talks with Kabul. Mansoor supported the reconciliation process and authorized the delegation for the first round of talks. That is why several top Taliban commanders turned against him. U.S. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and allies forces in Afghanistan, just told the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee that 60 percent to 70 percent of the Taliban movement may ultimately be reconciled with Kabul but that is of course still a long way off. As for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, they will have no choice but to talk to Mansoor and his Pakistani backers if the Taliban continue to gain ground across the country:

Afghan Taliban’s Reach Is Widest Since 2001, U.N. Says The Taliban insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to data compiled by the United Nations as well as interviews with numerous local officials in areas under threat. In addition, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan over the past two weeks has evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country — the most it has ever done for security reasons — according to local officials in the affected areas. The data, compiled in early September — even before the latest surge in violence in northern Afghanistan — showed that United Nations security officials had already rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either “high” or “extreme,” more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.

As The New York Times pointed out, the United Nations' assessment is at odds with Gen. Campbell's rosy assessment in his recent testimony to Congress. The top U.S. commander even had the nerve to play down the alarming situation in Kunduz, while at the same time, the U.S. was using the latest crisis to tell its NATO allies that they will probably have to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has already endorsed the idea. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is seeking help from other countries as well. Last week, Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum visited Grozny and Moscow to ask for Russian support in the fight against ISIS. During his meetings with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and top Russian officials, Dostum commended Russia's campaign in Syria and stressed that Kabul needs Moscow's support because "ISIS is trying to make Afghanistan into a bridgehead." This clearly resonated with his Russian hosts:

Afghanistan's Dostum Turns To Old Ally Russia For Help "The Russian side is committed to support and help Afghanistan in terms of helping its air and military forces," Dostum's spokesman, Sultan Faizy, told RFE/RL by telephone. "We're lacking air support, weapons, ammunition. We need a lot of backing and support to fight against terrorism." But Faizy said that would not mean direct military intervention by Russia, which is still mindful of the 1979-89 war that killed some 15,000 Soviet soldiers and has repeatedly said it would not send troops to Afghanistan. Faizy said that Moscow had promised to evaluate the situation in Afghanistan and "see what they can help with."

An Afghan parliamentary delegation also visited Moscow to ask for support. Russian Federation Council member Igor Morozov told TASS that the Afghans cited a lack of helicopters as the reason for the Taliban takeover of Kunduz and Morozov used the opportunity to have a dig at the Americans. Zamir Kabulov, President Putin's special envoy to Afghanistan, announced after the meetings that Moscow and Kabul are planning to sign a deal on the delivery of several Mi-35 helicopter gunships later this month. That is music to the ears of Afghan Air Force (AAF) commanders who have repeatedly complained about the useless MD 530F helicopters provided by the United States. Whether or not Russia considers extending its "anti-ISIS" bombing campaign to Afghanistan, remains unclear. Kabulov dodged the question when he was asked but he provided an explanation for the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan:

ISIS training militants from Russia in Afghanistan, 'US and UK citizens among instructors' Russian officials accused Washington of orchestrating the deterioration of security in Afghanistan and the expansion of Islamic State there. “It seems like someone’s hand is pushing freshly trained ISIL fighters to mass along Afghanistan’s northern border. They don’t fight foreign or Afghan government troops,” Kabulov said. He added that on several occasions Taliban groups that refused to join Islamic State were “set up” to be targeted by airstrikes. “The Afghan Army practically has no aircraft. Only the Americans do. These details bring some very bad thoughts and concerns. We have to take them into account and draw conclusions accordingly,” he said.

Russia Sends Helicopters to Alleviate Tajikistan's Border Woes 

Kabulov emphasized that the Afghanistan branch of ISIS numbers already 3,500 fighters despite emerging only one year ago. Russia's military intelligence chief Igor Sergun added that the Islamic State's expansion in Afghanistan is in line with Washington's long-term goal of destabilizing Central Asia and "surrounding Russia and China with a network of regimes loyal to America and hotspots of tension." As the situation in northern Afghanistan deteriorates, Russian officials seem to be stepping up their ISIS rhetoric in an effort to justify further military involvement in the region. Although the Russians are clearly exaggerating the threat posed by ISIS, the increasing activities of insurgents on the Tajik-Afghan border cannot be denied. Tajikistan's intelligence agency claims that more than 1,000 Taliban fighters have massed in close proximity the border and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon recently briefed his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the latest developments during a meeting in Sochi:

Tajikistan 'Extremely Concerned' About Situation Along Afghan Border President Emomali Rahmon has said Tajikistan was "extremely concerned" about the situation along the Tajik-Afghan border. During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on October 6, Rahmon said the situation in Afghanistan was "getting worse by the day." "Practically, fighting is going on along more than 60 percent of the Tajik border with Afghanistan," he added.

Russian President Putin also voiced concerns about the deteriorating situation on the border but both leaders agreed that there was no need for boosting Russian military presence in Tajikistan. Apparently this didn't include helicopters. One day after the meeting between Putin and Rahmon, a Russian Defense Ministry official announced that Russia will reinforce its 201st military base in Tajikistan with Mi-24P attack and Mi-8MTV transport and combat helicopters. The helicopters will be stationed at Ayni Air Force Base, which was renovated with $70 million from India a few years ago. Both India and Russia have been trying to gain control of the base, to no avail. The Tajik Defense Ministry just clarified that Russia can use the base but it remains under Tajik control. Russia's military presence in the country is a controversial issue because Russian soldiers are not always on their best behavior:

Russian officer sacked for assaulting Tajik taxi driver A court at Russian’s military base in Tajikistan has delivered a judgment over the case of Russian officer Denis Borisenko, who was charged with assaulting a Tajik taxi driver and stealing his vehicle. Under a ruling handed down at the court at the Russian military base, Senior Lieutenant Denis Borisenko was sacked and he will pay compensation (60,000 Russian rubles (RR) to local tax driver Dilshod Khoushov. According to investigators, Borisenko was drunk when he attacked Khoushov and drove away in his car. Borisenko later hit another vehicle and was detained at the scene. 

A few weeks ago, two other Russian soldiers were convicted of killing a Tajik taxi driver and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Such crimes and similar incidents reignite the never-ending debate about Russia's military presence in the country from time to time but the Tajik government hasn't been swayed by the criticism. In fact, Dushanbe has never been easily swayed by criticism. Washington has apparently realized this and preferred to keep quiet while the Rahmon regime was cracking down on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Even after the IRPT had been branded a terrorist organization, the U.S. only voiced mild criticism in an emailed statement, which went largely unnoticed. Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities are coming up with evermore charges against arrested IRPT lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov and the remaining top officials of the Islamic Renaissance Party:

Tajik Prosecutors Say 23 Islamic Party Officials Arrested Tajik prosecutors say 23 top officials of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (HNIT) have been arrested, many on suspicion of leading a deadly mutiny by a serving deputy defense minister in early September. The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office said on October 6 that criminal probes are under way against the party officials who face charges including terrorism, inciting religious and racial hatred, and attempting to seize power by force. Many also face forgery, fraud, and other economic crime charges.

U.S. Tries to Keep Georgia in Line

As Tajikistan continues its crackdown on the IRPT without much resistance from the West, Georgia is probably wondering what the secret is. After the Georgian authorities recently tried to shut down pro-opposition private TV broadcaster Rustavi 2, the United States immediately reprimanded the government and U.S. Ambassador Ian C. Kelly met with Rustavi 2 executives to assure them that the U.S. Embassy "is closely following" the case. Rustavi 2 has long been a thorn in the side of the current government due to its close ties to former President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM). Three opposition activists were detained for assaulting a lawmaker from Georgian Dream ruling coalition during a rally in support of Rustavi 2 in front of the parliament building. The UNM has tried to exploit this by calling for a snap election but even other government critics reject the idea:

Free Democrats against holding snap election The Free Democrats has rejected a proposal by the National Movement to hold a snap election one year before the next scheduled one. The Free Democrats has now ruled out supporting a snap election. The party was a member of the Georgian Dream coalition but withdrew in November, when party leader Irakli Alasania was dismissed as defense minister. Also the foreign minister and minister of Euro integration resigned in protest and are now active members of the Free Democrats. Maia Panjikidze, the former foreign minister, said Tuesday that the Free Democrats do not support holding a special election. She said there is indeed dissatisfaction about the government, but it is a signal for them to feel responsibility. However, she said, only one year is left until the parliamentary election. 

Irakli Alasania's Free Democrats would like to remove the "pro-Russian" government of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili sooner rather than later but they won't join forces with the UNM to this end. In Georgia, the crimes of the Saakashvili regime haven't been forgotten. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is now considering to take a break from prosecuting Africans and Serbs to investigate one of these crimes: the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Much to the dismay of Moscow, the statements coming from The Hague and Saakashvili's reaction suggest that an investigation is going to be every bit as "objective" as previous ICC "investigations." After all, the ICC would never dream of going after a would-be NATO member. Georgian Foreign Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli underlined Tbilisi's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration once again during recent meetings with EU and NATO officials in Brussels but the Georgians have no illusions:

Georgian Deputy FM: MAP Not Expected at NATO Warsaw Summit

Georgia is not likely to get NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the alliance’s summit next year in Warsaw, Deputy Foreign Minister, Davit Dondua, said. According to him the Georgian officials and diplomats’ rhetoric abroad in communication with NATO partners is different from messages they try to use for domestic consumption in Georgia. He said that although knowing that there is a little chance for MAP, Georgia is still pushing the issue intensively in its talks with NATO partners as a “bargaining” tool in order to then get at least something; but domestically, he said, the authorities do not want to prioritize MAP in order not to create false expectations, because it will then cause frustration, which will be exploited by the “Russian propaganda” in Georgia.

Georgia's quest for NATO membership has played into the hands of the "Russian propaganda" and contributed to a rise of pro-Russian sentiments in the country, as more and more people began to realize that Georgian soldiers are dying in Afghanistan for nothing at all. Equally worrying for the West are Tbilisi's latest efforts to expand economic cooperation with Russia and Iran. Georgia wants to diversify its gas imports away from Azerbaijan, which provides about 90 percent of the country's gas imports at the moment. That is why Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze met last month with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller to discuss Russian gas supplies. To make matters worse, Khaladze announced a few days ago that Georgia is not only talking about additional supplies from Russia but also "actively working in respect of Iran." This didn't go down particularly well in Washington:

Deputy FM Says Georgia Told by U.S. not to Rush into Full-Scale Cooperation with Iran Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Davit Dondua, said the U.S. has asked Tbilisi to “refrain from full-scale cooperation” with Iran until Tehran fully complies with the Vienna nuclear deal reached in July. “We have permanent contacts with our American colleagues, who are asking us to refrain from full-scale cooperation with Iran and from becoming open [for Iran] for now – until all the commitments agreed in Vienna are fulfilled and until Iran is given final green light,” Dondua said on October 9. “We are telling our American and other friends that we remain committed to the policy and sanctions pursued by [the West] in respect of Iran, but you should also take into consideration specifics of Georgia’s situation. Iran is a regional state, our important partner, including from the economic point of view, and we want some sort of space for maneuvering,” Dondua said.

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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: October 6, 2015

China Keeps Mum on Violence as Xinjiang Marks 60th Anniversary, If ISIS Won't Come to Kadyrov-Kadyrov Will Come to 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.

After the Taliban shocked the world by seizing the northern Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz, the Afghan government pulled out all the stops to retake the city. Leaving the strategic city of 300,000 in the hands of the Taliban would create major problems for Afghanistan and neighboring countries, given the fact that Kunduz is an important transport hub for the north of the country and a gateway to Central Asia. For example, the distance to Tajikistan is only about 70 kilometers (44 miles). Aware of city's importance, Taliban fighters tried to win residents over with a "charm offensive" but they quickly fell back into old patterns. As government forces were struggling to launch a successful counterattack, U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani was coming under increasing pressure. He tried to shift the blame on others and replaced the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar Safi, who had just reappeared after watching the fall of the provincial capital from abroad. But despite rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, Ghani could not hide the fact that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the situation and that they need help to retake the city:

More US airstrikes as special forces join fight against insurgents outside Kunduz American special operations troops joined the battle around Kunduz on Wednesday, exchanging fire with Taliban fighters near the airport where Afghan forces withdrew after ceding control of the city two days before, the U.S.-led coalition announced. U.S. aircraft carried out more airstrikes against Taliban forces threatening the Kunduz airport, where Afghan government are regrouping after fleeing the city Monday. The increased American support follow signs that Afghan forces are struggling in the face of the massive Taliban assault, which has plunged the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani into the deepest crisis of its first year in office.

U.S. Bombs Hospital to Help Afghans Retake Kunduz

After three days of intense fighting, Afghan forces, led by U.S.-trained special forces from the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) and supported by U.S. special forces, eventually managed to retake control of key areas in Kunduz on October 1. According to local officials, more than 300 insurgents, including Arab, Chechen and Pakistani jihadists, were killed during the battle. Afghanistan’s Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad, who was in charge of the operation, said that the Taliban had planned to stage a major propaganda coup by bringing their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor to Kunduz. Security forces foiled this plan but government claims that the entire city had been cleared of insurgents were swiftly contradicted by residents who pointed out that the Taliban are still controlling several party of Kunduz. While ground forces were trying to eliminate the remaining pockets of resistance, the American military was ramping up its airstrikes across northern Afghanistan, with dire consequences:

Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan At least 19 people were killed when a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz was badly damaged early Saturday after being hit by what appears to have been an American airstrike, sparking international outrage. The United States military, in a statement, confirmed an airstrike at 2:15 a.m., saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital. 

Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini and other Afghan officials, on the other hand, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position. Given that Afghan officials have a long history of distorting the truth to cover up their own crimes and the crimes of their Western partners, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) strongly denied the claims and pointed out that "these statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present." As MSF rightly noted, "this amounts to an admission of a war crime." Notwithstanding the obvious hypocrisy, the U.S. initially tried to play the 'collateral damage' card but Gen. John F. Campbell later confirmed that MSF was right:

US commander says Afghans requested US airstrike in Kunduz The U.S. airstrike that killed 22 at a medical clinic in northern Afghanistan over the weekend was requested by Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire, and was not sought by U.S. forces, the top commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan said Monday. Gen. John F. Campbell made the statement at a hastily arranged Pentagon news conference. He said he was correcting an initial U.S. statement that said the airstrike had been in response to threats against U.S. forces. "We have now learned that on Oct. 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces," Campbell said. "An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports which indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf."

Afghan officials are probably having second thoughts about the "Taliban threat" after Campbell tried to shift the blame on the Afghans, basically admitting that U.S. and Afghan forces committed a war crime. As MSF emphasized, the Americans had the GPS coordinates of the hospital and knew exactly what they were bombing. But the attack comes as no real surprise considering that the hospital has previously been targeted by Afghan security forces who were "irked" by its policy of treating the wounded from all sides of the conflict. Thanks to the latest attack, they finally got what they wanted. Doctors Without Borders announced on October 4 that it was forced to withdraw from Kunduz after U.S. jets destroyed its facility amid a growing humanitarian crisis in the city. Security forces have now regained control of most of the strategic provincial capital but there is no end in sight to the fighting in northern Afghanistan:

Taliban overruns another 2 districts in Afghan north As fighting in the city of Kunduz continues, the Taliban seized two more districts in the Afghan north.`The district of Wardoj, which has switched hands in the past, and Baharak were overrun during Taliban assaults over the past two days, the jihadist group and Afghan officials reported. Dawlat Mohammad Khawar, the district governor for Wardoj, “confirmed that the Afghan security forces have retreated from Wardoj following hours of gun battle with the Taliban militants,” Khaama Press reported. Additionally, the Taliban overran the Baharak district in Badakhsan. “On Friday Mujahideen stormed the district and after intense fighting with the enemy and soon seized control of the district as well as overrunning a number of the checkpoints based near the district headquarters for the security arrangements,” the Taliban stated on Voice of Jihad. 

China Keeps Mum on Violence as Xinjiang Marks 60th Anniversary

Badakhshan was relatively stable as long as troops of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were stationed there but after they handed over control to the Afghan security forces, the province turned into one of the most contested areas in Afghanistan. Neighboring Tajikistan and China are keeping a close eye on the situation. Beijing's efforts to stop the violence by facilitating peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban suffered a major setback at the end of July when Afghan intelligence spilled the beans on Mullah Omar's death. It remains to be seen whether or not new supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor will stick to previous understandings that Omar reached with Beijing regarding Xinjiang. The Chinese authorities would prefer not having to worry about Uyghur jihadists on Afghan territory given that Uyghur jihadists on Chinese territory are already causing enough problems:

China slams a lid on news of violence from its western frontier Earlier this month, a knife-wielding gang attacked security guards at a coal mine in Xinjiang, a volatile region in the northwest of China. By the time the attack was repelled, at least 40 people had been killed or injured, according to a report by Radio Free Asia, which quoted a local state security chief about the incident four days after it occurred. Chinese state media still hasn’t reported on the Sept. 18 coal mine attack, more than two weeks later. It’s only the latest example of what appears to be a Chinese government news blackout on growing violence in Xinjiang, an oil-rich region crucial to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan for a Silk Road economic development belt stretching across Asia. Other unpublicized incidents include a police shooting of eight suspects in June; the police killing of two men in May after they reportedly attacked a patrol; and a Han Chinese town official knifed to death, also in May.

Whereas Chinese media tries to keep a lid on bad news from Xinjiang, U.S. propaganda outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA) continues to rub salt into the wound. Thanks to the help of the local authorities, RFA won't run out of useful material anytime soon. In addition to frequent terrorist attacks, there are plenty of absurd anti-terror measures to talk about. One of the more reasonable ideas is to teach Chinese soldiers Uyhgur folk dances and songs in an effort to improve relations between the military and the local population. As Chinese officials emphasize time and again, the military plays a vital role in safeguarding the stability of the autonomous region. At the end of September, Beijing released a 20,000-word white paper on ethnic equality, unity and development in Xinjiang, lauding the "tremendous achievements" in the region and highlighting the fight against terrorism and religious extremism. The white paper was issued on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Xinjiang's founding on October 1, 1955:

China stresses stability, security on Xinjiang's founding anniversary Top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng on Thursday said that long-term stability and security is the top priority in Xinjiang, stressing counterterrorism as the focus of the current work. Yu, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, made the remarks at a grand rally in Urumqi, the regional capital, marking the 60th anniversary of the autonomous region's founding. "The three forces (separatism, terrorism and extremism) are the biggest threats for Xinjiang and the common enemies for people of all ethnic groups. We must clench our fists tight and take the initiative to crack down on violence and terror activities strictly and lawfully and fight the three forces," Yu said.

Yu Zhengsheng and other central government officials toured Xinjiang ahead of the anniversary festivities to pose for a few photo ops and to check how the fight against the 'three evils' is going. During their tour, Yu made the case for expanding an aid program for Xinjiang in order to help the region fight terrorism. According to the Xinjiang white paper, Beijing has poured more than 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.2 trillion) into the autonomous region between 2010 and 2014. Yu's statements indicate that this is only the beginning, as the Chinese government spares neither trouble nor expense to ensure Xinjiang's long-term stability and security. If recent media reports are to be believed, these efforts could also include Chinese military involvement in Syria. Chinese naval expert Zhang Junshe dismissed the reports as rumors but the growing presence of Uyghurs in Syria has certainly not gone unnoticed in Beijing:

Uighur jihadist group in Syria advertises ‘little jihadists’ The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), an al Qaeda-affiliated Uighur jihadist group that is operating in Syria, recently released a video that includes photos of children with weapons and jihadist garb accompanied by an Uighur-language nasheed [A cappella Islamic music]. The children were described as “little jihadists” on the TIP’s official Twitter feed. This is not the first time that the TIP has shown children in training. In July, the group first publicized a training camp in Idlib, which appears to be in the same area. Several of those photos depict the children learning how to operate AK-47’s, sub-machine guns, and other handguns. In both cases, many of the children appear to be Uighur, but it is possible that some are native Syrians. The group’s former military leader was a native Syrian and the group has featured other Syrians in its ranks before.

If ISIS Won't Come to Kadyrov, Kadyrov Will Come to ISIS

Considering Turkey's meddling in "East Turkestan" and Syria, it is hardly surprising that the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is being linked to Turkish intelligence. Much to the dismay of Turkish officials, Uyghurs in and around Jisr al-Shughur are now at risk of being killed by Russian airstrikes. As Ankara is seeing its hopes dashed, Turkish Islamist "charities," such as IMKANDER and Özgür-Der, took a break from supporting NATO-backed jihadists in Syria and elsewhere to protest against Russia's intervention. These protests won't stop Russia's campaign in Syria but they could encourage Moscow to make another attempt at putting IMKANDER on the Al-Qaida Sanctions List. However, Russian officials have no illusions about the West's "War on Terror." Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who keeps eliminating IMKANDER's beloved terrorist leaders, just emphasized again that "the main target of the West is Assad and not the 'Iblis State' terrorist organization." Therefore, Kadyrov asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for permission to take matters into his own hands:

Kadyrov asks Putin to allow Chechen infantry to fight in Syria The head of the Chechen Republic has asked the Russian president to send Chechen units to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, adding that his fighters have sworn to fight terrorists till the end. “This is not idle talk, I am asking for permission to go there and participate in special operations,” Ramzan Kadyrov said in the Friday interview with the RSN radio. “Being a Muslim, a Chechen and a Russian patriot I want to say that in 1999 when our republic was overrun with these devils we swore on the Koran that we would fight them wherever they are,” the Chechen leader said. “But we need the Commander-in-Chief’s decision to do this,” he emphasized. According to the Russian Constitution, the president is also the commander-in-chief of the military forces.

Ramzan Kadyrov's expertise in fighting terrorism is well-known. That is why another former warlord, Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, visited Chechnya the other day to get some advice from him and ask for Russian support in the fight against ISIS. The Chechen leader was immediately hooked and assured Dostum that Russia won't let Afghanistan down. Some people in Moscow want to get rid of Chechnya's "enfant terrible" and probably wouldn't mind sending him to Afghanistan or Syria but President Putin counts on Kadyrov to maintain order and stability in Chechnya, by all available means. This includes public naming and shaming of ISIS supporters. Although there have been a few isolated cases of attempted ISIS recruitment in Chechnya, the group has not been able to get a foothold in the Chechen republic. Local security forces are doing their best to nip the threat in the bud, forcing the Islamic State to focus on neighboring Dagestan:

IS's North Caucasus Affiliate Calls For Recruits To Join It In Daghestan The Islamic State extremist group's North Caucasus affiliate, Wilayat al-Qawqaz (Caucasus Province) has issued a call for would-be militants in Russia to join it and fight against Russian forces rather than joining IS in Syria. In a video message released last week by Furat Media, IS's official Russian-language media wing, the leader of IS's Caucasus Province in Daghestan, Abu Mukhammad Kadarsky (Rustam Asilderov), said this was the wish of IS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Despite the propaganda, IS's Caucasus Province is weak and unlikely to attract large numbers of recruits to swell its ranks in the forests of Daghestan, particularly as winter draws near.

The Islamic State's Caucasus Province got off to a bad start. Its first official attack in Russia, allegedly targeting Russian army barracks in Dagestan, was just made-up and now the group is struggling to find new recruits. Wilayat Qawqaz owes its existence to the defection of several Caucasus Emirate (IK) commanders. This has crippled the once powerful terrorist organization and seems to have caused some bad blood between the groups. IK's affiliate in Syria was really upset when the Russian "kuffars" didn't target ISIS positions during their recent bombing campaign. It is not exactly a secret that Moscow's primary objective is to support the Syrian government against all terrorists, regardless of whether they belong to ISIS or "moderate" groups "vetted" and armed by the United States. And another important objective is to prevent Russian jihadists fighting in Syria from returning to Russia:

Russian Jailed For Fighting Alongside Islamic Militants In Syria A Russian man from the city of Tyumen has been sentenced to two years in jail for fighting with Islamic militants in Syria. The regional branch of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) says Vitaly Makarov, a convert to Islam, was found guilty by a court of taking part in military operations in Syria in 2013-2014 with an illegal armed group loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group. FSB First Deputy Director Sergei Smirnov said earlier this month that some 2,400 Russians are fighting alongside IS militants and other extremist Muslim groups in Syria and Iraq.

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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: September 29, 2015

Tajikistan's Attempt to Prove IRPT-Nazarzoda Plot Backfires, Taliban Seize Kunduz as U.S. Mulls Drawdown Options & 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.

With the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine dominating the headlines, the latest escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has gone largely unnoticed. It all started on September 24, when Azerbaijani forces shelled Armenian villages in the northeastern Tavush region close to the border. Mortar and gunfire killed three civilian women, aged 41, 83 and 94, and wounded four other residents. It was the highest number of civilians killed in one day for quite some time. Moreover, targeting villages with mortar fire is not a common tactic and has only rarely been seen since the end of the war in 1994. As Armenia called on the international community to get involved and prevent a further escalation of the conflict, Azerbaijan tried to play the innocent by using Israel's tried and tested 'human shields' rhetoric. But it quickly became clear which side is provoking an escalation:

Four Armenian Servicemen Killed by Azerbaijani Fire Four Armenian servicemen were killed today in an offensive operation launched by Azerbaijan on Sept. 25. Norayr Khachatryan (b. 1995), Robert Mkrtchyan (b. 1995), Harout Hakobyan (b. 1997), and Karen Shahinyan (b. 1997) of the Artsakh Armed Forces were killed in the Azerbaijani attack, announced the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR) Ministry of Defense. According to the Ministry, Azerbaijani forces used Turkish-made TR-107 rocket launchers in the attack. Intensive shelling reportedly took place on Sept. 24 and 25. A day earlier, 83-year-old Parakavar resident Baydzar Aghajanyan and Berdavan residents Shushan Asatryan, 94, and Sona Revezyan , 41, were killed by Azerbaijani artillery fire targeting Armenian border villages in Armenia’s Tavush province. Four other residents were also wounded in the attack.

Azerbaijan Kills Armenian Grannies, Blames Armenia

True to form, after killing seven Armenians in two days, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of escalating the conflict in an attempt to derail negotiations between the countries' Foreign Ministers and the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in New York. Ironically, that is exactly the strategy that Azerbaijan has been using time and again in the run-up to important meetings and negotiations. The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs were not swayed by Baku's antics and urged the warring parties to accept an OSCE mechanism to investigate ceasefire violations. Armenia has already agreed to discuss the details of the mechanism and Azerbaijan is now under pressure to follow suit. The month of September has taken a turn for the worse for Baku. Two weeks ago, Azerbaijani officials were chuffed to bits, thinking that they have a golden opportunity to claim the moral high ground in the conflict with Armenia:

Armenian 'Activist' Defects To Azerbaijan An Armenian man has defected to archrival Azerbaijan in a case that is sure to rankle in Yerevan. Vahan Martirosian, who says he is the head of an NGO called Internal National Liberation Movement, told reporters in Baku on September 18 that he had requested political asylum in Azerbaijan. There is no NGO by that name in the official registry. Martirosian slammed the policies of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, calling them anti-Armenian, and said Azerbaijani media are the only source offering "truthful information" about the current situation in Armenia.

Azerbaijani media is not exactly known for offering "truthful information" about anything but Martirosian went even further in his efforts to please his new hosts. The Armenian "activist" vowed to draw the international community's attention to the "criminal regime" of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and claimed that most people living in Nagorno-Karabakh would vote to join Azerbaijan if they were allowed to hold a referendum. Martirosian's strange Baku press conference perplexed not only the Armenian authorities but also the country's opposition and civil activists because they couldn't recall ever meeting him during protests in Armenia. Ruzanna Marguni, the woman who accused Martirosian of stealing $3,800 from her apartment before he left the country, described him as "a skillful fraudster." This being the case, Martirosian's defection is not the propaganda coup the Aliyev regime had been hoping for and it won't help to deflect attention from Azerbaijan's crackdown on journalists and human rights activists, which is once again causing tensions between Baku and the West:

Aliyev Goes On The Attack Against EU Values Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has thrown down the gauntlet in the face of criticism from the European Union, accusing the bloc of being "anti-Azerbaijani" and mocking European values amid the ongoing refugee crisis. During a joint press conference with visiting Czech President Milos Zeman in Baku on September 15, Aliyev blasted a recent European Parliament resolution that condemned his country's human rights situation and called for the release of all political prisoners and imprisoned journalists. Speaking earlier on September 15 at the opening ceremonies of a new school in Baku, Aliyev called on the country's youth to stay away from "foreign influence and the so-called Western values that our people do not share."​

Aliyev and Co. were furious about the latest "anti-Azerbaijani" European Parliament resolution. Baku responded by canceling the planned visit by a European Commission delegation and by suspending its participation in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, an inter-parliamentary forum of the EU and its eastern neighbors which was established as part of the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative. Some Azerbaijani lawmakers have even called for rethinking Azerbaijan's participation in the Eastern Partnership. As usual, Baku's anger about "anti-Azerbaijani" activities is not only directed at Brussels but also at "some circles" in the United States. After cracking down on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) at the end of last year, the Aliyev regime is now going after Voice of America and other foreign media outlets. And last but not least, Azerbaijan continues its half-hearted campaign against the U.S.-backed Gülen movement, much to the joy of Turkish President Erdogan:

Azerbaijan deports Turkish citizens for Nur movement propaganda Turkish citizens, suspected of promoting the Nur movement in Azerbaijan, were deported from the country.   The Yasamal district court fined Turkish citizens Sunkur Nurulla and Senol Miktat AZN 2000 under article #300.04 (violation of the law on religious freedom) of the Code of Administrative Offences.   Under the court decision, they were deported from Azerbaijan. In addition, 5 Azerbaijani citizens faced fine AZN 1500.

Tajikistan's Attempt to Prove IRPT-Nazarzoda Plot Backfires

If Aliyev eventually wants to get rid of the Gülen movement altogether, he can ask his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon for advice. Rahmon is currently demonstrating how to rid oneself of pesky opposition groups. Government forces had a hard time catching former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda but the Tajik regime is now making the best of the situation by using Nazarzoda's rebellion to crush the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) once and for all. To this end, they have come up with an elaborate plot linking Nazarzoda and the IRPT, putting even the most ludicrous conspiracy theories to shame. On September 17, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General's office set the stage with an official statement saying that IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri had ordered Nazarzoda to establish 20 small criminal groups. Charitable foundations of foreign countries allegedly provided the funding. This story is becoming more convoluted and more implausible day by day:

Tajikistan State Media Rants Undermine Uprising Account In providing updates to its would-be insurgency and smears of the opposition almost daily, Tajikistan’s government has succeeded mostly in undermining its own credibility.

A dispatch circulated by Khovar state news agency on September 26 reaches new heights of implausibility. The story contends that the alleged renegade deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda had plotted his uprising since 2010 in collusion with the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT). Allegations that plotting should have been happening for so long at the highest level is at best an astonishing admission of incompetence by Tajikistan’s security structures. Alternatively, Dushanbe is spinning a yarn in full confidence that nobody within the country, including all the diplomatic stations based there, will dare to question its narrative.

International extremist organizations, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. and the EU have all featured in recent Tajik state media ramblings about the alleged Kabiri-Nazarzoda plot. Ironically, Washington has been remarkably silent on Tajikistan's crackdown and just showcased its support of the Rahmon regime by donating tactical equipment worth $260,000 to the country's OMON unit, which made headlines a few months ago when its commander defected to ISIS. Khovar lashed out at the U.S. nevertheless. Even Russian analysts, who are usually quick to blame unrest in Central Asia on the West and/or extremists, had to take flak because they dared to cast doubt on the government's narrative. Dushanbe's main problem is that the narrative doesn't stand up to scrutiny, as the Tajik authorities learned when they confronted IRPT deputy leader Mahmadali Hayit with a member of Nazarzoda's group:

IRP deputy leader confronted with member of Abduhalim Nazarzoda’s group His defense lawyer, Jamshed Yorov, says Hayit was confronted with one of members of mutinous general’s armed group on September 22. “The men said that Mahmadali Hayit and IRP leader Muhiddin Kabiri allegedly met with General Abduhalim Nazarzoda on March 6 and drew the plan of attacks on the government institutions and distributed public positions among them,” they lawyer said. “Hayit, however, managed to prove that there was no such a meeting. At that time, Hayit was at IRP’s head office to hold a post-election meeting. All accusations were rebutted,” Yorov noted.

Predictably, the Tajik authorities couldn't take the embarrassment. Jamshed Yorov's colleague Buzurgmehr Yorov, who is also defending the Islamic Renaissance Party, was pressured to abandon his clients and later detained after he refused to play along. Buzurgmehr's detention came shortly after the Prosecutor General's office formally charged the 13 arrested IRPT members with creating a criminal organization. They face between 15 and 20 years in jail if they are found guilty. As Buzurgmehr told RFE/RL's Tajik service before his arrest, the IRPT members deny having anything to do with Nazarzoda's rebellion and the creation of criminal groups. It appears that this won't stop the Tajik regime from prosecuting them. However, instead of putting all their efforts into destroying the IRPT, the Tajik authorities would be well advised to pay more attention to the alarming situation on the Afghan border:

Islamic Jihad Union claims to control areas along Afghan-Tajik border

The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), an al Qaeda and Taliban-linked group that operates in Afghanistan, has claimed it controls large areas of the northern border with Tajikistan. While the IJU’s claim cannot be independently confirmed, the jihadist group released several photos of a small team of fighters purportedly crossing the Amu Darya River in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. It is unclear exactly where the crossing took place, but it likely occurred in the district of Qala-i-Zal, the only district in Kunduz that borders the Amu Darya River. The northern Kunduz districts of Imam Sahib and Dasht-i-Archi, which also border Tajikistan and the Panj River, are considered to be contested or controlled by the Taliban. The IJU is an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which joined the Islamic State this past summer. The IJU swore allegiance to the Taliban’s new emir, and has been active in the Taliban’s “Azm” spring offensive.

Taliban Seize Kunduz as U.S. Mulls Drawdown Options 

As if the IJU's announcement was not worrying enough, the Taliban have been making significant progress in Kunduz province in the last few days. The provincial capital has been under siege for months and was already on the verge of falling to the Taliban earlier this year. After keeping the insurgents at bay during the summer, government troops eventually lost the fight for Kunduz on September 28, when the Taliban managed to take over the city. One of their first actions was to release 700 prisoners - most of whom were Taliban - from Kunduz city prison. New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor lost no time in commenting on his first major victory and urged residents to cooperate with the city's new masters. As the world reacted with shock to the news, the Afghan government tried to play down the devastating defeat and vowed to retake the city but that is easier said than done:

Afghan Forces Seek to Regain Kunduz, Major Northern City, From Taliban A day after the Taliban took their first major city in 14 years, a counterattack was underway Tuesday, but ground forces sent from other provinces to recapture the northern city, Kunduz, were delayed by ambushes and roadside bombs, officials said. American forces carried out an airstrike outside the city Tuesday morning, said Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the United States forces in Afghanistan. He did not specify the target, but said the strike was carried out to eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces. Ghulam Rabbani, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, said ground forces from Kabul and the northern province of Balkh had been repeatedly ambushed by the Taliban on their way to Kunduz. Some of the reinforcements were waiting in nearby Baghlan to meet with the forces from Kabul, said Col. Abdul Qahar, an Afghan Army spokesman in the north.

In addition to offensives in Kunduz and Helmand province, Taliban fighters have also been consolidating their grip on areas in eastern Afghanistan, where they just overran a U.S.-built military outpost on the Pakistani border. As discussed last week, warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum succeeded in driving back the insurgents in Faryab province but his victory was short-lived. All in all, the security situation in Afghanistan is alarming, to the say least. To make matters worse, the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State recently launched its first attack on Afghan security forces. Up until then, ISIS had largely focused on fighting the Taliban. The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan has not gone unnoticed and even the U.S. is now acknowledging the threat after initially playing down the issue. In light of the Taliban's largest victory in years and the rise of ISIS, the timing of General John Campbell's testimony before Congress about the U.S. "withdrawal" could hardly be any better:

U.S., Allied Military Review New Options for Afghan Pullback U.S. and allied defense officials, increasingly wary of White House plans to scale back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, are reviewing new drawdown options that include keeping thousands of American troops in the country beyond the end of 2016, American and allied officials said. The top international commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, has sent five different recommendations to the Pentagon and to North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials in Brussels, each with its own risk assessment, officials said. Some officials worry that too large a cut could cause the Afghan government to come under increased pressure from the Taliban and other militants, officials said. Others believe a smaller force of several thousand Americans still could be effective at backing the Afghan government.

The options range from keeping the current U.S. presence of about 10,000 toops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 to continuing with the planned drawdown to a force of several hundred troops by the end of 2016. Taliban leader Mansoor has already announced his preferred option, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. Washington is probably not going to consider this option and the continued presence of thousands of U.S. contractors is a non-negotiable matter, anyway. The only ones leaving Afghanistan currently in record numbers are Afghans, much to the dismay of the Afghan government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that he wants to tackle the problem by introducing a "combination of security and economic measures." He didn't specify which sort of measures he was alluding to but Kabul's social media campaign is definitely not going to stem the tide:

Afghanistan Tries To Stem Tide Of Migration 'Brain Drain' "Don't go. Stay with me. There might be no return!" That's the message Kabul is sending to Afghans thinking of abandoning their home country for a new life in the West. The Refugees and Repatriations Ministry has launched a slick social-media campaign to get its message out, and doesn't pull any punches in its effort to dissuade Afghans from making the jump to Europe. Graphics being circulated on Facebook and Twitter show that the ministry is using a healthy dose of stark images and guilt to urge Afghans to fulfill their patriotic duty and stay on to help rebuild their war-torn nation.

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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: September 22, 2015

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once & for All, Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment & 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.

At the beginning of last week, the leaders of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan gathered in the Tajik capital Dushanbe for a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The summit came at an inconvenient time for host Emomali Rahmon, who was struggling to quell a small rebellion led by former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. Rahmon had sacked Nazarzoda immediately after identifying him as the mastermind of the attacks that rocked the country on September 4. The renegade general subsequently fled with his supporters toward Romit Gorge, about 45 kilometers east of Dushanbe, and kept the Tajik authorities on their toes for several days. Nazarzoda's rebellion overshadowed Tajikistan's 24th independence anniversary as well as the CSTO summit and left dozens of people dead until the general was eventually eliminated on September 16:

Tajik Mutineer And Special Forces Commander Killed In Battle Tajikistan's authorities say they have killed the fugitive general who mutinied two weeks ago. In the fight, however, the commander of the most elite special forces unit in the country, the Alfas, was killed as well. The former general, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, was killed on September 16 at 14:00 local time after a day-and-a-half-long battle in the Romit Gorge at an altitude of 3,700 meters above sea level, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry and State Committee on National Security said in a joint statement. During the fighting, the chief of the Alfas, Colonel Rustam Khamakiyev, and three other officers of the Alfas and OMON (a special forces unit of the Interior Ministry) were killed, the statement added.

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once and for All 

The motive for Nazarzoda's mutiny remains unclear and there are many different theories about what caused the violence, ranging from a coup attempt to the always popular Islamist angle. However, the most likely explanation seems to be that the former Deputy Defense Minister went rogue after being warned about an impending prosecution against him. Nazarzoda was a field commander of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) during the Tajikistani civil war and joined the Defense Ministry in 1997 after the government signed a power-sharing deal with the UTO. Despite the power-sharing deal, the Tajik regime has tried to neutralize a number of former UTO commanders over the years. The crackdown on political opponents is now again picking up pace. At the end of last month, the Tajik Justice Ministry banned Central Asia's only officially registered Islamic party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and Nazarzoda's rebellion offers a perfect opportunity to crush the IRPT once and for all:

Tajikistan Pins Recent Violence on Islamic Party Slowly, over months and years, the government of Tajikistan has been eroding the peace accord that ended the civil war. On September 4, a pair of attacks in and near Dushanbe set off a chain of accusations that have seemingly ended with the final closure of the country’s most prominent opposition party*. If the state is to be believed, a constellation of bogeymen connived to overthrow the government right under the defense ministry’s nose. The Tajik Prosecutor-General’s office released an official statement today linking the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), its exiled leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and (until the day of the attacks) Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. The statement says that Nazarzoda, on behalf of Kabiri and the IRPT, established 20 “small criminal groups” in recent years. The two attacks in early September–in Vahdat and Dushanbe–were preceded by an influx of “so-called charitable funds of foreign countries.”

Nazarzoda in the past had links to the IRPT when both were part of the United Tajik Opposition fighting against the government but even then his connections to the party were tenuous at best. Dushanbe's claims that Nazarzoda was a member of the IRPT don't hold water. Nevertheless, the government lost no time in blaming the Islamic Renaissance Party for the outbreak of violence. IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri rejected the accusations and argued that Nazarzoda's motives rather lie in the government's "erroneous" policies. Kabiri has been living in self-imposed exile since March because he had seen it coming. While the manhunt for Nazarzoda was still underway, the Tajik authorities launched an all-out attack on the IRPT. Police seized the party's property and began arresting the remaining IRPT leaders in Tajikistan. As for Muhiddin Kabiri, he hasn't been forgotten by the Tajik regime as well:

Tajikistan reportedly turns to Interpol over IRP leader The Interior Ministry of Tajikistan is reportedly preparing documents to turn to Interpol over the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) leader Muhiddin Kabiri. An official source at the Interior Ministry says the documents for detention and extradition of Kabiri will be sent to the country where he is probably living now. “Criminal proceedings have not yet been instituted against Muhiddin Kabiri, but the Prosecutor-general’s Office is going to institute criminal proceedings against him one of these days,” the source added.

The latest crackdown may very spell the end of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. Warnings that the party's closure will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups have apparently fallen on deaf ears in Dushanbe. In the eyes of Tajik President Rahmon, most opponents are terrorists anyway. That is also a popular view among Rahmon's CSTO colleagues. As usual, threats of terrorism and extremism were high on the agenda during the CSTO summit in Tajikistan and the deteriorating situation in northern Afghanistan was of course discussed as well. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev raised a few eyebrows when he went as far as to link Tajikistan's border worries with the Nazarzoda rebellion. However, the most noteworthy statement regarding the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border came from a Kommersant source close to the CSTO Secretariat:

Russia may deploy soldiers on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan: CSTO The Russian forces may return on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan amid fears the deteriorating security situation may affect the security of Central Asian countries, it has been reported. A source close to the Secretary General of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has said the return of Russian forces on Afghanistan-Tajikistan border is not unlikely. According to the Russian newspaper – kommersant, the Russian forces may return once they receive a request from the government of Tajikistan.

Dostum Urged to Fight ISIS after Short-Lived Success in Faryab

Up until now, Dushanbe has only requested technical assistance from the CSTO and another source pointed out that the current situation does not require the continued presence of Russian forces or CSTO contingents on the Tajik-Afghan border. In the meantime, Russia is encouraging the Afghan government to deal with this problem on its own by offering more military hardware in exchange for Afghanistan's provision of security along the Tajik border. It is doubtful that this will be enough to secure the border considering the bad shape of the Afghan security forces despite years of training by the United States and its allies. Moscow is not impressed with the results of NATO's mission in Afghanistan as President Putin emphasized once again during the CSTO summit. In addition to the escalating violence, the Kremlin is worried about the rising opium production. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, raised this issue recently at the UN Security Council:

ISIL Gains Control Of Several Drug Trafficking Routes From Afghanistan The Islamic State (ISIL) extremist group has taken control of a number of drug trafficking routes from Afghanistan, Russian envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said Thursday. The envoy urged the UN Security Council to closely monitor and respond quickly to developments in the drug situation in Afghanistan, as international terrorist groups use drug trafficking to fund their activities. "There is information that a group of militants from ISIS [IS] already control a part of the routes of illegal drug supply from the Badakhshan Province [in northeastern Afghanistan]," Churkin said.

Taliban fighters are constantly causing trouble in Badakhshan but Churkin's assertion that ISIS controls a part of the drug supply routes from the province comes as a surprise. It is not the first time that Russian officials have highlighted the connection between ISIS and the Afghan drug trade. Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, claimed last year that ISIS "obtains fabulous profits by providing half of the total heroin supply to Europe via destabilized Iraq and some African countries." After suffering a few setbacks in Afghanistan, ISIS has gained a foothold in the war-torn country and is now vying with the Taliban for influence. As the fighting between the two groups escalates, some people are pinning their hopes on First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to destroy ISIS' stronghold in Nangarhar province and repeat the success of his Faryab campaign. They seem to have missed that Dostum's success in Faryab didn't last very long:

Troops Battle Insurgents in Faryab After Short-Lived Clearance Despite weeks of military clearing operations in Faryab, to rid the area of insurgents, the militants immediately returned to their old battle field following Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's return to Kabul. In August, Dostum donned his military uniform and joined troops on the Faryab frontline. After only a few weeks they cleared the area. However, peace was short-lived and insurgents have once again overrun the area.

Two months ago, Dostum and the powerful governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor agreed to join forces with government troops in order to subdue the insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Noor has recently followed Dostum's example in leading military operations in the north but as Dostum's short-lived success in Faryab shows, defeating the insurgency won't be easy. While the government is stepping up its efforts, the Taliban are trying to settle differences that emerged after the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death. Mullah Omar's family and several other leading Taliban figures didn't approve of new supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Instead they preferred Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob. After weeks of infighting and intense negotiations, Yaqoob and his family eventually agreed to a power-sharing deal and pledged allegiance to Mansoor, much to the dismay of the remaining Mansoor critics:

Afghan Taliban divided as talks between two factions fail The Afghan Taliban may split into two factions, said a spokesman for one group on Saturday, because they cannot agree who should be leader following the death of their founder.  

On Saturday, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a spokesman for the anti-Mansour faction, said talks between Mansour and the dissatisfied commanders had failed. Niazi's comments come after Omar's son Yaqoob and brother Manan swore allegiance to Mansour this week. Omar's family had initially opposed Mansour but agreed to support him after he agreed to a list of their demands. Niazi said Mansour had threatened to cut Taliban funds that Manan had been receiving if he did not support Mansour's leadership.

Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment

A split of the Taliban into two factions would complicate the messy situation in Afghanistan even further and drive more Taliban fighters into the arms of ISIS. The much-hyped terrorist group has managed to establish new branches in several countries by wooing jihadists away from other groups. The Islamic State's "Wilayat Qawqaz" in the North Caucasus is a prime example of this highly successful franchise model. ISIS' Caucasus branch made headlines at the beginning of this month when it claimed responsibility for its first official attack in Russia, which allegedly targeted barracks of the Russian army in southern Dagestan. Unfortunately, security forces and local residents were quick to deny that an attack took place and pointed out that the supposed target doesn't even exist. To make matters worse for "Wilayat Qawqaz," ISIS recruiters in Chechnya are facing unexpected problems:

Chechen Leader Takes Unique Approach in Dissuading Youths From Joining ISIL Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov has taken a blunt approach to flushing out pro-ISIL extremist sentiment in his republic, holding direct face-to-face talks with youths suspected of supporting the terror group, Chechen television channel Grozny has reported. At the event, conducted earlier this week, Kadyrov faced down several young men, who he shamed for voicing their sympathies for the terror group on social media. The talk was attended by local Imams, the heads of municipalities, and the youths' parents; it was then broadcast on Chechen television. Speaking at the event, parents noted that they had tried to raise their children to become pillars of support for their families, devout Muslims and worthy members of their communities and their country. They emphasized that they did not need sons "who betrayed family, relatives, friends, Islam and the Chechen people."

Kadyrov made it quite clear to the humiliated ISIS supporters that "there's no place in Chechnya for anyone who even glances in the direction of ISIS." The Chechen leader is well known for his unorthodox measures and never shies away from causing a scandal. Lately, Kadyrov picked a fight with the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city court over a ruling that labeled a booklet containing quotes and commentary on verses from the Quran as "extremist." He vowed to appeal the court ruling and branded the responsible judge and prosecutor "national traitors and shaitans [devils]" - a term that is usually reserved for terrorists. Kadyrov also didn't mince his words when he added his two cents to the debate on the alleged participation of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in the First Chechen War. While it seems highly unlikely that Yatsenyuk fought in the North Caucasus, other Ukrainians definitely supported the "Chechen rebels" and two of them just went on trial in Chechnya:

Russia puts Ukrainians on trial for Chechnya killings Two Ukrainians went on trial in Russia on Tuesday accused of murdering dozens of Russian soldiers in Chechnya in the 1990s while fighting with separatists in a nationalist hit squad. The powerful Investigative Committee said that the supreme court of Chechnya in Grozny began hearing the case of Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, both of whom are charged with murder and belonging to a militant organisation. The men have been held in pre-trial detention for over a year after being arrested separately when they came to Russia last year.

Klykh and Karpyuk are accused of being members of the infamous Ukrainian ultranationalist group Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People's Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO), which bears all the hallmarks of NATO's 'Gladio' operations. Since its inception in late 1990, UNA-UNSO participated in several conflicts against Russia or Russian-backed forces, ranging from the War in Abkhazia to the First Chechen War. Last year, the group caught again Russian authorities' attention when its members featured prominently in the Euromaidan movement. Chechnya's supreme court will probably use this opportunity to make an example of the two Ukrainian defendants after Ukrainian nationalists repeatedly voiced support for their "Chechen brothers" and even celebrated the terrorist attack in Grozny last December. Although the situation in the North Caucasus has been relatively quiet in recent months, the local authorities have to keep their guard up all the time:

Another Imam Shot Dead In Russia's North Caucasus An imam in Russia's Daghestan region in the North Caucasus has been killed. The Investigative Committee of Russia says two masked men shot dead Magomed Khidirov early in the morning of September 9 while he was on his way to a mosque in Novy Kurush. The killing of Khidirov, 34, came three weeks after another Islamic cleric, Zamirbek Makhmutov, 32, was shot dead in Russia's Stavropol region neighboring Daghestan.

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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: August 12, 2015

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams & 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 recent confirmation of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar has aggravated the alarming situation in Afghanistan. New Taliban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is struggling to stop the factionalism that has been fueled by Omar's death and the Afghan peace talks have been put on hold for the time being. Many of Mansoor's critics oppose the talks with Kabul and favor Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob as Taliban leader. A few days ago, Afghan parliament member Abdul Zahir Qadir created a stir when he claimed that Yaqoob was assassinated in the Pakistani city of Quetta on behalf of Mansoor and Pakistani intelligence agencies. The Taliban immediately denied the claims but Yaqoob's whereabouts are still shrouded in mystery. As more and more leading Taliban figures come out in opposition to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, senior members of the movement are meeting in Pakistan to resolve the dispute:

Taliban Hold Open Meetings in Pakistan to Discuss Leadership

Senior members of the Taliban are reportedly holding open meetings in Pakistan to discuss the disputed appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the group's new chief in the wake Mullah Omar's death. Several top Taliban leaders have expressed strong opposition to Mansour's leadership, calling him a puppet of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Sources within the Afghan government told TOLOnews on condition of anonymity on Thursday that scores of Taliban members - including both those who agree and disagree with Mansour's appointment - met with clerics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on Wednesday to resolve the dispute over Omar's successor.

Taliban Strain Pak-Afghan Ties with New Wave of Terror

As many as 300 clerics or ulema reportedly met in Pakistan to mediate between the rival groups. Influential Pakistani cleric Sami ul-Haq, the "Father of the Taliban," was chosen by both sides to lead the reconciliation efforts. Haq has endorsed new Taliban leader Mansoor and he tried to convince Mullah Omar's family of doing the same by telling them that people would never forgive them if they "wasted sacrifices of thousands of Afghan Mujahideen by creating divisions within the Taliban movement." Mullah Omar's only surviving brother Abdul Manan Niazi, who is the anti-Mansoor faction's spokesman, said that they are willing to accept any decision taken by the ulema. The religious scholars are expected to announce their decision within the next few days. Predictably, the huge Taliban meetings didn't go unnoticed in neighboring Afghanistan. Many Afghans were furious about the fact that the Taliban were allowed to meet openly in Pakistan while unleashing a new wave of terror in Afghanistan:

Attacks on army, police and U.S. special forces kill 50 in Kabul A wave of attacks on the Afghan army and police and U.S. special forces in Kabul have killed at least 50 people and wounded hundreds, dimming hopes that the Taliban might be weakened by a leadership struggle after their longtime leader's death. The bloodshed began on Friday with a truck bomb that exploded in a heavily populated district of the capital and ended with an hours-long battle at a base used by U.S. special forces. It became the deadliest day in Kabul for years. The Islamist insurgents claimed responsibility for both the police academy attack and the battle at the U.S. special forces base, though not for the truck bomb.

Friday's attacks ended a period of relative calm in Kabul and heralded the start of a terror campaign shaking Afghanistan. One day after the attacks in the Afghan capital, up to 29 people were killed in the northern province of Kunduz when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted members of an irregular anti-Taliban militia and on Monday another Taliban suicide bombing struck Kabul, killing five people and injuring a least 16. Former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh was quick to point out that new Taliban leader Mansoor is trying to show his critics that he remains committed to fighting the Afghan government. Considering that one of Mansoor's first actions was to distance himself from the peace talks, Saleh may have a point. Furthermore, Saleh emphasized Pakistan's role in enabling such Taliban attacks and this issue has also been highlighted by many other Afghans, including President Ashraf Ghani:

Afghan President Points Finger at Pakistan After Bombings in Kabul Under pressure after a wave of deadly bombings in the Afghan capital, President Ashraf Ghani on Monday accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to mass gatherings of Taliban fighters in its territory, where such attacks are planned. Mr. Ghani’s words, a sharp break from the conciliatory tone he had taken toward Pakistan for much of his first year in office, came just hours after a suicide car-bomb struck a crowded entrance of the international airport in Kabul, leaving at least five people dead and 16 wounded. Attacks in the Afghan capital over the last four days have left nearly 70 people dead and hundreds wounded. After the news of Mullah Omar’s death, Mr. Ghani told his ministers that Pakistan had promised him that no new Amir ul-Momineen, as the Taliban call their leader, would be selected on its soil and that no large gatherings of the Taliban would take place to give him legitimacy. But within days, not only had Mullah Mansour replaced Mullah Omar and been endorsed in large ceremonies in Quetta, but also he had announced that his new deputy would come from the Haqqani network, an aggressive organizer of terrorist attacks that has strong links to the Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

A senior Afghan official recently suggested that Sirajuddin Haqqani's was mainly promoted to Mansoor's deputy because of his networks in urban areas. It appears that he already used these networks. The attacks in Kabul bore many of the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, reinforcing Ghani's argument that "war is declared against us from Pakistani territory." Ghani essentially buried the peace process on Monday by saying that he no longer wanted Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the table. Instead he urged the Pakistani authorities to destroy the group's sanctuaries in Pakistan. As usual, the Pakistanis have other ideas. However, the overt influence over the Taliban also entails all kinds of problems. Mansoor's critics are trying to exploit this issue for their own political ends and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) cited the same point as a key reason for pledging allegiance to ISIS. Mullah Omar's death has been a gift from heaven for ISIS in Afghanistan and the group spares neither trouble nor expense to woo more fighters away from the Taliban:

ISIS release horrific execution video, claiming to be filmed in Afghanistan The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group has released a new execution video claiming to be filmed in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. A group of ten men is shown being blown up after forcing them sit on Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted beneath them in the ground. They have been accused of apostasy and supporting the Taliban militants in their fight against the ISIS affiliates and being the supporter of ISI.

Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams  

As ISIS and the Taliban are trying to outdo each other in terms of barbaric crimes, the violence is escalating all over the country. Women and children are dying in record numbers and the Afghan security forces have been suffering casualties at an "unsutainable rate" for quite some time. To make matters worse, Kabul is losing even more fighters due to desertions. That is why local militias are playing an increasingly important role, especially in northern Afghan provinces such as Faryab. Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is now personally leading the fight in Faryab to take the pressure of the local pro-government forces, which were unable to cope with the Taliban on their own. He would have preferred to bring his own 9,000-strong militia to the frontline but President Ghani didn't allow this for various reasons. Nevertheless, Dostum didn't travel to Faryab without support. He took his two sons along to show his determination. Not only Afghanistan is counting on the Dostum family to win the fight on the Turkmen border. Turkmenistan is already pushing ahead with ambitious plans:

Consortium Leader Picked for Trans-Afghan Pipeline The pipeline intended to forge a new export route through Afghanistan for Turkmenistan’s natural gas riches has made a fresh stride with the naming a consortium leader for construction. Turkmenistan’s state news agency reported on August 6 that state-owned Turkmengaz will be in charge of bringing TAPI — named for the initials of the four countries it crosses — into existence. Backers of the project, which include the United States and the European Union, appear to be unfazed by occasional and loosely sourced reports of unrest along the Turkmen-Afghan border that would stand to disrupt any major construction work. Security issues do not typically feature in official statements on TAPI, which suggests either that anxieties are overblown or that the parties to the project are simply hoping for the best.

French energy giant Total and several other foreign majors initially evinced interest in leading the consortium, but only on condition of getting a stake in the Turkmen gas field that will feed the pipeline. Turkmenistan refused to accept this condition, prompting one company after another to back out of the project. Even as Turkmenistan was coming under increasing pressure to diversify its gas exports, the Turkmen authorities didn't budge an inch. However, they didn't want to give up on the pipeline either. In a last-ditch attempt to implement the project, Ashgabat proposed to put Turkmengaz in charge of constructing the pipeline. The three other TAPI countries were apparently every bit as desperate as Turkmenistan and endorsed the idea despite Turkmengaz's lack of capacity and experience. Although the construction is scheduled to begin in December, TAPI's actual implementation remains highly doubtful and the same is true of Turkmenistan's other pipe dream:

NATO: We'll Help Protect Trans-Caspian Pipeline

NATO could get involved in protecting a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which Russia strongly opposes, an alliance official has said. The idea of building a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan's massive reserves to Azerbaijan and then further on to Europe has been on the drawing board for a long time, but has been held back for a number of reasons, not least Russia's strong opposition. But now a NATO official has said that the alliance would play a part in protecting it. In an interview with Azerbaijani news website AzVision, NATO's South Caucasus Liaison Officer William Lahue weighed in on the pipeline and made some surprisingly bold endorsements of it...

Lahue pointed out that the construction of the Trans-Capsian gas pipeline is technically possible and suggested that NATO's "protection" could remove political obstacles. Given that Washington and Brussels are the driving forces behind the Trans-Caspian project, Lahue's bold statement comes as no real surprise. Russia and Iran, the project's opponents, have seen it coming. That is why they convinced the other Caspian states of rejecting a foreign military presence (i.e. NATO) in the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan desperately wants to diversify its gas exports, and even more so after the recent dispute with Gazprom over unpaid deliveries, but Ashgabat will think twice about asking NATO for "protection." Currently, Turkmenistan's only viable pipeline project is the fourth branch line of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline, which could yield at least a small-scale expansion into Kyrgyzstan's energy market:

Kyrgyz, Turkmen leaders discuss energy and transport issues Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to move forward in building a railroad and a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Kyrgyzstan during Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's official visit to Bishkek on August 5. It is Berdymukhammedov's first official visit to Kyrgyzstan. "The construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan will be implemented in the very near future," Berdymukhammedov said after his talks with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan

Tajikistan will host the longest section of the new 1,000-kilometer Line D and is already looking forward to getting millions of dollars in transit fees every year. The poor Central Asian country needs the money more than ever after remittances from labor migrants in Russia, which account for almost half of the country's GDP, declined sharply in recent months due to Russia's economic problems. One could argue that Tajikistan is suffering from Western sanctions as much as Russia. But Tajikistan's close ties with Russia are also creating other problems. The never-ending debate about Russian military presence in the country was recently reignited after a group of drunken Russian soldiers in their underwear got into a brawl with local Tajik men who confronted them about their rude behavior. And just as the Tajik government was trying to assure its people that Russian soldiers don't enjoy "judicial impunity," Tajiks were reminded of another controversial incident last year:

Tajik Murder Trial Starts For Russian Soldiers Two Russian soldiers suspected in the killing of a Tajik taxi driver last year have gone on trial in the capital, Dushanbe. Russian army's deputy platoon commander Fyodor Basimov and former military unit commander Ildar Sakhapov were arrested in August last year after taxi driver Rahimjon Teshaboev, 36, was found dead near Dushanbe. An autopsy revealed that Teshaboev, a father of three, was severely beaten before his throat was slashed.

http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/081115_GGR4.pngAccording to the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Ildar Sakhapov admitted to killing the taxi driver. The judge said that Basimov had just assisted Sakhapov who had planned the murder. Two correspondents from RFE/RL's Tajik Service attended the trial and filmed a few minutes. The presiding Russian judge had granted them permission to do so but the present Russian officers were apparently not big fans of "anti-Russian U.S. propaganda tool" RFE/RL. As RFE/RL and others like to point out, hosting Russian military bases entails a few problems but that applies to foreign military presence in general. Moreover, the escalating violence in northern Afghanistan has reinforced Dushanbe's decision to let the Russians stay in the country for the foreseeable future. Instead of kicking out Russian soldiers, the Tajik authorities are going after Western-backed schools:

Tajikistan greenlights take over of Gulen-run schools Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has authorized the take over and renaming of a network of schools run by the U.S.-based preacher, Fethullah Gulen, in the country, according to Tajikistan's national news agency NIAT Hovar. In accordance with the decision signed by Rahmon, seven schools run by the Selale Educational Institution are going to be turned into public schools, and renamed as "schools for gifted children", the agency said. The decision to shut down the Gulen-run schools, and reopen them as state-run schools with different names was announced in May.

Gülen's schools in Tajikistan have been under high scrutiny for months, and with good reason. The Tajik regime sees the potential radicalization of the population as a major threat to its rule. This has led to some questionable decisions. The defection of Tajikistan's OMON commander to ISIS served as a warning that Dushanbe's war on Islam does more to fuel radicalization than to stop it but Rahmon & Co. didn't learn their lesson. Although experts are warning that the closure of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups, the regime is doing its best to destroy the IRPT. In doing so, the Tajik authorities risk boosting the terrorist recruitment that they are trying to stop. Tajikistan recently requested Interpol to put 16 Tajik ISIS fighters on the wanted list and announced that the list could be expanded significantly:

Tajikistan puts 16 people fighting for Islamic State on wanted list through Interpol

Interpol has put on the wanted list 16 Tajik citizens who are accused of involvement with the Islamic State terrorist group at the request of Tajikistan, a spokesman for Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security (SCNS) told TASS on Friday. He noted that "the list of wanted Islamic State supporters could grow to 600 and more people." "More than 600 our fellow countrymen are fighting in the ranks of Islamic State, their names and presumable locations in Syria, Iraq and partially in Afghanistan, are known to the country’s law enforcement agencies. Criminal cases against them have been opened under the "mercenary activities" article," the spokesman said. "Explanatory work is conducted among relatives of Islamic State supporters, other methods are used, which made it possible to return several young people to their home country."

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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: May 19, 2015

Another Week-Another Kadyrov Scandal, U.S. Proxy Georgia Wants Reward for Faithful Service & 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.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced last Wednesday during a meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers in Turkey that the U.S.-led military alliance will maintain a presence in Afghanistan after the end of its current mission "Resolute Support" in 2016. Stoltenberg's announcement came as no real surprise. Hardly anybody believed that NATO would leave the strategically located country in the foreseeable future, if ever. In light of the deteriorating security situation, the U.S. and its allies don't even have to spend much time looking for a pretext. Despite years of training by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan security forces are not up to the task and as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko recently pointed out, "Afghan self-sustainment of its security institutions is long way away." American troops and taxpayers can look forward to losing more men and money in Afghanistan. To make matters worse, the Taliban and other groups lost no time in targeting areas, where the coalition troops have already left:

Afghan Officials: IS Militants Helping Taliban In Kunduz Officials in northern Afghanistan say Taliban fighters who launched an offensive against government security forces last month have been joined by foreign fighters from the Islamic State (IS) militant group. Kunduz Province Governor Mohammad Omer Safi told RFE/RL that the bodies of 18 foreign militants have been retrieved from areas where battles have been raging since April 24. He said they included militants from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Chechnya.

Tajikistan, CSTO Prepare for Afghan Spillover

Given that ISIS and the Taliban are usually fighting against each other in Afghanistan and not cooperating, it begs the question of whether the foreign fighters are really from ISIS or from other groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). After the Pakistani military launched its large-scale operation "Zarb-e-Azb" in North Waziristan last summer, many IMU militants left their safe havens in Pakistan for northern Afghanistan, contributing to an upsurge in violence in Kunduz and other northern Afghan provinces. Kunduz has seen some of the heaviest fighting this year. Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes and the Afghan security forces are struggling to maintain control of the province. This has not gone unnoticed in neighboring Tajikistan. On their own admission, the Tajik authorities have already taken measures to address the issue but it is not exactly clear what they have been doing:

Tajikistan Reportedly Creates "Second Line Of Defense" On Afghan Border Tajikistan has created a "second line of defense" along the border with Afghanistan in response to the flare-up in fighting in northern Afghanistan's Kunduz province, government officials have said. "In connection with the battles between the security forces of Afghanistan and Taliban fighters in the Afghan province of Kunduz, it's been decided to create a second line of defense, and it was carried out in recent days," said one government official. (Tajikistan newspaper Asia-Plus and Russian news agency Interfax seem to have gotten identical statements; Asia Plus identifies the source as a Ministry of Defense official.) The official didn't specify what is meant by a "second line of defense," and for much of the 800-mile long Afghanistan-Tajikistan border there is barely a first line of defense. Aid that Russia has promised to shore up border defenses has been slow to arrive, so it's not clear what might be forming this extra defense.

A few weeks ago, Russia tried to silence Tajik complaints about the slow pace of Russian military aid by promising more military aid. Russian officials lose no opportunity to assure their Tajik counterparts that they will support them if violence spills across the border. Given the latest developments, this could happen sooner rather than later. The Tajik authorities are not only worried about the flare-up in fighting in Kunduz but also about the alarming situation in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province. A "well-informed" Tajik intelligence official told TASS on Friday that the Taliban have taken control of almost 80 percent of Badakhshan province and that some fighters have already advanced right up to the Tajik-Afghan border. Reports from Afghanistan corroborate his statement. Although the Tajik intelligence official stressed that they don't expect the insurgents to cross the border, the Tajik government is playing it safe:

Foreign citizens temporarily prohibited from visiting Gorno Badakhshan Tajik authorities have suspended issuing permits to foreign citizens for visiting the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO). Rezo Nazarzoda, the deputy head of the Committee for Youth, Sports and Tourism Affairs under the Government of Tajikistan, says entry of foreign citizens to Gorno Badakhshan has been temporarily suspended because of uneasy situation in Afghanistan’s districts bordering the region. “As soon as the situation in the neighboring country changes for the better we will resume issuing permits to foreign citizens for visiting Gorno Badakhshan,” Nazarzoda said, noting that tour operators know about that suspension.

It is difficult enough for the Tajik regime to control the vast mountainous Gorno-Badakhshan region without Taliban fighters causing trouble on the border. Therefore, Dushanbe is now looking for some assistance in dealing with the Afghan "spillover." Since Turkmenistan is facing the same problem, it was only natural for the two Central Asian republics to join forces. Both countries are reportedly trying to convince Kyrgyzstan of providing some military support, which won't do much to solve the problem given Kyrgyzstan's limited capabilities. In the end, it will fall to Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to prevent a spillover of violence from Afghanistan into Central Asia. The CSTO is already practicing for an emergency. On May 12, the Russia-led military alliance kicked off drills at the Harbmaydon training ground in southern Tajikistan near the Afghan border involving more than 2,500 troops, some 200 units of military hardware and about 20 combat aircraft:

Russian, Belarusian, Central Asian Troops Practice Rapid Deployment To Afghan Border Troops from Russia and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization are taking part in snap exercises to practice quickly deploying to the border of Tajikistan. The exercise is taking place amid heightened tension in Tajikistan, as fighting in northern Afghanistan has -- according to some officials -- the potential to destabilize Central Asia. The CSTO has tried to position itself as the guarantor of security in Tajikistan; in March the group's head said that CSTO rapid reaction forces could reach the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border in three days if fighting broke out there. This exercise is taking place in Tajikistan's Khatlon province, just across the border from Kunduz province in Afghanistan, where heavy fighting broke out last month.

Another Week, another Kadyrov Scandal 

As if the border woes were not enough, Tajikistan is also struggling to contain the spread of radical Islam in the country. Terrorist recruiters don't have a hard time finding new cannon fodder for the war in Syria and arrests of suspected extremists are a regular occurrence. But if there is some truth to the speculations surrounding the recent disappearance of one of Tajikistan's top police leaders, the problem is even bigger than previously thought. Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, the commander of Tajikistan's OMON, disappeared on April 23 telling his wife that he would be traveling on business for a few days. According to law enforcement sources, Halimov left Dushanbe on May 1 with about ten unemployed men and one day later they were seen at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. Rumor has it that they went to Syria to fight for ISIS. Halimov's family dismissed the media speculations as "baseless" but if Halimov was indeed seen in Moscow, it won't help his case. Many of the Tajiks fighting for ISIS or other terrorist gangs in Syria have been recruited in the Russian capital:

‘Congratulations, your brother’s become a martyr’ How Moscow’s migrant workers became Islamic State fighters The recruiters would explain to the migrants why they should leave Moscow. “You shouldn’t live like slaves. They don’t respect you here,” they said, and would go on to explain that in ISIL fighting wasn’t obligatory, that they would be able to lead a comfortable life and work without being humiliated or feeling demeaned. At these meetings they didn’t talk about the need to wage war against Tajikistan, or the need to take part in terrorist activities. They would offer between $5,000 and $10,000 to help get a newcomer all set up, and if you had a family you could get two to three times more. They explained that ISIL wanted you to bring your family, because ISIL is a “real state” which promises accommodation, while leaving your family behind could lead to “manipulation of your relatives.” The guest workers didn’t know which regions in Chechnya these recruiters came from. One can assume that some of them are from the Pankisi Gorge, a region of Georgia with a historic Chechen community.

Given the Pankisi Gorge's history as a breeding ground for terrorists, it wouldn't be surprising if some of the Chechen recruiters were from Georgia's notorious valley region. Another possibility is that some of them are from Turkey. The Turkish government support ISIS & Co. in any and every possible way and Turkey's Chechen community doesn't have much choice but to play along. But regardless of whether the Chechen recruiters are from Russia or abroad, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the Russian authorities would be well advised to stop the recruitment scheme. Unfortunately, Kadyrov seems to have other things on his mind at the moment. After averting an attempt to pin the Nemtsov assassination on his close associates, Kadyrov made headlines with his order to shoot police from other Russian regions if need be and lately he has become embroiled in a marriage scandal in Chechnya:

Chechen Police Chief Marries Teen Bride Amid Mounting Scandal A Chechen district police chief was married Saturday to a 17-year-old local girl, weeks after reports that she was being forced to wed the already-married official sparked an uproar in Russia's media sphere. The bride, identified as 17-year-old Kheda (Luiza) Goylabiyeva in reports, looked pale in video footage filmed at Grozny's civil registry, where she married Nazhud Guchigov, who is reportedly somewhere in his late forties to mid-fifties. Russian media initially reported that Guchigov was 57, before later claiming he was in fact 46. The marriage has caused a stir among Russian media outlets, which Kadyrov has accused of inaccurately depicting the situation and meddling in the couple's private lives.

Although Kadyrov has banned early marriage and "bridenapping" in Chechnya, he was quick to endorse the controversial wedding. He dismissed reports that the 17-year-old bride was being forced to marry police chief Guchigov saying that "there is no force that could make parents in Chechnya marry their daughter against her will." That is doubtful to say the least. Annoyed at the media frenzy, the Chechen leader lost no time in sacking the republic's media and information minister for mishandling the scandal, and lo and behold, the teenage bride has now filed a complaint with Chechen prosecutors against Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Milashina, who first broke the story. Kadyrov had already warned a few days earlier that those who have meddled in the couple's private lives will have to answer for their actions in court. Remarkably enough, besides dealing with all the marriage trouble, the Chechen Republic head also found the time to comment on the death sentence given to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev:

Tsarnaev Framed by U.S. Intelligence, Chechen Leader Kadyrov Says Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov claimed Sunday that Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death last week, had been framed by U.S. intelligence agencies. "The news [of Tsarnaev's death sentence] did not surprise anyone," Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram page Sunday. "The American intelligence services, accused of being involved in the Boston tragedy, needed a victim […] I don't think that the Tsarnaevs [convict Dzhokhar and brother Tamerlan] committed the attack without the knowledge of the U.S. special services, that is if they did in fact commit the attack."

U.S. Proxy Georgia Wants Reward for Faithful Service

Kadyrov tends to blame Western intelligence agencies for anything. Despite that or rather because of that his Instagram posts are usually closer to the truth than Western media coverage. As some may recall, one of the many interesting puzzle pieces emerging after the Boston bombings was a report by Russian newspaper Izvestia claiming that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had attended seminars organized by a Georgian civic organization and the CIA's Jamestown Foundation, which were aimed at recruiting North Caucasus residents for U.S. operations. The report was based on documents from the Georgian Interior Ministry’s Department of Counterintelligence and attracted a lot of attention. Then-Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili used the opportuntiy to discredit his nemesis Mihkeil Saakashvili and conceded that "there are suspicions that the authorities worked with terrorists and militants." What Ivanishvili didn't mention is that Georgia always supports Washington's terror operations in the region, regardless of who is running the country. That is why the Georgian authorities have little interest in cracking down on terrorist recruitment in the Pankisi Gorge:

33 year old Georgian from Pankisi dies in Syrian war Ibrahim Tsatiashvili, 33, left his home village Tsinubani two months ago. His relatives knew he was in Turkey. On Friday, they learned that he had died. It is not yet known whether he died fighting. Tsatiashvili had a wife and three children. He is at least the twelfth who dies in the Syrian war who has come from Pankisi Gorge, a valley in the northeast of Georgia, on the border with Chechnya. Mostly young people choose or, as locals believe, are recruited by a certain group, to leave Georgia through Turkey and go to Syria to join ISIS and fight mostly under the command of Omar al-Shishani, real name Tarkhan Batirashvili, who is also from Pankisi and is designated a terrorist by the United States.

Tarkhan Batirashvili aka Omar al-Shishani has come a long way. He started his terrorist career at a young age when he supported the pro-U.S. separatists during the Second Chechen War. Batirashvili then joined the U.S.-trained Georgian Army, where he distinguished himself time and again until he got discharged on medical grounds and put in jail for illegally harboring weapons. Within months of his release from prison, he became one of the most notable terrorist leaders in Syria before joining ISIS, where he is now among the top leaders. The U.S. has just put a $5 million bounty on his head, underscoring Batirashvili's status as one of the world's top terrorists. But he still has some work to do to catch up with U.S./NATO puppet Ayman al-Zawahiri who tops the list with a bounty of $25 million. Meanwhile, the U.S. is making sure that Batirashvili's former colleagues are ready to take on the evil Russians:

Georgian, U.S. Troops Launch Joint Drills Outside Tbilisi Two-week long joint U.S-Georgian military exercises, Noble Partner, started at the Vaziani training area outside Tbilisi on May 11. About 600 soldiers from the both countries are participating in the exercises, which aim at enhancing U.S. and Georgian NATO Response Force interoperability. “I want to remind everyone that although Georgia is not a NATO member state, it is voluntarily taking part in NATO Response Forces,” Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili said in his speech at the opening ceremony.

Fortunately, Georgian officials remind us from time to time that the country is not a NATO member state otherwise one could get a wrong impression from observing the very close Georgia-NATO cooperation. Although the U.S. and Georgia have conducted several joint military exercises before, Pentagon officials emphasized that "Noble Partner" is the "most robust exercise" to date. While the troops were starting their drills, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili was meeting with NATO chief Stoltenberg in Brussels. They reiterated the same phrases as usual about "Georgia moving closer to NATO" but for some people in Tbilisi that is not enough anymore. Georgian parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili demanded that the U.S. military alliance has to walk the talk, the sooner the better. After all, the Georgian government is doing its best to please Washington and confute accusations of being "pro-Russian":

New Georgian defense minister vows to sign air defense deal with France The new defense minister in Georgia promises to sign a disputed military deal with France about air defense. Her predecessor Irakli Alasania claims the reason he was dismissed last November was that he wanted to go ahead with the same deal.

His dismissal happened right after a trip to France in late October to negotiate a deal about procurement of air defense systems. He later claimed that while he was there, one of his staff, Mindia Janelidze, who later succeeded him as minister, called him on behalf of the prime minister and asked him not to sign the agreement. Alasania and other Free Democrats have since accused the government of having changed Georgia’s foreign policy course away from a pro-western one in order not to ‘anger Russia’.

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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: April 28, 2015

Putin Sheds Light On U.S. Terror Operations in the N. Caucasus, All-Weather Friends China-Pakistan Elevate Relations to New Level & 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.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has been making headlines on a daily basis in recent weeks, in large part due to the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and the ensuing turf war between Kadyrov and elements in Russia's security apparatus. The investigation into the Nemtsov murder has turned the spotlight on Kadyrov's near limitless powers in Chechnya. This has long been a thorn in the side of some people in Moscow. Chechnya lives by different rules from the rest of Russia and investigators realized this lately when they tried to get access to suspect Ruslan Geremeev and his father, Federation Council member Sulieman Geremeev. But some people apparently didn't get the memo. On April 19, a suspected criminal was killed in Grozny during a special operation, which was carried out by members of the Stavropol police and Chechnya-based forces under the command of the federal government. Nobody deemed it necessary to inform the Chechen authorities of the operation and this didn't go down well with Kadyrov:

‘Shoot to kill’: Chechen leader’s row with Interior Ministry heats up Tensions continue to rise between the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the Russian Interior Ministry. It follows the killing of a Chechen native by police from another Russian region during arrest. Grozny has accused the ministry of distorting facts. Kadyrov was outraged upon learning of the operation, as he said it was performed without the Chechen authorities being notified. “I officially state that if [armed people] turn up on your territory without you knowing about this – be they Muscovites or Stavropol natives – shoot to kill. We should be reckoned with,” Kadyrov said during a meeting with Chechen security officials.

Putin Sheds Light On U.S. Terror Operations in the North Caucasus

Russia's Interior Ministry responded by saying that Kadyrov's words are "inadmissible." Although the head of the Chechen Republic continues to insist that there is no conflict between him and federal law enforcers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the tensions. After the Chechen Interior Ministry launched an investigation into the "abuse of power" by Stavropol police, Federal Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin intervened and took over the investigation, which prompted Kadyrov to demand an explanation from Bastrykin. The antics of the Chechen leader are causing Russian officials quite a headache and rumor has it that Kadyrov has now been offered to take a job in the federal government. That way the Kremlin could limit Kadyrov's influence without causing too much trouble in Chechnya. And trouble in Chechnya is always a good thing to avoid, especially when the U.S. deep state plans to start another Chechen war. It is an open secret that the United States and NATO are pulling the strings behind the insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus but it is rarely mentioned in the media by Russian officials, which makes Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent interview all the more interesting:

Putin accuses US of supporting separatists in Russia In a new documentary, Russian President Vladimir Putin says intercepted calls showed that the U.S. helped separatists in Russia's North Caucasus in the 2000s, underscoring his suspicions of the West. The documentary showed Putin interviewed at the Kremlin in the dimly-lit St. Alexander's Hall. In excerpts released shortly before the film's broadcast, Putin said Russian intelligence agencies had intercepted calls between the separatists and U.S. intelligence based in Azerbaijan during the early 2000s, proving that Washington was helping the insurgents. Putin said he raised the issue with then-U.S. President George W. Bush, who promised Putin to "kick the ass" of the intelligence officers in question. But in the end, Putin said the Russian intelligence agency FSB received a letter from their "American counterparts" who asserted their right to "support all opposition forces in Russia," including the Islamic separatists in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijan has long played a key role in U.S.-NATO terror operations in the region. In this regard, the U.S. embassy in Baku hosted quite noteworthy meetings between 1997 and 2001, where U.S. military and intelligence officials met with the likes of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and terrorism financier Yasin al-Qadi. Close U.S. ally Azerbaijan and NATO member Turkey served as main conduits for the 'Gladio B' operations and there is some evidence to suggest that things haven't changed much over the years. Last Friday, Turkish "charity" IMKANDER held a rally in Istanbul to mourn the loss of Caucasus Emirate leader Aliaskhab Kebekov, aka Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, who was killed by Russian security forces in Dagestan a few days earlier. Kebekov's predecessor Doku Umarov had been honored with a similar rally last year. When IMKANDER is not organizing rallies for slain terrorists, the organization is attracting negative attention for recruiting "Syrian rebels":

'People In Pankisi Know Who's Recruiting Their Kids To IS' While the answers to these questions remain unknown, it is worth noting one important connection between Pankisi Kists fighting in Syria and a foreign group. Seyfullakh al-Shishani (Ruslan Machaliashvili) who pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra before his death in February 2014, had close ties to a Turkish NGO named Imkander, which helps refugees from the North Caucasus living in Turkey. Machaliashvili had become involved with Imkander when he lived in Istanbul before going to fight in Syria. Imkander, which is reportedly also involved with helping provide medical treatment for Chechens fighting in Syria, openly praised Machaliashvili in a funeral in absentia it held for him in Istanbul in February 2014.

As discussed last week, the terrorist recruitment in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge seems to getting out of hand, which has caused a storm of protest from parents and locals. Given IMKANDER's history, it comes as no real surprise that the Turkish "charity" is not only providing food to Pankisi residents but also recruiting new fighters for NATO's war in Syria. Russia has tried to put IMKANDER on the Al-Qaida Sanctions List, to no avail. The U.S. and Azerbaijan opposed sanctions against IMKANDER and the UK, France and Luxembourg blocked the Russian request in the UN Security Council. That explains perhaps Putin's suspicions of the West. After the U.S. and its allies recently refused to add ISIS to the Al-Qaida Sanctions List as a separate group, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out that both ISIS and al-Qaeda have emerged as a result of Washington's actions, which is a diplomatic way of saying what Putin hinted at in his interview. Lavrov said that he sees ISIS as Russia's main enemy now and there is certainly some truth to this:

Umar Shishani’s Right-Hand Man Calls On North Caucasian Jihadis To Join IS In Dagestan & Chechnya In a recent video address, Abu Jihad, a close confidante of Islamic State’s commander in Syria Umar Shishani, has called on jihadis in the North Caucasus to join those local groups who have pledged allegiance to IS Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and not the Caucasus Emirate (CE). Abu Jihad is the nom de guerre of Islam Seit-Umarovich Atabiyev, an ethnic Karachay from the North Caucasian republic of Karachay-Cherkessia. While Abu Jihad does not appear to have taken part in any military action on behalf of IS, in 2013 and 2014 he was frequently seen alongside Umar Shishani and has since become a prominent ideologue within IS’s North Caucasian contingent. More recently, he has begun reaching out to jihadis in Syria and the Russian Federation via regular Russian-language audio lectures on the Zello platform.

Taliban Trying to Match ISIS Brutality as Both Groups Clash

With the continued existence of the Caucasus Emirate in question, ISIS could become Russia's main enemy in the North Caucasus. The much-hyped terrorist group is expanding into several countries. Lately, ISIS's expansion into Afghanistan has been the main topic of conversation in the region. Russian and Central Asian officials lose no opportunity to hype the threat and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani even went as far as telling his friends in Washington during a recent visit that ISIS poses a "terrible threat" to Western and Central Asia. That is of course absurd but it is hard to deny that more and more jihadists in Afghanistan pledge allegiance to ISIS, much to the dismay of the Taliban. When a suicide blast rocked Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad last week, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 100, suspicions quickly focused on ISIS but Afghan and NATO officials expressed doubts about ISIS's responsibility for the bombing and the group denied any involvement:

ISIS Now Says It Didn’t Bomb Afghanistan ISIS loyalists may have claimed credit for Saturday bombing that killed at least 35 people in eastern Afghanistan. But U.S. officials now believe that Taliban fighters—not the Middle East-based extremist group—carried out the strike. Had ISIS been responsible, it would have been among the deadliest attacks by the group outside the Middle East. What’s more, a spokesman for ISIS in Afghanistan denied that his group was responsible for the attack, which sparked outrage among Afghans. “ISIS was not behind the deadly blast in Jalalabad, and we condemn such an attack,” Sheikh Muslim Dost told The Daily Beast. “This is an act of the Pakistani agencies to damage reputation of the ISIS.”

If the "Pakistani agencies" would go to the trouble of staging a massive suicide bombing in order to damage the reputation of ISIS, is doubtful to say the least. The statement of Sheikh Muslim Dost should be taken with a grain of salt but it is possible that the Taliban were behind the attack. There are some indications that they are trying to match the brutality of ISIS. A recent wave of kidnappings and subsequent beheadings of members of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic group was also first blamed on ISIS but turned out to be the work of the Taliban. Shahgul Rezaye, a Hazara member of Parliament, explained it as follows: "They’re trying to show they are as bad as ISIS." As previously mentioned, publishing a biography of Mullah Omar won't be enough to stop jihadists in Afghanistan from abandoning the Taliban in favor of ISIS. The rivalry between the two groups has now reached a new peak:

ISIS, Taliban announced Jihad against each other Mashaal Radio has published a report stating that Daesh and Taliban group have announced Jihad against each other. Nabi Jan Mullahkhil, police chief of southern Helmand province has told Mashaal Radio during an interview that he has received documents in which both the terrorist groups have announced Jihad against each other. Mashaal Radio which is related to Azadi Radio quotes Mullahkhil as saying when the matter of peace talks between government and Taliban comes into discussion some intelligence agencies make new groups to keep the war ongoing in Afghanistan.

It appears that the war in Afghanistan won't end anytime soon. Washington's decision to slow the "withdrawal" has undermined the Afghan peace talks before they got started and due to the rise of ISIS, the Taliban are now even less inclined to make compromises. On April 24, the group launched its annual spring offensive "under the inspirational name of 'Azm' (determination)." While Ghani is still pretending that the NATO-trained Afghan security forces are able to defend the country, Afghanistan's elite is already fleeing to Europe amid increasing violence. Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors are keeping a wary eye on the situation. The Taliban are doing what they want on the Turkmen-Afghan border and northern Afghan provinces bordering Tajikistan have also seen heavy fighting in recent weeks. A few days ago, Ghani and Interior Minister Ulumi visited Badakhshan province to check the security situation after the Taliban had launched a major attack in Badakhshan:

Taliban admit to beheading Afghan soliders ‘in revenge’ The Taliban admitted that its fighters beheaded seven Afghan soldiers during clashes last week in the northeastern province of Badakhshan. The Taliban acknowledged that the beheadings are “contradictory to rules of engagement,” but then justified the gruesome acts as revenge for Afghan soldiers mutilating Taliban fighters. In a statement released today on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official media outlet, the jihadist group said it “launched its usual investigation” of the reports of the beheadings “as part of its Islamic and humanitarian responsibility.” The Taliban killed, captured, or wounded 33 troops after more than 250 Taliban fighters assaulted the district of Jurm in Badakhshan last week, according to news reports. Afghan forces claimed that 20 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting.

All-Weather Friends China & Pakistan Elevate Relations to New Level

Since Badakhshan borders not only Tajikistan but also China and Pakistan, Beijing and Islamabad are also going to keep a close eye on the situation. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan last week to unveil energy and infrastructure investments totaling $46 billion in an effort to expedite the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The economic corridor aims to connect Pakistan's Chinese-managed Gwadar port to China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is now the core of China's growth and security concerns. It is a risky project because it depends on stability in Xinjiang and Balochistan, two regions struggling with foreign-backed separatist movements. A spillover of violence from Badakhshan is the last thing that Beijing and Islamabad want to see. In exchange for putting up the money, the Chinese authorities expect their Pakistani counterparts to maintain stability in the country and provide security for Chinese workers:

Pakistan to Create Security Force to Protect Chinese Workers Pakistan’s military will assemble a 12,000-strong special security force to protect the Chinese workers and engineers expected to flood into Pakistan as part of a flagship $46-billion infrastructure program, Pakistani officials said. 

The size of the new security force reflects the ambitious scale of the Chinese construction plan, which would see work begin on dozens of projects starting this year. It also addresses Beijing’s long-running concerns with the safety of its workers abroad, particularly in conflict zones. Pakistan plans to devote nine army battalions and six wings of the civilian security forces to the new security unit, said Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Bajwa, in a statement late Tuesday.

Beijing has learned from negative experiences in Afghanistan and doesn't want to take any risks as the "all-weather friends" China and Pakistan proceed with the implementation of the mega project. Chinese media hailed Xi's visit to Pakistan, saying that both countries "upgraded their relations to all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation, eyeing perpetual friendship from generation to generation." This is not necessarily an exaggeration. China has just been granted operation rights for 40 years at Gwadar, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of this year, and the CPEC cements ties between the two neighbors even further. Pakistani planning minister Ahsan Iqbal described the project as a "game-changer for Pakistan" but it is actually a game-changer for the whole region. After Beijing recently offered Islamabad its help in constructing the Pakistani side of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, Iran lost no time in expressing its willingness to supply gas to China:

Iran backs pipeline to China under 'One Belt, One Road' initiative: ambassador Iran is seeking to extend its energy delivery network to China under Beijing's massive "One Belt, One Road" push to boost regional connectivity, Tehran's envoy has said. Ali Asghar Khaji, Iran's ambassador to China, said Iran would expand its railways, roads, ports, telecoms sector and energy security under a five-year development plan. "Setting up an extended network of energy pipelines would help regional security and development," he told the South China Morning Post. Iran says it has already built a natural gas pipeline to its border with Pakistan, which previously balked at constructing a link on its side amid threats of sanctions from Washington. But Islamabad was now seeking Chinese funding to build its portion, The Wall Street Journal reported this month. The deal comes amid a push to build an economic corridor between Pakistan's port city of Gwadar and western China's Xinjiang region.

As China redraws Eurasia's geopoliticial map, the U.S. sees its hopes dashed. Washington has long tried to sabotage the construction of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Strong U.S. pressure forced India to withdraw from the pipeline in 2009 and Pakistan was later also bullied into abandoning the project. Thanks to Beijing's efforts, the completion of the Peace Pipeline is now within reach and even an expansion to China seems possible. Depending on how the situation in Xinjiang and Balochistan develops, these efforts might pay off. After Xi Jinping visited Islamabad to inaugurate the CPEC, it didn't take long before Baloch nationalists dismissed the project as an attempt to "colonize" Balochistan and demanded a share of the financial benefits for the province. So it remains to be seen whether China and its allies will be able to implement the mega projects or whether Baloch "rebels" will thwart Beijing's plans:

Security Fears for China-Pakistan Corridor Ethnic Baloch rebels, who oppose Gawadar’s development while the province is not independent, have in the past blown up numerous gas pipelines and trains and attacked Chinese engineers. Earlier this month the Balochistan Liberation Front claimed an attack in the province that left 20 construction workers from elsewhere in Pakistan dead, the bloodiest separatist incident since 2006. 

Siddiq Baloch, editor of the Balochistan Express newspaper, said the rebels want to scare off investors and developers who are working with the Pakistani government—such as the Chinese. “There is the thinking that by doing this, they want to disrupt the working of the economy, disrupt the administration, challenge the administration in the area,” he said.

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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

                                                       

Shia Killing & Pakistan Demonic Dogma

By all standards, human rights abuse in Pakistan particularly against the Shia population is taking a horrendous momentum with the government keeping silent on the ongoing bloodbath.

On Friday, over 60 worshippers were martyred and 60 others injured in an explosion inside a central Imambargah Shia mosque in Shikarpur district of Sindh province in Pakistan.

The Takfiri group Jundallah, a splinter group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the carnage.

“Our target was the Shia mosque ... They are our enemies,” said Jundallah spokesman Fahad Marwat.

Intimately affiliated with the ISIL in carrying out their brutalities including beheading and blinding their victims, Jundallah forged an alliance with its sister group ISIL after meeting a three-man delegation representing the group led by al Zubair al Kuwaiti.

"They (Islamic State) are our brothers, whatever plan they have we will support them," Jundallah spokesperson Fahad Marwat said.

The same terrorist group is also affiliated with Mossad.

In January 2012, Mark Perry revealed the link between Jundallah and Mossad and how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two US intelligence officials, “the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives — what is commonly referred to as a false flag operation.”

It is deplorable to see that the Shia population is getting weaker and weaker every day as the government is not making any concrete steps to put an end to this inhumane catastrophe. Is the government unreservedly defending the massacres? What is the role of ISI in fermenting this plight?

Owing to the government’s tacit agreement to otherize the Shia Muslims, the Shia leaders have acquired conviction that the government is not to be trusted and that they need to form a united front against the Takfiri terrorists in the country.

Hasan Zaffar, a prominent Shia cleric, has taken a blistering swipe at the Pakistani government, saying, “The government has proven to be utterly useless and the Shia community is very vulnerable. We need to raise a community of volunteers and scouts for security duties.”

Amin Shaheedi, another prominent Shia cleric who has organized public protests to demand greater protection for the community, said: “The questions are, where was the police at the time of the attack? We have no protection. We have to protect ourselves.”

The 92,000 classified US military documents released by the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks and subsequently splashed on many websites in 2010 reveal the role of Pakistani government in conducing to chaos and extremism in Afghanistan and naturally in Pakistan. According to the reports, “The Taliban are stronger than ever and a crucial component of their success is the support they receive from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The military spy agency nurtured the Taliban in the 1990s and has maintained ties to the group ever since.”

The root causes of extremism are traceable in the emergence of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) founded by Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who spearheaded the anti-Shia campaign in the 1980s under the aegis of Pakistan's former military leader, General Zia ul-Haq. And they have been killing the Shia Muslims since then. And groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), and ASWJ/Sipah-e-Sahaba are ideologically interrelated and follow the same perverse policies.

In June 2011, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in alliance with Al-Qaeda released an open letter in which they declared that all Shias deserve to be killed: “All Shias are wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of killing). We will rid Pakistan of [this] unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure, and the Shias have no right to be here. We have the fatwa and signatures of the revered ulema in which the Shias have been declared kaafir [infidel].”

In point of fact, Saudi Arabia was an ardent supporter of Zia ul-Haq’s government and his radicalization policy. Besides, the leaked US cables show that extremist groups operating on Pakistani soil, such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) "probably raise millions of dollars" each year in Saudi Arabia.

Under Mohammad Zia-ul-Ha, the ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were immeasurably expanded. A dictator who had usurped power through staging a coup and overthrowing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 with the support of CIA, Zia-ul-Haq, an affiliate of the Deobandi School, was financed by Riyadh to help spread Wahhabism in the country. During his long tenure, he visited Saudi Arabia 27 times. To promote Wahhabism, the Saudis funded new mosques and seminaries and employed Pakistani labor in Arab countries in the country.

The legacy of Zia ul-Haq is still clearly discernible in Pakistan. To crown it all, the anti-Shia campaign which Zia al-Haq started is still being financed by Saudi Arabia.

Further to that, there are tangible efforts by western media to depict the Shia killing in Pakistan as the consequence of an appalling rift deepening between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the country.

Wahhabism is exacting an inconceivable human toll in Pakistan and other parts of the world corrupted by this mindset. Wahhabism is a far cry from Islam and any attempts to ascribe this ideology to the faith which is lexically and essentially rooted in peace are doomed to fail.

The Shia Muslims in Pakistan are victims of a demonic dogma called Wahhabism and as long as the Pakistani government turns a deaf ear and eye to the plight of this persecuted population, there is little hope for them and this irresponsibility on the part of the government will categorically turn into a tragedy of epic proportions.

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Dr. Ismail Salami is an internationally published author, literary scholar, Quranologist, political commentator, and lexicographer. He writes extensively on the US and Middle East issues and his writings have been translated into a number of languages. Salami is a former editor-in-chief of the Tehran Times International Daily. He currently teaches English literature at the University of Tehran.

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 22, 2014

Azerbaijan: Gülen Schools & NATO Seminar Cause A Stir, Russia Steps Up Fight against Washington's Fifth Column & 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 power struggle between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and CIA puppet Fethullah Gülen continues to dominate the headlines in Turkey. At the beginning of this week, Turkish police detained 11 suspects, including Erdogan's former chief bodyguard and an ex-police chief, in a probe into the wiretapping of the Turkish PM. Gülen's shadowy network has tried to topple Erdogan by all available means, one of which was the leaking of incriminating conversations. Up to this point, all efforts have failed and Erdogan is fighting back with a vengeance. Ever since the conflict intensified, the Turkish PM has made the case for a retrial of the military officers, who were purged in a joint AKP-Hizmet operation, fueling speculation that Erdogan intends to join forces with his old enemies against Gülen. On Wednesday, Turkey's highest court paved the way for this alliance by ordering the release of 230 military officers convicted in the Sledgehammer trial. The power struggle has spread to several countries affecting even the annual Washington conference of the infamous American-Turkish Council (ATC). As previously discussed, the main battleground besides Turkey is Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani authorities did Erdogan another favor this week:

Azerbaijan shuts down ‘Gülen-linked’ schools

Azerbaijan’s government-run energy company has announced that private schools run by affiliates of the movement led by U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen have been closed down.

From February to April, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) took over dozens of private high schools, university exam preparation centers and universities run by a Turkish education company called Çağ Ögretim, which is thought to be linked to the Gülen movement. 

SOCAR announced on June 18 that it had decided to close the schools, which were operated by the company now known as Azerbaijan International Education Center, due to “high maintenance costs and difficulties in project management.”

Azerbaijan: Gülen Schools & NATO Seminar Cause A Stir

SOCAR's cozy relationship with the Gülen movement was highlighted in a recent round-up. Given the fact that Baku's decision to place the Gülen schools under the control of SOCAR did not amount to the crackdown Turkish PM Erdogan had demanded, there have been some questions about the stance of the Azerbaijani government with regard to the Erdogan-Gülen conflict. The shutdown of Gülen's schools certainly answers these questions but Ilham Aliyev will be careful not to overplay his hand by antagonizing Gülen's puppeteers in Langley, who have enough kompromat on the Azerbaijani President. Although Aliyev is regularly criticized by Washington for his crackdown on the U.S.-backed opposition and the like, he should be fine as long as he stays in line regarding two most important issues, energy and NATO: 

NATO PA seminar kicks off in Baku with exchange between Azerbaijani, Armenian MPs on Nagorno-Karabakh

The first day of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Rose-Roth seminar in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 16 June 2014, was marked by exchanges between Azerbaijani and Armenian parliamentarians on the protracted conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. This was the first time an Armenian delegation was able to attend a NATO PA seminar in the Azerbaijani capital.

The attendance of the Armenian delegation was indeed noteworthy but it did not result in closer cooperation between Armenia and NATO or a rapprochement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, quite the contrary. Armenia's delegation defended the Armenian point of view on Nagorno-Karabakh prompting outrage among the Azeris, who voiced their indignation about several speeches, including the speech of Matthew Bryza, former U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani authorities are easily provoked when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh and they do not support closer Armenia-NATO cooperation. Hence, it did not take long before the head of the Azerbaijani delegation, Ziyafat Asgarov, demanded the withdrawal of the Armenian delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly because "cooperation of such a terrorist state with NATO is unacceptable." According to Asgarov, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is the "number one terrorist in the region." Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been increasing in recent weeks and the NATO seminar in Baku did few to ease these tensions. The conflict could escalate at any time: 

Armenia Says Two Soldiers Killed In Fresh Border Skirmishes

Armenia's Defense Ministry says two Armenian soldiers were killed in the latest skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani military forces.

According to the ministry, one soldier was killed near the border with Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh on June 19, while another one died in a shoot-out near Armenia's border with Azerbaijan's Naxcivan Autonomous Republic.

Meanwhile, media reports in Azerbaijan say two Azerbaijani women and a girl were wounded after being shot by Armenian solders in Tovuz district near Nagorno-Karabakh.

One principle of both NATO and the European Union had once been to hold out the prospect of membership only to states which do not have conflicts with other states. Nowadays, no NATO or EU official cares about such ludicrous principles. Last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso visited Azerbaijan to propose closer cooperation with the EU. Barroso emphasized Azerbaijan's role in reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas and both sides agreed to accelerate the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor. Since the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will hardly challenge Gazprom, the EC President is already pushing another pipeline project involving Azerbaijan:

EU moves forward with Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline: Barroso

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso declared that EU will resume the development of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCP),
Tengrinews reports citing IA Novosti-Kazakhstan.

In an interview published by Azeri
Turan Barosso said that the EU will move forward with the project, which is a part of the Southern Gas Corridor, an ambitious plan to bring gas from the Caspian Sea and the Middle East to Europe. “The EU is interested in receiving additional volumes [of gas] that TCP could bring and its positive impact on the security of supplies to Europe, and will continue to work constructively to make this happen,” Barroso said.

Barroso called TCP a “mutually beneficial project that serves the strategic and commercial interests of all the partners”. He also pointed out that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan were strongly committed to the project. “We are still in the planning phase and we hope that the laying of the Southern Gas Corridor will contribute to accelerating the discussions for the TCP as well,” EU Commission President said.

Russia Steps Up Fight against Washington's Fifth Column

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are indeed strongly committed to the Trans-Caspian pipeline and they have been talking about it since the 1990s but the implementation of the project is still highly unlikely due to strong opposition from Russia and Iran. Just last year, Russia's state-controlled energy giant Gazprom threatened war with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over the pipeline project. Unfortunately, the recent actions of Washington's lackeys in Brussels suggest that the EU will do its best to provoke a war with Russia. It is hard to imagine a more provocative move than sending notorious warmonger John McCain to Bulgaria in order to force the Bulgarian government to halt the construction of Gazprom's South Stream pipeline. While Barroso & Co. do not care about the consequences for Europe since they are not serving European interests, some European governments refuse to endorse this declaration of war. On the initiative of Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria are preparing to write a joint letter to Brussels in support of South Stream. One of the most vocal supporters of the project has been Gerhard Roiss, the CEO of Austria's oil and gas company OMV, who called on the EU to speed up the implementation of the pipeline instead of blocking it. Austria is not willing to give up on South Stream after the Nabucco debacle:

Russia to sign deal on South Stream laying in Austria June 24

Russia will sign a contract to lay the South Stream pipeline across Austria during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the country on June 24, Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov told reporters Friday.

Austria initially planned to cooperate with Gazprom in the South Stream, but later decided in favour of the Nabucco pipeline, pushing Gazprom to plan the South Stream route through neighboring Slovenia.

Russia and Austria resumed their talks on the issue, when the Nabucco West project lost Shah Deniz gas pumping rights to the Trans-Adriatic pipeline.

In the light of Kiev's repeated threats to disrupt the deliveries of Russian gas to Europe and the recent gas pipeline explosion in the central Ukrainian Poltava region, Brussels' fight against South Stream looks even more silly but Brussels and Washington are apparently determined to impede Gazprom's business in Europe. The Russian energy giant is reacting accordingly and will start laying the Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China as early as August. The developments in Pipelineistan are very much connected to the conflict in Ukraine and more and more Russians are beginning to realize what is at stake. Sergey Glazyev, President Putin's aide in developing the Customs Union, explained it last week in plain terms for those who were still having illusions about the current situation. Another Russian politician who does not mince his words when it comes to American interference in Ukraine and Russia is Yevgeny Fyodorov. Due to NATO's intensifying anti-Russian campaign, Fyodorov's National Liberation Movement (NLM) is gaining steam. He tends to see Washington's fifth column everywhere and is therefore spearheading efforts to curb American influence in Russia:

MP readies ban on US consulting for Russian state companies

A ruling party MP is preparing a bill banning state-owned companies from using the services of US consulting firms and their subsidiaries. The sponsor claims it would protect the Russian economy from direct foreign influence and hidden manipulation.

The idea belongs to Yevgeniy Fyodorov of the United Russia caucus who is known for his earlier suggestion to outlaw the use of US accountancy firms to financially audit state corporations.

“The Russian economy is only growing 0.5 percent a year because foreign consultants are lobbying for their own state. A few days ago we discussed the Central Bank’s report and the deputy chairman directly stated that the mass bankruptcy of Russian banks were a result of foreign consultations,” the MP said in an interview with mass circulation daily Izvestia.

A few weeks ago, Fyodorov was involved in bringing a new foreign agent law to the Russian State Duma. If the bill is passed, media outlets which receive more than 25 percent of their funding from abroad and engage in political activities, will be forced to register as foreign agents. Similar legislation for NGOs is already in place shedding light on the subversive activities of the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western countries in Russia. Last month, the Russian authorities launched a new wave of raids on NGOs and the Federal Security Service (FSB) is keeping a sharp eye on the individuals working for these NGOs. Washington's fifth column in Russia is coming under increasing pressure:

Justice Ministry Adds 5 More Russian NGOs to 'Foreign Agent' List

Russia's Justice Ministry has added five nongovernmental organizations to its list of "foreign agents" just days after President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing organizations to labeled as such without their consent.

An official statement on the ministry's website said the decision was made based on "court decisions confirming that the organizations are conducting political activities using foreign sources of funding."

Among the new additions are election monitoring organization Golos as well as the regional Golos organization, the Saratov-based Center for Social Policies and Gender Studies, the Kostroma Center for Support of Civil Initiatives and rights group Don Women.

Pakistan Cozies Up To Russia-China Axis

Due to the Ukrainian conflict and NATO's new Cold War, the Kremlin can ramp up its efforts against 'foreign agents' without having to worry about the opposition in Russia. Despite the tireless efforts of CIA's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to keep Alexei Navalny in the headlines, the ratings of the Russian opposition have hit rock bottom. However, if the genocide in eastern Ukraine is not stopped, Russian President Putin will lose his all-time high approval ratings sooner rather than later and politicians like Fyodorov and Glazyev will get more support. Glazyev emphasized that the developments in Ukraine are part of a larger campaign by Washington aimed at consolidating U.S. hegemony over Eurasia. Russia and China, which recently formed a symbiotic, strategic alliance, lead the opposition to this campaign and efforts to isolate the Russia-China axis stand no chance:

Pakistan wants full-fledged membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Pakistan wants to be a full-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the potential of which is growing, Sartaj Aziz, an advisor to the prime minister of Pakistan on national security and foreign affairs, told ITAR-TASS on Friday.

“The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is playing an ever growing role, especially in the area of regional security,” he said. “That is why Pakistan is taking an active part in its work even in the status of observer.”

“The next SCO summit due in September in Dushanbe is expected to adopt admission rules for new members, so we will exert more efforts to further our application for full-fledged membership in this organization,” he noted.

At the beginning of this month, Russia lifted an embargo on sales of weapons and military hardware to Pakistan in order to pave the way for the delivery of a batch of Mi-35 helicopters. Since Moscow and Islamabad are eyeing closer cooperation, Russia's Foreign Ministry immerdiately assured India that arms supplies to Pakistan are "not directed against third countries" but intended to strengthen the "counterterrorist and anti-drug potential of Islamabad." Pakistan's armed forces are currently demonstrating their counterterrorist potential in the 'Zarb-e-Azb' operation, which is primarily targeting the foreign terrorists in North Waziristan, namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM):

Karachi airport attack mastermind killed in N Waziristan: Sources

Intelligence and military sources told Dawn.com that Abu Abdur Rehman Almani is considered a key commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), also now famous by the name of Islamic Movement of Turkestan. The IMU, an organisation of militants mostly from the central Asian Uzbek state, had claimed that its suicide bombers carried out the attack on the Karachi airport.

There are also reports of some East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorists also killed in the strikes, considered a big blow to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the ETIM network in the North Waziristan Agency. However, there was no confirmation from the military on the identity of the deceased.

The statements of the Pakistani military ought to be taken with a grain of salt considering the absurd claim that 250 "terrorists" and zero civilians have been killed during the first week of military operations. Many foreign insurgents managed to escape the offensive with the help of the "good Taliban" groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, which are not being targeted in the operation. So the success of 'Zarb-e-Azb' is highly questionable, and to make matters worse, more than 300.000 Pakistanis were forced to flee the tribal areas creating a huge refugee problem. Nevertheless, some people applaud the anti-terror operation, first and foremost the Chinese government, which is delighted to see the Pakistani military "fighting against ETIM terrorist forces." China's support comes as no real surprise given the fact that the "ETIM terrorist forces" continue to cause trouble in Xinjiang:

13 dead, 3 injured in Xinjiang police station attack

Thirteen mobsters were killed and three policemen were injured Saturday morning in an attack on a police station in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the local government said.

No civilians were hurt, according to the regional information office.

The gangsters drove a truck to ram the building of the public security bureau of Yecheng County in southern Xinjiang and set off explosives.

Police shot and killed 13 attackers at the scene. Three policemen were slightly injured.

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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

What National Debt? US Taxpayer Dollars Continue to Flow to the World’s Despots, Torturers & Human Target Practice Fields …

U.S. Foreign & Military Aid: Do Ask & Do Tell

Isn’t it amazing? The government puts on all these shows. Their media tentacles help with the shows by hyping them royally and pumping up scare tactic headlines hourly. Take this new shenanigan called the war over the debt ceiling.

Now, that was not the amazing part I was referring to. What I meant by amazing was the public’s response to all this nonsense baloney. The government is telling us to ‘be afraid! Our food stamp program will no longer feed you, your Medicaid will no longer get you medicine, our airports will no longer remain operational, our homeland security guys won’t be able to protect you against those boogey men terrorists who are hiding behind your sheds … you are going to starve, suffer and most likely drop dead. So be afraid! We ain’t got no money, and if we don’t raise this debt ceiling and print more money, you all are gonna die!’ [Read more...]

Pulitzer Winner Journalist Seymour Hersh on Bin Laden Kill: “It’s One Big LIE, Not One Word of It is True”

Sy Hersh is Adamant that Obama is Worse than Bush

After a long absence, to be exact five years, since President Obama took office, Seymour Hersh is back, out, and talking. And by that I mean really talking. He is calling the reports on Bin Laden’s so-called assassination, by that I mean the mainstream media reports, those dictated by Obama’s White House and Pentagon, big lies,  pure bullshit, and not a single word of it true.

Not only that, he is also providing us with our long-sought answer to his long-gone absence- since the election of Barack Obama. [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up- September 8, 2013

China's Quest for Gas in Eurasia, Pipelines- Pakistan & the SCO, Terrorist State Georgia & 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.

This week, China's President Xi Jinping started his Central Asia tour in Turkmenistan where he met with Turkmen leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, to cement ties between the two countries. Xi and Berdymukhamedov attended the opening ceremony for the Galkynysh gas field, the second-largest natural gas deposit in the world:  

Turkmenistan Opens Huge Gas Field to Supply China – Reports [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up- September 1, 2013

Wahhabi Schools in Tajikistan, Death & Silence in Xinjiang, Bandar Bush- Doku Umarov & the Sochi Olympics & 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.

While U.S. President Barack Obama is waiting for Congress approval and pondering if he could win another Nobel Peace Prize by killing more people with Tomahawk cruise missiles instead of drones (maybe that is the promised change), it is important to highlight the close connection between the conflict in Syria and developments in the Caucasus region. [Read more...]