By Jacob Zenn (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Despite concerns about the threat of Central Asian militant groups to their home countries after the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, these militant groups are currently focused on “winning” primarily in Afghanistan, secondarily on China’s Xinjiang Province and South Asia, and only then on their home fronts. Central Asians in Syria and Iraq, however, are receiving inspiration from the Islamic State’s self-declared Caliphate and military successes and are vowing that they will create a similar Caliphate in Central Asia. In the near-term, China, Pakistan and possibly India are within range of Central Asian militant groups, but the security crises in Central Asia that are most likely to emerge come from the region’s own internal weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
By Huseyn Aliyev (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The recent change of leadership in the North Caucasus’ Islamist insurgency – the Caucasus Emirate – after Doku Umarov’s death appears to have weakened the insurgents’ ability to launch an effective spring/summer offensive on the ground. Recent reports on the number of conflict-related deaths in the region suggest that since the end of Umarov’s leadership, the Caucasus Emirate is more fragmented and militarily weaker than ever. Amidst the failures of the insurgents to successfully target government forces and the controversial claims by the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate to refrain from suicide bombings and attacks on civilians, local jama’ats (insurgent groups) began re-grouping and posing a challenge to the Emirate’s central leadership.
By Oleg Salimov (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Central Asian countries are taking part in an antiterrorist exercise in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous region. The military training ground “Zhurihe” in the administrative district Hohhot will host military personnel from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia, arriving to conduct antiterrorist exercises code-named “Peaceful Mission – 2014.” The military drills are planned for August 24-29, 2014 as part of “The prospects of cooperation between Ministries of Defense of Shanghai Cooperation Organization members for 2014-2015 years.”
The military exercise in the autonomous region historically inhabited by ethnic Mongols and with close proximity to the restive Xinjiang indicates the Chinese government’s anxiety over the spread of separatist ideas in the Northwestern part of the country. In particular, when announcing the joint antiterrorist exercise during a press conference on June 26, a representative of China’s Ministry of Defense, Yan Yuizun, declared that the drills are aimed at preventing and controlling terrorism, extremism, and separatism as the main evils of the modern world.
The total number of servicemen taking part in the military drills reaches 7,000. They mostly arrive to China and concentrate in the city of Kashgar, a hotbed of Uighur rebellion and frequent bloodshed. While Beijing risks unnecessary provocations if it conducts military drills in the heart of the Uighur region, it certainly sends out a strong message by selecting Kashgar as a transit and logistic hub for foreign military units. The concentrated grouping of heavily armed military forces and equipment serves the purpose of intimidating the local Uighur population and at the same time assures the Han Chinese population, a frequent target of attacks by Uighur militants, of the central government’s ability to protect them.
Also, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, termed Southern Mongolia by local opposition activists, was deliberately selected for the antiterrorist exercise. Official Beijing is interested in conducting war games in a region with a historical and ethnical inclination towards mainland Mongolia as a continuation of its absorption policy and demonstration of power. Inner Mongolia was a site of violent clashes with police and the Chinese army in May 2011, as reported by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations in the region. The increased coal exploration in Inner Mongolia led to unexpected unrest among mostly cattle-breading inhabitants in an otherwise politically submissive territory.
Central Asian republics arrive to the military drills with a baggage of their own. Currently, the most strenuous relationship in the SCO’s present antiterrorist exercise is that between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. For these republics, the joint exercise is complicated by the recent territorial disputes which involve continuous shoot-outs, casualties, mutual accusations, and inability to reach a border demarcation compromise. Only a few days before sending their troops to China, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan had yet another incident of lethal crossfire at the border with one Kyrgyz citizen killed and two arrested by a Tajik border patrol. Negotiations over the status of the Vorukh enclave in Kyrgyzstan, populated by ethnic Tajiks and a place of frequent ethnic clashes, are also stalled as the sides are unable to agree on the details of transportation communications between Vorukh and Tajikistan. Experiencing low-brewing separatist moods due to ethnical compositions and mutual territorial claims, the two republics enter the antiterrorist exercise with conflicting objectives mutual disaffection.
While sending its military units to China, Kazakhstan hosts military drills of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) code-named “Interaction – 2014” on August 18-22 at the military training ground “Spassk,” involving up to 3,000 servicemen, 200 units of heavy armored vehicles and equipment, and 30 air force units. Russia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan also participate in the CSTO military drills alongside the SCO’s antiterrorist exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to practice an efficient response to external threats against CSTO members. As observed, SCO and CSTO have considerably increased their military activity in light of recent international tensions over Ukraine and the Middle East.
The latest large-scale SCO antiterrorist exercises, “Peaceful Mission – 2012,” took place in Tajikistan’s “Chorukhdaron” military training ground in June 2012. Notably, Uzbekistan an SCO member, refrained from participating in previous and current “Peaceful Mission” exercises providing no explanations. At the same time, Uzbekistan conducted a similar yet smaller antiterrorist exercise with Kyrgyzstan in March 2014, coordination by SCO’s executive committee.
For Beijing, the antiterrorist exercise is an important means for demonstrating to its subjects, such as Uighurs and ethnic Mongols, its ability to maintain and enforce territorial integrity, subordination, and order. Aside from the improvement of the People’s Liberation Army’s professional skills, the large-scale exercise aims to maintain its control over the general Chinese population by demonstrating power and military might.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (08/05/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On July 10, an exchange of fire on a disputed section of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border reportedly left at least seven border guards from both sides injured. One Tajik citizen died of gunshot wounds at the scene of the incident. The foreign Ministries of the neighboring countries, which generally enjoy good relations, exchanged official notes of protest accusing one another of breaching international law and asking for clarification of the circumstances.
The shootout took place on the outskirts of the Vorukh, an exclave of Tajik territory entirely enclosed within Kyrgyzstan’s southern region of Batken. The Vorukh enclave is a densely populated area with a population of 40,000 residents, mainly of Tajik ethnicity. Kyrgyz residents living around Vorukh have to drive through it to get to different parts of the Batken region.
To avoid this difficulty and the occasional frictions it causes, the Kyrgyz government last January decided to build a new road to bypass the enclave completely. Tajik authorities issued a statement demanding an immediate end to the construction works, saying that the road is being built on a contested territory and complaining that it would allow the Kyrgyz to blockade the Tajik enclave. At that time, the arguments over the road construction led to a one-hour shootout between the sides, leaving two Tajik and five Kyrgyz border guards heavily injured. After the shootout, Bishkek closed its border for almost two months and recalled its ambassador from Dushanbe for consultations.
The July 10 shootout at the border coincided with the upcoming talks between the heads of Border Services of the two countries. According to Kyrgyz official sources, the residents of the Vorukh enclave have purposefully taken unlawful actions to stop the negotiations over the construction of the aforementioned road. The Kyrgyz Border Service made an official statement claiming that around 30 Tajik citizens have tried to build a water pipeline from the territory of Kyrgyzstan (river Karavshin) to the Tajik village of Bedak, in Vorukh enclave. Kyrgyz border guards approached the scene, demanding a halt to the illegal actions after which local Tajiks threw stones at them. The situation escalated further and eventually led to a firefight between the sides.
In its official protest to Bishkek, Dushanbe gave a different description of the situation, claiming that their citizens were installing a water pipeline on the territory of the Vorukh cooperative at around 11.30 on July 10, when Kyrgyz border guards approached them and demanded to stop construction works in an aggressive and insulting manner. Tajik border guards, who were nearby, tried to stop the actions of their Kyrgyz counterparts, who opened fire with automatic firearms, injuring several and killing one civilian.
Indeed, the sides are throwing accusations at one another for starting the conflict, instead of demonstrating political will to resolve the pressing problem. The July 10 shooting is unlikely to be the last and the death of a local Vorukh enclave resident could further exacerbate nationalist feelings.
To prevent further escalation of the conflict between the relatively friendly countries, political analyst at Moskovskiye Novosti Arkady Dubnov suggested that mediation by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) could positively contribute to a peaceful development. In his words “Mr. Bordyuzha, Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, is not a representative of the Russian Federation, but heads an international organization, with both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as its members, and is in a position to talk to both sides and positively contribute to border conflict resolution.”
The proposal seems timely, since the issue of drawing a border cannot easily be resolved by two conflicting sides. Despite the creation of a Joint Border Drawing Commission, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have since 2006 not delimited a single kilometer of their contested border, which currently amounts to 460 kilometers. Negotiations are deadlocked for the simple reason that the Kyrgyz side refers to maps from the 1950s and the Tajik side to maps from the 1920s. Thus, continued negotiations along these lines are simply unproductive.
Additionally, with Kyrgyzstan joining the Russia-led Customs Union, drawing concrete state borders with its neighbors is one of the many priority tasks for Bishkek to address.
The author wrote this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent those of the organization for which the author works.
By Emil Souleimanov (07/02/2014 issue of the Turkey Analyst)
News has recently resurfaced in media outlets across the world referring to Omar al-Shishani, an ethnic Chechen leader of the north-Syrian sector of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as one of the presently most influential and reputed jihadist leaders. Indeed, since around 2012, when fighters of North Caucasian origin appeared at the forefront of international jihadists engaged in the Syrian civil war, they have become a significant component of the anti-Assad force. They have grouped into various, increasingly divergent, mujahideen armies and their prospective return to the North Caucasus holds significant security implications.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.