Sunday, December 1, 2013

The New Great Game Round-Up #31

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 between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

While the Tiananmen Square attack is still a main topic of conversation in China and the Chinese government is mullling new measures for its war on terror, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) deemed it necessary to remind everyone of its successful strike in the center of Beijing by releasing a new video. As usual, U.S.-based Israeli disinformation website SITE discovered the video, in which the ETIM, also known as Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), claimed responsibility for the deadly crash, describing it as a "jihadi operation by holy warriors", and threatened more attacks:
TIP jihadi video ‘proves group’s terrorist nature’

The eight-minute video is in the Uyghur language and includes a speech by the TIP leader Abdullah Mansour, according to a Reuters report. In the video, Mansour said such operations were "only the beginning of attacks on Chinese authorities."

Mansour said that future targets would include the Great Hall of the People, where legislative meetings and ceremonial activities are usually held in China, according to SITE.
© Photo SITE Intelligence Group

Xinjiang's Universities Fight Terrorism

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang used the opportunity to slam double standards in the fight against terrorism with reference to the reaction of Western media and governments to anti-Chinese terrorist activites. One of the media outlets leading the propaganda war against China, The Diplomat, proved Gang's point by publishing more disinformation [emphasis mine]:
Who Is Fighting China's War On Terror?
Before the October 28 attack, few Chinese and even fewer outside China had even heard of ETIM. As Tyler Roney explained earlier on The Diplomat, human rights activists worry that Beijing exaggerates the influence of ETIM to avoid criticism for its aggressive crack-downs in Xinjiang. Some even claim ETIM might not actually exist. “Today, we do not believe ETIM exists as an organization. Nobody has any substantive evidence of its existence,” said Uyghur American Association President Alim Seytoff in an interview with The Diplomat.
Not only The Diplomat but most Western media rely on "trustworthy" sources, such as the NED-funded Uyghur American Assocation (UAA) and its sister organization the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), for their reporting since they offer the narrative desired by Washington. Terror attacks in China are constantly downplayed and portrayed as inevitable consequences of government repression. Beijing is increasingly fed up with this modus operandi. Hence, Qing Gang called on the international community to stop applying double standards and to join the fight against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement:
China calls on international community to jointly combat with East Turkistan Islamic Movement

East Turkistan Islamic Movement is recognized as a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council. The organization's aim is to separate Xinjiang from China, the Chinese government will continue to fight with them, Qin Gang added.

The fight against East Turkistan Islamic Movement is an important part of international cooperation in combating terrorism. China expects to intensify contacts and coordination with the countries concerned in the fight against terrorism to ensure stability in the region, concluded the diplomat.
ETIM's main area of operations is of course the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and last year the group has been very busy. According the Chinese police statistics, more than 190 terrorist cases were reported in Xinjiang in 2012, a large increase from the previous year. Especially Muslim Uyghurs in the autonomous region suffer from mounting terrorist activities because they become the target of local authorities in response to the attacks:
Heavily Muslim Xinjiang focus of most state security arrests

About three out of four people arrested on the mainland on suspicion of "endangering state security" last year were from Xinjiang and likely ethnic Uygurs, a US rights group said.

A total of 1,105 people were held on such charges last year, a rise of 19 per cent over the previous year, according to analysis of official state statistics by the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation.
© Photo Reuters

Xinjiang's war on terror is being expanded rapidly and hardly any institution does not participate. Since universities are considered to be an important frontline in the "life and death struggle" for the people's hearts and minds they assume a leading role in the fight against terrorism and separatism. As a consequence of this, university students in Xinjiang will have to worry about more than just good grades [emphasis mine]:
Xinjiang campuses to oppose terrorism

University authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have vowed to oppose the threat of terrorism on campuses and emphasized the importance of political and ideological education, local media reported Tuesday.

"Students who are not politically qualified won't be allowed to graduate," Xu Yuanzhi, Party secretary with Kashi Normal University in Kashi, told Xinjiang Daily, adding that teachers could also be affected, for example by being demoted.
It is probably safe to say that "politically qualified" students do not object to government policies, do not advocate the independece of East Turkestan and are not linked to any terrorist or separatist activities. 


Terrorist Recruitment In The 'Stans 

But China is not the only country in the region where anti-terrorist measures have reached the universities. After a video showing Kazakh jihadists in Syria surfaced and created much controversy in Kazakhstan, universities in the country's largest city, Almaty, have begun to make lists of Muslim students:
Kazakh Universities Make Lists Of Muslim Students

Nurlan Nasyrov, an academic in Almaty, said that "drawing up such a list was the right thing to do."

"Judging from the current situation in the country, making a list of students who pray is a measure of precaution," Nasyrov said. It was necessary, he said, to prevent students turning to extremism. "You also need to increase the number of lectures on religion for students."
Furthermore, Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry called on the media to refrain from airing similar jihadist videos because this could motivate more Kazakh citizens to join their compatriots. Kazakh as well as Tajik and Kyrgyz fighters are among the terrorists fighting the Syrian government and so the Central Asian republics work to stop this trend:
Kyrgyzstan calls on youth to resist extremist incitement

The Kyrgyz government is trying to stem the flow of young men travelling to Turkey, which is one of the countries some Central Asians have passed through on their way to join the insurgency in Syria.

As more and more Central Asians reportedly are fighting alongside Syrian insurgents, Kyrgyz officials are growing concerned that other young men from the Central Asian nation intend to take up arms in Syria.
But the Kyrgyz authorities struggle to prevent the recruiting of young men, particularly in remote villages and smaller towns, and the large number of mosques complicates the efforts only further [emphasis mine]:
"There are more than 2,500 mosques in Kyrgyzstan, and we can't be sure (jihadists) aren't recruiting young parishioners at some of them," DUMK legal counsel Yusur Loma told Central Asia Online.
"We constantly monitor the activities of mosques in southern Kyrgyzstan, and we don't want to lose the trust of believers who go there to pray," he said. 
As if this was not enough, the organization famous for being a conveyor belt for terrorists, Hizb ut-Tahrir, maintains a heavy presence in Kyrgyzstan. So there is definitely no shortage of terrorist recruiters in the Central Asian country:
Hizb ut-Tahrir recruiter detained in Kyrgyzstan

An active member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who recruited people for this outlawed extremist organization has been detained by Kyrgyz special services, a spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's National Security Committee told Interfax on Thursday.

But as mentioned last week, Bishkek does not have to deal with the terror problem on its own and can count on Beijing's help. In addition to providing military aid, China offers its small western neighbor to strengthen the security cooperation. The idea was put forward by Chinese State Councilor Guo Shengkun during a meeting with Busurmankul Tabaldiev, who heads Kyrgyzstan's intelligence agency known as the State Committee for National Security (GKNB):
China, Kyrgyzstan to further security cooperation
Guo, also minister of public security, suggested the two countries strengthening pragmatic cooperation, deepening mutual trust and pursuing cooperation in building up of law-enforcement capacity.
China and Kyrgyzstan should work together to crack down on terrorism, drug trafficking, cyber and cross-border crimes to safeguard security and stability in both countries and the whole regional as well, he said.

 

Americans Leave Manas But Stay In Kyrgyzstan

Many players take a great interest in Kyrgyzstan because of its strategic location. The Transit Center at Manas has long been one of Washington's vital military bases abroad and while the Kremlin welcomed Bishkek's decision to kick the Americans out, the U.S. government was not amused and had to look for alternatives. Although Romania will now host the Pentagon's Afghanistan air logistics hub, Washington is determined to maintain some sort of presence in Kyrgyzstan. There had been a few speculations about the relocation of U.S. military personnel to the American embassy and enhancement of reconnaissance capabilities. But according to a new Russian "conspiracy theory", the United States and NATO are more interested in Kyrgyzstan's remote Batken Province:
More Russian Conspiracy Theories on U.S. In Central Asia... Or Are They?

Another theory involves southern Kyrgyzstan. Well known analyst Alexander Knyazev, writing in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, suggests that the U.S. and NATO are setting up some sort of base in the remote Batken region of Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley, bordering Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. He writes:

The main center of the U.S. and NATO's military presence is being transferred to the south of Kyrgyzstan. The main place of interest for the U.S. and NATO is the Batken region. Two comfortable hotels are being constructed with funds from USAID (the Altyn-Beshik and Altyn Ordo), equipped with all means of communications, special-purpose gyms and so on... [the Russian phrase translated literally as "special-purpose" is usually associated with military special operations forces.]

In Batken, Western NGOs are actively working, especially British and Americans, in total around 50 organizations. Just from the American Peace Corps there are more than 70 people in Batken -- Americans, British, Irish, Canadians... And, let's say, the head of the military department of the OSCE in Bishkek Ross Brown (a staff officer of MI-6), in conversations with experts about why the maximum activity of the OSCE is directed toward the south, answered simply: in the north of Kyrgyzstan Russian influence prevents it.
USAID's suspicious activities in Kyrgyzstan were highlighted in previous round-ups and it is probably no coincidence that the infamous CIA front tends to show up in the proximity of the Fergana Valley. After all, the Russians are not as crazy as one might think [emphasis mine]:
All this sounds pretty farfetched. And yet! And yet! The Pentagon just issued a tender for contractors to carry out aerial drops of supplies to forces in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.
© Photo U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Scott Whittington

So why are Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan listed as destination for aerial drops of supplies?! The official explanation given is the possible need for emergency landings but, as EurasiaNet's Joshua Kucera notes, this does not make much sense [emphasis mine]:
But why would aircraft based in Afghanistan, carrying out missions in Afghanistan, need to make emergency landings in Uzbekistan, much less Kyrgyzstan, which doesn't even border Afghanistan? Pressed further, the spokesman said he was "not going to come up with hypotheticals... beyond the example I provided." The plot thickens...
Moscow will observe these developments with great interest. Stability in the region is a very important matter of concern to Russia and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev emphasized this again during the recent summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Uzbekistan where he encouraged the other SCO members to follow Russia's example and to take a more active role in Afghanistan:
Russia to maintain stability in Afghanistan: Medvedev
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that his country is ready to work with other member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to guard peace and stability in Afghanistan.
He called on all members states to make efforts to help Afghanistan repair its economy and society, for which Russia will provide all-round assistance.
India also argued for stronger SCO involvement in the rebuilding of Afghanistan and more joint efforts in the fight against terrorism in the region. This resonates of course with Beijing. After the Tiananmen Square attack and increasing violence in Xinjiang, the Chinese government prioritizes the war on terror and Premier Li Keqiang made sure this would be reflected in his six-point proposal at the SCO summit when he chose to place the terror problem at the top of the list:
Chinese premier makes 6-point proposal on SCO cooperation
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made a six-point proposal on deepening practical cooperation among the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries in a speech at the 12th SCO prime ministers' meeting here Friday.

First, deepening security cooperation. Fighting terrorist activities is in line with the common interests of the SCO member countries and is their common responsibilities as well, said Li.
The last thing China wants to see is that some jihadi mercenaries start to interfere with major economic projects by blowing up pipelines. Beijing has secured one noteworthy deal after another in the past few months and now it is crucial to ensure that the desired energy reaches China without disturbance. In order to get the job done, Central Asian pipelines are essential:
Kazakh pipelines to help Russia raise oil exports to China
Looking to take the next step in a long-winded effort to raise energy exports to China, but nearing the capacity limit of its eastbound pipelines, Russia has sealed a preliminary agreement with Kazakhstan to route crude through the Central Asian country's transit network.
Under the agreement, Rosneft will export 7m tonnes of oil to China a year, or 140,000 barrels per day, via Kazakhstan. Rosneft said in a statement that "key terms" have been agreed. However, details were not disclosed.