Sunday, December 15, 2013

The New Great Game Round-Up #33

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.

After several members of a Central Asian criminal group supposedly financing Hizb ut-Tahrir were recently arrested in Russia, the Russian authorities stepped up their activities against the terrorist organization. In the Republic of Dagestan, Russia's epicenter of Islamist insurgency, a large special operation was carried out. Police conducted raids on 47 apartments of suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members and detained dozens of people:
Police Arrest Dozens in Operation Against Banned Group in Dagestan

Three leaders of the local Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Party of Islamic Liberation) movement were among 52 people detained in the special operation, the ministry said in a statement. The international Islamist group was banned as a “terrorist organization” by Russia’s Supreme Court in 2003.

Among those detained was Kazimzhan Sheraliyev, a citizen of Kyrgyzstan who is alleged to be an international representative of the organization. Others were being investigated for possible involvement in crimes in the North Caucasus, the ministry said.
© Photo ITAR-TASS/Stanislav Krasilnikov

 

No Sharia Law In Russia

Two grenades, a home-made bomb, electric shock devices and extremist literature were seized during the raids. As indicated by the arrest of a Kyrgyz Hizb ut-Tahrir member in Dagestan, the group not only enjoys a strong presence in Kyrgyzstan but also tries to expand its activites across the rest of Central Asia and Russia in pursuit of its goal to establish a caliphate. Since the Russian Supreme Court put Hizb ut-Tahrir on a list of banned terrorist organizations in 2003, the group has kept Russia's law enforcers busy:
Five Hizb-ut-Tahrir members convicted in Chelyabinsk

The Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists were recruiting people who belonged to social and religious groups in 2009-2011. The recruits were introduced to extremist printed and video materials and urged to engage in extremist activities and to develop a negative attitude towards contemporary states, their constitutional systems and state borders at weekly religious meetings.
The allegedly peaceful pan-Islamic political organization, which specializes in radicalizing Muslims, does not have a lot of friends in the Kremlin. Nobody in Moscow favors the establishmet of a caliphate ruled by Islamic law and even the idea of regulating only a part of legal relations by Sharia law is vehemently opposed:
No place for Sharia law in Russia - senior MP

The head of the State Duma’s Constitutional Legislation Committee has blasted as “extremely dangerous” the suggestion to regulate some relations in certain regions by adhering to the norms of Sharia law.

Despite the fact that several regions in the South and Central Russia are predominantly Muslim, calls to bring secular laws into line with religious ones are extremely rare. One such occasion, followed by a nationwide controversy, took place in April 2012 when Dagestani lawyer Dagir Khasavov called for the introduction of Sharia courts in an interview with the Russian channel REN-TV, threatening that if they weren’t Russia would “drown in blood.”
In response to Khasavov's statement, the Prosecutor General's Office started a criminal case over suspected incitement of religious hatred prompting the Dagestani lawyer to flee the country. Moscow does not want to encourage any radical sects of Islam because extremism is already a huge in problem in Russia. In recent months, thousands of websites have been blacklisted in an ongoing anti-extremism campaign and President Vladimir Putin once again called on law enforcement agencies to intensify their efforts. According to the Anti-Terrorism Center of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Russia's extremism problem is linked to the large number of Muslim migrants:
Muslim migrants coming to Russia often support extremist unities - CIS Anti-Terrorism Center

About 40% migrants staying in Russia are natives of Muslim countries, CIS Anti-Terrorism Center head Andrey Novikov said.
 
"Up to 40% of migrants come to Russia from Muslim countries. And many of them support extremist organizations which promote overthrowing secular authorities in their countries," Novikov said in Minsk on Friday at the CIS migration services chiefs' council meeting.

Hence, migrants who travel to Russia in search of work have to deal with increasing animosity towards them. Just a few weeks ago, an anti-migrant riot rocked the Russian captial leading to a very tense situation during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. Lately, Moscow's mayor Sergey Sobyanin, known for his anti-migrant stance, opposed the construction of new mosques in his city because the majority of worshipers are migrant workers. Mosques are of course one of the favorite locations for the recruitment of new terrorists and, as an investigation in Kyrgyzstan into the whereabout of six young Kyrgyz men has shown, Sobyanin should keep a very close eye on terrorist recruitment in Moscow:
Tracking Central Asians' Trail To Jihad In Syria

Kyrgyz authorities tell RFE/RL that their investigation revealed the six were recruited by Russian-speaking Salafist jihadists -- Sunni Muslim militants -- after their arrival in Moscow, and were sent to Syria via Turkey.
 
But the recruiters, thought to be from Russia's North Caucasus region, are just one branch of an international network used by Al-Qaeda to bring fighters into Syria -- not just from Central Asia, but from across the world.
There is clearly an international network at work but we should question if it is really being operated by "al-Qaeda". Considering who is responsible for the rise of al-Qaeda or Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and the Islamist insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus, we will find the culprits rather in Washington than in some cave in North Waziristan. The Russian authorities are very much concerned about the Syria-North Caucasus terror connection, as demonstrated by the establishment of a special security unit for the fight against "Syrian rebels" in Chechnya. Police in neighboring Dagestan just welcomed one veteran of the Syrian conflict and put his career as a jihadi mercenary on hold:  
Man Accused of Fighting in Syria Detained in Russia's Dagestan

A man who allegedly fought against government troops in Syria this year has been detained in Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus, police said Monday.

Police in Russia’s predominantly Muslim republic of Dagestan said Monday that they had on the previous day detained a 22 or 23-year-old man who had left Russia for Syria in June 2013 and joined rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad.

 

Russian Military Prepared To Act In Central Asia

Since the number of Central Asian jihadists among the al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria has grown during this year, the Central Asian Republics face similar problems like Russia. Especially the Tajik regime fears that its citizens will not stop fighting once they leave Syria and return home:
Tajik insurgents in Syria imperil homeland's security

Tajik authorities are expressing concern over its citizens who have travelled to Syria to take up arms against Bashar Assad's regime.

The first reports that Tajiks were involved in the insurgency came from Tajik security agencies in May. At the time, the State National Security Committee (GKNB) reported that, since the beginning of the conflict (in 2011), three Tajiks had been killed. More than 190 Tajiks are fighting in Syria, official statistics estimate, although the number is in dispute.
With the NATO-led troops reducing their presence in Afghanistan, the Tajik authorities are barely able to protect the Tajik-Afghan border and cannot deal with additional terrorists returning from Syria. More recently, this became apparent when Dushanbe's attempts to bolster central control over the autonomous province of Gorno-Badakhshan backfired and sparked unrest in Khorog, the remote capital of Gorno-Badakhshan: 
Unrest Breaks Out in Tajikistan Town Hit by Violence in 2012

Unrest broke out Friday in a remote town in the impoverished former Soviet state of Tajikistan that was rocked by large-scale civil disturbances in 2012, local media have reported.

Asia-Plus news portal reported that security service forces attempted to detain a local resident suspected of narcotics possession, sparking a confrontation with residents in Khorog, a town just on the border with Afghanistan. 
It will be increasingly difficult for the Tajik regime to prevent the planned destabilization of Gorno-Badakhshan. In order to maintain stability, Dushanbe has to rely on foreign assistance, in particular from Russia. This week, Russian ambassadors from the Central Asian states and Afghanistan met in Uzbekistan to discuss the upcoming challenges for the region. Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, outlined in an interview with Russian newspaper Kommersant various scenarios, which have to be reckoned with [empahsis mine]:
Russian Envoy: Afghanistan's Prospects Getting Worse

His "most favorable" scenario of how things may turn out is not actually very favorable: "The most favorable scenario supposes that the current government will barely hold on in Kabul and in the majority of provincial centers with the support of the U.S. and NATO contingents. There are also less favorable scenarios which suppose that a full-scale civil war can start, which would threaten the integrity of the Afghan government and likewise, the security of the countries of Central Asia... and, correspondingly, the security of Russia. So we need to prepare."
Lyakin-Frolov also explained what this means for Russia's 201st military base in Tajikistan [emphasis mine]:
"Undoubtedly," he said in response to a question about whether the base would act if the situation in Afghanistan threatened Central Asia. "It [the base] can be used in the case of an immediate threat to the security of Tajikistan and other member states of the CSTO. That possibility was provided for in the terms of the Russian base agreement. This means coordinated actions, together with the leadership of Tajikistan. Under the current terms, when the situation in Afghanistan gets worse, the significance of the base grows."

So, put those two things together, and Russia is preparing for a likely military action in Central Asia.
© Photo RIA Novosti/Sergey Guneev

 

Afghanistan Looks For New Partners

While Moscow is very concerned about future developments in Afghanistan, Washington is currently focused on ensuring that U.S. troops will play a central role in these developments. The United States government pressures Afghan President Hamid Karzai by all available means into signing the bilateral security agreement, which will most importantly guarantee the immunity of U.S. soldiers:
US halts 6 Afghan projects over security deal delay: Official 
On Sunday, Afghan Minister of Defense Bismillah Khan Mohammadi said the US has stopped the projects in the country to put pressure on President Karzai to sign the controversial deal.
If Karzai asked the Afghan people what they think about the presence of foreign troops in their country, Washington would have to wait even longer for a signed deal:   
A country gripped by fear: Survey finds majority of Afghans afraid of US troops, voting

More than three out of four Afghans live in fear of the U.S. troops sent to liberate their country from the Taliban, according to a survey released Thursday.
 
Some 77 percent of respondents said they would "be afraid when encountering international forces."
Understandably, the Afghan population is not impressed with NATO's legacy in Afghanistan. Opium production reaches new record heights every few months while the security situation continues to deteriorate. Furthermore, massive corruption plagues the country and contributes to the latest alarming report from Afghanistan, rape case of children have increased by 28 percent this year. Due to corruption, Afghanistan's judicial institutions fail to prosecute child rapists who are instead released. 
Because the United States and its allies failed to bring much-needed security and stability to the country, the Afghan government is now looking for more reliable partners in the region. Mohammad Saleh Saldzhuki, second deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament, proposed the creation of a joint program on border protection to the Central Asian states:
Afghanistan looks for new security guarantors

Afghanistan hopes the Central Asian Countries will take part in protection of not only joint borders but also Afghanistan's southern borders with Pakistan within this program, Mohammad Saleh Saldzhuki said.

The NATO contingent failed to fulfill the assigned tasks to rout terrorism and drug trafficking, Afghan official said.
"We testify that drug trafficking is still growing, and the schools (camps) preparing terrorists continue their activities," Mohammad Saleh Saldzhuki said.
During his bilateral meetings with Russian and Chinese leaders in recent weeks, Afghan President Karzai also urged Moscow and Beijing to consider a closer cooperation in the security sphere. In line with attempts to move Afghanistan towards the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and lessen NATO's grip on the country, Karzai travelled last weekend to Tehran where he signed a regional security pact with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Afterwards, the Afghan leader met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and obtained military aid as well as India's assistance in training the Afghan security forces:
Afghanistan, India agree to enhance defense and security cooperation

The statement further added that Kabul and New Delhi will enhance cooperation in training of the Afghan armed forces and meeting the equipment and infrastructure needs of the Afghan secuirty forces.
President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also agreed to expand opportunities for higher military education in India for Afghan officers, the statement added.