Sunday, May 18, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #51

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.

With the Chinese authorities struggling to get on top of the terror problem, new reports have emerged indicating that the recent terror campaign did not start on the last day of President Xi Jinping's four-day trip to Xinjiang with the attack at Urumqi's railway station but on the first day of Xi's visit with the killing of three senior Han Chinese officials in the autonomous region. According to CIA's Radio Free Asia (RFA), three senior county level officials were brutally murdered and their bodies dumped in the Kokkolyar Lake in Kashgar prefecture, where they had been on a fishing expedition. Police kept the incident under wraps and Chinese media did not report it until last Friday, when the state-backed Global Times confirmed the "tragic murder of three cadres by terrorists". But all efforts to keep the increasing violence in Xinjiang out of the headlines during the visit of President Xi were eventually futile due to the attack in Urumqi, which was reportedly carried out by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP):
Islamist group claims China station bombing: SITE

An Islamist militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) claimed responsibility for an attack at a train station in China's western city of Urumqi in late April that killed one and injured 79 people, the SITE Monitoring service said.

SITE, which tracks Islamist militant statements, said TIP had released a 10-minute video in the Uighur language showing the construction of a briefcase bomb it said was used in the station attack.

"A fighter is shown placing the explosive material and shrapnel of bolts inside a box, then inserting the detonation device in a briefcase with the explosive, and leaving the trigger exposed in an outside pocket," SITE said of the video.

 

Xinjiang: Terrorist Videos & Online Separatism 

While RFA did its best to downplay the latest video by the anti-Chinese terrorist group, Chinese media noted that the terrorists are now calling themselves TIP rather than ETIM and interpreted this as further confirmation of the organization's transnational activities. However, it is highly doubtful whether the ETIM is a cohesive group at all and the Chinese government has done a lot to undermine its own credibility in this regard by trying to link all attacks perpetrated by Uyghurs to the ETIM. Fortunately, this time it was not necessary to find any ETIM flags at the crime scene. Perhaps one of the captured suspects will shed more light on the ETIM and its role in the Urumqi attack. Police arrested seven people including two brothers, a cousin and wife of one of the assailants. Furthermore, over 200 people have been detained for spreading the wrong videos on the internet:
232 held for spread of terrorism in Xinjiang

Police in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have arrested over 200 people in connection with the dissemination of violent or terrorist videos. 
This comes weeks after the regional government announced a ban on spreading these videos online, or by using a portable storage device. 
Since the end of March, Xinjiang authorities found 2,229 webpage links, cracked 226 cases and arrested 232 people who have circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices. Among those arrested, 71 are in criminal detention, 107 are under administrative detention, while 34 people connected to 17 cases have been prosecuted, the Legal Daily reported.

China's fight against separatism on the internet is not limited to the East Turkestan independence movement. A few days ago, Dong Yunhu, the head of Tibet's propaganda department, vowed to "seal and stifle" the internet in order to "cut off Tibetan separatist propaganda from infiltrating and destroying all manner of communication". The Chinese authorities are clearly stepping up their efforts to stamp out ethnic unrest in the country. Among other things, this translates into armed anti-terror units patrolling the streets of Beijing and Xinjiang's policemen learning to shoot first and then ask questions:
China sends arms trainers to Xinjiang

A team of arms trainers has been sent to China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to help local police better handle terrorist situations, the ministry of public security said on Tuesday.

The team, consisting of 30 trainers from across the country, is part of a three-month program launched in April to train grassroots policemen in using arms, the ministry said.
It said training will focus on the legitimate use of weapons, tactical collaboration, emergency response as well as safety protection, and will highlight proper handling of cold arms.
In the wake of the latest attacks, Beijing called on the international community to support its anti-terror efforts. Especially the support of neighboring Pakistan is crucial for China's war on terror, given that the ETIM supposedly found shelter in North Waziristan. When it comes to terrorist organizations based in the Pakistani tribal areas, regardless of whether it concerns the ETIM or "al-Qaeda", Pakistan's intelligence agencies know exactly where these guys are located. Therefore, the Chinese government is now turning to Islamabad:
China seeks stepping up of anti-terrorism cooperation with Pak

Battling militancy in Xinjiang, President Xi Jinping today said China wants to step up security cooperation with Pakistan to combat terrorism.

Xi said China is willing to enhance security cooperation with Pakistan and work with Islamabad to combat the three evil forces of separatism, extremism and terrorism.
Last October, Pakistan's government did Beijing a favor by banning the ETIM as well as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). But this was more a symbolic action than a substantial change of policy and unless Beijing convinces the Pakistani intelligence agencies of abandoning their jihadi assets, Pakistan will continue to be a safe haven for anti-Chinese terrorists. 


NATO Up To No Good In Uzbekistan

With Pakistan's support doubtful, the Chinese authorities are making sure that they can count on their Central Asian partners in the fight against the "three evil forces". China is now boasting "strategic partnerships" with all five Central Asian republics and wants to step up security cooperation with the 'stans. However, the importance of Central Asia is not lost on the United States. In the light of the Ukraine crisis, Washington is showing great interest in the region as well. The U.S. maintains ties with the armed forces of several Central Asian countries and is apparently looking to expand its military cooperation with Uzbekistan under the auspices of the North Atlantic(!) Treaty Organization: 
NATO to Open Office in Uzbekistan’s Tashkent

A representative office of NATO will be opened in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Friday, a NATO official told RIA Novosti Wednesday.

"The opening ceremony will be attended by James Appathurai, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia,” the representative of the office said.

The office will cooperate in defense planning and analysis, military education and training, scientific and environmental issues and support NATO operations, the representative said.

Uzbekistan is not exactly anywhere near the Atlantic but that does not seem to disturb anyone except for Moscow. When push comes to shove, the abysmal human rights record of the Uzbek regime does not matter either. So nobody raised an eyebrow when NATO announced the opening of an office in Uzbekistan just after Washington's favorite "human rights advocacy group", Human Rights Watch, had called on the U.S. and EU to press the Uzbek authorities to allow an independent, international inquiry into the Andijan massacre. Speaking of which, a conference held by Uzbek exile organizations in Istanbul in commemoration of the massacre made the headlines this week:
Uzbeks are being called to join mujahideens in Syria

Calls have been made for Uzbeks to join mujahideens in Syria at the Uzbek Unity and NDU conference in Turkey held to commemorate the Andijan Massacre on May 11. 
Ozodlik (Freedom) Radio and the Uzbek BBC service reported that a number of organizations joined forces in organizing this conference, among them Unity of Uzbeks, Unity of Turkestan, and the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (NDU) headed by the prominent political opposition leader Mukhammad Salikh.
The press service of the NDU has published a video on YouTube of at least one presentation from the conference. In this presentation an unidentified person made calls for a jihad against infidels and insisted on the necessity of helping mujahideens in Syria.
Although the Uzbek exile groups were quick to distance themselves from the allegedly uninvited speaker who called for jihad, they did not dismiss his ideas and at least one Uzbek native, whom Unity of Turkestan "had helped", was already killed in Syria. Many Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan have joined the "Syrian rebels" and Turkey, which has a visa-free regime with Kyrgyzstan, plays a vital role in channelling these fighters into Syria. One Uzbek terrorist is reportedly commanding a group within the Al-Nusra Front, which consists of "scores of fighters from Uzbekistan and neighboring countries in Central Asia". The longer the conflict drags on, the more the NATO-GCC-Israel axis is relying on jihadi mercenaries from Central Asia and the Caucasus for its war against the Syrian government:
Central Asian jihadist group joins ISIS

A jihadist group made up of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Russians from the Caucasus that operates in Syria has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.

The group, known as Sabiri's Jamaat, swore allegiance to the ISIS in March, according to From Chechnya to Syria, a website that tracks fighters from the Caucasus and Central Asia who are waging jihad in Syria.
The exact size of the group is not known, but likely has scores of fighters. In a video (below) released by the group back in January, at least 70 fighters are pictured. The speaker in the video says that the group is made up "Uzbekis, Tajiks, Chechens, and Dagestanis."

 

Moscow's Reshuffle In The North Caucasus

The close cooperation between Central Asian terrorists and their counterparts from Russia's North Caucasus is hardly surprising. According to Kyrgyz cleric Sagynbek Mamatov, many Central Asian jihadists are trained by battle-tested fighters in the Russian Republic of Dagestan. The Dagestani insurgency continues to give the Russian authorities headaches. Last week, a FSB officer was killed in Dagestan's capital Makhachkala and this week more law enforcers fell victim to an ambush in Gunib:
Three Police Officers Killed, Seven Wounded In Daghestan

Three police officers were killed and seven others injured in a shootout in Russia's volatile North Caucasus Republic of Daghestan. 
Daghestan's Interior Ministry says that unknown armed individuals opened fire, possibly with machine guns, at a police patrol in Daghestan's central district of Gunib on May 15.

Despite the relatively peaceful situation in Chechnya, Russia's terror problem in the North Caucasus is far from resolved and it is by no means limited to Dagestan. In order to address the underlying socioeconomic problems of the conflict, the Kremlin recently decided to establish a new ministry, which will deal with the development of the North Caucasus region:
Russia introduces separate ministry for North Caucasus affairs

Vladimir Putin has replaced the presidential envoy in the North Caucasus district and ordered a dedicated ministry for North Caucasus affairs be set up, headed by the former governor of the Krasnoyarsk Region.

The head of Russia’s Presidential Administration, Sergey Ivanov, told reporters that the main tasks of the new ministry would be improving the employment situation in the region, attracting investments and control over the spending of federal budgetary funds.
President Putin's new envoy in the North Caucasian Federal District is Sergey Melikov, the chief commander of the Interior Ministry’s forces in the region. Melikov's appointment indicates that the use of force is an integral part of Moscow's plans for the North Caucasus. With this reshuffle done, the Kremlin can now prepare for future unrest in another part of Russia. As previously mentioned, NATO's jihadi mercenaries might relocate their activities to the Crimean Peninsula and considering the latest videos from Syria, the plot thickens:
Muhajireen Army commander calls for Muslims to wage jihad in the Ukraine

The deputy leader of an al Qaeda-allied jihadist group that is led by commanders from the Caucasus and other former Soviet republics has called for Ukrainian Muslims to wage jihad against the Russia government.

Abdul Karim Krymsky, the deputy emir of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, or Muhajireen Army), said that Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian Muslims should "start on the path of jihad." Krymsky made the statement in a video in which he appeared with Salahuddin Shishani (the Chechen), the emir of the Muhajireen Army.