Sunday, May 25, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #52

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.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Shanghai this week, the whole world paid attention. On the first day of his visit, the Russian leader attended the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), where Chinese President Xi Jinping criticized NATO's Cold War thinking and made the case for turning the CICA into a security dialogue and cooperation platform covering the whole of Asia. Xi emphasized that security problems in Asia should be solved by Asians themselves. Therefore, the Chinese government advocates closer cooperation between the CICA and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). But the CICA summit and the remarks of China's President did not attract much attention because everybody was awaiting Xi's meetings with Putin and the signing of the 'gas deal of the century'. While Beijing demonstrated its support of Moscow in the ongoing conflict with NATO over Ukraine, the American media was already celebrating that no gas deal had yet been signed. However, it is never a good idea to count one's chickens before they are hatched:
​Russia and China seal historic $400bn gas deal

After 10 years of negotiations, Russia's Gazprom and China's CNPC have finally signed a historic gas deal which will provide the world's fastest growing economy with the natural gas it needs to keep pace for the next 30 years.

The total value of the contract is $400 billion, Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller said. However, the price of gas stipulated in the document remains a "commercial secret."

Russia will supply China 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year via the eastern 'Power of Siberia' pipeline, which crosses Siberia and reaches China's populous northeast regions. A separate route that could deliver gas to China's western provinces and provide diversification is also in the works, according to Putin.
© Photo Getty Images/Sasha Mordovets

 

Major Terrorist Attack Spoils Gas Deal Celebrations

Besides the long-awaited gas deal, Russia and China reached a number of noteworthy agreements further strengthening the ties between the two neighboring countries. For example, Bank of China and VTB Bank, one of Russia's largest banks, agreed to pay each other in domestic currencies bypassing the U.S. dollar. Since "de-dollarization" has become a common theme in Sino-Russian deals, the announcement of Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak that payments under the 400-billion-dollar contract will be made in U.S. dollars was even more surprising. Nevertheless, Washington disapproves of this deal for a number of reason including its ramifications for the U.S. LNG industry. So it is hardly a coincidence that, just one day after the signing of the contract, Xinjiang's capital Urumqi was hit by the biggest terrorist attack in years reminding the Chinese authorities of the ongoing U.S.-backed destabilization campaign in this vital part of the country:
Terrorist attack kills 31, injures 94 at Urumqi market 
An attack on a market in Urumqi that left at least 31 dead and 94 injured on Thursday morning was an act of terror, according to authorities.

Two vehicles, without license plates, broke through roadside fences and plowed into people at an open-air market at Gongyuanbei Street near Renmin Park at 7:50 a.m. and explosive devices were set off, said a statement by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's publicity department.

Witnesses said explosives were thrown before the vehicles blew up.
 
Last October, a similar car attack at Tiananmen Square indicated that Uyghur separatists would resort to targeting civilians in high-profile attacks in order to attract maximum attention and to stir up ethnic tensions. The latest assault certainly confirms this post-Tiananmen trend. According to witnesses, the market catered predominantly to Han Chinese and the terrorists sported flags with characters in the local Uyghur language on their SUVs to remove any last doubts about their background. Police quickly identified five suspects, four of whom died in the attack. The surviving terrorist was arrested on Thursday night. With Urumqi hit by two major attacks in the last three weeks, Xinjiang is currently experiencing the worst violence since the riots in July 2009 and the Chinese authorities are struggling to catch all perpetrators:
China launches international hunt for alleged Xinjiang train station attacker

China has launched an international manhunt for the alleged mastermind behind an attack at a train station last month blamed on extremists from the Muslim Uygur ethnic group.

The China Daily said a request had been lodged with Interpol for the arrest of Ismail Yusup and an unspecified number of associates.

The report said Yusup was a member of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and organised the April 30 attack in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern Xinjiang region, that killed three people and injured 79 others.
Given the fact that several countries are supporting the "East Turkestan forces", Ismail Yusup will not have a hard time finding a place to hide. Dilxat Raxit, the infamous spokesman of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is, for example, living in Sweden, from where he is supplying Reuters & Co. with the required anti-Chinese propaganda. His companion Alim Seytoff, President of the NED-funded Uyghur American Assocation (UAA), on the other hand is based in Washington. Seytoff proved this week that he can be relied upon to repeat the same talking points like Raxit. Both Uyghur "activists" have identified Beijing's repression of Uyghurs as the root cause of the problem but the Chinese authorities are apparently not sharing this assessment. In response to the latest attack, at least 1.000 military and police personnel staged a show of force in Urumqi providing a foretaste of what is to come in the next months:
Xinjiang starts campaign against terror

A one-year campaign against terrorist violence in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region got underway on Friday, local authorities said.

With approval from the central government and according to decisions from the national anti-terrorism leading group, the campaign will last until June 2015 with Xinjiang as the major battleground, according to a televised conference by the regional government.

The campaign will make full use of political and legal forces, army and armed police in Xinjiang. It will focus on terrorists and religious extremist groups, gun and explosive manufacturing dens and terrorist training camps. Terrorists and extremists will be hunted down and punished.

China Launches Offensive Against ETIM Abroad

While President Xi Jinping's new anti-terrorism campaign will focus on Xinjiang, Beijing is also looking to step up its War on Terror abroad. In the wake of the assault on a market in Urumqi, China's Ministry of Public Security briefed foreign security attaches from 29 countries on the attack urging them to boost cooperation in areas such as intelligence sharing. As discussed last week, especially Pakistan's cooperation is crucial in this regard and if the public statements of the Pakistani government are to be believed, Pakistan will support China's fight against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and affiliated groups [emphasis mine]:
China, Pakistan vow to strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain on Thursday agreed to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts.

At a bilateral meeting, Xi said that China backs Pakistan in practicing a counter-terrorism strategy based on its national conditions and is willing to enhance bilateral security cooperation to safeguard the peace and stability of the two countries and the region.

Hussain said that the "East Turkistan" terrorism forces are a common enemy of Pakistan and China and vowed to make joint efforts with China to combat the terrorists.

Considering Pakistan's track record in fighting anti-Chinese terrorists, these statements ought to be taken with a grain of salt. However, this week, the Pakistani authorities walked the talk after Beijing had conveyed its message separately to Pakistan's President, Prime Minister and army chief. One day before the Urumqi attack, the Pakistani army had started a new offensive in North Waziristan targeting not only Pakistani insurgents but especially foreign ETIM fighters. And just hours after attack, the army demonstrated Pakistan's commitment to China's War on Terror by launching a ground assault into a village near Miram Shah as part of the most concerted military operation in the area in several years. But for some reason, the major operation yielded few results [emphasis mine]:
Troops Move on Militants in Tribal Area of Pakistan

Over 1,000 troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, moved after dawn into a neighborhood on the edge of the district’s main town, Miram Shah, that had become a sanctuary for Uzbek and Chinese fighters, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Residents said an intense two-hour artillery bombardment preceded the operation, during which Pakistani-made surveillance drones hovered overhead.

But the troops met little resistance because most residents of the area, known as Matches Camp, had evacuated their homes a day earlier after being warned to leave by the authorities. “No one is left there now,” said the security official.
So it is just business as usual in Pakistan. The insurgents are given the opportunity to leave before the army moves in to conduct one of its fruitless anti-terror operations. In neighboring Afghanistan, the situation is not much different. Since the war-torn country is another safe haven for anti-Chinese terrorists, Chinese banks halted U.S. dollar transactions with most Afghan commerical banks in the aftermath of the Urumqi attack, making it difficult for businesses to pay for imports from one of Afghanistan's biggest trading partners:
China Afghan banking deal halts tied to Xinjiang unrest - sources

A decision by some Chinese banks to stop dollar business transactions with Afghanistan banks is connected to recent attacks in China's western Xinjiang region, two senior banking sources said.

One of the sources said dealings between Chinese and Afghanistan banks were subjected to greater scrutiny as early as two years ago in line with global rules, but regulation was further tightened this year mainly due to the conflicts in Xinjiang.

"This is mainly because of the Xinjiang problem," the source said. "The training ground of East Turkestan forces is in Afghanistan."

Trouble On Both Sides Of The Tajik-Afghan Border

In order to deal with the mess in Afghanistan, China seeks closer cooperation with its Central Asian partners. Especially Tajikistan will be supported by the Chinese authorities because the country is considered to be "in the frontlines of combating terrorism and extremism". Tajik President Rahmon recently criticized his allies in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for not coming through with the promised military aid. Perhaps, China will help out. Without outside assistance, the Tajik authorities are hardly able to stop fighters from entering Tajikistan or Tajik citizens from joining the insurgents in Afghanistan:
Tajiks reportedly involved in Afghan attack

Several Tajiks are suspected of being among the Taliban militants who May 20-21 attacked Afghan troops in Yamgan District, Badakhshan Province, Afghan authorities said, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Tajik service.

A group of militants – including Afghans who have attended Pakistani seminaries, Pakistanis, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Arabs -- stormed into Yamgan District early May 20, district chief Navruzmuhammad Haidari told RFE/RL.

Government forces inflicted heavy casualties on the militants, but the insurgents kidnapped at least 27 Afghan policemen, Haidari said.

Dushanbe vehemently opposes terrorist activities of Tajiks abroad, regardless of whether it concerns neighboring Afghanistan or Syria. As demonstrated by the latest arrest this week, the Tajik regime is afraid of battle-tested terrorists returning home and tries hard to contain Tajikistan-Syria jihad trips. Lately, new legislation was introduced to address the problem:
Tajikistan Amends Criminal Code To Address Nationals Fighting Abroad

The Tajik parliament has introduced a new clause into the country's Criminal Code, according to which Tajiks will face criminal persecution for taking part in military conflicts abroad.

Tajikistan’s Deputy Justice Minister Abdumanon Holiqov told RFE/RL that the bill was adopted in an effort to curb the flow of Tajik citizens to Syria, where they have joined the Islamic insurgency.
But at the moment, the Tajik authorities are more concerned with Tajik citizens fighting at home than abroad. On Wednesday, three people were killed and several injured in Khorugh, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan. Police had tried to detain local residents suspected of drug trafficking resulting in a deadly shootout. This triggered massive riots. Angry locals took to the streets and set fire to several government buildings, including the city court, the police station and the local prosecutor's office. Dushanbe has long been struggling to exercise power over Gorno-Badakhshan. In 2012, the region saw heavy fighting between government troops and insurgents and now a similar situation is shaping up:
At Least One Dead In Fresh Violence in Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan

At least one person was killed and two injured when a crowd attacked a security forces' building in Tajikistan's eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region overnight.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on May 24 that a group of protesters marched on the building on the National Security Service in the regional capital Khorugh and shooting started.

Witnesses reported that one of the protesters threw a grenade at the security forces' building and some protesters opened fire on the facility.