Sunday, June 15, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #55

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.
 
Last Sunday, Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, became the focus of attention, when ten terrorists dressed in uniforms of the Airport Security Force stormed Pakistan's largest and busiest airport sparking a five-hour gun battle with security forces that killed at least 39 people, including the ten attackers. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as the Pakistani Taliban is formally known, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack citing the killing of former emir Hakimullah Mehsud and government airstrikes in North Waziristan as motivation. Just a week before the commando-style assault on Karachi's airport, Pakistani media had talked about a split within the Taliban. One of the Mehsud factions led by Said Khan Sajna made public that they are leaving the TTP. Pakistan's government, sensing weakness, announced a group of tribal elders in Waziristan to evict all the foreign fighters from the region giving them an ultimatum of 15 days. Within these 15 days, the TTP responded in its own way and it did so with the help of some foreign fighters:
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Claims Karachi Airport Attack

A statement attributed to the IMU began circulating online on June 10. It included photos of 10 men wearing turbans and holding Kalashnikovs, claiming they were IMU fighters who carried out the attack in Karachi as revenge for "bombardments and night attacks with fighter jets" by Pakistani armed forces in the northwestern Waziristan region.

The attack left at least 39 dead, including the 10 militants. After securing the airport, Pakistani security forces claimed the gunmen were ethnic Uzbeks. "The militants appear to be Uzbek," Reuters quoted one official as saying.
  

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Makes The Headlines

Shahidullah Shahid, the TTP spokesman, confirmed that the attack on Jinnah International Airport was a joint operation of TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and he emphasized that the Pakistani Taliban will not abandon their foreign brothers in arms saying: "The foreigners are also our Muslim brethren and we all are Muslim Mujahideen." Karachi's police got the message and arrested 17 foreign nationals who were illegally staying in the city, among them several Uzbeks. Since foreign jihadists have always been sheltered by both the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, joint operations have a long-standing history. For example, one third of the Taliban force of roughly twelve to fifteen thousand men, which attacked the headquarters of Ahmad Shah Massoud in Taloqan in the summer of 2000, was made up of non-Afghans. Six hundred IMU fighters, as well as Pakistani, Uyghur, Chechen and Arab jihadists took part in the operation, which was coordinated by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Pakistani commandos from its Special Services Group. At this time, the IMU was based in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz in northern Afghanistan and although the group does not have carte blanche today like under Taliban rule, the security forces have so far failed to shut down the IMU bases around the northern Afghan city of Kunduz:
Afghan Police Detain Two Ethnic Uzbek Fighters From Tajikistan

Afghan media reports say that police in the northern province of Kunduz have detained two Taliban fighters from neighboring Tajikistan.

According to Hussaini, the two confessed to being ethnic Uzbeks from Tajikistan who had arrived in Afghanistan from Russia.
A third Taliban fighter, who had accompanied the two Uzbeks, was from Pakistan. He blew himself up after refusing to surrender. 
Last week, Tajik authorities said that a Tajik citizen was arrested while trying to illegally cross the Tajik-Afghan border with the intention of joining Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. 

Fighters from Tajikistan are regularly seen among the insurgents in northern Afghanistan. The IMU is active in Kunduz and it also gained a foothold in Afghanistan's strategically located Badakhshan Province. If things take a turn for the worse in Afghanistan, the Central Asian terrorists can always seek shelter in Pakistan's tribal areas. According to Pakistani journalist and former militant Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani jihadists supply the group with arms, money and recruits. Furthermore, as Rashid has outlined in his book "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia", the ISI has supported the IMU from the very beginning and there was never a shortage of Saudi funds. As long as there is no solution to the Kashmir conflict and no improvement of the socioeconomic conditions, Pakistan will have a strong Islamic movement, which will support the IMU and similar terrorist organizations. The IMU-TPP joint operation in Karachi demonstrates this widespread support well, given the fact that the attack could not have been planned and executed without inside information. The Pakistani government prefers to ignore the key issues and since the U.S. government is eager to keep the 'War on Terror' charade alive, Pakistan and the United States decided to respond to the Karachi attack with the tried and tested drone strikes in North Waziristan: 
At least 16 people have been reportedly killed in two separate drone strikes in North Waziristan within the last 24 hours.

According to details, at least six people were killed when a predator drone fired two missiles, targeting a vehicle and a compound in Dargah Mandi village in North Waziristan, around 10 kilometres west of the main town of Miramshah in first attack late Wednesday night.

Six suspected militants were killed, four of whom were said to be of foreign descent. “Four of them were Uzbeks and two were Punjabi Taliban,” said an intelligence official in Miramshah.
These were the first drone strikes in 2014 ending a six-month pause in Pakistan just one day after the shootout at Karachi's airport. However, if the latest military offensive of the Pakistani army in North Waziristan is any indication of the overall modus operandi, the drone strikes will not threaten the TTP or IMU. Pakistan's government had used this latest offensive to demonstrate its support of China's War on Terror by going after some of the Uyghur fighters in the region. But the success was negligible to say the least. In the future, Beijing might have to exert more pressure on Islamabad to take action because the Uyghurs in Pakistan's tribal areas are not the only problem for China: 

Now it looks like the morale of militants is very high, but the Pakistan Air force is striking their hideouts, and US drones are following them. There are fears that they may move out of tribal areas to avoid losses, and then may move to Xinjiang by crossing the Pak-Afghan border or to Tajikistan by crossing through the Nooristan/Kunar route, as Nooristan is under the virtual control of the Chief of TTP, Mullah Fazlullah, who is living in Kunar Afghanistan. There are fears among security analysts that they will try something big if they reach Xinjiang, because IMU is dead set against China for SCO formation that is stopping it from wreaking havoc in the Central Asian Ground - the dream of IMU, which is to establish a Turkman Islamic region covering entire Central Asia and ending at the Indus River in Pakistan.

Anti-Terror Campaign Sheds Light On China's Secretive Corps

The IMU has already vowed to fight against its "number one enemy" China and this will entail more cooperation with the Uyghurs in the region who usually operate under the banner of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Chinese government and media emphasize regularly that the insurgency in Xinjiang is fueled from abroad and after the recent high-profile attacks, Jacob Zenn of the CIA's Jamestown Foundation also made this point arguing that these attacks "are part of coordinated militant campaign against China, which is likely organized from outside China and that employs the tactics of jihadists in neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan." Of course, he forgot to mention the real masterminds behind the destabilization of Xinjiang, who are to be found in Washington. According to CIA's Radio Free Asia, China's one-year-long anti-terror campaign has not stopped the violence up to this point:

Six Killed, Two Injured in Fresh Xinjiang Clashes

Police shot dead five ethnic minority Uyghurs and lost one of their own in fresh clashes in China’s restive northwestern Xinjiang region amid stepped up security checks in an anti-terror clampdown imposed after deadly attacks in the capital, according to police. 
Four of the men were shot in Kashgar prefecture’s Konasheher (in Chinese, Shufu) county in a confrontation triggered when local officials lifted a woman’s veil during a house check in her village a week ago, police there said.
The men, armed with knives and sticks, killed a policeman, also a Uyghur, before they succumbed to gunshots in the June 4 clash while two village officials were injured, the local police said. 
In a separate incident a week earlier, a man was shot dead in neighboring Aksu prefecture’s Awat county while fleeing from authorities pursuing him for alleged involvement in a “social stability” crime, police said.
But such incidents will hardly change Beijing's approach to the issue. The Chinese authorities are counting more and more on the deterrent effect. Three death sentences were handed out during the mass trial at a sports stadium in Yining City a few weeks ago and nine more people were sentenced to death for terrorism last week. Moreover, Xinjiang's police continues to round up suspects. 29 people were arrested in the regional capital Urumqi in just one week on charges of "inciting secession from the state, gathering a crowd to disrupt social order and inciting racial hatred." China's escalating anti-terror campaign and especially the role of the secretive Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) have reportedly caught the interest of Russia and Kazakhstan:
Secretive corps to play key role in Xinjiang war on terror

One of the tasks assigned to the Corps was said to be moving residents of China's Han majority to the region to protect the government's ruling status and to balance out the ethnic minority population, in particular the Uyghur ethnic group who have been blamed for the majority of the region's terror attacks in recent times. Over the years, the Corps have assisted in quelling ethnic violence, riots and other incidents in the region, and have plated a role in attacking the proponents of Xinjiang independence.

The current nature and tasks of the highly secretive Corps, which has expanded to 2.6 million in membership–or one-seventh of Xinjiang's total population–is unclear, though analysts believe its main mission is still to ensure regional stability and to protect the country's western border while being prepared to support the People's Liberation Army at any time.

The Corps has its own separate three-tier education system and has two universities, Shihezi University and Tarim University. It also has its own official daily newspaper, the Bingtuan Daily, as well as TV stations at both the Corps and division levels. It had previously run labor camps in the region until 2013, when the camps were scrapped by law. In 2012, the Corps accounted for more than 10% of Xinjiang's regional GDP.
© Photo CNS

Given the increasing activities of the XPCC and the crackdown in Xinjiang, the situation keeps getting worse for the Uyghur population. In order to distract the Uyghurs from their plight, a local news portal in Xinjiang has decided to stream all 2014 World Cup matches in the Uyghur language. While this is only a cold comfort, the new free education policy for students in Xinjiang has actually been the first good news for Uyghurs for a long time. Although the Chinese authorities focus on the 'War on Terror', Xinjiang's other problems are not being neglected. China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced last week that it will direct investment into Xinjiang in an effort to ensure social stability:
NDRC gears up to support Xinjiang development

China's top economic planning body will work to implement a variety of support policies in employment, education and poverty reduction for northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, it said on Wednesday.

In the near term, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) will focus on promoting economic and social development and improving living standards in southern Xinjiang, which has difficult geography and lower living standards, it said in a statement.

The agency also vowed to speed up the building of major transport, water conservation and agricultural infrastructure.

These actions will be taken to "continuously enhance equality of basic public services and make sure people of all ethnic groups enjoy the fruits of reform and opening up," said the statement.

Georgia: Grooming & Fighting Terrorists

Whether China succeeds in pacifying Xinjiang will also depend on the situation in neighboring Afghanistan. Beijing should keep a close eye on the activities of the IMU and affiliated terrorist groups in the region as well as on NATO's so-called "withdrawal" from Afghanistan. In addition to the countless contractors, nearly 14.000 U.S., NATO and other international troops will remain in Afghanistan. Georgia, NATO's proxy in the South Caucasus, currently has over 1.500 troops deployed in Afghanistan, making it the largest non-NATO contributor to ISAF, and a significant amount of Georgian soldiers will stay in the country after the "withdrawal":
Over 700 Georgian servicemen to stay in Afghanistan after withdrawal of NATO forces

The contingent of Georgian Armed Forces in Afghanistan will be reduced to 700 servicemen after the withdrawal of NATO forces from this country, Secretary of the Council for State Security and Crisis Management, Mindia Dzhanelidze told reporters on June 9.

While the huge military drills of NATO and Russia in the Baltic region attracted a lot of attention, the start of the annual joint Georgia-U.S. military drills Agile Spirit-2014 did not even raise an eyebrow. The Georgian army is a prime example of Washington's efforts to maintain proxy armies all across the globe and one interesting character who served in this army is currently making headlines in Iraq:
The Ginger Jihadist of Mosul: Omar al-Shishani the Chechen 'General'

Following the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams' (Isis) capture of Mosul, which caused 500,000 Iraqis to flee the city and propelled the group to the richest terror force in the world status, pictures of Omar al-Shishani, an Isis Emir has emerged on social media inspecting stolen US-supplied humvees.

The photos of al-Shishani, a Georgian-born ethnic Chechen, suggest that he was the mastermind of the siege as the commander of the northern sector of Isis in Syria and Iraq.

After being raised by a Christian father and a Muslim mother in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, al-Shishani served in the US-funded Georgian army, rising to the rank of sergeant.

With a deep hatred for the Kremlin, he played a role in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, spying on Russian tanks and relaying their positions back to Georgian artillery.
Tarkhan Batirashvili aka Abu Omar al-Shishani had already fought against Russia before his time in the Georgian army and his career is somewhat reminiscent of Ali Mohamed's intriguing career. Al-Shishani supported NATO's "Chechen rebels" in the Second Chechen War, afterwards he joined the Georgian army, where he was recruited into a special reconnaissance group, and now he is a leading member of ISIS, one of the most famous jihadi mercenary forces working for the House of Saud. In the light of these facts, it is important to note Georgia's role as the new CIA-NATO Arab terrorist training center. After all, somebody has to groom the terrorists whom the Georgian soldiers are supposed to be fighting all over the world:
A company from the Batumi-based infantry battalion will head this week to join EU military mission in the Central African Republic (EUFOR RCA).

About 140 Georgian soldiers will be part of the EU mission which is mandated to secure the capital city of Bangui and create the conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid. France’s Major General Philippe Pontiès is the mission commander. EUFOR RCA forces will be concentrated on Bangui airport and capital’s two districts.