Sunday, July 13, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #59

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 Western media is still making a fuss about China's 'Ramadan ban', the Chinese authorities continue with their no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign. This week, courts in Xinjiang sentenced three people to life in prison and another 29 to prison terms ranging from four years to 15 years. They were convicted on charges of spreading terror-related audio and video files as well as organizing terrorist groups, making explosives and instigating ethnic hatred. As previously discussed, China is constantly looking for outside assistance in its fight against the 'East Turkestan forces'. So far, Beijing has largely relied on regional cooperation in this regard but, according to recent reports, the Chinese government is now also seeking to tap into the expertise of some more distant countries, which are not exactly allies of China:
China seeking Israeli counter-terror experts

China is recruiting foreign experts in counter-terrorism to assist the training of anti-terror personnel, state-run media reported Thursday, following a spate of deadly attacks which authorities blame on Islamist-inspired separatists.

The People’s Public Security University of China will offer visiting professorships to top specialists in the field from countries including the United States, Israel, Pakistan and Australia, the government-run China Daily said.

“The US and Israel have accumulated rich practical experience in fighting terrorism,” Mei Jianming, director of the university’s Research Center for Counter-terrorism, told the paper.
“The US is advanced in overall strategic research, and Israel is very proficient at tactical action in fighting terrorism.”

China's Questionable Partners In The War on Terror

Israel is very proficient at killing Palestinian civilians, as the Israeli Air Force is currently demonstrating once again in Gaza, and at supporting terrorism but not at fighting terrorism. Admittedly, Israeli soldiers do not get the chance to prove themselves against the Islamic State (IS) and similar terrorist groups, which wreak havoc in several Middle Eastern countries, because these jihadi mercenaries would never dare to attack Israel. Given the fact that IS & Co. are working for the NATO-GCC-Israel axis, Beijing's move makes perfect sense. Who could possibly have better intel on the terrorists than their puppeteers?! The Chinese authorities are apparently hoping to obtain more information about the Chinese jihadists who are being trained in Pakistan. Islamabad has been doing its best to maintain plausible deniability with regard to the foreign fighters on Pakistani territory and the current military offensive is supposed to convince everybody that the insurgents are not being tolerated or even sheltered by the Pakistani authorities. However, it is difficult to say what Operation Zarb-e-Azb has really achieved besides creating a humanitarian crisis [empasis mine]:
More than 800,000 flee operation against terrorists in N Waziristan 
More than 800,000 people have fled a major military offensive against the Taliban in a tribal area, officials said Wednesday.
Officials from the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) said they were checking registrations for duplicates, meaning the figure may come down.
The military is using troops, tanks and jets in North Waziristan and has vowed to wipe out strongholds which insurgents have used to mount countless deadly attacks in recent years.
 
“Some 833,274 people or 66,726 migrating families from North Waziristan were registered in cities of Bannu and Peshawar until Tuesday evening,” Arshad Khan, FDMA director general, told AFP. 
The area is currently off-limits to journalists, making it impossible to verify military claims about the number and identity of those killed.
© Photo Los Angeles Times/Carolyn Cole

Pakistan's military has already lost its credibility by boasting repeatedly that the killing of dozens of "terrorists" had resulted in zero civilian casualties. According to the military's public relations wing, 400 "terrorists" have been killed and 130 injured since the start of the operation. Information on civilian deaths were not released. The absurd claims of the Pakistani military are also called into question by the Pakistani Taliban themselves. TTP commander Gilamand Mehsud admitted that they had sustained casualties but not in the hundreds as claimed by the army: “So far nine men have been killed and five injured.” Most Pakistani Taliban as well as Uzbek, Tajik and other foreign fighters had escaped the offensive anyway. Hundreds of insurgents got new haircuts and trimmed their beards in the weeks before Zarb-e-Azb in order to attract less attention on their way to Islamabad or the Gulf states. Even the Pakistani army admitted this week that senior Taliban leaders were never in harm's way:
Taliban 'fled' Pakistani offensive 'before it began'

A Pakistani army commander in the tribal region of North Waziristan has said that senior Taliban militants managed to flee the area before the start of an offensive in mid-June.

It is the first time the army has admitted that militant leaders escaped, the BBC's Shahzeb Jillani says.

One Pakistani Taliban commander, Gilamand Mehsood, said in a telephone interview with the AP news agency from an undisclosed location that the military's casualty figures were incorrect and that most Pakistani Taliban fighters have taken sanctuary in border areas of Afghanistan.
Major-General Zafarullah Khan stated that the Taliban leadership "had smelled that the operation was about to be launched." Another explanation is of course that the insurgents had been tipped off by their contacts in the Pakistani intelligence agencies once again. Whatever the case my be, Operation Zarb-e-Azb is just the usual charade and will neither solve China's East Turkestan problem nor bring about stability in the region. Although the situation in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan remains highly volatile, the Pakistani government is now pushing the construction of the TAPI pipe dream. After the U.S. and Saudi Arabia killed the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, Islamabad was forced to reconsider the ill-fated TAPI pipeline and, due to the severe energy crisis in Pakistan, the government has no choice but to support Washington's project. Pakistan's Minister for Petroleum & Natural Resources visited the Turkmen capital Ashgabat this week to attend the meeting of the TAPI steering committee:
TAPI pipeline project in its final stage

The contract of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) pipeline project has reached the final stage, in connection to which, Petroleum & Natural Resources Federal Minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi has flown to Turkmenistan.

Sources at Petroleum Ministry disclosed to Daily Times that Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi has gone to Turkmenistan to materialise the deal. They said that Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would push ahead with a planned transnational gas pipeline connecting the four countries and reach a settlement on the award of the multi-billion-dollar project. At present, US companies Chevron and ExxonMobil are at the top in the race to get the contract, while the winning firm would operate the pipeline besides its financing, and laying, they added.

Tajik Fighters Return Home From Syria

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow also wants to see the pipeline built as soon as possible. This will of course depend first and foremost on the situation in Afghanistan. Ashgabat, Islamabad and Washington seem to think that this won't be a problem, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Few people share this optimism and Russian President Vladimir Putin is not one of them. A few days ago, Putin cautioned the heads of CIS security and intelligence services against a deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan. Especially Tajikistan is threatened in the eyes of the Kremlin and Russia's Deputy Defense Minister raised this issue again during his recent meeting with the Tajik Ambassador to Russia. The idea of a spillover from Afghanistan is often ridiculed but perhaps the Russians have a point:
Tajik Police Arrest Suspected Taliban Members

Tajik authorities say they have arrested two suspected members of the Pakistani Taliban during a police search operation.

The Interior Ministry on June 24 identified the two men as Umarali Toshpulotov and Komiljon Kulbashev, both residents of Tajikistan's southern Khatlon Province.

The ministry said the men had joined the militant group after allegedly undergoing "special religious training" in Pakistan.

In addition to insurgents from Afghanistan and Pakistan, jihadi mercenaries returning from Syria keep the Tajik authorities on their toes. This week, a Tajik fighter of the al-Qaeda franchise Jabhat al-Nusra reportedly surrendered to law enforcers in Tajikistan's northern Sughd Province. The surrender came only a few days after Sughd's prosecutor had offered to amnesty all Tajik citizens who fight among the "Syrian rebels" if they lay down their arms and return home. Somebody should have told this al-Nusra member that the offer does not apply to members of extremist organizations and fighters who committed serious crimes. Some Tajik terrorists are now leaving the Syrian battlefield and are heading back to Tajikistan, where the law enforcement agencies are already waiting for them: 
29 residents of Khatlon province face charges of extremism and terrorism
Since the beginning of this year, Khatlon law enforcement authorities have instituted 21 criminal proceedings against 29 local residents charged with participation in outlawed religious extremist and terrorist groups.

“They are charged with participating in outlawed religious extremist groups and fighting in the ranks of rebel forces in Syria, Sirojiddin Nourov, a chief prosecutor in Khatlon province, told journalists on July 10.
The Tajik authorities see the radicalization of youths as a major threat to the security of the country and therefore they do not want to take any chances. Last month, Saymumin Yatimov, the head of the Tajik intelligence agency, warned against the "Afghanization" of Central Asia and he emphasized that foreign spies, who are operating in Tajikistan under the guise of non-governmental organizations, have joined forces with organized criminal groups in order to destabilize the country and the region as a whole. Shukurdzhon Zukhurov, the chairman of Tajikistan's lower house of parliament, endorsed Yatimov's claims a few days later. Although many people will dismiss Yatimov's assertions as "conspiracy theories", it is safe to say that there are some dubious NGOs in Tajikistan [emphasis mine]: 
The 10th NATO-supported Summer Academy takes place in Romit, Tajikistan from 4 to 14 July. This year's theme was “Central Asia after 2014 and beyond: regional development and stabilization process”.

The event brings together students from Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Russia, and offers students the opportunity to take part in interactive seminars and English-language discussion groups with leading Tajik experts and foreign diplomats on international security-related issues, the press service of the organization reported.
Summer Academy is organized by the non-governmental organization Vector Intellect with the support of NATO and of the Embassy of France, NATO’s Contact Point Embassy in Tajikistan.

NATO's Transit Route In The South Caucasus

NATO is not willing to give up on Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan even though they remain staunch members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In fact, soldiers from the three 'stans will participate in the upcoming Frontier-2014 drills, which start next week at Russia's Cherbakul firing range, but this does not stop NATO's warmongers from trying to undermine Russian influence in Central Asia. In the Caucasus region, NATO's efforts have already been quite successful. Russia's southern neighbor Georgia can hardly wait to join the U.S.-led military bloc:
Georgia not satisfied with NATO’s enhanced cooperation proposal package

Georgia is not satisfied with NATO's proposal, although the proposal package on the "enhanced cooperation" with the alliance shows an increase in the cooperation level, Georgian State Minister for Integration into European and Euro-Atlantic Structures, Alexi Petriashvili said.

Speaking to the Georgian Imedi TV Channel on July 9, Petriashvili said that Georgia is ready for the upcoming NATO Wales Summit.
Due to strong opposition from Germany and other Western European countries, Georgia will have to wait a little bit longer for its NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) and the Georgian government is apparently not satisfied with the "substantive package", which has been promised as compensation. James Appathurai, NATO's envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, visited Tbilisi a few days ago to convince Georgian officials of this "substantive package". Appathurai was not the only noteworthy guest in Georgia this week. U.S. General Paul Selva also visited the Georigan capital to discuss with Defense Minister Irakli Alasania and President Giorgi Margvelashvili Georgia's role in the drawdown of NATO troops from Afghanistan: 
U.S relies on Georgia for troops withdrawal from Afghanistan

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has today met with the head of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), General Paul Selva.

The presidential administration of Georgia told Trend that the parties discussed the political situation in the region, as well as, the prospects for deepening cooperation between Georgia and the United States.

General Selva also expressed interest in Georgia's transport infrastructure in the context of NATO troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan.
© Photo Ministry of Defense Georgia

Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan had planned to profit from the transit of military equipment out of Afghanistan and back to Europe and the United States. But the new route for the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) proposed by Georgia and Azerbaijan depends on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which won't be finished early enough to get any significant share of the NDN business. So it remains to be seen if Georgia can profit from the transit of military equipment. Fortunately, military equipment is not the only thing, which is transported from Afghanistan via NATO's proxies in the South Caucasus and vital NATO member Turkey to Europe and the United States: 
Police Say 2.79 Tons of Liquid Heroin Seized

2.79 tons of liquid heroin was seized from a cargo truck that entered into Georgia from Azerbaijan, the Georgian Interior Ministry said on July 11.

The seizure represents the biggest ever drug hauls in Georgia, according to the Interior Ministry.

It said that two citizens of Georgia were arrested.

The truck, according to the Interior Ministry, was carrying 93 thirty-liter plastic barrels filled with illegal substance containing 80% of heroin.

Drugs, worth of “hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars”, was intended for international transit and was en-route to Turkey, the Georgian Interior Ministry said.