Sunday, September 28, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #68

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.

Since the start of China's year-long anti-terror campaign in May of this year, every week new measures are being introduced to contain the terror threat. Of course, the focus is on China's far-west province of Xinjiang, which has seen the most violence. Earlier this month, Chinese prosecutors, especially those in Xinjiang, were asked to fast-track cases involving terrorists, religious extremists and manufacturers of firearms and explosives. Considering that the rewards for people who tip off local authorities about "suspicious activity related to terrorism and religious extremism" are being increased every other day, this anti-terror measure will most likely land a few innocent citizens in jail. But the Chinese authorities are determined to curb the violence in Xinjiang at all costs and they do not want to take chances given the growing influence of extremists among the Muslim population:
China says 'rescues' more children from Xinjiang religious schools

A sweep on illegal religious activity in the capital of China's unruly far western region of Xinjiang has resulted in 190 children being "rescued", along with the detention of dozens of people, a state newspaper said on Monday.

Last month the government said it had "rescued" 82 children in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi from religious schools known as madrassas, and that campaign appears to be continuing.

Children in Xinjiang are prohibited by the government from attending madrassas, prompting many parents who wish to provide a religious education to use underground schools.

Increasing Violence In Xinjiang Seals Fate Of Uyghur Scholar

Rian Thum, professor at Loyola University New Orleans and researcher of Uyghur historiography recently summarized the growing religiosity in the region as follows: "There’s a lot more veil wearing than there used to be; a lot more face covering than there used to be; a lot more beards than there used to be." Much to the dismay of Beijing, this development coincides with the sidelining of moderate forces, as demonstrated by the murder of the imam of China's largest mosque in late July. A few days ago, 17 officials and police officers were punished for being accountable for this murder as well as for the huge riots in Xinjiang's Yarkant County two days earlier, which had resulted in the killing of almost 100 people. Officials and police officers in Xinjiang are now probably wondering who is going to be held accountable for the latest attack last Sunday:
China State Media Say 50 Killed in Far West Attack

Chinese state media reported Thursday that 50 people, including 40 assailants, were killed in a series of explosions over the weekend in the far western region of Xinjiang, in what officials called a severe terror attack.

Regional authorities had earlier said that the explosions Sunday in Luntai county killed at least two people and injured many others.

The news portal Tianshan Net said bombs exploded at two police stations, a produce market and a store. It said the attack killed two police officers, two police assistants and six bystanders, and that 54 others were injured. It said police took swift action and 40 assailants were either shot dead or died in explosions.

Although the incident occurred already last Sunday, the true scale of the attack only became known on Thursday, when Chinese state media reported that not just two but 50 people had been killed. The Chinese authorities try to keep a lid on terrorist attacks until the government-approved version of events is released to the public. This provides Western media and Washington's Uyghur exile groups with ample opportunity to challenge Beijing's narrative. Rebiya Kadeer & Co. use every opportunity to complain about Chinese oppression and they do not have a hard time finding something to criticize given the fact that China's fight against the "three evils" is marked by dubious decisions: 
China jails prominent Uighur academic Ilham Tohti for life
A court in China has found a prominent Uighur scholar guilty of separatism and jailed him for life, his lawyer says.

Ilham Tohti had spoken out on China's policies towards the Muslim Uighur minority in the restive Xinjiang region, but had denied being a separatist.

Correspondents say China is taking a tougher line amid rising Xinjiang-linked violence.
While some people are pointing out why this harsh sentence was a bad idea, World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer is already talking about "a declaration of war against Uyghurs" and Western media is making sure that the next terrorist attack in Xinjiang will be blamed on Tohti's imprisonment. As usual, the NED-funded Uyghur exile groups are being quoted as often as possible and, interestingly enough, the WUC is being described as the self-professed Uyghur government in exile in a few articles, despite the fact that this applies rather to the East Turkestan Government in Exile, which was established in Washington D.C. ten years ago. Predictably, the U.S. government lost no time in condemning Tohti's life sentence and called for his immediate release. But the Chinese government is not in the mood for the usual games and blasted the "foreign interference in China's judicial sovereignty." China maintains that Tohti encouraged fellow Uyghurs to use violence and the Chinese authorities are currently cracking down on everyone and everything related to the violence in Xinjiang. Even the ISIS-Xinjiang connection is now being taken seriously [emphasis mine]: 
Chinese militants get Islamic State 'terrorist training' - media
Chinese militants from the western region of Xinjiang have fled from the country to get "terrorist training" from Islamic State fighters for attacks at home, state media reported on Monday.
The report was the first time state-run media had linked militants from Xinjiang, home to ethnic minority Uighur Muslims, to militants of the Islamic State (IS), a radical Sunni Muslim group which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq.
"They not only want to get training in terrorist techniques, but also to expand their connections in international terrorist organizations through actual combat to gain support for escalation of terrorist activities in China," the Global Times cited an unidentified Chinese "anti-terrorism worker" as saying.

Central Asia Fears ISIS, Boosts Ties With Saudi Arabia & Qatar

At the beginning of this month, the first Chinese ISIS fighter was captured in Iraq and a few days later four Uyghurs were arrested in Indonesia on suspicion of being ISIS members. It is unclear how many Uyghurs have joined Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi & Co. but even if they survive their trip to the Middle East, they will have a hard time "liberating East Turkestan." Nevertheless, China is concerned about the growing popularity of ISIS in the region. As previously discussed, the pledge of the former leader of the Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, to support al-Baghdadi's Caliphate does not bode well for China and some insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan are also eager to join forces with ISIS:
Islamic State expanding activities in Ghazni province

Local officials in southeastern Ghanzi province of Afghanistan have warned that militants linked with Islamic State are expanding their activities in parts of this province.

Deputy provincial governor, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi has said that the Taliban militants linked with the Islamic State have raised the flags of the group in various districts.

He said the militants are campaigning in favour of the Islamic State and have closed numerous routes to Ghazni province since they are busy with planning their activities.

A few days ago, Taliban fighters seized control of a strategic district in Ghazni province, which is an important gateway to Kabul from the south-east. Meanwhile, the situation in northern Afghanistan is equally alarming. Turkmenistan was even forced to send troops across the border to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries. The comeback of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the rise of ISIS have caused a serious problem in the jihadist universe but this does not affect the ISIS fearmongering, which has now reached Central Asia: 
Islamic State will come to Central Asia

The catastrophic wave of violence at the hands of the Islamic State will repeat itself in Afghanistan and then move on to Central Asia, forecasts the president of the Russian Institute for the Middle East Studies.

Speaking recently about the emergence of the new wave of extremism in the Middle East, Erlan Karin, a Middle East expert from Kazakhstan, reported on the creation of an Uzbek unit of militants called Imam Bukhari Jamaat.
Additionally, according to his findings there are about 250 Kazakh citizens, 100 Kyrgyz, 190 Tajiks, 500 Uzbeks, and about 360 Turkmens fighting alongside ISIS extremists.
The Central Asian states are happy to promote ISIS as a serious threat but they would not dream of cutting their ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the terrorist group's biggest bankrollers. This week, Tajikistan's top Muslim cleric issued a fatwa against the participation of Tajiks in conflicts in Syria and Iraq (he also issued a fatwa against government critics) never mind that the Saudis have reportedly been recruiting Tajiks for ISIS with impunity for quite some time. Only a few days earlier, Tajikistan and Qatar had agreed to step up their cooperation. The House of Thani will also give neighboring Kyrgyzstan a hand, for example in the field of education. And while a famous Kazakh political analyst is warning that ISIS poses a serious threat to Kazakhstan, the Kazakh government is boosting cooperation with the House of Saud:
Kazakhstan ready for further cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has met with Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al ash-Sheikh, the chairman of the Majlis ash-Shura (Consultative Assembly) of Saudi Arabia.

“Kazakhstan is ready to develop the cooperation with Saudi Arabia in various spheres, including in the trade and economic field,” the president said.

The president said that a number of buildings were constructed in Astana with the assistance of Saudi Arabia, which is a proof of the friendly relations between the two countries.

Training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" in Georgia?

According to Western media, Saudi Arabia and those other paragons of democracy in the Gulf are now leading the fight against the same terrorists they have been arming and financing for years on behalf of the United States and NATO. Saudi Arabia has agreed to host a training camp for 5000 "moderate Syrian rebels" in an effort by the U.S. and its allies to build another mercenary army, which is supposed to fight the ISIS mercenary army but will ultimately be used to topple the Syrian government. And Saudi Arabia is apparently not the only country, which is willing to host a training for "moderate Syrian rebels":
Exclusive: Georgia Offers to Host Training Camp for Syrian Rebels

In a potential boost for the Obama administration, the former Soviet republic of Georgia has offered to host a training facility for the Syrian rebels as a part of the U.S.-led war against Islamic State militants in both Syria and Iraq, according to an American administration official.

"[The training center] was something we offered, but is still under consideration," Georgian Ambassador Archil Gegeshidze told Foreign Policy, confirming the U.S. official's remarks.

The potential scale of the Georgia-based training program remains unclear, but Gegeshidze noted that it could host anti-IS fighters from multiple countries, not just Syria. "It's a counterterrorism training center for any nationality," he said.

Foreign Policy reports that Georgian officials made the offer to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in closed-door meetings during his recent visit to Georgia in the wake of the NATO summit. The Foreign Policy article caused a stir in Tbilisi. Georgia's Defense Ministry immediately released a statement, which did neither deny or confirm anything, but Georgia's State Securtiy Council later said that the report was "not true." The quote of Georgia's ambassador to the U.S. was allegedly "inaccurate." Foreign Policy denies this and stands by its story. Tbilisi's statements have to be taken with a grain of salt, as Joshua Kucera pointed out: "Given Georgia's obvious skittishness about news of this getting out, if such a base does in fact get set up, we probably won't be hearing much more about it." After all, it makes perfect sense to set up a training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" in Georgia given the fact that some Georgian jihadists have already joined the "Syrian rebels":
Sixth Georgian from Pankisi Gorge dies in Syrian war

An 18 year old Georgian has died in the Syrian civil war. He is the sixth fighter to die in the war who is a native of Pankisi Gorge.

Pankisi Gorge in the northeast of Georgia was used as a jihadist base during both Chechen wars, and this was where the United States went in for the first time with military aid to Georgia in 2002, to counter the threat of islamic extremism.

Kakheti Information Center reported that Besik Kushtanashvili is the sixth Pankisi native to die while fighting in the Syrian war.

Relatives of Kushtanashvili said he left for Turkey together with his siblings this summer, soon after graduating from school, ostensibly to work there. Going to Turkey to work is common among Pankisi residents. His family had no suspicion that anything was wrong before they received information that their boy had died.
The United States has been quite successful in "countering" Islamic extremism in the Pankisi Gorge. As recently discussed, Georgia is still being used to recruit and train jihadi mercenaries for NATO's terror operations in the region. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that one of the most influential ISIS leaders, Tarkhan Batirashvili, is also from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Batirashvili's dubious background raises the question as to whether he is really a jihadist or an intelligence operative. Given Batirashvili's growing popularity, it is probably worth the trouble to take a closer look at Georgia's most famous terrorist: 
U.S. Puts Georgian National on Terrorism Sanctions List

The U.S. placed on September 24 a Syria-based Georgian national among 21 individuals in “specially designated global terrorists” list, freezing their assets and prohibiting Americans from having any commercial transactions with them.

Tarkhan Batirashvili, 28, who is known as Omar al-Shishani and is native of Birkiani village in Georgia’s Pankisi gorge, is one of the senior Islamic State military commanders.

There are reports that Batirashvili is not the only Georgian national fighting in Syria. According to a local news agency in Kakheti region, where Pankisi gorge is located, there are about 50 individuals from Pankisi gorge fighting in Syria. News agency, Information Center of Kakheti (ICK), reported on September 25 about death of an 18-year-old native of Omalo village of Pankisi gorge while fighting in Syria; ICK said that the report was confirmed by relatives of the young man.