Sunday, October 26, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #72

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.

Every day, the new star in the world of takfiri terrorist groups, the Islamic State aka ISIL aka ISIS aka Da'ish, is dominating the headlines. Western media is eager to highlight every atrocity committed by ISIS while similar crimes committed by the "moderate Syrian rebels" have been swept under the rug for years and are still being ignored. The "Syrian rebels" used chemical weapons?! No, that is completely inconceivable. ISIS used chemical weapons?! Yes, that goes without saying. Although the Kurds exposed the new darling of Western media as "the most overhyped military force on the planet" during the siege of Kobane, there is no end in sight to the ISIS hype, much to the dismay of the previous number one boogeyman al-Qaeda. The organization of U.S./NATO puppet Ayman al-Zawahiri is desperately trying to get some attention. Last month, Zawahiri released one of his dubious videos announcing the establishment of a new branch on the Indian subcontinent and lately the group threatened China, stressing that Xinjiang needs to be "recovered [into] the shade of the Islamic Caliphate":
Al-Qaeda Declares War on China, Too

Al-Qaeda central appears to have joined the Islamic State in calling for jihad against China over its alleged occupation of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

This week, al-Sahab media organization, al-Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the first issue of its new English-language magazine Resurgence. The magazine has a strong focus on the Asia-Pacific in general, with feature articles on both India and Bangladesh, as well as others on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, the first issue also contains an article entitled “10 Facts About East Turkistan,” which refers to the name given to Xinjiang by those who favor independence from China. The ten facts seek to cast Xinjiang as a longtime independent state that has only recently been brutally colonized by Han Chinese, who are determined to obliterate its Islamic heritage.

Al-Qaeda Targets Xinjiang As China Struggles To Contain Violence

ISIS had already called on its followers to "liberate East Turkestan" a few weeks earlier. Al-Qaeda is apparently afraid of losing out to its competitor in this new emerging market but, as Zachary Keck points out in the above-mentioned article, "attempting to use an English-language publication to motivate would-be jihadists in places like Xinjiang displays a remarkable degree of desperation." Predictably, the first Uyghurs who noticed the article are not living in Xinjiang but in the United States and Europe, where they advocate for East Turkestan's independence on behalf of Washington. Alim Seytoff, president of the NED-funded Uyghur American Association and director of the NED-funded Uyghur Human Rights Project, lost no time in distancing himself and his fellow Uyghur exile activists from any kind of terrorist activity. Seytoff lamented that the recruitment efforts of ISIS, al-Qaeda & Co. "have unfairly painted Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as prone to terrorist behavior." That might be true but the regular attacks by Uyghur insurgents certainly played a role in this as well:
At Least 22 People Are Reported Killed in Attack at a Market in Western China

An attack on a farmers market in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang has reportedly left at least 22 people dead and dozens injured, Radio Free Asia, the news service financed by the American government, has reported.


Radio Free Asia said on Saturday that the rampage, which took place Oct. 12 in Kashgar Prefecture, was carried out by four men armed with knives and explosives who attacked police officers and merchants before being shot dead by the police. Most of the victims were ethnic Han Chinese and the assailants were ethnic Uighur, the news service said, citing local police officials.

As of Sunday, news of the attack had not appeared in the Chinese news media, which frequently delays reporting about unrest in the region for reasons not entirely clear. The authorities make it difficult for foreign journalists to travel to the string of towns and cities in southern Xinjiang where much of the recent bloodshed has occurred.
© Photo Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

The attack appears to follow a recent pattern in which takfiri terrorists target Han Chinese civilians as well as Uyghur police office and government officials. In May, a similar attack on a market in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 43 people dead and more than 90 wounded. This spoiled the celebration of the game-changing Russia-China gas deal and prompted the Chinese government to start a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign. According to the Financial Times, the latest incident in Kashgar Prefecture brings to at least 244 the number of people who have been killed in attacks in Xinjiang since the start of China's anti-terror campaign. The Chinese authorities are now looking to create a vast community surveillance network in the autonomous region in order to contain the increasing violence:
China launches massive rural 'surveillance' project to watch over Uighurs

The last two weeks alone have seen reports of an attack on a farmers' market near Kashgar that claimed at least 22 lives and of two Uighurs being shot dead following a "stabbing rampage" in which three civil servants and three police officers, including a pregnant woman, died.

Such clashes, which have been driven partly by the lack of rights and economic opportunities for Uighurs and partly by a growing vein of Islamic extremism, have driven the Communist party to send 200,000 officials out to improve relations in the field.

The teams have been told to interview each household in their village and compile detailed reports on their employment status as well as on their observance of Islam, noting down, for example, whether the women wear veils and the men have beards.
China's war on beards and veils has reached worrying levels and the success of this approach is doubtful to say the least. The same applies to the ever-increasing number of death sentences for Uyghur insurgents. Last week, another 12 people were sentenced to death for the attacks in Xinjiang's southern Yarkant county in July in which almost 100 people died. Furthermore, 15 others were given suspended death sentences, nine got life in jail and another 20 sentences ranging from four to 20 years. Courts in Xinjiang are taking a hard line but the brainwashing is more effective than the deterrence effect:
China broadcaster says Xinjiang attack mastermind sought Islamic state

China Central Television (CCTV) showed several Uighur defendants dressed in orange prison uniforms confessing and expressing regret for their crimes.

They said they had been brainwashed into "holy war" by a man named Nulamaiti Sawuti, who the government said incited the violence in July and was killed then.

"He talked about jihad, about establishing an Islamic state," one Uighur defendant, identified as Ailimu Rouze, told CCTV, referring to Sawuti.

"We often thought about carrying out holy war," another defendant, Aili Tuersun, said.

SCO Eyes Bigger Role In Afghanistan But NATO Clings To Poppy Fields

As the Chinese authorities struggle to defeat the insurgency in Xinjiang, more and more people argue that "Beijing's iron fist to fight terrorism should be extended beyond its borders" in order to secure the stability of China's far west. Beijing has been promoting the fight against the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in talks with other countries in the region for quite some time but serious efforts to walk the talk were made only recently. The increasing violence in Xinjiang and NATO's so-called "withdrawal" from Afghanistan have prompted China to boost anti-terror cooperation with the Central Asian states, to expand the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and to strengthen the military capability of the SCO. Much to the delight of China, Afghanistan has already evinced interest in working with the SCO to ensure the stability of the region:
Shanghai Cooperation Organization Says Afghanistan Requests Help in Fighting Terrorism

Kabul has asked Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states to help Afghan special services in combating terrorism, the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (SCO RATS) said Thursday.

The SCO RATS director Zhang Xinfeng and Afghan Ambassador to Uzbekistan Mohammad Sadiq Daudzai discussed the security situation in Afghanistan on October 17.
© Photo The Wall Street Journal/Paula Bronstein

Afghanistan's newly selected president Ashraf Ghani will travel to China next week, where he will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and potential investors in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. The trip to China was expected to be Ghani's first foreign trip since taking office last month but he deemed it best to visit Saudi Arabia first. Afghanistan's new head of state met among others with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz to review "prospects for cooperation between the two brotherly countries." Ghani's masters in Washington are very happy with his performance so far. A glance at his First Vice President, infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, demonstrates that NATO's efforts to turn the country into a narco-criminal state have been highly successful. American taxpayers have spent more than $104 billion to rebuild Afghanistan and, in particluar, the money for "counter-narcotics efforts" was well-invested:
Afghan opium poppy cultivation hits all-time high

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has hit an all-time high despite years of counter-narcotics efforts that have cost the US $7.6bn (£4.7bn), according to a US government watchdog.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghan farmers grew an “unprecedented” 209,000 hectares (523,000 acres) of opium poppy in 2013, surpassing the previous high of 193,000 hectares in 2007, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.
The poppy "eradication" was a resounding success and the same is true of NATO's fight against the Taliban. One of the stated goals of the NATO mission was to defeat the Taliban and some spoilsports lose no opportunity to point this out but Western media and politicians have long moved on. As British forces and U.S. Marines formally end their combat operations and UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon warns that there was "no guarantee" that Afghanistan would be safe and stable, the Taliban are regaining territory. Lately, they took control of one district in the province of Wardak, just south of Kabul, and of two districts in the northern province of Kunduz. Many foreign fighters have joined the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, especially in the provinces of Kunduz and Badakhshan, which are bordering Tajikistan, and in the provinces of Badghis and Faryab, which are bordering Turkmenistan:
Taliban near Turkmenistan said to include many foreign fighters

About 1,500-2,000 Taliban are fighting in Faryab Province, Afghanistan, including 100-150 foreign fighters, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Turkmen service reported October 10, quoting Bashir Ahmet Tayanch, an Afghan MP from Faryab Province.

The foreign fighters seldom take part in battle, usually teaching the local Taliban how to build bombs and commit terrorist acts, Tayanch said.

They include many men from Pakistan, Uzbekistan and the Northern Caucasus, he said, adding that Almak District alone has six Uzbek militants and their families, according to official data.

Tajikistan Moves To Strengthen Border, Attract Investment

A few weeks ago, Turkmenistan even sent some troops into Afghanistan to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries. The Turkmen authorities are now doing their best to lock down the border to keep the insurgents out. If the Afghan officials in Kunduz are to be believed, neighboring Tajikistan should also keep an eye on its border. One official described the situation as "alarming" as he called on the government in Kabul to take action against the 600 fighters who are menacing his district. Dushanbe is aware of the threat and Tajik leader Emomalii Rahmon announced last week that the government will allocate more money to strengthen the country's borders:
ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan to make Tajikistan strengthen border security

The withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force from Afghanistan will make Tajikistan provide additional budget means for strengthening security on its borders and protecting foreign investments, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon said on Wednesday.

“If the anti-terrorist coalition withdraws troops from Afghanistan, Tajikistan has to increase expenses for strengthening its borders because there will be no investments, entrepreneurship development and the economy without guarantees,” Rakhmon said.


The situation in Afghanistan and the necessity of reinforcing the Tajik-Afghan border were also high on the agenda during Nikolai Patrushev's recent trip to Tajikistan. Patrushev met with Rahmon to discuss these issues as well as further military cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan before he visited Russia's military base in the country. After heading the FSB for almost a decade, Patrushev has been Secretary of the Security Council of Russia since 2008. Last week, he gave a very interesting interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta in which he explained how the United States brought down the Soviet Union and the similarities to the current campaign against Russia. The economic war against Russia has caused a stir in Central Asia. While Kazakhstan is freaking out about the oil price, Tajikistan is already looking to China for much-needed investment:
Tajikistan looks to China as Russian remittances dry up

Tajikistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, is counting on an influx of Chinese investment to cushion its economy from the reverberations of sanctions-hit Russia.

China is to invest at least $6bn in Tajikistan over the next three years, Jamoliddin Nuraliev, the country’s deputy finance minister, says in an interview with the Financial Times.
The planned investment, equivalent to two-thirds of Tajikistan’s 2013 gross domestic product and more than 40 times annual foreign direct investment, is the latest sign of China’s economic expansion into former-Soviet central Asia, as it seeks to secure natural resources and ensure stability in a region Chinese expats call Beijing’s “wild west”.
Not everyone in Tajikistan is sold on China's investment in the country. Many Tajiks are concerned that Tajikistan could become too dependent on China. The Financial Times cited one businessman in Dushanbe as asking: "Will there be anything left after the Chinese have finished?" But until Tajikistan's efforts to attract investment from other parts of the world pay off, the Tajik government cannot afford to be choosy:
Tajikistan touts itself as new investment frontier

If you are bored of Botswana, tired of Tunisia and Mongolia is just not edgy enough any more then perhaps Tajikistan could be your next true frontier market destination.

The Tajik government certainly hopes so. It has just organised its first ever investment conference – and with some 600 people in attendance, it would seem there is certainly some curiosity about what Tajikistan has to offer.

With 8m people and GDP of just $8.5bn last year (making it one of the world’s 30 poorest countries by GDP per capita), Tajikistan is not an obvious destination for foreign investment. Add endemic corruption, unreliable electricity supplies, ever-changing tax and customs regulations, an economy under pressure from the slowdown in Russia and competition from politically-backed Chinese investors and it is clear that investing in Tajikistan is only for the hardiest souls.