Counter-Terrorism: Meanwhile In Central Asia


August 5, 2015: On July 16 there was a rare incidence of Islamic terrorist violence in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. In the capital (Bishkek, formerly Frunze) there were two police raids on Islamic terrorist locations and in both cases there was armed resistance. Six Islamic terrorists were killed and evidence was found of planned attacks, one of them to take place the next day. The government had noted that hundreds of young Kyrgyz men had gone to Syria to join ISIL and many had died there (and been identified). Since 2011 over thirty suspected Islamic terrorists had been arrested in Kyrgyzstan but there had been little violent Islamic terrorist activity.

While Bishkek, with 900,000 people, is the largest city in Kyrgyzstan most of the Islamic terrorist activity has taken place to the south in the Fergana Valley, the largest Central Asian river valley, one that includes portions of eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan. This has been one of the perennial Islamic terrorist hot spots in the region and is 300 kilometers long, 170 kilometers wide and comprises 22,000 square kilometers (8,900 square miles) fed by two rivers. It is a very large oasis in an otherwise semi-desert region. The densely populated valley is home for 11 million (25 percent Kyrgyz Turk, 19 percent Tajik, and 56 percent Uzbek Turk). The Uzbeks see the Kyrgyz and Tajik as interlopers (courtesy of the Soviet Union era borders) in what they consider an Uzbek valley. Meanwhile, the Uzbeks are divided into several factions who have not historically gotten along but are now united in a desire to control the entire valley. That is a possibility, as Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million compared to Kyrgyzstan with six million and Tajikistan with eight million. But all three countries are poor, although per capital income in Uzbekistan (about $1,800 a year) is about fifty percent higher than the other two. These ancient claims and disputes have made it difficult for the three nations to cooperate on counter-terror efforts in the Fergana Valley.

During the Soviet period (1920-91) the provincial borders in the Fergana Valley made little difference and local ethnic groups (Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kyrgyz) intermingled. Those old Soviet provincial borders are now national frontiers and the ancient ethnic animosities have reappeared because crossing these borders is now a crime and the border guards shoot to kill.

The Kyrgyz portions of the valley contain a lot of Uzbeks because when the Soviets rearranged the borders they did not move people. Despite all the water in the valley, there are too many people. In the last century population has increased five-fold. The result has been poverty and government corruption that has made the Fergana valley a hotbed of discontent. Some of the unrest is led by Islamic radicals but everyone in the area is unhappy with their respective governments.

The violence in the valley has not yet reached crisis proportions, but the three nations owning portions of the valley are seeing more violence and not much willingness to compromise. Russia, still the major power in the region, has advised the three countries to work out their differences. Russia will only send peacekeepers as a last resort and the situation has not yet become bad enough to justify that.




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