Central Asia: For The Moment

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May 28, 2011:  Efforts to reform and rebuild the Soviet era armed forces in Central Asia are slowed down by corruption and lack of money (the former often leading to the latter.) However, anything to do with counter-terrorism gets money and attention. As a result, special operations forces (commando or SWAT type troops, or those trained like American Special Forces) are upgraded and expanded. These troops can be used against Islamic radicals, as well as anyone else who opposes the government. Even in Afghanistan, where the West is paying for a massive reform and expansion of the armed forces, the special operations forces are the most effective troops. It's no secret that gaining the loyalty and support of the special operations troops is seen as the key to staying in power, or getting there.

The MOT (Mujahedin of Tajikistan) have issued a lot of threats in the last month, since the death of popular terrorist leader Abdullo Rahimov. But MOT has never been heard from before, and may be little more than a few Islamic radicals with access to the Internet. While Tajikistan has defeated (for the moment) or made peace (for the moment) with most Islamic radical groups, it has not eliminated the corruption and tribal and religious tensions that cause radical groups to emerge.

The IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) still has hundreds of members, but most of them have fled Uzbekistan for more hospitable refuges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, these areas are under increasing attack, causing many IMU members to consider returning home. The Central Asian states to the north know that, and have prepared for the growing number of IMU members. Despite that, the IMU does have a slim chance of getting a more active Islamic terror campaign going. Having spent time in Islamic terrorist refuges in the south, IMU members have come into contact with survivors from so many other Islamic radical groups (from Egypt, Russia, Algeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, Israel, Iraq, Libya) that were defeated, sending most of the survivors fleeing to any foreign refuge they could find. The lucky ones got to the West, the less fortunate, or more fanatic, went to Afghanistan (in the 1990s) or the tribal territories of Pakistan (after September 11, 2001). With the tribal territories becoming increasingly dangerous for Islamic radicals, especially foreign ones, IMU members going home realize that this may be a fatal journey.

In addition to building up their counter-terror forces, the Central Asian states have also been cooperating in their battle against Islamic radicals. The primary vehicle for this is the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). This organization consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Iran as associate members, or "observers". Russia, and the Central Asian states, are trying to get India made a member, as a counterbalance to China. The SCO, unofficially, exists to keep the peace between China and Russia over economic activities in Central Asia. At the moment, China is winning the race to develop large oil and gas fields in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. China needs the energy, and is willing to pay whatever it takes. Since the Central Asian nations are run by corrupt leaders, often dictators, the Chinese have an easy, if expensive, way to gaining control of natural resources. At the moment, Russia is more concerned with halting, or much reducing, the flow of opium, hashish and heroin from Afghanistan to Russia. These drugs have created millions of addicts and major social problems. Russia is trying to get more cooperation from Central Asian governments. But in many of these countries, senior officials are on the drug gang payrolls. That, however, is changing as the dictators realize that the Islamic radicals are also getting into the drug business. This is what keeps the Afghan Taliban going, as well as the North African branch of al Qaeda. The drug gangs are all about business. So while the Russians are pressuring the Central Asian government to help keep the Afghan opium and heroin out of Russia, the Central Asian rulers are even more intent on preventing local Islamic radicals from using drug money to finance more terrorism and revolution. In many ways (corruption, addiction, breakdown of society) the drugs are a more formidable threat than the Islamic radicals. But the governments can, after a fashion, do business with the drug gangs. No such deals with the Islamic radicals, who are on a mission from God, and not negotiating.

One benefit of the SCO for China is the crippling of the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement). This outfit began in northwest China, in areas where the population is largely Turkic and Moslem. ETIM was formed in the late 1990s and the Chinese government soon came down hard on the group. Many of the most active ETIM members fled the country. About a hundred were killed or captured in Afghanistan right after September 11, 2001. Although still active, ETIM has not been able to carry out many attacks since then. But there has been lots of threats,  plots and arrests. There are still believed to be a hundred or so ETIM members active in places like Tajikistan and the Fergana Valley. This area is one of the most agriculturally productive, and densely populated, in the region. Portions of the valley are shared by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and has long been an incubator of Islamic radicals, and ethnic disputes. It still is.

Thickly populated river valleys tend to be where the Islamic radicals get established and become dangerous. But it's also where the governments often go to defeat the Islamic radicals. This happened recently in east Tajikistan (the Rasht Valley near the Afghan border) where troops have been finding caches of weapons and medical supplies. These are believed to belong to Islamic radical groups which are preparing to hunker down for the Winter. The patrols also captured or killed several key Islamic radical leaders.

Kazakhstan, after months of pressure from NATO, finally sent some troops to Afghanistan. NATO wanted several hundred, and the Taliban vowed retaliation if that happened. So Kazakhstan tried a compromise, and only sent four officers to work at ISAF headquarters in Kabul. The Taliban declared this a victory. Kazakhstan currently has experienced some terrorist activity, but is not sure if this is Islamic terrorism, or some other group with a grudge against the cops.

May 24, 2011: In Kazakhstan's capital, a car bomb went off outside a police building, killing two.

May 17, 2011:  In northwestern Kazakhstan, a suicide bomber attacked a police base, leaving three wounded and only the attacker dead.

May 5, 2011:  A crude bomb was found and defused in Kyrgyzstan's capital.

April 16, 2011: Several months of heavy military activity (constant patrols) in east Tajikistan (the Rasht Valley near the Afghan border) eventually caught up with long-sought Islamic terrorist leader Abdullo Rahimov. These patrols had been finding caches of weapons and medical supplies, which often belonged to Islamic radical groups. Rahimov had spent years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, working with al Qaeda and the Taliban. He had technical and leadership skills needed to get another terrorism campaign going in Tajikistan, but the police got him first. It was not just luck and constant patrolling, Rahimov had been the subject of a two month effort to track him down and capture or kill him.

 

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