The New Great Game Round Up- June 16, 2013

CIA Guiding the Evolution of Islam, UAE: NATO's Proxy at Work, “Colour Revolution in Kyrgyzstan?” & More!

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 in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its 10th joint counterterrorism drill in Kazakhstan this week. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan assisted the host nation while China, Russia and Uzbekistan observed the drill. Since 2002 the SCO member states have been conducting joint military exercises, primarily focusing on anti-terror operations. The recent drill featured a terrorist invasion in Kazakhstan:

The drill stimulates a situation where terrorists enter Kazakhstan by helicopters and automobiles, hijack hostages in a bordering village and attempt to conduct terrorist activities.

The mission is for counter forces from SCO member countries to crack down on the terrorist group and rescue hostages through both ground and aerial operations.

Professor Wang Baofu from the PLA National Defence University explains the underlying motives:

"This year the drill is not massive in scale but involves multiple central Asian countries. We know that the situation in Afghanistan is facing a critical point with unclear prospects, as the Taliban and NATO forces are taking undergoing fierce combats in important locations. Additionally, terrorists inside Afghanistan are operating rapidly. All these factors pose threats to these central Asian countries." 

China immediately addressed concerns about the increasing military cooperation and emphasized that the Chinese-led SCO will not turn into a military alliance.

CIA Guiding the Evolution of Islam

The joint drills are part of ongoing efforts to cement ties between the Central Asian countries in order to counter present and future threats. According to the director of the State Commission on Religious Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, Abdulatif Zhumabaev, one of these threats is extremism:

Expert: Central Asian countries should work together to fight extremism 

According to him, every year, the country is visited by hundreds of preachers from different countries.

"Stabilization of the religious situation in Eurasia depends on many factors. Priests and how they are trained are amongst these factors. Yet this issue was dealt by the missionaries from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, and India. The world is again, on the verge of religious wars as it was in the Middle Ages. Certainly, this problem requires scientific understanding and practical actions," Kairat Lama Sharif said.

He said that everything mentioned lead to the conclusion that religion today acts as an pivot for integration in the post-Soviet space.

Religion has often been used to further a certain agenda. Regarding the role of Islam in Central Asia we should consider this famous quote which is accredited to CIA agent Graham Fuller [emphasis mine]:

“The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against [the Russians]. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.”

Graham Fuller has very close ties to Fethullah Gülen and was one target of the FBI's Gladio B investigation. While Gülen's schools in the South Caucasus are currently flourishing, his vast network in Central Asia was established already several years ago and has been used since the late 1990s to radicalize young Muslims. Once their training by commandos of Turkish military and Pakistani ISI is completed, these new "mujahideen" are deployed for operations in different target areas by the United States and its allies.

Hizb ut-Nusrat & Hizb ut-Tahrir

Besides the Gülen cult there are a number of terrorist organizations which have specialized in radicalizing the Muslim population. Recently an almost unknown group called Hizb ut-Nusrat emerged in Uzbekistan [emphasis mine]:

Members of new extremist movement arrested in Uzbekistan

Law enforcement agencies of Uzbekistan revealed a training school for extremist women in Tashkent, news portal said.

Mahmudhuzha Akhmedzhanov was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment in December 2012 for unlawful activities as a member of the religious extremist organization Hizb ut-Nusrat. Following the orders, his wife Lola Akhmedzhanova gathered religious women and taught them illegal religious background.

Covert Islamic group leader convicted in Uzbekistan

Yet high secrecy did not help Hizb un-Nusrat members: about 20 of them were found, detained and sentenced, the source stressed. Stricter anti-terrorist measures and migration control forced Al Qaeda to use Hizb ut-Tahrir, which originally proclaimed its non-violent nature, expert Nurali Begaliyev told Interfax. There is a high probability of radicalization of Hizb ut-Tahrir and Hizb un-Nusrat under the growing influence of Al Qaeda, which may trigger their terrorist operations with unpredictable consequences, he said.

Hizb ut-Nusrat appears to be an offshoot of Hizb ut-Tahrir and shares its goals. As previously discussed, Hizb ut-Tahrir is essentially a conveyor belt for terrorists and has spawned top terrorist recruiters like Omar Bakri Muhammad who has been working for British intelligence services since the mid-1990s.

Uzbekistan is trying to contain the threat of Hizb-ut Nusrat and preparing for possible attacks:

Uzbekistan to train specialists for fighting terrorism and carrying out special operations

And neighboring Kyrgyzstan is dealing with Hizb ut-Tahrir:

Hizb ut-Tahrir leader detained in Naryn

Leader of local Hizb ut-Tahrir unit has been detained in Naryn town, the State National Security Committee reported. According to the intelligence agencies, a 39-year-old leader of one of the extremist organization’s regional units, acting in Naryn province, as well as two other its members, have been arrested in course of investigation.

9 Hizb ut-Tahrir activists arrested in Osh region

Colour Revolution in Kyrgyzstan?

Given the strategic importance of Osh Province and USAID's invovlement in this region, the latest arrest is not surprising. Bishkek hopes to improve its border stability with the new control programme Kalkan (Shield):

Kyrgyzstan's new border control programme operational

The programme is expected to help thwart terrorism and drug and human trafficking. Similar programmes have taken effect in other CIS countries, but specialists at the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) designed the Kyrgyz programme to best fit the country's needs.

Kalkan includes scanners, a database, an automated system for checking documents and a system for communications between BCPs and INTERPOL.

While the Kalkan border control programme is certainly useful, the next measure is questionable:

Joint Kyrgyz-American training to combat terrorism held in Tokmok

Nine representatives of the U.S. Army Special Forces Central Command headed by senior instructor Jeremy John and forty Kyrgyz soldiers of special forces during a month will share their knowledge, the PR department of the Ministry of Defense of the KR reports.

The last time I checked Washington was supporting and not fighting terrorism. Relations between Kyrgyzstan and the United States deteriorated since the Kyrgyz government decided to cancel the Manas Transit Center deal. There was even speculation in Kyrgyzstan about a connection between the Manas denouncement and recent protests against the Kumtor Gold Mine. According to Kyrgyz politicians "the protests were initiated by global players” in an effort to destabilize the country.

These concerns are probably justified considering the suspicious timing of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution, which was highlighted by James Corbett in a previous BFP EyeOpener Report:

"The timing of the revolution itself was suspiciously fortuitous for the United States, which had enjoyed good relations with Akayev from the time of the opening of the Manas base in 2001 until October 2003, when Akayev allowed the reopening of an old Soviet base in Kant by the Russians in the name of combating terror in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan was immediately put on the US State Department’s watch list, and aid increased to Kyrgyz opposition groups via a number of American-based NGOs."

So joint counterterrorism exercises with the United States are probably not the best idea and Bishkek should instead intensify existing cooperation with fellow CSTO countries:

Interior Ministries of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan sign cooperation plan in fight against extremism, terrorism

Kyrgyz and Russian Ministries of Defense conduct military exercises in Batken

After the CSTO member states recently agreed to strengthen their armed forces, Kyrgyzstan is already contributing its share by acquiring air defense systems from China:

It's not clear whether Kyrgyzstan is buying these systems or China is giving them as aid, or what kind of air defense we're talking about. Either way, it's an intriguing development given that Russia just promised Bishkek more than $1 billion in military aid and that there are ongoing plans to create a joint CSTO air defense system.

China Looking for Gas in Central Asia

Beijing is increasing its cooperation with Central Asian countries. Especially the Tajik government is looking to attract Chinese investment but this creates dependence:

Tajikistan piles on China debt

Rahmon's official visit resulted in several multi-million-dollar investment projects in the infrastructure, banking, energy and mining sectors, as well as a technical cooperation agreement that altogether added up to around US$200 million, thereby further strengthening China's presence in Tajikistan's economy. 

Tajikistan's large natural gas reserves could solve this problem:

Tajikistan’s Gas Boom: Prosperity or Conflict?

Tajikistan now sits upon a gas and condensate resource that – depending on global commodity prices – could be worth a trillion dollars or more. The country is unlikely to become a Norway in the Pamirs, but there is no reason it cannot follow in the footsteps of a country like Botswana, which at its independence in 1966 was one of the world’s poorest countries, but now enjoys “middle income” status because it prudently managed its income resource income (from diamond mining) to maintain strong economic growth, despite major internal development challenges such as HIV/AIDS.

China with its growing natural gas market and constant need for gas supplies will probably become the largest customer and give Tajikistan the chance to improve its economic situation. But this will also depend on Dushanbe's ability to deal with the rampant corruption and security challenges:

Intl terrorism, religious extremism threaten Tajikistan - senate speaker

The Tajik authorities are therefore taking measures to advance the country's security [emphasis mine]:

President of Tajikistan signs laws to combat terrorism financing

Tajiks, INTERPOL discuss security challenges

Tajikistan is making increased use of the police organisation's global tools, Noble said during his first trip to Tajikistan, adding that the number of INTERPOL notices (requests for INTERPOL member-state police agencies to share information) issued this year at Tajikistan's request reached a record high.

As previously noticed in Kyrgyzstan, there are questionable steps in Tajikistan as well:

UK govt. signs agreement to enhance security in Tajikistan

British government has signed an agreement to enhance security along the border shared by Tajikistan and Afghanistan, the British Embassy in Tajikistan says.

Meanwhile Beijing works hard to secure gas supplies and is stepping up its cooperation with another Central Asian country in the energy sector:

Kazakhstan, China intend to increase gas transport

China has better chance than India for joining Kashagan project: analyst

China has greater chances than India for joining the project on the development of Kashagan, a giant oil field in Kazakhstan's sector of the Caspian Sea, according to a Kazakh analyst.

Kazakhstan also plays a central role in the revival of the Silk Road:

Kazakhs launch 'Silk Road' China-Europe rail route

Now it takes just 15 days for trains carrying containers with electronic goods, construction materials and other cargo to cover the 10,800 km (6,750 miles) route from Chongqing in southwest China to Duisburg in Germany's industrial Ruhr region.

UAE: NATO's Proxy at Work

China is not the only foreign investor in Kazakhstan worth mentioning. The next one is also very interested in neighboring Uzbekistan [emphasis mine]:

UAE potential investments in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, UAE business circles discuss cooperation development

Landmark Kazakhstan mosque highlights UAE ties

The Foundation has also pledged to send 40 tonnes of dates to Kazakhstan each year as part of its development initiative. “Also, around Dh200 million has been set aside to develop the infrastructural development schemes in Kazakhstan by the Foundation,” Al Khoury added.

"Infrastructural development schemes" is a nice term to describe the financing of Operation Gladio B. The UAE has a very close relationship with NATO and like other GCC petro-monarchies it is essentially a proxy for the U.S.-led military alliance.

So the next two news items might be closely connected:

Dubai eyes ‘promising’ CIS states

CIS Chief Warns of Looming Asian Crises

“Unfortunately, there is a growing potential for future threats to Central Asian countries, and we must be prepared for this in advance,” Lebedev added.

In light of these developments, it is hardly surprising that recent talks between Kazakh president Nazarbayev and his Uzbek counterpart Karimov dealt with the issue of security in the region:

Kazakh President to visit Uzbekistan to discuss «security in Central Asia»

Kazakh, Uzbek Leaders Sign Strategic Partnership Agreement

The Kazakh leader added that Central Asia's regional security "greatly depends on cooperation between the two countries."

Moscow is aware of these issues and moves to strengthen its ties with Astana and Tashkent:

Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan form new geopolitical triangle

This alliance will be able to develop effective joint strategy towards China and USA politics in the region as well as towards Afghanistan and power transit in the region, that first of all means, succession to foreign policy priorities. 

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

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