The New Great Game Round Up- October 13, 2013

Gas Over Democracy, Xinjiang & the New Silk Road, Meet the World Uyghur Congress & 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.

This week's presidential elections in Azerbaijan ended with the expected result. Incumbent President Ilham Aliyev was officially reelected, winning almost 85 percent of the vote. Few would have mentioned the fraudulent elections and the crackdown of the Aliyev regime on the opposition if the Azerbaijani authorities had not committed a blunder [emphasis mine]:

Oops: Azerbaijan released election results before voting had even started Even still, one expects a certain ritual in these sorts of authoritarian elections, a fealty to at least the appearance of democracy, if not democracy itself. So it was a bit awkward when Azerbaijan's election authorities released vote results – a full day before voting had even started.

So even Aliyev's close allies in Washington were forced to back the observations made by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Unimpressed by the Azerbaijani version of democracy, monitors of the pan-European rights watchdog criticized "serious" and "overwhelming" violations during the elections:

Observers Find Violations at 'All Stages' of Azerbaijan Elections  

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe identified voter intimidation, a restrictive media environment during the election campaign and violations at all stages of the voting process in a preliminary report on the elections released Thursday.

Gas Over Democracy

However, the lack of democracy will not stop Washington or Brussels from embracing the Aliyev regime. The opposition in Azerbaijan accused the European Union of double standards and emphasized the hypocrisy of imposing sanctions against Belarus while ignoring similar political developments in Azerbaijan. But nobody should be really surprised about Brussels' hypocrisy. After all, European countries are less concerned with democracy than with securing energy supplies:

In Azerbaijan, EU focuses on energy instead of democracy The news came three days ahead of the German federal elections on September 22 and went nearly unnoticed: Eon, Germany's biggest energy group, signed a gas deal with Azerbaijan. The company will import 40 billion cubic meters of natural gas over the next 25 years from the Shah Deniz field, Azerbaijan's biggest natural gas field in the Caspian Sea. The natural gas will be imported starting in 2019 through the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The construction of TAP was decided in June of this year. Although the European Union favored another project - the Nabucco-Pipeline- Brussels is now delighted about the new energy source. The EU wants to become more independent from Russian energy supplies.

TAP will transport natural gas from the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan via Greece and Albania to Italy and then to Western Europe. Although the construction of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline is seen as launch of the Southern Gas Corridor, the project is no threat to Gazprom's dominance in Europe. Therefore leaders in Brussels and Baku are still reluctant to let go of their Nabucco pipe dream. Washington is also very eager to see its European allies less dependent on Russia and strongly backs the Southern Gas Corridor which serves several geopolitical objectives, as outlined in a recent report presented to the Committee on Foreign Relations:

Europe fails to tap Caspian Sea’s surging gas supplies “The next phase of the Southern Corridor would advance several US and NATO foreign policy objectives: it would further isolate Iran, assist in cultivating partners in the Caucasus and Central Asia and bolster their sovereign independence, and perhaps most importantly, curtail Russia’s energy leverage over European NATO allies,” the report noted.

One major project recommended by the report is the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline which is supposed to supply Europe with Turkmen gas. But as previously discussed, the decision of the Shah Deniz consortium to choose TAP instead of Nabucco makes the realization of the project highly unlikely. So the European countries will continue to lose out to China in the competition for natural gas from Central Asia. 

Xinjiang & the New Silk Road

China's demand for energy is insatiable and in September the People's Republic surpassed the United States as the world's biggest net oil importer. According to the International Energy Agency (IAE), by 2017 China will be the largest consumer of oil as well. Since Central Asia offers an abundance of natural resources, the region has steadily climbed the list of Beijing's diplomatic priorities in the past decade. Now China boasts strategic partnerships with all five Central Asian states and President Xi Jinping's Central Asia tour has been hailed as the beginning of a New Silk Road: 

Central Asia: China Opens A New Silk Road – Analysis During Xi’s September visit to the Central Asian region, a staggering array of deals worth dozens of billions of dollars were signed. With Kazakhstan, deals worth $30 billion were inked covering energy, mining, infrastructure, science, and education. With Uzbekistan, 22 deals worth $15 billion were signed while Kirgizstan received a $3 billion soft loan for infrastructure. This growing investment has the potential to integrate the economies of Russia, Central Asia and China to a degree not seen since the days of the ancient silk road.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is China's connection to Central Asia and Beijing's efforts to boost the development of the region tie up perfectly with the New Silk Road. Especially the creation of jobs as well as an improvement of education in Xinjiang are priorities for China's central government. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli noted that Beijing seeks to turn the region into a strategic energy base for the country:

Govt to boost Xinjiang region "Xinjiang should be established as a western port for China's foreign trade given the fact that it is located at what has been an important merchant route, the 'Silk Road', since ancient times," Zhang said.

However, there is one threat which could foil Beijing's plans, Xinjiang's terrorist problem. In order to prevent terror attacks, the Chinese authorities launched a campaign promising people an exemption for punishment or mitigation if they turn illegal explosives or chemicals in their possession over to local police by the end of October. Those who reject the offer and get caught afterwards will be severely punished:

Crackdown on explosives, chemicals  

A crackdown on crimes related to dangerous explosives and hazardous chemicals has been launched until the end of next month, the Ministry of Public Security said in a Saturday circular on its website.

Several high-profile explosive-related crimes have drawn wide concern this year, including the terrorism attack in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in April, when 15 people were killed, and the blast at a Beijing airport in July by a wheelchair-bound petitioner.

Furthermore, this week the heavy crackdown of Xinjiang's police on people engaging in illegal activities online was made public. The police targeted users who were spreading extreme religious ideas and promoting jihad. Local authorities stated that citizens are encouraged by hostile foreign forces to embrace these ideas [emphasis mine]:

Hundreds targeted in online blitz

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has punished 256 people for spreading online rumors that jeopardized social stability and another 139 for spreading extreme religious ideas during a recent crackdown on Internet crimes, local authorities confirmed to the Global Times Tuesday. Several people received admonitions, while 16 were put under criminal custody from June 26 to August 31, Hou Hanmin, deputy director of the publicity department under the region's Party committee, told the Global Times Tuesday. Local police in Kashi said that overseas hostile forces have never stopped infiltrating and inciting residents to take up extreme religious ideas through the Internet and that the online spreading has become a great threat to ethnic unity and social stability.

While some might dismiss these claims as justification for more authoritarian actions, we have to consider that there are indeed substantial efforts to destabilize China with the help of extreme religious ideas, as recommended by Graham Fuller. Washington wants nothing less than the national disintegration of China. Therefore the United States supports several groups and organizations which make up the East Turkestan independence movement and advocate an independent, self-governing state in China's Xinjiang. It is important to note that the Western public and governments are the target audience of these groups and most Uyghurs in China and Central Asia have never heard of them.

Meet the World Uyghur Congress

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is one of the most notable East Turkestan independence organizations. With the propaganda campaign against China intensifying, Western mainstream media frequently quotes the WUC when reporting about Xinjiang. One example is the latest Reuters article about the Internet crackdown which states that it is unclear whether Uyghurs or Han Chinese were detained and then proceeds with the propaganda of the World Uyghur Congress:

China police target online 'jihad' talk amid rumor crackdown Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said the government campaign was aimed at stopping Uighurs from getting information on the Internet. "Those Uighurs who were detained were expressing online their dissatisfaction at China's dominance of their localities and systematic repression," Raxit said.

When anti-Chinese media outlet Radio Free Asia published a report, uncorroborated by Chinese media, about several dead Uyghurs in Kashgar, Dilxat Raxit and the World Uyghur Congress were again the trusted source of information [emphasis mine]:

Chinese Police Shoot Dead Seven Uyghurs in Kashgar: Group 

Four died after police in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county, which is administered by the Silk Road city of Kashgar, opened fire on a group of Uyghurs in a private residence last Thursday after suspecting them of "illegal assembly," the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress said.

"At around 6.00 p.m. on the evening of Oct. 3, armed personnel surrounded a residence in Abu Dona Village No. 16 and accused [the occupants] of illegal assembly," the group's Sweden-based spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an interview on Monday.

Similar to the function of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is used to demonize the Syrian government, the World Uyghur Congress plays a vital role in the information war against the Chinese government. So we have to take a closer look at the background of the WUC.

The World Uyghur Congress is funded by the U.S. State Department via the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In the year 2012 the WUC received $185.000 of American taxpayers' money. Current President of the WUC is prominent Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer who at the same time heads the Uyghur American Association (UAA) which is funded by the NED as well ($280.000 in 2012).

Kadeer has been living in exile in the United States since 2005 after her release from prison in China. She spent several years in prison for leaking state secrets because she had funneled neicans (internal reference reports) with a focus on separatists' speeches to her husband who had already left China for the United States, working for Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. So the close connection between the World Uyghur Congress and Radio Free Asia is no coincidence. Beijing has designated the WUC and its affiliate groups as a terrorist organization.

Another important advocate for East Turkestan's independence is the East Turkestan Government in Exile. The role of the puppet government and its head Anwar Yusuf Turani in Washington's plans for the destabilization of China's Xinjiang were discussed in a previous article. With this in mind, it is quite disturbing to see how The Diplomat offers Turani a platform to attack Beijing's efforts in Xinjiang and to incite ethnic hatred [emphasis mine]:

China Courts Central Asia For Anwar Yusuf Turani, a Washington D.C.-based school teacher and prime minister of the exiled government of East Turkistan – the pro-independence name for Xinjiang – all of this is too little too late by Beijing. Evasive about whether pro-independence supporters are present in Central Asia, he says that he communicates regularly with people in Xinjiang, even if it’s difficult with social media mostly blocked. “The Chinese government makes propaganda telling the people of East Turkestan that we should live in harmony, that the vast majority of the Uyghur people want to live with China,” Turani tells The Diplomat.

Ultimately China’s strict treatment of anyone who steps out of line in Xinjiang has had the desired effect of almost complete control, he says, accusing Beijing of everyday atrocities.

The last thing Turani and his masters in Washington want to see is that Uyghurs and Han Chinese live together in harmony. So we can expect that the terror attacks in Xinjiang as well as the propaganda against the Chinese government will continue.

IMU Conquers Badakhshan

Now we will move from East Turkestan to Badakhshan, from one target of destabilization to another. Former Pakistani militant Ahmed Rashid, famous for his book about the Taliban, warned in a recent BBC article of the threats for Central Asia with regard to the drawdown of NATO troops. Rashid emphasized the danger posed by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and affiliated terrorist groups which want to establish new bases along the Afghan border. Badakhshan Province is currently one of the most contested areas in Afghanistan and the Tajik government will have to monitor the situation closely [emphasis mine]:      

Central Asia concerns over US pullout from Afghanistan

Latest reports from the region point to an even more potent threat emanating from Badakhshan province in Afghanistan's north-west. Up to 500 militants have ousted Afghan forces from several districts in the province and are trying to take control of Iskashim, a key district and town that lies along the Afghan border. It is separated from Tajikistan only by the narrow Panj river which freezes over in winter, making forays into Tajikistan much easier. The IMU's main base is the district of Warduj, that lies in the centre of Badakhshan where some of the local population have been forcibly converted to Wahabbism - the strict Islamic code practised by the IMU and al-Qaeda.

But besides that, there is also a considerable threat to the Chinese-Afghan border where the IMU recruits new fighters from the local Uyghur or Chinese Muslim population. According to Ahmed Rashid, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan consists of terrorists from all kinds of ethnic groups:

The IMU recruits from all the nationalities in Central Asia as well as Uighurs, Pakistanis, Chechens and other ethnic groups from the Caucasus.

For the first time there are reports of Turkmen and Kazakhs among the fighters in Badakshan. Traditionally these two ethnic groups have not supported militancy.

These reports about Kazakh fighters in Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province were immediately picked up by Kazakh media. Kazakh authorities are alarmed at the prospect that Kazakhstan's terrorist problem could become a bigger issue than it already is:

Nine Sentenced In Kazakhstan On Terrorism Charges

A court in Kazakhstan's western city of Atyrau has sentenced nine local men to prison terms of between six and 23 years for their involvement in terrorist activities. Atyrau and other cities and towns in western Kazakhstan have made headlines in recent months following security operations in the region targeting Islamic extremists and terrorists.

With Afghanistan's lack of security and stability threatening the whole region, a lot of eyes were set on the talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Although the two sides reached an agreement on a number of issues, there is still a major point of contention preventing the signing of the bilateral security agreement [emphasis mine]:

Afghan-US security deal terms agreed, talks failed on troops immunity

Karzai said that the government of Afghanistan agreed on four issues related to bilateral security agreement, including national sovereignty, description of foreing invasion, prevention of civilian casualties and rogue acts by US military.

US secretary of State John Kerry said that bilateral security agreement will not be signed if US troops were not given legal immunity by Afghans.

Legal immunity was also the deal breaker during negotiations with the Iraqi government in 2011 which resulted in the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. So the "zero option" is still on the table and Afghanistan's future remains unclear. However, one positive side effect of a complete withdrawal is that at least some terrorists might leave the country with the foreign troops if the accusations of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are correct. NATO's "Syrian rebels" have hardly any reason to stay in Afghanistan without their trainers:

Foreigners train Syrian rebels in Afghanistan to use chem weapons - Lavrov

There are reports that some third countries are training Syrian rebels to use chemical weapons in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The intention is to put the skill to use in new false flag actions in Syria, he explained.

The suspected training happened in Afghan territories not under control of the government in Kabul, Lavrov said. 

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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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  1. Anybody happen to know which department in the Pentagon has the most Turkish speakers?

  2. CuChulainn says:

    nice discussion, for those w. french, of wahhabi islam and its deep compatibility with anarcho-capitalism & US interests, the monotheism of the market

    see the book “Les Égarés. Le wahhabisme est-il un contre-islam ?” Jean-Michel Vernochet

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