By Richard Weitz (11/26/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Afghan parliament has authorized the continued deployment of thousands of U.S. and NATO forces in their country next year. Due to the opportunity offered by a more friendly Afghan government and the challenge presented by a declining regional security situation, the U.S. military will continue to provide some combat support for the Afghan Army. Meanwhile, China, which is experiencing an upsurge in Islamist terrorism, has been raising its economic and diplomatic profile in the country.
By Naveed Ahmad (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Pakistan’s semi-autonomous region of North Waziristan has gone through an unprecedented transformation since June. The Pakistani military has launched an all-out assault on the Taliban Haqqani Group’s hideouts. The Taliban and its foreign collaborators have either escaped to Southern Afghanistan or remain holed up in their havens. The military’s most recent claims put militant fatalities to 910 and its own to 82 officers and soldiers. The fate of the long-awaited military campaign, timed with ISAF’s exit from Afghanistan, is crucial not only for the region but also for international stakeholders in the war-torn nation, who nevertheless have different definitions of “success.”
By Oleg Salimov (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Representatives of Afghanistan took part in parliamentary assembly meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow on November 6. The assembly identified as priorities the threats of terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking in Afghanistan and neighboring Central Asian countries. According to Tajikistan’s national information agency Khovar, similar questions were discussed during a recent meeting between Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon and the secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev on October 16 in Dushanbe.
As reported by opposition and independent media in Tajikistan, the meeting was held behind closed doors with only a few reporters of a state-sponsored news agency present. The later issued statement for the press accentuated Tajik-Afghan border security, the perspectives of Russian-Tajik military cooperation, and informational security. Other participants of the meeting in Dushanbe included representatives of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, and Federal Security Bureau. The meeting in Dushanbe and the following CSTO meeting in Moscow were rounded up by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of Russia’s willingness to assist the Afghan government in its efforts to restore peace and security in the country.
The conclusion of the active part of the military operation in Afghanistan and the long planned withdrawal of International Security Assistance Forces in 2014 has triggered active consultations among Central Asian countries, Russia, and China in the CSTO and SCO formats. Possessing the longest border with Afghanistan among the Central Asian republics, which stretches through inaccessible mountainous regions, Tajikistan is the most vulnerable to security threats if the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates. Other complicating factors include Tajikistan’s fragile political stability, the inability of Tajikistan’s military to control the Tajik-Afghan border, and the threats of homegrown Islamic radicals.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered by the Tajik government as the main extremist organization spreading the ideas of radical Islam in Tajikistan. The organization confesses to a salafist-wahhabist ideology, possesses strong ties with radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and propagandizes the creation of a worldwide Islamic caliphate. The other extremist organization is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan located primarily on the territory of Afghanistan and having numerous supporters in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The predecessors of the IMU, founded in 1998, were fighting on the side of Islamic opposition during the Tajik Civil War and also took part in Commander Makhmud Khudoberdiev’s attack on Northern Tajikistan in November 1998.
A number of Tajiks are also currently fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria and concerns are growing that their return could coincide with a potential restoration of Taliban power in Afghanistan and facilitate coordinated attacks on both sides of the Tajik-Afghan border. According to Tajik state media, five Tajiks were convicted in Tajikistan on charges of terrorism upon return from Syria earlier this year and Tajik officials issued condemnation after reports of a Tajik citizen being appointed by ISIS as the head of Ar-Raqqah in Syria after the fall of the city. While radicalization previously mainly affected Tajikistan’s southern regions, observers report a growing number of Islamic radicals in Northern Tajikistan according to Radio Ozodi.
The problem is multiplied by the Tajik government’s inability to fully control the Autonomous Badakhshan region which borders Afghanistan. Badakhshan became a hideout area for irreconcilable post-Civil war militants and a hotbed of radical Islam. Rakhmon ordered several military operations in Badakhshan after terrorist attacks on Tajik government officials in 2010 and 2012. The military actions had little to no effect in improving security in the region. The nominal government control implies higher penetration of the border by extremists and drug traffickers, the Tajik government’s neglect of which is frequently highlighted by local independent media. Tajikistan is the second largest source of northward trafficking of Afghan heroin after Iran.
The situation deteriorated after the withdrawal of a Russian border patrol contingent in 2005. While Russia continued to maintain an Operational Border Group in Tajikistan after 2005, the recent border cooperation agreement signed in September 2014 foresees the reduction of this group from 350 to 200 specialists and duties void of operational actions to consultation “on request” only. Drug trafficking and the spread of extremists to its southern and predominantly Muslim regions were constant concerns of the Russian government and one of the main arguments for its military presence on the Tajik-Afghan border. This consideration has motivated a proposal of Russian technical military assistance to Tajikistan of up to US$ 200 million until 2025.
The visit of Nikolai Patrushev to Dushanbe and the following security meeting in Moscow demonstrates Russia’s determination to step in after ISAF’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. There has so far been no official reaction from Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, on these perspectives and Vladimir Putin’s announcement.
By Micha’el Tanchum (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
While energy-rich Turkmenistan is poised to become the next economic tiger of Central Asia, it has come under a growing threat from the Taliban since NATO’s troop drawdown in neighboring Afghanistan. Forces from the Taliban and various multi-ethnic, Central Asian jihadist militias associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have been concentrating in northern Afghanistan near the Turkmenistan border, producing unprecedented border clashes with Turkmenistan’s military during 2014. IMU leader Usman Ghazi’s recent declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State raises the concern that the Islamic State might assist the opening of a new jihadist front.
By Mina Muradova (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Russia intends to create a “collective security” system on the Caspian Sea to step up its naval cooperation with Azerbaijan as Moscow seeks to limit the presence of foreign militaries on the Caspian Sea.
“We agreed on the principles of interaction … This is a real breakthrough,” President Vladimir Putin said after the fourth Caspian summit in Astrakhan on September 29. According to Putin, the parties made progress in preparing the convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea “due to the coordination of key principles of the Caspian littoral states’ activity at sea.” These principles were reflected in a political statement signed by leaders of the five littoral states. According to Putin, the political statement “will become a cornerstone of the convention” and while he admitted that not all problems were settled in full, “their number has become far fewer.” The presidents managed to agree on clear formulations on the delimitation of water spaces, natural resources, and the regime of navigation and fisheries.
The Caspian Sea is a unique water area in terms of its ecology, which includes more than 500 kinds of sea plants and 854 kinds of fish species, including the Caspian sturgeon. The Sea contains an estimated 18 billion tons of hydrocarbon resources, with proven reserves of four billion tons.
The statement confirms the exclusive right of the littoral states’ armed forces to conduct military activity in the Caspian Sea as one of the fundamental principles for ensuring security and stability. “Such a regime was historically established. We’re not going to change it,” Putin said, adding that the five littoral states intend to solve all problems of the Caspian region exclusively among themselves.
Baku welcomed the results of the summit and Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov told journalists that the signed documents “fully meet” Azerbaijan’s national interests and do not contradict national legislation. “The basic principles of the agreements – the creation of a stable balance of weapons, taking into account the interests of littoral countries while carrying out military exercises in the sea, complying with the measures of mutual trust and meet Azerbaijan’s interests,” Khalafov said.
Azerbaijan’s compliance appears to be a primary objective of Russia’s Caspian policy, as this Caucasian country has relied mostly on U.S. advice in building its navy. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Baku on October 13, two weeks after the presidents of the five Caspian states agreed to prevent the military presence of non-littoral states in the Caspian Sea. Reporting on Shoigu’s visit, RIA Novosti framed it as part of a concerted “Eastern foreign policy direction” to counter the effects of the Ukraine crisis: “For Russia the results of the [Caspian] summit were yet another remarkable success for the Eastern foreign policy direction that is taking place in the wake of a serious worsening of relations with the West as a result of the events around Ukraine. Earlier this year Moscow achieved a historic gas agreement with Beijing. It also managed to seriously advance the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which India and Pakistan will join next year.”
Shoigu’s visit is considered as the first active defense contact between the two nations after Azerbaijan and Russia failed to reach an agreement to extend the lease of the radar station in Gabala. “Now the period of disagreements seems to have been overcome with varying degrees of success, evidenced by intensive military and technical cooperation between the two countries,” Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said referring to a source in the Russian defense ministry.
At present, the two countries are carrying out a program for developing cooperation in the military and military-technical fields for 2013-2016. 57 Azerbaijani servicemen are studying at the Russian Defense Ministry’s schools. According to Shoigu, “Education and training of personnel is a very serious task due to the supplies of military hardware for the Azerbaijani army within the military-technical cooperation” while cooperation in the Caspian Sea between the Russian and Azerbaijani navies is “a very important aspect.”
Shoigu’s delegation included the Russian navy’s top commander Viktor Chirkov, who met with President Ilham Aliyev and his counterpart, Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov. At the meeting, Shoigu termed Azerbaijan a “strategic partner of Russia” and the two Defense Ministers signed a plan on cooperation for 2015. Shoigu said that “everything connected with the Caspian is important to Russia,” and later confirmed that Russia’s agreements with Azerbaijan include joint military maneuvers in the Caspian Sea to be carried out in 2015.
Shoigu said the documents establish cooperation on army-command training and maritime tactical exercises. He also discussed with his Azerbaijani counterpart the possibility of creating a collective security system for the Caspian states, which could as a “first step” include joint measures to prevent maritime and air incidents.
The U.S. State Department commented on the Caspian summit declaration that it does not intend to change its military cooperation with Baku. According to State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, “We have seen the joint statement issued by the Caspian Five that, among other things, calls for the non-presence of armed forces in the Caspian Sea not belonging to one of the Caspian Five countries … We maintain a strong security cooperation relationship with Azerbaijan, focusing on border security, counterterrorism, NATO interoperability, and its capacity to contribute peacekeepers to international missions. We do not anticipate the Caspian Five joint statement will change that.”
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.