Expert on Central Asia Vitaliy VOLKOV
Last week the members of local community of salafits in Shubarshi village in Aktobe oblast shot up three policemen. It has been not the first case this year. Before that, a die-hard exploded himself in Aktobe KNB department, in addition a vehicle filled with explosives detonated near KNB pretrial detention center in Astana. Members of Almaty city Special Forces suffered in a bloody slaughter in one of Almaty flats. These week, the prisoners of Balkhash colony exploded themselves in attempt to escape (at least one of them – adherent of untraditional religious flow). Does it mean that tolerant and calm Kazakhstan is facing real threat of religious extremism? Alexander KRASNER (Novaya-Kazakhstan) and Seitkazy MATAYEV (KazTAG) discussed it with well known German expert on Central Asia Vitaliy VOLKOV in Köln.
-I have been talking about an “arc of crisis” for a long time, which has two branches: one comes from Afghanistan and Pakistan to India, and another one- through Central Asia to Russia and Caucasus. The fire has been walking on it inflaming hotbeds here or there. Islamic terrorists are trying to act in a wide front and constantly remind about themselves, as any resonant terror act attracts not just attention but also supporters.
There is quite wide recruiting base in Kazakhstan. It includes not only Kazakh people, but also migrant workers, who work here. Arab people actively act on your territory, who are closely connected with Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). But their target is not Kazakhstan, but, first of all, Uzbekistan and Russian Caucasus. If in tactical aims they need destabilization in Kazakhstan, they wil do it, and they have these opportunities. Although, your special forces, as I believe, are trying to trace this situation.
There are data, that the heads of newly formed Islamic underground world acting at the base of the IMU in Kyrgyzstan have strong positions and are ready for military actions. In this new IMU, as some sources reported, there are many militants from Caucasus and other Russian regions. There are data, that lately their troops have been replenished with militants from Kazakhstan.
The new IMU are basically based in Pakistan and supported by ISI – interdepartmental investigation office of this country. It is not based on relatives ties, which previous IMU members had, who escaped from Uzbekistan in the end of 1990th and settled in Pakistan. The new generation browbeats even the talibs in Afghanistan. They are carpetbaggers who set their rules of Shariat, they are ready to move, first to Afghanistan, and then to Kyrgyzstan, and through Tajikistan to Uzbekistan. They do not consider Tajikistan as a front direction, as in many districts there they have freedom of movement. The local Tajik authorities are paid by the IMU members, fear them or have the same goals as they do. That’s why they let them move through their territory, basically to Kyrgyzstan. Of course, the main ideological target of the new IMU is Uzbekistan. Karimov is their enemy, and the presidential chair under him, according to some signs, is swinging. People are dissatisfied with the ruling regime, population’s passionarity has increased. Recently one political force stated that they are ready for revolution of Arabic type. In common, that Arabic example for Central Asia has been underestimated by experts, including me.
Kazakhstan is a very convenient rear base for the militants, thus, it has better position in these terms, than other Central Asian states. There is no sense for Islamists to frustrate situation in Kazakhstan. Although, they can do it already today.
-S.Matayev: In one word, you believe that militants are preparing operations in Central Asia to invade in these or those states of the region?
-According to my data, the IMU are planning scaled operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and some Central Asian states.
-S.M.: Who is interested in it and who is financing it?
-There are at least two big financing sources. First- it is drugs traffic. The drugs lords are not interested in destabilization, as they have adjusted routs for drugs transportation. They don’t need a big wave. They need small conflicts, as in the time of such conflicts it is possible “to fish in troubled water”. Another thing, when drug lords and warlords are the same people. They can be close relatives of the president of this or that state or have direct ties with the president, government or somebody from the government; in this case the primary goal is the politics and the profit from drugs trafficking is a means for the goal achievement.
The second source of financing is bigger- it is sponsors from Arabic states, who, by the way, work also in Kazakhstan. Through their channels they actively finance, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They aspire to make khalifat.
The war in Libya on the background of the failure of NATO troops in Afghanistan nudges that in the USA, and, perhaps, in Europe, there is opinion in some political circles and special services that it is easier to conclude peace with Islamists rather than struggle with them. To make peace and define spheres of influence. Where is the border of this division?
Until today, all the heads of Central-Asian states believed that in any geopolitical situation they will get support from the West and from Russia, because they struggle with Islamists. As soon as Western politicians start looking for peace with ben Laden’s followers, it will immediately change the position of Central-Asian leaders.
-S.M.: Is the reaction of Central Asian leaders adequate on this situation?
-Differently. Recently there was a message that Turkmenistan president ordered to organize controlling service on earth orbit and empowered it to the local Ministry of National Security. One of my colleagues supposed that Berdymukhamedov recently got to know about Google. And that Americans are watching Ashgabat and see everything what is going on there. He ordered to control this Google. Of course, it is a joke, but it is adequate to the level of his thinking. Berdymukhamedov is a dentist.
They said that he was Niyazov’s dentist. This person has no idea about how a state functions and how it is governed. All his analytics is based on fear. The situation is different in Kyrgyzstan, they have no time to analyze. Their goal is just to keep the state. As I know, Uzbekistan has strong analytical service, there are Soviet specialists. They forecast the future. Another thing is that this future does not seem pink in their forecasts. The economy is in critical condition.
Even Karimov can’t and does not want to go against gentility, terrible corruption, which is corroding the state.
There is no analysis of the situation in Tajikistan. But as far as they have ties with Afghan warlords, Rahmon gets information in the form of baizes what is planned and who to contact. He imprisoned all his former colleagues. They are also not great specialists, but at least they were warlords who went through war and had ties with various groups. Today Rahmon is in very complicated situation: his own kindred is dissatisfied with him, they say that he tends to lie a lot and disrespects elder people.
As for Kazakhstan, I think, the country which chaired the OSCE last year, should invest more into analytics connected with Afghan processes and propose deep strategic conception.
A. Krasner: Looks like the heads of Central-Asian states do not think much about geopolitical situation. First of all they are concerned about preservation of their personal power…
-The age of governors of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (for now I exclude Tajikistan and Turkmenistan leaders) stimulates various political circles and elites to think about their claim for power. It is more obvious in Uzbekistan and might be destabilization factor. There are several groups, controlled by the local national Security Council, which for now supports Karimov. However, the head of the council Inoyatov has his group of supporters in a certain region of the state. There are big businessmen, who form some political lobby, there is elder president’s daughter.
The situation is a bit different in Kazakhstan, I would not underestimate the factor of, for example, Rakhat Aliyev. Despite strong overestimation of his own opportunities, he continues to destabilize the situation.
-S.M.: What do you expect from the upcoming presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan? Will the cardinal problems be resolved there or everything will come to banal property redistribution? Now the presidential post in Kyrgyzstan reminds the royal one in Great Britain: reigning but not ruling. According to your opinion, should the presidential form of ruling return to Kyrgyzstan?
-It is the same as to think if a fly sitting on the head of a hippo affects his behavior. I am not sure the election will be held in the form as it is planned. Let’s make comparison with Afghanistan. For example, we will hold elections there. But Afghan people do not want to live in a uniform country. In this situation, they can elect anybody, but the main problem won’t be resolved, how to find consensus with various ethnic groups. I don’t believe that something can seriously depend on election in Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps, something can be changed, if a wave of processes travels through Central Asian states which I had mentioned before. A strong Islamic group will appear which will make claim for power.
As for Kyrgyzstan, there is a president, who can do almost nothing there, and, perhaps, already does not want to. It is obvious that security agencies of this state act independently and only in their interests, sometimes in cooperation with criminals.
-S.M.: Don’t you think that a third power not connected with any kindreds and groups, representing people’s masses can come to power during autumn election in Kyrgyzstan?
- I am very skeptical about so called free elections. From my point of view a young leader should appear to bring changes, so called Shamil, who will call people to fight.
But it is blood. I think appearance of such Shamil is possible in Uzbekistan. Perhaps, it wil be somebody from the group of Mohammad Salih, as Salih is a charismatic person, a well-known poet, oppositionist, who lives abroad.
He stated about foundation of new movements and Karim fears. Looks like there are people in Uzbekistan government who are ready to support this movement. It is a statement of not only Salih, but also information from different sources, which confirms it. He is a representative of intelligence, from one side – quite national, from another side- soviet, dissident. At the same time he is not connected with the West so much to abstract from Uzbek reality. He is a person who believes in Islam, but he is not a fan. There are also “akremists” (main figures of Fergana events of 2005) and a number of other underground movements in Islam.
A.K.: The calmest Central Asian state seems to be Turkmenistan. But as they say still waters run deep.. or am I mistaken?
-Turkmenistan is not a small country. Besides Turkmen people, who are dissatisfied with unemployment, who don’t get salaries from the government, there are a lot of Uzbek and Kazakh people- who are potentially protest electorate, which, Heaven forbid, will be claimed by Uzbekistan from one side and by Afghanistan from another side.
If Uzbekistan flares, I don’t exclude that Turkmenistan might be the next.
A.K.: What can you say about Chinese policy to Central Asia?
-It is quite selective and efficient. As I know Chinese positions are quite strong in some spheres in Kyrgyzstan, in educational branch they recently squeezed up Russians. Iran is trying to keep up to China in Tajikistan. But Rahmon fears Islamic tendencies, thus, he is very careful with Iran.
Chinese positions in Uzbekistan are also very strong, although Karimov is quite careful, and lately tends to set close ties with the US, especially in the military branch. But here, he might face big problems with Russia. Medvedev went to Tashkent before the recent SCO summit not in vain, apparently, they discussed this issue.
At the same time China plays big role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not less than the US.
Moreover, China is pushing out the US from Pakistan, which used to be American patrimony.
China is brining weapons there and giving Pakistan government more money than the US. That is why, Americans are looking for eastern rout for cargoes delivery to Afghanistan. Chinese, in their turn, do not hinder American base location in Bishkek, although, could outbid it in 5 minutes.
-A.K.: What is ahead in Central Asia?
- From my point of view, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are the next hot points, and the events might develop there quite soon. There is no a single factor in Kyrgyzstan showing that there won’t be any new bow net with unpredictable consequences.
Central Asia is a powderkeg of the universe. A kind of universal “Afghanistan” will exist and oppose “civilization” despite all the solutions by force and finances until people find a way to reach agreement with each other without using power and money. Nor power neither money managed to defeat Afghanistan. It brings us to an opportunity to search for new peacekeeping ideas. About that I wrote in my books: in Turkmenka and in Kabul-Caucasus, and in the new novel Century of Die-hard.
-Thank you for the interview.