NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, SCO meeting and fear of terrorism in Central Asia

NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, SCO meeting and fear of terrorism in Central Asia

iqrarBy Agha Iqrar Haroon
Development Observer of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Writer can be contacted at agha.iqrar@gmail.com

12th Head of States (prime ministers) meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states was held in the beautiful city and capital of Uzbekistan—Tashkent on November 28-29. Since this meeting was held close to the timetable of withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, therefore this meeting was very important to tailor and design anti-terrorism strategy for the region that is facing terrorism threat since manufacturing of religious extremism out of the factory of Afghan-Russo war. SCO sideline conference reviewed threats being faced by the region in post NATO forces withdrawal scenario in detail and conference participants discussed issues such as the activities of the various terrorist organizations in the world, the increasing cooperation between the subversive activities of these forces in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan.
It was noted the identity or similarity of the positions of all member countries on the issue of combating terrorism in the region. It was decided to conduct a constructive cooperation in the struggle for peace and security and expressed determination to work with all governments and international organizations to fight terrorism in the region. Countries participating in the conference called on all nations of the world to abandon the position of “double standards” in the fight against terrorism and extremism.
Conference participants said that they fully support the aims and objectives of the SCO Convention against terrorism, extremism and separatism, and will work closely with each other in solving the problems. It was emphasized that the cooperation of the SCO member states in this regard will deepen and expand.
Imperative mutual cooperation in the suppression of all ways of financing of terrorism and extremism, drug trafficking and delivery of it to maintain the proceeds of terrorism, the use of illegally mined capital to support the forces of terrorism and extremism was decided.
Observer countries and member states of the SCO, adhering to the “Shanghai spirit” should unite to preserve the security and stability in the region and around the world facing the threat of global proportions.
Speakers at the conference expressed support for the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Speakers and guests expressed their deep appreciation to the secretariat of the SCO Regional Counterterrorism Center.
Tashkent conference is an expression of the fact that the SCO and its member states and observer countries to take seriously the changes that may occur after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Conference adopted a joint communiqué that said in case of withdrawal of foreign troops in Afghanistan and the possible aggravation of the situation and the onset of chaos, a joint action in the neighboring countries of Afghanistan is needed. However joint communiqué does not mention how and what joint action has been decided or planned.
This is historic fact that superpowers leave one country or another after getting their targets and leave bitter fruits to reap for inhabitants of the region and the countries situated in it. British withdrawal from former Hindustan without deciding the fate of Kashmir, Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan and American dumping the region after the end of Afghan-Russo are major examples in South Asia. Probably the same fate awaits Afghanistan after the withdrawal of a U.S. and NATO troops.
SCO is a body where two superpowers are members—China and Russia and both are related and concerned about post NATO forces withdrawal scenario because they fear that the disastrous effects of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and other regional and global crime will increase once rough Afghanistan is left alone to fight strong band of Taliban because time has testified that all NATO countries jointly tried to eliminate Taliban but failed to get results so it is a childish opinion that Afghanistan can fight out this strongest ever irregular army of the world.

US-Russia concern over Afghanistan but no strategy announces

Russia and United States thinking on Central Asia is driven by security concerns over next year’s exit of NATO troops from Afghanistan and though neither Russia nor the United States has come up with a clear policy on how to maintain stability in Central Asia after 2014, both are aware of the risk of a spill-over of Islamic militancy. Neighbouring countries like Tajikistan, Turkmanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan are looking towards United States, China and Russia to deal with this situation. Iran is somehow other safe as it had zero tolerance policy towards Taliban since the first day of this unending war and it has a strong buildup of its National Guards on Afghan-Iran Border and Iran-Pakistan Border.
Central Asia is actually quite important for Russia because it is relations with the immediately neighbouring states that are really its priority. This is one of the bases of the Customs Union—the dream of Vladimir Putin that he wants now to turn into the Eurasian Union over the next few years. So Central Asia plays an important role for Russia. A strong workforce from Central Asia goes to work in Russia and possible spread of extremism among people of Central Asia can bring extremist Islam with them to Russia cities where these Central Asian people are working day and night to build a new Russia. Russia also wants to use Central Asia a land where Russia can install and expand production infrastructure, joint ventures between railway sectors, space technology, petrochemicals, hydro-energy projects and much more. Therefore Russia is looking for ways in which to ensure the long-term stability of Central Asia.

Fear of spread of extremism and radical Islam in China, Russia and Central Asia

The ultimate target of Islamists is to launch an Islamic code of life on the patron of Saudi Arabia in region including Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. Since all former Islamic movements have gather under the umbrella of Taliban since Taliban rule in Afghanistan during 1996-2001, Islamist groups working in China are openly expressing their contact with Taliban. Chechens, Uzbek and Tajik extremists are frontline warriors of Taliban in their fight against Pakistan Army and NATO forces. Many of top leaders of such groups had been killed in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan during war on terror but their capability and capacity of striking back has never been gone down.
Last year, Maghreb an area of Tajik autonomous region closer to Nooristan Badakshan province of Afghanistan in came under the virtual control of Islamist groups that indicates the vulnerability of Central Asia. A recent upswing in activity by Central Asian militants in northern Afghanistan may indicate that they plan to exploit a possible vacuum left by the departure of NATO troops next year to reinsert themselves into their own countries. Taliban Chief Mullah Fazlullah is reportedly living in Kunar and Nooristan nowadays that also indicate possible shift of Taliban strategy to gain grounds in Central Asia as their top priority. Recent increase of attacks of Taliban in Badakhshan and Faryab, provinces of northern Afghanistan adjacent to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, respectively are very much indicators of new strategy of Taliban.
In late May 2013, Taliban claimed responsibility for what they said was a joint attack with the support of Uzbek groups on the provincial governor’s compound in Panjshir, south of Badakhshan. All six suicide bombers and a policeman died in the incident. The two statements named the same attackers, who included two Uzbeks and one Kyrgyz. The statement of Taliban also promised “future conquests in the Mawarannahr region” – a historical term referring to the lands north of the Amu Darya river, in other words what are now the Central Asian republics. The strength of the Taliban’s offensives in the north suggests an effort to gain a country-wide presence ahead of the drawdown of NATO forces, so as to be in a better position to challenge Afghanistan’s national security forces once they are left to fend for themselves.
Political analysts believe that militant groups plan to take up positions south of the border of Tajikistan so that they can mount attacks on border posts and villages and retreat back into Afghanistan.
There is no doubt left that as soon as international forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, radicals will immediately exploit the opportunity. There are reports that radicals are actively recruiting jihadis in Tajikistan that indicates they have resumed their activities and are preparing for something.
Of the three Central Asian countries bordering on Afghanistan, only Uzbekistan is able to seal its frontier and cope with military threats. This 137 kilometre stretch has two lines of barbed wire fences, one of them electrified, plus landmines and heavily-armed patrols. If need be, Uzbekistan could easily close its bridge across the Amu Darya. However, Ferghana Valley, where Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan converge, could become a hub of terrorists again as it was in past because southern Kyrgyzstan – part of the Ferghana Valley – where central government has only limited influence and is challenged by local power groups. The same could happen in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan due to complicity of area.
1,300-km Tajik and 744-km Turkmen frontiers with Afghanistan are poorly defended. Tajik border is most vulnerable due to the difficult mountain terrain, a shortage of funding for protection efforts and no strong border force. The Tajik-Afghan border provides a transport corridor into Kyrgyzstan and on to Kazakstan and Russia; this is also a well-established drug-trafficking route.

Radicals are excited a wait when NATO go out and they wage holy war (Jihad) on Central Asia countries while Central Asian countries are looking towards superpowers like Russia, China and United States. Situation is complex and complicated. The only solution looks useful and operative is Zero level of tolerance by all countries if radical march start to any of Central Asia countries. We will see what happens in year 2014—the year that can be called a as “decisive year” for designing this region.