After their military failures in Syria and Iraq, ISIS* militants are beginning to return to their original countries – to Central Asia and the Xinjian Uygur Autonomus Area of China -- via Afghanistan, Police Colonel General Andrey Novikov, head of the CIS Antiterrorist Center, told journalists. He believes that ISIS* is introducing a new extremism model in Central Asia, adjusted for the region’s political and cultural reality.
Central Asian countries are now faced with the threat of their own citizens returning from Syria and Iraq and forming radical groups. At the same time, the rest of the world continues to view Central Asia as a potentially unstable region, with numerous unresovled problems able to escalate into serious internal and even regional conflicts. This is both the threat of inter-ethnic confrontations, territorial claims, and water disputes. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the new president of Uzbekistan, has managed to reduce tensions in the Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations, by choosing a policy towards building smooth relations with neighbors. In less than a year, the border conflict was descalated, and Bishkek and Tashkent were able to reach an agreement on 85% of their border, and establish round-the-clock border checkpoints. Now the two countries’ citizens may visit each other unhampered.
However, there are quite a number of these countries’ citizens among mercenaries fighting in Syria and Iraq. They are afraid to return to Uzbekistan, knowing not to expect mercy from law, and so they settle down in the south of Kyrgyzstan, becoming a problem for the Kyrgyz authorities. Simultaneously, according to Toktogul Kakchekeyev, a military and security expert, the role of Islam has been growing in Kyrgyzstan in recent years, with Koran schools opening everywhere on foreign financing.
The republic has an officially registered movement, Tabligi Jamaat, which is prohibited in all other Central Asian countries and in Russia. Alexander Knyazev, a Central Asia and Middle East expert, says that the situation is obviously and extremely dangerous. At the end of the 1990s, when security services undertook serious action against the movement in the region, many of it activists found asylum in Kyrgyzstan.
The situation in neighboring Tajikistan seems better. The country’s authorities have been working to neutralize radical Islam for several years already. It began with Dushanbe bringing back home all students studying at Islamic shools in the Middle East, Pakistan and Iran. Then, the authorities began shutting down mosques that had not obtained state accreditation; they are promoting the traditional style in clothes and welcome spread of the Tajik culture.
At some point, the Central Asian governments denied even the existence of terrorist threats on their territories. Therefore, when radical groups became more active in the region, it came as a surprise for both the population and the governments. Expert Yerlan Karin from Kazakhstan says that there is a danger that the poorly trained radicals of the first wave will be succeeded by militants that have fought in Afghanistan and Syria and gained a substantial combat experience. So far, the region has not seen presence of such large terrorist organizations as Al Qaeda* or ISIS*, but their intense activities serve as an inspiration for local radicals.
Last year, ISIS* allocated over $50 million for disruptive activities in Central Asia. There are thousands of websites used to recruit and brainwash “candidates.” Its growing “investment” in Central Asia is the reason for its popularity in Afghanistan, where it successfully competes with the Taliban*.
Unfortunately, in addition to unemployment and other social problems, the disruptive activites of the US security services, which still view Islamic extremism as a tool of their own political influence, all the more often provide the fertile ground for Islamist propaganda and recruitment to ISIS*. The situation created in Central Asia, when many ISIS* militants are returning to their original countries, is to a large extent controled by American agents. Numerous episodes of “green corridors” organised for ISIS militants on the move from Syria, from under the fire of government troops and the Russian Airspace Forces, prove that the United States intends to keep control over radical Islam to destablize the situation in other regions.
Moreover, non-government organizations in Central Asia, financed by the US, take steps to escalate social and inter-ethnic relations, and spur radical Islamist movements, nationalist and separatist forces, using the same scenario. In addition to aggravation of the situation in Kyrgyzstan, the US special services have in recent years been targeting Uzbekistan and even Kazakhstan, where the card of conflicts in Kara-Kalpak and the so-called “Adaystan” is being played.
Yet the frontier of anti-terrorist fight still lies at the Afghanistan border. ISIS* is now infiltrating the north and east of the country. Mukhiddin Kabiri, a Tajik politician, believes that this is where the main danger lies. “I believe that Tajikistan and its regional partners, as well as Russia and China, are able to deflect any attack within the CSTO and SCO,” he says. “The problem is that the region is seething internally. If a conflict breaks out, it will have a specific nature.”
* The terrorist organizations ISIS, Al Qaeda and Taliban are prohibited in Russia and other countries.