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The Fight against Extremism in Central Asia and the Role of the SCO and the CSTO

The Fight against Extremism in Central Asia and the Role of the SCO and the CSTO

No. 4, Mar.-Apr. 2017 » TheFILEstarters

This article is devoted to the problem of building regional security in the Central Asian States within the structures of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Only coalitional efforts of all interested States can provide effective resistance to the transborder terrorism in the region. Therefore, the importance of international cooperation in the field of security is increasing. Of the central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of CSTO. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan are members of the SCO. Therefore, the organizational-institutional framework of the CSTO and the Shanghai Pact allows these States to combat these threats. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan remains a neutral state, non-aligned to the blocs being formed or joined by its neighbors. 

Central Asian security providers 

Of the central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of CSTO. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan are members of the SCO. Turkmenistan remains a neutral state.

The answers to the myriad threats in the region can be found by working through the national security structures, and through international integrational Eurasian organizations. The Organization of Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) is a military-political bloc that is functionally responsible for collective security and the coordination of the defense policy of a number of post-Soviet States. The military component of the CSTO was strengthened in 2009, when it created the Collective Rapid Reaction Force and the Anti-Terrorist Centre of the CSTO was established in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

The last CSTO summit was held on the 14th of October 2016 in Yerevan, Armenia. The main item on the agenda of the meeting was discussing aspects of collective security until the 2025 timeframe. In particular, there is a recognized list of ongoing threats to the countries of the CSTO. To address these challenges, the leaders agreed to improve the defense of the CSTO countries, to expand military-technical cooperation, strengthen cooperation in combating terrorism and to improve cooperation in border security. It was also decided to create a unified list of terrorist organizations recognized in the countries of the CSTO.

A significant practical outcome of the meeting was the creation of the Сrisis Response Centre of the CSTO, which will interact with the national security structures of the CSTO countries[1].

The military component of the CSTO was strengthened in 2009, when it created the Collective Rapid Reaction Force and the Anti-Terrorist Centre of the CSTO was established in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in addition to a Crisis Response Center.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), also referred to as the Shanghai Pact Organization, is not a military-political bloc. But on the basis of its statutory goals, its agenda periodically turns to the "joint provision and maintenance of peace, security and stability in the region"[2]. In the framework of the SCO, there is an established coordinating body on regional security issues – the permanent Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. However, we note certain organizational dysfunction due to duplication of functions, since there are parallels with the Anti-Terrorist Centre of the CSTO in Bishkek, resulting in the duplication of efforts. 

The main threats 

The main threats to regional security in Central Asia are:

  • extremist organizations aimed at destabilizing the political situation in the countries of the region;
  • the activities of illegal armed groups;
  • the distribution and transportation of drugs, as well as the growing influence of drug traffickers;
  • the trafficking of arms, ammunition, explosives, etc.;
  • socio-political instability in the countries of the region;
  • the proximity to hotbeds of military conflicts;
  • the spread of the influence of international terrorist organizations, strengthened by and strengthening the allure of religious extremism.

There is a significant number of fighters from these countries in the ranks of ISIS/Daesh. One notable example is the treason of Lieutenant Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, the commander of OMON, the special military unit of the Tajik Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The strongest armed extremist formation that operates in the region is the "Islamic Party (Movement) of Turkestan" (IPT, which, in 1996-2002, was known as the "Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan"). It is not surprising that in the pursuit of additional funding, the new IPT leader Usman Ghazi declared the accession/alignment of his organization to ISIS/Daesh.

In March 2015, a video was circulated on the Internet, in which representatives of IPT swear allegiance to Saeed Khan, a representative of Daesh. With this movement, ISIS/Daesh gained in notability as a serious threat to the states of Central Asia.

There is a significant number of fighters from these countries in the ranks of ISIS/Daesh. One notable example is the treason of Lieutenant Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, the commander of OMON, the special military unit of the Tajik Ministry of Internal Affairs. He fled to the territory of ISIS, and has served as the “military minister” of ISIS since September 2016. His predecessor was the deceased Abu Omar al-Shishani, whose real name was Tarkhan Batirashvili, a native of Republic of Georgia. 

Throughout the region 

Experts have warned of the danger of spreading radical Islamism among the immigrants from Central Asia who have a significant presence in the regional labor markets.

Uzbekistan is showing a "multi-vector" foreign policy now. Uzbekistan is one of the founding members of the CSTO, but has since left it (the last time Uzbekistan announced the suspension of participation in the CSTO in 2012) Nevertheless, the country retains membership in the SCO and continuing cooperation with the security departments within the structure.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have similar risk profiles, with active recruitment for extremist organizations taking place on their territory. Moreover, the factor of Afghanistan’s security woes exerts significant influences on Tajikistan. To resist the destabilizing terrorist threat, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have reached out for the help of partners within the CSTO and the SCO. In particular, the Russian military bases on the territory of these countries is acting as a security provider.

Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning the fruitful experience of the interaction of the special security structures in the fight against extremism. Previously, experts have warned of the danger of spreading radical Islamism among the immigrants from Central Asia who have a significant presence in the regional labor markets[3]. This manifests as social base and cover for radical Islamist organizations among the immigrant communities[4]. The problem was officially voiced after the terrorist attack in the subway of St. Petersburg in April 2017.

Alexander Bortnikov, the Director of the Russian agency FSB has recognized that the main backbone of the terrorist groups are CIS (Community of Independent States) citizens arriving in Russia in the labor immigration flows. Mr. Bortnikov has urged measures to increase the responsiveness and capacity of officials in overseeing compliance with immigration laws on the part of businesses that use migrant labor[5]. Previously, there had been reports about the exposure and arrest of a group of extremists from Central Asia in autumn 2016 by the FSB and the Russian Police. The extremists were connected with ISIS/Daesh and were preparing terrorist attacks in St. Petersburg. The operation took place with the active participation of officers of the security services of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan[6]. This practice of the coordination of law enforcement cooperation is an important component of the security framework of the relevant structures of the CSTO and the SCO. 

Shining a spotlight 

The activities of Uyghur separatist organizations represent a worrying new development

Kazakhstan is noteworthy for having the most stable political and social system in Central Asia. And at the same time Kazakhstan has a sufficiently strong army and special services to resist the extremist threat. Nevertheless, it too is registering an increase of the extremist influence. Also, it should be taken into account that, in addition to the activity of the Salafi underground, the activities of Uyghur separatist organizations represent a worrying new development. Many of them are linked with international terrorist groups[7].

An important component of the security cooperation and integration process is the Russian-Kazakhstani military-technical cooperation. The military departments of Russia and Kazakhstan, in the framework of the existing agreements, hold regular joint military exercises on the territory of the two States, alternating between one and the other. Kazakhstan is also actively involved in the work of the CSTO, particularly in the activity of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force.

Also, Kazakhstan is participating in strengthening the anti-terrorist potential of the SCO, including through participation in joint counter-terrorism exercises. The active participation in the Eurasian integration structures is also mentioned in the Military Doctrine of the Republic of Kazakhstan[8]

The limits of neutrality 

The involvement of neutral Turkmenistan in the orbit of the SCO would be promising both from the point of view of Russia and China. Moreover, Russia and China are mentioned as the main strategic partners of Turkmenistan by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

The involvement of neutral Turkmenistan in the orbit of the SCO would be promising both from the point of view of Russia and China. Moreover, Russia and China are mentioned as the main strategic partners of Turkmenistan by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Terrorist attacks and armed clashes with terrorists have occurred in Ashgabat, for the first time, in 2008. There is also the danger of the infiltration of Turkmenistan by armed detachments from Northern Afghanistan, amounting to an invasion. Therefore, in the context of rising tensions in 2015, 70% of the Turkmen armed forces were transferred to the Afghan border. For reasons of neutrality, however, the government of Turkmenistan officially denied the threat on the Afghan border. This creates difficulties in the organization of international assistance to Turkmenistan. However, it is worth noting that the awareness of threats is making itself felt and the government of Turkmenistan maintains cooperation in military-technical issues with Russia and with other partner countries. 

Conclusion 

Eurasian integration structures are an effective tool to prevent threats and risks of terrorism and to provide collective security. Now India and Pakistan have stepped in the circle of full members of the SCO, despite their longstanding grievances. Both Russia and China also wish to involve the Islamic Republic of Iran in the SCO, a move which this author supports for the near future.

 

[1] См.: «Страны ОДКБ усилят борьбу с терроризмом»//»Известия», 14.10.2016 [URL: http://izvestia.ru/news/638495]

[2] См.: ШОС [URL: http://ria.ru/infografika/20150708/1120666045.html]

[3] Tajikistan is noteworthy as having been the country with the largest share in GDP of remittances from abroad.

[4] Диков А.Б. Проблема исламизма в контексте миграционной политики России // Противодействие терроризму. Проблемы XXI века - Counter-Terrorism, 2016. №3, с. 19.

[5] Глава ФСБ назвал трудовых мигрантов из СНГ костяком групп террористов. [URL: http://www.rbc.ru/politics/11/04/2017/58ec92ea9a79477def3267f1]

[6] Задержанные ФСБ боевики готовили взрывы в торговых центрах Петербурга. [URL: http://www.tvc.ru/news/show/id/104500]

[7] Гусев Л.Ю. Борьба с экстремизмом и терроризмом в странах Центральной Азии //Современные евразийские исследования. Саратов, 2016. Вып. 2. с. 64-77.

[8]См.: Военная доктрина Республики Казахстан. [URL: http://military-kz.ucoz.org/index/voennaja_doktrina_kazakhstana/0-47]

 
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