Both in Europe and the United States, this argument is made with increasing frequency but it doesn’t reflect reality.
On October 31, a citizen of Uzbekistan was arrested for the terrorist attack in New York City that led to the death of eight people. The attack drew parallels to a similar truck attack earlier this year in Stockholm, as well as terrorist deeds in Istanbul and St. Petersburg. In these cases the perpetrators were of Uzbek origin. In addition, over 2,000 Central Asians have taken part in the civil war in Syria, fighting for jihadi organizations like the Islamic State or the Nusra Front. Is Central Asia a breeding ground for extremism?
Both in Europe and the United States, this argument is made with increasing frequency. Fingers are being pointed at Central Asian states, as connections are made between the radicalization supposedly going on in Central Asia and the authoritarian character of these governments and their economic problems. In other words, many appear to assume that repression and/or poverty leads to radicalization.
The problem with this analysis is that there is no evidence that these individuals were radicalized in Central Asia. The perpetrators in Stockholm and New York left Uzbekistan almost a decade ago. Neither showed any tendencies toward radical views or behavior in their home country. It appears, instead, that they developed such views while in Sweden and the United States, respectively.
How about all those Central Asians who went to Syria?
Even here, the research that is available suggests that the large majority of fighters decided to travel to Syria while labor migrants in Russia. Over 80 percent of Central Asians that traveled to Syria were recruited there. As the liberal Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta concluded, “the road to ISIS goes through Moscow.”
This means that if we truly want to understand why Central Asians are attracted to extremist groups, it is not enough to point at the governance systems in the region, or their economic situation – even though these may leave much to be desired.
It should also be pointed out that the field of research on violent extremism does not provide any simple answers as to why individuals are radicalized. This is the case especially in a world where far more European than Central Asians have traveled to Syria.
Migrants from Central Asia, in fact, do share some commonalities with the young citizens of Europe that traveled to the Middle East for jihad: a quest for identity and meaning in life.
The Soviet legacy of atheism means that many young people in Central Asia, just like in suburbs across Europe, did not grow up with a strongly rooted religious tradition that could form a counterweight to extremism.
Meanwhile, their societies are changing at a furious pace. The new states of Central Asia are trying to develop new and compelling national identities, but that process takes considerable time.
As a Kazakh researcher pointed out to me, the big question facing the young generation is: Who am I? What do I believe in?
In Central Asia, governments are rather effective at countering extremist groups: a 16-year old in Uzbekistan is not likely to have easy access either to extremist preachers or websites. But when they leave their home countries to work in Russia, Turkey, Europe, or the United States, they encounter groups that compete to fill their life with meaning. A small minority of them – again, just like in suburbs across Europe – appear to fall prey to the simplified and hate-filled worldview of extremists.
Meanwhile, what is really going on in Central Asia?
The region’s two largest countries – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – have both in the past two years introduced comprehensive economic and political reforms, which among other things reduce the power of the presidents, provide for stronger parliaments and judicial systems, and attempt to fight widespread corruption.
They may have long way to travel on this road. But to point at the weaknesses of these states is in no sense helpful to understand why some Central Asians in exile are drawn to extremism.
Svante Cornell is Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy.
Bilahari Kausikan, S. Frederick Starr and Yang Cheng
The American Interest, June 16, 2017
Recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and New York City have been committed by perpetrators with an origin in Central Asia. The CACI-SRSP Joint Center has collected resources from its publication on the topics of terrorism and Islamic radicalism in Central Asia on this page.
For press inquiries: the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute is part of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC (202-543-1006); the Silk Road Studies Program is part of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.(+46-734-150065) Please click here for further contact information.
List of Analytic Resources
Svante E. Cornell and Michael Jonsson, eds. Conflict, Crime, and the State in Postcommunist Eurasia. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. (Includes chapters on Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the North Caucasus)
Svante E. Cornell, “Russia: an Enabler of Jihad?” Op-Ed, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, January 16, 2017
Jeffry W. Hartman “The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We Know” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 68
John C.K. Daly “Rush to Judgment: Western Media and the 2005 Andijan Violence” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 85
Shirin Akiner “Kyrgyzstan 2010: Conflict and Context” Silk Road Paper, July, 2016, pp. 146
S. Frederick Starr, ”Moderate Islam: Look to Central Asia” New York Times, 26 February 2014.
Peter Sinnott, “Peeling the Waziristan Onion: Central Asians in Armed Islamist Movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 4 (2009) pp. 33-53
Didier Chaudet, “When the Bear Confronts the Crescent: Russia and the Jihadist Issue” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. Vol. 7 Issue 2, 2009, pp.37-58.
Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics, Radicalism, and Armed Conflict in Central Asia: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Terrorism and Political Violence, 17:4, 2007, 619-639, 2007
Galina M. Yemelianova “The Rise of Islam in Muslim Eurasia: Internal Determinants and Potential Consequences.” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. 2007, Vol. 5 Issue 2, pp 73-91.
Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics and Armed Conflict: Interaction and Implications, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:3 ,2007, 207-227, DOI: 10.1080/10576100601148449
Michael Scheuer “Central Asia in Al-Qaeda's Vision of the Anti-American Jihad, 1979-2006” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 5-10
Saule Mukhametrakhimova “Perception and Treatment of the "Extremist" Islamic Group Hizb ut-Tahrir by Central Asian Governments” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 49-54
Svante E. Cornell & Regine A. Spector, Central Asia: More than Islamic extremists, The Washington Quarterly, 25:1, 2002, 193-206, 2002
CACI Analyst Articles, 2014-2017, on Islamism, Central Asia and Syria
Emil Souleimanov “Attacks in Chechnya Suggest Opposition to Kadyrov is Far from Eradicated” The CACI Analyst, March 24, 2017
At the turn of 2016 and 2017, events took place in parts of Chechnya that again challenged the triumphant statements of local pro-Moscow and federal authorities that the jihadist-inspired insurgency in this North Caucasian republic was eradicated. Aside from illustrating the latent character of armed conflict in the region in general and in Chechnya in particular, the recent upsurge of violence in Chechnya contains particularities that may have far-reaching consequences. Sporadic attacks against the Kadyrov regime will likely recur in the years to come and intensify should the regime’s grip on power weaken
Stephen Blank “Central Asia: An Opportunity for the Trump Administration” The CACI Analyst, March 22, 2017
Central Asia has never ranked high on U.S. priorities. That is unlikely to change under the Trump Administration. Yet recent developments in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, do offer an opportunity to advance U.S. interests through a greater economic-political presence in the region, whilst also countering growing Chinese economic dominance and Russian efforts at military hegemony at a relatively low cost. The two key countries in this possible opportunity for the U.S. are Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Fuad Shahbazov “China’s Long March into Central Asia: How Beijing Expands Military Influence in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst, February 21, 2017
China's gradually increasing economic role in Central Asia since the early 2000s is unsurprising considering the region's geographic proximity to China's dynamic economy. In this context, Beijing has carefully shaped a military strategy in the region, particularly in neighboring Tajikistan. In September 2016, Beijing offered to finance and build several outposts and other military facilities (in addition to the Gulhan post, which was opened in 2012) to beef up Tajikistan's defense capabilities along its border with Afghanistan, whereas China's and Tajikistan's militaries performed a large counter-terrorism exercise in October 2016. These unexpected actions have raised concerns in Russia over rising Chinese influence in Tajikistan.
Huseyn Aliyev “Islamic State-inspired attacks continue in Chechnya” The CACI Analyst, February 7, 2017
On December 17, 2016, a shootout in central Grozny between members of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and local security forces claimed the lives of three militants and one police officer. On December 18, a counter-terrorist operation (CTO) launched in the aftermath resulted in the death of four more insurgents, whereas four remaining members of a militant cell were arrested. Three police officers were killed and one injured. While the confrontation between militants and police in Grozny was only the fourth conflict-related incident in the republic during 2016, it demonstrates that ISIS still has the capacity to target Chechen security forces.
Jacob Zenn “Abu Zar and Al Qaeda’s presence in Central Asia” The CACI Analyst, January 16, 2017
Abu Zar al-Burmi was one of the most prominent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) muftis and a close associate of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda. Despite pledging loyalty to the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015, he has recently renounced his support of ISIS and is preaching under the banner of the Imam Bukhari Brigade (IBB), which is a Syria-based IMU offshoot that is loyal to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The case of Abu Zar shows how, since the rise of ISIS in 2014, al-Qaeda has defended its stake in Central Asian jihadism.
Stephen Blank “New signs of Chinese military interest in Central Asia” The CACI Analyst , January 16th, 2017
Recent evidence shows a gradual increase in Chinese military activity in Central Asia, particularly with Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, although China has for years denied any military interest in the region. In October, PLA and Tajik forces jointly participated in counterterrorism exercises in Tajikistan near the border with Afghanistan, following earlier activity in 2016. Whereas Tajikistan was then silent, this time it publicized the exercises, which aroused a visible anxiety in the Russian media although the Russian government has hitherto been unwilling to comment on this issue. China’s initiative could imply a major new development in Chinese policy and in Central Asia’s overall security, with lasting implications for the region.
Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan between a new president and the same nation: is it perestroika?” The CACI Analyst, January 10, 2017
On December 4, 2016, three months after the death of Uzbekistan’s first President Islam Karimov, the country held new presidential elections. The Prime Minister and acting Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoev became president-elect by defeating three competitors in a highly asymmetric campaign characterized by the utilization of so-called administrative resources. Yet Mirziyoev’s campaign was also an explicit demonstration of new domestic and foreign political trends in post-Karimov Uzbekistan towards more liberal reforms. The campaign also revealed rising new expectations on the part of the Uzbek nation after a quarter-century of one-person rule.
Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan-Tajikistan: game over, but what is the score?” The CACI Analyst, December 15th, 2016,
Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s independence in 1991 raised the Shakespearean “To be or not to be?” question concerning the ambitious construction of a dam on the mountainous Vakhsh river in Tajikistan, which would embody the Rogun Hydro Power Station. Uzbekistan – a downstream country – has permanently and vigorously rejected and resisted the project referring to numerous risks associated with Rogun for all downstream countries. Uzbekistan’s president has been the principal political antagonist of this project. Two months after his death in September 2016, Tajikistan’s president has decided to move on with the project.
Stephen Blank “Russian intervention in Syria and the Caucasus” The CACI Analyst, November 27, 2016
Few people think about trends in the Caucasus with reference to or in the context of Russia’s Syrian intervention. But Moscow does not make this mistake. From the beginning, Moscow has highlighted its access to the Caucasus through overflight rights and deployment of its forces in regard to Syria, e.g. sending Kalibr cruise missiles from ships stationed in the Caspian Sea to bomb Syria. Therefore we should emulate Russia’s example and seriously assess military trends in the Caucasus in that Syrian context.
Edward Lemon “Signs of improving relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan but tensions remain” The CACI Analyst, October 19, 2016
Since the death of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov in early September, signs have emerged of a thaw in relations between Uzbekistan and its neighbor Tajikistan. In the years since independence, bilateral relations have been plagued by mistrust, disputes over water resources and outright hostility. Both sides have adopted a series of punitive measures against each other. Although acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has expressed interest in “resetting” relations with Tajikistan, any improvement will be tempered by the ongoing conflict over Tajikistan’s planned hydropower plants.
Huseyn Aliyev “Revival of Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus?” The CACI Analyst, October 14, 2016
The last week of August 2016 saw two large-scale Counter-Terrorist Operations (CTOs) in the North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, followed by another CTO conducted in the second week of September. This relatively low-scale increase in military confrontations between militants and security forces in the region nonetheless indicates a steady recovery of non-ISIS Islamist cells, which have been in decline since the emergence of ISIS in the region. While these recent developments may not indicate a revival of the local Islamist insurgency, they indicate that local insurgent jama’ats are still present and active in the region.
Dmitry Shlapentokh “Prospects of Turkmenistan-Iran gas cooperation” The CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2016
On June 8, 2016, FSU Oil & Gas Monitor quoted former UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry as saying that gas from Turkmenistan could reach European markets by various different means, including “overland routes through Iran.” It is unlikely that Hendry would make such an announcement without having received encouraging signals from both Tehran and Ashkhabad. The prospect of gas deliveries from Turkmenistan to European markets is disconcerting for Moscow, which regards the monopolization of gas supply to Europe as one of its major geopolitical and geoeconomic goals.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov “The North Caucasus insurgency: weakened but not eradicated” The CACI Analyst, October 6 th, 2016
The North Caucasus insurgency has weakened dramatically in recent years. While Chechnya-based jihadist groups now number a few dozen fighters, jamaats operating in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay have been nearly wrecked. In Ingushetia, a few insurgent groups remain numbering a couple of dozen members. In Dagestan, the epicenter of the regional insurgents, several jamaats have survived and number around a hundred active members. Indicative of the unprecedented weakening of the North Caucasus insurgency is the jihadists’ inability to elect an amir of the Caucasus Emirate: since the liquidation of the last amir Magomed Suleimanov in mid-August 2015, the jihadist resistance has been beheaded as it lacks a formal leadership. Yet has the regional insurgency indeed been defeated?
Franz J. Marty “The phantom menace of ISIS in Northern Afghanistan” The CACI Analyst, September 8th, 2016
Many accounts allege that the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has expanded to northern Afghanistan and intends to infiltrate Central Asia from there. Taking a closer look, however, it becomes apparent that virtually all such claims lack a sound foundation and that the remaining, more specific hints like reported sightings of black flags also stand on shaky ground. Consequentially, and contrary to the eastern parts of Afghanistan, there is no compelling evidence of a presence of the self-styled Caliphate in northern Afghanistan and, hence, also no immediate threat to Central Asia.
Farkhod Tolipov “The Tashkent summit and the expanded SCO” The CACI Analyst, July 27th, 2016
50 years ago, Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent hosted a summit ending the India-Pakistan war of 1965, resulting in the Tashkent Declaration. It was, so to speak, a Soviet “Camp David” aimed at bringing two antagonists – India and Pakistan – to peace. The SCO summit of June 2016 was, symbolically speaking, a second – multilateral – platform created in the same place, Tashkent, for the same two states to restore peace. Yet this summit did not appear to be a second Tashkent “Camp David,” but rather a challenge for the SCO itself.
Emil Souleimanov “Chechen authorities raise pressure on human rights organizations” The CACI Analyst, July 23rd, 2016
Recent months have seen increased attacks on journalists and human rights activists in Chechnya. Such attacks have long become characteristic of the Moscow-backed Chechen authorities’ attitude to any form of dissent, both within and outside the North Caucasus republic. While most human rights organizations and journalists were pushed out of Chechnya in the 2000s, the recent wave of violence has been particularly aggressive and threaten to remove the last resort for complaints on human rights violations as well as the only remaining sources of data on such violations in the republic.
Rafis Abazov “Fixing the Aral Sea disaster: towards environmental cooperation in Central Asia?” The CACI Analyst, June 28th, 2016
Kazakh experts have recently begun to call water the “liquid gold of the 21st century,” as all states in the Central Asian region face greater demand for water concurrent with a significant decline in water supply. The Aral Sea – which became a symbol of environmental mismanagement and environmental catastrophe at the end of the 20th century – shows that sustainable development policies can help to deal with even the most difficult water issues. Conversely, however, mismanagement and border conflicts over water might worsen the situation, leading to further political and economic tensions. The current question is whether Kazakhstan can collaborate with other Central Asian states in saving and perhaps reviving the Aral Sea.
John C.K. Daly “The death of Mullah Mansour and the future of the Taliban” The CACI Analyst, June 7th, 2016
On May 21, a U.S. drone attack killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour and taxi driver Mohammad Azam near Nushki in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Mansour was returning from Taftan, Iran, where he had gone for medical treatment, to his residence near the provincial capital Quetta, a 370-mile journey. Mansour and his driver had completed roughly two-thirds of the nine-hour trip. A Pakistani passport and a Computer National Identity Card (CNIC) identifying Mansur as “Wali Muhammad” were found near the wreckage. Mansour’s death, coming nine months after his contested election as “Amir al-Mu'minin” by the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, has added additional volatility to Afghanistan’s complex political landscape, effectively sidelining any possibility of renewing peace negotiations with the Afghan government as Mansour’s successor seeks to consolidate his position.
Farkhod Tolipov “Ad-hoc peace or ad-hoc war: micro-geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus” The CACI Analyst, June 2nd, 2016
A few weeks before the April 2-5 fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a border crisis occurred between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on March 18-26. Some observers connected these two events as links in the same chain. Indeed, both cases revolve around so-called frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space; where one of the conflicting sides is a CSTO member and the other is not; and where speculations proliferate of a hidden Russian hand in both the instigation and mediation of the clashes. The two conflicts can be seen as a by-product of the same process – the continuing divergence of the former single Soviet space.
Dmitry Shlapentokh “Kazakhstan's history as a geopolitical battlefield” The CACI Analyst, May 27th, 2016
Throughout 2015, Kazakhstan celebrated the 450th anniversary of what it regards as the beginning of its statehood as a major national event. This extraordinary interest in a seemingly academic subject had clear political undertones: Kazakhstan is not an “artificial” state, as sometimes proclaimed by representatives of the Kremlin. The country’s continuous process of distancing itself from Russia has been coupled with repression against suspected proponents of separatism in Northern Kazakhstan, populated by considerable numbers of ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers. Despite the existence of clearly pro-Russian attitudes in this region, Moscow has not supported them out of fear that it could raise extremist forms of nationalism in Russia, which would be highly problematic for the Kremlin.
Jacob Zenn “The IMU is extinct: what next for Central Asia's jihadis?” The CACI Analyst, May 3rd, 2016
For more than a decade after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was the “bogeyman” of Central Asian militancy. It was the most well-known militant group in Central Asia and abroad, even though it was in exile in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the protection of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Years of drone strikes and counter-insurgency operations failed to eliminate the IMU. Ironically, however, it was neither the U.S. nor coalition forces that destroyed the IMU. Rather, it was the Taliban who liquidated the IMU in late 2015 as punishment for its “betrayal” of the Taliban (and al-Qaeda) by pledging loyalty to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). This will change the nature of the militant threat to Central Asia and force a reconsideration of Uzbekistan’s counter-extremism measures.
Roger N. McDermott “Russia-Tajikistan antiterrorist exercises: strategic messaging” The CACI Analyst, March 28th, 2016
Russia’s and Tajikistan’s joint antiterrorist exercise on March 15-20 involved five Tajik training ranges, and showcased bilateral security cooperation. The exercise seemed routine, consistent with each country’s national security concerns; however a number of factors coalesced on Moscow’s planning and deployment side to make it both unique and potentially revealing. Buoyed by its recent experience of military conflict in Ukraine and Syria, Russia’s Armed Forces display increased confidence in supporting a more pro-active Russian foreign policy posture. The elements it deployed in Tajikistan for the exercise contain strategic messages for the benefit of other actors and Russia’s potential adversaries in Central Asia: for regional governments, the message is one of reassurance and renewed confidence.
Richard Weitz “Moscow's agenda in Central Asia and the Caucasus: it is official” The CACI Analyst, March 18th, 2016
The states of Central Asia and the South Caucasus are in for a rough ride if recent Russian national security documents and speeches genuinely represent the Kremlin’s worldview. Not only do these texts veto their membership in NATO, but they exclude mutually profitable partnerships for these countries with the European Union and other Western institutions, constrain their domestic development, and encourage the suppression of civil liberties by warning of fictitious Western plots to change their regimes under the guise of democracy promotion and human rights.
Roger N. McDermott “Russia recalibrates 201st base in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst February 25th, 2016
Moscow has stated that among its defense and security priorities for 2016, Central Asia and the South Caucasus will top its agenda. Kavkaz 2016, the main strategic military exercise of the year, will take place in the Southern Military District (MD), while Tsentr 2015 occurred in Central MD with among its vignettes a rehearsal of intervention in Central Asia. Surprisingly in this context, the Defense Ministry plans to restructure the 201st Base in Tajikistan from divisional to brigade status. This initiative is driven by Moscow’s growing concerns about the future of Central Asian security as it faces multiple potential threats stemming from Afghanistan and Islamic State (ISIS). But paradoxically, Moscow’s latest moves to strengthen the basing of its forces in Tajikistan serves as an indicator of official perceptions that the region could suffer a serious security challenge.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Azerbaijan, islamism, and unrest in Nardaran” The CACI Analyst, December 27th, 2015
On November 25-26, Azerbaijani law enforcement carried out a special operation in Nardaran, a township on the northern edge of the Absheron peninsula located 25 kilometers northeast of the capital’s center. The purpose of the special operation was to break the backbone of the Muslim Unity group, a purportedly militant Shiite organization. The context and implications of the Nardaran events have received little attention in Western media, despite the concerns raised both within and outside the region about Azerbaijan finding itself on the brink of religiously inspired civil unrest.
Richard Weitz “Building on Kerry's Central Asian tour” The CACI Analyst, December 22nd, 2015
In early November, John Kerry made a long overdue trip to Central Asia, becoming the first Secretary of State to visit all five Central Asian countries in one diplomatic tour. His agenda focused on reassuring the regional governments that the United States cares about their concerns, specifically Afghanistan and religious extremism. Kerry also highlighted U.S. support for region-wide economic integration, ecological protection, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation. He further developed bilateral cooperation with each Central Asian government. However, there were no major agreements or blockbuster initiatives announced during Kerry’s visit. It will require sustained follow-through by the current and next U.S. administrations to achieve enduringly positive results.
S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell “The EU and Central Asia: Developing Transport and Trade” The CACI Analyst December 10th, 2015
A number of initiatives have combined to make the development of continental transport and trade across the heartland of Eurasia a reality rather than a mere vision. Some of these have been external, while many have been internal to the region. Yet Europe, which launched the visionary TRACECA program in the early 1990s, is largely absent from the scene today. Yet if Europe works with Central Asian states, it stands to benefit greatly from this process. This would involve work to make the transport corridors more attuned to market logic; to promote the development of soft infrastructure; to pay attention to the geopolitics of transport and support the Caucasus and Caspian corridor; and not least, to look ahead to the potential of linking Europe through Central Asia not just to China, but also to the Indian subcontinent.
Huseyn Aliyev, Emil A. Souleimanov “Russia's missile launches and the militarization of the Caspian Sea” The CACI Analyst, November 23rd, 2015
In early October, Russia's Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced that Russian navy warships based in the Caspian Sea had fired a total of 26 missiles at the positions of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The minister claimed that all the 11 targets, located around 1,500 kilometers from the warships, were destroyed over two days. Russian authorities and pro-regime media have considered the strikes a big success. While information soon resurfaced that some cruise missiles had landed on Iranian soil, the fact that the October strike is definite proof of the failed attempts to turn the landlocked water basin into a demilitarized zone has received less attention.
Farkhod Tolipov “Pluses and minuses of the C5+1 format” The CACI Analyst, November 13th, 2015
During the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2015 in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kazakhstan’s, Kyrgyzstan’s, Tajikistan’s, Turkmenistan’s and Uzbekistan’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs to set up the new C5+1 format for dialogue between the U.S. and Central Asian states. As a first manifestation of this dialogue platform, Kerry made a Central Asian tour in early November. The C5+1 meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, took place in the context of global geopolitical turbulence that has raised Central Asia’s profile in U.S. global strategy
Dmitry Shlapentokh “The ISIS threat and Moscow's influence in Central Asia and the Middle East” The CACI Analyst, November 6, 2015
Moscow has recently undertaken several actions aiming to increase Russia’s influence in the Middle East and Central Asia. On August 23-28, 2015, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes several members from Central Asia, undertook military exercises in Russia. Russian authorities stated that the maneuvers aimed to help CSTO members develop means to effectively move airborne forces and other troops to conflict zones, including in Central Asia. The exercises partly served to address a real concern on the part of Russia as well as other CSTO members over the rise of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). However, Russia sees ISIS not only as a threat but also as an opportunity for both increasing Russia’s influence in Central Asia and providing a pretext for its venture in the Middle East.
Avinoam Idan “Russia in Syria and Putin's geopolitical strategy” The CACI Analyst, October 22nd, 2015
The deepening of Russia’s military presence in Syria and its direct involvement in aiding the Assad regime during the Syrian crisis is a game changing step in the geostrategic context of the Middle East. This is Russia’s third move during the last eight years to change the strategic status quo in the greater Middle East by means of military force. Russia’s new step in Syria aims to influence the geopolitical makeup of the Middle East following the collapse of the Sykes-Picot order. Russia aims to establish itself as a key player from the Caspian Basin in the east, via the Black Sea, to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Erica Marat “Kyrgyzstan: beyond democratic elections” The CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2015
On October 4, Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections marked by significant improvements in the country’s democratic development. The elections have demonstrated the viability of Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 constitution, which delegates more powers to the parliament and aims to prevent the emergence of autocratic political center. Fourteen political parties competed, and six were able to pass the national and regional thresholds to win seats.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Russia's Syria initiative and the exaggerated ISIS threat to Central Asia” The CACI Analyst, September 25th, 2015
Russia’s recent military engagement in Syria and calls for the establishment of an international coalition against the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has produced renewed interest in Moscow’s policies toward the jihadist quasi-state. Against this background, while many have speculated about Moscow’s true intentions in the Middle East, relatively little attention has been paid to Moscow’s interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus in the context of its increasingly vocal rhetoric of fighting ISIS. Moscow is actively utilizing the risks and threats stemming from the ISIS to boost its clout in the near and far abroad.
Edward Lemon “Violence in Tajikistan emerges from within the state” The CACI Analyst, September 23rd, 2015
Rather than resulting from external factors, as the regime has argued, the recent violence in Tajikistan erupted from within the state itself. Elites within the Tajik state continually compete for political influence and economic gain. These struggles occasionally break out into violence. Ironically, such conflicts are actually useful for the regime. They allow it to legitimize a purge of potentially disloyal members and a crackdown on other opponents. By blaming the latest conflict on the country’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), the regime legitimized its move to ban the party and arrest its leading members.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov “A weakened insurgency precludes IS inroads to the North Caucasus” 09/02/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
Recent months have seen North Caucasian amirs pledging allegiance to the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Many have pointed to this process as a sign of the changing paradigm of the regional resistance, which is being transformed into – or absorbed by – the global jihadist insurgency. But these assumptions can be challenged by a look at the internal dynamics, the distance from key hotbeds of jihadist violence, and the limits of the North Caucasian insurgency. While ISIS may have some impact on the North Caucasian jamaats, it is likely to be rather limited and indirect.
Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan concerned over SCO expansion” 05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its annual summit on June 9-10, 2015, in the Russian town of Ufa, which was an historical turning point in the organization’s evolution. It adopted a Development Strategy towards 2025 and admitted India and Pakistan as full members. Uzbekistan has taken over the Chairmanship of the SCO from Russia for the next one year period. During the summit, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov expressed concerns revealing Tashkent’s reluctant acknowledgement of the fact that from now on the SCO will be more than just a Central Asia-focused structure.
George Voloshin “The Uzbek-Tajik détente: can it last?” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
On June 22-24, Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, hosted a third meeting of the Uzbek-Tajik intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Unlike the two previous sessions, which were organized in Dushanbe in August 2002 and February 2009, this year’s bilateral trade talks took place against the backdrop of an emerging détente between the two Central Asian neighbors. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are currently confronted with a host of shared challenges ranging from the threat of radical Islam to socioeconomic instability, while their bilateral relationship is still constrained by unsettled disputes from the past.
Charlie Smith “Islamic State in Central Asia: threat or opportunity” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
Central Asia is a key region that many believe has fallen into the crosshairs of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Local governments are gravely concerned about returning fighters and possible ISIS infiltration in the region, and foreign powers, especially neighboring Russia and China, have expressed their deep concerns. This grim picture, however, obscures a more complex, and perhaps more accurate, story. Might the specter of ISIS have less to do with its on-the-ground ability to destabilize the region and more to do with the geopolitical concerns of those who are stating these threats?
Kevin Daniel Leahy “Existing Paradigms for Resistance in the North Caucasus Challenged by Kadyrov, ISIS” 06/24/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
With the recent death of its leader and the decisions by numerous field commanders in Dagestan and Chechnya to disassociate themselves with the organization, analysts are wondering if the Caucasus Emirate can endure. The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has emerged as the latest paradigm for resistance to Russian rule in the Caucasus. It is, however, only the latest in a long line of such paradigms to take root in the region, competing with the Caucasus Emirate, Chechen nationalism and other forms of ethnic separatism. What is the outlook for ISIS as a paradigm for resistance in the North Caucasus?
Nurzhan Zhambekov “Russia’s Regulation of Labor Migration Set to Hurt Central Asian Economies” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
The slowing Russian economy suffered a triple shock in the form of Western economic sanctions, falling oil prices, and the plummeting Russian ruble in 2014, resulting in a negative impact on Central Asian states. In addition, tighter migration regulations in Russia, in force since early 2015, are having an effect on the flow of migration from Central Asia, particularly from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These three countries rely heavily on remittances from their migrant workers in Russia. The drop in remittances could increase socioeconomic disaffection in parts of Central Asia that are dependent on labor migrants’ earnings.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Caucasus Emirate Faces Further Decline after the Death of Its Leader” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
On April 19, 2015, the Caucasus Emirate’s leader Aliaskhab Kebekov, nom de guerre Ali Abu Mukhammad, was killed in a special operation carried out by Russian elite forces in Dagestan’s Buynaksk district. His death came at a time of profound decline of the North Caucasian jihadists, coupled with the ongoing split in their ranks as an increasing number of fighters and insurgent leaders turn to the Islamic State (IS). Upcoming months will show whether the North Caucasus insurgency, and particularly its Dagestani branch, will become dominated by IS sympathizers and ink up with the global jihad, or remain a largely local endeavor.
Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Insurgents Split over Loyalties to Caucasus Emirate and IS” 04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
Recent months have been hectic for Dagestani jihadists. Since mid-2014, this hotbed of the North Caucasian insurgency has witnessed a gradual split, with numerous Dagestan-based jihadist commanders pledging oath (bayat) to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. In response, the Caucasus Emirate’s formal leader, Aliaskhab Kebekov, himself a Dagestani, criticized the disloyal commanders for splitting the ranks of the local insurgency. In mid-February, the newly appointed amir of the Dagestani Vilayat, Kamil Saidov, joined Kebekov in his condemnation of those submitting to Baghdadi’s authority. Given the North Caucasian and Dagestani jamaats' weakening capacity, the ongoing developments in Dagestan could break the unity in this last bastion of the regional insurgency.
Huseyn Aliyev “Conflict-related Violence Decreases in the North Caucasus as Fighters go to Syria” 04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
The end of 2014 and early 2015 have witnessed a notable reduction in conflict-related violence across the North Caucasus. With the continuous departure of Islamist volunteers from that Russian region to the Middle East, in 2014 the number of casualties, among both militants and security forces, have decreased by more than half, compared to the previous year. While observers associate the current de-escalation of violence with the outflow of large numbers of North Caucasian youth to join Islamic State (IS) and with internal conflicts within the North Caucasus Islamist underground (Caucasus Emirate), reasons behind the recent decline of insurgency-related activities are likely to be more complex.
Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Jihadists and Haram Targeting” 02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst
The recent attacks in Paris against the studio of satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, known for its caricatures of Muhammad, have sparked heated debates in Dagestan. While Dagestanis have primarily focused on evaluating the implications of this single case of lethal violence, their debates have unfolded against the background of increasingly frequent attacks carried out by members of local jihadi groups – jamaats – against targets deemed anti-Islamic according to Salafi dogma.