Starting in early October, troops of the Russian Ministry of Defense are again participating in the counterinsurgency campaign in the North Caucasus. The recent decision of the Moscow-based National Anti-Terrorist Council to bring the army back to the area has marked another shift in Russia’s longstanding efforts to break down the Islamist insurgency rooted in the Caucasus Emirate, a virtual theocracy claiming the territories of the North Caucasus. While the reintroduction of the army to the theater reflects a need to combat the insurgency in rural areas, the new tactics involved imply an increased risk of civilian casualties as well as coordination problems with local law enforcement.
While Georgia in October succeeded in carrying out its first truly competitive election since independence, the power transition process has not come without controversy. A number of incidents, including the arrests of members of the former governing elite, suggest the challenges ahead in achieving political collaboration and dialogue. Yet the post-election process carries important opportunities as well. Georgian politics now possess the components of pluralism and competition that have been largely missing since the Rose Revolution. Thus, given enough time, and, importantly, continued support from Georgia’s Western partners, the coming months will provide important momentum for further consolidation of Georgian democracy.
The security of Central Asia partly depends on the ability of these countries to transition from the state-controlled and inefficient command economic systems they inherited from the Soviet Union to more dynamic free-market economies, which can more easily attract foreign investment and generate employment and economic growth. These enhancements could reduce potential sources of domestic alienation and provide their governments with more resources to support regional security initiatives in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Silk Road strategies of the U.S. and other countries also would achieve greater success if the Central Asian countries were more dynamic and better integrated into global economic processes. Uzbekistan and its recently announced economic reforms is a case in point.
The East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was responsible for a series of bomb blasts and knife attacks in Hotan, Xinjiang last year in which reportedly more than 20 people were killed and many more were injured. Chinese officials pointed out that these militants were trained in the Pakistani tribal areas and hence for the first time publicly blamed Pakistan for the troubles in its Xinjiang province, in a state media broadcast during an official visit of Pakistan’s then Inter-Services Intelligence chief. Islamabad and Beijing are already cooperating closely on anti-terrorism issues but if not addressed properly, this issue can become a major irritant between the two countries.
As the U.S. and ISAF forces leave Afghanistan, U.S. policy in Central Asia must necessarily change too, from a primarily military strategy into one based on economics and political support. Continued military emphasis is ruled out because there is no discernible military threat other than Afghanistan, because Washington cannot afford protracted military deployments, and because such deployments would further antagonize Moscow and Beijing and confirm those governments’ deepest suspicions about U.S. objectives. However, can the New Silk Road, Washington’s highly touted economic program of building infrastructure and trading networks among Central and South Asian states, fill the place of military forces in enhancing security and stability in Central Asia?
As fighters from militant groups based in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia transfer from one theater to other “hot” conflict zones, they are able to share their experiences and skills with a newer, younger generation of militants. Militants who are European citizens are uniquely valuable in this form of knowledge transfer because their passports allow them to travel with less scrutiny than non-Europeans. The recently made public story of Moez Garsallaoui, a Tunisian-born Swiss citizen who became the amir of Jund al-Khilafah and mentored the French citizen of Algerian descent Mohammed Merah, exemplifies how this knowledge transfer works and how it can help internationalize otherwise nationally or regionally-oriented militant groups.
On 19 July, 2012, a car bomb seriously wounded the mufti Il’dus Faizov in Tatarstan while his deputy, Valiulia Iakupov, was shot dead. Almost simultaneously, a pro-government mufti was shot in Dagestan. It has been argued that the three attacks are related, implying that North Caucasian jihadists are making inroads into Russia’s heartland. Indeed, the murders indicated a clear escalation of violence in Tatarstan. The specter of interconnections between the North Caucasian resistance and jihadists in the Volga region has increased with the declining influence of moderate Tatar nationalism, giving way to a new popular ideological makeup merging nationalism with jihadism as the ideology and practice of anti-Moscow resistance.
At the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov proposed to establish a Contact Group on Afghanistan under the aegis of the UN. The proposal, however, was reminiscent of an initiative put forward by Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov in 2008: the creation of a “6+3” group, which has since then not gained international support. The initiative is marred by its narrow view on what constitutes Afghanistan’s neighborhood, which tends to exclude crucial external actors from the conflict resolution process. It also fails to recognize the UN’s leadership potential in this process.
On September 20, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kyrgyzstan to sign an agreement on the construction and exploitation of the Kambar-Ata Hydro-Power Station (HPS) with the participation of Russian Inter RAO United Energo-systems and of the Upper-Naryn Cascade with the participation of Rus-Gidro. On October 5, Putin visited Tajikistan where he announced Russia’s intention to invest in smaller cascades. These agreements challenged Uzbekistan’s stance against the construction of such dams without objective international assessments of HPS-projects. Russia seems to pursue a geopolitical rather than a mediation strategy in Central Asia.
A series of skirmishes took place on August 28-29 in the Lopota valley situated in Georgia's mountainous northeast on the borders with Russia's Dagestani autonomy. The fighting cost the lives of two Georgian Ministry of Interior troops, a military doctor, and 11 gunmen identified as members of the North Caucasus Islamist insurgency. A few Georgian military personnel were injured and one insurgent, a Russian citizen, was captured by Georgian Special Forces. While the circumstances of what happened in the vicinity of the north Kakhetian village of Lapankuri have not yet been sufficiently revealed, the event might have a considerable impact on the security situation in the entire Caucasus, North and South.