Terrorism Geopolitics and Multinational Security Cooperation in Central Asia

Dr. Rouben Azizian and Dr. Elizabeth Van Wie Davis

On February 22-24, 2006, the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies held a conference on the global war on terrorism, the momentous transformations in Central Asia, and the impact of these developments on Asia-Pacific security. The conference format included panel discussions, breakout sessions as well as a teleconference with CENTCOM Command in Afghanistan. Senior defense and foreign affairs officials, prominent practitioners and leading academics from both the United States and the region took part in the deliberations. An equal distribution between security practitioners and area experts provided an appropriate balance in the coverage of the issues under consideration.

Conference Focus

The conference addressed the complex security environment of Central Asia as the region continues to struggle with the phenomena of terrorism and religious extremism, poverty and corruption, political instability and authoritarian governance, great power suspicion and rivalry.  Those challenges are not uniquely Central Asian but the region seems to be particularly vulnerable to them as the young Central Asian nations are undergoing a significant political, social and economic transformation.  How the region copes with these issues will extend important lessons to the larger region as well as to the world as a whole.

This conference examined the trilemma posed for Central Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region.

  • First, for the war on terror in the region to be successful it must evolve into well-implemented stabilization and reconstruction efforts, as well as dramatic improvements in governance and human rights.
  • Secondly no country, even the United States, can win the war or alter the situation in Central Asia alone.  The effort requires cooperation between all the major powers and stakeholders in the region.  The magnitude of the problem of terrorism, which effects most if not all countries in the region, should preclude another variation of the Great Game.
  • Finally while the number of regional organizations and security forums in Central Asia has been growing, there is little coordination between them, which triggers counterproductive rivalry and plays into the hands of extremist elements.  Since terror knows no borders, what happens in Central Asia significantly impacts developments in South Asia and the rest of the Asia Pacific.

The following is a summary of key findings and recommendations from the conference:

The counterterrorist effort in Central Asia has successfully destroyed or marginalized the Taliban and al Qaeda, but there is likely to be a Long War because of the localization or localness of the terrorist threat as new autonomous extremist cells continue to emerge in Central Asia. Some of these groups fund themselves through narcotrafficking while others are engaged in legitimate business. The sources of proliferation of radical Islam can be found in social and economic deprivation, wide-spread corruption and political authoritarianism. The only efficient way of successfully eliminating the extremist threat in Central Asia is through a combination of dramatic political, economic and social changes. As for the military component of the struggle, the enhancement of Central Asia’s counterterrorism capacity should be the priority.

All Central Asian states are experiencing an Islamization of their societies and political activities. After decades of forced Soviet-style secularization, desecularization and Islamization are seen by the populace as a progressive, democratic and inevitable process. The ruling elites sense and acknowledge this trend but instead of channeling it into a broader democratic process, are attempting to manipulate and tightly control the Islamic clergy. Suppression tactics work in the short-term is evidenced in the decline of the activities of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Much more problematic is the containment of an organization such as non-violent Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is also aspiring to create an Islamic state in Central Asia. Hizb-ut Tahrir’s growing popularity all over Central Asia is in many ways an expression of popular protest against corrupt governments.

While there is no way to be certain whether Islamization will become more rational or increasingly radical in Central Asia, it is important not to overreact to the rise of Islam and ignore the role of culture, ethnicity, and nationalism.  The reality of power, assuming Islamic parties do gain power in more of the Central Asian states, has the potential to change radicals as they become preoccupied with the economic and social issues that predominate in the actual politics of ruling.  Additionally, Islamic radicalism is less interesting to national majorities, who are concerned with establishing the identity of the state, than to national minorities who are more interested in the social justice platform. Helping and facilitating the progressive and inclusive formation of nation states in Central Asia seems to be a reliable way to minimize the political effects of religious rise.

There are also important differences among the Central Asian republics that merit distinguished approaches.  For instance, there are different economic potentials, diverse governance issues, and distinctive foreign relations.  Kazakhstan is an example of a country that has adopted a market reform and gradual democratization. It is also interested in developing regional integration and multilateral security cooperation. While Kazakhstan is interested in forging ties with Asia, it does not want to loose its European tradition and Western connection.

The State Department’s initiative on Central and South Asia economic integration was received positively by the Central Asian representatives who consider it a good opportunity to stabilize and normalize Afghanistan and restore and build new infrastructure links between Central and South Asia. At the same time, certain concern was expressed about a negative fall out from greater interregional people-to-people contacts through expansion of extremist activities. It was also suggested that a stronger partnership between Afghanistan and Pakistan while desirable could also lead to resumption of fears regarding Islamabad’s ambitions in Afghanistan and therefore had to be balanced by region’s constructive engagement with Iran and strong ties with India.

There was a consensus among participants that the growing presence of great powers in Central Asia should not lead to a new version of Great Game. This task remains complicated, however, not only because the great powers continue to treat each other with suspicion but also because the more assertive Central Asian states are at times willing to manipulate and play off the great powers against each other. Excessive geopolitics was defined as damaging to long-term developments in Central Asia.  There was a recognition of the fact that no single state can dominate Central Asia.  Therefore the great powers need to accommodate each other in the region rather than focus on zero sum tactics. The complementarity of great powers’ role should be emphasized and better promoted. Russia has historical ties to the region, connects it with Europe and European tradition as well as serves as a conduit for much of the region’s energy.  China’s economic influence can contribute to development and modernization as well as closer relations with the Asia-Pacific. India offers an impressive Asian example of combining democratic tradition, religious freedom and economic dynamism.

The U.S. presence is considered vital for Central Asians.  It helps strengthen sovereignty of Central Asian republics that remain wary of powerful neighbors.  The relations with the United States also help the republics become more visible in the international arena.  The U.S. democratization effort is welcome, but must proceed incrementally and be tuned to domestic realities within each country.   At the same time, the U.S. support for human rights needs to be more consistent to avoid setbacks like in Uzbekistan. In this context some participants questioned the need for inviting Uzbekistan to take part in the US-led Regional Cooperation exercise program to be hosted in Bishkek this year. The future of NATO’s Partnership for Peace was characterized as unclear as some Central Asian regimes view it with suspicion and treat it as an ideological vehicle of Western influence.  At the same time, the Central Asian states see value in NATO’s presence in the region as they play a delicate balancing act among neighbors. No one, however, seriously entertains the notion of Central Asian states becoming full members of NATO.

Central Asian states recognize in principle the need for multinational cooperation but remain somewhat uncomfortable about a full speed movement in that direction. This is an objective reality of continued nation-building in the republics and reluctance to cede sovereignty and is also a product of remaining suspicion between them. The Kazakh-Uzbek rivalry for leadership in regional affairs is causing additional problems. The great powers have their own interests and each prefer to promote their own regional organization: Russia-the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), China-the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the West-the NATO Partnership for Peace (PFP) and OSCE, believing it to be more appropriate or important.  It was suggested, however, that all these regional organizations have their own niche. The United States should accept that neither SCO nor CSTO are likely to disappear soon and can be incorporated in the US security strategy in Central Asia.  At the same time, for these organizations to be more effective, they should be transparent and non-exclusive. For instance, the US needs to be eventually given an observer status in the SCO. Complementarity of regional institutions and multi-alignment of Central Asian states was believed to be the least volatile option for Central Asian democratic transformation.



The Middle East and Central Asia in the War on Terrorism

Dr. Ehsan Ahrari

The doctrine of militant Jihad was used by the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan during the 1980s to bring about the expulsion of the Soviet Union. However, when the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, militant Jihad was not only the chief driving force underlying their accession to power, but it was also used by al-Qaida and other Jihadist movements of Central Asia between 1998 and 2001 to carry out regional Jihad in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and even in Chechnya and the Xinjiang province of the People’s Republic of China.

Even though the al-Qaida-sponsored attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 were the organization’s declaration of global Jihad against the lone superpower, it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq that enabled the notion of militant Jihad to emerge as a truly global phenomenon.  Between 2004 and 2006, Iraq emerged as a laboratory for conducting Jihadist operations against the United States.  Despite the fact that the global Jihadists and insurgents were highly effective in their attempts to destabilize Iraq, and despite the fact that the Jihadist forces were gathering momentum in Afghanistan once again, this presentation argues against the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Islamic insurgency in Central Asia: the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU

Mr. Alisher Khamidov


The paper examines Islamic insurgency following the Kyrgyz Tulip revolution and the Andijan events of 2005. The focus is on two groups: the Hizb-ut-Tahrir al Islamiyya (HT), a party of Islamic Liberation, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Despite being officially banned by all Central Asian governments, Hizb-ut-Tahrir is still operating in most countries within the region. Its ultimate goal is to restore the Ottoman era Islamic Caliphate. The party claims that it is committed to nonviolence. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was active in 1999-2000. Its goal was to oust the regime of Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov. The U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan is believed to have destroyed the IMU which fought alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda.

This paper seeks to answer several important questions. Is the upsurge of religious activism in the region that the authorities view as “Islamic Fundamentalism,” “religious extremism,” or “radical Islamism” a plot of outside forces? Is the upsurge the result of the efforts of banned Islamic groups, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir or the IMU to fill the void of corrupt governments that offer little in the range of public services? Are the HT and the IMU the only Islamic actors in the region? Can the threat posed by these groups be a conceptual and ideological construction shaped and exploited by secular political factions engaged in political struggle for power and geopolitical benefits? Is the state policy toward Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other Islamic groups the result of debate in narrow elitist circles or is it an outcome of informed public debate and rigorous scholarly research?

Kyrgyzstan and Regional Security Cooperation

Ambassador (Ret) Baktybek Abdrisaev


The year 2005 has become, for Kyrgyzstan, a year of dramatic changes and emerging challenges on both the domestic and external levels. The internal situation was characterized by significant instability in the country due to the change of government in March. Significant shifts in the regional status quo caused initially by the “Tulip revolution” in Kyrgyzstan and further strengthened by the May events in Andijan, Uzbekistan kept Bishkek busy in its attempts to preserve relations with all major players both inside and outside of the region. The important consequence of the events in the region was the strengthening of Moscow’s position in Central Asia and in Bishkek in particular, where the administration, headed by the President Kurmanbek Bakiev, moved even closer to Moscow than its predecessor.

Nevertheless, the main outcome of the March 24, 2005 events in Bishkek was connected to the emergence of a new regional dynamic where an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and mistrust between “main trio” had replaced a previous understanding about the necessity to cooperate on a number of regional threats and challenges, among them terrorism, rise of radical Islam, and drug-trafficking. The events in Andijan in neighboring Uzbekistan, further accelerated the process.

To everyone’s surprise, Kyrgyz foreign policy underwent few changes with emergence of the new Administration in Bishkek. In practical terms, the new leadership continued to follow the direction of the multi-vector diplomacy which was outlined in a famous principle of the former President Askar Akaev “and – and,” instead of “or-or.” As was evident by the end of the year, Bishkek has proven again it’s abilities to skillfully balance the interests of the major players in the region, such as the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America.

There are two parts to this paper consists of two parts. In the first part, the current status and influence of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU is examined providing a background about their introduction into the states of Central Asia. The ideology and organization of these groups is also examined. As well as, the similarities and difference between the two groups. The second part looks at other Islamic groups that have emerged in recent years to compete with the HT and the IMU. Among these are groups called Jamoats and the Akramiya, a group that Uzbekistani authorities believe was behind the Andijan events. Finally, the state policy towards Islamic activism is analyzed. The efficacy of the response of Central Asian governments to HT, the IMU and other new Islamic groups so far is looked and various policy options are discussed.

Central & South Asia Economic Integration

Mr. Jim Dehart

In October 2005, Secretary Rice traveled to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.  In a speech in Astana, she spoke of the U.S. interest in seeing the countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan better integrated into the global economy through trade and investment and energy, transportation and communications links.  The United States envisions a new corridor of reform to connect Afghanistan with the rest of the world, restore and build new infrastructure links between Central and South Asia, and increase the stability of the entire region through greater people-to-people contacts.

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency has launched a $1 million Central Asian infrastructure Initiative focused on energy, transportation and communications.  The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Customs Reform Initiative aims to foster regional trade by harmonizing, strengthening and streamlining customs functions.

North-south energy trade could bring significant benefits.  Central Asia has large power resources and exportable capacity.  The combination of thermal power in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, along with hydro-power in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, could make Central Asia a dependable and diversified electricity exporting partner.  Complementary seasonal demands between South and Central Asia indicate significant potential for north-south energy trade.  Afghanistan would benefit from being a transit country.

In the transportation sector, the goal should be a year-round route between Almaty (Central Asia’s commercial hub) and Karachi.  This route could become a new North-South Silk road traveled by tourists and traders in both directions.  Among other projects, the U.S. is constructing a $30 million bridge that will connect Sher Khan, Afghanistan with Nizhniy Pyanzh, Tajikistan.  When completed in 2007, it is expected to facilitate the transport of more than 1,000 cars daily.

The United States is interested in working with the international donor community and with countries in the region to advance these initiatives.  Kazakhstan could play an important role, including through strategic investment.  The State Department’s recent re-organization of the five Central Asian countries into an enlarged Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs reflects a new way of looking at these regions and a greater policy focus on each of these unique countries.

Central Asian Views on the Support of Democracy

Dr. Fatima Kukeyeva

United States policy concerning Central Asia has attached great importance to the assistance of democracy and the development of civil society in the region. Central Asian analysts are considering the role that the United States might play in supporting regional democratization. While Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan researchers on the whole recognize the need for American support to promote democracy, they criticize the methods that the United States government has used to achieve this purpose.  Tajik and Turkmen analysts in particular doubt the validity of Western-style democratic values in Central Asia.

The perception of a double standard mentioned by nearly all Central Asian analysts damages the proper understanding that democracy strengthens stability and security, and encourages the idea that democracy undermines security. The double standard also leads to a growth of the anti-American attitudes in the countries of Central Asia. Although in Kazakhstan we have a more open forum for information, where it is possible to hear various points of view on American policy in the region, Uzbekistan represents the apogee of anti-American propaganda as it appears in Central Asia.  Distinctions in political and economic development make possible regional strategy only in the field of security, but not in democracy and human rights spheres which develop on a bilateral level.

China and Central Asia:  Understanding, Policy and Looking Forward

Professor Feng Shaolei


This paper argues that Central Asia is a region of great importance to international political-economic development after the Cold War.  Additionally, the dramatic developments in the region have been a cause of global concern in the wake of September 11.  The relations between China and Central Asian countries are one aspect of this development.  How does China perceive the Central Asian region?  What strategy and policy does China adopt toward Central Asia?  What will be the prospect of relations between China and Central Asia?  This paper attempts to answer and discuss these issues in order to achieve a greater grasp of developments in the Central Asian region.  The future relations between China and the Central Asian states will not only rest with the bilateral relations between China and the Central Asian republics, but also with the relations between China and the great powers interested in the region.  In view of the criticalness of current Central Asian affairs, deepening multilateral cooperation, removing divergence and doubts, and exploring how to build a regional system is the next task.


Russia’s Policy in Central Asia

Irina Zvyagelskaya

Russia’s policy vis-à-vis Central Asia has been developing from a pronounced lack of interest to a proactive rather than reactive course. The transparency of borders, constant migration flows, and economic ties, military and political developments made Russia much more dependent on the evolution of the situation in the states of Central Asia than had ever been expected. The US military-political presence in the region was an additional factor provoking a rise of Russia’s activity there.

A new stage of Russia’s policy was shaped by a phenomenon of ‘color revolutions’. It was perceived by politicians and experts as a new project worked out by Western political technologists with a purpose of bringing to power pro-Western regimes, less inclined to cooperation with Russia. Several general conclusions stemmed from this reasoning. (1) Western policy vis-à-vis Russia and post-Soviet states has been more vividly marked by a double standard approach. (2) The CIS has been losing its importance and bilateral ties are now requiring major attention. (3) Russia should follow the West and also start creating NGOs in the post-Soviet states and as well as work more closely with a new generation of politicians in these countries.

The states of Central Asia have yet to develop a political model that would ensure a normal transfer of power by means of democratic procedures.  At present the departure of any leader could unleash a power struggle based on clan or regional interests. In some countries it might pave the way for the Islamists. Russia’s policy in this context is directed by pragmatism and not by any ideological preferences. It deals with the present leaders and does not encourage changes, which might destabilize Central Asia, presenting an imminent threat to Russia itself.

Radical Uyghur Groups and Their Influence on Central Asian Development

Professor Fu Jen Kun

The Uyghur, which literally means “allied” or “united”, can be epitomized as a Turkic people. Their origins can be traced back to Turkish nomads who lived in the Siberia region. They became an independent Turkish race and created a Uyghur Kingdom in 744 AD, but were forced to leave their homeland in 840 AD. It was then that most of them immigrated to western China, to what is called The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Central Asian specialists believe that the Xinjiang unrest would provoke a new surge in the Chechen war, and also induce an influx of Xinjiang Uyghurs into Russia, leading to numerous new problems in the country. Within the context of its international policy, Central Asian countries support the PRC’s position and Beijing’s course toward the development of the XUAR economy: fight against the separatists but see the dialogue with the opposition as necessary; stand against terrorism and any calls for secession; and oppose slogans on political, social and economy freedom practiced by the supporters of secession.

For centuries, the Uyghur had been an important link between China and Central Asia. Not only were they more than 46% of the 15 million people in the XUAR population, but there were also about one million Uyghurs residing in the Central Asia region. The Uyghur lived along the Silk Road and worked as caravan drivers, transporting goods from the east and west. The strategic location of their homes enabled them to become the “middlemen” between the Orient and Europe. Their status was highly regarded by the international communities. Despite being characterized by various political, religious, and ethnic conflicts throughout their history, the Uyghur were nevertheless described as a “proud, happy, and independent people.”

China and the Development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Professor Shi Ze


This paper argues that this fifth anniversary year of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has represented a leap in development.  As the SCO Secretary General Zhang Deguang put it, the SCO has created a new mode of geopolitical combination, found a new approach of friendly cooperation and mutual development, and provided a new series of ideas for international relations.  Despite the changing international political environment, the SCO will work toward cooperation, peace and development.  The goal of the SCO is to keep internal stability within the members states as well as in the external environment in order to ensure economic growth and prosperity for long-term security and development.  The SCO maintains extensive cooperation with other countries, as well as regional and international organizations, for consultation and communication regarding common concerns.  The SCO has already signed cooperation memos with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and participated in dialogue conference with the anti-terrorism committee of the UN Security Council and with the Organization of Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The SCO strives to be a non-antagonistic, non-exclusive and open regional organization.

The U.S. and Central Asia

Ambassador (Ret) Thomas W. Simons, Jr.

This paper argues that independent Central Asia’s security relations have been marked by the emergence of a careful balancing game driven by the area countries themselves.  After 1991 area leaders expected a stronger U.S. presence and introduced elements of parliamentary democracy and market economics partly to attract it.  But they soon realized Russia was going to remain their indispensable partner, and in fact neither Russia, the U.S. nor China had enough interest, energy, or conceptual framework to dedicate major resources to competition in Central Asia.  Meanwhile the transition to the market was proving hard, and more open politics brought political risk.  So by mid-decade Central Asian countries were moving toward presidential rule in politics and back from bold economic reform.  Their international ties multiplied not only with the U.S. but also with Russia, in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and with both Russia and China in what became the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2001.  Caspian Pipeline Diplomacy dominated the first years, but then faded as Russia and the U.S. found multiple pipelines to mutual advantage and oil prices rose.  In 2000 the upshot was an interlocking series of domestic and international stalemates whose net effect was to make the Central Asian countries themselves – rather than outside powers – the main determinants of their international relations.

This balancing practice then survived 9/11.  9/11 produced a surge in the U.S. area presence, but that in turn evoked compensating increases in Russia’s and China’s presences (which they could not have achieved on their own).  Also, the U.S. modulated but did not drop its support for human rights and democratization in the area.  This gave everyone else common cause to resist, and once the wave of post-Soviet “color revolutions” reached Central Asia in 2005, it crystallized into the SCO’s “suggestion” of a U.S. base withdrawal timetable and subsequent U.S. departure from Uzbekistan.  Yet Simons expects that Central Asians will find Russian (or Uzbek) dominance no more palatable than U.S. democracy promotion, so the careful balancing among outside powers, including the U.S., will continue: it has become Central Asia’s signature.


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