State Department on Central Asia's "Terror" Threat
The U.S. State Department released its annual "Country Reports on Terrorism," which purports to summarize and analyze the "terrorist" threats around the world. Here is the report's summary of Central Asia in 2012:
Despite the absence of major terrorist incidents on their territory, governments in the five Central Asian states were concerned about the possibility of a growing threat connected to changes in the international force presence in Afghanistan in 2014. While some sought to reduce their countries’ vulnerability to the perceived terrorist threat, the effectiveness of their efforts was in some cases undercut by failure to distinguish clearly between terrorism on one hand and political opposition, or non-traditional religious practices, on the other.
On the occasion of last year's report, Myles Smith wrote on EurasiaNet that "For the most part, the report simply lists what authorities describe as terrorist attacks and as anti-terrorist operations, but uses qualifying terms – 'reportedly'; 'potentially' – that make it clear State is as in the dark on the nature of the events as the rest of us." A year later, there's really nothing to add to that analysis. But it's worth noting that, if the U.S. is spending increasing amounts of money, and making counter-terror assistance an increasingly large part of U.S. activity in the area, it might behoove Washington to be a little clearer about what exactly it is that this money and diplomatic effort are being directed at.
Looking at the individual country listings is instructive. Here is Tajikistan's summary:
In 2012, Tajikistan continued to correct weaknesses in its counterterrorism strategy and demonstrated its ability to conduct counterterrorism operations. Tajikistan’s counterterrorism policies were focused on marginalizing radical Islamic groups in Tajik society, but in some cases targeted non-extremist Islamic groups. These policies also sought to increase the capacity of Tajikistan’s military and law enforcement community to conduct tactical operations through bilateral and multilateral assistance programs.
This is nearly verbatim repeated from the 2011 report, except this year they dropped this line: "However, government policies sometimes targeted the peaceful practice of religion and resulted in violations of the human rights of citizens, including freedom of religion and association."
There was, of course, some very big news in 2012 from Tajikistan on the anti-"terror" front: the large-scale military operation in Khorog targeted (ostensibly) at the killers of a local security official. I just spent a little over two weeks in Khorog, and there will be much more coming on that. But for now it suffices to say that rather than demonstrating its "ability to conduct counterterrorism operations," in Khorog the government of Tajikistan instead demonstrated that, when it tried to conduct such an operation, it 1. failed to achieve the objective and 2. killed a number of civilians and alienated an entire town in the process. The 2012 report doesn't mention the Khorog events at all.
It's also interesting to compare the sections on Kazakhstan -- which experienced some minor acts of what can be called "terrorism" in the last year -- to that of Uzbekistan, which didn't.
Kazakhstani officials continued to exhibit concern about violent extremism. Several small explosions and gun battles between security forces and suspected violent extremists kept the government on high alert, but terrorist groups have yet to mount a successful, large-scale attack in Kazakhstan. Critics claimed that official measures to counter radicalization and violent extremism were often too heavy-handed, and could result in increasing radicalization. In 2012, the government increasingly used the threat of violent extremism to justify limitations on political opposition and media outlets.
The Government of Uzbekistan continued to rank counterterrorism within its borders as one of its top three security priorities, together with counternarcotics and countering violent extremism. The Government of Uzbekistan shares many U.S. counterterrorism goals and objectives in the region, but has employed methods that are in some cases inconsistent with respect for the fundamental rights of citizens and the rule of law.
Sharing a land border with Afghanistan, the Uzbek government continued to express concern about the potential for a “spillover effect” of terrorism, with the scheduled drawdown of U.S. troops by the end of 2014. The government was confident that it could control its border with Afghanistan but was less sure about its neighbors’ ability to do so and was particularly concerned about infiltration of extremists through Uzbekistan’s long, rugged border with Tajikistan.
Kazakhstan, for whatever reason, has chosen not to overplay the terrorist threat against it, while Uzbekistan has. The most likely reason is that what Kazakhstan wants from outside is investors, who could be scared off by terror attacks, while what Uzbekistan wants is aid, which is well served by hyping a terror threat. And the State Department report, rather than giving an honest assessment of the terror situation in the region, seems to echo the respective government lines.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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