After the Middle East, the Central Asia is suggested as the next action theatre for the radical groups. Many politicians are concerned about that. ISIS is said to be on the offensive in certain parts of Afghanistan. International coalition against it is yet to be forged. The West and Russia are too busy with Syria that leads to fallouts in the Afghanistan direction. Experts are sounding the alarm; they warn that the region could be the next hotbed of perilous processes and there are enough facts to back that claim. Russian Foreign Ministry issued a special statement most recently, stating that terrorists are readying to infiltrate Russia and the Central Asian countries.
Hidden Threat: Strike Moment Unknown
Warnings were made already several months ago regarding the infiltration of ISIS in Central Asia. In September, Principal Deputy of Russia’s Federal Security Service Sergey Smirnov said that recruitment by this terrorist organization, training and involvement of these individuals in military operations, and their eventual return to their respective home countries (reference to Russia and Central Asian states – Newtimes.az) posed a major threat (see: В России и Центральной Азии опасается вербовщиков “Исламского государства” / “Вестник Кавказа”, 19 September 2015).
It is estimated that some five thousand people from Russia and the Central Asia have joined ISIS and interestingly, the process is ongoing. According to some sources, this figure has tripled in the last several months. Although it is difficult to verify the number, the statements by the heads of big nations, including the U.S. and Russia, communicate distress concerning the gradual expansion of ISIS.
Afghanistan that has experienced terrorist attacks for so many years also failed to dodge the threat. According to official circles, ISIS found footing in this country a year ago. This organization already claims presence in several provinces of Afghanistan. This was the outcome of ISIS fighting both government forces and Al-Qaeda. According to information released by Russian Foreign Ministry on 11 December, the situation was reasonably dangerous. ISIS is capable of ‘opening a second front’ in Afghanistan. The Ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova said ‘Radical Islamists have long ago proved their ability to use any crisis situation in their own interests, aggravating old conflicts and creating new hotbeds of conflict, violence, and tensions…’ (see: ДАИШ может перебраться в Афганистан / “Вестник Кавказа”, 11 December 2015).
In the past ISIS made claims that it would use Afghanistan as foothold for future destabilization of the entire region. That is why Maria Zakharova explicitly concluded that ‘given the current trends these threats start to quire real shape’ (see: previous reference).
It is important to reiterate one aspect highlighted by the experts. According to their assumptions, Russia had a role to play in the exacerbation of those trends owing to military operations commenced across Syria. Terrorists fleeing those areas are attempting to seize different territories. Afghanistan is regarded as the most vulnerable spot in that sense. ISIS implements a strategy of penetrating other countries as continues to seize Afghan provinces.
This leads us to predictions about the emergence of the new wave of terror in the Central Asia. Director of the Risk Assessment Group (Kazakhstan) D. Satpayev believes that Russian interference with the Syrian crisis provoked rising terrorism risks in the Central Asia and the Caucasus (see: Сирийский кризис несет угрозы стабильности Центральной Азии и Кавказу / “Вестник Кавказа”, 7 October 2015).
Next Victim: Central Asia
At present, the Central Asia is the coveted territory (Maria Zakharova) for the terrorists as thousands of people from this region have already filled the ranks of ISIS. Moreover, there are potential sources for infighting in the countries of the region. ‘Hizbut al-Tahrir’ enjoys strong presence in Kyrgyzstan, despite being outlawed in many countries, including Russia and Kazakhstan. Borders of Turkmenistan are thought to be the most penetrable. Director of the Kazakhstan’s Institute of Strategic Studies Erlan Karin thinks that borders with Turkmenistan are poorly secured. Ashgabat recognized the threat and deployed additional troops (see: previous reference). However, there are no guarantees that such measures would thwart terrorist acts in the Central Asia. According to Karin, the situation is exacerbated by the relentless clash of the large nations over the Middle East. Those on the losing side may try to recover their losses by seeking compensation in the Central Asia (see: previous reference).
By now, ISIS has probably designated its representatives in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, established own cells across a vast geography that is, and nobody can guarantee that they would not become operational soon. ISIS’s successive military accomplishments In Afghanistan symbolize certain processes. It is fascinating that with the increasing risk of terrorism and potential threat of the Central Asia becoming a source of an outburst in the region also come the ambitions of the great powers. During his tour of the region in the mid-year U.S. State Secretary John Kerry emphasized the fact that cooperation between the parties expanded beyond the security framework and Washington was determined to pursue further engagement.
Beijing also solidifies its outreach vis-à-vis the regional countries in different areas. China is said to have supplanted Russia on certain fronts. Certainly, Moscow does not remain a silent spectator and aims to cement its economic and military cooperation with the Central Asian states. Experts argue that the big powers clinching in fierce rivalry for the sake of self-interests in the region offer new opportunities for terrorists because usually the likes of ISIS take advantage of such circumstances and increases their operational capabilities.
No one can guarantee that this terrorist organization would not employ the same tactics in the Central Asia. This region is gradually becoming a fertile ground for terrorism. According to the experts, the radical groups will ‘detonate the Central Asia’ (see: Ближний Восток взорван. На очереди Центральная Азия / “Свободная пресса”, 4 November 2015). And there is no efficient prevention mechanism in place. First missing component is the coordinated action plan between the regional countries. They are considering individual efforts. Indeed, their geopolitical postures and inability to assess credibly the threat of terrorism hamper consolidation on this issue. All of this is certainly a perilous trend.
Wave of terrorism spilling over to Central Asia could aggravate the situation throughout a vast geopolitical space, including compromising implementation of promising international projects. Experience demonstrates that such circumstances could also embolden some other circles.
It must be noted that the New Silk Road project is well underway. The first container train already made its way from China to Europe by crossing through Azerbaijan and Georgia. Who can guarantee that someone would not imperil the realization of this project in the Central Asia in the near future? Expecting short-term changes in the situation is also a risky business.
In any event, the abovementioned analysis illustrates that ISIS has already taken steps to penetrate the Central Asia. This organization will not cease searching for opportunities to advance into Russian territory. In general, there is an increasing possibility of emergence of a new conflict dimension. And it’s difficult to identify the party that could take on the challenge of stopping this.