Jihadism in Central Asia: A Credible Threat After the Western Withdrawal From Afghanistan?

[ 0 ] August 18, 2014


The states of Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—are closely watching the political situation in Afghanistan, a neighbor with whom three of them share a border. This situation concerns them very deeply.

Central Asian governments view with alarm and pessimism the withdrawal by the end of 2014 of most of the Western troops that have been present in Afghanistan since a NATO-led security mission began in 2001. Kabul’s neighbors expect the already-unstable situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate and threaten their own security and stability. They fear that a radical Islamist regime in Afghanistan will emerge from a Taliban military victory—a scenario that many Central Asian leaders and analysts believe is inevitable and will spill over across Afghanistan’s northern border.

Such concerns have sometimes been expressed openly in recent years, for example by Tokon Mamytov, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, who feared an incursion from Afghanistan into his homeland even in 2013 or 2014. Observers who live far away from the Afghan regional environment, or who have forgotten recent history, may see such reactions with cynicism. But for those who remember the impact that the 1979–1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan had on radical Islamist and jihadist movements in the Arab world and Southeast Asia, regional concerns are no laughing matter.

How likely is Central Asia to become a hotbed of radical Islamic ideologies on the eve of the planned Western withdrawal from Afghanistan? A simplistic answer—that there is no real threat or, on the contrary, that Central Asian leaders will face hell on earth after 2014—is not appropriate. To say that Central Asian jihadism emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan has no influence on the region’s security after 2014 would be to ignore both geography and common knowledge about the main Central Asian jihadist groups. The threat from these groups is real, but it should not be seen as the only danger, or even the main one, facing Central Asian regimes. FULL ARTICLE

Bayram Balci is a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program, where his research focuses on Turkey and Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.
Didier Chaudet is a visiting research fellow at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS); a nonresident scholar at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI); and a research fellow at the Institute for Prospective and Security in Europe (IPSE). His area of specialty is Afghanistan’s regional environment (Pakistan, post-Soviet Central Asia, Iran, and Xinjiang), with a particular focus on security and regional diplomacy.

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Category: Asia, History and Anthropology, Politics & Current Events, Security & Civil Liberties

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