Terrorism, violence risk subsides in Central Asia, consultancy claims

By bne IntelliNews May 26, 2015

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The risk of terrorism and violence has decreased in Central Asia after countries bordering Afghanistan beefed up controls on their frontiers, but the emergence and spread of Islamic State elements in Afghanistan and continuing instability there pose a continuing threat of terrorism to the whole the region, according to Aon Risk Solutions, a London-based risk management and solutions consultancy. Meanwhile, in the Caucasus where there are "frozen" conflicts a risk of escalation persists, especially in the Nagorno-Karabakh region where Azerbaijani and Armenian troops regularly exchange fire.

Central Asia

"In Central Asia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which all share a border with Afghanistan, have implemented border control measures in an attempt to enhance their security," the consultancy says in its "2015 Terrorism and Political Violence Risk Map" report. "The emergence of Islamic State elements in Afghanistan and the ongoing security crisis in that country means that regional terrorism remains a threat albeit one that is contained."

The report notes that both the US and Russia have provided military assistance to Central Asian states to improve their border controls and there were no "significant" terrorist attacks in any of the Central Asian states in 2014. "[T]he only countries where we currently maintain a terrorism peril are Turkmenistan and Tajikistan," it says. "Kyrgyzstan retains a riots, strikes and civil commotion peril due to sporadic protests and ethnic tensions in the south, although nothing comparable to the level of the 2010 revolution."

On Kazakhstan, which re-elected President Nursultan Nazarbayev with a 98% of the vote on a 95% turnout, the report says: "the political situation remains stable in the region with no sign of large-scale strike in Kazakhstan". The report doesn't specify, however, what kind of strike is expected to hit the country – an oil strike like in the western oil town of Zhanaozen where clashes between striking oil workers and security forces claimed at least 15 lives in December 2011; or a terrorist strike like those that hit the country in 2011 and 2012, killing dozens.

Aon doesn't explain the methodology for its terrorism risk report, but it says its map measures the risk of political violence based on three "icons" indicating the forms of political violence that are likely to be encountered: terrorism and sabotage; strikes, riots, civil commotion and malicious damage; and political insurrection, revolution, rebellion, mutiny, coup d'etat, war and civil war.

Nor does the report mention hundreds of Central Asian nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq on the side of IS who local authorities regard as a threat to national security. Kazakhstan's National Security Committee said in November that 300 Kazakh nationals, half of them women, were fighting for IS. And according to Kyrgyz security services, 326 Kyrgyz nationals, including 49 women and 20 minors, were fighting for IS, which the country banned as a terrorist organisation.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates the number of Central Asian nationals in the ranks of IS at between 2,000 and 4,000. "Ethnic Uzbeks, including citizens of Uzbekistan, are most numerous among the Central Asians with the Islamic State, but Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Turkmen and Tajiks are also well represented. Some are recruited at home; others are radicalised abroad, often as migrant workers," the ICG says in its "Syria Calling: Radicalisation in Central Asia" briefing in January. "The appeal of jihadism in the region is also rooted in an unfulfilled desire for political and social change. Rich or poor, educated or not, young or mature, male or female, there is no single profile of an IS supporter, but fatigue with social and political circumstances is an important linking thread."

That Uzbekistan scored better than Kazakhstan in Aon's report also raises questions about its methodology despite the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan's declared goals of establishing an Islamic state in Central Asia's most populous country. "Uzbekistan is particularly exposed. Frustrated and excluded, people who would not have considered fighting with the longer-established Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or the Taliban in Afghanistan perceive the Islamic State as the creator of a novel and ordained political order," the ICG says.


In Georgia, the Russian military maintains a presence in the separatist regions and looks likely to continue doing so into the coming years, the report says. "The attempt of the Georgian government to normalise relations with Russia despite its military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has led the opposition to carry out protests in Tbilisi." At the same time, "none of the protests turned violent and Georgia proved in 2012 that it could hold a peaceful change of government through democratic elections."

Aon maintains that despite the conflicts in the Caucasus being "frozen" and "stable" over the past few years, "a risk of escalation remains". "In the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, a region in Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia, there are no peacekeeping forces separating the Azeri and Armenian forces and cross border incidents, mostly sniper fire, occur regularly," it says.

"Azerbaijan has successfully suppressed dissent through the imprisonment of opposition figures. The government is likely to continue doing so before the upcoming European Games in Baku this summer," Aon says of Azerbaijan, where strongman President Ilham Aliyev's rule is becoming increasingly harsh and intolerant of dissent.

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