“Hellfire awaits you. Europe is shaking. Russia is dying.” These words uttered in an Islamic State (DAESH) propaganda video in November 2015 projected a new vision of DAESH ideology.
With this statement DAESH pledged that it wished to overtake the Kremlin by any violent means necessary. No longer are wars fought by means of attrition and territorial gains. Rather, they are fought by influencing the minds of impressionable individuals through strong religious identities and extreme ideologies. And while the United States and many other Western powers have been engaged in the War on Terror for the last decade and a half, the Caspian Five have remained somewhat free of these extremists’ grasp. But perhaps no more and this demands new strategic partnerships and cooperation.
We know that out of the Caspian Five, Russia is home to the smallest Muslim community overall. Russia’s citizenry is composed of about 75% Russian Orthodox Christian, 11% Muslim, and the remaining 14% consisting of Protestant Christian, Roman Catholic, or having no religious affiliation. This demographic breakdown illustrates how Russia is less alike culturally than the rest of its neighbors in the Caspian Region. For example, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan are all Muslim majority nations. Iran, the nation most influenced by its religious heritage, has been issued threats by DAESH. This is because Iran is the regional Shia power and DAESH regards followers of the Shia sect of Islam to be heretics who should be eliminated. Kazakhstan houses a slightly smaller percentage (63%) of citizens following the Islamic faith, with another 25% of the population being Russian Orthodox. Russia is therefore isolated, Islamically speaking, and lacks this major common identity unifier with the other Caspian littorals. While remaining the religious outlier in the Caspian Sea region is not necessarily a Russian disadvantage, it does pose certain strategic obstacles. Fighting DAESH, an organization that bases its actions off of its own perverted version of Islamic discourse, poses unique challenges to Russia’s preferred method of engagement.
For instance, on September 30, 2015, Russia began its air campaign inside Syria. While the Assad regime welcomed the blankets of bombs, a vast majority of the international community rejected them, believing that the Kremlin was only looking to satisfy its strategic goals: namely, to preserve the Assad regime while confirming the Kremlin’s position in the world as an indispensible power. Moreover, Russia has engaged with Iran in its support for the Assad regime. While I do have to applaud President Putin for taking action against a vile extremist organization such as DAESH, the move was not strategically calculated or adequately coordinated amongst all the players currently participating in military operations against the group. In order to achieve victory, prevent political fallout, and reclaim some of its pride, Russia will need to cooperate with the other players involved, most importantly the United States, due to its leading investment in the fight. In addition, without this necessary coordination, Russia would remain an international scapegoat and receive too much criticism for a conflict that is not entirely of its own devising.
Air strikes alone have become the preferred instrument with which a nation engages the fight. While winning them political points on the international stage, it does not necessarily commit whole-heartedly to permanently eliminating actual enemies. It is almost as if this new trend has become the exclusive norm for declaring war in the 21st century. Moreover, following a strategy that only commits localized air strikes, rather than a combination of air and ground forces, is a half-hearted attempt at best for countering such capable zealot organizations like DAESH. Take for example in January 2015 when DAESH members burned Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh alive. Jordan commenced a bombing campaign that lasted only a few weeks. Again in November 2015, as we all watched in horror the murders across the streets of Paris, it was only in the wake of such heinous violence that French authorities committed multiple air assets for a bombing campaign against DAESH strongholds. These maneuvers are reactive rather than proactive in the fight against zealots and ultimately wane as time progresses.
Relating back to Russia, it was only in October 2015 when militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula bombed a Russian civilian airliner, killing all 224 passengers. Only then did the DAESH extremism in Syria hit close to home. Russia is a prideful nation, one that I think will attempt to not only commit more forces to the fight just to spite the United States and Western powers, but also so as to not project weakness in the face of tragedy. While swallowing some of its pride in order to coordinate better counter-terrorist efforts may be hard for the Kremlin, a perceived defeat in the Middle East would be far more detrimental to Russian power and domestically generate undesirable socio-political effects. The Kremlin has now received heinous aggressions as well as direct threats from DAESH. It has more to lose from backing out of the fight now or straying from the most cooperative and advantageous course. This is not only due to the increased threat level and prevalence of attacks across the Middle East, but also because this danger potentially threatens Caspian partners as the expansion of DAESH operations increase in scope and frequency. Turkmenistan worries about increasingly new security challenges which may spill over into the Russian Federation. The same worry at least peripherally applies to Azerbaijan as well.
This begs a final important question: could a U.S.-Russian partnership provide the necessary leadership and direct military cooperation to inspire the world to eliminate the growing threat of violent religious extremism? Such a partnership could hold this potential if only old traditions of rivalry and mistrust can be broken. Going it alone does not guarantee victory and may de facto ensure defeat. The wolves of Islamic zealots can only be overcome by the American bald eagle and Russian bear teaming together.
Think like Jihadist: Anatomy of Central Asian Salafi groups
Salafi Jihadism has become a serious problem in Central Asia that encompasses five former Soviet republics – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan – collectively known as the “Five Stans”, as well as Afghanistan and western China. Central Asia, which was for 3,000 years a place of revival of main religions such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Shamanism, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity and Judaism, and where the great Sunni Islamic scholars as al-Bukhari, al-Ghazali, and Ahmed Yesevi lived, today has become a target for militant Salafi-Jihadist ideology.
In Central Asia, the focus of Islamic revival and of Jihadists groups has been the Ferghana Valley, a densely populated and ethnically mainly Uzbek territory divided politically between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The valley has traditionally been a center of Islamic fervor, and was the area where Salafists first established a presence. The mass poverty of the population, the drop in the level of education after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the corrupt and authoritarian rule of political regimes, and the repressive methods of law enforcement have played a role in the radicalization of Islamic groups in Central Asia.
In the early 1990s, the first armed jihadist groups in the region appeared in response to harsh persecution by the authoritarian regimes of communist China and Karimov’s Uzbekistan. In that period, many members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and China’s Uyghurs of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (now Turkestan Islamic Party – TIP) who adhered to the Salafist ideology, moved to neighboring Afghanistan and fought under the wing of the Taliban. The combination of repressive governments and economic deprivation in Central Asia, particularly China, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, served as an incubator of Salafi Jihadism. After 9/11, Central Asia’s jihadists, who are members of IMU and TIP, were the mainstay of Al Qaeda’s defense in southern Waziristan as well as participants in the fight against the armies of Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO.
Central Asian jihadist groups are supporters of Takfirizm, a kind of religious extremism that accuses other Muslims of disbelief or apostasy. This ideology became the banner of the caliphate and led to jihad against other Muslims and open disobedience against the authorities. These practices are part of the legacy of the Takfirist instructions and ideas that emerged from the Al-Qaida environment.
Many of Central Asia’s Islamists have been infected with the “virus” of the Salafi ideology from Arab preachers and local theologians who were educated in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. After the link into al-Qaeda and Taliban, they laid an accusation of unbelief (takfir) against the rulers of the “Stans”. They refused to recognize official state institutions and declared jihad against the armed forces of their respective countries.
In response, the governments of the“Stans” and China have suppressed, and continue to suppress, the activities of more than twenty Islamic groups that are recognized by the court as extremist or terrorist organizations, which constitute a danger to the state’s constitutional order. In particular, the activities of the following Islamic groups have been suppressed: The Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB), TIP, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), IMU,Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), Zhaishul Mahdi, Jund-Al-Khalifa, Ansarullah, Jannat Oshiklari (Fans of Paradise), and others.
The second wave of the outflow of Central Asian Islamists abroad occurred after the start of the Syrian civil war. After the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 and ISIS emerged as a competing alternative to al-Qaeda three years later, the thousands of Central Asian jihadists who streamed into Syria had to decide between al Qaeda and ISIS.
Some jihadists of IMU and Jund-Al-Khalifa shifted to Syria and joined ISIS. Central Asians, and especially the migrant workers from Russia, who traveled to Syria, independent of any of the main Salafi-Jihadi groups after 2014 tended to join al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate. Uyghur’s TIP, Uzbek’s KTJ and KIB became enmeshed with alQaeda in Syria and maintained loyalty to the Taliban.
After joining al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS, the ideological base of Central Asian militants broadened and was affected by the more-global agenda of transnational Salafi-jihadi networks. Today, the goal of the religious groups from Central Asia has greatly expanded so that now their goal is to develop a world-wide caliphate. They have become an integral part of world-wide terrorism and jihadism.Thus, Central Asian Islamists have expanded their influence and militant activities to the Middle East. Over the past two decades, the locus of Central Asian radicals has moved from the Ferghana Valley through Afghanistan into the tribal badlands of Pakistan toward Syria.
Methods of preventing Central Asian Islamists attacks
Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups pose a significant threat to the security of not only the “Stans”, but the EU and the U.S. For example, Central Asia’s Islamist radicals committed the following attacks in the US and Europe:
A terrorist attack committed by a 29-year-old national of Uzbekistan, Sayfullo Saipov, in the downtown of New York City, which killed 8 civilians in 31 Oktober 2017;
The blast in the subway of St. Petersburg, which was committed by an Uzbek terrorist from southern Kyrgyzstan Akbarzhon Dzhalilov in April 2017;
The truck attack in the center of Stockholm Sweden by an immigrant from Uzbekistan, Rakhmat Akilov, rammed through the crowd last April;
The terrorist attack by a native of the Fergana Valley of Central Asia, Abdulkadir Masharipov, on December 31, 2016 murdered 39 people in the Reina nightclub in Istanbul;
The terrorist attack at the international airport of Ataturk in Turkeyby citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in June 2016;
Another Uzbek terrorist, Ulugbek Kodirov, tried to kill even US President Barack Obama in July 2011 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison;
More than a dozen Uzbeks have been charged with terrorism between 2012 and 2016 in the USA and are now involved in continuing legal proceedings, which is evidence of the growing Islamic terrorism among immigrants from Central Asia.
To combat the Central Asian Salafi-jihadist groups, it is very important to understand the reasons for their ideological appeal to certain segments of Sunni Muslims. Only after a thorough analysis of their Jihadi ideology can a strategybe developed to combat them. In accordance with my scientific purposes, I continue to conduct my research on the activities of Central Asian Islamist groups.The goal is to prevent other terror attacks like 9/11 in the U.S.
Unfortunately, as the tragic example of Sri Lanka has shown, it is small Islamist terrorist groups associated with ISIS or al Qaida, including Central Asian jihadists, that due to the difficulty to triangulate, can pose the greatest danger to global stability. In this regard, I want to express my gratitude to Modern Diplomacy for providing a platform for comprehensive scientific researches on the roots and causes of the radicalization of Islamic ideology and the activities of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups.A Geopolitical Handbook under the name “Anatomy of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups” is a great contribution to European and global security by Modern Diplomacy.
Terrorism and Mass Media: A Reflection from the Sri Lanka Terror Attack
The world shivers at the mention of terrorism. The international news storylines mostly present two hegemonic undertakings: the economic and power game ruling blocks comprising US, Russia, China, EU and so forth, on one hand, and the true battlegrounds of ruling blocks in Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and so forth, one the other. May be the storylines presented by the international media is not the true reflection of undertakings the world should know, and a lot more remain under presented behind those storylines. On the top of that, media houses play a twisted role in creating antagonists and protagonists in international geopolitics and assigning roles to different actors.
The terrorism, as we knew and believed once, has been changed in last couple of decades since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. Not only terrorism has been changed after the World Trade Center in the emergence of new actors in the international power game but also it changed the perception of people about the religions and geopolitics; especially Islam and Middle East. In last March, A terror attack killed around fifty Muslims and left many injured during the Friday prayer in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The international media mostly labeled it as shooting and the terrorist as a shooter. The terrorist livestreamed the whole attack like an animated videogame and inscribed some hate speeches on the gun he used in the attack. The incident in the Christchurch, New Zealand, is not the only attack on Muslim communities in recent years but one of the many incidents and the it is becoming frequent. After the Christchurch incident in New Zealand, a massive terror attack demanded a death toll amounting 253 innocent lives on Ester Sunday last month in Sri Lanka. After the terror attack Sri Lanka, international news storylines undoubted labeled it as a terrorist activity and proactively probed the link with the local and international terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) and the local terrorist group National Thowfeek Jamaath. While it is beyond the proof yet whether the Sri Lanka Attack was a consequence of New Zealand attack, the proactive role of international media was noticeable to make an express linkage between the two. Media decide who should be called a terrorist based on his region or color not the fact that terrorism ransoms the equally without the consideration of religious or color of victims. A handful number of people died in Sri Lanka terror attack were Muslims.
This is a one-type of bias mass media play in response to terrorism. But in regard to terrorism there are numerous biased and nonsense roles mass media have been playing. It is said that a terrorist is always successful because he produces the level of fears and panics that changes the courses of longstanding societal, political and interfaith interactions among different groups, communities, regions and countries. While mass media only probe the linkage of religions with the terrorism, they hardly concentrate on economic, political and social motives of terrorism. Either a mosque or a church or a chapel is mostly targeted and this strategy of terrorism give it an universal advantage. For example, if a mosque in New Zealand is attacked, it raises the concern of Muslim communities living in West and Muslin-minority countries around the world, on the other hand, if a Church is attacked anywhere of the World it raises the concern of non-Muslims about Muslims around the World; while an attack on non-religious places may not reach such an universal advantage. Media grabs a terrorist activity, widely publishes it, links it with religions, especially with Islam, and complements the objective terrorism dividing societies, and creating fears and panics.
The terrorism in any form is a threat to the peaceful coexistence around the world. However, the place that faces the problem faces an extensive and long-lasting challenge. Historically, Sri Lanka is a politically turbulent place just ending a phase of civil conflict with the LTTE around a decade ago. Last year it faced an anti-Muslin riots that destroyed a mosque and raised a communal tension around the country. As acknowledged by local and international security agencies, they had prior knowledge of an upcoming attack. Despite the fact of prior knowledge, security agencies in Sri Lanka did not take any preventive action. Sri Lanka is currently undergoing some political transitions that started from October 2018. President Maithripala Sirisena announced that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the new Prime Minister. Although, by various forces Sirisena removes Rajapaksa and returned Wickremesinghe. In this unstable situation miscreant takes the advantage of terror attack.The terror attack on the verge of that transition and the non-preventive activity by security forces indicate a political connection with the terror attack. Some block might have been taking advantage of this turbulent situation. Historically, the Sri Lankan turbulence with the LTTE was fueled by different external and internal blocks. Instead of going with the flow, mass media should play an investigate role to probe the other reasons like political, economic and geopolitical reasons behind the terror attack.
In Christchurch attack, the terrorist Brenton Tarrant livestreamed the attack on Facebook. The livestreamed video was reposted and rebroadcasted millions of times in different local and international media around the world. While it is clear that Brenton Tarrant wanted the world to watch the video, by reposting and rebroadcasting the video media complemented a terrorist’s objective. This tendency of media was seen in some previous terrorist attacks. In 2016, the terror attack in a residential hotel in Dhaka was livestreamed by several national and international media. In recent India-Pakistan border conflict media from both countries played a provocative role. Some media house in India compared the Indian invasion in Pakistan with the patriotism. This is definitely a breach of media’s broadcast standards.
In case of Sri Lanka terror attack, media relied on previous IS attacks to probe a linkage between the IS and the local National Thowfeek Jamaath. It is, however, true that attacks by IS or local terrorist group cannot be sidestepped. But the focus on IS and local terror group targeted some local innocent people and Muslims that created another bias and discrimination on the local community. Moreover, the focus on the IS and its associated group may shade the actual perpetuator if some group other than IS is responsible for the attack. Even some media proactively created a presuming linkage of Sri Lankan attack with the Christchurch attack. This again aggravated the situation in Sri Lanka and around the world.
It is generally presumed that media houses are concerned about the increasing the TRP and public viewing volumes by broadcasting controversial news storylines. This sick competition leads media houses globally to go beyond their broadcasting standards. Media is said, however, to be the “Fourth Estate” of democracy whereas increasing the TRP or viewing volumes by sick competition is an opposite to the notion. There should have some ethical standards and regulations regarding broadcasting the news and storylines grounded on the policy of harnessing communities and promoting global peace not dividing the world into pieces.
Kashmir: EAMs at the LOC
First, it was Zahedan where an IRGC convoy; returning home from their tour of duty, along the borders of Sistan-Baluch, are suddenly ambushed and nearly annihilated. As the sun begins to rise at dawn, on the next day, (the 14th of February), over Pulwama in Kashmir, a strikingly similar event occurs to a much larger CRPF convoy, this time returning to duty.
The authorities of the two affected nations issue immediate statements, (which are almost identical in tone and accusation), against elements resident within the territory of their shared common neighbour. Both independently issued statements seem to mirror each other in content and threat, as if they were Page 1 and Page 2 of a document seemingly prepared in advance within a spirit of “friendly collaboration”.
The initial murder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsmen garnered almost no world media exposure, whereas the killing of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force para-militarymen exploded into an International Diplomatic Crisis that eventually required the frantic intervention of the Heads of State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, diplomatic envoys of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Russia Federation, the UN and ofcourse, everyone’s favourite peacemaker and arbiter of international law and order, the US of A, to pacify emotions and reign in a possibly perceived; potentially imminent; Nuclear Confrontation between two adversarial neighbours, neither of whom recognize the legal sovereign nation status of the other.
Two weeks after Pulwama, in VietNam, whilst the US Head of State begins to dictate meaningless (and impossible to honour), terms and conditions towards the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’s nuclear disarmament; the gravity of Pulwama is suddenly dragged onto centre stage as a possible Zero Hero event on the Doomsday Clock.
In an intentional act of war, (on the 26th of February), which is then openly glorified as live, patriotic entertainment, the Indian Air Force cross the Line of Control and bomb territory within Pakistan. In the intervening two weeks prior to this dubiously illegal infringement of a neighbour’s property, the world watched in awe at the mechanics of an electronic media that had been effectively tooled as an integrated weaponised instrument, and; also a consummate component of both, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus of an elected Government, with the sole aim of coordinating a line of thought; from which any deviation from the prescribed script was deemed to be a criminal offence.
News media, not so much the print media in terms of newspapers, but rather the online applications of instant messaging; exposed the gargantuan influence and capability that MultiNational Corporations have within any (and all), semi-developed, emerging economic nations: to create and guide a story that seamlessly blurs and oscillates between confusion and surreal fiction. Painting an illusion, as it were, or a dream swirling around disjoint facts.
On the 27th of February, the next day, the Pakistan Air Force duly retaliate and it seems that the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy had finally gone rogue and had totally unhinged himself from reality with instructions to his Armed Forces to target nuclear installations within his neighbour’s territory.
At 7.40 AM Eastern Standard Time on the 27th of February, all Globex Futures Trading in the United States are suspended and the S&P, Dow and Oil indexes cease trading for over 4 hours, with the added excitement of all pending orders, prior to the halt, having their executions specifically cancelled. (Although Currency Exchange platforms remained active). Also on the 26th and 27th of February, Emergency Action Messages or EAMs of the US Nuclear Command and Control Structure commence firing up HFGCS (High Frequency Global Communication System) transmissions, which are a prelude to a Nuclear Alert.
So, why would an internal domestic attack on a police convoy within India lead to EAMs being issued at the LOC, (the Line Of Control within the disputed region of Kashmir). You may answer by saying that the reason is simply because Kashmir is a potential nuclear flashpoint, and that would be eminently correct. But my question would then be, why would this flashpoint be triggered when President Trump and Chairman Un are discussing the consequences of such an occurrence being played out for real between themselves?
The eternal question always remains, “who benefits?”. What message has the world at large been given?
CENTCOM or Central Command and the USINDOPACOM or the US Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, are two gigantic military institutions that are run as autonomous and totally opaque entities by their respective Generals who see themselves as Roman Tribunes rather than Commanding Officers, with more power than their elected Head of State; under whom they, in effect, nominally serve. CENTCOM’s sphere of influence includes the carnage and the waste that they have laid to the sovereign nations of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, that influence ends at the eastern border of Pakistan. In May 2018, when the previously titled entity USPACOM or US Pacific Command changed its name to the US Indo Pacific Command and suddenly incorporated India into its sphere of influence, their remit then began to encompass all territory upto the western border of India and, lo and behold, both spheres of these gigantic killing machines meet at the Line of Control within the volatile and disputed region of Kashmir.
Would the subsequent events leading from Pulwama have been a test run to gauge the effectiveness of integrated electronic media in India, which is thus by default, the most established English language denominated media at USINDOPACOM’s disposal? Would it have been a weaponised trial in propagating an explosive narrative draped as high drama in order to influence, coerce, intimidate and subsume a diverse society to toe the line? Was it to keep Pakistan on the straight and narrow and make it clear to them how close they were to being obliterated were it not for the kind benevolence of CENTCOM intervention; a similar muscular feat that China perhaps would not have been able to effectively co-ordinate so quickly.
So although, on the face of it, the Prime Minister of India plays the well rehearsed role of the village fool, entwining within it, (in order to appeal to a barely semi-literate audience); his own myth of having risen from the ranks of poverty and social ostracisation to become the elected leader of a huge and diverse nation and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan playing the well constructed role of the suave, Western debonair who achieved his elected position after years of political struggle; both however remain actors playing lines they have been given within a huge stage production.
If either of them were truly representative of the will of their constituents as well as the projection of the visions of the future that their electorates see in themselves, then neither would have played leading roles in a scene that required EAMs at the LOC.
The only beneficiaries are the Roman Tribunes of the two COMMANDs of the US Armed Forces, who quietly engaged themselves in a live-fire exercise to test their proprietary war game theories and then gathered the subsequent extrapolated algorithmic data for future reference.
As Crazy Earl says in the epic Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket; “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting”.
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