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Think like Jihadist: Anatomy of Central Asian Salafi groups

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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.

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Terrorism

New wave of terrorism a big challenge for institutions

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After a period of silence in Balochistan, terrorists have resurfaced and for the past two months, terrorist groups have stepped up their attacks. In recent days, terrorists in Mach have brutally slaughtered 11 miners of the Hazara Shia community by tying their hands and feet at gunpoint. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the incident. Separatist organizations and sectarian groups on the territory of Balochistan have been active in spreading unrest and are being backed by India. India is also sending ISIS terrorists to Balochistan. ISIS is spreading fear among the local population. “Apart from attacking economic interests and creating the impression of the local administration’s failure, it is also trying to create the feeling that security agencies are failing to protect citizens from terrorist elements.” ISIL’sacceptance of responsibility for the latest incident is a matter of great concern, as the group has wreaked havoc in Arab countries, and its presence in Pakistan is a major threat to the country’s stability.

 There is no doubt that the peace of Balochistan has been threatened by the forces that want to destabilize Pakistan. India has long been using separatist organizations and sectarian groups to spread unrest on the territory of Balochistan. Pakistan has evidence of the arrival of ISIS terrorists from India, Indian terrorists have been trying to create chaos in Balochistan by targeting the Hazara community in the past, and the recent terrorist incident is also theirs. There were dozens of terrorist attacks against the Hazara community in the first decade of the 21st century, after which many of its families fled the province, but many people are still here, some of them mining in the coal mines discovered during the British rule in the Mach mountain range. In Quetta, their population is limited to Murreeabad and Hazara Town. The richest of them are traders; the Hazara community has a distinct identity due to its distinctive form and language and is an easy target for extremists because of its creed. They were largely protected from militant activity due to security measures taken by law enforcement agencies, but as a result of India’s aggression, a new wave of terrorism is once again rising in Balochistan, and the Hazara tribes have once again become insecure.

It is unfortunate that on the one hand, the Hazara community is suffering from insecurity and on the other hand, the killing of Hazara people has been ignored by the political parties. The political parties of Balochistan which are connected with the mainstream have not shown active strategy. Political parties and civil society have only expressed sympathy verbally, they have done nothing in practice, but most people seem to be complaining that the Hazara protests have destroyed the traffic system. The disengagement of the federal parties to the problems ofthe people of Balochistanhas only added to the difficulties of the government. The federal government has also repeatedly failed to honor the promises made by the Hazara community during the protests and sit-ins. Regrettably, for those who were killed in this terrorist incident, instead of improving security measures for the future, the identity of this community and sect is being highlighted, from these angles, the analysis of such incidents presents a confusing situation. Due to this situation, the Hazara community is once again protesting and appealing for help from the military instead of political parties, the government and local influential circles.

While it is true that the government and the military must ensure the safety of the people, it is also true that there is room for improvement in our intelligence system, the counter-terrorism system and the level of trust relations with the local population. The security agencies should take steps to protect national interests other than the CPEC. The misleading and riotous ideologies that enemy elements have started spreading are the cause of local support for terrorists. Balochistan is gaining international attention as a developing region. In these circumstances, the free movement of terrorists is a matter of concern, while the security agencies were well aware that India was openly threatening to carry out terrorism in Balochistan, the security agencies need to rethink their strategies. At the same time, it is important that the government and security agencies not only consider it enough to show sympathy for the families of the mine-workers, but also to prevent such incidents in the future, the government must also take concrete steps to ensure the safety of the Hazara community, especially those involved in industries such as mining, which are a major source of income for Balochistan. The mountains of Mach in Balochistan are rich in coal, and the existence of a subversive group here is a major challenge for law enforcement agencies.

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Pakistan Shows Improvement On GTI

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Pakistan is continuing its successful journey towards safer place in the world. As per 2020 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) latest report, Pakistan has improved its ranking more then before and stands at number 7th from 5th in the list.

According to GTI report, during the year 2019 Pakistan has recorded its lowest number of terror-related deaths since 2006.

The reduced terrorism trend in Pakistan was attributed by the counter terrorism operations undertaken by the Pakistan Army and LEAs against the terrorist groups.

On 16th of December 2014, after the army public school attack, a national consensus was evolved to come down hard on the terrorists through a concerted national effort. Whereas the National Internal Security Policy 2014 pointed out the broad policy guidelines and the long-drawn reforms in various state institutions.

A need was felt at that time to chalk out an Action Plan with specific, mostly quantifiable and ultimately and time-bound agenda to curb the scourge of terrorism.

A 20 Points National Action Plan (NAP) for countering  terrorism and extremism was chalked out by NACTA/ Ministry of Interior in consultation with the other stakeholders.

The (NAP) spelled out the specifics for the counter-terrorism drive in the country with 20 points mainly.

The 20 points agenda included implementation of death sentence of those convicted in cases of terrorism.

It was decided at that time to form special trial courts under the supervision of Army.

Similiarly it was also decided to not operate militant outfits and armed gangs in the country.

Furthermore, ban was imposed on glorification of terrorists and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media. 

The administrative and development reforms in area of FATA was planned.

 The policy of zero tolerance for militancy especially in Punjab  was formulated.

The report further reveals that out of total 37 active terrorist groups in 2015 only 10 (partial) active terror groups were left in the year 2019.

GTI report also pointed out that due to terror attacks, the economic impact in Pakistan was declined to 95% in 2014.

GTI report analyzes the impact of terrorism for 163 countries in the world.

The report also covers information on differing socio-economic conditions that drive terrorism, changes in terrorism over time, the political and ideological aims of terrorist groups, and the methods used to conduct terror attacks.

The 2020 GTI report has found that deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year since peaking in 2014.

The GTI uses a number of factors to calculate its score, including the number of incidences, fatalities, injuries and property damage.

GTI report by the Institute for Economics & Peace provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last 18 years.

In a row, for the second year, South Asia was the most impacted region by terrorism in year 2019, recorded more deaths than any other region, despite of the improvements in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said GTI 2020 report.

While terrorist attacks can occur anywhere in the world, these ten countries suffer the most due to their proximity to ongoing conflicts.

The GTI report pointed out the ten countries in its list that were most affected. Five of the ten countries are classified as being in a state of war like Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

The rest five of tens countries are classified as involve in minor incidents are Pakistan Philippines, Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Yemen.

Despite of the fact that India hide its facts about terrorism, it stands in list of top ten countries by the report of GTI.

The data for the GTI report was also gathered from India’s print and electronic media.

On the other hand Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism are not limited to its own land only but with equal in strength and parallel efforts are also being made to bring peace in the world and especially for Afghanistan, the country which is most affected and stands at number one in the line and list of GTI report.

Pakistan being neighbouring country to Afghanistan has played a behind-the-scenes but crucial role first in US-Taliban deal and then in courting the Afghan Taliban for long-awaited intra-Afghan peace talks, aiming at political reconciliation and an end to decades of violence in the war-stricken country.

In December 2018, Pakistan had also arranged rare direct talks between Washington and the Taliban, paving the way for the Doha peace deal between the two sides.

Pakistan also facilitated the landmark first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015.

The Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad with its delegation praised Pakistan’s role in Afghan Peace Process. He stated while in meeting with the Pakistani Army Chief General Qsmar Javeed Bajwa that “it could not have succeeded without Pakistan’s sincere and unconditional support.”

What Pakistan seeks from its involvement in negotiations is stability across the border in Afghanistan.

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Pakistan’s standing in Global Terrorism Index (2020)

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The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has been analyzing terrorism-affiliated trends and patterns, all across the globe from over last five decades. Since 1970 until 2019, it has recorded and studied 17000 terrorist incidents so far. In its most recent and 8th report, compiled and released in 2020, GTI has revealed an improved ranking of Pakistan, as compared to its previous years. From being at 5th position in 2019 to have ascended to 7th position in 2020, Pakistan has significantly curbed the menace of terrorism at home – Due to the effective counter terrorism operations undertaken by Pakistan military and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), under the aegis of 2015’s National Action Plan. For, ever since the initial terrorist attacks, beginning in 2006; last year Pakistan has recorded the least number of terrorist incidents for the first time. In fact, most of the deaths have been attributed to small-scale attacks that were not even viewed as major terrorist incidents. This sweeping 90% decrease in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, since 2007 is also such a quantum leap, because  Pakistan shares its longest border with a state like Afghanistan, where from 2014 onwards, the Khorasan chapter of Islamic State (ISIS) has only become more active and assertive. Meanwhile, Pakistan on the other hand has defied massive odds and enhanced its security apparatus. 

After the initiation of Operation enduring freedom in Afghanistan, Pakistan served as a non-NATO, front line ally of Washington in its War on Terror. Despite being aware of the spillover effect that may lead to the flow of fleeing terrorists from their strongholds in Afghanistan to Pakistan; Pakistan decided to side with American forces nonetheless. As repeatedly confirmed by international observers, after 20 years and 60,000 deaths on books, Pakistan has successfully controlled the security situation and eradicated many terror cells across the country. The counter terrorism operations spearheaded by Pakistan’s military forces not only deracinated the terrorist networks from previously ungoverned tribal areas but have also disrupted their monopolies efficiently. In addition to that, a fenced borderline between both counteries is rather proving itself utilitarian in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism.

The GTI report further claimed that just like other Asian countries, Pakistan has also been a victim of religious fundamentalism, which has bled innocent lives for unnecessary endeavors undertaken by few extremist zealots, from inside and outside the border. However, the efforts conjured by the National Action Plan, which was put forward in 2015, by the government of Pakistan helped in containing religious extremism, radical fundamentalism and terrorism stimulated by religious manipulation, to a considerable length. For instance, as accentuated in the report, in 2015 around 37 terrorist networks were operating in Pakistan, whereas by the end of 2019, only ten out of them were present. The government initiated, counter terrorism operations, targeting remote and secluded areas of Waziristan and FATA have been recognized and appreciated in the report, as the paramount reason behind such a substantial decrease in terrorist activities across the country. It is also important to mention that the current government of Pakistan has also taken a constructive step in the right direction by endorsing a ‘commission for implementation of national narrative and development of structures against violent extremism and radicalization’. The commission will be instrumental in providing a comprehensive, legal infrastructure for countering violent extremism and terrorism inside Pakistan.

The Index report additionally concluded that the two provinces of Pakistan – Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) have suffered the maximum impact of terrorism. They have both endured 77% of the total attacks and around 85% of casualty rate was from these provinces, in 2019. The nature of attacks in these two provinces was rather peculiar, for it was not the usual terrorist bombings rather they included target killings of civilian population or armed assaults against police, military and security personnel. Such incidents, specifically in Balochistan have been unveiled by Pakistan’s intelligence agency as a part of Indian proxies inside the province. The eastern neighbor of Pakistan; India, has been involved in funding, assisting and training the Baloch separatist groups or organizations in Pakistan and abroad. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I) earlier excavated a network of Indian operatives inside Balochistan back in 2016. Which to this day casts a looming shadow upon terrorist activities occurring in Balochistan and provides ample reason to understand Islamabad’s suspicions against Indian intentions.

The Global Terrorism Index ranked Islamabad at 7th position, based on 297 terrorist incidents that have jolted Pakistan in 2020. Meanwhile, it has placed New Delhi at 8th position, in spite of 558 terrorist incidents that have taken place in India. The international community, although being double from those of Pakistan, did not only dangerously ignore Indian statistics, but they also managed to slightly maintain India’s ranking stable. These concerns of authenticity of incidents recorded in Balochistan and evaluation of India’s ranking in Global Terrorism Index, even after such a staggering difference in numbers of terrorism incidents between both countries; raises crucial investigative questions that should be answered for better assessment of national and international actions of both the states.

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