Central Asia’s Great Power Triangle

by Nathan Hamm on 9/3/2003

Central Asia’s Great Power Triangle
Finally, on to that story that The Marmot
sent me. I think that Ahrari is right on in this article, 9/11 and the
war on terror were a great opportunity for Russia and China to crack
down on their Muslim minorities and to extend their crack down to the
countries of Central Asia (as shown by the increase of Russia’s
military presence and the joint SCO military exercises last month). To
have continued to criticize Russia for its disproportionate brutality
in Chechnya and China for its destruction of the Uighurs’ cultural
identity (their name was too complicated for anyone to pronounce, that
is why I think people don’t really care about them. Tibet is easy and
phonetic, plus they have a little teddy bear of a leader and neat-o
saffron robes).

Even though the member states of the SCO have been
resolute about fighting “terrorism” since the late 1990s, their chances
of doing so improved only in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on the US. As the Bush administration waged a war on
the Taliban-al-Qaeda nexus, it could not have been critical when the
SCO states adopted harsh measures in dealing with dissident groups,
separatists and Islamists in the name of fighting terrorism.

The distinction between terrorists and those seeking independence seems
to be something lost on the Bush administration. After 9/11, Chechnya
was a non-issue and no concern for Tibetans or the Uighurs is voiced by
the State Department anymore when there is an enormous distinction. al
Qaeda is unfathomably more despicable than Uighur separatists and there
is no excuse for the tactics used by Russia against innocent Chechens
who happen to be male (I’m going to be clear – most Chechen militants
are comparable to al Qaeda in my book, and Uighurs have used

It can be argued that the very presence of US troops in
the Central Asian Republics may be the devil’s bargain, whereby the
Bush administration has decided to ignore the Russian and the Chinese
suppression of their respective ethnic separatists, as well as the
policies of the Central Asian republics in the name of fighting
terrorism. In turn, the SCO members – especially Russia and China –
would cooperate with the US in its own war against al-Qaeda and its
affiliate terrorist organizations. From the perspectives of the four
Central Asian members of the SCO, they are having the best of both
worlds in the post-September 11 era. By becoming members of the SCO,
they can fully count on getting military and materiel assistance to
suppress all domestic opposition within their respective borders in the
name of fighting terrorism. But these republics have gone way beyond
their supposed rationale of fighting terrorism. They have been
consistently using the phrase “Wahhabism” as their most potent enemy,
and have lumped all manifestations and practices of Islamic observance
under that rubric as targets of their brutal suppression. The US
government never paid much attention to that contentious phraseology
before September 11. However, later – when anyone in the US even with a
passing knowledge of the Middle East claims to know that Wahhabism is
anti-American in its orientation – those Central Asian Republics are
having a field day suppressing Islam and brutalizing Muslims, along
with Islamists, in the name of fighting Wahhabism.

I think this speaks for itself. It’s important to note too that I think
we are getting schooled by every government in Central Asia. There is
too much unquestioning acceptance of their claims. Uzbeks are fanatical
about the Wahhabi card to the point that anyone with a beard is
suspect. My students wouldn’t grow them for fear of being denied
admission to university. I got away with it because I’m something of a
chameleon overseas I’ve noticed – everyone thought I was Russian,
therefore I could not be a Wahhabi (some Uzbeks told me it was ugly
though, I responded by saying it was a sign of masculinity). We’re
playing with fire by keeping the pressure off though. The brutality of
these regimes will only lead to more and more unrest that will only be
met with brutality. We need to keep a long term view and pressure these
governments to display a little more honesty in selecting their
“anti-terror” targets.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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