It Never Ceases

by Nathan Hamm on 8/18/2004 · 7 comments

Though it’s ridiculously common, I’m still amazed when I read things like this:

Kamal Burkhanov, director of the Kazakhstan-based Institute of Russia and China, said Washington’s plans to consolidate its military position in Central Asia could provoke further attacks by Islamic radicals.

Keep in mind there aren’t necessarily plans to do so, making this story one of suppositions lounging upon conjecture.

I don’t know, I suppose that not increasing or withdrawing altogether would make it all go away, right? Unless you believe that the terrorists in Uzbekistan are really “terrorists” doing the government’s bidding, please explain how motivations were different in the 1999 and 2000 attacks and the 2004 ones. These people live in a damned fantasy world. It’s a shame that these stories are so common in the press. Too many people read them as certainties.

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– 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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praktike August 18, 2004 at 12:16 pm

“Keep in mind there aren’t necessarily plans to do so”

Aw, c’mon, Nathan, I’ve seen you post articles and commentary in favor of an increased US military presence in Central Asia.

I don’t know why you’re reading into his comment everything you hate about the Democrats in your office, but I don’t see it as that controversial at all.

Nathan August 18, 2004 at 12:33 pm

You know what? I really don’t appreciate psychoanalysis.

You’re damned right I’m in favor of shifting the presence to the east. I’m also being honest by saying that there have been no plans announced to increase the troop presence in Central Asia. Will increases be announced soon? Probably.

Nothing about my position on troops in Central Asia changes the fact that the entire article is pure speculation. I only grabbed that particular section because it was concise. I don’t even mean to criticize Mr. Burkhanov as the context in which he made the point is missing. I would have rather tried to make a point about Arkady Dubnov, but didn’t feel like digging through translations of his articles and he’s much better than the average Russian journalist.

What I’m trying to point out is that the entire article is silly because the only evidence offered of a causal connection between terrorist attacks and the presence of US troops is an anecdotal observation from the leader of Erk. Anecdotes have their place, but causality they do not show.

That’s the point. No politics. It’s bad reporting and creates the wrong impression about terror in Central Asia. One of the central reasons for me to create this blog in the first place is the Third Goal. I take it seriously.

It is fantasy to believe that if the US just went home all this nasty stuff would go away. It’s fanstasy when isolationist Republicans say it and it’s fantasy when it comes from the left. It’s troubling when the newspaper prints this up and people read the fantasy as a likelihood.

praktike August 18, 2004 at 1:22 pm

Sorry if I crossed a line there.

But look, it’s true that the presence of US bases is not always greeted warmly in some areas of the world. There have been attacks on bases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.

This is not to say that on balance a US presence cannot be highly positive. It can be, and it often is. South Korea is a great example of the positive effects of a US presence, but even South Korea has had its share of incidents. More incidents than if there was no US presence there to be upset about. This is hardly controversial.

Okinawa is an example where a US base has been wildly unpopular, and in my view justifiably so.

Closing your eyes and pretending anti-Americanism doesn’t exist is a kind of fantasy, too.

Nathan August 18, 2004 at 1:37 pm

I’m being extremely narrow here.

Unpopular does not equal terrorism. There are aspects of Karshi-Khanabad that have caused grief for the residents of villages that are now inside special security zones. The military has tried to make amends, but they could do more.

I would welcome a story on what locals think about the airbase and the presence of troops. To suggest that more US troops could lead to more terrorism without any serious discussion of why seems to be an irresponsible jump to be making, especially as the recent history of the region suggests little connection.

I know that anti-Americanism exists, but it is important that it be honestly and responsibly discussed.

praktike August 18, 2004 at 2:13 pm


Alisher August 18, 2004 at 2:23 pm

As a local :), /though not of the Khanabad area/, I dont see much correlation between US presence and terrorist attacks. Israeli embassy was also attacked, though there are no Israeli troops in Uzbekistan.

What I will say is just a speculation, but I guess the Kazakh-based institute in the story is one of many Russian-sponsored organisations who actually want to spread and strengthen anti-American sentiments in the region. As for Erk, maybe they are just not happy because the US governement favors Birlik ( as was suggested in a comment in one of the earlier posts), or maybe, I dont know, Uzbek governement was right after all in blaming them for cooperation with IMU in 1999 terroristic acts…

Laurence August 19, 2004 at 11:59 am

Re Alisher’s comment on Erk’s relation to IMU in 1999. I asked Pulatov about this when I saw him a while ago in DC, and he said that he didn’t think Erk was connected to the 1999 blasts, that Karimov just blamed Erk for a connection to make some additional points against them. Pulatov said he thought it was just the IMU that was responsible for the blasts, without Erk. Though Erk didn’t handle the aftermath particularly well, apparently not condemning the IMU enough, or something like that, which hurt them and made Karimov’s charge stick a little to them. (This time, I was told, Erk denounced the most recent bombings).

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