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April 13, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov

PROSPECTS FOR MANAGED CHAOS

Washington prepares to blow up Central Asia

What is going to happen next in the situation around Iran? We have already expressed the view that the scenario of a military intervention appears unlikely. Only by means of air attacks, without involvement of land forces, the US Administration will be unable to reach the declared goal – namely, to force Tehran to give up its nuclear program. Therefore, an operation, restricted with an air attack, is not expedient for the United States.

Washington will soon be forced to pull out its contingent from Iraq and Afghanistan. A bombing of Iran on the background of this withdrawal would be unequivocally viewed as an additional evidence of a scathing defeat of the United States in the region. Meanwhile, land occupation of one more country of the Middle East is not a venture Washington would dare to undertake. After all, Washington's decision-makers are Ц hopefully Ц not suicides. Iran's top circles are aware of that Ц and for that reason, they escalate militant rhetoric, thus gaining political weight in the Islamic world, and not only.

 

TO LEAVE, IN ORDER TO STAY

Thus, the US presence in the Middle East is coming to its logical end. Is the United States just going to abandon the region without reserving any stronghold for itself?

A number of recent articles in US press suggest that Washington is today focused on establishing a long-term stronghold. One of the possible scenarios rests upon re-formatting of the whole region, by fuelling up bogus separatist "national liberation" movements, controlled from the United States.

A scenario, suggesting declaration of independence of Kurdistan and Baluchistan, disintegration of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and an overall reshaping of the whole map of the Middle East, was published in June 2006 in The Armed Forces Magazine, and recently presented at NATO's Military College in Rome. Actually, this version was originally made public in the Weekly Standard by Irwin Stelzer, senior fellow and director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Economic Policy. This neoconservative scholar expressed the view that for the United States, it would be most expedient to plunge the whole Middle East into a quagmire of permanent warfare, in order thus to "burn down" the whole potential of passionate resistance of the region. In his turn, leftist liberal author Seymour Hersh ("The New Yorker") is convinced of necessity to split and weaken all the Arab countries, and establish a kind of a "safety belt" around Israel.

Thus, US analysts, speaking from various standpoints, agree in expedience of undermining the legitimacy of state borders across the Middle East. Facing the necessity of rounding up the major military operations in the area by the eve of the 2008 Presidential elections, Washington may try to promote chaos in the region. This would allow to reserve small strongholds under the guise of "newly independent states" (like Kurdistan, Baluchistan, and possibly a part of Iraq), and to prevent Iran's ascent to the role of the major power of the region.

Planning a new experiment of an artificial "national liberation revolution" in Iran, the United States is unlikely to restrict its destabilizing efforts to the Middle East alone. In case the chosen option suggests also chaos across the whole of the adjacent post-Soviet Central Asia, the "grilling effect" would be multiplied.

 

THE POTENTIAL OF DESTABILIZATION

The region of Central Asia is a battlefield of strong rivalry of great powers. Here, the geopolitical competition between the United States and China is more visible and significant than in the Middle East. Washington's strategists view Central Asia as the most sensitive area for China. At the same time, destabilization of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia is a vital challenge to Russia.

The trans-Caspian territory of Central Asia, historically known as Turkestan, had been in the focus of US political, corporate, and intelligence operations yet in the period of "competition of two global systems". The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 was therefore interpreted in Washington as a decisive victory at the Asiatic battlefield of what was hypocritically named "Cold War" Ц in this area being pretty hot. More and more fuel was thrown into the simmering Islamic pot, in order to undermine the Soviet rival from its southern border.

USSR's disintegration changed the picture, opening a most promising prospective for expanding the American zone of influence across the whole area between the Caspian and the borderline of China, which had since become the new ideological, political, and strategic rival of the United States.

In the following decade, the US-controlled radical Islamic networks of Central Asia were entrusted a new mission, now being used for destabilization of ex-Soviet regimes of Turkestan, and thus serving as a convenient tool of geopolitical blackmail and indirect control of the whole area. The Taliban Movement of Afghanistan was just one of those tools, until it managed, with support from Saudi Arabia, to overtake the whole of Afghanistan. Still, the US agencies of influence used the Taliban as an instrument up to September 2001, when the air attack at the World Trade Center in New York forced Washington to revise its policy in the area, and to violently crack upon the former allies.

The 2001-designed "global antiterrorist strategy", in its turn, has become an even more convenient pretext for expansion of US-led NATO contingents into Central Asia. The agenda of antiterrorism", however, was directed not against all of the radical Islamic forces of the area. Some of them, particularly Hizb ut-Tahrir, were still extensively used for the same purposes as before. The additional justification for relevant clandestine operations emerged from the increasing economic and political influence of China in the whole area of Turkestan. Not surprisingly, the US efforts to get Russia involved in the "global anti-terrorist strategy" reflected the intention to use Russia itself as a lever for containment of China.

However, China had already offered strategic partnership to Russia and the major countries of Turkestan in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It was Beijing's political influence which encouraged these countries to get rid of the US military presence on their territory.

Quite naturally, the once completely loyal regimes of Turkestan, now displaying open disobedience, underwent a spectacular "punishment". In 2005, the whole region was stirred with a series of "colored revolution" efforts, encompassing Kyrgyzstan (as the weakest of all, and the closest to China), Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Since the resulting fall of Askar Akayev's regime (once favored as the most friendly to the West), the unfortunate Kyrgyzstan has been permanently instable, being torn into pieces by rivaling political and shadowy clans. In the adjacent Uzbekistan, deployment of a radical "liberation" movement (of an actually sectarian fashion) turned a failure, predetermining the further fiasco of a "colored revolution" operation in Kazakhstan as well.

The experience of "colored revolutions" in other post-Soviet states encouraged the secular regimes of Turkestan to boost their internal security policies and enhance political consolidation, with approval from both Moscow and Beijing, similarly uninterested in eruption of radical Islamic forces in the area. The more stable these governments are, the more they irritate Washington, whose bloody campaign in Iraq has made the US agenda, regardless from any "democratic" guise, increasingly unpopular in the whole of Asia.

The recent exposure of US Vice President's flirt with a terrorist group in Pakistan, for the purpose of clandestine operations against Iran, indicates that Washington is not going to give up its strategy of subversion in the region. The scenario of "rewriting maps", prepared for the Middle East, is likely to be extended to Turkestan.

 

THE WEAK POINTS OF TURKESTAN

Preconditions for political tensions in Turkestan were revealed already in late 1980s, when a number of ethnic clashes rolled across the still Soviet republics, emerging in a number of debated territories, and echoing ancient tribal and dynastic contradictions. The appeals of "correcting the map for the sake of justice" were raised at that time, sparking a bloody civil war in Tajikistan, and heavy clashes between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz inhabitants of Osh Region of Kyrgyzstan. These contradictions, thoroughly studied by US strategists, are likely to be exploited again. A desperate need of the ruling Republican Party of the United States for some kind of a "Blitzkrieg for democracy", along with the priority of deterring China, greatly increases this possibility.

The first pretext for this possibility originates from ancient times, when Turkestan encompassed a number of independent statehoods, particularly Bukhara and Khiva (both on the territory of today's Uzbekistan), organized rather upon a dynastic than ethnic principle. In particular, Bukhara was populated by Uzbeks, Tajiks and Jews, while Khiva was dominated by Uzbeks and Turkmens. A number of other peoples of the region were nomadic, and therefore, did not even possess a commonly accepted self-definition, not speaking of any idea of borders.

The weak points of today's Turkestan, to a significant extent, originate also from the rather artificial division, imposed by the Soviet power in early 1920s. At that time, the Soviet Government, following the theoretical principle of national self-determination, divided the region into several republics, named after dominating ethnic groups. Difficulties in ethnic definition were expressed at that time in the change of names: originally, the present Kazakhstan was established as the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Republic, and the present Kyrgyzstan, in its turn Ц as the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Republic. Later, Tajikistan was carved out of Uzbekistan; in its turn, the former Khiva was merged into Uzbekistan under the name of the Karakalpak autonomy. Years passed before the borders, as well as the names and status of the republics, acquired the territorial shape in which they eventually Ц and mostly involuntarily Ц acquired independence.

Additional tensions emerged in 1990s from the contradictions between the powers of the newly-independent Kazakhstan and the dominating Russian population of its northern regions; between ethnic groups, inhabiting the Fergana Valley, where the borders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan meet; add the insurgency of the Uighurs in Eastern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, with demand for an independent statehood which this minority once had. The Uighur issue would never emerge to a significant extent if this ethnic group, included in Washington into the list of "captive nations", were not instrumental in destabilization of the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of China, where this Islamic minority mostly resides.

During the 2005 unrest in Andizhan, Fergana Valley, designed as a lever for a "colored" revolt in Uzbekistan, a flow of refugees from the area sparked Uzbek-Kyrgyz tensions on the level of governments. Similarly, the effort of the Tajik government to enforce control at the Kyrgyz border provoked unrest in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Region. In both cases, revolts emerged in territorial enclaves, once created by the Soviet authorities in order to most accurately follow the principle of national self-determination. The established independence of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, each with its own currency (the former, unlike the latter, accepted into WTO with no regard to border problems), has become a source of permanent tension between the inhabitants of the enclave and the population of the adjacent Kyrgyz villages.

While local conflicts in enclaves, like the Vorukh enclave in Kyrgyzstan, emerge from problems of migration and transportation, other tensions originate from rivalry for the scarce water resources of the region. This problem has sparked misunderstanding between the governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; the problem of exploitation of the Chardary water reservoir on Syrdarya River, at the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is still unsolved by the two countries.

The most arid countries of Turkestan, however, have got their own advantage of natural gas, lacked by mountainous republics. This adds more fuel into the local rivalry for natural resources, which may be easily manipulated for needs of destabilization.

 

THE MENACE OF EXPLOSION

Thus, the major focuses of potential ethnic clashes in Turkestan include:

- Uzbek-Tajik and Uzbek-Kyrgyz territorial overlapping in Fergana Valley;

- Tajik-Kyrgyz overlapping in the Pamir highlands;

- the Kazakh-Uzbek water debate around Chardary;

- problems of Slavonic population in Northern and Eastern Kazakhstan;

- the Uighur problem.

In addition, the presence of numerous Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkmen communities in Afghanistan, as well as Turkmens in Iran, may be used as instruments to embroil their titular nations into the internal destabilization processes in Afghanistan and Iran. Thus, Turkestan remains a zone with a high potential of ethnic and political tension Ц originating, however, mostly from economic, social, and environmental problems. Lack of vital resources, resulting in an uneven distribution of the population; high unemployment in the areas of deterioration of former Soviet industrial capacities; generally, chronic poverty of the population's majority, on the background of fragility of the newly established statehoods, accumulate a massive potential for a social explosion. Undoubtedly, the US strategists have studied this powderkeg well enough to ignite one or several fuses under one of the many pretexts Ц in the closest neighborhood of Russia's southern borders.


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