Winds of Change.NET Regional Briefings run on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays too. This Regional Briefing focuses on Central Asia & the Caucasus, courtesy of Nathan Hamm of The Argus. TOP TOPIC * Cross-border cooperation between Pakistani, US, and Afghan forces has dramatically increased recently. Pakistani troops are confronting tribal leaders to drive al Qaeda across the border into the waiting arms of US troops in a "hammer and anvil" strategy. Every day, US and Pakistani forces appear to be on the verge of major operations along the tribal regions on Pakistan's Afghan border. In late-breaking news, Darren Kaplan informs us that Task Force 121, Saddam Hussein's captors, are on their way to Afghanistan. * Georgia's President Saakashvili sent in Special Forces to root out rebels/bandits on the Abkhaz border, and the Abkhaz leadership seems to be happy about it. But, were Russian peacekeepers the real target of Georgia's anti-guerilla operations around the Abkhaz conflict zone? Much like in Tajikistan, Russian peacekeepers appear to be letting bandits move across borders in which they should be contained and not protecting ethnic Georgians who have returned to the area. Georgia may be trying to drive them out to take advantage of the turmoil in Abkhazia... The breakaway region has refused to participate in direct talks with Georgia. * The IFPA says that the US should re-conceptualize its security relationships (the full report can be found here) in Central Asia. The crux of the argument is that the US should move towards a long-term vision for its military presence in the region rather than sticking with the ad-hoc arrangements made post-9/11. A quick glance shows this report well worth reading. * Ahead of the State Department's April review of its human rights record, Uzbekistan has shown a sudden willingness to make concrete gestures, signaling that two high-profile prisoners, Ruslan Sharipov and Fatima Mukhadirova will likely be amnestied. Oh yeah, the US may be able to make its Uzbek airbase permanent. Uzbekistan is a tough case for US diplomacy, involving baby steps and frustration. Other Topics Today Include: Khan Wilhelm; A Bad Month for Jihadists in Turkestan; The Chicken Sandwich Transforms Kyrgyzstan; Russia Revives Soviet Ob-Redirection Plans; The Uzbek Model of Economic Reform; Afghan Militia Disarmament A Success?; Uighurs Under Siege Across Central Asia; and, Much More.
Great Game * As the United States seeks to encourage and consolidate democratic change across Central Asia, one of its most valuable resources is the soldier-diplomat. Colonel Thomas Wilhelm, the former US defense attache to Mongolia is a superb example of the intelligent soldiers forming and executing US policy across the globe. * Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst says a few interesting things about how shared security concerns bind SCO members (Russia, Old Turkestan, and China) and there's not a thing the US can do about it. However, Sino-Russian dominance can be mitigated with debt reduction and access to Western financial institutions for Central Asian states. * Members of Kazakstan's peacekeeping batallion (KAZBAT) are serving in Iraq under Polish command, perhaps as part of plans to make KAZBAT interoperable with NATO. * Kazakstan's "multi-vectored" foreign policy shows signs of tilting towards Russia, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise. * Eurasianet looks at old ideas and the new Great Game. * Because India's becoming a regional power and looking to project its influence into Central Asia, it's probably important to note that they are about to get the AWACS system from Israel. What makes this story even better is that the system will be mounted on an IL-76 platform. Afghanistan * The plan to disarm Afghan militias is reportedly much shorter on results than it is on promises. IWPR, however, has an entirely different view of the disarmament program, reporting that many of those participating are happy to finally be rid of their weapons and looking forward to job training programs. The UN also disagrees with Eurasianet's view on the disarmament program too, saying the program is a success. * NATO won't leave Afghanistan anytime soon, and the Talibs and al Qaeda are reportedly losing steam to the point of being a strategic threat no longer. * Britain has offered to lead the expanded NATO mission in Afghanistan. * Following an attack on the helicopter of a US construction company, US forces and Afghan police stormed Thaloqan, a village known for its support of the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, looking for the gunman who brought down the helicopter. The search resulted in the arrest of 30 suspected Taliban and the seizure of weapons. * The Daily Times (PK) is reporting that the US will rebuild 810 miles of roads in Afghanistan. While already completed highway improvements in Afghanistan are much appreciated, highways are proving to be dangerous for travelers. To boost the power of the central government on highways, Pakistan is helping out by setting up an Afghan highway patrol. * The US is considering forming an Afghan National Guard made up of militia members to keep the peace until an army can be trained. * If your an Afghan teen, Guantanamo is a blast according to this great WaPo story about Ismail Agha, who spent over a year in US custody. Interestingly enough, this story on the same boy has different details. * The Taliban is using violence to intimidate potential voters in hopes of delaying or preventing the planned summer presidential elections. Leaflets have been confiscated warning people that their lives are in danger if they register to vote. Nonetheless, the Afghan government still plans to keep elections on schedule. * A number of radio and television stations are springing up in Northern Afghanistan. * Seven Afghan women recently decided to join the workforce... as police officers. * When General Gromov crossed the Friendship Bridge 15 years ago, he was considered the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan. A number of Soviets taken prisoner still haven't left though, and have in fact become well-integrated members of their captors' communities. Turkestan * It's been a bad month for Hizb ut-Tahrir and other Islamic radicals in Central Asia. 20 Hizb ut-Tahrir activists have been arrested in Tajikistan and Russia has nabbed an HT member wanted by Uzbekistan on terrorism-related charges. Meanwhile, in Uzbekistan, an alleged member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has been sentenced to death. * The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute has released a comprehensive and informative policy paper (PDF) on China's Uighur problem that is a superb starting point for understanding the politics and issues in East Turkestan. * From the Foreign Policy Research Institute comes a well-reasoned argument for a balance of hard and soft power in US-Uzbek relations. * When does a restaurant change society? When it's an American restaurant. Kyrgyzstan's American Pub is not only my favorite restaurant in Bishkek (and perhaps all of Central Asia), it's developing other businesses and introducing the concept of customer service to Central Asia. * Russia is considering redirecting 7% of the Ob River's flow (which has been increasing in recent years) to Central Asia, increasing water available to Kazakstan and Uzbekistan by 50%. This plan would obviously be of substantial benefit to Central Asia and make economic development in Northern Afghanistan (which is along the Amu Daryo) easier, but to some it seems like feeding an addiction. (hat tip: ZenPundit) * The Syr Darya is experiencing a unique problem: too much water. In Kazakstan, thousands have been evacuated as officials have had no choice but to release water from reservoirs dangerously close to capacity. Water management is much more difficult in the post-Soviet period as controlling flow and use is now an international issue involving quite a bit of politics. * As the above stories illustrate, water management is a complex issue in Central Asia, and a major concern for development workers is to improve inefficient irrigation and drainage systems. So, it's great that the World Bank gave $60mln to Uzbekistan to improve its irrigation systems. * The EU & Turkmenistan will expand cooperation. France is upbeat. * Is Uzbekistan's gradual approach to economic reform working? This EBRD assessment seems to say so, seeing slow improvement. Karimov says the economy grew 4.4% in 2003. This article on Uzbekistan's economy says that things are getting better for Uzbekistan's economy as well and that the most significant problems are a stark urban/rural income divide and massive inequalities in consumption and income. * Regardless of the particular details about economic growth in the region, the fall of the dollar is making life difficult in Central Asia. * RFE/RL reports on the numerous obstacles to small business development in Central Asia. * Kyrgyzstan is debating raising the status of the Kyrgyz language, making Russians feel unwelcome. It'll be too bad if they flee, the Russians in Kyrgyzstan are great people, and from my anecdotal observations, the proprietors of some of the most successful and innovative small businesses in the country. * Compared to its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan has few problems with small arms--low ownership rates, low gun crime rates, and very little arms smuggling. The entire Kyrgyzstan small arms survey can be read here (PDF). * Turkmenistan is creepy. The first part of President Niyazov's biography is on its way and even shows of traditional art is highly politicized. * The UN is extremely concerned about the rapid spread of HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Caucasus * With Mary Neal's return to the US, Living With Caucasians has a new author, Elizabeth. Check her out for an entertaining take on life in Georgia. * President Saakashvili's honeymoon may be over as people are up in arms (maybe not the best choice of words for Georgia--not literally in this case) over constitutional changes that created a cabinet, prime minister, and has transferred some legislative powers to the President. Saakashvili may have a good reason for doing this, but, it sure doesn't look good. * Saakashvili's biggest goal as Georgia's president will be to root out corruption. Professional soccer players are hoping that the dirty world of Georgian soccer will get a good scrubbing. * President Saakashvili visited Russia this month, and the relations between Georgia and Russia look to be headed in the right direction. Saakashvili supports Russia's entry into the WTO, calling it good for Georgia. Georgia has also agreed to step up joint patrols with Russian troops along the Chechen border, and the two countries have agreed to discuss Abkhazia. * Meanwhile, Abkhazia's opposition groups, jealous of Georgia's young and dynamic leadership, have decided to focus on winning regional elections this weekend in their quest to oust President Vladislav Ardzinba. * Armenia's opposition is going after the President. * What are Azerbaijan's geopolitical ambitions? And do they have anything to do with the renewal of politcal attacks against the president? * Eurasianet offers some well-deserved criticism of US policy towards Azerbaijan. * Saakashvili says he's ready to talk to Aslan Abashidze, president of the autonomous region of Ajaria. * Congressman Frank Pallone (D, NJ) is fighting to maintain parity in military aid to Azerbaijan and Armenia. * At 122, Pasikhat Dzhukalayeva may be the oldest woman in the world. This Chechen woman has lived through two world wars, the Russian Revolution, deportation to Kazakstan, and a civil war. Human Rights * The arrest and conviction of a 63 year old woman, Fatima Mukhadirova, for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir highlights the conundrums in the war on Islamic extremism. This woman is also the mother of a man tortured (boiled) to death who criticized the government and contacted foreign governments to investigate the case. * Forum 18 has reports on state policies towards Islam in Central Asia and Uzbekistan's use of secret police in a pre-emptive war on independent expressions of faith. * In Kazakstan, a proposed new law would give the government expanded wiretapping powers, making legitimate their practice of snooping on the opposition. * Uighurs seeking refuge from persecution in China face harassment and deportation in Kyrgyzstan due to Chinese pressure. IRIN has an interview with an Uighur leader in Kyrgyzstan who gives more background what Uighurs face in Kyrgyzstan. I have a little more background on East Turkestan and the marketing of human rights causes. * A new blog, The Uygur Letter, focuses on Uighur issues. Fashionistan * Fashion designers are looking to Central Asia for inspiration. If I start to see people wearing the clothes I've avoided wearing in public for the last two years, I don't know how I'll feel. * In more fashion news, Afghan women are flocking to Beauticians Without Borders.