Friday, August 10, 2012

Stratfor and Shakira Caine

Central Asia has increasingly been in turmoil. In this Stratfor article Eugene Chausovsky gives a nice overview of the recent history of this frequently overlooked area.

He points out that one shouldn't be too quick to jump to the conclusion that the recent uptick in militancy is due entirely, or even mainly, to Islamic forces. Instead, much of the violence is more properly viewed as ethnic strife with Islamic elements as much more subservient actors.

It is a good read. the beginning of it is excerpted below, with a link to the full article at the end of the excerpt.

Since the article was about Central Asia John Houston's film The Man Who Would Be King sprang to mind and so Shakira Caine, who played Roxanne -- the closest to a female lead the film had -- gets the honor of being this article's Hot Stratfor Babe.  

I never realized until researching her for this post that Ms Caine was actually Mrs Caine. She started out as a model and one day Michael Caine, who also starred in The Man Who Would Be King, saw her in a coffee commercial, fell crazy-mad-in-love, tracked her down and ended up marrying her.

She only appeared in a few movies and a little TV. Since then she appears to be devoting her energy to painting and jewelry making.

Militancy in Central Asia: More Than Religious Extremism

By Eugene Chausovsky, August 9, 2012

Since 2010, Central Asia has become increasingly volatile, a trend many have attributed to a rise in militant Islamism. Militancy has indeed risen since 2010, but the notion that militant Islamists primarily are responsible for Central Asia's volatility is shortsighted because it ignores other political and economic dynamics at play in the region.

But if these dynamics, not jihadist designs, inspired much of the region's recent militant activity, the impending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 could put Central Asia at greater risk for militant Islamism in the future. Combined with upcoming leadership changes in several Central Asian states, the withdrawal could complicate an already complex militant landscape in the region.

Regional Militancy: Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Central Asia was an important region for Islamist militancy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The region is predominantly Muslim, though like all religious practices, Islam was suppressed during the Soviet era. Given the region's secularization under Soviet rule, many religious groups and figures either went underground or practiced openly to the extent that the Soviets would allow. These groups and individuals were concentrated in the Fergana Valley, the demographic core of Central Asia that encompasses parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Islamists were particularly prevalent in Uzbekistan, which is home to several important religious and cultural cites in areas such as Samarkand and Bukhara.

As Central Asian countries gained independence in the 1990s, religion began to be practiced more openly, and Islamist elements operating on the margins of society were freer to come out accordingly. This created a space in which the Islamist environment grew stronger, just as the ability of the new Central Asian regimes to control and suppress Islamist movements weakened. As a result, some Islamist groups began to call for a regional caliphate governed by Sharia.

Among these groups were the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb al-Tahrir, both of which drew inspiration from the Afghan mujahideen that had fought the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989. Despite their similarities -- they both advocated ousting Uzbek President Islam Karimov -- the two groups differed in a fundamental way: Whereas the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan used violence to further its cause, Hizb al-Tahrir did not. Other groups, such as Akromiya, would later adopt the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan's use of violence while espousing Hizb al-Tahrir's ideology.

Karimov clamped down on these groups in the early to mid-1990s, but the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan gained refuge in Tajikistan, which was ravaged by civil war from 1992 to 1997. Because of the resultant power vacuum and its long, porous border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan became the primary base of operations for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the group conducted attacks from Tajikistan throughout the Fergana Valley and into southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, a country that provided both material and ideological support to Islamist groups in Central Asia from the ultra-conservative Taliban regime, effectively curtailed jihadist activity and ambitions in Central Asia. With the help of the U.S. military, including U.S. special operations forces, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was largely driven out of Central Asia, finding refuge in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. For its part, Hizb al-Tahrir went underground.

The Central Asian regimes, especially Karimov's, were then able to crack down on the remaining Islamist militants. Attacks grew rarer throughout the next decade as militant Islamist groups struggled to survive in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.

Militancy Since 2010

Militant attacks in the region became more frequent in June 2010, when clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks broke out in Kyrgyzstan's southern Fergana Valley provinces of Osh and Jalal-Abad. As a result, Kyrgyz authorities conducted security sweeps through predominantly Uzbek neighborhoods under the pretense of rooting out suspected militant Islamists.

In reality, these sweeps most likely were directed at ethnic Uzbeks. Many ethnic Kyrgyz have long been suspicious of Kyrgyzstan's ethnic Uzbeks, which constitute a substantial portion of Osh's and Jalal-Abad's population. Thus, security sweeps targeting these areas and the resulting armed resistance to the sweeps do not necessarily fit neatly with the claims of religious extremism. Rather, militant activity could be related to the internal ethnic and political tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Indeed, these tensions have surfaced periodically since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A similar dynamic can be seen in Tajikistan. After the country's civil war, reconcilable Islamist militants, such as those of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, were incorporated into the government and security forces, while the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other jihadist elements were suppressed. Violence peaked in the early 2000s, after which Tajikistan experienced nearly a decade of relative calm. However, a high-profile prison break in Dushanbe in August 2010 interrupted this calm. During the escape, about 24 prisoners deemed former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members fled to the Rasht Valley in eastern Tajikistan. This precipitated security sweeps in the Rasht Valley, which in turn led to attacks against Tajik military convoys -- attacks that the Tajik government blamed on Islamist militants.

These militants were much more likely linked to opposition elements from the country's civil war rather than to jihadist militants. (That they fled to the east is telling; those from the eastern provinces of Garm and Gorno-Badakhshan opposed those who came to power in the western provinces of Leninabad and Kulyab.) The jailbreak could have prompted -- or merely been a symptom of -- the resurfacing of the political power struggle among Tajik clans, a struggle that was commonplace during the early years of independence. In itself, the jailbreak does not signify a jihadist resurgence.

Read more: Militancy in Central Asia: More Than Religious Extremism | Stratfor

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