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Dec 20, 2011 | 19:28 GMT

Dispatch: Islamist Militancy in Kazakhstan

Eurasia Analyst Eugene Chausovsky discusses the recent unrest in Kazakhstan and the prospects for regional instability. VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Kazakhstan continues to simmer from violence over the weekend in the energy-producing province of Mangistau in the west of the country, where clashes occurred between protesters and police. These clashes come amid a rise in overall violence in Kazakhstan this year, but it is the unprecedented role of Islamist militancy in this violence that puts the stability of the country and the wider region in jeopardy. Central Asia is no stranger to instability, whether that be violence or Islamist militancy. However, before this year, instability in Central Asia had been concentrated in three countries - Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan - and particularly the strategic Fergana Valley region that these three states share. This region was especially volatile in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when Islamist militant groups - most notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) - initiated a series of transnational attacks in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan with the aim of overthrowing Uzbek President Islam Karimov and establishing an Islamist regime in the wider region. This posed a serious threat to all 3 countries, but the 9/11 attacks and ensuing US invasion of Afghanistan proved to be a spoiler to the IMU and other Islamist militants in the region. In exchange for providing logistical support to the U.S. in launching its invasion, the US provided security assistance to these countries, which helped clamp down on militants in the region as well as destroying their sanctuaries in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area to where they sought refuge. This led to a period of relative calm in terms of militant activity in the region until August 2010, when a prison break in Tajikistan led to several attacks by alleged militants with reported ties to IMU against security services in the Rasht Valley, which is a rebel stronghold in the east of the country. Kyrgyzstan also faced a flare up in its security situation earlier in the year, when a revolution and then ethnic violence in the southern provinces of Osh and Jalal-Abad subsequently led to claims of IMU and other militant activity in the region. Throughout all of this, one country that was relatively immune to militant violence and instability was Kazakhstan due to its geographic isolation from Fergana and relatively better economic position. Only in 2011 did Kazakhstan see violence start to rise significantly, with the country experiencing its first suicide terrorist attack in its modern history in May and several shootings of police across the country in places like Aktau, Almaty and Taraz. There are a number of factors that led to this increase in violence, such as the worsening economic situation in the country and the government’s crackdown on religion. A lot of the issues Kazakhstan is currently facing - such as protests and economic grievances from energy workers - are not altogether new, however, they are happening in a new and tense environment of growing militancy. Even events that are not related to Islamist militants, like the protests in western Kazakhstan, have received calls for solidarity from Kazakh militant groups like Soldiers of the Caliphate. And while these attacks and the effectiveness demonstrated by the militants are still relatively limited, they do make 2011 an unprecedented year in terms of security problems in the country and bring an unclear and dangerous situation in the country moving forward.
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