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  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Growing numbers of Central Asian citizens, male and female, are travelling to the Middle East to fight or otherwise support the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL or ISIS). Prompted in part by political marginalisation and bleak economic prospects that characterise their post-Soviet region, 2,000-4,000 have in the past three years turned their back on their secular states to seek a radical alternative. IS beckons not only to those who seek combat experience, but also to those who envision a more devout, purposeful, fundamentalist religious life. This presents a complex problem to the governments of Central Asia. They are tempted to exploit the phenomenon to crack down on dissent. The more promising solution, however, requires addressing multiple political and administrative failures, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for both men and women and creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, as well as ensuring better coordination between security services.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Middle East, Asia
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated as president of Afghanistan on 29 September, under difficult circumstances. He inherited a government that is running out of money and losing ground to a rising insurgency. His ability to confront those problems and other challenges as foreign troops withdraw will be shaped by the aftermath of the political contest that brought him to power. Forming a national unity government with his election rival Abdullah Abdullah presents opportunities to stabilise the transition, preventing further erosion of state cohesiveness. Yet, it also poses risks, particularly of factionalism within Kabul, which could undermine urgently needed reforms. Given the international role in developing the agreements that have created this new partnership, and the absence of mechanisms to resolve internal differences, the international community should serve as a guarantor of Kabul's new political order and, if necessary, mediate any serious disputes that arise.
  • Topic: Corruption, Democratization, Islam, Governance
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Central Asia
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan have been largely characterised by mutual mistrust and devised through a narrow security prism. While it will require considerable effort to end deep-seated animosity, both countries share close ethnic, linguistic, religious and economic ties. Longstanding Afghan migration to the territories that now compose Pakistan makes them an integral part of Pakistani society. Yet, military-devised interventionist policies, based on perceived national security interests, including support for Afghan, mainly Pashtun, proxies, have marred the relationship. The incoming Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai has offered to expand bilateral ties, providing Islamabad fresh opportunities to improve the relationship. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has responded positively, but the Pakistani military and civilian leadership's preferences toward Kabul are diverging further as Afghanistan's transition draws closer. By recalibrating relations toward economic ties and seeking solutions to the presence of millions of Afghan refugees on its soil, Pakistan could engage more constructively with its neighbour.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Economics, Islam, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, South Asia, Central Asia
  • Publication Date: 09-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Kazakhstan has long been viewed from the outside as the most prosperous and stable country in a region widely regarded as fragile and dysfunctional. The appearance of wealth, based largely on the conspicuous consumption of Almaty and Astana, its main cities, and multi-billion-dollar energy contracts – increasingly with China – hides, however, a multitude of challenges. An ageing authoritarian leader with no designated successor, labour unrest, growing Islamism, corruption, and a state apparatus that, when confronted even with limited security challenges, seems hard-pressed to respond, all indicate that the Kazakh state is not as robust as it first appears. Without a significant effort to push forward with repeatedly promised political, social and economic reforms, Kazakhstan risks becoming just another Central Asian authoritarian regime that squandered the advantages bestowed on it by abundant natural resources.
  • Topic: Islam
  • Political Geography: China, Central Asia, Kazakhstan
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Negotiations underway since late 2012 between Turkey's government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) are stalling. A ceasefire announced on 23 March 2013 remains precarious, as maximalist rhetoric gains renewed traction on both sides. While the PKK should be doing more to persuade Ankara that it wants a compromise peace, the government has a critical responsibility to fully address the longstanding democratic grievances of Turkey's Kurds. One reason it frequently gives for its hesitation is fear of a nationalist backlash. In fact, the peace process has already demonstrated how willing mainstream Turks would be to accept steps towards democratisation. A much bigger risk for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as it heads into a two-year cycle of local, presidential and parliamentary elections, would be if the three-decade-old conflict plunges into a new cycle of violence.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Ethnic Conflict, Islam, Peace Studies, Terrorism, Treaties and Agreements, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Turkey, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Publication Date: 03-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: A negotiated political settlement is a desirable outcome to the conflict in Afghanistan, but current talks with the Taliban are unlikely to result in a sustainable peace. There is a risk that negotiations under present conditions could further destabilise the country and region. Debilitated by internal political divisions and external pressures, the Karzai government is poorly positioned to cut a deal with leaders of the insurgency. Afghanistan's security forces are ill-prepared to handle the power vacuum that will occur following the exit of international troops. As political competition heats up within the country in the run-up to NATO's withdrawal of combat forces at the end of 2014, the differing priorities and preferences of the parties to the conflict – from the Afghan government to the Taliban leadership to key regional and wider international actors – will further undermine the prospects of peace. To avoid another civil war, a major course correction is needed that results in the appointment of a UN-mandated mediation team and the adoption of a more realistic approach to resolution of the conflict.
  • Topic: Ethnic Conflict, Islam, Treaties and Agreements, War
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Taliban
  • Publication Date: 10-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Turkey is the newest country to intervene in Somalia and its involvement has produced some positive results. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's courageous visit to Mogadishu in August 2011 at the height of the famine and his decision to open an embassy gave fresh impetus to efforts to establish lasting peace. Widespread Somali gratitude for Turkish humanitarian endeavours and the country's status as a Muslim and democratic state established Turkey as a welcome partner. Ankara has signalled it is in for the long haul. However, it must tread prudently, eschew unilateralism and learn lessons to avoid another failed international intervention. Over twenty years, many states and entities have tried to bring relief and secure peace in Somalia, often leaving behind a situation messier than that which they found. Ankara must appreciate it alone cannot solve the country's many challenges, but must secure the support and cooperation of both the Somali people and international community. Trying to go solo could backfire, hamper ongoing efforts and lose the immense good-will it has accumulated.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Foreign Policy, Islam, Peace Studies, Fragile/Failed State
  • Political Geography: Africa, Central Asia, Turkey, Somalia
  • Publication Date: 09-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Kyrgyzstan's in­creasingly authoritarian government is adopting a counter-productive approach to the country's growing radicalisation. Instead of tackling the root causes of a phenomenon that has seen increasing numbers, including many women, joining groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), it is resorting to heavy-handed police methods that risk pushing yet more Kyrgyz towards radicalism. The authorities view HT, which describes itself as a revolutionary party that aims to restore by peace­ful means the caliphate that once ruled the Mus­lim world, as a major security threat. But for some men and ever more women, it offers a sense of identity and belonging, solutions to the day-to-day failings of the society they live in, and an alternative to what they widely view as the Western-style social model that prevails in Kyrgyzstan. Without a major effort to tackle endemic corruption and economic failure, radical ranks are likely to swell, while repression may push at least some HT members into violence. This report focuses pri­marily on the increasingly important role that women are playing in the movement.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Islam
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Asia, Kyrgyzstan
  • Publication Date: 03-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Seven years after the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan the country is still at war against extremists and has developed few resilient institutions. A policy review by the Obama administration has reopened debate about how to defeat the forces of violent global jihadism – al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors – in Afghanistan and in neighbouring Pakistan. In most cases, the ideas on offer – from declaring victory and pulling out, to negotiating with the insurgents, to organising regional conferences, to prioritising relationships with favoured individuals and allies over the development of strong democratic institutions – have been tried at least once in the past two decades, with no success: we know now what not to do.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, War
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, Central Asia
  • Publication Date: 12-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The number of Islamists in Kyrgyz and Kazakh prisons is small but growing, in both size and political significance. Well-organised Islamist proselytisers, mostly imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, are consolidating their position within the informal structures of power behind prison walls. Incarcerating determined activists is providing them with the opportunity to extend their influence among convicts, at first inside prison and then on their release. Problems within jails in Central Asia have been known to seep outside the prison walls; the expansion of radical Islamist thought within prisons is likely to have serious consequences. The paradox of the situation is that, in private at least, political leaders in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are intensely aware that the best way to defeat extremism is to address woeful social and economic conditions, fight the systemic top-to-bottom corruption that besets all the region's regimes, and in the words of one regional leader, “give people a future”.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Asia, Kyrgyzstan