Monday, August 5, 2013

Afghanistan Will Become a Threat to Central Asia and Russia after US Leaves, Kazan Expert Says

By Paul Goble

After the United States withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban is likely to return to power and become a base for radical Islamists just as that country was between 1996 and 2001, according to a Kazan-based specialist on Islamic movements. And, he argues, those radicals will threaten the countries of Central Asia in the first instance and Muslim regions of the Russian Federation as well.

Rais Suleymanov, head of the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, said that the Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai will fall to the Taliban just as the government of Mohammad Najibullah did in 1996. And just as in the earlier case, the new rulers of Afghanistan, the Taliban, will become a base for Islamist radicals from both the neighboring countries of Central Asia and from Russia (

Indeed, Suleymanov suggests the situation may be even worse for the post-Soviet region than it was in 1996. After 2014, the new rulers of Afghanistan will have particular reason to “take revenge” against those Central Asian countries that helped the United States and thus redouble their efforts to export “an Islamist revolution.” they may have some success because “the presidents of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are all the age of pensioners.”  Moreover, because so many Central Asian guest workers are likely to come to the Russian Federation, they will carry this Taliban bacillus with them.

Moreover, Suleymanov suggests, there will be a renewed flow of Muslim radicals from the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga to Afghanistan for additional ideological and military training.  Such flows started in the early 1990s, grew exponentially between 1996 and 2001, but have declined to a trickle since the US intervention, he argues.  If they increase again after 2014, and there is every reason to think they will, the governments of the Central Asian countries and of the Russian Federation itself will have to come up with new and more effective strategies to protect themselves.

Of course, Suleymanov admits, the post-2014 situation will not be entirely new. After 2001, many Muslim radicals from Central Asia and Russia continued to go to bases in northern Pakistan. But fewer of them made that trip, and fewer of those who did returned to their national homelands because of the extraordinary difficulties of passing through war-torn Afghanistan.  If that ceases to be an obstacle, there is little question that the backward flow of Central Asian Islamists from the south will be far greater than any seen in the past.

Suleymanov’s argument is both logical and persuasive, but it is important to remember why he is making it just now.  His words are clearly intended to lead Central Asian leaders to conclude that they must make common cause with Moscow in order to keep themselves in power—or at the very least to suggest to them that the Americans are fair weather friends who will soon be gone and thus not have to help the Central Asian elites.

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