The New Great Game Round-Up: February 23, 2014

CIA Drones in Central Asia, Russia to Take Control of Manas Airport, China Fights Separatism & More

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Although Washington is currently busy installing a new puppet regime in Ukraine and simultaneously trying to topple governments in Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere, President Obama still found time this week to meet with the Dalai Lama at the White House. Warnings from China that this meeting could "seriously damage" Washington's ties with Beijing were ignored as usual. The Chinese government does not tolerate any separatist activities, regardless of whether it concerns Tibet, Inner Mongolia or East Turkestan and Beijing hopes to change Western opinion in this regard:

China says it will win West over to its view on Tibet, Xinjiang

China has "time on its side" to win over Western opinion to its point of view on the restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, a senior official wrote on Wednesday, vowing with unusually strong language to ignore foreign pressure on human rights.

Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the top advisory body to parliament, acknowledged this would be a difficult task but said dissenting voices were beginning to be heard in the West.

Zhu said the West would finally "see the real face of the Dalai clique and 'East Turkestan'," referring to exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and the militant forces China says operate in Xinjiang.

China Fights Separatism, Pushes Economic Corridor

The Chinese authorities know very well that the Dalai Lama, his friend Rebiya Kadeer and other anti-Chinese leaders are being supported by the West because the U.S. wants no less than the national disintegration of China. With the struggle for Tibet's independence not making any progress, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is now also promoting the independence of East Turkestan, which is the current focus of Washington's efforts to destabilize China. These efforts were highlighted in recent weeks when several terrorist attacks rocked Xinjiang. Terrorist activities in China are largely confined to the autonomous region but the 2013 Tiananmen Square attack demonstrated that other parts of the country could be targeted as well and Beijing's police counts on the population to prevent similar attacks in the Chinese capital:  

Beijing to reward terrorism whistleblowers

Police in Beijing announced on Friday informants who expose terrorist plots will be rewarded.

Those who provide extremely important information that contributes significantly to the prevention or investigation of violent terrorist activities will be rewarded with at least 40,000 yuan (6,539 U.S. dollars), according to the bureau.

However, it is doubtful if the Uyghur "freedom fighters" will carry out more attacks in Beijing instead of focusing on Xinjiang. After all, China's far west is not being targeted by accident. The autonomous region is, for example, an integral part of the planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This trade corridor will link the Pakistani port of Gwadar with Kashgar, the capital of the identically named prefecture in Xinjiang, which makes the headlines regularly due to terrorist attacks. In fact, the mega project is threatened by terrorism on both ends. Nevertheless, Beijing and Islamabad emphasized the importance of the economic corridor during the recent trip of Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain to China and agreed to accelerate the construction:

Pakistani, Chinese Leaders Pledge To Push 'Economic Corridor'

Pakistan and China have signed agreements to build a new airport and upgrade the Karakorum Highway as part of efforts to accelerate development of an "economic corridor." 

The agreements signed included a preliminary accord for constructing an international airport at the Pakistani port of Gwadar.

Islamabad is determined to go ahead with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor despite strong opposition from Washington. U.S. pressure has already impeded the construction of another very important Pakistani project, the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline. With the House of Saud now also working against the pipeline, the prospects for this project are bleak. Therefore, the Pakistani government is probably not willing to give up on the economic corridor as well.

CIA Drones in Central Asia

Meanwhile, the Obama regime is making sure that the CIA will be able to continue violating Pakistan's sovereignty with its drones even if all American troops are forced to leave Afghanistan at the end of this year:

U.S. seeks new bases for drones targeting Al Qaeda in Pakistan

Obama administration is making contingency plans to use air bases in Central Asia to conduct drone missile attacks in northwest Pakistan in case the White House is forced to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan at the end of this year, according to U.S. officials.

The CIA cannot fly drones from its Afghan drone bases without U.S. military protection, according to several American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. If the bases are evacuated, the CIA fleet of armed Predator and Reaper drones could be moved to airfields north of Afghanistan, U.S. officials say, without naming the countries.

The article goes on the mention the Central Asian countries, which could provide a new home for the CIA's drones, with the most likely candidates being Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is relatively immune to Russian pressure and the Americans already used an air base in the country to conduct drone flights until they were evicted in 2005. Just this week, a delegation from the U.S. National Defense University visited Uzbekistan's capital to meet with leaders of the Uzbek Foreign Ministry. The only obstacle to a fruitful Uzbek-American cooperation is Washington's habit of criticizing the Uzbek regime for its horrific human rights record. So the U.S. government is now doing its best to ignore Islam Karimov's disregard for human rights and to treat him like all the other dictators who are backed by the United States:

As Uzbekistan's Utility To U.S. Drops, Military Aid Bolstered

The U.S. Congress has again given the State Department the go-ahead to give military aid to Uzbekistan in spite of concerns about the country's poor record on human rights, a State Department official has told The Bug Pit.

It should be noted that the waiver is renewed, and U.S. military aid is growing, as Uzbekistan's utility to the U.S. is dropping dramatically. While Uzbekistan played a key role in getting equipment in to Afghanistan, it has been much more reluctant to help the U.S. get its equipment out, which is the main task now. Less than one percent of U.S. equipment leaving Afghanistan now travels via the Northern Distribution Network, ostensibly the key piece of cooperation between the U.S. and Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan's neighbor Tajikistan appears to be the other candidate for the new drone base. Although the Tajik regime is highly susceptible to Russian pressure and Moscow vehemently opposes an American base in Tajikistan, some indications suggest that Washington and Dushanbe are considering this option:

Where In Central Asia Would The U.S. Put A Drone Base?

For what it's worth, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency
just advertised for a job for an intelligence officer to be posted in Dushanbe to work on "short and long term analysis of military capabilities, infrastructure or political-military issues."

At the end of last month, Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of U.S. special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, met with senior U.S. and Tajik officials in Dushanbe to discuss "issues of bilateral security cooperation" and "continued military cooperation" between the United States and Tajikistan. This week, Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of U.S. Army Central Command (ARCENT) also visited the Tajik capital to do the same:

Commander of U.S. Army Central Command visits Central Asian states

General Terry met with U.S. Ambassador Susan Elliott to consider ongoing military cooperation between the United States and Tajikistan, including cooperation between the Ministry of Defense of Tajikistan and ARCENT.

Convincing the corrupt Tajik authorities to host a CIA drone base is certainly not the most difficult task. If the United States finally decided to support the Rogun Dam, the issue would already have been resolved. The Tajik regime has been lobbying hard for this project in Washington via the state-owned Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco):

Tajikistan Using DC Proxies to Build Support for Rogun Dam

According to
Justice Department filings, Talco pays the lobbying firm, Fabiani & Company, a $1.2-million annual retainer to “develop a favorable US-Tajikistan relationship” and “educate” American officials about Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon’s dream project: Rogun, the would-be tallest hydropower dam in the world. The contract, which began in October 2012, has led to dozens of meetings involving Fabiani representatives and US officials. Fabiani also has pushed story ideas that have evolved into puff pieces in US media.

Russia to Take Control of Manas Airport

Moscow will certainly keep a close eye on the rosy Tajik-American relations, while efforts to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border continue. Nikolay Bordyuzha, Secretary General of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, was in Dushanbe this week to keep Tajik leader Emomalii Rahmon informed on the progress of the CSTO's joint program to protect the threatened border, which had been initiated during the CSTO summit in Sochi last September:

Tajikistan needs serious support for protection of its border with Afghanistan, says CSTO SG

“We are currently working on this program, a working group has been set up,” said Bordyuzha. “All CSTO member nations have made commitments to provide support for development of border infrastructure that includes technical means, construction of frontier posts and border crossing points, etc.”

“Belarus has made a decision to provide quite considerable funds and we have handed over the nomenclature of these funds to Tajik border guards. Armenia has made a decision to purchase all terrain vehicles (ATVs) for Tajik border guards. Kazakhstan has also made an appropriate decision. Russia has already worked out the nomenclature and just approval of the president is needed,” Bordyuzha added.

According to Bordyuzha, massive incursions from Afghanistan into Tajikistan are unlikely but the instability in Afghanistan will nevertheless affect the Central Asian country. Since the same goes for neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz weapons and military hardware are currently being repaired and modernized in Russia. Moscow pledged to support Kyrgyzstan after NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan but Russia's assistance is of course not free of charge. At first Bishkek had to kick the Americans out of the Transit Center at Manas and now the Russians are looking to take advantage of this:

Bishkek May Cede Control Of Manas Airport To Russia

The Kyrgyz government says it may cede control of the country's Manas airport near the capital, Bishkek, to Russia. 

On February 19, a Russian delegation signed a preliminary agreement with Kyrgyz authorities that includes the ownership of the airport, which has also been used as a transit center for NATO troops and supplies, and is currently hosting U.S. military personnel.

Kyrgyz Deputy Energy Minister Raimbek Mamyrov told reporters in Bishkek on February 20 that, according to the document signed by the two sides, Russia's state-controlled Rosneft oil giant expressed its willingness invest some $1 billion into the modernization of Manas airport in exchange for obtaining 51 percent ownership of the facility.

At any rate, the Russians will not use the airport to meet with jihadi mercenaries like the Americans used to do. Considering that terrorism is already a huge problem in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz authorities will certainly prefer the Russian presence. Although a few terrorist recruiters were recently busted, Bishkek struggles to contain the recruitment of young men for jihad in Syria and elsewhere. The problem is most prevalent in the south of the country, where Kyrgyzstan's intelligence agency arrested once again several terrorists at the beginning of this week:

National security agency foils actions of terrorists planning terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan

The State National Security Committee of Kyrgyzstan foiled activities of the underground terrorist group in Osh region plotting terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan.

Six natives of Osh region were detained. The security agency found some detained members of the group underwent training at camps of international terrorist organizations in Syria and participated in the hostilities there. Others were representatives of the crime world.

The group intended to obtain firearms and special means to organize terrorist attacks in Osh and Bishkek, armed assaults at rich people.

A few days later, the Osh police also explained how these Kyrgyz citizens came up with the idea to start a career as jihadi mercenaries [emphasis mine]:

Detained terrorist group led by Osh mosque deputy imam - Kyrgyz police

A deputy imam of an Osh mosque was in charge of the terrorist group trained in the camps of transnational terrorist organizations in Syria and detained in southern Kyrgyzstan, the Osh police told Interfax on Wednesday.

Detectives learned that the group leader was trained in a religious school in Syria and studied in the United Arab Emirates.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

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