The New Great Game Round-Up: November 30, 2016

China Urges Turkey to Extradite Embassy Bombing Suspects to Kyrgyzstan & Major Powers Vying for Influence in Afghanistan

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

China Urges Turkey to Extradite Embassy Bombing Suspects to Kyrgyzstan

Three months after the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek was hit by a suicide car bomber, Kyrgyz authorities are still trying to catch several suspects accused of ordering, financing and preparing the attack.

The trace leads to Turkey, but Kyrgyzstan's suspect list has left more questions than answers.

On September 6, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (GKNB) identified the suicide bomber as an ethnic Uyghur carrying a Tajik passport with the name Zoir Khalilov. According to the GKNB, he was a member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Syria.

The Kyrgyz state security service said that Uyghur terrorist groups in Syria affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra were behind the bombing. Emissaries of al-Nusra allegedly organized and financed the attack through Sirojiddin Mukhtarov, the leader of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad(KTJ), a predominately Uzbek group which pledged allegiance to al-Nusra last year.

Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, also known as Jannat Oshiqlari, reportedly has a Uyghur wing consisting mainly of young and inexperienced recruits.

KTJ leader Sirojiddin Mukhtarov alias Abu Saloh is a native of Kashgar-Kyshtak, a village in Kyrgyzstan's Osh region on the edge of the Fergana Valley. There is some confusion about whether he is an ethnic Uyghur or Uzbek. Mukhtarov played a central role in organizing the attack, according to Kyrgyz authorities.

Five citizens of Kyrgyzstan, four ethnic Uzbeks and one ethnic Kyrgyz born in Uzbekistan,were arrested in the wake of the embassy bombing while another four Kyrgyz citizens were added to the international wanted list.

The four wanted suspects - Mubarak Turganbaev, Burhanidin Jonturaev, Ilyas Sabirov andIzzotillo Sattybayev - were said to be hiding in Turkey, but three of them already went public,claiming they had nothing to do with the bombing.

Shortly after the GKNB declared the representative of "Adal-Tour" in Turkey "M.T." wanted for financing the attack, Adal Tour employee Mubarak Turganbaev denied the accusations on Facebook. Turganbaev said that his company delivers cargo and remittances from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan and explained why his name may have come up during the investigation:

"A man called Burkhan, who has a restaurant business in Turkey asked to transfer $5,000 to a certain Iskender in Bishkek. The mobile phone number 0709-66-87-40 was indicated. Our staff transferred him the money. I want to say I have not participated in a terror act. A warrant was issued for my arrest without anyone making an attempt to contact me for questioning. I did not flee anywhere, and I am in close contact with the consul of Kyrgyzstan in Istanbul. I do not have and never have had links with terrorists."

In early October, Turganbaev took a flight from Istanbul to Kyrgyzstan to give testimony. He was immediately arrested and has since been in custody.

Meanwhile, the Burkhan in Turganbaev's account, Burhanidin Jonturaev, also took to Facebook to declare his innocence, claiming that he unwittingly participated in the plot by helping a friend. Jonturaev said he was cooperating with the investigation and his lawyer had met with the consul of the Kyrgyz Republic in Turkey to hand over relevant documents, but he didn't want to fly to Bishkek for fear of being arrested.

Likewise, Ilyas Sabirov told the media that he had nothing to do with the bombing and that he already testified in the Kyrgyz consulate in Istanbul.

As Kyrgyz authorities are struggling to solve the case, the Chinese government is running out of patience.

On November 17, Kyrgyzstan's Ambassador to Turkey Ibragim Dzhunusov met with his Chinese counterpart Hongyang Yu "to discuss the situation, related to the question of detention of suspects in Turkey, who are suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks at the Embassy of Chinese Republic in Bishkek on August 30, 2016 and according to the available information are hiding in Istanbul."

Hongyang Yu informed the Kyrgyz side that China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi had raised the issue a few days earlier in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu, "during which the Chinese part stressed the need for the speedy arrest of terrorists sheltering in Turkey and extradition them to the Kyrgyz Republic."

Kyrgyz Ambassador Dzhunusov noted that Kyrgyzstan had asked the Turkish authorities to detain the suspects and was still waiting for a response.

This is hardly surprising given Kyrgyzstan's treatment of Turganbaev and the many unanswered questions surrounding the case. The more details emerge, the more confusing it gets, but Beijing is apparently not willing to wait any longer and wants to see some results.

Major Powers Vying for Influence in Afghanistan

With all the focus on Syria, Afghanistan has largely dropped off the radar of Western media while the struggle for influence in the war-torn country is intensifying.

The Afghan government and some Taliban members seem to believethat they can find a solution to the conflict without Pakistan. Russia and China have a different view.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan, announced earlier this month that Moscow will host consultations on Afghanistan between Russia, China and Pakistan in December. "We are discussing this with the Chinese, the Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis," Kabulov said.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry confirmed Kabulov's statement, emphasizing that a working level meeting in the Russia-China-Pakistan format had already taken place.

Both Pakistan and China are part of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), which also includes Afghanistan and the United States. Islamabad still views the QCG as the "appropriate forum" for Afghan peace talks, but Kabul and Washington opted for talks in Qatar without Pakistani and Chinese involvement.

Attempts to drive a wedge between the Taliban and Pakistan have already produced some tangible results.

According to Pakistani and Taliban sources, the Taliban need two or three months for internal consultations before deciding whether or not to resume talks with Kabul. Pakistan had reportedly given them an ultimatum: Consult with Islamabad during the negotiations or have all top Taliban leaders leave Pakistan along with their families.

"We are now exploring the options for talks with foreign stakeholders, as well as with the Afghan side," a member of the Taliban's political office in Qatar told Pakistan's The Express Tribune in a recent interview.

The Taliban leader also welcomed Russia's growing role in the Afghan peace process, saying that the Taliban view Moscow's efforts as "positive."

Russia's Afghanistan envoy Kabulov confirmed that Moscow has been in contact with the Taliban to ensure the safety of Russian nationals and political representatives in Afghanistan. According to well-informed Afghan political analyst Jawed Kohistani, "there has been systematic contact between the Taliban and Russia since 2009."

While the Taliban are exploring their options, some Taliban members are claiming that the leadership shura as well as justice, recruitment and religious councils already moved from Pakistan to southern Afghanistan.

There hasn't been any confirmation of such moves. Leaving Pakistan is an impractical idea, as Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada, a senior diplomat under the Taliban regime, pointed out: "If we left Pakistan we would not survive one week."

However, he also mentioned that "the Taliban want to get away from the influence of Pakistan in order to have respect among Afghans."

Moreover, Kakazada told the Guardian about the Taliban's precarious financial position, which might help explain why the Taliban are now offering to protect major government projects, such as the Mes Aynak copper deposit and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

Both projects have been hampered by poor security, among other things.

China made a substantial investment in the Mes Aynak project and is yet to see any return. This is one of the reasons why Beijing is looking to assume a bigger role in Afghanistan, which - according to India's WION news outlet - includes regular military patrols deep inside Afghan territory.

China's Defense Ministry dismissed the WION report, saying: "Reports in foreign media of Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan do not accord with the facts."

An Afghan official, speaking condition of anonymity, also denied the story.

Meanwhile, Indian media published another interesting report. Indian officials confirmed to The Hindu that India is stepping up its military assistance to Afghanistan. The focus lies on restoring Afghanistan's fleet of Soviet-era helicopters and transport aircraft. This involves a trilateral framework with Russia, according to Indian officials.

Kabul has long called on India to provide more military assistance to Afghanistan, but New Delhi has been cautious not to provoke Pakistan. With tensions between the two nuclear powers escalating, this could be changing. It is possible that India also had a hand in the growing rift between Pakistan and the Taliban.

Even though Afghanistan rarely makes the headlines these days, the struggle for influence is far from over.

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Christoph Germann- Newsbud Author & Analyst

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Analysts, 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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