Alexander KNYAZEV – Independent analyst and researcher
The U.S-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 stirred up activity of Turkish and Syrian Kurds which fits into Washington's “Greater Middle East Initiative” (GMEI) and the US-British-Israeli plans to shape the so-called axis of instability expanding from Lebanon, the Palestinian Autonomy to Syria, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Iran, close to the Afghan border and further on to Kashmir, Xinjiang and Tibet – as it is viewed by the Obama administration.
During the Iraqi campaign of 2003, Turkey – for the first time since signing the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, – had to accept the US position which made the Kurdish movement an independent part of international politics. Thus, the US invasion of Iraq changed the way Turkish politicians understood their role in the national foreign policy.
These latest political changes in Turkey show that its interests no longer serve the US position. Ankara has become less enthusiastic about joining the EU and is now more focused on the Middle East and ready to take into consideration regional interests of Russia and Iran. In August 2010 Ankara announced an intention to exclude Russia, Greece, Iran and Iraq from its 'threat list'.
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Turkey sees economic cooperation with the regions as one of keys to a stronger geopolitical position. And this is where Turkey's policy in Afghanistan stands. The two countries have developed some positive changes in bilateral relations. Firstly, Turkey is a Muslim country, and its troops in Afghanistan are more welcome than Americans and Europeans. Besides, Turkey does not border Afghanistan, which is rather a plus than a disadvantage.
Unlike some other countries, Turkey is not going to control Afghanistan. In addition to this, Turkey is the most experienced country in terms of guerrilla warfare tactics. However, Turkey relies more on diplomacy while promoting peace in Afghanistan.
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But all Turkey's efforts in Afghanistan may fail in case at least a part of the (GMEI) plan, which the US also calls 'Independent Baluchestan', is implemented.
Iranian provinces of Sistan and Baluchestan home nearly 1 million Beluji (Baluch) people. The government of Iran closely watches the way they are settling, preventing deliberate alterations of demographic policy. Actually, there is no 'Baluchestan issue' in Iran as such despite activities of anti-Iranian forces aimed at undermining situation in the areas inhabited by the Beluji people. These forces are represented mainly by two Islamist groups- Mojaheddin-e Khalq and the Fedayeen-e Khalq. Once believed to be left-wing parties, today both organizations can be described as extremist and both are in contact with the CIA and the Iraqi Intelligence Service – Mukhabarat.
Nationalist ideas and separatism are more widely spread in Eastern Baluchistan (Pakistan), where the number of Baluch people stands at about 4 million. The Baluch public organization abroad were founded mainly by people of Pakistani origin, who are trying to stir up ethnic tensions in Iran`s Baluchistan. The idea of 'Great Baluchistsn' is highly appreciated by eastern Baluch people who support nationalist policy. A map of 'Great Baluchistan' covers huge territories which expand far beyond areas inhabited by people speaking the Baluch language. Its western border reaches central Iran and eastern Pakistan. The eastern border spreads to south-west Afghanistan and the Maryisk district of Turkmenistan. After Pakistan was founded in 1947, Baluch leaders tried to unilaterally proclaim independence, however Baluch lands were annexed to Pakistan. In 1952-1955 there was created the Union of Baluch provinces, later turned into the Baluchistan province. However, ethnic clashes continued, especially in the 1970s.
The Baluch population in Afghanistan is estimated at about 300,000. They inhabit the provinces of Nimruz and Hilmend in southwest Afghanistan. They are quite active as members of Pashto community and do not seem to be seeking ethnic independence.
The Balochistan Liberation army (BLA), a militant group organization, which fought against the Pakistani government in 1973-1977, came to the forefront again in 2004. It is said to have 10,000 members, all of them undergoing training in dozens of camps located in the districts of Kohlu, Dera Bugti and Kech-Gvadar. Some Pakistani sources say these camps also train foreign hirelings, including Uzbek and Uighur. The Baloch 'Jundullah' separatist group operates on the Iran-Afghan-Pakistani border. First records of this group date back to 2003.
Uniting all Baloch-speaking territories is the only way to establish an independent state of Baluchistan. With the loss of one of its provinces Iran will be lacking influence in the Gulf, while Pakistan will be simply taken half of its territory. Baluchistan would also gain control of Strait of Hormuz, and provided there are tens of thousands of Baluch people in Gulf countries, this will have an impact on geopolitical balance in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus.
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Pashtunistan, meaning the "land of Pashtuns", appears to be another thorny issue in the line with Baluchistan and Kashmir. Afghanistan had always been opposed to a border demarcation (Durand Line) that was imposed by the British Empire and thus left many Pashtun tribes beyond Afghanistan. But after Britons left, eastern Pashtun tribes inhabiting Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) realized that they should better stay within Pakistan rather than joining Afghanistan. This province's Pashtun tribes were more interested in urban centers of Punjab and Sindh, while independent Afghanistan failed to offer them anything more attractive that would have made them change their way of living as part of the former British India. Eastern Pashtun tribes turned to be involved in different political processes during partition of British India and soon became part of Pakistani elite.
Still, there are many supporters of the 'independent Pashtunistan' project in Kabul or Kandakhar, who are capable of launching a large-scale campaign for unification of Pashtun people under the name of 'Afghan Turkmenistan' (the north of Afghanistan).
There are signs of growing tension in Afghanistan: resistance to foreign presence, a trend of decreasing the number of ISAF troops, weakness of Afghan national security forces. Apart from this, one should not forget about the 'revival' of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in northern and northeast provinces as well as its growing activity in Central Asia.
There were signs of growing tension in Tajikistan in the second half of 2010. After clashes in May-April 2010 in Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous district, the government responded with reprisals aimed at members of the former United Tajik Opposition and Muslim clergy. Later some more incidents of the kind took place, including a prison escape of convicted terrorists, riots in Nurek, a suicide attack near a police station in Khudzhand and some other tragic events.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan is equally dangerous. The June 2010 bloody clashes in Osh and Jalalabad resulted in a highly aggressive attitude of Kyrgyz nationalists. An ethnic conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in June also awakened revenge seekers in the Uzbek community in the south of Kyrgyzstan, as well as the rise of anti-Kyrgyz protests in other areas bordering Uzbekistan. Considering highly active extremist groups- IMU and Hizb ut Tahrir- the situation is far from peaceful.
In view of the ongoing transformation of geopolitical system, including regional processes involving Turkey, each government in Central Asia is advised to have a very thorough look at its priorities in foreign policy and be ready for dramatic changes. Apart from the Kurdish issue, there are some other problems where Turkey does not see eye to eye with the US and other countries of the West. These are- relations with Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Greece; the Arab-Israeli conflict; tensions in the Caucasus and in Cyprus; Turkey`s part in Russian energy projects and cooperation in nuclear energy; trade relations with Iran and the Iranian nuclear issue.
I do not mean that this huge region expanding from Maghrib to Xinjiang and Kashmir is doomed. However, we cannot but be aware that the situation may worsen any time. That is why all states of Central Asia are required to join efforts to make their foreign policies more in tune with the present state of affairs.