Factional Fighting in Afghanistan Threatens Central Asian Security
Apr 5, 2022
When the Taliban seized full control of Afghanistan last August, the five Central Asian republics braced for an uptick in security concerns. Seven months later, it is evident that the new regime in Kabul did not precipitate a breakdown in the security order of the region. This is partially because the Central Asian leaders have worked tirelessly to stymie any possibility of destabilization due to changes in Afghanistan immediately after the fall of Kabul. Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev claimed to be in daily communications with the Taliban leadership to safeguard Uzbek interests prior to the complete U.S. troop withdrawal in August. Similarly, Kyrgyz Deputy Head of the Security Council Taalatbek Masadykov met with acting Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Amir Khan Muttaqi to receive security guarantees from the Taliban, while a Kazakhstani delegation discussed the evolving bilateral trade relations with Afghanistan during a December meeting. Half a year later, Central Asia’s longstanding apprehensions of conflict spilling over have mostly abated. Yet, the recent resurgence of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) within Afghanistan’s borders could spell trouble for the stability of Central Asia’s security apparatus.
Recently, the Islamic State in Afghanistan has increased its recruitment schemes in the Central Asian republics. Since 2015, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Recent attempts by ISKP to garner support from Central Asians is motivated by a desire to destabilize the Taliban regime. In the last few months, ISKP propaganda has included Central Asian languages. ISKP’s media branch, Al-Azaim, published two books in Uzbek in the past two months that claimed that the Taliban were slaves to China, Russia, the United States, Pakistan, and Turkey. Al-Azaim also released a book in Tajik titled, “Why Jihad is obligatory.”. Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek-language versions of impassioned ISKP speeches are available for Central Asians to read.
Although it is unlikely that the recent push by Al-Azaim to indoctrinate Central Asians will be successful, it is certainly alarming for the republics. For example, the remaining members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) switched its allegiance from the Taliban to the Islamic State earlier this month. The IMU was founded with an initial goal of overthrowing former Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. More recently, IMU militant group members carrying out lone wolf attacks were said to be responsible for the October 2017 Manhattan attack and the July 2018 Tajikistan attack on bikers. ISKP is also operating in northern Afghanistan. Not only does this region border Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, but it is also home to a majority of Afghanistan’s ethnic Tajik and Uzbek populations. Disenfranchised ethnic minorities could find solace in ISKP’s ideology to destabilize the Taliban regime. However, this frustration might also be channeled towards the Central Asian leadership.
The initial months since the Taliban assumed power have revealed a grim picture for the region. Whilst large-scale offenses against the republics remain unlikely, pressing security concerns persist. Porous borders are a hotbed for extremist groups and drug trafficking, both of which could threaten the stability of the Central Asian governments. Nevertheless, perhaps more difficult to thwart are propaganda schemes to recruit ethnic Central Asians to the ISKP cause. Even though it is unlikely that they will draw supporters from the region to Afghanistan, it legitimizes the frustrations that some Central Asian groups in Afghanistan already hold. Neglecting to act could mean trouble for the future.