Posted by: Christian | January 3, 2010

Central Asian Dominoes of Doom!

Apparently every country anywhere near Afghanistan is gonna get it, and get it bad. Who’s doing the hyping today? Of course, it’s PBS. Wait, what? PBS? Yes, PBS.  It published an article the other day that includes the phrase “arc of conflict,” which I just adore. Although I am somewhat perturbed that conflicts and scary areas are always non-linear (i.e., the “Shi’a Crescent”). When will conflicts appear alongside straight lines? Anyways, google “arc of conflict™” for a laugh.

And speaking of clichéd phrases, the article even has a heading titled “A New Domino Theory.” This caused me to immediately vomit the breakfast cereal I had for dinner. But I think I’m OK now.

So… this is what PBS published:

Recent developments in the region, however, have raised the opposite question: Can the war in Afghanistan be contained in that country?

“You have global problems in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. All is connected, and especially with Central Asia,” says Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a European Union envoy on terrorism. Bruguiere’s concern, shared by U.S. intelligence officials and other analysts, is that the conflict in Afghanistan could spread to its Central Asian neighbors — Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Afghanistan and Pakistan? Connected at the hip (and taking swings at each other like drunk Siamese twins). Afghanistan and Iran? Much, much less so. Afghanistan and Central Asia? Well… can’t say I really agree with this:

The concern about a widening Afghan war stems from growing international collaboration between radical insurgent groups that had previously focused on their home countries. One example: the Afghan Taliban’s alliance with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU. IMU militants are now in Afghanistan, fighting as part of the Taliban-led insurgency there. The group originated to the north in Uzbekistan. But the IMU apparently has a broader vision these days.

“It really does seem to be the central focus point for people who advocate overthrowing the regimes of Central Asia by force of arms,” says Paul Quinn-Judge, Central Asia director for the International Crisis Group.

It’s largely because of the IMU’s alliance with the Taliban, he says, that the fighting in Afghanistan could spill across borders to the Central Asian countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. It’s a scenario that suggests a latter-day version of the domino theory.

“If the Taliban can consolidate themselves in northern Afghanistan, that’s already going to be an excellent jumping-off point for the IMU and for other Central Asian Islamists. If the Taliban took over in that part of the region, I think it would be a very disturbing development for most of the countries of Central Asia,” Quinn-Judge says. […] “In the mindset of the Taliban and other Islamist movements, Central Asia is now part of the general theater of war,” he says.

Well, once again I am in disagreement with the International Exaggeration Group. This isn’t the first time I’ve found their analysis to be a little too alarmist. Their publication on Tajikistan was one of the more recent ones with which I disagreed. I just wish that they would let Ted Rall design their covers:

The deputy secretary of defense for Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan also popped up in the article re: the IMU.

The IMU has been around for more than a decade. But David Sedney, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Central Asia, recently told a Senate hearing that Islamist groups such as the IMU have in recent months emerged as a more serious threat in several Central Asian countries.

“Local governments in the region share our concern about extremism. This issue has figured much more strongly at the end of this year than it did at the beginning,” he said

Let me guess, the governments are concerned about the masses of crazy Wahhabis crawling everywhere and they just need a some money and toys to take care of the problem? If we are willing to throw money at problems, they will find problems, no problem.

The last paragraph of the article is a gem.

The problem is that if the Taliban take over in Afghanistan, radical Islamist movements such as the IMU could gain a valuable foothold and be positioned to carry their fight to neighboring Central Asian countries. But ramping up the U.S. war effort to defeat the Taliban could pull Central Asian countries into the conflict anyway.

So damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

But not as much of a gem as this quote is:

Until now, Central Asia hasn’t been associated much with the Afghanistan war. But Bruguiere highlights what he calls an “arc of conflict” encompassing Pakistan, Afghanistan, the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and Russia.

“And beyond Russia, we have Europe,” says Bruguiere, a former investigative magistrate in France and the author of a new memoir, What I Could Not Say.

What can be said, aside from the fact that this guy is promoting a book? Well, apparently beyond Russia is a land called Europe. Hopefully the Arc of Conflict dominoes don’t hitch a ride in all that heroin that is making this trip.

Don’t really have time for a full analysis today. Which would sound something like “Numbers and strength of IMU is way overestimated and the Taliban doesn’t care about Central Asia.” But I plan on blogging about Central Asia north of the Amu Darya much more this year, and I will definitely pick up this theme.


  1. Thanks for the good post. Responding to this alarmism could be a full time job.

  2. The most linear connections I’ve heard was in the Caucasus. It was the pro-West Georgia-Azerbaijan block vs the Russia-Armenia-Iran block.

    Plus of Panic?!
    Cross of Chaos?

  3. As an aside: FP included this among 49 photos from “the most-talked about place of 2009,” i.e. Afghanistan:
    “A man stands on the river bank in the village of Garm, some 250km from Dushanbe, on July 12, 2009.”

  4. That’s hilarious.

  5. Maybe “Smiley of Sinisterness” – that way it might capture the Arc of Instability in any country ending in ‘stan (plus Iran?), with dots marking the mischief in far off places like Yemen and Somalia. Maybe the reference to Europe echoes some imagined European fear of being reinvaded by “the east” (IMU and co at the gates of Vienna 2083?)

  6. You do know “Arc of Conflict” is a Thomas Barnett term, right? Part of his grand master plan to invade and reshape the third world to something more corporation-friendly?

  7. You know IR analysis is all screwy when people start resurrecting Time magazine cover stories from 1979.

  8. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/04/2010 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  9. Probably the alarmists are not to be taken seriously in trying to shape the area into something more corporation friendly with such overarching terms (as Joshua Foust put it) – but don’t you think that looking for solutions, the “West” (pundits and decision makers alike) could sometimes look at Afghanistan as linked to the states to the North and not only to Pakistan by the Pakhtun belt? Wouldn’t bringing the Central Asian stakeholders to the table ( the upcoming Afghanistan conference) bring better insight and more promising solutions? see articles by Rubin/Armstrong or F. Starr – I guess in issues like water from the Amu Dariya or the drug trade to these countries it’s most imminent, but other issues may be equally valuable. I have little insight in that direction, coming from Pakistan.

  10. If we don’t nip this in the bud a Corridor of Catastrophe may cut a Pillar of Panic through the Ellipse of Equilibrium! Send the Marines!

  11. Jakob,

    Water is no an issue yet with AF. They don’t have the money to conduct any large scale irrigation from the Amu Darya below the confluence of the Vakhsh and Panj. And for whatever reason (sandy soil?) the areas along the Amu Darya on the Afghan side don’t seem to be promising for agriculture below Imam Saheb [not too sure, consult an agriculture expert]. So I don’t think there is anything to discuss as far as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are concerned. And Tajikistan most definitely isn’t.

    As for the drug trade, that’s working out quite nicely for the powerful people. Nothing to fix there either.

    There are opportunities, such as electricity and gas exports, but nothing that makes CA a major stakeholder in Af like Pakistan or even Iran is.

    As far as “insight and solutions,” the governments of Uz and TJ have settled their (meaning the government’s) problems in a rather unhappy way.

    Basically, the countries of Central Asia are remarkably unlinked to Afghanistan (relatively speaking).


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