ISLAMISM IN CENTRAL ASIA AND THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT

Author : Admin | Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Posted in category Special Analysis
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Overview

The Arab 2011 upheavals and the follow-up developments, as well as the Western and regional political actors’ renewed efforts aimed to end the Afghan armed conflict, are bringing to the analysts’ attention the evolution of Islamism in Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent.

Most analysts followed closely the contacts between the Afghan Taliban insurgents and US officials in Qatar, as well as the Pakistani foreign minister’s visit to Kabul, to discuss the war against terrorism and political reconciliation.

The Taliban disclosed at the beginning of this year that their representatives had initial contacts with US officials as part of reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. Moreover, the insurgents opened a Taliban political office in Qatar to further the peace process.

The talks were aimed at building trust between the two sides ahead of the upcoming peace talks. According to Maulavi Qalamuddin, who once led the group’s religious police, the delegation included several former officials, as well as a former secretary to the Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar.

The discussions came after several major setbacks of the efforts aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation. The assassination of Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September 2011, led to Afghan allegations that neighboring Pakistan was behind it. While the two sides were engaged in a war of words over the issue, the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border US airstrike in late November dealt another blow to joint counter-terrorism efforts and political reconciliation in Afghanistan. The deadly raid led to suspension of Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States and NATO forces, and Islamabad said that restoration of the ties is contingent on approval by the country’s parliament, due to meet in February 2012.

Pakistan is clearly interested in playing an active role in the peace negotiations involving the United States and Taliban over the future of Afghanistan, after the Pakistani security service ISI has failed to prevent the Taliban from meeting US officials without ISI approval. At the beginning of February 2012, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Gilani and the Foreign Minister Hina Khar visited Qatar, thus making clear that Pakistani officials decided they cannot prevent the talks from occurring and do not want to be left on the sidelines.

Most analysts point out the possibility of an increased secularization of the Arab world, the growing trend of the Muslim population in the area, as well as local political developments (such as instability and/or increased persecution from the authorities in some former Soviet republics in Central Asia), as potential risk factors for increased Islamic radicalism or “jihadism” (as defined by the US Stratfor Global Intelligence Service[1]).

The US intelligence think tank’s forecast for 2012 sees the rising Islamist militancy in the region as “the more pressing problem”, in the context of its assessment that “2012 is the year in which it will become clear that the Post-Cold War world has come to an end, being replaced by changed players and changed dynamics”.

I. Islamism in the Indian sub-continent: movements and influence

Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Central Asia, where it came during the Middle Ages (the Battle of Talas in 751, between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang Dynasty, is considered as the turning point initiating mass conversion into Islam in Central Asian region). Islamisation in the region also had the effect of blending Islam into native cultures, creating new forms of Islamic practices, in some places known as folk Islam. In India, Islam came with the newly Islamised Arab merchants and traders on the Malabar Coast in the 7th century. Islam arrived in north India in the 12th century and has since become a part of the country’s life and culture, being practiced by more than 13.4% of India’s population.

1) Hanafi and its followers in South and Central Asia: Deobandi and Barelvi

The most widespread form of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence in the region is the Hanafi madhab, which is considered by the experts as being the most open to new ideas among the schools of Sunni jurisprudence. Hanafi madhab is one of the four madhab or Sunni schools of law (Shafii, Hanbali, Maliki, and Hanafi). It is widespread in Asia, but also in Southeast Asia and Turkey.

Madhab is an Islamic term that refers to a school of thought or religious jurisprudence (fiqh), within Sunni Islam. There are currently four recognized schools:

a)    The Hanafi school, founded by Imam Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man is the largest school of thought followed by most Muslims around the world. It is predominant among Sunni Muslims in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, northern Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Balkans and in many western countries. There are movements within this madhab such as Barelvi and Deobandi.

b)    Shafi`i , founded by Imam Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi`i, is the second largest school of thought in terms of followers. It is most prevalent in Egypt, Somalia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Yemen, among Kurds, Kerala (Mappilas) and is officially followed by the governments of Brunei and Malaysia.

c)    The Maliki school derives from the work of Imam Malik ibn Anas. It is practiced in North and West Africa. It is the third-largest of the four schools.

d)    Hanbali is considered to be the most conservative of the four schools, since it rejects the use of philosophical argument in matters of religious belief. The school was started by the students of Imam Ahmad. Hanbali jurisprudence is predominant among Muslims in Saudi Arabia.

Named from its founder, Imam Abu Hanifa, the Hanafi is the major school of Iraqi Sunni Arabs. It makes considerable use of reason or opinion in legal decisions. Sunni Hanafi creed is essentially non-hierarchial and decentralized, which has made it difficult for 20th century rulers to incorporate its religious leaders into strong centralized state systems. Hanafi scholars refuse to control a human religious or spiritual destiny, and refuse to give that right to any human institution.

Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence was born in Kufa, Iraq about 700 a.d. (he died in 767)  He was one of the earliest Muslim scholar-interpreters to seek new ways of applying Islamic tenets to everyday life. In his lifetime Abu Hanifa was disgraced, called ignorant, inventor of new beliefs, hypocrite and kafir. He was imprisoned and poisoned. Abu Hanifa’s interpretation of Muslim law was extremely tolerant of differences within Muslim communities. He also separated belief from practice, elevating belief over practice. Hanafi took Shafi as his rival and vice versa.

Most of the Hanafi school follows the doctrine of Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud Abu Mansur al-Samarqandi al-Maturidi al-Hanafi (d. 333), known in his time as the Imam of Guidance (Imm al-Hud). The majority of the Taliban are Maturidis.

The Hanafi school is dominant in the Arab Middle East, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The followers of Imam Abu Hanifa are found in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, China, North Africa, Egypt, and in the Malay Archipelago. The school is followed by the majority of the Muslim population of Turkey, Albania, the Balkans, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India and Iraq. Most of the Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Ethnic Kazakhs, who constitute approximately one half of the national population, historically are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi School. Ethnic Uzbeks, Uyghurs, and Tatars, comprising less than 10 percent of the population, also largely are Sunni Hanafi. Other Islamic groups, which account for less than 1 percent of the population of Kazakhstan, include Shafit Sunni (traditionally practiced by Chechens), Shiite, Sufi, and Akhmadi.

Notwithstanding their common heritage from Imam Abu Hanifa, the scholars belonging to the Hanafi madhhab are divided, mainly in the Deobandi and the Barelvi schools, and these two schools have different attitude toward Wahhabism (related to the Hanbali madhaf).

The Deobandi movement began in Darul Uloom Deoband in Deoband, India[2], where its foundation was laid on 30 May 1866. Its six founders were Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi, Muhammad Yaqub Nanautawi, Shah Rafi al-Din, Sayyid Muhammad Abid, Zulfiqar Ali, Fadhl al-Rahman ‘Usmani and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. They played a key role in establishing similar institutions in other parts of the Indian subcontinent. The so-called “Deobandi Tradition” is much older than the Deoband madrassah that brought together Muslims who were hostile to British rule and committed to a literal and austere interpretation of Islam.

The Deobandi school argues that the reason Islamic societies have fallen behind the West in all spheres of endeavor is because they have been seduced by the amoral and material accoutrements of Westernization, and have deviated from the original pristine teachings of the Prophet.

For the last 200 years, Sunnis often have looked to the example of the Deoband madrassah, which is reputed to be the second largest religious school in the Sunni Muslim world, following only Al-Ahzar in Cairo, and has long sought to purify Islam by discarding supposedly un-Islamic accretions to the faith and reemphasizing the models established in the Koran and the customary practices of the Prophet Mohammed. Additionally, Deobandi scholars often have opposed what they perceive as Western influences.

Another group, Tablighi Jamaat, founded in 1926 by Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi, promoted the ideas of the Deobandi school worldwide. Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary organization, came forth as an offshoot of the Deobandi movement. Its inception is believed to be a response to Hindu reform movements, which were considered a threat to vulnerable and non-practicing Muslims. It gradually expanded from a local to a national organization, and finally to a transnational movement, and it now has followers in over 150 countries.

The Deobandi interpretation holds that a Muslim’s first loyalty is to his religion and only then to the country of which he is a citizen or a resident; secondly, that Muslims recognize only the religious frontiers of their Ummah and not the national frontiers; thirdly, that they have a sacred right and obligation to go to any country to wage jihad to protect the Muslims of that country.

The Deobandi ideas are very popular in Pakistan. The movement that was founded in response to British colonial rule in India, later hardened in Pakistan into bitter opposition to what its members view as the country’s neo-colonial elite. The Islamic Deobandi militants share the Taliban’s restrictive view of women, and regard Pakistan’s minority Shia as non-Muslim. They seek a pure leader, or amir, to recreate Pakistani society according to the egalitarian model of Islam’s early days under the Prophet Mohammed. President Musharraf himself is a Deobandi, actually born in the same city in India, where the school took its name.

The Barelvi movement, known among its followers as “Ahle Sunnat wal Jama’at” (“People of the traditions [of Muhammad] and the community”) traces its history to mid nineteen century, as a movement against wahabism (see below), which was shaped by the writings of Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi (1856–1921). The movement has taken a stand against all hardliner ideologies running in the name of Islam. It defended against contemporary traditionalist Islamic beliefs and practices and from the criticisms of movements like the Deobandi and Wahhabi. This included a defense of many traditional practices and rites associated with popular Sufism.

According to most estimates, the majority of Muslims in India and Pakistan adhere to the Barelvi movement, as well as most of the South Asian Muslims in the United Kingdom. Barelvis follow the Ash’ari and Maturidi schools, as well as the main local Sufi orders. The non-Pashtun population of Pakistan is predominantly Barelvi. The stronghold of Barelvism remains Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan. By one estimate, in Pakistan, the Barelvis were 50% of the Muslims, and the Deobandis 20%. Other estimates show that some 15 per cent of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims would consider themselves Deobandi, and some 60 per cent, are in the Barelvi tradition based mostly in the province of Punjab. On the other hand, some 64 per cent of the total seminaries are run by Deobandis, against only 25 per cent by the Barelvis.

The differences between Deobandi and Barelvi are mainly philosophical, but they tend to shift to the political scene. The Wahhabi (Arabia), Deobandi (Pakistan and India) and Jamaat-I-Islami all are anti-sufi, and against the over devotion to Muhammad, whereas the Barelvis emphasize Muhammad’s uniqueness.

Mapping the distribution of Deobandi and Barelvi adherents is all but impossible, as the two movements are spatially intertwined. One can, however, easily depict their place of origin, as both movements are named for towns in northern India: Deoband and Bareilli. Although radical Deobandi groups are most closely associated with Pakistan and Afghanistan, the movement’s intellectual and spiritual heart is still the Indian city of Deoband. Barelvi Islam is more diffuse, without a clear center of gravity.

For example, the Muslim League, founded by the Aga Khan, was supported by the Barelvis while the Deobandis opposed the formation of Pakistan, since they wanted to islamise all of India. But the Deobandis in Pakistan were in favor of Pakistan into the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. The Pakistan Movement got support from the Barelvis (Low Church). It had faced opposition from the National Indian Congress which was supported by the Deobandi seminaries (High Church). However, after the establishment of Pakistan as an Islamic state in 1949, Barelvi Low Church was too mixed up with mysticism to be a source of Islamic law. Ironically, Pakistan moved away from the “spiritual pluralism” of the Barelvis, who had supported Pakistan, and relied on the more puritanical Deobandis who had opposed it.

The relationship between the Deobandi movement and the state of Pakistan is ambiguous. Deobandi thinking is too traditional to be nationalistic, regarding the community of the faithful, not the modern nation-state, as the proper Koranic political vehicle. Although the Pakistani government increasingly veered in the direction of the harsh Deobandi movement, his connection, however, is considered to be a two-edged sword for modern Pakistan, as the Deobandi faithful ultimately have contempt for national identities and borders.

The Deobandi movement is aligned with Wahhabism and advances an equally harsh, puritanical interpretation of Islam. The Barelvi movement, in contrast, defends a more traditional South Asian version of the faith centered on the practices of Sufi mysticism. In India and especially Pakistan, tensions between the two groups can be intense, sometimes verging on open warfare. Extremist Deobandi groups, such as the Taliban, specifically target the shrines of Sufi mystics, venerated by Barelvis as places of sanctity and worship. The most hardline Deobandis came to regard Barelvis, as well as Shiites, as non-Muslim opponents deserving of attack.

As to Wahhabism, it comes from the Sunni Hanbali school of law.  The Hanbalites held to the Koran as the literal, unquestioned, and uncreated Word of God, while affirming the Tradition (or customs) of Muhammad (Sunna, and hence Sunni) and the consensus of the Muslim community (jama’a). The Hanbalite tradition, in turn, produced the strict Wahhabi tradition in Arabia in the late eighteenth century. The founder of the Wahhabi tradition was Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, a religious scholar who formed an alliance with Muhammad bin Saud, the first ruler of what would become Saudi Arabia.

The term “Wahhabism” is inter-changed sometimes with “Salafism”, referring to the so-called Salafi movement, revived in the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, and was instrumental in the rise of the House of Saud to power. Salafism is a puritanical and legalistic Islamic movement under the Sunni umbrella, and is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia. The term “Wahhabi” comes from the name of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and they are considered the far right wing of Salafi Islam.

The Wahhabis, believing that modern Islam had become corrupted and polluted from within, sought to return Islam to its pure roots. The Wahhabi movement became very influential, leading to the founding of other similar movements. In the twentieth century, Wahhabi Islam would provide the theological foundation for a political fundamentalist state. By the 1980s, the legacy of Islamic revivalism, as expressed in Wahhabi Islam and the Deobandi madrassah tradition, had found firm fruition in a milieu of political fundamentalist organizations which were actively seeking to impose sharia law in states throughout the Arab world and beyond.

According to some analysts, although the majority of the Islamic population (Sunni) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, belong to the Hanafi sect, the theologians who have pushed Pakistan towards Islamic Radicalism for decades, as well as the ones who were the founders of the Taliban, espoused Wahhabi rhetoric and ideals, taking  inspiration from Saudi Hanbali theologians who immigrated there in the 18th century, to help their Indian Muslim brothers with Hanbali theological inspiration against the British colonialists. Propelled by oil-generated wealth, the Wahhabi worldview increasingly co-opted the Deobandi movement in South Asia.

Radical Islamist groups in South Asia such as the Taliban are often classified as Wahhabis, although, as seen above, they belong to different branches of the faith (Wahhabism, based in Saudi Arabia, is associated with Hanbali law, but the Taliban follow Hanafi law, in general the most liberal variant. The confusion reflects the fact that the differences between Wahhabis and the more fundamentalist Hanafis in South Asia have diminished almost to the vanishing point. The two groups may differ on a number of minor practices, but they concur on the larger issues. As is often noted, Saudi Arabian religious financing has helped break down the barriers between the two sects, and some of the most radical South Asian Islamist groups have fully embraced the Wahhabi creed.

2) The Talibans and the Haqqani network

Most of the analysts – as well as the main Western actors in the Afghanistan conflict – are currently assessing the risks associated with the Taliban movement and the connected groups (mainly the Haqqani network), in the perspective of the withdrawal of the Western forces from the area.

The Taliban movement was initiated in Afghanistan the fall of 1994, in the context of the instability that marked the country after the Soviet withdrawal, when a group called the Taliban (“students”) vowed to cleanse the nation of warlords and criminals and to create a “pure” Islamic government subject to their own strict interpretations of the Sharia.

The Taliban are the most radical Islamists in Afghanistan, where Islam is the official state religion, with approximately 99.7% of the population being Muslim. About 80-89% practice Sunni Islam and belong to the Hanafi Islamic law school while 10-19% are Shia. Sufism has also influence in Afghanistan, in both rural and urban settings, especially among the middle classes of larger villages, town and cities. Three Sufi orders are prominent: the Naqshbandiya, founded in Bukhara, the Qadiriya, founded in Baghdad, and the Cheshtiya, located at Chesht-i-Sharif east of Herat. Herat and its environs have the largest number and greatest diversity of Sufi branches. Afghanistan is also unique in that there is little hostility between the ulama (religion scholars) and the Sufi orders. A number of Sufi leaders are considered as ulama, and many ulama closely associate with Sufi brotherhoods. The general populace accords Sufis respect for their learning and for possessing karamat, a psychic spiritual power conferred upon them by God.

Many of the Taliban leaders were one-time mujaheedin, but the bulk of their forces were young Afghan refugees trained in Pakistani religious schools, especially those run by the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam (JUI), an aggressively conservative Pakistani political religious party. Headquartered in Kandahar, the Taliban swept the country. In September 1996 they captured Kabul and ruled over two-thirds of Afghanistan. Their activities and most of all the refusal of the Taliban to hand over Al Qaeda triggered civil and later on the international anti-terrorism war led by the US. In December 2001, the Taliban gave up Kandahar, their last stronghold, dispersing without surrendering, and since then they continued the insurgency.

While in power, they enforced one of the strictest interpretations of Sharia law ever seen in the Muslim world, and leading Muslims have been highly critical of the Taliban interpretations of Islamic law. The majority of their leaders were influenced by Deobandi fundamentalism, and many also strictly follow the social and cultural norm called Pashtunwali. The Taliban movement is primarily made up of members belonging to Pashtun tribes, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s extremely strict and anti-modern ideology has been described as an “innovative form of sharia”, combining Pashtun tribal codes with radical Deobandi interpretations of Islam. Also contributing to the mix was the jihadism and pan-Islamism of Osama bin Laden. Their ideology was a departure from the Islamism of the anti-Soviet mujaheedin rulers they replaced, who tended to be mystical Sufis, traditionalists, or radical Islamists inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Like Wahhabi and Deobandis, the Taliban do not consider the Shia to be Muslims (the Shia in Afghanistan consist mostly of the Hazara ethnic group which totaled almost 10% of Afghanistan’s population).

The Haqqani network is allied with the Taliban and originated during the mid-1970s, when it was nurtured by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It’s les by Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani and it operates on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border but US officials believe is based in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal frontier. It is considered to be “the most resilient enemy network” and one of the biggest threats to the US-led NATO forces and the Afghan government in the current war in Afghanistan.

In the ‘80s, Jalaluddin Haqqani was successful at forging relationships with outsiders prepared to sponsor resistance to the Soviets, including the CIA, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and wealthy Arab private donors from the Persian Gulf. In the late 1980s, Haqqani had the CIA’s full support. Foreign jihadists recognized the network as a distinct entity as early as 1994, but Haqqani was not affiliated with the Taliban until they captured Kabul and assumed de facto control of Afghanistan in 1996. After the Taliban came to power, Haqqani accepted a cabinet level appointment as Minister of Tribal Affairs. Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the subsequent overthrow of the Taliban government, the Haqqanis fled to the Pakistani bordering tribal regions and regrouped to fight against coalition forces across the border.

Currently, the Haqqani leadership is based in Miranshah, North Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. The network is active in Afghanistan’s southeastern areas and in September 2011, Sirajuddin Haqqani told Reuters that the group feels “more secure in Afghanistan besides the Afghan people”. Haqqani is reported to run his own training camps, to recruit his own foreign fighters, and to seek out financial and logistic support on his own, from his old contacts. The network is said to run a series of front companies selling automobiles and real estate, but also to receive funds from extortion, kidnappings and smuggling operations throughout eastern Afghanistan.

Estimates of the Haqqanis’s numbers vary. A 2009 article indicates that they are thought to have about 4000 to 12000 Taliban under their command, while a 2011 report places its strength roughly at 10000-15000. The network is comprised broadly of four groups: those remaining from the Soviet-era jihad, those who have joined since 2001, those from North Waziristan who have joined in more recent years, and foreign militants of primarily Arab, Chechen and Uzbek origins.

3) Pakistan: emerging as a radical Islam center

In Pakistan, Islam has taken a radical turn since the 1980s, following Pakistan’s involvement in arming the mujaheedin to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan[3] and the Pakistani army’s continued support for Islamist militants. The country emerged as a center for global jihad as well as the main haven for Taliban fighters at war with US-led forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan also faces its own instability and violence as militant groups target the state.

A transition from scriptural fundamentalism to political fundamentalism took place in Pakistan via the Jama’at-i Islami ( JI, Islamic Party), founded by the Deobandi-trained Sayyid Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi (1903-1979) in 1941.  Concerned with the decline of Muslim power in India in the early twentieth century, Mawdudi militated for the severing of the social and political ties with Hindus and other non-Muslims and for taking up arms against non-Muslims. The Jama’at-i Islami was thus formed as a political movement to transform society via strict Islamic ideology, considering itself as the “vanguard” of an Islamic revolution. However, after the coming of a more democratic regime in Pakistan in 1988, Jama’at-i Islami had to recognize the importance of further compromise in order to have a meaningful voice in the political structure of Pakistan.

Sister organizations with similar objectives and ideological approaches exist in India, (Jamaat-e-Islami Hind), Bangladesh (Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh), Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, and there are “close brotherly relations” with the Islamist movements and missions “working in different continents and countries”, particularly those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The JI envisions an Islamic government in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, governing by Islamic law. It opposes Westernization, including capitalism, socialism, or such practices as bank interest, and favors an Islamic economic order and Caliphate.

Since the US-led war in Afghanistan in 2001, sectarian violence has been on the rise and killed more than twenty-five hundred people in Pakistan. This, experts say, is because of the links forged between local militants in Pakistan with global jihadists like al-Qaeda who arrived from Afghanistan a decade ago. In recent years, militant groups like the Taliban have increasingly attacked Shias and Ahmadis as well as Sufi shrines of the Barelvis, who follow a more moderate interpretation of Islam.             Hizb ut-Tahrir (literally: “party of liberation”, that will be described later in this paper) was also active in Pakistan, until proscribed in 2004, but the group has allegedly penetrated the Pakistani military and now has some cells in the Army.

Pakistan has also used the Islamist militant groups to wage war against India in Kashmir. Since 9/11, Pakistan’s alliance with the United States in the war in Afghanistan has led many of these groups to turn on the Pakistani state. However, experts say, the army continues to support some militant groups as strategic assets in India and Afghanistan.

Lack of governance, poor socioeconomic conditions, and a problem-ridden state-run education system resulted in greater space for religious parties. The idea that Pakistan is being sieged by all sides, including by India and the United States, also leads to greater religiosity as a defense mechanism in society. Anti-Americanism, especially in the wake of the Afghan war, some analysts say, has fed growing intolerance in Pakistani society. While analysts say the Pakistani army remains selective in the terrorist groups it targets, the army’s action against groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates has led to a blowback within Pakistan. Many local militants, in particular the Pakistani Taliban, now target the Pakistani state, and terrorist violence is on the rise. Almost all religious parties hold the United States responsible for increasing violence and suicide bombings inside Pakistan.

Pakistan’s intervention in Afghanistan and the Islamic policies at home gradually turned the country into the epicenter of global Islamic militancy. The Mullah-Military alliance has been strengthened during the Musharraf regime. The recent growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the South Asian countries, apart from specific historic and social factors in each country, can be greatly attributed to Pakistan’s religious parties and its strategic anti-India policies. After Afghanistan, Bangladesh is one of the larger Muslim countries upon which the threat of Islamic militancy looms large. The involvement of Pakistani agencies can also be clearly discerned in the growth of militancy in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

II. Militant Islam’s revival in the Central Asian former Soviet republics

In the former Soviet Central Asia republics, the Gorbachev policy of glasnost favored a religious revival, including new mosques, literature, and the return of private religious schooling. For many, Islam constituted a national heritage that had been repressed during the Soviet era. Furthermore, Islam was attractive because it offered alternatives and solutions to the myriad political and economic problems facing the republics in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. However, the governments of the Central Asian republics were wary of Islam in the political sphere. Their fears of undue influence were soon justified by the outbreak of the Tajik Civil War in 1992, between the Tajik government and a coalition of opponents led by a radical Islamist group called the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). The civil war, which lasted until 1997, demonstrated to the other former Soviet republics the dangers posed by Islamic opposition groups. The takeover in 1996 of Afghanistan by the Taliban further emphasized that threat. The IRP was one of several similar Islamic opposition groups, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which also fought against the Tajik government in the civil war.

The IRP had its origins in underground Islamic groups in the Soviet Union. It was formed in 1990 in Astrakhan by a group consisting mostly of Tatar intellectuals, with separate branches for each Soviet republic. It was in fact registered as an official political party in Russia, but was banned by the Central Asian communist governments. Following the civil war, the Tajik government incorporated Islamic groups into the government in order to prevent future tensions. However, the other Central Asian republics did not follow this example, continuing instead to repress and persecute Islamic groups rather than allow them to participate in the political process.

Following September 11, 2001, foreign powers took much greater interest in preventing the spread of radical Islamic terrorist organizations such as the IRP and IMU. Powers such as the United States, Russia and China were not only interested in fighting terrorism; they also used the war on terror in order to advance their political and economic agendas in the region, particularly over the exploitation of Central Asian energy resources.

At their turn, the local governments took advantage of this shift in international attitude in order to erode the position of Islam in politics. Since 2001, ethnic and religious tensions in the Central Asian republics combined with endemic poverty and poor economic performance have made them increasingly volatile. However, governments as often use Islamic groups as a justification for repression and crackdowns as those groups are the cause of violence, if not more often.

In most Central Asian former Soviet states, the control on the practice of Islam is done through state-approved religious authorities. In all the five Central Asian former Soviet republics, the governments require mosques and madrassahs (religious schools) to register with the state as a condition for operation. The governments say the controls are necessary to fight militant Islamic groups that vow to overthrow the region’s presidents as dictators. In Turkmenistan, the president has sought to portray himself as a messenger of Allah as well as the leader-for-life of his country. At the beginning of this century, a chief cleric who reportedly refused to recognize him as a “true messenger of God” was sacked and sentenced last year to 22 years in prison on charges of treason.

Overall, Islamic militancy in Central Asia is considered a threat to regional stability much lesser if compared to the social and economic problems that plague the region. However, Islam is growing into a potent political force in Central Asia mainly because democratic alternatives for change are suppressed, and Islam is seen as the only remaining hope and ideology for the poor, destitute, and oppressed.

1) Islam in the five Central Asian republics

(a) In Kazahstan, 70% of the country’s population is Muslim according to a 2009 national census. Ethnic Kazakhs are predominantly Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Kazakhstan is the northernmost Muslim-majority country in the world, with Kazakhs being over half of the total population. Other ethnic groups of Muslim background include Uzbeks, Uyghurs and Tatars.

In 1990 Nursultan Nazarbayev, then the First Secretary of the Communist Party, created a state basis for Islam by removing Kazakhstan from the authority of the Muslim Board of Central Asia, the Soviet-approved and politically oriented religious administration for all of Central Asia. Instead, Nazarbayev created a separate muftiate, or religious authority, for Kazakh Muslims. In 1995, Kazahstan adopted a constitution that stipulates that Kazakhstan is a secular state and forbids religious political parties and organizations that seek to stimulate racial, political, or religious discord; thus, Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian state whose constitution does not assign a special status to Islam. The ethnic Kazakh minority are also the main Muslim group in neighboring Mongolia (approx. 5% of the total population).

Kazakhstan has been more lenient than other Central Asian states as far as banning specific Islamist extremist groups. The Kazakh security services also have not kept up with the shifting population movements in southern Kazakhstan, particularly the extremist groups, although they reportedly are improving with help from Russian intelligence. This comparatively lax attitude allowed militant groups to establish themselves before the government reacted. Uzbekistan’s National Security Service has issued several reports that the IMU, along with newer militant groups like Uzbek Islamic Jihad, has been spreading in Kazakhstan. These groups do not appear to have been very active in Kazakhstan, though other Central Asian states have accused Kazakhstan of giving these groups – which are active in those Central Asian countries – a haven.

(b) In Turkmenistan, over 90% of the population is Muslim. Traditionally, the Turkmen of Turkmenistan, like their kin in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, are Sunni Muslims. Shia Muslims are not numerous, and the Shia religious practices of the Azerbaijani and Kurdish minorities are not politicized. The great majority of Turkmen acknowledge Islam as an integral part of their cultural heritage, but some support a revival of the religion’s status primarily as an element of national revival.

The government oversees official Islam through a structure called the Muslim Religious Board that, together with that of Uzbekistan, constitutes the Muslim Religious Board of Mavarannahr. The Mavarannahr board is based in Tashkent and exerts considerable influence in appointments of religious leaders in Turkmenistan. The governing body of Islamic judges (Kaziat) is registered with the Turkmenistan Ministry of Justice, and a council of religious affairs under the Cabinet of Ministers monitors the activities of clergy.

(c) In Uzbekistan, Muslims constitute over 90% of the population, but the practice of Islam is far from monolithic, many versions of the faith being practiced. During the Soviet era, Uzbekistan had sixty-five registered mosques and as many as 3000 active mullahs and other Muslim clerics. For almost forty years, the Muslim Board of Central Asia, the official, Soviet-approved governing agency of the Muslim faith in the region, was based in Tashkent. On the other hand, the government sponsored official anti-religious campaigns and severe crackdowns on any hint of an Islamic movement or network outside of the control of the state.

However, the end of Soviet power did not bring an upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism, as many had predicted, but rather a gradual re-acquaintance with the precepts of the faith. After 2000, there seems to be a rise of support in favor of the Islamists, which is countered by the repressive measures of the authoritarian regime. The government blamed the May 2005 unrest in Uzbekistan on an extremist aim to overthrow the government of Uzbekistan in order to make it a Central Asian theocratic republic. Uzbek President Islam Karimov “placed blame for the unrest on Islamic extremist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), but the movement denied involvement in the unrest, firmly laying blame on the repressive practices and corruption of the government. Among other blamed groups was the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an armed movement.

Experts assume that Islam itself was probably not the root cause of the unrest as much as a vehicle for expressing other grievances that are more immediate causes of dissension and despair, since many people view political Islam as a solution to these problems.

(d) In Kyrgyzstan, some 86.3% of the country’s population are Muslims, most of them of the Sunni branch, which entered the region during the 8th century. Most of Kyrgyz Muslims practice their religion in a specific way influenced by shamanic tribal customs. The Uzbeks, who make up 12.9 percent of the population, are also Sunni Muslims. The share of the Muslim population is increasing in Kyrgyzstan, while the non-Muslim populations are decreasing. During a July 2007 interview, Bermet Akayeva, the daughter of former president Askar Akayev, stated that Islam is increasingly taking root in Kyrgyzstan. She emphasized that many mosques have been built and that the Kyrgyz are increasingly devoting themselves to the religion.

e) In Tajikistan, Sunni Islam is the most widely practiced religion and Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school is the official religion of Tajikistan since 2009. Tajikistan is the only former Soviet state with Islam as its official religion. The population of Tajikistan is 98% Muslim, (approximately 95% Sunni and 3% Shia), with some Sufi orders. Muslims in Tajikistan also organized politically in the early 1990s.

The most important form of Sufism in Tajikistan is the Naqshbandiyya, a Sufi order with followers as far away as India and Malaysia. Besides Sufism, other forms of popular Islam are associated with local cults and holy places or with individuals whose knowledge or personal qualities have made them influential.

2) Hizb ut-Tahrir

The most popular radical Islamic movement in Central Asia during the 1990s was Hizb ut-Tahrir. Though it does not espouse the same violent methods as groups such as the IRP and IMU (see above), its stated goal is to unite all Muslim countries through peaceful methods and replace them with a restored caliphate. For this reason, governments in Central Asia consider it a threat and have outlawed it as a subversive group in the Central Asian republics. Today, Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned by the Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh governments, which claim it seeks to overthrow them by force.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international Sunni pan-Islamic political organization, commonly associated with the goal of all Muslim countries unifying as an Islamic state or caliphate ruled by Islamic law and with a caliph head of state elected by Muslims. The organization was founded in 1953 in Jerusalem by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, a Palestinian Islamic scholar. Since then Hizb ut-Tahrir has spread to more than 40 countries, and is believed to have about one million members.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is very active in the west, particularly in the United Kingdom, and is also active in several Arab and Central Asian countries, despite being banned by some governments. The group also has a growing presence in North America, known as Hizb ut-Tahrir America, or HTA. In Central Asia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is believed to have first taken root in the Uzbek-controlled part of the Ferghana Valley shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It soon spread to adjacent parts of the valley within Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, making it Central Asia’s single-most-widespread Islamic political movement. It has also spread to Kazakhstan and parts of Russia.

Hizb ut-Tahrir states its aim as unification of all Muslim nations over time in a unitary Islamic state or caliphate, headed by an elected caliph. Hizb ut-Tahrir believes a caliphate would provide stability and security to both Muslims and Non-Muslims in the predominantly Muslim regions of the world. The party promotes a detailed program for institution of a caliphate that would establish Sharia and carry “the Da’wah of Islam” to the world.

According to an analyst of Hizb ut-Tahrir, in Kazakhstan, where the group is outlawed, Hizb ut-Tahrir plans its political progress in three stages: “First they convert new members. Secondly, they establish a network of secret cells, and finally, they try to infiltrate the government to work to legalize their party and its aims.” A more sympathetic description of this strategy is that Hizb ut-Tahrir works to:

  • Establish a community of Hizb ut-Tahrir members who work together in the same way as the companions of Muhammad. Members should accept the goals and methods of the organization as their own and be ready to fulfill these goals.
  • Build public opinion among the Muslim masses for the caliphate and the other Islamic concepts that will lead to a revival of Islamic thought.
  • Once public opinion is achieved in a target country through debate and persuasion, the group hopes to obtain support from army generals, leaders, and other influential figures or bodies to facilitate the change of the government. The government would be replaced by one that implements Islam “generally and comprehensively”, carrying Islamic thought to people throughout the world.

Analysts point out that unlike other Islamist movements, Hizb ut-Tahrir seems less interested in a broad mass following than a smaller more committed core of members, many of them drawn from the educated middle classes. Hizb-ut Tahrir is also described as “vanguard party” because it is interested in achieving power through a smaller number of supporters in critical positions, rather than big numbers of “foot soldiers”.

In countries where the party is outlawed, Hizb ut-Tahrir’s organization is said to be strongly centralized, with its central leadership based in the Palestinian Territories. Underneath its center are national organizations or wilayas, usually headed by a group of 12, control networks of local committees and cells. The basic unit of the party is a cell of five members, the leader of which is called a mushrif. Only the mushrif knows the names of members of other cells.

In Uzbekistan, the government accused the group of involvement in a series of bombings and other unrest in Tashkent and other cities in recent years, as well as of links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and to the armed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Regional governments also accuse both Hizb ut-Tahrir and the IMU of getting money and inspiration from extremist Islamist groups elsewhere in the Muslim world.

But as regional governments try to crack down on groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, there is no sign yet that the movements are disappearing. In recent years, according to a member of the group, in Tajikistan underground cells of the party were active in different parts of that country and government pressure was not discouraging recruitment efforts. Experts say that Hizb ut-Tahrir in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is most active among Uzbek minorities in these countries, raising the danger that crackdowns against them will have ethnic overtones. Some analysts caution that the governments’ efforts to control political Islam and most of all the lack of political freedoms might drive people to join more radical groups.

III. Short and middle term risk assessment

Most analysts agree that the main factors that may stimulate the further radicalization of Islam in the Central Asian area are the poor economic and social conditions and the rising demographic trend, together with the tendency of the various fundamentalist groups to unite towards the common goal of achieving a global Islamic power (the caliphate).

1) Worrying demography

At the global level, the countries with a Muslim majority – a significant part of them being in South and Central Asia – had an average population growth rate of 1.8% per year[4] (when weighted by percentage Muslim and population size), compared with a world population growth rate of 1.12% per year. The estimates predict that the world’s Muslim population will grow twice as fast as non-Muslims over the next 20 years and by 2030, Muslims will make up more than a quarter of the global population. Although other reports point out to a diminishing rate of growth of the Muslim population – mainly in the richer countries – the growing trend does not seem to reverse.

A significant trend is to be seen in India, where the Muslims have a significantly higher total fertility rate compared to that of other religious communities. Consequently, and also because of the influx of Muslim migrants from the neighboring countries, mainly Bangladesh, the Muslim population growth rate is higher by more than 10% of the total growth compared to that of the Hindu population (Hindus had their population growing by 20.3 per cent between 1991 and 2001, whereas Muslim population grew by 36 per cent in 1991-2001). Currently, India has the third highest concentration of Muslims worldwide after Indonesia and Pakistan.

The percentage of Muslims in India has risen from about 8% in 1951 to 13.6% in 2001 and is expected to grow from 14.6% in 2010 to 15.9% in 2030. According to a high level committee appointed by the Prime Minister of India in 2006, by the end of the 21st century India’s Muslim population will reach 320 to 340 million people (or 18% of India’s total projected population).

Most analysts consider that not only Islam, but also social and economic conditions as being the main cause of this trend. Indian Muslims are poorer and less educated compared to their Hindu counterparts, and (partly motivated by religion), less willing to adopt family planning measures.

Differential population growth rates and fertility can be major political issue in India. There is a widespread feeling that the main cause of population explosion in India is due to the   higher fertility among Muslims as compared to other religious groups, especially Hindus.  Even some argued that the growing demographic imbalances in India should indeed be matter of serious concern as they seem to have serious repercussions on the very survival of the “Indian civilization”.

2) Seeking the Caliphate

The growing trend of the Muslim population across Asia – and the possibility of reaching a so-called “critical mass” through getting over the doctrine differences – is seen as another risk factor, as analysts notice that the majority of the Islamist groups militate for a world Muslim political entity, that would bring to the 21st century the so-called Caliphate.

The Caliphate idea is promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood, which advocated Islamic unity and implementing Islamic law. A number of Islamist political parties and mujaheedin have called for the restoration of the caliphate by uniting Muslim nations, either through political action, like Hizb ut-Tahrir, or through force, like Al Qaeda. Various other Islamist movements have gained momentum in recent years with the ultimate aim of establishing a Caliphate; however, they differ in their methodology and approach.

One transnational group whose ideology is based specifically on restoring the caliphate as a pan-Islamic state is Hizb ut-Tahrir. It is particularly strong in Central Asia and Europe and is growing in strength in the Arab world. In South-East Asia, groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah aim to establish a Caliphate stretching from Sumatra to New Guinea, and from the Philippines to Java.

Al Qaeda clearly stated as one of its goals the goals the re-establishment of a caliphate, with Osama Bin Laden calling for Muslims to “establish the righteous caliphate of our Ummah”, and Ayman al-Zawahiri mentioning Egypt (his native country) as the center of a new caliphate and “a rallying point for the rest of the Islamic world, leading the jihad against the West”.

Closer to Europe, the Caliphate idea brings to mind the intense diplomatic (and not only) actions of the Turkish AKP government, that is also interested in a revival of the Ottoman Caliphate (even if it was brought down by Kemal Atatűrk, the founder of the modern Turkish state).

3) Consequences of the Western forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan

According to the Stratfor analysis of the jihadism mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the US-led campaign in Afghanistan will not maintain sufficient force levels long enough to militarily defeat the Taliban – and their various factions – in the context of an increasing responsibility of Afghan forces for the war effort, and there are small chances of reaching a political accommodation with the Taliban in the near future.

The above-mentioned analysis, as well as recent US and other intelligence reports are at odds with official claims that the Taliban are in retreat, Afghan security forces are growing stronger and the Afghan government is becoming more effective. A National Intelligence Estimate given to US President Barack Obama in January 2012 concluded that the Taliban remain resilient and determined to re-impose their brand of harsh Islamic rule on the country, and that Afghan forces and the civilian government are still plagued by corruption and ineffectiveness.

According to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the US-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan aims to end most of its combat role starting in the middle of 2012, ahead of the planned withdrawal of all US forces by the end of 2014.

According to the US intelligence estimate, Taliban senior leaders continue to enjoy safe haven in Pakistan, and corruption as well as poor leadership and management will threaten Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) operational effectiveness. The Afghan government has made only “incremental improvements extending the rule of law”.

Similarly, a NATO report based on interrogations of thousands of captured Taliban prisoners mentioned that some Afghan soldiers are collaborating with the Taliban, even selling weapons and vehicles and providing intelligence on coalition forces. Once the coalition withdraws, “the Taliban consider victory inevitable”.

As a confirmation of the estimates, in February 2012 the Taliban used the 23rd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan to taunt the United States that it would suffer the same fate, as preparations to hand over security to a shaky government are underway. The United States and NATO are racing against the clock to train a 350,000-strong force of Afghan police and soldiers who will take over all security responsibilities before end-2014, though skepticism looms that the target can be met in an increasingly violent war. Fears are surfacing amongst Afghans and analysts that a repeat of the aftermath could take place.

Although Afghan and US officials are seeking peace negotiations with the Taliban as a means to ushering in some form of stability, analysts consider the Taliban would regain a share of power following the NATO pullout, and predicted it would occur more quickly for the austere Islamist group the second time round, estimating only a couple of months before the Taliban may return to power.

Consequently, analysts follow closely the leadership of the Afghan Taliban and their dialogue with the local government. The conflict between the Taliban and Afghan and NATO forces may lessen somewhat as the Taliban become more involved in the political process, but the militant group is not supposed to renounce to violence. With some Pakistani jihadist groups vowing to target foreign forces in Afghanistan, acts of terrorism may increase in Kabul and Kandahar.

Another important development in South Asia is Pakistan’s ongoing political evolution. While other states, including Iran, are interested in shaping the future political landscape of Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to be at the heart of the Afghan war. As such, US-Pakistani tensions will likely intensify, since Pakistan will have to deal with the situation in the region after the United States leaves.

In this context, state and non-state elements within Pakistan continue to threat India. These include the Haqqani network and other groups, which will continue to plan attacks inside India and against Indian interests in nearby countries, such as Afghanistan.

4) Seeking China’s growing involvement

To counterbalance the loss of influence in the near future, in the context of the US diminishing presence in Afghanistan, American specialists of the area are interested to bring in other major political actors, mainly China.

According to former Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr., U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, it is becoming increasingly clear that Central Asian nations must become more involved if they are to succeed in creating a stable and sovereign Afghan nation, and a greater US coordination and communication with China on such issues would be welcome.

The US government declared an interest in engaging China on promoting regional stability, in particular combating flows of terrorism and the confluence between al-Qaeda and the East Turkestan Independence Movement. On the other hand, China’s emergence as the largest economy in Asia and its increasingly influential role in the region will lead other powers to look to it for support and cooperation in Central Asian affairs, including on Afghanistan. The United States would like to see China invest in infrastructure projects, much as it has done elsewhere in Central Asia.

5) Possible developments in the CIS Central Asian republics

As most of the analysts agree, the rising Islamist militancy in the region is considered to be the most important risk factor in the area. Sporadic attacks will likely continue in Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan could see an increase in attacks. In addition to these security tensions, looming successions for the longtime leaders in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan may also create political tensions.

Since for the first time in modern history, Kazakhstan in 2011 was the site of multiple suspected jihadist attacks, including three suicide attacks, and Jund al-Khalifa, a Kazakh al Qaeda franchise group, emerged also in 2011[5], a continuation of their activities is expected by most of the analysts. Other groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, are active in the region, operating largely from the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Although the Kazakh government attributed all of the attacks to increasing Islamist extremism, there are numerous factors, including Kazakhstan’s economic conditions and current political tensions that could motivate such attacks. The government’s reaction to the attacks has been to crack down on religious movements, a move that has given rise to very real Islamist extremism that could spread rapidly in Kazakhstan.

Also facilitating the spread of extremism is the generational change occurring in Kazakhstan. Furthermore, the up-and-coming generation is more Internet-savvy, and the Internet can be a tool for radicalization. During the past two years, the Kazakh government has blocked more than 100 websites deemed extremist. Astana has claimed that numerous suspects have used the Internet to contact radical and/or militant actors outside Kazakhstan, likely from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Russian Caucasus. Unimpeded access, or even limited access to such resources can encourage radicalization and give extremists new capabilities.

Adding to the tensions within Kazakhstan is increased instability along its borders with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. These three countries, along with Tajikistan share a series of valleys and mountain ranges in which their populations spill over into the other countries and are unstable and subject to periodic violence. Fighting has occurred among the different ethnic groups, particularly between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, leading waves of Uzbeks to flee Kyrgyzstan and flow into both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Violence also has returned to Tajikistan, which experiences periodic bouts of unrest. The porous borders and shared populations have led Kazakhstan to become more concerned with instability from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan spilling over into Kazakhstan.

*

Most analysts agree that militant Islam in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent is on a rising trend and likely to win new converts, albeit at progressively lower numbers. As long as this ideology is able to spread, the war its adherents are waging will continue.


[1] In Arabic, jihad means to “struggle” or “strive for” something. We use the term jihadist to refer to militant Islamists who profess the violent overthrow of existing regimes in favor of global or regional Islamic polities. We use the term “jihadism” to refer to the ideology propagated by jihadists (apud Stratfor Global Intelligence: Jihadism in 2012: A Persistent, Low-Level Threat, 16.01.2012)

[2] Deoband is situated a hundred miles north of Delhi.

[3] Between 1982 and 1990, the CIA, working with the Pakistani and Saudi intelligence services, funded the training, arrival, and arming of some thirty-five thousand Islamic militants from forty-three Muslim countries in Pakistani madrassahs, which would led to al Qaeda and turn Pakistan into the world center of jihadism for the next two decades.

[4] Statistics for the year 2006

[5] Jund al-Khalifa (JaK), or Soldiers of the Caliphate, appeared in September 2011 in an online video showing the group attacking U.S. forces in Khost, Afghanistan. JaK allegedly is a militant organization formed by three Kazakh nationals, operating in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands, with alleged ideological ties to the Russian Caucasus and Said Burayatski, the deceased “Caucasus Emirate” militant and Internet spokesman for global jihad. Originally JaK claimed to wage jihad against Western forces, but on Oct. 24 the group threatened the Kazakh government over the new religious laws, demanding that they be repealed immediately.

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