ASTANA — In the conditions of integration, business is not the only element to benefit from access to the transport infrastructures of all the three states of the Customs Union. So does terrorism. How to develop integration while protecting ourselves from the danger of spreading terrorism? This question was in the centre of discussion of a regular meeting of the Central Asian experts club titled “Fighting Terrorism in the Light of the Integration Processes”.
As is known, 2014 marks the beginning of withdrawal of peacemaking forces from Afghanistan.
Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan that form the Customs Union are seriously tightening their counter-terrorism laws.
For example, the deputies of the Majilis (the lower chamber of Kazakhstan’s Parliament) have approved, in the first reading, a draft Criminal Code introducing tougher punishments for extremism and terrorism and criminalizing promotion of radical ideologies. In Russia, a package of bills directed at stepping up anti-terrorism measures has been submitted to the State Duma.
Belarus had passed its amendments to the anti-terrorism and anti-extremism laws back in 2012. Last year, its government approved a Concept of Fighting Terrorism.
Tough counter-terrorist measures have also been or are being introduced in many other countries of the world. Recently, Great Britain proposed life imprisonment for terrorist actions.
The US is passing long-arm statutes, introducing sanctions against other countries, and fining foreign banks for non-transparent transactions. So, counter-terrorism measures are in full swing all over the world, as nobody can predict possible new acts. Kazakh political analyst Eduard Poletaev believes that counter-terrorism is one of the few uniting factors bringing widely different countries to speak a common language and to collaborate. “2014 will most likely be a difficult year from the integration perspective – the planned signing of the Eurasian Economic Union agreements may be affected by a number of negative trends. In particular, the Ukrainian events may dampen the integration sentiments,” Poletaev told the experts’ meeting. According to him, integration will help fight terrorism. “The simple logic is that the present-day terrorist organizations are multinational. For example, by expert evaluation, Al Qaeda members come from over 20 different countries. Naturally, to fight such a transnational entity as terrorism, we need to unite out efforts,” Poletaev said. In his opinion, however, in dealing with the immediate consequences of the terrorist acts that had happened in the Central Asian region, “the countries did not struggle together, but rather each on its own – and they managed”.
A Kazakh-German University professor, Rustam Burnashev, disagrees with that point of view. “The thesis that we must unite to fight terrorism is not quite correct when applied to our countries, as we face not international, but national, terrorism. We fight the groups of people who choose terrorist activity precisely on a national level,” Burnashev argued.
According to him, the reasons for terrorist activities in the Central Asian region are not of an international nature. “It is not a desire to affect the international order or the alignment of forces in the region, but a desire to affect a specific national regime. Furthermore, an analysis shows that our countries are not interested in counter-terrorism activities on our territories being of an international nature,” the political analyst said. He told the meeting that, realistically, the involvement of our countries in the international counter-terrorism organizations is clearly limited to exchange of information or, at best, to extradition of certain criminals. “In this case, the fight against terrorist activities simply does not go beyond these two things. In this country, the terrorist acts are directed, as a rule, either against the regime or against the security and law-enforcement agencies, so it would be with great difficulty that we could talk about integration in this case,” Burnashev said. His view is somewhat shared by Lesya Karataeva, chief researcher of the Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Studies. According to her, the Customs Union covers vast territories that include countries that face different dangers.
“It would not be in the interests of, say, the president of Belarus Lukashenko, to send his boys to Central Asia to fight some terrorists that, strictly speaking, are no danger to Belarus whatsoever,” – Karataeva said.
Political analyst Zamir Karazhanov disagrees with her. “In the conditions of integration, not only the business gets access to the transport infrastructures of all the three countries of the Customs Union. So do the terrorist groups. The question is how to make sure integration only enhances the positives – economic growth, social well-being, and quality of life — and not just promotes the growth of terrorist groups,” Karazhanov said.
According to him, even though there are state borders between the countries of the Customs Union and of the entire region, there is still a U-tube effect. “The hotbeds of terrorism spread, just like some virus, to the neighbouring countries. Most recently, Syria has been in the focus of attention. For example, people come to Kyrgyzstan to recruit militants for that war,” the expert said.
“Syria provides a good illustration of that. Several months ago we learned that Kazakhstan nationals were in Syria. Immediately, a question arose: what will happen if they return to Kazakhstan? We don’t even have to guess what will happen. These are men who have had contacts with terrorists with combat experience. There have already been two instances in Kyrgyzstan where terrorists from Syria were identified and captured,” Karazhanov pointed out.
According to him, the neighbouring Russia is faced with the same problem: the FSB is already talking about three to four hundreds of Russians that are fighting in the territory of Syria.
He believes that 2014 is going to be difficult for Kazakhstan and for all the Customs Union states, because there is also the Afghan factor. Karazhanov referred to the recent visit to Kazakhstan of a known Afghan politician Abdul Rashid Dostum. “His visit is indicative of Kazakhstan being regarded as one of the states that may have an influence on Afghanistan. The media believes that Dostum is eyeing the post of vice-president of his country while the possible future president, Ashraf Gani Ahmadzai, who is being promoted in Afghanistan, will be a pro-western politician. Looks like an interesting balance here. The president is looking at the west, while his vice-president is trying to find some support in our countries. It may mean that a compromise might be found to help stabilize the situation in that country,” the expert concluded.