The second set of questions was: 1. Is there any likelihood of ISIS appearing near Central Asia borders or within Central Asia; 2. Under what circumstances can they possibly appear; 3. Who would they be, foreigners or locals, or a mix of both; 4. Who would finance and support them; and 5. What would be their aims after they make their presence public and how would they go about achieving those aims?
This is the grey and dangerous area the regional governments need to be wary about.
The circumstances under which ISIS could appear in Central Asia could be somewhat but not entirely similar to the circumstances under which ISIS appeared in Iraq and Syria.
From here on, I would switch to first person because this, after all, is my opinion, based on the opinion of those who know better.
In June 2014, when ISIS had just made the headlines, I was in Jeddah for OIC foreign ministers’ conference. A journalist asked Prince Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, whether ISIS represented the true will of the people.
Faisal, the seasoned diplomat with solid grip on world affairs, said that a large section of the population [in Iraq] has been totally alienated, the armed forces have been demoralized and the people have lost the hope of any redress to their grievances. This is the reaction, not the will of the people, he said.
This is also the partial explanation of the circumstances under which ISIS could appear in Central Asia.
I was in Pakistan for a couple of months recently. During this period I had the chance to communicate with a lot of people who are experts in their fields and keep a tab on the region-wide situation.
An advisor to the Afghan government, a man who spent most of his life in the west, told me that if ISIS makes appearance in Afghanistan, it will be an entity independent of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. “Anyone can screen-print a black flag with the Prophet’s Seal and pose as ISIS,” he said.
He explained that the flag would be used because of its historical significance and sentimental value.
A military expert, who is a retired senior officer of the Pakistan forces, said nearly the same thing. “You should note that ISIS now calls itself IS i.e. Islamic State. This is a generic name and can be used by anyone.”
He was of the opinion that there can be no real connection between the ISIS (or IS) of Iraq and Syria and an organization with a similar name in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Central Asia.
“There are no easy and open land routes between Iraq-Syria and Afghanistan. There is no possibility of easy movement of fighters and their arms and ammunitions between these two places.”
The Iranian scholar I know in Isfahan concurred. “Among the neighbours of Afghanistan, only Pakistan and Iran may have the capacity to aid ISIS appearance there, but why would they?”
He said that Iran is already resisting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and Pakistan has no strategic or tactical interest to fuel ISIS in Afghanistan.
Therefore, if ISIS-like outfit ever appears in or near Central Asia, it would mostly be a local phenomenon. However, we need to keep in mind that false flag operations could possibly be carried out, with someone else posing as ISIS. — We will discuss later the why and how of such false-flag operations.
To evaluate whether the conditions exist for ISIS to appear in Central Asia, the regional governments need to go into honest self-diagnosis mode.
The advisor to the Afghan government, who has several personal reasons to abhor the Taliban, said, “The corruption and injustice gave birth to the Taliban and the corruption and injustice could give rise to ISIS.”
This is the first test Afghanistan and Central Asia need to subject themselves to.
What is the extent of corruption and injustice out there? Who are the people at the receiving end of corruption and injustice? Who are the people inflicting corruption and injustice? Is it institutional or individual?
When in self-examination exercise, the regional governments should not stop at any vague answers. An honest but vague answer would be of no value.
The analysts and think tanks should be put to task. Their mandate should be built around these questions:
- Is the corruption and injustice an evenly spread phenomenon or are there any particular groups affected more by it?
- What are the areas where corruption and injustice show a persistent pattern?
- Which are the departments/organizations that are associated in the people’s minds with corruption and injustice?
- Are there any areas/localities where the population has experienced more corruption and injustice compared to the general population?
- In the past cases where the government took notice of corruption and injustice, did the change of head or staff help in elimination, or at least reduction, of these evils?
- Is there any reliable and effective channel to redress the grievances of the people?
- What are the root causes of corruption and injustice? Inadequate salaries and benefits of state functionaries? Greed? Lack of accountability? Discrimination against some segments of the population? Lack of personal integrity? What? What?
This will be a painful exercise but it needs to be done with total honesty. Only then would the sitting governments in Central Asia and Afghanistan be able to breathe with ease.
Corruption and injustice are the primary grounds for the prospects of ISIS-like occurrence in Central Asia but the whole picture is quite complex.
To be continued . . .