Staunton, January 22 – The basmachis, as the anti-Soviet fighters in Central Asia during 1920s and 1930s are known, may be about to return to Turkmenistan, given that some of them fled to Afghanistan more than a half century ago and whose descendants are now set to return from there and threaten Ashgabat’s rule.
In an analysis on Vesti.uz, Stanislav Ivanov, a senior scholar at Moscow’s IMEMO and Institute of Oriental Studies, says that “ever more people in Ashgabat are beginning to understand that the threat from foreign Islamist groups is no myth” and that they are a particular danger to Turkmenistan (vesti.uz/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48418).
The threat is all the greater in that such Turkmen basmachi from Afghanistan have a tribal base rather than a religious one and thus are more likely to attract support to their side from members of the same tribes still in Turkmenistan than would religiously-based jihadis given that the Turkmens are historically less fundamentalist in outlook.
Nonetheless, some Turkmens have been fighting under Islamist banners in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and especially Afghanistan, Ivanov says. The last have taken control of much of northern Afghanistan adjacent to Turkmenistan and over the last year have attacked Turkmen border posts and villages.
According to the Russian scholar, the Turkmen basmachi are seeking to clear the border areas of Turkmenistan in preparation for deeper attacks into that country, especially along roads leading into the Murgab (Bagdis) valley and the Anjoy (Faryab) district and thus aiming to seize the Serah and Murgab oases much as the basmachi did in the 1920s.
Such attacks are likely to intensify in the coming months, Ivanov says, and to enjoy some support from the local population if its members are parts of the same clans as those doing the attacking. Ashgabat recognizes this danger, he says, and has begun fortifying the border and speaking with other countries about counter-terrorist assistance.
Among them are Iran, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries, and the West. In addition, Ashgabat has eliminated many of the Islamic subjects in its own educational system and tightly restricted the activities of Turkish lycees which some view as sources of Islamist infection.