Saturday, December 3, 2016

Moscow Worried about Islamist-Based Instability Just Over the Border in Northern Kazakhstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 3 – Despite Astana’s harsh crack down following terrorist incidents in Aktyubinsk in June, radical Islamists are continuing to increase in number in Kazakhstan and worryingly not just in Kazakh-majority regions but in those which have long been dominated by Russian speakers, according to Aleksandr Shustov.

            And development means, the historian writes in the current issue of the influential “Voyenno-promyshlenny kuryer,” Russia now faces the risks of having “an increase in instability along the longest land border in the world and the ensuing export of radicals from there into adjoining regions of Russia” (

            Salafi Islam is something new for Kazakhstan, but it has spread quickly not only because the infrastructure of traditional Islam in the form of mosques and medrassahs was relatively small but because the Kazakh authorities allowed foundations from Muslim countries in the Middle East to come in and operate quite freely, Shustov says.
            Indeed, he notes, so tolerant were Kazakhstan officials that in the early 1990s, some of them even considered the possibility of introducing Arab language instruction in the schools of the republic, although that idea was eventually rejected.  Nonetheless the Arabization of Islam grew rapidly.
            One result of that, the historian continues, has been the rise of radical groups financed from abroad such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Jamaat of Mujahids of Central Asia, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Tabligi jamaat, Zhizhul Mahdi, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, and the Organization for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan.
            The Kazakhstan authorities now acknowledge that there are some 15,000 active Salafis in their country, and in the wake of the Aktyubinsk terrorist actions, they have begun to apply harsher measures against them, over the objections of the US and its foundations which favor using educational methods, Shustov says.
            Most of Kazakhstan’s Salafis live in the southern and western regions of that country, he adds; and they are still relatively rare in the north and northeastern areas which are predominantly Russian-speaking.  But recently, their numbers there have jumped and now form perhaps 10 percent of all Salafis in Kazakhstan, although officials downplay this trend.
            Shustov says that “the growing influence of Salafism among elite groups” in Kazakkhstan is especially worrisome. Increasingly, they pray in mosques and are exposed to radical ideas.  At the same time, they are encouraged by the West not to use force against the radicals but rather to try to re-educate them, despite the lack of evidence that this works.
            If Salafism continues to grow in Kazakhstan, it could destabilize that country. But it could also pose a direct threat to Russia itself.  “The growth of its influence in the western and northern oblasts of the republic are creating a threat to neighboring Russian regions of the Volga, the Urals and Western Siberia.”
            That is where, Shustov reminds his readers, is “concentrated a significant part” of the country’s industrial capacity, including not unimportantly, its military factories.
            “The strengthening of the radicals inevitably will provoke a wave of emigration of the Russian and Russian-speaking population which will threaten Kazakhstan with the loss of its status as the most Slavic country” in Central Asia and also “intensify the processes of its Islamization.”
            And Shustov concludes: “As a result, we could get on the Kazakhstan border an enormous zone of instability which would divert [Russia’s] military resources from other directions.”

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