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Is Islamic State’s threat to Central Asian countries real?

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries are getting ready to give a firm rebuff to hypothetical attacks by the Islamic State and its followers

MOSCOW, November 18. /TASS/. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries are getting ready to give a firm rebuff to hypothetical attacks by the Islamic State and its followers. Although the IS does not pose an immediate military threat yet, its creeping influence in the region tends to spread far and wide, analysts warn.

At the news of the Paris massacre the Kyrgyzstan’s leaders issued orders to reinforce security at all strategic facilities, in the first place, roads and supply links. Similar measures are being taken in other Central Asian states. A former head of Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee, Artur Medetbekov, is quoted by the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying that more than $70 million has been dispatched to the region already for staging terrorist attacks and massive unrest.

The overall number of Central Asian "volunteers" is unknown, but according to tentative estimates it has already exceeded 3,000.

"The Islamic State has been making attempts to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, but the situation there is very volatile and patchy. There are too many different groups, including the Taliban, which are reluctant to let the Islamic State rule the roost," the leading research fellow at the Central Asia Research Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Oriental Studies Institute, Stanislav Pritchin, told TASS. "No immediate threat to Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan comes from neighbouring Afghanistan at this point. But there is a menace of a different sort. The social and economic situation there is appalling. Many people easily succumb to the radicals’ influence and agree to join the Islamic State in exchange for promises they will be making money for the sake of a ‘noble idea.’ This is a long-term threat to the Central Asian countries."

"If the Islamic State gains the upper hand over its main rival, the Taliban, and puts northern Afghanistan under its control, and if the bombardments of Syria cause a massive exodus of terrorists to Afghanistan, the risk of their infiltrations into the Central Asian republics will be large enough," the leading research fellow of the RAS Oriental Studies Institute, Vladimir Sotnikov, told TASS. "Tajikistan is the weakest link."

"Many experts believe that the Islamic State and the groups related with it may show up in the region any moment to stage armed clashes," an expert on Central Asian affairs, Grigory Mikhailov, has told TASS. "For this there are certain prerequisites: feeble law enforcement and low effectiveness of the government machinery in the region’s countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, in particular. In some cases, the local military does not have to be fought against. It can be bribed. The socio-cultural situation there is rather grave. Poor and unlettered people are many and official Muslim clerics are often ineffective."

Recruiters in the region are very effective, Mikhailov warns. "Kyrgyzstan saw far more mosques than schools built in recent years. The money for the mosques was pouring in from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And the priests for them were taught abroad. Besides, too many civilians carry firearms."

Some argue, though, that the combat strength of the Islamic State and its allies is not big enough to go and fight wars in neighbouring countries, Mikhailov said. "Besides, the region’s defense potential is growing. Russia is providing military hardware and reinforcing its contingent at the base in Tajikistan and air base in Kyrgyzstan and improving coordination with the armed forces. Judging by the hardware that is being supplied there Russia is preparing the local armed forces for a major confrontation with large enemy forces on the ground."

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors