The US State Department’s annual terrorism report, released this week, provides a brief overview of how Foggy Bottom views terrorist threats abroad. On Central Asia, unfortunately, the cautious survey adds little to our understanding of the problem.
In its introduction to the region, the report notes that Central Asian governments “faced the challenge” of balancing human rights with security concerns. Further down, the report lists myriad examples where authorities heavily favored security, often at the expense of basic human rights.
State hedges on Central Asian governments’ tendency to hype threats. For the most part, the report simply lists what authorities describe as terrorist attacks and as anti-terrorist operations, but uses qualifying terms – “reportedly”; “potentially” – that make it clear State is as in the dark on the nature of the events as the rest of us.
The report does cautiously point out that Central Asian governments’ widespread human rights abuses may end up creating terrorists.
For example, Kazakhstan’s 2010 amendments to the law on “religious activities” had “severely restricted the peaceful practice of religion,” the report says, adding that some commentators linked subsequent violent incidents to the new law.
In the Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan sections, the report states the widely held belief that the three countries misuse counterterrorism statutes to persecute legitimate political and religious actors. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, despite their well-documented use of the same playbook, are not censured directly on this point.
Tajikistan, to take an example of the prevarication scattered throughout the report, is praised for demonstrating “its ability to conduct effective terrorist operations.” If by “effective” State means the apparent extrajudicial killings of Ali Bedaki (Alovuddin Davlatov) and Mullo Abdullo, then the bar for commendation is pretty low.
The report somewhat meticulously covers each country’s progress in bringing its legal statutes into line with those backed by the US. It praises Kazakhstan for improving information sharing and Turkmenistan for greater international cooperation, while criticizing Tajikistan’s failure to revise its money laundering laws.
While State admirably refrains from overstating the threat of terrorism in the region, it provides no analysis of its causes, and is short on remedies. In fairness, the report may merely be intended to inform Congress on the status of the problem worldwide. But a discussion of terrorism in Central Asia that does not mention how organized crime, the drug trade, economic decline, and authoritarianism are intertwined with the threat of terrorism may not even accomplish that modest goal.