On October 15 the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan banned activities by al-Qaeda, the Islamic Party of East Turkestan, the Kurdish People’s Congress, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Law enforcement sources did not give plausible explanations for singling out these particular organizations as forces threatening political stability in Kazakhstan. In fact, many questions remained unanswered when Supreme Court judge Bakhitzhan Zhakupov announced, “It was proven that the objectives stated in their charters and their activities contradict the Constitution, laws, and international treaties signed by Kazakhstan.” According to information released by the Supreme Court, activists from these organizations have called for the re-establishment of a Muslim state in Kazakhstan. The Constitution of Kazakhstan bans any organization that conducts subversive activities directed against the state and threatening the territorial and political integrity of the country or provoking interethnic or religious strife.
But the Supreme Court did not provide sufficient proof that these organizations have engaged in unconstitutional activities on the territory of Kazakhstan. Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s allegations about the existence of terrorist forces in Kazakhstan were actually rejected by the chief investigator from the Prosecutor General’s Office of Kazakhstan, Tokhtarbay Yerzhanov, who clearly articulated that militant terrorist organizations were non-existent in Kazakhstan and any false information to that effect could stir up negative public reaction (Khabar TV, October 15). Yerzhanov added that the Prosecutor General’s Office had appealed to the Supreme Court for a ban on the above-cited organizations only as a preventive measure. These arguments add little to explain the true motives behind the government’s decision to ban four organizations that have never been involved in anti-state activities in Kazakhstan.
There has never been any indication that the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist network has a presence in Kazakhstan. As for the other organizations, the government of Kazakhstan, hypersensitive to Chinese reaction, has always distanced itself from the East Turkestan problem and the plight of the Chinese Uighurs, despite the fact that the government’s decision to ignore the reprisals against ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region drew sharp criticism from Uighurs living in the Almaty region. Demands for ethnic solidarity were clearly voiced at the founding Congress of the Interstate Committee of East Turkestan held in Almaty on January 11, 1992. Under pressure from the Muslim population, Kazakh authorities registered the East Turkestan Committee but simultaneously denied registration to the Organization for Liberation of Uighurstan.
Unlike the official government, Kazakhstan’s civic organizations and political parties have voiced support for victims of reprisals in Xinjiang. On January 14, 1998, the Worker’s Movement, Azat, Azamat opposition parties, and the People’s Attan Movement distributed a statement condemning political persecutions in East Turkestan carried out by Chinese authorities. Fearing the deterioration of relations with Beijing, Kazakhstan government officials hastened to accuse the opposition of attempting to stir up a diplomatic row. “There’s no such a notion as East Turkestan in international terminology. The opposition’s sudden compassion for the plight of the Uighur community in China can lead to a destabilization of bilateral relations,” a government spokesman warned (Panorama, February 6, 1998).
The recent ban on activities of the Islamic Party of East Turkestan and the Kurdish People’s Congress is obviously aimed at demonstrating Kazakhstan’s support for Chinese and Turkish anti-separatist efforts on the one hand, and the government’s commitment to fighting international terrorism on the other. Kazakhstan’s general public knows nothing of Kurdish terrorist organizations. In June 1999, following the arrest of the leader of the Worker’s Party of Kurdistan Abdulla Odjalan, the chairman of the Association of the Kurds of Kazakhstan, Nadir Nadirov, stated that there were no affiliates of the Worker’s Party of Kurdistan or any other Kurdish terrorist organization in Kazakhstan. The Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan made a similar statement (Panorama, June 18, 1999). There is nothing to suggest that the security situation has substantially worsened since then.
The relative stability of the political and economic situation in Kazakhstan may serve as a deterrent to terrorism. This fact was stressed at the second session of the secretariat of the Congress of World Religions, which brought together representatives of 80 religious denominations from 20 countries in Astana. At the same time, recent terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan and Russia have put Kazakhstan’s security services on alert. The chief of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan, Nartai Dutbayev, warned that extremist forces are taking root in the country (Liter, October 13). But so far, nobody has identified a homegrown militant terrorist group. Therefore, the ban on “terrorist organizations” looks more like a symbolic act intended for the outside world rather than a crushing blow against domestic terrorism.