Kyrgyzstan’s intelligence services remain vigilant regarding the threat posed by Islamic terrorists ranging from the IMU to al-Qaeda, although they often use the legitimate security concerns posed by international terrorism to mask political repression. However, there is growing recognition of the futility of placing hopes and efforts to improve counter-terrorism capabilities solely on Special Forces. Instead, more information released to the public in the form of manuals and visual materials should facilitate the inclusion of the citizen in the whole process of counter-terrorism. However, Colonel-General Kalyk Imankulov, Chief of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, believes that the central element in developing greater security in the country and the whole Central Asian region lies in higher levels of cooperation within the CIS and beyond.
Uniquely placed to supply an insight into the thinking inside the Kyrgyz security structures and commanding widespread respect among CIS intelligence services, Imankulov gave a detailed interview to Argumenty i Fakty in Bishkek on October 20. In his own mind he equates the terrorist attack in Beslan, North Ossetia, in September with 9/11, as an event that has altered the security environment not only in Russia but elsewhere in the CIS. He believes that those responsible for Beslan put themselves beyond laws or human nature by killing children. This sentiment was shared at a meeting of the CIS heads of Special Services in Minsk in October, where leaders agreed that Beslan compels more bilateral and multilateral cooperation and that emphasis should be given to the practical aspects of cooperation. Imankulov noted ominously, “Everyone understands now that one cannot just sit and wait” (Argumenty i Fakty, October 20).
Of course since the deployment of U.S. military forces at Manas airport in 2001 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, security assistance between the United States and Kyrgyzstan has understandably been prioritized in both capitals. Askar Aytmatov, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister, was quick to welcome the re-election of George W. Bush in the hope that it will boost future bilateral security cooperation. Aytmatov spoke of the need to continue this cooperation on the basis of the fight against international terrorism — unconditionally (Kabar News Agency, November 4). Of course no one within the Kyrgyz government wishes to see conditions being attached to these ties, especially relating to democracy, human rights, or even the nature of those targeted by Kyrgyz intelligence under the generic term of “counter-terrorism.”
Imankulov, for instance, clearly considers that his brief extends to potentially troublesome groups such as the avowedly non-violent Hizb-ut-Tahrir, though not officially considered a terrorist organization by Washington. He also sees the hand of al-Qaeda in some of the human rights groups operating in Kyrgyzstan: “Our attitude towards a number of religious organizations is too gullible: they are not making various grants for nothing. There is evidence that structures like al-Qaeda are behind a number of so-called humanitarian foundations.” In the complex fog of international terrorist financing, recruitment, and planning, Kyrgyz intelligence can readily utilize the fears of possible attacks to scrutinize other groups and bodies with only the most hypothetical or tenuous links to actual terrorism: such an approach does not sit well with the country’s bilateral assistance programs with Western states.
The sensitivity that such realities present for the Kyrgyz authorities serves to explain elements of their continued search for sources of more durable, less condition-orientated foreign security assistance. President Askar Akayev recognizes, and has restated several times, that Kyrgyzstan’s main security partner is Russia and its principal multilateral organizations are the CSTO and SCO. Yet, in addition to seeking better ties with the United States and NATO, Bishkek is also keenly fostering security links with countries less likely to impose conditions at a later date.
In this context, Aytmatov completed a two-day visit to Islamabad, November 8-9, holding talks with Pakistan’s President General Musharraf. Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan have agreed to boost trade and economic cooperation, particularly regarding work on the Karakorum Highway, which will markedly intensify the transportation and transit of goods. While discussing security issues, including Afghanistan, both countries agreed to take effective measures to jointly combat terrorism, as well as examining ways of stemming the problem of drug trafficking (Associated Press of Pakistan News Agency, November 8; KyrgyzInfo News Agency, November 5).
Intelligence services within Central Asia are the direct descendents of the Soviet KGB, and their style, methods, and weaknesses remain apparent. Rare public interviews, such as that given by Aytmatov, present Western countries with a dilemma: these are the bodies that will be necessary to cooperate with in the fight against international terrorism though they are not entirely terrorist-centric in their sweep of the political landscape. They are prone to allow the work of countering terrorists to become shrouded in the needs of the state to monitor political opposition. Moreover, Kyrgyz intelligence fully expects the practical implications of Beslan to invigorate their “counter-terrorist” efforts, and in this climate, with pressure mounting for a pro-active approach, there may well be further heavy handed and clumsy operations against suspects. While Bishkek looks toward Islamabad to diversify further its security partners and hopes for more U.S. dollars to bolster its security structures, its intelligence services think first of Moscow when considering how best they can advance domestic counter-terrorism.