Recently police in the small town of Kentai, Kazakhstan, discovered a cache of books and leaflets propagating the ideas of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamist radical organization. The extremist literature, hidden in the attic of a private house, was printed in Uzbek, Russian, and Kazakh. While police have not disclosed the name of the detained homeowner, reports say that he claimed to have bought these publications at the market and intended to distribute the teachings of Hizb-ut-Tahrir among the residents of Kentai. The suspect was charged with distributing extremist literature and encouraging religious strife (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, February 5).
Kentai is fertile ground for Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists. The town suffers from a host of unsolved social problems, including an abnormally high unemployment rate and an impoverished population growing indignant with the central government’s indifference to their woes. Five years ago the first underground Hizb-ut-Tahrir cell appeared in Kentai. Since then the activities of the organization have rapidly spread to other regions, mainly in south Kazakhstan. On February 8 Almaty city police raided a printing facility located in an apartment building and owned by Hizb-ut-Tahrir. They seized 12,400 copies of leaflets and 53 booklets prepared for distribution (gazeta.kz, February 8).
Despite all these spectacular successes, Kazakhstan has failed to impress its security partners within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In a February 7 interview with the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta, the director of the SCO regional anti-terrorist unit, Vyacheslav Kasymov, accused Kazakhstan of harboring terrorist organizations within its territory. Kasymov specifically referred to Bin Laden Group, Ltd., a Saudi Arabian construction company operating in Astana. In November 2004 the Saudi company appealed to Kazakhstan’s supreme court regarding their claim to 700 hectares of land in Astana but lost the case. Until that time, Kazakhstan’s citizens knew very little about the existence of a foreign company with such an objectionable name. But media reports asserted that Bin Laden Group was not associated in any way with a terrorist organization and that the name was a pure coincidence (Aikyn, January 19).
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry was quick to respond to Kasymov. On February 9 it released a strongly worded statement flatly rejecting the accusations, and called his comments “absolutely incompatible with the status of a head of the structure of a large international organization and casts a shadow of doubt on the reputation and position of the SCO in the contemporary world.” The Foreign Ministry statement emphasized that Kazakhstan was a party to 12 anti-terrorist conventions carried out under the auspices of the UN. The government has effectively stanched money laundering and other sources of financing international terrorism and has no terrorist camps on its soil (gazeta.kz, February 9).
Sadly enough, the war of words between Kasymov and the Foreign Ministry revealed the fundamental flaw behind hopes for any real anti-terrorist cooperation within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Not every member of the SCO welcomes the growing partnership between Kazakhstan and the European Union, partly because the EU insists that Kazakhstan must strengthen its border security in order to stem uncontrolled migration. Migration is a looming issue for Astana. Appearing on the television program “Face to Face,” the chairman of the Parliamentary Security and International Relations Committee, Zhabaykhan Abdildin, expressed fear that admitting Kyrgyzstan into the WTO might lead to an unchecked inflow of migrants and traders from China across the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border and seriously jeopardize Kazakhstan’s national security (Kazakhstan TV, February 8).
Until quite recently, Kazakhstan’s security services almost exclusively targeted Hizb-ut-Tahrir branches and touted a number of successful raids on underground terrorist networks. Without fail, each victory came from the same recipe: surprise raids, extremist literature, seized leaflets, detentions, and publicized trials.
But now authorities seem to be shifting toward an emphasis on the ethnic dimension of national security. Talking to a popular Russian-language newspaper, the first deputy head of the CIS Anti-Terrorist Center, Beksultan Sarsenov, named Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Uighur nationalists as the principal threats to Kazakhstan’s security. He added that a “small group” of religious bigots and nationalists “who think the country is only for Kazakhs” and “nationalist Russians who are convinced that they have the right to certain part of Kazakhstan’s territory” also undermine Kazakhstan (Komsomolskaya pravda Kazakhstan, January 5).
Some trends suggest that Kazakhstan will have to fight both religious extremism and nationalism in coming years. Although it is widely believed that economic growth helps fend off terrorism and ethnic violence, but in Kazakhstan’s case the relative economic prosperity attracts migrants from other CIS countries. Surprisingly, Russians from other parts of the CIS, mainly Uzbekistan, are the largest group of immigrants to Kazakhstan. Between 1989 and 1998 Kazakhstan granted 13,133 Russians permanent resident status. At the same time, the Russian population in Uzbekistan decreased by almost half (gazeta.kz, February 8).