Two days before the July 30 bomb blasts in Tashkent, Astana hosted the security service chiefs of Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey in discussions on ways of fighting terrorism. Russia and Ukraine, demonstrating their growing concern with security issues, sent observers to the meeting. Most importantly, these security chiefs of Turkic-speaking states finally admitted that it was high time to switch from words to deeds. Without going into details of the talks, the chairman of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (KNB), Nurtay Dutbaev, told journalists that the security services of these four countries were considering ways to infiltrate terrorist organizations in order to gather precise intelligence that might help prevent terrorist attacks. The security chiefs also reached a preliminary agreement on joint financing of anti-terrorist operations (Express K, July 29). Significant as it may seem, reaching a final agreement and actual implementation will apparently take a long time. Although Kazakhstan has increased significantly its military spending in the last two years, military reform and social programs take precedence. Astana can hardly provide adequate financial support to any anti-terrorist operation on an international scale.
While Turkey’s participation in the Astana gathering and the interest displayed by Russia and Ukraine provided considerable morale boosts for Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan’s absence could not be overlooked. Even before the recent bomb blasts in Tashkent, relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were strained. The Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office claimed that the terrorists responsible for bomb explosions in Tashkent and Bukhara oblast on March 28 and April 1 operated training camps in South Kazakhstan near the Uzbek border, an allegation that Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry flatly denied. A spokesman from Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee added that, immediately after the terrorist attacks, law-enforcement and security agencies in Kazakhstan offered to help the Uzbeks by checking information about the possible South Kazakhstan connection. Units from Kazakhstan’s interior troops and intelligence services actively cooperated with their Uzbek colleagues in hunting the suspects (Megapolis, July 29).
Presumably, Tashkent’s accusations were based on evidence given by one of the defendants, Abdunosir Zulfiqorov, who said that he had moved to Shymkent (South Kazakhstan) after the February 1999 attacks in Tashkent and later joined a terrorist group there, which used a route from Kazakhstan to Pakistan via Azerbaijan and Iran (Uzbek Television, Channel 1, July 28). Upon closer analysis, the alleged existence of militant Islamic training camps inside Kazakhstan can be neither denied nor confirmed. “More and more terrorists from other states are trying to find shelter in our country,” said National Security Chairman Dutbaev, who quickly added, “All of them have been extradited from the country” (Express K, July 27).
Other officials express similar views. Raimkhan Uzbekaliev, the head of the South Kazakhstan Department of the Interior, admitted, that some of the terror suspects had lived in South Kazakhstan, but police investigations did not produce any evidence of their involvement in subversive activities (Megapolis, July 29).
It appears that neither Kazakhstan nor Uzbekistan quite knows how to handle the fragile border situation. Immediately after the July 30 blasts, Kazakhstan stepped up security measures at border checkpoints, while Uzbekistan reportedly closed its border to Kazakhstan’s citizens. Obviously, that only adds to the dissatisfaction of the local population who have relatives on both sides of the border. Some locals have seized the opportunity to make money by offering to shuttle visitors across the border for “only” 2,000 tenge (about $14.65) (Khabar TV, July 31).
Kazakhstan’s border officials have complained that Uzbekistan has been very slow to erect border markers, part of the delimitation process to be completed over the next three years. As of May Kazakhstan had set up 270 border poles, while Uzbekistan had erected only nine. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan border authorities have begun raising 2-meter high barbed-wire fences across from the Maktaral district of South Kazakhstan. Astana likely will respond with similar “security measures” (Turkestan, July 29). The continuing confrontation between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan does not bode well for regional security.