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Kazakhstan Journalists Gather Information on War Against TerrorismFrom left, Dossym Asylbekovich Satpayev, Botagoz Akzholovna Seidakhmetova, Sabir Kairkhanov

Kazakhstan Journalists Gather Information on War Against Terrorism

Visitors discuss Central Asian Islamic groups with long-time security specialist Michael Intriligator.

By Harout Semerdjian

Two leading independent journalists from Kazakhstan and a leader of an organization that evaluates the risks of investing in that country visited UCLA August 1 as part of a three week tour of the United States to gather information on the war against terrorism. The delegation included Mr. Sabir Kairkhanov, editor-in-chief of Ak Zhaiyk weekly, an independent newspaper published in Atyrau on the Caspian sea; Ms. Botagoz Akzholovna Seidakhmetova, international news editor of Novoye Pokoleniye (New Generation) weekly, published in Almaty (formerly Alma Ata); and Mr. Dossym Asylbekovich Satpayev, director of Assessment Risks Group, an NGO, also in Almaty, that publishes the monthly English language magazine Kazakhstan Risk Review.

Kazakhstan in former Soviet Central Asia has a still modest but growing problem with Islamic radicals. It also has one of the more repressive governments of the region under President Nazarbaev that has arrested many independent journalists and sponsored or encouraged acts of semistate terrorism against many independent voices. The printing plant for Mr. Kairkhanov's Ak Zhaiyk, the largest in the region, was burned down by arsonists in May 2003, just one of several such attacks on independent newspapers and television stations. The attack, along with the destruction of another newspaper and television facilities, was strongly condemned by the U.S. embassy in Kazakhstan in a May 23, 2002, statement.

At UCLA the visitors from Kazakhstan met with Emeritus Professor Michael Intriligator (Political Science and Economics). Dr Intriligator has been to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, numerous times to attend conference, but not Kazakhstan. The visit was hosted by the International Institute's International Visitors Bureau.

Though they were two weeks into their visit, this was the first visit of the Kazakh journalists to a university in the United States. They came to the United States to gather more information from scientists, educators, agencies, and average Americans in order to get a better picture as to how America sees itself in the broader world and as the "chief fighter" against terrorism, and how they see each other's countries in this struggle.

Intriligator outlined the creation and functions of the new Homeland Security department in the federal government. He said that he is currently working with colleagues on a new proposal to look into the possibility of terrorism in U.S. coastal waters. In the past, he said, we had airline hijackings, and the idea of suicide bombings. These were combined in the terrible act of September 11. Similarly, in the future we may see ship hijackings combined with terrorist acts. The United States has a huge coastline that is not protected and is vulnerable to attacks. Scientists, many from the former Soviet Union, are currently looking into applying new techniques to predict developments regarding this issue.

The Kazakh guests said that in Kazakhstan there are now courses in the universities about terrorism. A book entitled Urban Terrorism has been published, mostly focusing on the former Kazakh capital city of Almaty. While terrorism has not yet been a major concern in the country, it is a growing concern.

The guests discussed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This originated in an initiative by China in 1996, founding a little-known international alliance called the "Shanghai Five." It consisted of China, Russia, and three Central Asian States: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The group specifically focused on battling the terrorist threats coming from Afghanistan in the days of the Taliban. In June 2001, Uzbekistan was invited to join and the group was officially named the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. More important in the fight against terrorism has been the Joint Security Treaty, instituted in 1992 by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and the Russian Federation.

While Kazakhstan is not a major hub for terrorism, certain groups in the country are potential threats. Prominent among them is the Party of Islamic Renaissance, based in Tajikistan. There are several Uighur separatist organizations (the Uighurs are a Mongoloid people spread across northwest China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan), some of which operate legally in Almaty.  There is also Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group that has generally preached nonviolence but which is feared to have become more militant recently. It operates in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Ms. Seidakhmetova's newspaper Novoye Pokoleniye last December carried an article suggesting that difficult socio-economic conditions have increased the attractiveness of Hizb’s message in southern Kazakhstan: "Illiteracy and poverty … and the proximity of trouble spots allow various types of ‘teachers’ to act very freely there," the paper wrote at that time. The article went on to characterize the radical group’s growth in Kazakhstan as hydra-like: "One head cell that is cut off is replaced by several new ones." The Kazakh visitors to UCLA rated Al Qaeda only as the 8th greatest danger as a potential terrorist group in their country.

Michael Intriligator was asked what he saw as the major reason behind terrorism. He replied that while many people connect terrorism with poverty, he does not believe that this is true. For example, the September 11 terrorists were not poor or uneducated. "They had dedicated themselves to a cause." Regional conflicts cause terrorism he suggested, citing the Israel-Palestine quagmire. He also mentioned as examples the U.S. troop presence in Saudi Arabia, and conflicts between groups in Sri Lanka.

Intriligator said he considered it mistaken for the Bush administration to conclude that terrorism cannot be countered by traditional methods and turn to preventive wars. He said he considered the greatest risk at this time comes not from the small terrorist groups but from North Korea, "the most dangerous of the countries." Next to North Korea he ranked the risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan in their conflict over Kashmir. He did not believe that the U.S. has been successful in Afghanistan and Iraq. "While we did chase out their oppressive leaders, we did not gain the support of the people nor did we put capable leaders in place -- we put puppets in place."

Intriligator proposed that a military solution should be our last option. "We should first use diplomacy and the United Nations peace initiatives." In response to a question posed by the Kazakh guests, Dr. Intriligator remarked that "it is absolutely premature to say that we have won the war against terrorism. We are not any safer now than we were before September 11."

UCLA International Institute