Factors and Variables Determining Presence and Influence of Daesh in Turkmenistan

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Farzad Ramezani Bonesh
Researcher and Expert on Regional Issues

Last year, a spokesperson for the terrorist Daesh (ISIL) group announced establishment of the so-called Wilayat Khorasan (Khurasan Province) declaring parts of Turkmenistan as falling within the limits of this province. The development was just a sign of the increasing influence of Daesh in Turkmenistan during the past year. The following article focuses on factors and variables affecting presence and influence of Daesh in Turkmenistan.

Domestic grounds for Daesh’s influence

It must be noted that during the past year, numerous signs of Daesh presence in Turkmenistan have come to the surface, which included clashes along Turkmenistan’s border, threats posed by Daesh militants inside the country, apprehension of a large group of young people affiliated with “Wahhabis,” and ten people affiliated with other terrorist groups, who had been dispatched from Afghanistan along with a number of religious books and periodicals, arms and bombs. In addition, 90 percent of Turkmenistan’s land is made of desert and areas close to Afghanistan border are quite vulnerable.

Risk of militants returning from Syria and Iraq

According to some estimates, close to 5,000-7,000 people from Russia and Central Asia have joined Daesh and similar groups some of whom are among the most prominent militant figures from Central Asia. Meanwhile, the termination of war in Syria or final defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq will cause the aforesaid militants to return to their own regions and countries, with Afghanistan being the most important route to be used by them for this purpose. Under these conditions, a new front will be opened for Daesh in Central Asia and due to weakness of Turkmenistan’s border with Afghanistan, this border will attract attention of Daesh members. Even now, some Turkmens are fighting among the ranks of Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and have also joined Daesh. In fact, Turkmen members of Daesh in Afghanistan’s Faryab, Badghis, and Jowzjan provinces can be source of threat.

How Daesh gained ground in Afghanistan and along border with Turkmenistan

During last year, armed groups related to Daesh, which are based in Afghanistan, have mounted pressure on Turkmenistan’s border guards and the possibility of Daesh’s spilling over into Turkmenistan from Afghanistan and causing insecurity in that country has attracted the group’s attention toward Afghanistan. Based on statistics, about 3,500 Daesh militants are present in Afghanistan. In addition, it must be noted that Daesh has chosen northern parts of Afghanistan as its main base through which it wants to spread to Central Asia. That is, Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Sar-e Pol, Faryab and Jowzjan have turned into gathering points for terrorists and many clashes have taken place between Turkmen border guards and militants in these regions. According to some sources, there are about 2,000 militants affiliated with Daesh along Afghanistan’s border with Turkmenistan and can potentially penetrate into the Central Asian country.

Taliban’s interaction with Daesh in northern Afghanistan and along border with Turkmenistan

Despite differences, discrepancies and lack of unity between Daesh and Taliban in Afghanistan, the inclination toward Daesh among some members of Taliban is a source of concern. According to reports from various sources, the number of people affiliated with the Daesh terrorist group in northern and eastern Afghanistan amounts to about 5,000. About 2,000 of these people are those who have left Taliban group for various reasons and are now members of Daesh. Since some members of the Taliban have promised to cooperate with Daesh along the northern border of Afghanistan, this approach can be in the benefit of Daesh and increase its power along the country’s northern border followed by its presence in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan’s security weaknesses

Out of five provinces of Turkmenistan, Ahal and Mary provinces have common borders with Afghanistan. In the meantime, there have been signs in recent months attesting to weakness of Turkmenistan along its borders with Afghanistan, which can increase the threat posed by Daesh to this Central Asian country. Those signs include changes in command and quality of Turkmenistan’s border guards, sending military equipment to northeastern border of the country, and having the weakest border with Afghanistan. In the meantime, a recent proposal by Russia to boost security of Turkmenistan’s border with Afghanistan along with a visit to Turkmenistan by a high-ranking American political and economic delegation, which sought to convince Turkmenistan to transfer control of the country’s military base in eastern Turkmenistan, were further signs to the weakness of the country in securing its border.

Role of regional and international actors

Although Turkmenistan’s foreign policy is based on impartiality and the country is not present in any regional blocs, security threats may be posed to this country by regional and international actors who support Daesh and its spread to Turkmenistan. Under these conditions, escalation of crisis in Afghanistan and support from some regional and international actors for presence of Daesh in Central Asia can attract more serious attention to Turkmenistan.

Key WordsDaesh, Turkmenistan, Factors, Variables, Presence, Influence, ISIL, Khurasan Province, Domestic Grounds, Militants, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Border, Taliban, Security Weaknesses, Ramezani Bonesh

Source: International Peace Studies Center
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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