Articles and analysis

The tribes of Central Asia predate the formation of the Soviet Union. They exercised influence in the five Soviet Central Asian Republics throughout the duration of the U.S.S.R. From the rubble of the collapsed Soviet Union, the tribes emerged as the source of power and legitimacy in the newly independent republics of Central Asia, writes Joseph E Fallon..

After Islam, tribes form the primary basis of self-identification for the local population. The tribal system of Central Asia is vertical, and, therefore, fluid. It enables an individual to have four levels of identity. There is the tribe. Above the tribe is the tribal confederation. Below the tribes are the clans of which the tribe is composed. Finally, there is the region of the country, which is the "home" of the clan or tribe.

While kingdoms and empires rose to dominate Central Asia, only to vanish, some within a single generation, the tribes remained. They offered obeisance, often reluctantly, to these various states, then lived as they had for centuries according to their own laws, and customs. The emergence of "the state" transformed tribes into non-state actors living as veritable "states" within the state.

The armies of numerous empire builders have swept across Central Asia. Among the most famous were Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, and Stalin. Each defeated the tribes, but none conquered the tribes.

Pakistan's relations with both the United States and Afghanistan continue to be strained and are likely to remain so. The recent spat in which President Trump denounced Pakistan's "lies and deceit" in a New Year's Day Tweet, and Pakistan's response that it would "let the world know who is lying", coupled with the US withholding $255 million of US aid since Summer 2017 is very public evidence of that strain, says Dr Sohail Mahmood.

The Ghani government in Afghanistan alleges that Pakistan provides safe havens for the Taliban militants seeking to destabilise Afghanistan. Both it and the USA have repeatedly argued that the leadership councils of the Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist network are based in Pakistan, where they plan and coordinate attacks inside Afghanistan. The United States also blames Pakistan for allowing terror groups to operate from its soil.


The powerful Pakistan Army vehemently refutes these charges and claims that that is no organised infrastructure of any banned organisation in Pakistan. It maintains that there are no facilitators of terrorist groups in Pakistan. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is mostly unsecured and for the first time the Pakistan Army has started to fence it for effective border management.

A PROXY – ISLAMIC STATE IN IRAQ AND SYRIA (ISIS)

ISIS is on the asymmetric back foot, having lost it stranglehold on territory across Iraq and Syria. However the organisation should be understood as a persistent symptom of two inseparable and ongoing issues in the Middle East, writes Tom Spencer.

IRAQI SECTARIANISM

Post US led invasion, a vicious cycle of sectarianism has perpetuated virulent jihadism; recurrent militant insurrection will likely erupt at particular flash points stemming from Al Anbar province. With unsecured borders, vast geographic sparsity and historic Ba'athist Sunni support for Saddam Hussein centre in towns - Fallujah and Ramadi – Al Anbar has twice provided insurgents' freedom of movement to springboard jihad against Iraq's Shia led government.

REGIONAL WAR BY SECTARIAN PROXY

Beyond Iraq, there is a transnational struggle for political-religious hegemony between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, fought via regional proxies; ISIS is merely one faction co-opted into the wider war. As the flash point amidst Iraq's jidhadist woes, it is no coincidence that Al Anbar province borders Syria, Jordan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the spectre of Iran lies to the east. Inversely to Saddam's Iraq regime, Syria's premiership, led ostensibly by President Bashar Al-Assad, relies upon an Alawite religious minority, a branch of Shia Islam, for support.

In Spring 2011, facing a popular and once secular revolt against Syria's government, it was unsurprising that Assad progressively invited Shia Iran and its regional paramilitary proxy Hezbollah, in situ Lebanon, to reinforce his ailing military. An indecisive West feared supporting a revolt that included Wahhabi Sunni extremists; private donors amongst Sunni Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, did not. Western indolence persisted as a loose 'Sunni' jidhadist coalition - Al-Nusura Front - grew in dominance as it pooled men and material from across the Gulf. Civil war engulfed Syria. Reaching stalemate with Assad's military prior to Iranian reinforcement, Islamists dismembered secular factions - once 'children of the revolution.'

In 2013, ISIS - a reconstituted Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) - also answered the call to arms of Al-Nusura Front. It later manoeuvred to assume group lead in order to draw more fighters, lay claim to a cross border caliphate and switched fire to exploit Iraq's sectarian resurgence. No longer undecided, a Western led coalition responded militarily in 2014 to ISIS's regional land grab.

Now beaten back, an account of the now widely-dubbed DAESH (ISIS)'s short lived yet rapid trajectory within this proxy war is vital to understanding how it will almost certainly persist. (Continued on next page)

More Articles...