14 April 2007

1607) Islam, Oil And Geopolitics: Central Asia After September 11

Elizabeth Van Wie Davis and Rouben Azizan, eds., Islam, Oil and Geopolitics: Central Asia after September 11, (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007). v-vii + 308 pp., bibliography, index, about the contributors. ISBN 13:9780742541283, paperback £19.99.

Reviewed by: Resul Yalcin, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Political and Cultural Change, Centre for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany, ryalcin@uni-bonn.de . .

This book like several other books in the filed of international relations is written under the influence of both political and ideological developments unfolded aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The Bush administration’s declaration of a war on “every terrorist group of global reach,” has made the US “war on terrorism” unclear precisely what is being fought against, and where such a war is heading. (Gardner, 2005. Record, 2003). Gardner (2005) states that the “war on terrorism” can easily become a “war without ends” in which the concept of “terrorism” represents an undefined entity that various leaderships can readily manipulate for political purposes. As Islam, Oil and Geopolitics: Central Asia after September 11, rightly states, this has already become the case in Central Asia. This book, although deals with several important issues in Central Eurasia, the main arguments are stated in part one which set the agenda for the subsequent sections. These are the issues of: 1) anti-state terrorism (for example, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; Hizb-ut-Tahrir; Uygur separatist movement in Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Region of China; Chechen separatist movement in Russian Federation; and very briefly the Kashmir issue in India). 2) state-sponsored terrorism (Afghanistan - during and before the Taliban, and later the appearance of Al-Qaeda chiefs there). It also talks about to trans-national terrorism.

The book assesses the aims and actions of Islamic movements, the “Islamic terrorist” organizations[1] (defined by one of the contributors as “nearly all of the opposition force that appeals to Islam in varying degrees”p.101) and the politics of Central Asian State in particular, and that of the Eurasian States, in general. It also includes a detailed study of energy resources and the growing importance of Central Asia’s geopolitics. The main aim of the book is to show how the Central Asia has been drawn into an intense international struggle against the forces of religious extremism and trans-national crime, and the great powers ability to put aside their geopolitical differences in order to eliminate al-Qaeda and the Taliban as well as Central Asian states’ motivation to offer their territories and airspace for use by the antiterrorist coalition. At the same time the readers can get the idea that the great powers have not abandoned their vital geopolitical and geo-economic interests in the region which do not always coincide. With the marginalisation of the Taliban and eviction of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, the tension between the great powers is notably increasing and as is the discomfort of Central Asian states finding themselves in the middle of a renewed Great Game. The aim is, overall, reasonably well documented in the book.

However, what has been, overlooked is that the Central Asian states have not only provided the groundwork for this renewed Great Game, but they are also very much party to this new Great Game.

Islam, Oil and Geopolitics: Central Asia after September 11 is divided into four sections which includes eighteen papers plus an introduction. Section I, has six essays which deal with internal conflicts and peace processes in Central Asia. It provides a view from Russia on Central Asia and the “war against terrorism”; then provides an interesting account of the progress and problems on the Afghanistan peace process; gives an assessment of the Tajik experience of integrating political Islam into the government and discusses the Uyghur separatist movements in and outside of China, and Central Asian states’ efforts to eliminate the two extremist Islamic movements: the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Section I also presents a notable study on Islam, politics, and security in Central Asia. Section II, turns to another important dimension of great powers’ interests in Central Asia – the energy lure of the region. It states the reasons about why Japan and China are interested in the region’s energy resources and has a study on Central Asia and Asian Pacific Energy Requirements. This study presents the Asian Pacific energy requirements and the role Central Asia can play in meeting those requirements in the near future.

Section III, examines the geopolitics of Central Asia and deals with the broader picture of geopolitics among several great powers keen interests in the region. The great powers subject to this study are Russia, China, the United States, Japan, India, Iran and Turkey who have according to the book, initiated a renewed Great Game, with dissimilar approaches. This section has five different essays: a Chinese assessment of great power politics, and Chinese-Russian strategic relations in Central Asia today. The section gives an assessment on Russian-Indian relations in the region; provides a study of an Islamic connection - Iran, Turkey and Central Asia, also the interests and tendencies of China, and Russia in Central Asia. In Section IV, the study deals with Central Asia’s relations with a wider Asian region as the Central Asian states are trying to diversify their foreign relations to balance the great power politics and deny any of them strategic supremacy in the region. This section brings together four different papers. These are: challenges, opportunities and prospects for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Kazakhstan and confidence-building measures in Asia, the legacy of Sovietism in the region and Mongolia, and finally, the United States, Asian security and Central Asia before and after September 11.

The book finishes off with a selected bibliography of 39 items only, a rich index and some useful information about the contributors. From the organizational point of view, it would have, probably, made more sense to put right after the introduction by the editors, the seventh paper “Islam, Politics, and Security in Central Asia” instead of the second paper “Central Asia and the War [A]gainst Terrorism: A View from Russia.” As the seventh paper is a more balanced paper which gives a good overview of Islam, politics and security in Central Asia, whereas the second paper provides purely a Russian, if not , then an official account of the most issues discussed in the subsequent papers. An issue from the editorial point of view is that there is quite a bit of repetition of the same issues throughout the book. For example papers in part III repeats some issues already explained in part I and some papers in part IV repeating those in part III. One small puzzling point in part I also need to be pointed to is, the third paper on Tajikistan gives the figures of the people died during the civil war as 50,000 dead and disappeared. Whereas the seventh paper in the same part gives these figures between 60,000 and 200,000. A rather large discrepancy should have not gone unnoticed.

Having said these, however, the critical remarks are not intended to diminish the value of this book. The editors have assembled a collection of several important essays that tackle many aspects of peace & conflict and complex dynamics of cooperation and competition within and outside the Central Asian states. The book looks at the sources of domestic and external extremism as well as the evolving bilateral relations between the major external actors in Central Asian affairs and the appearance of a renewed Great Game in the region. The publication is a welcome volume for the field of Central Asian studies in particular and international relations in general.


Gardner, Hall. 2005. American Global Strategy and the “War on Terrorism,” Barlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Laqueur, Walter Zeev. 1999. The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction, New York: Oxford University Press.

Record, Jeffrey. 2003. Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, Carlisle: Institute of Strategic Studies.

[1] Terrorism expert Walter Zeev Laqueur (1999) has counted over 100 definitions of terrorism and concludes that the “only general characteristic generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence.”

13 April 2007
Journal of Turkish Weekly (JTW)


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