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June 8, 2011 / jeni

Borders: Where Crime and Conflict Meet

I probably bang on about borders too much (sorry folks!) but that’s only because I don’t think the ‘powers that be’ bang on about them enough. At least in Central Asia, poor border management leads to communal tensions and violence (for example, between Tajiks and Kyrgyz) and facilitates the massive flow of drugs, militants, guns, migrants, you name it. As this recent EurasiaNet article notes (Is Russia Ready to Address Central Asia’s Border Woes?), the long and porous border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan in particular is of great concern to both counterterrorism and counternarcotics agencies throughout the region, and will only become more of an issue as the US and NATO draw down in Afghanistan.

(The article also reminds me to name-check the latest International Crisis Group report on violence and crime in Tajikistan: Tajikistan, The Changing Insurgent Threats)

One of the major problems in looking at crime-conflict issues is that there are few natural homes (whether analytical, academic or institutional) in which to discuss them comprehensively: those who specialise in crime and those who specialise in conflict operate, for the most part, in different worlds, and bringing them together successfully can be a challenge. Border management may be one of the most obvious locales for this type of collaboration, but it tends to be massively under-funded. I’m starting to think that as we look for ways to build a ‘crime-conflict infrastructure’ — i.e., a lexicon and locations for addressing crime-conflict issues — borders may be a good place to start. It may be a bit old-school Westphalian, but we still don’t have many alternatives for containing harmful transnational flows at the international level.


While we’re looking at Central Asia, we may as well consider the occurrence of the first suicide bombing in Kazakhstan, which has been officially blamed — in a display of Soviet-level creativity — on an arch criminal.

The first blast – and the first suicide bomb ever reported in Kazakhstan, which has virtually no tradition of radical Islam – occurred at the KNB [Kazakh intelligence] headquarters in the western oil city of Aktobe on May 17, when 25-year-old Rakhimzhan Makatov rushed into the building and blew himself up, killing himself and injuring two others. The attack bore the hallmarks of an extremist suicide bombing, but investigators offered a different explanation: Makatov was a criminal kingpin who blew himself up “with the aim of avoiding responsibility” for alleged crimes, prosecutor’s office spokesman Zhandos Umiraliyev said.

Usually in Central Asia we see criminality blamed on terrorists; nice to see it works so well the other way around as well.

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