[A-List] US imperialism: Central Asia
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Tue Mar 30 07:28:29 MST 2004
Terrorism's eastward expansion: Uzbekistan
By Sergei Blagov
Asia Times, March 31 2004
MOSCOW - Terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan contradict claims that the
American-led offensive in Afghanistan has effectively destroyed the hotbed
of Muslim radicalism in Central Asia.
Uzbek officials say that a series of attacks over the past few days -
including suicide bombings and shootings - killed 19 people and injured at
least 26 others. On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint on
the outskirts of the capital Tashkent, injuring a number of people.
President Islam Karimov addressed the nation and said that the bombings had
been plotted by "outside forces and foreign extremists". Uzbek
prosecutor-general Rashid Kadyrov argued that the attacks were carried out
by Islamic extremists, notably the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Party of
Islamic Liberation). He said that suicide bombings were previously unknown
to Uzbekistan, and indicated foreign involvement in the attacks.
Two suicide bombings in Tashkent and an explosion in the ancient town of
Bukhara have rocked the nation. One of the Tashkent market blasts was
reportedly set off by a female suicide bomber and targeted a group of
policemen. So far, there have been no reports of high-profile suicide
bombings in Uzbekistan - or elsewhere in Central Asia for that matter.
Authorities claim that the materials used in the explosives were similar to
those used in a series of simultaneous bombings in Tashkent in February
1999, an alleged assassination attempt against Karimov, which was blamed on
the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
The IMU was once led by Juma (aka Jumaboi) Namangani, a former Soviet
paratrooper and Afghan war veteran. IMU fighters crossed into Kyrgyzstan in
1999 and 2000, seeking to enter Uzbekistan from the north through that
country. Subsequently, Namangani was reported to have been killed in the
course of the Taliban demise in 2001, yet these reports are yet to be
confirmed. Moreover, Tajikistan officials have claimed that Namangani is
alive, regrouping and hoping to launch a strike into the Ferghana Valley.
IMU activity re-surfaced recently away from Central Asia, in Pakistan. The
Pakistani military's offensive in the tribal areas in South Waziristan, near
the Afghan border, indicated that government troops might have wounded Tahir
Yuldashev, the IMU's leading commander.
Uzbekistan has taken notice of the developments in Pakistan. On March 23,
Karimov called on Islamabad to hand over any Uzbek citizens taken prisoner
in South Waziristan. The Uzbek leader also claimed that the IMU and
Yuldashev were "almost dead, if not physically, then morally". It took just
a week for Karimov's rhetoric to prove over-optimistic.
However, on March 29, Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev reportedly declined to
indicate whether the attacks could have been linked to Pakistan's crackdown.
In the past, many IMU militants, mostly Uzbeks, joined the Taliban and
fought for years alongside Uighurs and Chechens against the Northern
Alliance, which consists mostly of ethnic Tajiks. For them, Tashkent has
become an obvious target because Uzbekistan has been a strong supporter of
the United States-led campaign in Afghanistan, and American troops are using
a former Soviet air base at the southern city of Khanabad to support
operations against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
There have been media allegations of the IMU's complicity outside Central
Asia. On March 1, a report in the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta alleged
that IMU operatives were active in Kabul, as well as in Turkey, Iran and
Pakistan. The daily quoted IMU defectors as alleging that in its recent
inroads into Afghanistan and Kashmir, the IMU had been backed by
anti-Western elements in Pakistan's security services.
Moreover, it has been claimed that an effort is under way to unify radical
Islamic groups in Central Asia, including those among the Hizb ut-Tahrir
al-Islami, Uighur separatists, the IMU, and possibly Chechen separatists.
On the other hand, if Uzbek allegations of the Hizb ut-Tahrir's involvement
in the bombings are confirmed, it would mark the first time that the group
has been implicated directly in a terrorist attack. The group claims to be
nonviolent, but its ultimate goal is still jihad against kafr
(non-believers), the overthrow of existing political regimes and their
replacement with a caliphate (khilafah in Arabic), a theocratic dictatorship
based on the Sharia (religious Islamic law).
Hizb ut-Tahrir now has an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 members, and many
supporters in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At least
500 are already behind bars in Uzbekistan alone. Most of its members are
believed to be ethnic Uzbeks. Moreover, Hizb ut-Tahrir has reportedly
extended its influence into China's traditionally Muslim Xinjiang Uighur
The Hizb used to reject terrorism, believing the murder of innocent
bystanders to be a violation of Islamic law. However, the use of
"heavy-handed repression" by Central Asian governments, notably by Uzbek
authorities, seems to have encouraged the Hizb ut-Tahrir to adopt more
However, according to a RFE/RL report, Imran Waheed, a spokesperson for the
Hizb ut-Tahrir in London, denied his group's involvement. He said that Hizb
ut-Tahrir was nonviolent and condemned the killing of innocent civilians:
"Our understanding of the whole issue is that attacking innocent civilians
is condemned by Islam. So it is unacceptable this attack in Tashkent and we
know historically that in the past the government has orchestrated several
such attacks itself in order to crack down on peaceful and nonviolent
Islamic movements, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, as we saw previously with the
bombings in Tashkent a few years ago."
Uzbekistan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which
groups together Russia, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan. The group has drafted "the Shanghai anti-terror convention" and
decided that the organization would have a regional anti-terrorist force in
the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The force is to tackle jointly such threats as
terrorism, separatism and extremism.
There have been no reports that Uzbekistan sought assistance from the
anti-terrorist force. However, in the wake of bombings in Uzbekistan,
Kazakhstan has increased border security and Kyrgyz border guards followed
suit along the Uzbek frontier.
Two years ago, Kyrgyz security officials claimed that Muslim militants
belonging to various groups had banded together to form the Islamic Movement
of Central Asia (IMCA) to plot terrorist attacks and move towards the
ultimate goal of creating an Islamic caliphate in the Ferghana Valley, a hub
of Islamic radicalism. According to Kyrgyz officials, the IMCA has been
headed by Yuldashev - the man believed to be active in Pakistan - and
includes Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek, Chechen and Xinjiang separatists with bases
in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province.
Since late 2002, there have been warnings that al-Qaeda would support
terrorist attacks in Central Asia. However, strikes were expected in
Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, both of which lack the capabilities that Uzbek
authorities possess to crack down on anti-government activity.
Now, as the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are still
preoccupied with democracy-building in Afghanistan, governments in Central
Asia and beyond have reason to worry about potential threats from militants
that fought alongside Afghanistan's Taliban militia.
For instance, Russia has been struggling to suppress Chechen rebels and
other Muslim extremists. Moscow has banned the Hizb ut-Tahrir and extradited
some suspects to their home countries in Central Asia. No big wonder that on
Monday the Russian Foreign Ministry promptly denounced the Uzbek bombings.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also urged to destroy "the nest of terrorism"
in Afghanistan. Russian officials have previously complained that the
international operation in Afghanistan merely dispersed - and failed to
destroy - the Taliban and other Muslim radicals.
Beijing could have reasons for concern as well. There have been reports of
cooperation between militant groups like IMU and IMCA and Uighur
separatists, who, like Hizb ut-Tahrir, have never formally advocated
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