Last Updated: Friday, 27 November 2015, 12:04 GMT

Central Asian authorities keep IMU threat alive

Publisher EurasiaNet
Publication Date 16 September 2002
Cite as EurasiaNet, Central Asian authorities keep IMU threat alive, 16 September 2002, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Armed Islamic militants have not been active in Central Asia for two summers. Nevertheless, regional leaders profess to be concerned about possible new insurgent incursions and are calling for continued vigilance. Keeping the region on guard against Islamic insurgents helps regional leaders justify measures to curtail civil and political rights.

The military capabilities of armed Islamic groups, in particular the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, were initially believed shattered by the US-led military campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. In the years prior to the anti-terrorism campaign, Central Asian militants had established camps in Afghanistan, from which they launched raids during the summers of 1999 and 2000 into Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many IMU fighters, including the movement's charismatic military commander, Juma Namangani, were reportedly killed during the US onslaught in Afghanistan.

Now, however, Central Asian leaders aren't sure whether Namangani is indeed dead. And they are raising the possibility that the IMU and other radical Islamic groups are reorganizing and rearming. On September 6, Kyrgyz National Security Service chief warned that IMU members, or militants belonging to other groups, may attempt to carry out acts of sabotage in the coming months.

Kyrgyz media reported September 3 that authorities had determined that two Kyrgyz citizens apprehended during the summer in the southern Osh region were affiliated with the IMU. In a September 10 radio interview, meanwhile, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev indicated that radical members of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement were gaining influence and might possibly resort to armed action. [For additional information on Hizb-ut-Tahrir activity go to the Eurasia Insight archives]. "Previously, Hizb-ut-Tahrir used to say that they wanted to create an Islamic caliphate through peaceful policy," Tanayev said. "We can [now] see the revival of radical members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. We must take adequate measures, increase vigilance and increase the methods of influence."

Officials in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan began warning about the renewed threat of an armed incursion as early as July. Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topoyev claimed that there were a few hundred Islamic militants located in Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province, and another 1,500 fighters in Paktika and Paktia provinces. "The [US-led] anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan has not yet achieved its goal," Topoyev told the Kabar news agency. "There is a danger – at least at the present time – of destabilization of the situation in Central Asia by the remnants of bandit formations."

There were some unsubstantiated reports in July that IMU fighters, including Namangani, had infiltrated into Tajikistan. Authorities in Dushanbe vehemently denied the reports. At the same time, officials admitted that groups of Islamic militants had concentrated along the Afghan-Tajik border. "Small groups of IMU militants may be in Afghanistan's Badakhshan [province] but this does not mean that large-scale aggression is being prepared," Mirzovatan Hasanaliyev, the deputy secretary of Tajikistan's National Security Council, told the Asia-Plus news agency. Earlier, top Kyrgyz official Misir Ashirkulov had alleged that Namangani was regrouping and hoping to launch a strike into the Ferghana Valley, Central Asia's overcrowded agricultural heartland, which is also a hotbed a Islamic Radical activity. "According to our information, Namangani survived after he was wounded in Afghanistan [during the anti-terror blitz]," Ashirkulov said.

In recent weeks, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have stepped up security measures. For instance, special forces under the Tajik Interior Ministry staged anti-terrorism maneuvers on September 2. Tajik and Kyrgyz officials have indicated that they will hold talks soon aimed at tightening border controls.

The IMU has not provided any independently verifiable evidence that Namangani is indeed alive, nor has the movement given any reliable indication that it can resume its Central Asian insurgency. But promoting the IMU threat can serve a useful purpose for Central Asian leaders, some regional observers say. The specter of a revived IMU helps to ensure long term US-economic and military assistance. The issue also can have a profound influence in the domestic political calculus of individual Central Asian states.

Long before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Uzbek leader Islam Karimov used the threat of Islamic terrorism as justification for maintaining tight control over individual liberties. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives]. If anything, Karimov's stance has toughened over the last year. In a speech opening the Uzbek parliament's ninth session on August 29, Karimov noted: "We should state with great pleasure that the majority of the world community recognizes the Uzbek state's and people's decisive participation in the fight declared against international terrorism."

In recent weeks, Kazakh and Kyrgyz leaders have emulated Karimov, trying to establish a link between the terrorist threat and opposition political activity. "The anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan is only the beginning of a global war on terror," Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in an August 30 Constitution Day address.

"There is a direct link between terrorism and political, as well as religious extremism," Nazarbayev continued. "The use of terrorist methods in a political fight is not a new phenomenon.... It is a real threat for the young states in [Central Asia]."

Kyrgyz government officials have pointed to the unsuccessful assassination attempt against the acting chief of the presidential administration, Misir Ashirkulov, as evidence of the growing threat of political violence. Ashirkulov survived a grenade attack on September 7 carried out by unknown assailants.

In striving to conflate the terrorism with domestic politics, some observers contend that Central Asian leaders seek international approval, or at least acquiescence for repressive measures carried out against their mainstream political opponents. Both Nazarbayev and Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev have grappled with growing opposition political activity in 2002.

While many regional leaders may find keeping the Islamic radical threat high on the agenda may be expedient in terms of domestic political considerations, the issue continues to strain relations among Central Asian states. Tajik officials, for example, lashed out at Kyrgyzstan in July after Ashirkulov gave a radio interview in which he intimated that IMU fighters were in Tajikistan. Kyrgyz officials, in turn, reacted angrily in early September after Uzbek President Karimov lambasted Bishkek's inept response to the first IMU incursions in 1999.

Posted September 16, 2002 © Eurasianet

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