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Like other extremist organisations, it wants to create a caliphate in the region
By Toktogul Kakchekeyev, The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of Central Asia Online
BISHKEK - The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) first took form in the Fergana Valley’s traditional foundations. There, religion had been the mould and template for mahalla life.
All matters in the Islamic community, including those of secular life, found validation in the society at large. The experiences and history of the Near and Middle Eastern Islamic states attracted the leaders of Islamic organisations in the Fergana Valley and southern Kyrgyzstan. According to conservative estimates, approximately 1m ethnic Uzbeks live in Osh Oblast alone.
Amid the chaos of the USSR's collapse, Islamic extremist organisations such as Adolat Uyushmasi and Islom Lashkorlari formed in Namangan. These organisations’ early experiences opened wide the door to the revival of religious communities and their participation in the struggle for power. The Islamic Revival Party, a politically oriented religious organisation, formed in Astrakhan, Russia, and soon acquired adherents from Uzbekistan and Russia.
The main objective of these extremist religious organisations is the creation of groups of Islamic states or caliphates in Central Asia. Without exception, the extremist organisations are based on kinship and the religious mahalla community. In bazaars, teahouses, religious and family rituals and festivities, their members and sympathisers circulate information. Such information may include any of the IMU’s activities, even those that are functional or tactical.
The organisation’s spiritual leaders determine the composition of the combat units, a tradition typical to a region that one and a half centuries ago launched the powerful Basmachi rebel movement against Tsarist Russia.
The IMU’s first generation took part in the struggle against Uzbek President Islam Karimov in the Fergana Valley. Under pressure from Uzbek authorities, they were forced to join the ranks of the United Tajik Opposition. These brigades played an active part in Tajikistan’s civil war. During this time, camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan trained groups in command, administration, sabotage, propaganda, intelligence and terrorist manoeuvres. Some members of the IMU also received training in the self-proclaimed Republic of Ichkeria and participated in fighting in Chechnya and Dagestan. Evidence exists to show they also trained in Arab countries.
Of course, they received basic combat training during Tajikistan’s civil war, but it must be considered that many militants first received combat training during their service in the Soviet military.
According to criminological assessments from the Central Asian countries’ ministries of internal affairs (particularly that of Kyrgyzstan), militants from extremist groups were involved in a number of contract killings, some of which led to a public backlash.
Given their similarities to extremists from the problem countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, analysts are fairly confident that IMU fighters control part of the drug trafficking in Kyrgyzstan.
Weapons illegally shipped into the region for members of the IMU have found use in a series of terrorist attacks, not only in Central Asia but also bordering countries.
The IMU has extensive plans for Central Asia. The organisation's closed nature has not stopped analysts from confidently classifying it as part of al-Qaeda. Consequently, over the next few years, the movement will take radical steps to penetrate deeper into the social life of Central Asian countries by taking advantage of relatively open economies and political systems.
One of the possible mechanisms for implementing this plan is money laundering. The money comes from sponsors who invest in the industrial and commercial sectors. This avenue could allow members of radical groups to participate directly in these countries’ political life. They could come to power through nonviolent means, both economic and electoral.
Even now, some IMU supporters are said to have seeped through channels of corruption into Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement, national security agencies, army and nonprofit human rights organisations.
The present but invisible activities of Islamists have led to Central Asia witnessing an era of Islamic renaissance that joins radicalism, fundamentalism and modernism. Relying on Islamic solidarity, the IMU and similar organisations co-exist peacefully, even though they differ on Islam.
For the sake of realising its global goals, the IMU joined the Islamic Party of Turkestan not long ago. The latter has as its most extensive mission the reunification of East Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang Province, China) with Central Asian Turkestan. Accomplishing such a goal, because China has shown a willingness to use great force to stop it, will require money and time.
Fundamentalists have found fertile ground for recruitment in Central Asia, as discontent bubbles up over the impoverished Kyrgyz and Tajik economies and the perceived absence of a rule of law in Uzbekistan.
The Islamic Party of Turkestan may turn to large-scale terrorist activities throughout Central Asia to achieve its goals. In any political conflict, the supporters of an Islamic front will pursue their objectives. If necessary, they may start an armed struggle. Analysts say that each Central Asian country has enough extremist organisation cells to undertake this mission.
Central Asia's secular-minded political leaders may have unwittingly aided their own enemies. In recent years, those leaders have sought support by attracting religious figures to participate in various popular and political councils, including those on the campaign trail. By courting those clerics, they transform Islamic organisations into spiritual compendia of power.
Toktogul Kakchekeyev is a political scientist and colonel in the Kyrgyz military reserves. He graduated from the Joint Department of Military and Politics at the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Leningrad Higher Political School. He has written more than 120 published papers on special tactics to combat organised crime, extremism, terrorism and separatism and on criminology and political science.