Richard Holbrooke in a visit to Central Asia is warning that AQ is seeking to take on Central Asia. The Daily Times of Pakistan reports that, the West is worried about risks to stability in the vast Muslim region, dominated by authoritarian but secular governments. Analysts believe terrorism could spread into the heart of Central Asia from nearby Afghanistan. The region’s main militant group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), wants to topple the secular government and establish strict Islamic rule.
Al Qaida has been present in Central Asia for years it has operated both openly and in the shadows since the 1990’s, Islamic militants have operated in the region since the late 1970’s recruiting fighters for jihad in Afghanistan. It is interesting to note that while Human Rights activists often decry the maltreatment of jihadists in the Central Asian republics, Western Governments have been virtually silent on the region. Ironically it has been US foreign policy that has failed Central Asia as the only time these Republics are engaged is when US military bases are threatened by Russian encroachment.
While Pakistan continues to exhibit a questionable commitment to crushing the AQ menace, in the Central Asia republics the resolve seems stronger. Islam Karimov the Uzbek President expressed his desire to be a significant regional player, he told Holbrooke over the weekend, “The president expressed Uzbekistan’s firm determination to further develop US-Uzbek relations in a constructive way in light of efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan,” Uzbekistan ‘s official UzA news agency said. This is consistent with his behavior/misbehavior over the past decade and a half—Karimov has been accused of abusing populations he suspected in aiding militants. Human rights groups decried his efforts all the while remaining silent on the Islamist atrocities being committed simultaneously.
The IMU objective is to overthrow President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, and to create an Islamic state. In 1999 and 2000 the IMU launched a series of audacious raids into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan from Tajikistan and Taliban-controlled areas of northern Afghanistan. These raids alarmed Russia and China and they formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. These raids also alarmed the USA and are considered one of the main reasons for the devastating attack on Afghanistan. The IMU has a heavy presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is able to get their messaging out via Iranian radio as well.
Central Asia has provided a healthy supply of fighters in the region, Michael Scheuer in 2006, Central Asia in Al-Qaida’s Vision of the Anti-American Jihad, 1979-2006 wrote that the outbreak of Islamist violence in Tajikistan, therefore, moved bin Laden to send a limited number of Al-Qaida cadre to support Tajik Islamist forces, among them his close associate Wali Khan Amin Shah and the soon to be famous mujahid, Ibn Khattab. In addition, bin Laden, even after his 1991 move to Sudan, continued to run training camps in Afghanistan where he welcomed the chance to train Tajiks, Uzbeks, Uighurs, and
Chechens. All this said, however, bin Laden in these years deliberately limited Al-Qaida’s role in Central Asia to building contacts and quietly assisting militarily. (Scheuer 2006) Scheuer cites a letter sent from Bin Laden to Mullah Omar in 2002, in which Bin Laden wrote, ““During the previous period [i.e., before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan]; with the grace of Allah, we were successful in cooperating with our brothers in Tajikistan in various fields including training. We were able to train a good number of them, arm them and deliver them to Tajikistan. Moreover, Allah facilitated to us delivering weapons to them; we pray Allah grants us all victory.
The BBC reported in 2007 that, “The Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT) - said to have links to al-Qaida - was blamed for a bomb blast in Tashkent in 1999 which killed more than a dozen people. Mr. Karimov also accused the IMT and another group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, of involvement in bomb attacks in the summer of 2004. Both groups have the stated aim of establishing an Islamic state in Central Asia, though Hizb ut-Tahrir says it wants to do so using peaceful means.
HT is a major player in this region as well as early at 2000 Ahmed Rashid warned that “The Hizb-e Tahrir, which draw inspiration from the conservative rather than modernist figures of the Jadid movement in 19th century Uzbekistan as well as the Wahabbi movement in Saudi Arabia, is virulently against Shia Muslims and Shi’ism, would expel all Jews from Central Asia and is opposed to US policies in the region. The HT says it admires the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and many HT members have fled to Afghanistan to seek sanctuary. Although it also admires the wanted Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden, it has no links with him. (Rashid 2000) HT and IMU advocate the same world wide Caliphate that Al Qaida also supports; they merely differ in means to achieve it.
It should be noted that HT is banned in Germany, and operates legally in both the UK and the US. HT even hosted meetings in suburban Chicago during July 2009.