Wednesday, 21 November 2001

CENTRAL ASIA BEYOND NAMANGANI

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By Ariel Cohen (11/21/2001 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: On November 19, Northern Alliance commander Abdurrashid Dostum (an ethnic Uzbek) announced that Juma Namangani, the legendary head of the IMU, was killed in heavy fighting around the Northern Afghani city of Kunduz. Until the fall of 2001, the IMU represented the most dangerous military challenge to the secular regime of the Uzbek president Islam Karimov, and to other Central Asian states like Kyrgyzstan. In 1999, under Namangani's leadership, the IMU allegedly conducted terrorist acts in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, and in 1999 and 2000 repeatedly infiltrated the mountainous areas of southern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

BACKGROUND: On November 19, Northern Alliance commander Abdurrashid Dostum (an ethnic Uzbek) announced that Juma Namangani, the legendary head of the IMU, was killed in heavy fighting around the Northern Afghani city of Kunduz. Until the fall of 2001, the IMU represented the most dangerous military challenge to the secular regime of the Uzbek president Islam Karimov, and to other Central Asian states like Kyrgyzstan. In 1999, under Namangani's leadership, the IMU allegedly conducted terrorist acts in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, and in 1999 and 2000 repeatedly infiltrated the mountainous areas of southern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbekistani military located the fighters and chased them back into Tajikistan. Two IMU leaders, Namangani and Tohir Yuldashev, together with 10 other persons were accused of terrorism or anticonstitutional activity and tried in absentia. According to foreign non-governmental organizations, the trial failed to conform to international standards for the protection of the human rights. The Uzbek court sentenced Yuldashev and Namangani to death and the remaining defendants to lengthy prison terms. On 25 September 2001, the United States designated the IMU a Foreign Terrorist Organization, citing both its armed incursions into Uzbekistan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan and its taking of foreign hostages, including US citizens.

IMPLICATIONS: In the short term, the IMU will suffer greatly as a result of the demise of its regional sponsors, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The two worst-case scenarios predicted by analysts in the region and by Russian observers in mid-September, have not materialized. The Taliban, as is now clear, did not have the ability to overrun the Northern Alliance and threaten the secular regimes in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, or the coalition government in Tajikistan. And hundreds of thousands of refugees have not thronged across the Amu-Darya river, overwhelming the rickety infrastructure of post-Soviet Central Asia. However, this may be the extent of the good news. In the long term, the social and economic underpinnings that contribute to the continuous popular support of the IMU and the radical Hizb-ut-Tahrir remain in place. Experts believe that the blows that fundamentalist forces in the region are suffering as a result of the crackdown on al-Qaeda and the Taliban will stabilize the region in the short and medium term only. The military operation alone, however, cannot eliminate the roots of terrorism in the region. According to Martha Olcott of the Carnegie Endowment, Namangani was an accidental leader, much less of a commanding presence than Osama bin Laden was for al-Qaeda - for the simple reason that he (Namangani) did not control its sources of funding. One of the main issues the states in the region are facing is the control of money flows. As long as the vast drug trade remains unhampered, terrorists and mosques receive cash flows which are often comparable with those of the state. And as long as corruption is pervasive, the drug trade cannot be stopped - and millions of dollars continue to flow into the hands of radical Islamic organizations. Unfortunately, the volume of the drugs trade is so large that the Russian 201st Division and Russian border guards stationed in Tajikistan are directly involved. Drug traffickers' access to the Russian troops, with their ability to control the border, and with aircraft capable of transporting tons of drugs into European Russia and beyond, mean that most efforts to clamp down on the dangerous trade will prove futile. In recent weeks, there have been reports of additional IMU fighters moving into Tajikistan, possibly to avoid fighting in Afghanistan. According to US intelligence sources, these fighters are capable of recruiting and training up to 5,000 guerillas within a year. In the meantime, most IMU troops are trapped in Kunduz, and will eventually be captured. But if released, there is little doubt these battle-hardened veterans will make their way North and will contribute to future instability in the region. The US military views Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as prize real estate allowing easy access to Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is still not completely destroyed, and the Taliban is still fighting -and likely to take to the mountains. Hence the US and allied Western troops are likely to remain in their newly acquired bases for months, if not years to come. However, the continuation of the US presence in Central Asia will be a major irritant to the Islamic masses in the Ferghana Valley and beyond. Their mosque-based leaders are telling visiting Westerners that they are not happy with Americans fighting their Moslem co-religionists across the border and supporting Karimov and Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. It is likely that the US will increase its military assistance to the Central Asian regimes - both to thank them for crucial assistance in the hour of need, and to establish stronger relationships for the future. The Uzbek government is happy to play along, talking about the Uzbek role as a ‘regional superpower’, as a ‘partner of the West’, and even about out-of-area activities. It is likely that the Uzbek military and security forces, if trained and modernized by Americans and Russians, will undertake a more assertive policy towards its political opponents, diminishing the perceived need for economic development, modernization and a more equitable distribution of income.

CONCLUSIONS: Without emphasis being placed upon economic development, regional trade and cooperation, attracting foreign investment, and political and cultural liberalization, the long-term implications of the current war for the ruling Central Asian regimes remains negative. Security challenges from Islamic radicals supported by the drug trade is likely to continue, and the alleged demise of Juma Namangani, even if true, is a discrete event which is not about change the overall picture.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. He is the author of Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis (Greenwood/Praeger, 1998). Cohen often consults the executive and legislative branches and comments in the international media on issues pertaining to Russia and Eurasia.

Copyright 2001 The Analyst. All rights reserved

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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