Talibanizing the other '-stans?

"Talibanizing the other '-stans?" Continued...

Issue: "John Smoltz: The closer," Aug. 3, 2002

With so much attention focused on Afghanistan, Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid says underground terrorist networks in the bordering states have not been affected and could still carry out smaller attacks. "You will not see what the Central Asians are used to, large-scale guerrilla forays," Mr. Rashid told reporters recently. "You will see acts of terrorism, particularly targeting the Americans."

Leading the security risks in Central Asia is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, financed largely by Osama bin Laden and closely connected with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The IMU's goal is to overthrow the Karimov regime by force and create an Islamic state ruled by Islamic, or Shariah, law. Although the group is on the Bush administration's terrorist watch list, the United States has done little to specifically target its members on the ground.

Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan provided sanctuary for IMU members until U.S. assaults began. The group, along with several radical Islamic parties, distributed leaflets in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan during the early days of the war, calling on Muslims to aid the Taliban. Many now believe the group's military leader, Juma Namangani, died in fighting in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

But there has been no confirmation of his death, and Mr. Rashid believes it would not likely bring an end to IMU threats. In the past armed skirmishes with IMU militants led to airstrikes and street battles with the government. In August 2000 those lasted for two weeks after IMU fighters entered the country from Afghanistan. Explosions by IMU in Tashkent, the capital, killed at least 16. They prompted the government to arrest thousands of political opponents.

Government crackdowns against Islamic radicals are likely to continue, especially if they enhance relations with the United States. But the dragnets used on Islamic radicals are also entrapping Christians whose non-Orthodox worship puts them outside the system. Ironically, the independent republics promise no reforms until radical Islam is dealt with. And radical Islam is unlikely to go away without political changes.

-with reporting by Felix Corley, Keston News Service


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