Dialogue  October-December, 2004, Volume 6  No. 2

Central Asia After Collapse of the USSR and Islamic Radicalism

Prof. Muzaffar Alimov

As a result of the collapse of the USSR in the early 90s, five independent states emerged on the map of Central Asia. From the very first year of their existence some of them, on one stage or the other, faced socio-political problems and threats to their security and internal stability.

The economic and social crisis that seized the Central Asian States after the downfall of the USSR was gradual and profound as compared with other CIS countries. As a result of the disintegration process of the countries of this region there is a significant decline in the socio-economic situation and in the material prosperity of the citizens. A sharp downfall in the living standards of the people is visible. There is degradation in the health and education systems and in the social-system as a whole, the number of the poorest people is increasing rapidly, there is increasing unemployment - mainly amongst the youth, and an increasing social stratification. With the weakening and corrupting of the law protection system, organized crime and corruption are also on the rise.

The GDP of the states of the region in the period 1992 to 1999 on an average decreased by 30-45% (A.Kashanov, B. Hussaimov, Problems of integration of states of Central Asia, J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz No 1 (13) (p 79-95). There was a considerable downfall in the industrial production. During this period, three out of the five Central Asian States - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrghyztan slid to the category of the poorest states of the world.

Dr. (Prof.) Muzaffar Alimov, Director, History and Research Centre (SHARQ), Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

During this period new threats emerged to confront these independent States. Foremost are the problems of inter-ethnic relations as well as of mutual territorial claims that arose from the very moment of independence. These have not only become serious irritants in the mutual relationship among the states of the region but also pose a hidden threat to the inter-political stability of the region. The Soviet period brought considerable changes in the territorial and ethnic structure of Central Asia in an attempt to solve the national and religious contradictions. However, Soviet policies destroyed the complex balance of ethnic, religious and mutual political relationship. The territories of Bukhara Emirate, Kakand and Khevo Khanate became parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrghyztan. A number of people were transferred to these republics forcibly, while many others reached here as a result of migration of labour force. (A. Jacshenkulov, New independent states of Central Asia in the world community M: 2000, p 83).

With the creation of new borders by the Soviet powers, many people found no place in the formation of their governments. The Ferghana Valley populated primarily by Uzbeks was divided into parts that went to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrghyztan. The traditional centres of Tajik culture - Samarkand and Bukhara, became part of Uzbekistan. The southern part of Kazakhstan has a significant number of Uzbeks while the number of Kazakhs in Uzbekistan is no less either. However, with the open borders within the region during the Soviet era, such a division was practically not felt. But after the collapse of the USSR the nationalities that constituted the minority in these Central Asian States felt themselves under tremendous pressures from the majority after whom the states were titled.

The Soviet attempt to construct Central Asian nations along the European model of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could not be accomplished and left behind considerable ‘construction material’ in the form of primitive ethnic elements (tribal and ethno-territorial). It is this archived material that now manifests in social life after the collapse of the USSR.

In all fairness one must note that the process of nation building on the basis of titular nations, on a territory so poly-ethnical in structure as the previous Central Asian Khanate, in principle, was not the best of actions taken during the Soviet era and probably under any circumstance after acquiring independence, would have become the reason for serious controversies.

In this connection, particularly soon after the collapse of USSR, the question of interethnic coexistence became an important issue in the Central Asian states. As observed by A. Jacshenkulov: that the politics of central power on the cultivation of ethnical tolerance – “friendship among the Soviet people” - had its positive fruits, but yet it could not overcome ethnic and religious controversies. The many problems of relationship among the people were so very difficult in their own way and had old roots that they could not be resolved even during the 50 years of Soviet power (ibid, p 82). Consequently, as has been mentioned above, in the end of 80s and beginning of 90s, during the period of weakening of central power in the region, a series of conflicts occurred on ethnic grounds.

Obviously then, with the dawn of independence and subsequent intensification of interethnic conflicts within these states, the conflicts also got reflected – to an extent - in the official power politics of the states. A defined nationalism in that period, served as an ideological base for the construction of the new state, feeding on self determination of the titular ethnic group, language, series of norms, traditions etc. and its imposition on the on the entire territory of the country (C. Golunov, Post Soviet borders of Central Asia in context to/with security and cooperation. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz No 5(17) 2001, p 166-179).

But such politics subsequently entered into controversy with quite a large number of national minorities living outside the boundary of their respective national states.

As in Uzbekistan, in the second half of 90s, it was noticed that a powerful pressure was exerted on the Tajiks living in that country to move out. In Samarkand and Bukhara, books in Tajik language were removed from the libraries and the number of Tajiki schools in the country also decreased significantly. On the other hand, Uzbeks living in Kyrghyztan were subjected to opposition from the official powers. It was only later in the 90s the nationalistic fervor of titular nationalities somewhat decreased and the government policies towards the minority nationalities became more considerable and tolerable.

In this background, the Russian speaking population of the region, which during the Soviet period were considered an important integrating factor for maintaining a balance of its own kind and served as a political stabilizer in the difficult interethnic relationships in a number of republics, now found itself in a peculiar situation. Later, when the socio-political status of the Russian speaking population, perhaps with the exception of Kazakhstan, changed substantially, and its number due to migration decreased significantly, the Russian ethnic group ceased to be considered the stabilising factor in interethnic relations (as it was earlier called), (A. Jacshenkulov, New Independence states of Central Asia in the world co-operation association p 306, M.: 2000, p 88). After getting independence - particularly in separate regions of Kyrghyztan as well as in Tajikistan, calls for anti-Russian campaigns were heard. In the beginning of 90s, one of the opposition leaders of Tajikistan- Shodmon Yusuf who was then the leader of Tajikistan’s Democratic Party, declared Russians living in the country as hostages.

As is being done so today, actually it is needless to excessively dramatize the situation, suffice to say that interethnic relationships invariably give rise to clashes at the national level and become the reason for bringing about serious destabilization in the region. It is important to emphasise, that the issue of mutual relationship between different ethnic groups has become exceedingly delicate and sensitive and needs to be constantly handled and controlled by the governments. Today, one can say that due to skillful manipulation by the masses and the political short sightedness of the government, there is a possibility of the intensification of the inter-ethnic problems within different states.

At the time of independence substantial territorial grudges existed, practically between all the countries of the region. On Uzbek – Kyrgyz border alone, between 60 to 130 disputes were estimated. (S. Golunov, Post Soviet borders of Central Asia in context of security and cooperation. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz No.5 (17) 2001, p 166-179).A particular tense situation arose in Ferghana Valley. Very often different kinds of conflicts occurred between the citizens of Tajikistan, Kyrghyztan and Uzbekistan. In the year 2000, Uzbekistan, in the absence of a fixed border, in a unilateral decision mined its borders with Kyrghyztan and Tajikistan, attributing its action to the averting of attacks by the fighters of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) on its own territory. As a result of these mines many people perished.

Periodic border problems have become the reason of rising tensions between the bordering states of the region. In 2003, the work of border delimitation was almost completed between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. However, more or less, the problems still remains unsolved.

Another major problem confronting the countries of this region is the issue of the division of water resources, which are vital for the production of hydroelectric energy and for agriculture. The Main part of water resources of the region is concentrated on the territories of Kyrghyztan and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan has found itself in a difficult situation, as it is dependant on these countries for water. Due to the absence of any agreement on the usage of water resources of the region even by 2003, the non-resolution of this issue is only worsening the already tense relationship between these states.

One of the significant peculiarities of the Central Asia Region concerns its topography. This region is characterised by a high population density particularly in the areas suitable for agriculture. A serious land deficit is sharply felt in Ferghana Valley where the population density and growth rate are very high and thus unemployment rate also high. Many people connect this factor with the complex socio-political situation in this region. It was here in Ferghana Valley that premeditated, organized massacres of Turok-Meskhenins were carried out and protests by Muslim extremists also held (A. Jacshenkulov, New Independent states of Central Asia in the world community, M: 2000, Pare 87). In Kyrghyztan, some of its most fertile regions are traditionally inhabited by the Uzbeks, who have been called the “bearers of the culture of oasis” by A. Jacshenkulov, while the representatives of the titular nation occupy territories in prime hill areas and have been called “bearers of nomadic-culture and cattle breeders”. In the opinion of the same author the above factor was quite instrumental in causing the tragic incident of 1990 (ibid). He also holds that one of the covert reasons for the origin of intra-Tajik conflict is also the lack of suitable land conditions as 93% territory of Tajikistan is mountainous. These reasons were pointed out even in the beginning of 1990, after the infamous incident of 12 -14 February in the city of Dushambe.

A complex problem aggravating the present situation is related to the demography of the region. Practically, in all the countries of the region after independence there has been a growth in population. Between 1991 to 2001 population increased by 44.6% in Turkmenistan, by 20.3% in Uzbekistan, by 15.7% in Tajikistan and by 11.6% in Kyrghyztan. Only in Kazakhstan, the population decreased by 11.3%, primarily due to emigration of Russian-speaking citizens. The demographic profile of the states of the Central Asian Region shows a growth in the population of the young (A. Topilin, B. Shylga, CIS states: problems and opportunities of socio-demographic growth. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz No. 3 (15), 2001, p 189-203).

Here one may mention that during the Soviet era the above-mentioned controversies were resolved relatively successfully because of the then existing system of administrative planning and distribution. The powerful state machinery had the necessary resources for substantially diluting the existing problems. As a result of the disintegration of the systems of administrative power and control that existed and functioned in the framework of the USSR, and due to the destruction of regulatory mechanisms, the socio-economic and internal political situation intensified, and consequently affected the inter-relations of Central Asian states.

Another serious problem confronting the governments of the region was the illegal trafficking and use of narcotics. The tremendous growth of opium production in Afghanistan in the 90s made Central Asia one of the important links in the trafficking of drugs to the CIS and Europe and at the same time resulted in their direct sale in this region. The transit of narcotics through the states of Central Asia, along with other factors, created an atmosphere of crime, considerably increased corruption and caused damage to the authority of law organs. This primarily is in reference to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrghyztan and Kazakhstan, where the powerful narcotics organisations, to some extent, could even influence political decisions.

In spite of the opinion held by various researchers that Central Asian territory is not the main conduit in trafficking of narcotics from Afghanistan and Pakistan and that a large amount of narcotics (up to 70%) goes through the territory of Pakistan and Iran, nevertheless, the quantity which transits through Central Asian countries is also significant.

Deterioration in the milieu due to the illicit trafficking of narcotics also had a negative impact on the relationship between neighbouring states. In fact, due to the illicit trafficking of narcotics, at one time the image of Tajikistan suffered badly in the international arena and more so amongst other Central Asian countries and the CIS.

As the situation worsened due to above-mentioned problems, there was a general feeling of mistrust amongst the Central Asian states, which at times even led to personal hostility among their leaders. A struggle for regional leadership, unwillingness to compromise, and formulation of tough policies towards neighbours became the main characteristics of the interstate relationship in the 90s. A majority of researchers attribute the reason for the tension among the neighbouring Central Asian states to the unjustifiable tough stand taken by Uzbekistan. According to them, Uzbekistan, in every possible way, by adopting methods unacceptable in contemporary international relations, has strived to become a regional leader. It is presumed that having conceptualized the reconstruction of “Great Turkistan”, Tashkent is striving towards an unconditional domination in the region and thus playing a “fast destabilizing role in the regional system of international relations” (O. Boronin, on the question of priorities of Russian policies in the Central Asia. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz, No 3 (27) 2003, p 103).

In this background, in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and in southern regions of Kazakhstan, the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism is accelerating and precisely due to this reason extremist methods are being used for attaining goals. Some researchers attribute the reason for this growth to the decline in social consciousness as a result of breaking down of the old ideology, declining spiritual values, formation of an ideological vacuum and the absence of powerful ideological alternatives. The situation is described by the researcher R. Jangojin as: The “new period brought an untimely and considerable loss to the spiritual and moral values, and to the cultural achievements preserved by the people in the entire course of their history. However, another reason of anxiety is the mass social depression, loss of creative energy by people and its intelligentsia, of social orientation directed towards constructive reform of life” (R. Jangojin. Some observations made on the situation of the governments of Central Asian region. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz No.2 (8), 2000 p 160) Attempts by Central Asian states to create a national ideology by drawing attention towards its history and national heroes: Abai in Kazakhstan, Manas in Kyrgyzstan, Timurlane in Uzbekistan, Esmail Soman in Tajikistan did not succeed much. An ideological vacuum that was created in a definite time started filling up fast by different Islamic doctrines through an Islamic propaganda stimulated mainly by external religious forces. This factor, it is assumed, tremendously influenced the development of an internal political situation in the region, when as a whole, with the noble mission of restoring spiritual values, attempts were made to radicalize Islam, to convert the religion into a powerful instrument to attain geopolitical goals. As observed by the Uzbek researcher, A. Abbasova, this propaganda of “real Islam” was supported by illegal Islamic organizations that were interested in consolidating the radical Islamic forces and undermining the stability of the Central Asian countries in order to avert the western and Russian influences (A. Abbasova, Question about the religious factor in modern Uzbekistan. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz, , No. 1 (13) 2001, p 142-148).

Looking back at the beginning of 90s, one notices a clear activation of foreign religious organisations in the countries of the Central Asian region. This period saw a rise in the number of foreign emissaries from Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, and the Gulf countries. They were engaged in propagating different Islamic tenets and Pan Islamic ideas, which were irrelevant for the people of the region. Citizens of Central Asia were sent to study in various religious Institutes in foreign countries. According to the figures provided by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Kyrghyztan, 15, 000 people went to religious centres in Saudi Arabia in the period 1992 - 1996, (A. Khanyazev, History of Afghan war 1990 and conversion of Afghanistan into a source of threat to Central Asia. Bishkek, 2002 p 161)

The early 90s also saw the appearance of new religious organisations in addition to the already existing ones. Some such new religious organisations were: ‘Islam and Democracy’, and ‘National Ahmed Muslim Group’, in Kazakhstan; the ‘Center of Islamic Activities’, ‘Noor’ (Ray), and ‘Tablikh’ in Kyrghyztan.

The spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the countries of this region occurred primarily in the rural areas especially in Ferghana Valley, in Tajik-Prepamir, in South Kyrghyztan, and Kazakhstan. The researcher, M. Khrustalev, rightly characterised the process of the spread of fundamental ideas in the Russian region as: “Islamic fundamentalists are fast gaining strength and starting to claim power in those states, where capitalistic as well as socialistic modernisation in conjunction with population explosion is leading towards the fast impoverishment of a large number of people and forming great lumpen masses which are a powerful destructive force. With its show of poverty and democratisation it will not be difficult for the Islamic fundamentalists to overthrow the existing regime (M. Khrustalev, Political situation in the countries of the Central Asian region the perspectives of its growth. Central Asia in the External policy of Russia, Moscow: 1994, p 19).

Once peaceful, the Central Asian Region is now gradually turning into one of the instable points of the planet. The bloody civil war that started in Tajikistan in 1992 continues even after signing of the peace-agreement in June 1997. As a result of which about 100, 000 people have died, and more than a million have became refugees and forced to migrate.

Reasons for the rise of intra-Tajik conflicts are yet to be studied and demand a deep analysis. The author would like to point out that in this context, one of the decisive roles in the escalating conflict is played by external factors. It is assumed that due to its geographical location, while safeguarding its border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan faced a strong negative influence from the south. Moreover, the immense ideological and logistical support from the outside created a sufficiently strong force capable of carrying out active armed struggle. In the northern region of Afghanistan special study camps were set up to prepare the future Mujahidins. At the end of 1993 armed opposition forces numbering about ten thousand, were situated in Afghanistan. (C. Olimova, M. Olimov, Islamic revivalist party in intra-Tajiki conflict and its regulation. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz No. (13). 2001, p 131-142). In fact, right up to the cessation of hostilities, activities of the forces of the United Tajik Opposition (OTO) received help from forces of Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The armed support to Tajik opposition from A. S. Masud’s forces stopped only after the active diplomatic pressure from Russia and Iran.

It is believed that after 1995 contacts were established between OTO and the Taliban (A. Khanyazev, History of Afghan war 1990 and conversion of Afghanistan into a source of threat to Central Asia. Bishkek, 2002, p 125). An example of such a liaison was the support to the formations of Jumma Namangani, which entered into OTO in an organised way right till 1999. However, such relationships did not continue for long perhaps, due to their differences on ethnic principles.

A number of countries of the Near and Middle East, as well as international Muslim organisations rendered help to the war wing of OTO, which referred to this conflict as continuation of Jihad against communists. Fighting in these opposition forces were not only citizens of Tajikistan who underwent training in Afghanistan, but also Afghan and Arab mercenaries, including the well-known Hatab. According to some data, the arriving professionals included Arabs, Sudanians, Afghan instructors and terrorists formed more than 30% of the opposition forces (M. Olimov, Problems of struggle with terrorism. The net of ethnological monitoring and early warning of conflicts. August. M.: 1998, p 65). Soon after its independence Tajikistan was flooded by thousands of mercenaries. By September-October 1992 “Brothers” were in Tajikistan from UAE, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Qatar, Jordan, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Syria, and Algeria, (M. Olimov, Problems of struggle with terrorism. The net of ethnological monitoring and early warning of the conflicts., August. M.: 1998 p 65).

The internal conflict in Tajikistan became, perhaps, the first serious signal of the fast growing new danger for the region. In particular, the intra-Tajik opposition was forced to think seriously about the growing threat of Islamic Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, even in other countries of the region the situation was not favourable. About the years 1995-96 in Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan, the movement of Islamic Revival of Uzbekistan was formed which later transformed into Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) under the leadership of T. Yuldashev, and D. Khodzhaev, and the most famous being Jumma Namangani. Groups such as “Toba” “Adalat” and “Islam Lashkarlari” founded the base of IMU. As a result of the tough measures taken by the Government in Tashkent, the leaders of these movements were forced to leave Uzbekistan and settle down in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains where they joined the so-called Namagani Battalion and participated in skirmishes on behalf of the OTO. Later, leaders of OTO supported a strong contact with the Taliban and with the leaders of Al-Qaida, having received from them the necessary financial and material help. Its fighters received war and ideological training in the camps of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The situation became more difficult in the early 90s with the religious indoctrination of thousands of insurgents on the territories of these countries who then went on to form the framework of the movement. In the mid 90s, through the Chechnyan diaspora of Central Asia, a close contact was established between Uzbek Islamists and Chechnyan separatists. The so-called “Uzbek Front” operated from Chechnya and about 300 Uzbek fighters received training in the camps of the “Islamic Institute of Caucasus” located in Chechnya. (A. Khanyazev, History of Afghan war 1990 and conversion of Afghanistan into a source of threat to Central Asia. Bishkek, 2002, p 172-173). The leaders of IMU have declared and not just once, that their ultimate aim is to overthrow the regime of I. Karimov and establish an “Islamic Caliphate” on the territory of Uzbekistan.

In 1997 in the Namagan region of Ferghana Valley, extremists made a series of attacks on the local clerks and police employees, and instigated the locals towards anti-government acts. Similar terrorist activities were seen in Kyrghyztan in the years1997-1998.

A stage came in the year 1999, when the extremist organizations targeting the region started undertaking serious steps to realise their plans of creating an Islamic government. In February 1999, the supporters of IMU organized terrorist acts against the president of Uzbekistan I. Karimov, as a result of which 50 people were killed. Leaders of IMU took the responsibility of carrying out the shoot-out and declared that: “Our movement is being watched by the people of Uzbekistan, who would rather prefer the Islamic view. The history of a dark century dominated by Russian invaders and the rule of Bolsheviks is over, but we have still not achieved the freedom and opportunity to revive our Islamic life” (ibid, p 154).

In August 1999 a big insurgency operation of IMU was carried out in Batkin region of Kyrghyztan. This was aimed at destabilising the atmosphere and overthrowing the secular regime of I. Karimov and changing the existing social system. From the territory of Tajikistan, detachments of IMU fighters numbering about 2000 penetrated into Batkin region of Kyrghyztan for subsequent invasion on the Ferghana Valley. The leaders of IMU expected to garner considerable support, particularly from this poor and thickly populated region. Intense fighting with the government forces of Kyrghyztan continued till November.

An interesting fact is that, in IMU there were not only ethnic Uzbeks, citizens of Uzbekistan, but also there were Tajik rebels waiting in the wings, Arabian mercenaries, Afghanis, Uigurs, native Chechnyans, Bashkirs, Tatars and people from other muslim regions of Russia who had received training in the base camps in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

In the year 2000 a similar attempt was made again. There are different opinions about Batkin and the Surkhandarya incident of 2000. It is evident that the act of the year 2000 was smaller in scale, localized and of a shorter duration than the incident that took place in 1999. According to some data available, this time there were only a couple of hundred fighters noticed in the Batkin region. As far as Sukhandarya province of Uzbekistan is concerned, the fighters appeared to have spent a long time in the region having left their families and immovable property behind and were discovered by chance.

At the same time there is a lot of information available about how Uzbek authorities manipulated facts about the presence of IMU fighters in the upper regions of Tupalang to deport en masse Tajik population from there to the plains of Sukhandarya region. In this process of migration, many migrants, particularly old people and children, died within a year due to malaria and other illnesses, succumbing to the new and unfamiliar conditions of the Amudarya flood lands.

IMU attacks, at least in 1999, were well planned and organized and also well financed. It cannot be ruled out as is assumed by researchers, that these actions as well as detachments of S. Basaeva in Dagestan can be viewed as rings of the some chain and are parts of the grandiose plan of Al-Qaida. It is believed that a similar act in the summer - autumn of 2001 in Batkin did not take place only because the fighters of IMU were participating in the fighting activities from the side of the Taliban against the forces of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

Another well-known religious organisation pursuing the objective of creating an Islamic government on the territory of Central Asia is: “Hizb Ut Tahrir al Islamia” (party of Islamic freedom). The Hizb Ut Tahrir (HT) was founded in Palestine in 1952 by a member of the Kaziat (Supreme Court) of that country Taqiuddin Nabakhan and is one of the branches of the movement “Brothers of Muslims” which was founded in 1928.As a consequence of the radical views the party was banned in many Arabian countries of the world. The first foxholes of the party in Central Asia were noticed in the beginning of 90s and its activities intensified in 1998-2000.

The ideological base of the HT is Pan-Islamism, and its activity consists of putting into practice its underlined teachings. Party ideologists, rejecting the armed methods of struggle, pursue their objective of uniting all Muslims, in the framework of one unitary Islamic government functioning on the basis of Shariat law. Presuming that the believers, particularly, in Central Asia are not ready to understand the idea of Jihad, party ideologists put before themselves the task to organise illegal religious propaganda with the help of oral appeals and discussions, distribution of papers and related literature. In other words, the parties are creating a base for peaceful evolution from the secular government to the Caliphate where Muslims will realise the advantage of Islamic government and secular forces will be compelled to hand over the power to the selected Calipha. (B. Babazhanov, Religious – opposition groups in Uzbekistan // Religious extremism in Central Asia. Problems and perspectives. Materials of the Conference of Dushambe, 25 April 2002 p 43-63) The idea of nonviolence particularly people wishing to join the party.

The structure of the party is characterised by a peculiar organisation and rigid conspiracy. HT primarily draws towards itself mostly youth from the agricultural rural areas. There have been incidents where law authorities have detained clerks, lower and middle ranking government officials.

In spite of the underground character of the activities of HT and repressive policies of the authorities, the work of the party has a high populist character. If its activities were earlier limited mainly to Ferghana Valley then later, pamphlets of HT and publications were displayed in other regions of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and Kyrghyztan, and also in the southern provinces of Kazakhstan. The number of party members is estimated to be in tens of thousands.

Moreover, in spite of a declaration of adoption of exceptionally peaceful methods of struggle, as per some information available, firearms and explosives were recovered during the arrests of party activists. Keeping this in view, one can presume that the party is likely to review the declared methods of work and start an armed struggle. The possibility of such developments is also evident from the incident of separation from HT in 1999 of the group of “Hizb an Nusr” (party of freedom) because of the latter’s declared policy of resorting to radical means in case of punitive action from the authorities. (B. Babazhanov, Religious – opposition groups in Uzbekistan // Religious extremism in Central Asia. Problems and perspectives. Materials of the Conference of Dushambe, 25 April 2002, , p 57).

It is important to mention here that the HT has a good global network. There is proof that one of its headquarters is located in London. The party collaborates with such organisations as “Hamas”, “Brothers of Muslims”, and “Worldwide front of Jihad.” The global activity of the party indicates the serious external support it receives, without which the very existence of the party for obvious reasons would have been impossible. There are evidences about the connection of HT with the activities of Taliban and Al-Qaida. Its open sympathies towards these organisations is indirectly hinted in its sharp anti American announcements made soon after the beginning of anti terrorist operations in Afghanistan and blaming the coalition participant-states of war against Muslims and Islam.

With such a complex background and keeping in mind the growing religious fundamentalism in the Central Asian states, in Turkmenistan the situation seems to be somewhat better. There has been practically no report of the existence of different kinds of underground organisations of religious nature or about problems of drug trafficking. This phenomenon can be explained to be due to the presence of a very strict administrative system in the country, which uses highly effective methods to control society, in front of which the existence of even legal parties is quite impossible leave alone the illegal ones.

At the same time, it is necessary to point out the unique stand of the Government in Ashkhabad in relation to DT. From the very beginning its stand was quite different from the position taken by other governments of the region and similarly from Russia on the issue of tolerance. Judging from the innumerous contacts of Turkmenian representatives with the Taliban, Turkmenistan de-facto acknowledged the Taliban as the only legal power in Afghanistan, which position was undoubtedly connected with their plans of constructing a trans Afghanistan gas pipeline. For a long time diplomats of Ashkhabad strained to reconcile the leaders of Central Asia and the Taliban. In this connection one can presume that there was a tacit agreement between the Taliban and Turkmenistan about not having clandestine undermining activities against each other.

On the whole it is difficult to comment about any real plans of creating an Islamic government in Central Asia. It is unlikely, that the secular population of the states of this region would be ready to accept the new Islamic order. The acceptance of Islam by Tajiks, who were the natives of this region, was under the influence of Arab conquerors. The researcher E. Mamitova is of the view that till today Islam has not played a consolidating role, and it is regional, clan, tribal ancestral interests, and not some common faith, that play a great role in all, without exception, the states of Central Asia (A. Mamitova, Islamic fundamentalism and extremism in the countries of Central Asia. J. Central Asia and Kaphkaz No. 5 (11) 2000, p 57-63). Moreover, as shown by many observations and researches, the day-to-day life and customs of the people of the region, though Islamic, are interweaved with the Pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian and in some cases even with the Buddhist beliefs and traditions. An example of not accepting Islam in its primitive form was the increasing dissatisfaction amongst Afghans towards the policies of Taliban, when in 2001 it was prohibited to celebrate “Navruz” a festival Zoroastrian in character but traditional for the Muslims.

Nevertheless, the threat of activation of radical Islam in the region, and the continuation of activities of the parties of religious character is very real and it would be a grave mistake to underestimate it. In the difficult socio-economic scenario, existing social inequality, the prospect of an alternate government system on the principle of Caliphate, becomes attractive for a part of the population. It is possible that the quantitative and qualitative rise of the illegal extremist organisations, to some extent, justifies the strict policies of Central Asian authorities that are working towards eradication or partly weakening the different types of legal and underground opposition movements.

Thus, it can be concluded that towards the beginning of the 21st century, Central Asia represents one of the most complex regions, with a large number of intertwined and problems, the main ones being illicit drug trafficking, the present difficult socio-economic situation, and the growth of religious fundamentalism acquiring the extremist form of radical organisations.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati