Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 33

A 700-strong concentration of Uzbek expatriate militants has been spotted in Tajikistan near the border with Kyrgyzstan. They are led by Juma Namangani, who is also the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). This formation represents a part, possibly the bulk, of the force which mounted the insurgency in the Tajik-Kyrgyz-Uzbek border area from August to November 1999. The rebels, most of them also IMU followers, withdrew last November to winter quarters in Afghanistan (see the Monitor, Fortnight in Review, November 5, 1999; the Monitor, November 4, 9, 1999, January 7). Their apparent return to northern Tajikistan would seem to presage another attempt to make their way to Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley via poorly guarded Kyrgyz territory.

The Kyrgyz military, which announced the rebels’ return to Tajikistan, has no intelligence capability to speak of. The information probably originates from Russian and/or Uzbek intelligence. Both Moscow and Tashkent are interested in magnifying the threat perception as part of their ambitions to lead the resistance against Islamic radicalism in Central Asia. For the Kyrgyz government, this is a handy opportunity to call for national vigilance and cohesion in the runup to the February 20 parliamentary elections.

At the same time, Kyrgyz authorities are accelerating military preparations for possible fighting in the spring. According to the Security Council’s Secretary, Bolot Januzakov, the army has formed a southern group of forces in the Batken Region, which abuts on Tajikistan. Those units have first claim on resources and equipment and have reenlisted medium-age veterans of the Soviet army with combat experience in Afghanistan and other conflicts. The army has yet to make a real start toward creating rapid-deployment units, as envisioned by plans adopted in the wake of last year’s insurgency. Units of border troops are being urgently trained for mountain operations and deployed at four stations along the border with Tajikistan. Obstacles are being erected at other possible passage points along that border. The Batken region is a recently activated unit with the special status of a “security zone” and a special budget. The Region’s civilian authorities are required to cooperate closely with the military and security forces; those authorities are, moreover, likely to have been staffed with officials selected for their career links with those forces.

The Kyrgyz government, through Januzakov, has publicly vowed that it would “not allow a repeat of last year’s events” and “never offer the militants a corridor through Kyrgyzstan. We shall not betray our friends and neighbors.” Such pledges seek not simply to reassure Uzbekistan but also to ward off a possible Uzbek initiative to send troops to Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan is similarly concerned to avert an Uzbek anti-insurgency operation on Tajik territory. For that reason, official Dushanbe–with all its impeccable “secularist” credentials–prefers to hush up the infiltration of Islamic militants on its territory, as long as those militants keep to a remote area and target the two neighboring countries, rather than Tajikistan itself.

In Dushanbe, the first phase of Southern Shield-2000–a joint exercise of Russian, Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz and Kazakh forces in the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty–got underway on February 11. Russia’s Lieutenant-General Leonid Maltsev, deputy chief of the CIS Headquarters for the Coordination of Military Cooperation, commands the exercise, the aim of which is to practice joint actions by the commands and the troops in repulsing attacks by “Islamic militant” and “international terrorist” groups against any one of the five participating countries. This scenario is based on last year’s hostilities in Kyrgyzstan (Krasnaya Zvezda, February 5; Itar-Tass, February 11, 15; Kabar, Asia-Plus, February 11, 13-14; see the Monitor, January 7, February 2).

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