In a move to shore up waning Russian influence in the former Soviet states of Central Asia, Boris Yeltsin at a Moscow meeting asked President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan to join him in a new initiative to resist “the advance of Islamic fundamentalism” and “the ideological threat from the south”–meaning Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, not the proselytizing of ally Iran. With Karimov’s assent in hand, Yeltsin called President Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan, who joined to make the initiative a “troika.”
Just days before the Moscow meeting, the Uzbek president had secured from his legislature a new ban on unregistered religious organizations. President Karimov told the parliament that “Wahhabis”–armed guerrillas who want to establish an Islamic republic–“must be shot in the head. If necessary,” he added, “I’ll shoot them myself.” The Tajikistan government for its part has been struggling since its inception with an armed insurgency that includes an Islamic fundamentalist element, although ethnic, clan, and political motivations appear to far outweigh religious fanaticism in shaping the opposition forces.
In Kyrgyzstan as well, government officials claim that “Wahhabis” are the driving force in ethnic clashes that cross the border with China. The Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people in China’s Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region, have engaged in increasingly violent expressions of their desire to create an independent Uighur state. Although the Kyrgyzstan government opposes the Uighur movement in China, a number of Uighur activists have fled from China into Kyrgyzstan. Last week, the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of State Security used a Russian-language newspaper to announce the arrest of dozens of Uighurs, accused of agitating for a Uighur state in China and spreading “Wahhabi” religious teachings in Kyrgyzstan.