Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 171

Uzbek authorities announced yesterday the “complete destruction” of a group of seven Islamist rebels in the Tashkent Region, near the border with Kyrgyzstan. That group was itself a remnant of a larger one, on the move in the Tashkent Region since August, and presumably assigned to infiltrate the capital city. The authorities had been especially concerned to prevent that group from linking up with suspected Islamist militants in Tashkent. Meanwhile, combat in the Surkhandaria Region seems to be at a complete standstill.

In Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region, hostilities have de-escalated into skirmishes along the border with Tajikistan. Kyrgyz communiques continue speaking of “presumed” rebel positions–an oblique admission that intelligence-gathering and technical means of reconnaissance remain inadequate. The official communiques as a rule feature two potentially incompatible propositions: first, that the rebels have been driven over the border into Tajikistan; and, second, that the aviation is bombing and strafing rebel positions. If both propositions are correct, it would follow that the aviation is deliberately hitting the territory of Tajikistan, probably in the Jirgatal area. Tajikistan has not complained, however. Last year, Dushanbe did protest against Uzbek air raids on Jirgatal villages which were suspected of harboring the rebels.

The government of Tajikistan, unable to control its territory, is above all concerned to avoid Uzbek intervention that could come in the guise of “assisting” Dushanbe to rid the country of rebels. Citing that prospect, the government has apparently obtained the acquiescence of its unwilling ally, the Islamic Rebirth Party–mainstay of the former United Tajik Opposition (UTO).–to a government crackdown on diehard UTO elements. Elite government troops have ventured into the high-altitude Darband area of central Tajikistan to attack the detachment of Mullo Abdullo, who was one of the most successful UTO field commanders during the civil war. According to official announcements, the troops either destroyed or captured that entire detachment.

President Imomali Rahmonov meanwhile is redoubling assurances to Tashkent and Bishkek to the effect that there are “no terrorist groups or camps” in Tajikistan. The Uzbek and Kyrgyz government are persuaded of the opposite, however.

In Almaty, the chief of staff of Kazakhstan’s border troops, Major-General Husain Berkaliev, declared that Kazakh army and/or border troops are available for deployment in Kyrgyzstan, if the situation in that country deteriorates and if the Kyrgyz government officially requests such intervention. Berkaliev cited three possible legal frameworks for such deployment: the CIS Collective Security Treaty; the Tashkent pact signed earlier this year by Russia and four Central Asian countries (except Turkmenistan) and the type of agreement which has governed the deployment of Kazakh border troops in Tajikistan from 1994 to date. That unit, however, has played a passive role, in the rear of Russian border troops in Tajikistan and has dwindled from an initial 500 to 100 at present.

Berkaliev was speaking at an international antidrug conference in Almaty. His official position does not entitle him to address that issue. But he is unlikely to have been speculating. Kazakhstan’s defense minister, Lieutenant-General Sat Tokpakbaev, also suggested the possibility of troop deployment in Kyrgyzstan–albeit in more oblique language–during the opening of the CentrasBat exercise in the Almaty Region (Tashkent Radio, KyrgyzKabar, Habar, Asia-Plus, Itar-Tass, September 10-14; see the Monitor, August 8, 10, 29, 31, September 8; Fortnight in Review, September 8).

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