Central Asian governments, individually and collectively, seem to be looking somewhat blindly for an appropriate response to the Islamic insurgency underway in the Tajik-Kyrgyz-Uzbek border area. The response is developing on two levels: first, military measures to isolate the insurgent-held corner of Kyrgyzstan and localize the rebellion there, and, second, political measures to avert a spillover effect in neighboring countries.
In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree yesterday which creates an “interagency commission to counter religious extremism.” The commission will operate in the framework of the country’s Security Council, which Nazarbaev chairs. The Council’s secretary and senior presidential adviser, Marat Tazhin, chairs the newly created commission. On the military level, the government offers to supply military equipment to Kyrgyz forces, but only as part of collective measures by Central Asian countries and Russia. Kazakhstani ground troops have just conducted an exercise in a high-altitude area said to resemble Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region. The unplanned exercise was organized with remarkable rapidity after senior army commanders criticized an earlier decision by the former defense minister to discontinue mountain exercises for economy reasons.
In Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov–who follows the hardest anti-Islamic line among the region’s leaders–made a conciliatory gesture on September 22 by approving the release of more that 300 “Islamic radicals” from detention. Most of them had been sentenced for their membership in banned religious groups. According to the official version, they were released “in consideration of their sincere repentance and with account taken of the situation of their families.” Some local observers surmise that Karimov’s gesture indirectly responds to the demand of the rebels in Kyrgyzstan for the release of militants from Uzbek jails.
In Tajikistan, Russian and Tajik troops completed yesterday a joint exercise at battalion level. Russia’s Lieutenant-General Aleksandr Mayorov, chief of staff of the Volga Military District, commanded the exercise. According to Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Hairulloev, the troops practiced a counteroffensive against a 2,000-strong force invading Tajikistan from Afghanistan under a scenario similar to the one unfolding in Kyrgyzstan.
Meanwhile, Kyrgyz officials in the city of Osh report the landing of a first planeload of Russian military supplies on September 22. The consignment includes rocket launchers and infrared devices for night vision (Itar-Tass, KyrgyzHabar, Habar (Astana), Kyodo, September 22-23).
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