In contrast to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU, see above), the Hezb-e Tahrir al-Islami [Party of Islamic Liberation] abjures violent tactics. Instead, it emphasizes long-term organizational work and the development of a system of underground cells. It aims to win a mass following through patient propaganda and, concurrently, to penetrate the social and state institutions, including the clerical establishment, the government and the military. Hezb-e Tahrir is mainly recruiting among ethnic Uzbek populations. By appealing primarily to the same groups while espousing different tactics, Hezb-e Tahrir and IMU are actual competitors and potential rivals. The two movements operate through different networks and there is no indication of any Hezb-e Tahrir support for IMU’s insurgencies in 1999 and this year.
Hezb-e Tahrir now seems to be focusing on recruitment among Uzbeks in the Soghd Region–historic name recently restored to the Leninabad Region–in northwestern Tajikistan. That region is the largest and most populous, and is considered the most secularized in Tajikistan. It had until recently seemed immune to penetration of fundamentalist Islam. Earlier this year, however, the Tajik authorities announced the arrest of more than 100 members of Hezb-e Tahrir in Soghd.
A fresh wave of arrests seems to suggest that the movement continues making inroads among Uzbeks there. Last week, Tajik authorities apprehended fourteen Hezb-e Tahrir propagandists and literature carriers–including four teenagers–in the Soghd Region in three separate incidents. More than 5,000 leaflets were seized in two of those incidents. Concurrently in Dushanbe, six Hezb-e Tahrir militants and 4,500 leaflets were seized in two incidents. The large quantity of literature and small size of each group reflects the movement’s emphasis on grass-roots propaganda and its modus operandi in small cells.
The government in Dushanbe, meanwhile, has achieved significant progress in coopting the former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) and its mainstay, the Islamic Rebirth Movement (IRM). During the 1992-97 civil war, the IRM–its moderation notwithstanding–had never managed to penetrate the Soghd. At present, the government is allowing the IRM to open offices and sign up members in Soghd, with the aim of offsetting Hezb-e Tahrir’s growing influence. From official Dushanbe’s standpoint, the IRM has the double advantage of being nonfundamentalist and loyal to the state of Tajikistan. The government and the coopted IRM share a suspicion of Uzbek predominance, whether under secular or religious colors.
Apart from the official, largely discredited clerical establishment, at least three different Islamist currents and movements are currently active and potentially competing with one another in Tajikistan. First, the IRM, primarily based in the sparsely populated center and east of the country. Second, a growing Hezb-e Tahrir among Uzbeks in the densely populated northwest. And, third, the expatriate terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, enjoying sanctuaries and staging areas in Tajikistan, with the consent of Dushanbe and of Moscow–and the approval of Iran–as an instrument of pressure on President Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan. In this situation, Moscow’s claims that Pushtun-based Taliban brand of Islam threatens Tajikistan constitute little more than propaganda (Asia-Plus, Hovar, November 14-17; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), November 16).
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