As Tashkent and Washington move to repair relations that were downgraded after divergent interpretations of the tragic events in Andijan on May 12, 2005, the U.S. is seeking to reengage Uzbekistan’s support for continuing cooperation of military operations in Afghanistan, for which Tashkent assented within a month of 9-11.
If the two nations are increasingly seeing eye-to-eye on the need for peace in Afghanistan, there yet remains an issue that has baffled Tashkent for years–Washington’s reluctance to add Hizb ut-Tahrir (Arabic for “Party of Liberation”–HuT) to its list of terrorist organizations. It is certainly perceived as such in Uzbekistan. On June 28 a court in Denau in Surkhandarya province sentenced four female HuT activists to between three and five years in prison, the latest in a series of trials of HuT members stretching back for years (Interfax-AVN, June 28).
A group associated with HuT has been exposed by the country’s police. “The group had over forty members,” the Uzbek Interior Ministry told Interfax on August 5. The group’s leader was a man who had regularly traveled to one of the Arab countries pretending to be a businessman. “In reality, he joined the religious and extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir. His foreign instructors not only gave him theoretical knowledge, but also gave him a lot of special literature and videos promoting extremist activities,” said the ministry. A preliminary investigation has shown that the man had founded a group in Tashkent that was aimed at creating a single Islamic state in Uzbekistan. “Members of the group acted in strict conspiracy, but the law enforcement agencies managed to detain their leader and virtually all its members,” said the ministry. A criminal case has been opened (Interfax, August 5)
Washington maintains that the London-based HuT is a peaceful organization. Uzbekistan and virtually the entire Middle East, Russia, and Germany, as well as Uzbekistan’s Central Asian neighbors, take the opposite view that it is, in fact, dedicated to reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate and condones, espouses and covertly participates in terrorist acts in furtherance of its goals.
A true pan-Islamic internationalist party, HuT was founded in Jerusalem in 1953 by a Judge of the Shari’a Appeals Court in Jerusalem, Palestinian Muslim religious qadi Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, who studied in the famous al-Azhar University in Cairo. HuT was illegal from its very beginning, as it did not receive a permit from the Jordanian government as required by law. After Nabhani’s death in 1979 Jordanian Abad al-Qadim Zalum took over as HuT’s leader until his own death in 2003. HuT’s current “Emir” (leader) is Jordanian Ataa’ Abu Rushta, a Palestinian, about whom HuT will say only that he “is in the Muslim world”; analysts believe that he is in Lebanon. The identities of nearly all other top HuT leaders are unknown. Nabhani was hardly attracted to Western political structures. One of his books was entitled “Democracy: the Law of Infidels.” Nabhani’s philosophy was simple: to re-establish the pan-Islamic Caliphate and reunite the Muslim faithful in a recreation of the Islamic community as it was under the Prophet Muhammad’s immediate successors. Unfortunately for true believers, Turkey’s Ataturk abolished the decrepit institution in 1924.
HuT now operates clandestinely in more than 40 countries. Al-Nabhani’s writings remain very influential. He detested “depraved democracies” imposed by the West on Muslim nations, advocating instead “a single state over the entire Muslim world.”
In the wake of the July 7, 2005, bombings in London, Britain considered banning the group but eventually demurred (The Observer, December 24, 2005). London still considers HuT a peaceful if somewhat archaic group pining for the lost days of Islamic greatness. HuT, operating primarily out of its London offices, consistently claims to be an entirely peaceful political movement dedicated to re-establishing the Caliphate.
Like al-Qaida, HuT makes massive use of the Internet and digital technology to propagate its own version of globalization: worldwide Shari’a-law government. Its finances are similarly opaque. While each HuT member is required to tithe 10 percent of his income to the group, other sources of income remain unknown.
According to analysts of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan (SNB), by 2003 HuT had established two underground publishing houses in Tashkent. Head of the main investigative department of Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) Alisher Sharafutdinov emphasized the problems of dealing with IMU and HuT militants, as they could slip in and out of the country across the mountainous border with Tajikistan. Sharafutdinov added that Tashkent did not originally consider HuT a terrorist organization; this only came with a close study of their seized literature. Uzbek analysts pored over various HuT materials advocating the violent overthrow of the Karimov regime to establish the Caliphate. Published HuT materials include Nizomul Islom (Rule of Islam), Hizbiy uyushmasi (Party Association), Hizb-ut-tahrir tushunchalari (Concept of Hizb-ut-Tahrir) and Mankhaj (Theory of Association) The 1998 publication Khatarly tushunchalar (Dangerous Theories) had a specific chapter entitled “Terrorism” that offered a theoretical justification for terrorist acts (Interview with Jamestown, Tashkent, December 29, 2004).
Uzbekistan is not alone in its crusade against HuT. Throughout the former Soviet Union, HuT activists are being arrested or killed in anti-terrorist operations. To give but a few examples, Interior Minister of Dagestan Adilgerey Magomedtagirov said that three militants eliminated in a “special operation” in Makhachkala on June 28 were HuT members, who had been involved in the assassination of the chief of the Buynaksk main police directorate, Magomedarip Aliyev, who had been killed in Makhachkala five days earlier (Interfax, June 30). Nor is HuT’s appearance in Russia a recent event. Im August 2005 Bashkortostan’s Supreme Court sentenced nine HuT activists to between three and eight years in jail on charges of terrorism, forming and running a criminal organization, and illegal possession of explosives and weapons (Interfax, April 13). Last month a Ukrainian newspaper reported that Crimean Tartars had imported HuT ideology from Uzbekistan (Gaev, July 1).
The preponderance of evidence from countries as varied as Germany and Egypt support Uzbekistan’s assertion that the U.S. administration might well be advised to reassess its position on the organization, especially as Hizb ut-Tahrir itself proclaims that the U.S. is a state “with whom we are in an actual war.” In the interim, Washington’s continuing myopia on the issue is baffling friends from the Rhine to the Amu Darya.