Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 93

According to both Russian and Iranian reports, Uzbek Islamist guerrillas commanded by Juma Namangani are relocating from Tajikistan to Afghanistan under the protection of the Russian and Tajik military. On May 6, Iranian state radio reported from Dushanbe that the relocation was underway following negotiations between the Tajik government and Namangani. United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Saidabdullo Nuri and Minister for Emergency Situations Mirzo Zio, who is a former commander of UTO forces, mediated the negotiations with Namangani at the request of Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov. Namangani’s detachment will join the main force of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) at its base in the northern Afghan town of Kunduz. The Iranian report added substance to one issued the preceding day by Russia’s official news agency, according to which Namangani’s detachment was on its way to Afghanistan under the escort of Tajik Defense Ministry troops.

If carried out on schedule, the relocation should by now be an accomplished fact. Namangani’s men could only reach Afghanistan with the consent of the Russian army and border troops, which control the Tajik-Afghan border. The Tajik government’s own move would hardly have been possible without Moscow’s political approval. At the operational level, too, the Tajik Defense Ministry is controlled by the group of Russian military advisers posted within it. Namangani’s strength is estimated at 400 fighters on Tajik territory and 1,500–possibly including some family dependents–at the camp in Kunduz. His move to Afghanistan implies abandoning the purported intention to attack Kyrgyzstan this spring the way he did last year.

In Afghanistan, however, IMU’s top leader Tahir Yuldash announced the movement’s intention to use Afghan territory as a staging area for returning by force to Uzbekistan. That country is in any case the rebels’ target; Kyrgyzstan would only have served as a corridor for reaching Uzbekistan. The Russian-protected move of the rebels to Afghanistan does nothing to alleviate Uzbekistan’s concerns and is probably designed to even increase the Uzbek government’s already high sense of insecurity (Itar-Tass, May 5; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), May 1, 3, 6; The Fortnight in Review, April 14; The Monitor, March 14, 30, April 6, 20, 25, May 4).