Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 43

Uzbek official statements increasingly tend to blame the February 16 terror bombings (see the Monitor, February 17, 24) on indigenous “Islamic fanatics” in the employ of “external forces.” The authorities, however, have not yet managed to identify either the individuals or the forces behind them. President Islam Karimov and security authorities have instead tended to resurrect some older bugbears, such as Juma Namangani and his “Islamic Warriors” group from the Ferghana Valley. Following the violence and repression in the Namangan region in late 1997 and early 1998, Namangani and a handful of supporters were reported to have fled to neighboring Tajikistan’s Karategin area, a stronghold of the United Tajik Opposition. Uzbekistan has ever since placed the onus on the hapless Tajik government to apprehend and extradite the group.

Karimov made a more nuanced statement yesterday. Drawing a clear distinction between “certain neighboring countries” and the “terrorists who may use their territories, but do not represent those countries,” the Uzbek president appealed to those countries’ governments “to help reveal the criminals.” Clearly alluding to Tajikistan, Karimov expressed Uzbekistan’s wish to maintain neighborly relations on the official level.

Karimov’s conciliatory statement appeared to respond to an offer just made by Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov and disclosed in Dushanbe yesterday. Presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov announced that Tajikistan would welcome the creation of a joint Tajik-Uzbek investigative group, to be made up of security officers and UN military observers, to inspect the Karategin region. The presidential spokesman expressed confidence that no “terrorist camp” of the Namangani group would be found there. According to Dushanbe’s official information, Namangani and his followers moved last year to Afghanistan (International agencies, March 2).

The United Tajik Opposition had all along rejected Uzbek accusations that it was sheltering the “Islamic Warriors,” either in Karategin or any other area of Tajikistan. While divided over many issues, the Tajik government and opposition are both interested in keeping Namangani out of the country and removing any rationale for Uzbek intrusion in Tajikistan.

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