“Islamists See Opening in C. Asia Chaos,” from Newsday, with thanks to JS:
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The only splash of color in the drab bluish gray office of Kyrgyzstan’s Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society was a wool orange scarf thrown over the back of its president’s chair.
It was Edil Baisalov’s souvenir from Ukraine’s Orange Revolution that swept opposition leader Victor Yushchenko to the presidency. Baisalov had been in Kiev in December as an election monitor. He returned home inspired: “I was intoxicated by the protests, by the desire for change, the power of the people.”
The popular uprisings in Ukraine and in Georgia a year earlier have fired up Central Asia’s nascent political opposition and brought protesters into the streets of Kyrgyzstan.
The movement is unsettling authoritarian regimes who have ruled since the Soviet Union collapse 15 years ago. But it’s also exposed the frailty of opposition groups who lack charismatic leaders — and created an opening for extremist Islamic parties to gain power in a strategic oil-rich region known as a terrorist haven….
Although the Bush administration supports pro-democracy movements, the turmoil in the region also has created a potentially dangerous opening for extremist Islamic parties.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, has a following among the young in Central Asia. It has called for Islamic rule to replace secular governments and unite the Muslim world. And its pamphlets criticize U.S. bases established in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to support the war on terror.
A senior Western diplomat in Tajikistan confirmed that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s influence is growing across the region, particularly among the young who are looking for alternatives to what they perceive as corrupt, totalitarian regimes with links to the Soviet past.
The United States has not declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization because it does not advocate violence, but the diplomat said some of its literature is virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic and could inspire violence.
Leaders across Central Asia have banned Hizb ut-Tahrir. Kyrgyz security authorities have accused the group of having links with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is allied to al-Qaida and operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Kyrgyz government has also warned of cooperation between Hizb ut-Tahrir and Uighur separatists in China, but has not provided evidence. Russia has accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of involvement in breakaway Chechnya.
The south of Kyrgyzstan is where Hizb ut-Tahrir is strongest, residential spokesman Seghizbayev told the AP. He said the group blames the government for every problem and makes promises it cannot fulfill.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has become more politically active. In Jalal-Abad, the scene of some of the fiercest anti-government protests, the group collected 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for more Islamic instruction in schools and segregation of the sexes.
The petition, circulated in November, also demanded state sponsorship of Muslim schools and restrictions on the sale of pornography. Candidates who espoused a like-minded philosophy got support from Hizb ut-Tahrir members.
Askarov Azimjan, a human rights activist whose office in southern Kyrgyzstan is partially funded by Freedom House, says Hizb ut-Tahrir has emerged as an alternative for residents frustrated by corruption.
“Most ordinary people I think support them now because they feel that in a democratic society it is difficult to get anything done without corruption. People believe that if the government was religious the situation would change,” he said from Bazar Korgon, about 20 miles from Jalal-Abad….