From the Christian Science Monitor: “Kyrgyzstan tries to squeeze Islamic extremists in Central Asia ”
Authorities say that extremists are trying to set up a base here to overthrow Kyrgyzstan’s secular post-Soviet government, as well as those in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and create an Islamic state.
But observers say that the government’s harsh methods – in a country that has had a traditionally tolerant and secular Sunni Muslim population – are creating more radicals than they are eliminating, and igniting ethnic tensions in the Ferghana Valley, a volatile, diverse region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
The crackdown is also part of a series of incidents suggesting Kyrgyzstan’s turn from the West, and the US in particular, and embrace of Russia and Uzbekistan.
Law-enforcement bodies have fought pitched battles with gunmen in recent months. In May, armed individuals overran Kyrgyz and Tajik border posts, killing three Tajik border guards and a Kyrgyz customs official. In July, Kyrgyz security forces killed five suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group that fought beside the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“We are reaching critical mass of armed people in the region,” says Martha Brill Olcott, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “I think there could be a wave of acts of violence in Central Asia.”
Relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were frosty after Bishkek sheltered hundreds of refugees from Andijan, and after the “Tulip Revolution” deposed longtime leader Askar Akayev.
But Kyrgyz officials, under strong Uzbek pressure, now seem to hold the view that militant Islam as well as non- violent political Islam constitute a threat.
Along with the IMU, Bishkek, as well as other Central Asia regimes, has targeted Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a London-based group that aims to unite the world’s Muslims in a single sharia-law state. Hizb-ut-Tahrir members say they will achieve this by peaceful means, though their rhetoric is often virulently anti-Western and
Kyrgyz law-enforcement officials say that Hizb-ut-Tahrir has split, and a number of members now support violence. Organization representatives deny this.
All things considered, the analyst quoted below fails to see an agenda beyond discontent with “corruption and economic stagnation.”
Michael Hall, Central Asia director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says that the region’s authoritarian regimes are afraid of the political challenge the movements pose, which has arisen from corruption and economic stagnation.
“These regimes don’t like opposition, period,” Mr. Hall says. “If today that comes in the form of Islamic radicals, that’s sort of the threat du jour.”
“You also have to see it from the point of view of these movements’ supporters,” he adds. “These are people for whom Islam, even radical Islam, represents justice, fairness, and accountability on the part of their governments – and they are not seeing that right now.”
One will recall that Palestinian voters were alleged in some circles to have voted Hamas into power in a similar move against “corruption.”