Adventures in Reporting

by Nathan Hamm on 8/2/2004 · 21 comments

It has now officially become unquestioned truth that Karimov is blaming Hizb ut-Tahrir for last Friday’s bombings. The first story I read to this effect can be found here. Go back and read the blockquoted section. Then, channel your inner Bill Clinton and read it again.

I was taken in as well at the time. He certainly seems to be blaming HT, but then again, he could be saying that they’re the bigger problem–the ideological training ground.

EurasiaNet is making this mistake too.

Not only is Hizb responsible for the July blasts, but the group was also behind the late March violence in Tashkent in Bukhara that left at least 47 people dead, Karimov indicated. Evidence from the July and March incidents indicates “that they were organized by members of the same group, that they acted in accordance with one plan and that they were pursuing the same aim,” Karimov said during a nationally broadcast address July 31.

I am fairly certain that most of my readers are much keener on John Kerry than I am, so I ask a simple request. Channel your inner John Kerry, turn nuance-o-meter to 11* and read that again. The relationships between groups are pretty much an unknown, and the whole world of Uzbekistan’s Islamist underworld is looking more complex by the day. Just because London’s HT members eschew violence doesn’t necessarily mean that Uzbekistan’s recruits aren’t straying from the flock and founding their own new groups.

And, there appears to be reason to believe that HT are more involved in the bombings than they would even be aware. They certainly share goals, and it’s not too hard to believe that there would be a lot of intersection between groups. There is the strong counter-argument that so far, the only proof of a relationship offered to the public come from the testimonies of 15 people who were likely tortured or otherwise threatened. But, laughing off the possibility that groups hiding in Pakistan are instigating attacks in Uzbekistan based solely on the source of the allegation strikes me as irresponsible.

Anyhow, if you want to see who is getting this strand of the story right, check out Burt Herman’s latest story.**

President Islam Karimov has said the same militants are behind both waves of attacks, and separately has blamed another Muslim group — Hizb ut-Tahrir — for sowing Islamic militancy throughout Uzbekistan. [ed.–emphasis mine]

Karimov urged Uzbeks in a weekend television address to resist extremist Islamic influence in the form of Hizb ut-Tahrir and lashed out at international human rights organizations that he said protected the group.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose Arabic name means Party of Liberation, claims to disavow violence in its quest to create a worldwide Islamic state, but Karimov questioned how a change in government could be possible without violence.

At risk of being a Karimov apologist, I think he’s right to be saying this. Even when I thought that he was blaming HT (Damn your black heart Reuters!), I didn’t shy away from saying that they are Uzbekistan’s greatest threat.

*I have a love-hate relationship with nuance. In my opinion, it’s great for policy-crafting, but a drag on strategy and vision.
**He’s got high marks in my book because he’s actually based in Tashkent. His reporting is consistently the most informative and accurate that I find coming out of Uzbekistan.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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praktike August 3, 2004 at 12:29 am

now Nathan, you do realize that your panties are all in a bunch about Burt Herman agreeing that Karimov said HT was to blame … of course, he always says HT is to blame.

Me, I’ll wait for Ahmed Rashid to weigh in.

Nathan August 3, 2004 at 7:48 am

My point is that Herman (and I hear the BBC) are the only ones agreeing that Karimov isn’t blaming HT for going out and doing the bombings themselves. He apparently never said that.

Everyone is reporting that though because, as near as I can tell, a Reuters story pretty much said as much. Most reporters are missing the point that Karimov is making: HT is radicalizing people who then move on to terror.

praktike August 3, 2004 at 11:27 am

Aha. Now I see what you mean. Seems pretty inarguable to me. But what do you do about it? Lock them up for a year or so, where they become more radicalized?

Nathan August 3, 2004 at 11:51 am

It’s tough.

My biggest gripe in this post is about how reporters are muddying the waters. People need to realize that despite its official commitment to peace, HT is making things worse. It’s not like Karimov is going after them because it’s how he gets his kicks.

As for what to do about them, that’s a tough call. There are a few Western European countries where HT is banned, but these aren’t places that need worry about the group as much as Uzbekistan does. To figure out a way to go after them that squares with my notions of fairness and human rights, it’d be nice to know more about how they function (as in, are they involved in crimes like drug running, etc?). I don’t have too much with members being arrested in the Uzbek context, but I do have problems with people being accused of membership as a pretext for bribes or arrest. I have a bigger problem with accused members being tortured.

So, it’s a messy, nasty situation with few good options in the short term.

In the long term, the best way to cut them off at the knees is good old economic reform (I’m a reluctant cheerleader for the Korean and Taiwanese development paths). Nothing would make their anti-capitalist message more meaningless than the creation of a middle class.

praktike August 3, 2004 at 1:01 pm

Good thoughts … try to get them on “tax evasion” or its equivalent if you can. I would also say that allowing Lek to do its thing would be a good start. What’s the appeal of a foreign ideology when there are other outlets for dissent?

praktike August 3, 2004 at 2:50 pm

Here’s something interesting from Jamestown:

“And more often, it appears that operational planners have begun isolating specific Islamic centers, mosques or madrassas for operational targeting and recruiting. They take control of an existing facility, typically with the assistance of a radical Imam with a suitably fundamentalist or Salafi message, then turn this facility into a recruiting center for those that will be later sent to one of the new training camps. The creeping takeover of these centers reflects, in a methodological sense, the way in which the original Bureau of Services subsumed previously innocuous charities and organizations all over the globe before al-Qaeda was actually created.”

This is where HT (and Tabligh) walk a fine line, I would think.

Alisher August 4, 2004 at 5:20 am

I think Nathan is right saying the best way to fight the HT would be to learn more about them. In my opinion, the main force of the HT comes from their self-representation with what they call “true Islam”. The people when they just join them, are not attracted by the ideologies of HT as it is, but by Islam, Koran, etc. It is the religious authority that gives legitimacy to the HT in the eyes of their followers, especially if we take into account that the people who join HT, at least in Uzbekistan, are not really well-educated even from the religious point view. The absence of knowledge about Islam, inability to self-realise in other spheres, an imagined revolt agains social, economic and political injustice forces especially young people to join the HT.
The point is, to destroy HT and other similar organisations, it is necessary to confront them ideologically. Like it is done in this Russian-language interview given by Tursunzade, a tadjik muslim opposition leader, now a member of the tadjik cabinet of Ministers. (
And most importantly, as it was said earlier, it is urgent in Uzbekistan to get the reforms going. Without concrete political, economic, etc reforms, and without real and tangible results, nothing can save Uzbekistan from fundamentalists in the long-term (5-7 years). The HT, IMU,etc can be destroyed, but if the basic social, political and economic conditions that favor such organisations are not changed, there will be others with similar ideas.
Also, I think it is important de destroy/ban the centers of these organisations around the world. Of course, conditions in Uzbekistan favored such organisations, but still they have been imported to Uzbekistan from outside. However most importantly, it is the time to stop using Islamic fundamentalism as an instrument of great power politics.

Laurence August 5, 2004 at 11:38 am

Alisher makes a good point. When I was in Uzbekistan, several people told me that the US had supported the Taliban against the USSR and so now was getting a taste of its own medicine.

The US government, for example, still supports fundamentalists in Chinese Turkestan and Chechnya, among other places. Just as the Chinese, Russians, and Europeans will need to stop supporting fundamentalists for great power reasons, so will the US, if things are to improve. Not to mention the situation in Pakistan.

It will be difficult to change the mindset of US-funded organizations — including NGOs — who have long-term relationships and constituencies among the fundamentalists, even though they call for “death to America” and applaud bin Laden.

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