Uzbekistan & The New Terror

by Nathan Hamm on 8/5/2004 · 6 comments

When I posted this, I was remiss in not mentioning this IWPR story on Uzbekistan’s new Islamic opposition.

This new manifestation of Islamic radicalism – if it is indeed a new group – appears to have combined some level of local organisation that has allowed it to operate despite surveillance and sweeping arrests, and the will to carry out suicide attacks.

IWPR’s Islamic radical source said the attacks were not particularly well organised because it was locals who carried them out. But he warned, “These will not be the last actions – explosions will soon become commonplace in Uzbekistan.”

This could be bluster, but this new Islamic opposition, which may or may not be as close to Al Qaeda as the IMU is/was, is troubling and seemingly part of a larger trend. The rise of localized terror groups that may have no more connection to each other than their ideology and perhaps graduation from Jihad University could mean many things that I’m probably not particularly qualified to speculate about (more attacks but fewer “spectaculars” perhaps?). Whatever the downsides to this trend are, it at least makes it easier to see that the terrorist threat is one that comes from an ideology, not a particular organization (many already realize this, but much to my surprise, I encounter many who insist that it’s all about Al Qaeda).

I’ve noticed a handful of stories on the “new generation” of Islamist terrorists lately, including one I linked the other day. Via riting on the wall and Winds of Change, I found a worthwhile article from the New Yorker. I haven’t finished all of it yet, but it’s quite interesting.

Last Friday’s attacks in Tashkent, the March attacks in Spain, and pretty much every attack in Iraq should underline a point I’ve tried to communicate for a while–fighting terrorism involves doing battle with much more than just Al Qaeda and that fight is going to last longer than most people are willing to imagine. If our enemies are fractured and not dependent upon one another for survival, any strategy for victory must necessarily involve an ideological component.

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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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Art August 5, 2004 at 4:15 pm

Anyway, I was passing through. I hope the standfast went okay and, Nathan, if you have a chance look up yahoo and Morrocco- they ‘lost’ 400 ALs!

Laurence August 5, 2004 at 4:57 pm

Nathan, let’s have some perspective on IWPR, please. Their coverage of Uzbekistan is just plain lousy, although extremely prolific and well funded.

In this case, IWPR seems to be little more than an echo chamber for the charges of extremists.

For example, is this article really an honest account, with statements like:

“So far, no one really knows who was behind the attacks, which according to Uzbek officials left six people dead, including three suspected suicide bombers. In this closed society, there is so little information about the groups who may be behind the bombings – as well as a series of clashes in late March and early April which left 47 dead – that theories range from al-Qaeda to the authorities themselves.”

In fact, many people have a pretty good idea who is behind the attacks — and one extremist group actually claimed responsibility!

The problem with IWPR seems to be that they are manifestly so close to their “sources” that they are repeating obvious lies and disinformation.

The only explanation that I can think of is that IWPR, based in London, might be a front for British intelligence, and puts out such stories as bait in order to attract fundamentalist “sources.”

A theory which is actually more plausible than claims in the IWPR article.

Nathan August 5, 2004 at 6:44 pm

Fair enough Laurence.

I found little to reccomend in the story but what I quoted. Even bringing up the idea that the government did it bothers me. I am happy that they pointed out that it was highly unlikely (I’d prefer they call it absolutely ridiculous).

Laurence August 5, 2004 at 7:09 pm

I’m not upset that you link to the article, rather that IWPR gets a free ride from many journalists and NGOs when it comes to any “critical thinking.” Why does IWPR repeat ridiculous charges without going into the background and the agendas of those making absurd claims? Why doesn’t IWPR question their authority?

Nathan August 5, 2004 at 10:00 pm

You’re right. I think part of the reason is who they have writing for them. I don’t know what it was like with your students, but to get mine to think critically was like trying to herd cats.

Laurence August 6, 2004 at 7:45 am

Actually, I suspect the IWPR staff is giving the editors what they want to hear, and the editors might not want to hear bad things about fundamentalists, because it might mean having a more nuanced approach towards Karimov, for example.

So far as students go, I was very lucky at UWED, the former Communist Party Academy. The system was the old Soviet one, of course. Yet I was given freedom to teach in the American style . WE had lots of discussions.

My students were very outspoken, critical, and well-informed. They came from every oblast in the country, selected for geographical representation, and were generally excellent. About 1/2 were on scholarship, and the rest paid tuition. Those who attended class–I excused those who did not want to participate or did not speak English, even though attendance is in theory a requirement–were highly motivated, as good or better than the students I have taught in the USA. They even debated the American ambassador about the Iraq war, during the war itself, and held their own very well for about 3 hours. The ambassador enjoyed the discussion so much, he invited them to his house a month later for another long debate.

Teaching at UWED gave me a very positive impression of the “best and the brightest” of Uzbekistan.

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