Out of the Frying Pan & Into the Fire

by Nathan Hamm on 4/17/2006 · 19 comments

Tajikistan has arrested four IMU members in connection with bombings in Dushanbe last year. According to a new Ferghana.ru report though, the IMU is all but dead.

It has been fairly evident in recent that the IMU’s ability to run (or interest in running them?) operations beyond Pakistan is quite lacking. Those behind the 2004 bombings were almost certainly trained by the IMU, but were not part of the IMU proper. (Though the IMU did claim responsibility for the attacks.) At least one of the reasons for inability of the IMU to build strength according to Ferghana.ru interviews with former members is that Tohir Yuldashev is not exactly the hero that they thought him to be. Former followers fled Uzbekistan to escape Islam Karimov, but found themselves having to escape the IMU.

Most ex-members of the IMU say Yuldashev deceived them. Idealistically believing that they were to fight “for the future of Uzbekistan” at first, they found themselves essentially hostages of their leader. “Very many young men without families were dispatched by Yuldashev to fight the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan,” a former gunman said. “As a matter of fact, Yuldashev even sold some young men as slaves to field commanders.”

“The uneducated take him at face value. The educated do not challenge Yuldashev even when he makes up arguments he claims coming from the khasids to back some point of view.” Ex-members of the IMU say that “Yuldashev is cruel. Whoever challenges him is immediately ordered executed or jailed…”

Cruel he is, and he certainly does make escape a difficult prospect for the disillusioned.

“Yuldashev does not hesitate to brand whoever is leaving without permission as a murtad or apostate and order his or her execution. This is what happened in Peshavar not long ago when a coach with seventeen members of the IMU (there were six women among them) was blown up on Yuldashev’s order,” the refugees said. Whoever escape with their lives find themselves entirely on their own, their future problematic. They do not have any papers. Yuldashev collected their papers in the past and then announced that the safe with documents perished in an air raid.

The former members in Iran interviewed for the story claim that after US attacks on the IMU in Afghanistan devastated its ranks, the group split into three parts:

  1. Yuldashev’s group in South Waziristan. Former members say that this group numbers in the low hundreds with the very occasional new recruit showing up.
  2. The disillusioned followers made up of about 600 families mostly found in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan
  3. And the final group–those who took advantage of the Uzbek government’s amnesty offer and returned to life in Uzbekistan.

Yuldashev’s former followers told Ferghana.ru that they doubt that what is left of the IMU has the money or manpower to have played a part in Andijon last year.

Hats off to Laurence for making sure I didn’t miss the story

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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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Jonathan P April 17, 2006 at 9:51 pm

Yuldashev sounds a lot like the Uzbek-Lokay tribal leader Ibrahim Bek — a “famous” (at the time) leader of fighters who was trying to reclaim much of what is now Uzbekistan back in the 1920s and 1930s in the name of Islam and the Emir of Bukhara. Those of you familiar with the revolution-era history of the region might recognize him as the severe and reactionary leader of a particularly conservative group of Basmachis, who initially imprisoned Enver Pasha and then reluctantly fought in concert with him against the Bolsheviks for awhile.

Rustam April 18, 2006 at 5:11 am

The sad thing about this whole story of Tohir Yuldashev and the IMU or as presently known as IMT is that because of these few wacko fundamentalists Karimov has had and continues to have a veil called “Islamic fundamentalism and extremism” behind which he is carrying out his appalling human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, torture and murders as well as massacres of 26 million population. They are no more a threat, Juma Namangoniy, who was said to be his partner and as been told by the fighters of IMU, the one of the two, who really was able to inspire those fighters, was killed in the bombings in Afghanistan, the movement is divided and has only tribal areas in the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan where it can feel it self more or less safe for now. In addition we have ruthless General Dostum reinstalled in Mazari-Sharif in his full glory, taking care of the border security. But what is the situation in Uzbekistan, what change if any, nothing. Instead we keep on having Akromiye and other new versions of these groups, courtesy of Karimov’s paranoid imagination and the SNB and keep on hearing from him that Americans are bastards, although only yesterday he did not know how to show his appreciation to Rumsfeld for freeing him from these IMU guys who really wanted to fry him and proved that they are to be taken seriously in 1999-2000 in Surkhandarya and Batken.
Nothing changed, the poverty is flourishing as well as the anger in people, poverty and religious beliefs have always been closely correlated, regardless whether it is Christianity, Islam or Judaism. i.e. he did not decreased the Islamic factor instead increased it, now we have secret religious gatherings, makes you remember the history of Christians in the roman empire.

Azjon April 18, 2006 at 6:34 am

Wow look at this first there were Communists calling central asian freedom fighters “Basmachi”. Now we have Jonathan P who is also opening our eyes and telling us that terrorist Yuldashev is “a lot like the Uzbek-Lokay tribal leader Ibrahim Bek”! Thanks Jonathan for for your “Valued” opinion. Good job buddy.You now really mede things clear to me. I donno how old Rustam is but I do remember fucking soviet movies where “Basmachi” were stupid, dirty, and violent. Jonathan must have seen some of them.
My best regards

Nathan April 18, 2006 at 6:57 am

And I’m sure that Jonathan’s intent was to equate the two just like the Soviets.

jonathan p April 18, 2006 at 11:15 am

Oh, OK. Let’s play stereotypes for a minute:

Yeah, I get all my info about Uzbekistan from Soviet movies, Azjon. You know, the ones where the civilized Russian hero saves the Uzbek women from their oppressive Uzbek men? You know, the ones with those “Turkestani” men who spend their time wandering in the desert looking for someone to rob or someone to exact “revenge” on?

So, where do you get your info about Uzbekistan? By watching “Yoshlar?”

Sheesh, Azjon. Get a grip. I can tell you really appreciate the Soviet efforts to understand the “little peoples” of their Empire, just like I appreciate the efforts you took to think twice about my comment and try to understand what the heck I was trying to say.

If you take offense at the term “Basmachi” then what term do you propose I use? I see you favor the term “freedom fighters,” but that term is not exactly accurate, either. Not many people today would equate life under Ibrahim Bek with “freedom.”

Maybe I’ll just substitute this: “Mostly local fighters with a few foreigners who were sometimes affiliated with a tribal group and sometimes affiliated with a particular leader, who sometimes fought against the Red Army in support of the Emir (and sometimes in support of liberal nationalists, sometimes in support of local mullahs, sometimes in support of nobody in particular), and who sometimes fought against each other, but mostly just fought for themselves.”

Does that cover it for you? If you have a problem with THAT definition, then you don’t know your own history. Or maybe you’d prefer to see all of the anti-Russian/Soviet/Imperialist fighters through rose-colored glasses?

I certainly do NOT think all Basmachis were stupid, dirty and violent. The majority were not. But some of them were. A healthy number of first-hand accounts written during this period by Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz and Kazakh intellectuals will back me up on that. I happen to think many of these “freedom fighters” were brilliant, brave, excellent men.

HOWEVER, I do not count Ibrahim Bek among these men of excellence. You can if you want, but I’d suggest finding out about him before you do. So I will stand by my comment comparing him and Yuldashev.

The funny thing about this is that if you had referred to Yuldashev as a “freedom fighter” I might understand your point, but you yourself call him a “terrorist.” So your taking offense at my comparison leads me to believe that you might not know much about who Ibrahim Bek was, or how he was viewed by some of his “freedom fighter” contemporaries.

Rustam actually lends credence to the point I was originally trying to make:

As he rightly pointed out, the current regime in Uzbekistan is using the pretext of a potential threat from Yuldashev’s “army” to engage in some rather oppresive policies aimed at citizens suspected of being sympathetic with Yuldashev, et al. Students of the local history will recognize that, beginning in the mid 1920s, the Soviets used a similar threat of invasion by Ibrahim Bek (who by this time was hiding out in Afghanistan with maybe 200 or 300 fighters) to indulge in a series of punitive measures against locals thought to harbor sympathies for Ibrahim Bek.

Anyway … I guess my point has been lost in all the gunsmoke. Whatever.

Nathan April 18, 2006 at 11:19 am

Gun smoke? That was more like an artillery barrage 🙂


Azjon April 18, 2006 at 4:22 pm

To Jonathan
OK 3 things
1. I didn’t call Yuldoshev a “freedom fighter” I called him what he is a “terrorist”.So, should we switch our discussion in to russian or Uzbek?(I’m just trying to make sure that you actually understand what i’m trying to say)
2.Any one who attempted to stop communism in my country is a freedom fighter to me(I’m pretty “familiar” with the guy we are talking about here).
3.I didn’t know that I needed to take history lessons from Jonathan P, so just studied works of other people by mistake.

the whole point of my message was that some one like Jonathan P mistakingly thinks that Yuldoshev is = “Basmachi” while he is really not.

Nathan April 18, 2006 at 4:29 pm

But what of the “freedom fighters” who fought for the Soviets from time to time? You know, when it was convenient? Like when they were more concerned with their power vis-a-vis other “freedom fighters” than with fighting for freedom?

Jonathan isn’t saying you have to get your history from him so much as he’s saying it’s not as black and white as either the Soviets or you present it.

By the by, this all is beginning to remind me of Uzbeks singing the praises of those who fought for the Turkestan Legion as if the Nazis were the Soviets’ moral superiors. Not that I don’t understand why they didn’t switch sides, but let’s not pretend that the situation isn’t something of a moral conundrum.

Azjon April 18, 2006 at 4:43 pm

Let me make one thing clear here just to prevent Jonathan from seeing things. When I say .”Any one who attempted to stop communism in my country is a freedom fighter to me(I’m pretty “familiar” with the guy we are talking about here).” I’m talking about time from 1916 to 1930s.

Second I’m not telling Jonathan that things are “black and white”, after all during the war things happen right(just take a look at the last war)? My point is that I would trade if I could communist’s “Diktatura Proletarita” for “Basmachi” at any given day.
You may call me an Uzbek nationalist or “Crazy anticommunist” if you want I will take both as a compliment.
My best regards

jonathan p April 18, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Sorry about this Nathan. But I find it annoying when I try to make an innocent “isn’t that interesting” comment and I end up getting accused of being some kind of ethnocentric or Imperialistic blowhard.

So, just this and then I’ll shut up on this thread:

Azjon, regarding your point No. 1:
Me thinks it is you who misunderstood, my friend. Please read it again: “…if you had referred to Yuldashev as a “freedom fighter” I might understand your point…” Please notice the phrase “IF YOU HAD.” This type of conditional clause indicates what could have happened in the past if a situation had been different then.

Regarding your point No. 2:
Well, then you are truly a nationalist and I congratulate you on your sweeping point of view. You have a convenient black-and-white view of things. You and some fine Americans like Joseph McCarthy and Ollie North would have a lot in common.

Regarding your sarcastic comment No. 3:
Get over yourself.

Regarding your final comment:
“Sounds a lot like” does not mean “equals”
MY point (which is obviously wasted on you) is NOT that Yuldashev is a basmachi, a freedom fighter or even a terrorist. My point is simply that history repeats itself.

jonathan p April 18, 2006 at 5:11 pm

Regarding this comment, Azjon (which I hadn’t read when I posted the comment above): “I would trade if I could communist’s “Diktatura Proletarita” for “Basmachi” at any given day.”

I would only say that this could have been just as terrible a path for the Uzbek people, depending on which Basmachi you aligned with. If I understand you right, you are saying it is better to be ruled by an Uzbek megalomaniac than a foreigner (and especially a Russian/Communist). If so, my hat’s off to you! You must be lovin’ life right about now.

Azjon April 18, 2006 at 5:24 pm

Jonathan you are not a very good mind reader are you? Well if you donno let me open your eyes on it: You are not A mind reader at all!
hence, stop trying to finish my thoughts for me my friend. what ‘You must be lovin’ life right about now.” has to do with anything? Now we have a former communist that’s ruling Uzbekistan and I do hate him too. As far as this comment of yours “Me thinks it is you who misunderstood, my friend. Please read it again” San uynashni qutojiga uhshab likillamasdan bitta suzingda tur. Men kuribturganimdaka san kachonki vokealarni bilmasang kutingni kisib ojzingni ochma.

Nathan April 18, 2006 at 5:29 pm

Jonathan, no apologies needed. It’s enitrely warranted. Because,

Jonathan you are not a very good mind reader are you? Well if you donno let me open your eyes on it: You are not A mind reader at all!

Neither are you, my friend. You read an awful lot of intent into what he wrote.

Azjon April 18, 2006 at 5:31 pm

Nathan I understand that it is your site but do you really have to comment on everything I post?

Nathan April 18, 2006 at 5:31 pm

If I feel the need to, then yes. And this is a case in which I feel the need.

Azjon April 18, 2006 at 5:32 pm


Azjon April 18, 2006 at 5:53 pm

It’s just very funny to me how Jonathan first states that Yuldosh “equals” ooops sorry a “lot like” and than, the same guy totally reverses self and states “Sounds a lot like” does not mean “equals”!!! Sure it’s not the same “a lot like” means very similar and “equal” means exactly the same. However, if I called some one ummm…. an “ashole” or a lot like an “ashole” would that make a lot of difference? I’m sure that my very basic English as Jonathan pointed out may be preventing me from understanding his point of view.

jonathan p April 18, 2006 at 6:51 pm

What’s not funny is your rather rude remark to me. You may think I only have a theoretical interest in Uzbekistan, its history and its “current events,” but you don’t know me well enough to say things like that. I have better things to do with my time than argue pointlessly with you. Farewell.

Azjon April 18, 2006 at 10:06 pm

to jonathan p
See ya.

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