Last year I wrote a report for USAID’s Bureau for the Middle East that they recently released to the public. While the opinions here are my own and don’t speak for the USG, I am particularly grateful that released it because it is another in a growing body of assessments that clearly argues (I hope) that internal problems caused in large part by corruption and bad governance are a far greater threat to Uzbekistani stability and security than foreign terrorist groups or “revivalist”religion.
Using the very good metrics created for USAID by Guilain Denoeux and Lynn Carter to assess potential drivers for social mobilization into violent extremist movements, the report separates popular domestic interest in religion from the emergence of militant Islamist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan and identifies other domestic issues that are more likely to lead to instability than the external threat posed by the IMU or IJU.
From the executive summary:
An Islamic revivalist movement began in the late Soviet period and benefited from increased religious tolerance from Soviet authorities. Islamic values were seen by many as an attractive alternative to chaos, corruption and ethnic violence that emerged during the transition, especially in the peripheral Ferghana Valley, where many charismatic religious leaders had emerged with strong local followings. The Karimov government developed and continues to deploy a two-part response to this popular challenge, both parts of which had their roots firmly in the Soviet period. The first is to co-opt the appeal of religion by promoting carefully vetted religious figures and ideas through state-sponsored institutions closely managed by the quasi-independent Muftiate. The second is to brand all other religious figures and activity as “foreign extremism” and to police it as a security threat, using as much force as necessary—as in Andijon, where state security forces killed as many as 750 unarmed civilians—and treating thousands of religiously observant Muslims as potential terrorists.
The government has used the existence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and “Akromiya” to justify harsh repression, which has resulted in as many as 10,000 religious prisoners of conscience by current estimates. Though Uzbekistan has been the target of terrorist or insurgent violence several times in the past two decades, after each episode the state exaggerated the threat and responded disproportionately or with excessive force. Terror and insurgency have at times been a legitimate threat to public safety, but the damage done to the civilian population by the government’s heavy-handed response has exacerbated the threat posed by extremist or militant groups in every case.
You can download the full report here.