MOSCOW. (Professor Nur Omarov, the Russian-Kyrgyz Slavic University, for RIA Novosti)
On August 31, Kyrgyzstan will celebrate 15 years of independence, and it is time to take stock of the most serious problems the sovereign republic is facing.
A special place among them belongs to threats to national security and territorial integrity posed by international terrorism and drug trafficking. The question how to counteract them is becoming increasingly urgent, as proved by developments the country witnessed last spring and summer. They can be summarized as a confrontation between the secular authorities and the underground Islamic gunmen, who are becoming more and more active in the south of the country.
On May 12, a group of gunmen attacked a customs checkpoint in the border area of the Batken region. The army dispersed and killed some of the attackers, but the inefficiency of law-enforcement bodies and the military was severely criticized at the highest levels after the operation. Just two months later, gunmen attacked policemen in Dzhalal-Abad. Law enforcers deserve credit for having learned the May 12 lesson. During Dzhalal-Abad events, the National Security Service, the Interior Ministry's troops and internal troops acted in unison. They launched a joint investigation and established contacts with law-enforcement and security agencies in neighboring states. As a result, they arrested some individuals linked to the attackers and confiscated arms, ammunition and religious literature. Later the Interior Ministry said some religious figures in the south of the republic could be linked to Islamic extremists.
Earlier this month, the Kyrgyz National Security Service tried to arrest fighters of the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT) in the suburb of Osh. They refused to surrender and were killed. Among objects found on the scene of the clash were small arms, a map of Uzbek roads with some places marked by word "jihad" and extremist religious literature. Special poignancy was added to the events by the fact that one of the killed attackers was an imam of the local mosque, and young people turned his funeral into a religious picket, declaring him a shakhid, i.e. a martyr.
These developments show only too clearly that the fight between the secular authorities and Islamists has entered a new, tougher phase. The process was significantly spurred by the March 2005 events in Bishkek, when the ruling regime was effortlessly replaced. In a chain reaction, central authorities began to lose influence in the republic's regions, some of which became absolutely unruly. It is a well known fact that extremists feel best when the authorities are weak and cannot control the situation. Islamic radicals took advantage of the circumstances to mount a propaganda campaign among the population and to try to gain a foothold in state agencies. A good example is attempts by some Muslim religious leaders to gain influence over political processes in the country.
Analyzing the evolution of radical Islamists' action in Central Asia in recent years, one has to acknowledge that they have a clear strategy, seen in their change of tactics. The toppling of Taliban in Afghanistan does not mean that Islamists will accept their loss of influence in the region. Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMT, having joined forces, are now playing a dominant role. Hizb-ut-Tahrir uses propaganda as its main tool, working to split society and recruit new members that will form a social base of Islamist resistance. The IMT, in its turn, carries out terrorist attacks against state figures and civilians in order to disorganize and paralyze the work of the secular authorities.
Under their plan, after the expected victory over the "unfaithful" in Afghanistan is achieved, the released forces will move to secular Central Asian states, where by that time an extensive Islamist underground will have been formed to support the "liberators" when necessary. So, radical Islamists have streamlined tactics and strategy designed to create an Islamist state in the region. At the same time, they are skillfully targeting tension spots to achieve best results by relatively limited means. Among others, this is the Fergana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan meet, and population is split socially and economically and Islam's positions are traditionally strong.
The latest extremists’ raids in Kyrgyzstan show that the number of people supporting the radicals is quickly growing (reaching several thousand in the south of the republic), while terrorists are becoming more active.
In such circumstances, Kyrgyzstan may once again prove the region's weak link in chain. To prevent this, it is important to give an adequate answer to the threat of Black International by expanding international cooperation and enlisting the efforts of entire society in countering radical Islamism. Key components of this strategy should include not only anti-terrorist operations by security and law-enforcement agencies, but also measures to prevent social and economic factors that lead to the radicalization of Islam, as well as eliminating sources of terrorism financing.
In this respect, a degree of optimism is inspired by the Kyrgyz authorities' acknowledgement of the need to go over from a defensive policy to a comprehensive multi-option strategy of counteracting Islamism and international terrorism, recently voiced by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.-0-