Is the “Islamic Movement of Turkestan” an Invention of the Uzbekistan SNB?
Tohir Yoldoshev, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the alleged Islamic Movement of Turkestan
Makhmasaid Jurakulov, the head of the Department to Combat Organized Crime in Tajikistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, says just that. At a press conference on Monday in Dushanbe, Mr. Jurakulov noted that the Islamic Movement of Turkestan is a fictional invention created by the Uzbekistan SNB (Council of National Security) in order to suggest that this organization intends to re-establish a Turkestan and create problems for all countries in Central Asia, whereas its actual activities are only focused against the present leadership of Uzbekistan.”
While one might certainly question the reliability of a representative of the Tajikistan MVD focused on combating organized crime, Mr. Jurakulov’s assertion makes some sense. Various pundits of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) have suggested that the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT), or the Islamic Movement of Central Asia (IMCA), organization was created at various times between 2001 and 2003 by Tohir Yoldoshev of the “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” (IMU) and that its goal is focused as much against U.S. interests and regional interests as against Uzbek interests. As such, the IMT/IMCA (at least as the supposed new incarnation of the IMU) has become a major target in the U.S. GWOT, a development that has directly benefited Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan. Yet, there has not been a confirmed terrorist act in the Central Asian republics outside of Uzbekistan since 2001, and there is little evidence, save that provided by the Central Asian states, that any such regional terrorist network exists. There is little debate concerning the existence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and there is some evidence the IMU has broadened its focus since 2001 to include U.S. targets. This, however, has also developed out of a situation where the U.S. is targeting the IMU and where the U.S. has been actively supporting President Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan (until recently). Most importantly, there does not seem to be any constituency for the IMU outside of Uzbeks. Jurakulov, for example, noted at the same press conference that 80% of the IMU’s members are Uzbek citizens, and while he does not state so, we can assume that most of the 20% others are ethnic Uzbeks residing in other countries.
Jurakulov’s proclamation, therefore, brings up serious questions about U.S. intelligence in Central Asia and our present focus on the region in relation to the GWOT. It is highly likely, for example, that both U.S. academics/pundits and U.S. intelligence agencies are far too trusting of the information they receive from Central Asian governments and their intelligence agencies. In a paper published in July of this year, Fredrick Starr of Johns Hopkins University and Zeyno Baran of the Nixon Center (on the basis of information from “Central Asian governments”), for example, have characterized the IMCA (their prefered name for the group) as follows: “this unified, militant Islamic force seeks to destabilize Central Asian governments by attacking American and Israeli targets; (its) main insurgent (sic) targets are the American bases in Uzbekistan (now closed) and Kyrgyzstan, as well as the embassies in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.” They also note that “while many other radical Islamist organizations have mushroomed in the region over the last two years, they can all be considered, in one way or another, to be under the IMCA umbrella.” Similarly, a paper written for the Jamestown Foundation in 2004 by a Russian journalist associated with Putin’s “United Russia” party (strange bedfellows) suggests that there is concrete proof that the IMU has morphed into the IMT/IMCA, an assertion earlier held by an “independent” expert on Eurasian and Russian affairs publishing in Fredrick Starr’s “Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst” in 2003. If the organization is indeed a fiction, one must question our reliance on such pundits and experts as reliable sources of analysis and policy advice on the region.
To the credit of U.S. intelligence agencies, they appear to hold at least some skepticism concerning the existence of the IMT/IMCA. Neither this organization nor its alleged Uyghur-based section the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) have ever been placed on the U.S State Department’s official roster of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) (present list posted HERE). Nonetheless, the ETIM does remain on the U.S. State Department “Terrorist Exclusion List” of organizations, ties to which should exclude people from entering the United States of America, and the IMU retains a prominent place on the official FTO list, presumably due to the assertions that this organization is focused on more than just Uzbekistan.
Whether or not Mr. Jurakulov of Tajikistan’s MVD is a reliable source, the U.S. needs to review its position on terrorist organizations in Central Asia. We need to learn more about the IMU and determine whether the ETIM actually exists as a coherent and organized militant organization. We also need to determine if the IMU is truly a threat to the region of Central Asia and the U.S. more generally or only to Uzbekistan. In doing so, we need to rely on better sources than those originally emanating from the Central Asian government’s successor agencies to the Soviet KGB. We also need to hold those scholars informing U.S. policy to higher standards when they are making assertions about issues as important as the characteristics of Central Asian terrorist organizations. It must be remembered that one’s place in the new global hierarchy of the GWOT can be a matter of life and death for many people in the world today.