Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia: Jun/July '11

IWPR reports on new wave of Islamic militancy become sought-after information source for regional experts.
By Almaz Rysaliev, Shahodat Saibnazarova, Dina Tokbaeva

IWPR reporting on the latest upsurge in Islamic militant activity in eastern Tajikistan was the only media coverage providing insights into the extent of the danger facing the country from Muslim extremists, analysts say.

They note that with the authorities tight-lipped about the threat posed by the militants, and reporting in the local media either sketchy or dominated by conspiracy theories, there is little in the way of credible analysis of this highly sensitive topic.

A series of IWPR reports on Islamic militant groups with links to al-Qaeda infiltrating the country from across the Afghan border were published in May.

One of the pieces looked at a two-year military operation in the Rasht valley in the eastern mountains that ended with the death of top militant leader Mullo Abdullo, who was seen as al-Qaeda’s emissary in Tajikistan.

There was also an analytical report examining a group calling itself the Mujahedin of Tajikistan, believed to be affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Finally, an IWPR comment assessed the authorities’ military campaign, pointing out that officials proved to be right in warning of the threat of insurgency.

Commenting on IWPR’s report about the Mujahedin of Tajikistan, Marat Mamadshoev, editor of Tajikistan’s most popular newspaper, Asia Plus, said this was the only piece of journalism analysing who might be behind the militants.

He said the subject was difficult to cover because of the official reluctance to comment, “This is a closed topic. Law enforcement agencies and security service officials do not talk about it.”

Mamadshoev said that what he learned from the IWPR article about possible forces behind the extremist organisation was new to him.

He noted that what strengthened the IWPR analysis was that it excluded conspiracy theories based on the argument that Uzbekistan – which has strained relations with Tajikistan – or Russia might have had a hand in the latest wave of Islamic extremist violence.

Referring to Mirzohoja Ahmadov – a former police officer who was an opposition commander during the 1992-95 Tajik civil war – Mamadshoev said, “You know, [in his interview] for Asia Plus, Ahmadov hinted that it was Uzbekistan that is behind events in Rasht – your report doesn’t talk about that. That’s a plus point. Everyone here writes about how Uzbekistan is our enemy. IWPR never speculates about such views.”

Komeb Jalilov, a legal expert with the Centre for Strategic Studies, expressed similar views on the absence of reporting on the insurgency in the local press. He also doubted whether Russia or Uzbekistan were interested in destabilising the situation in Tajikistan.

According to Jalilov, IWPR reports “reflect the real situation on the ground in the region and in Tajikistan”.

For security experts and analysts in neighbouring Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, who are short of information on security issues in Tajikistan, IWPR reports on the insurgency served as a reference point for their own analysis.

Kadyr Malikov, a leading Islamic expert and head of the Religion, Law and Politics Centre in Kyrgyzstan, said IWPR’s insights provided him with detailed factual information which was otherwise hard to get hold of, and was important for experts like him watching events in Tajikistan.

“The IWPR reports confirmed my analytical findings about the emergence of new underground terrorist groups in Tajikistan,” he said.

According to Malikov, IWPR analysis on how such groups might be operating helped him to build a picture of how similar groups believed to be operating in Kyrgyzstan might be working.

The editor-in-chief of the newspaper Izvestia-Kazakstan, Eduard Poletaev, also underlined what he described as the important role IWPR plays in offering credible information and analysis about security developments in the region.

“Due to a number of difficulties with objective coverage of events in neighbouring countries, people interested in such information repeatedly turn to IWPR reports,” he said.

Almaz Rysaliev and Shahodat Saibnazarova are IWPR editors in Kazakstan and Tajikistan respectively. Dina Tokbaeva is IWPR regional editor in Central Asia.