Islamists On The March

There are growing fears that the Taleban may be preparing to assist Muslim extremists in Central Asia.

Islamists On The March

There are growing fears that the Taleban may be preparing to assist Muslim extremists in Central Asia.

The Taleban capture of the strategic Afghan city of Talukan earlier this month has raised fears of a sharp increase in the activities of Islamic militants in Central Asia.

With the seizure of Talukan, the Taleban have opened up the road to the Afghan Badakhshan, where the Alliance leader Burkhanuddin Rabbani is based, according to unofficial sources.

The capture of Talukan also brings the Taleban closer to the Tajik-Afghan border, an area of Afghanistan where supporters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are concentrated. For the second year running, IMU fighters have been staging operations in countries of the Central Asian region.

If the Taleban are able to finally defeat Rabbani, they may begin assisting extremist religious movements in Central Asia.

"I think that a decisive victory for the Taleban over Burkhanuddin Rabbani's legal government in Afghanistan will inspire many similar religious organisations in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan," said one Tajik analyst, who preferred not to be named.

The Taleban would begin to provide propaganda and arms to Islamic organisations in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in order to destabilize them, the analyst said.

But he ruled out the possibility of a Taleban incursion into Central Asia, as this would prompt a joint military response from the forces of the region, including Russia.

"The Taleban will never attempt to break into neighbouring countries by force, as that would untie Russia's hands," he said. "Moscow would use all its forces to thwart such an attempt, and it's unlikely that the Taleban would be able to resist."

A final Taleban victory over the forces of the Northern Alliance may allow Uzbek Islamic fighters complete freedom of movement along the Tajik-Afghan and Uzbek-Afghan borders. This, it's thought, would encourage them to move into Tajikistan and then Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. At present, the Rabbani administration controls movement in the area.

A Taleban victory may also inspire the United Tajik Opposition, UTO, which fought against the government of Tajikistan from 1992 to 1997. There is little hope that their present peace agreement will last.

Many UTO supporters complain the government has not done enough to compensate them for handing in their weapons, and hundreds of fighters continue a nomadic life in isolated territories of the region.

The former leader of the UTO, Said Abdullo Nuri, is clearly unhappy with the way the "Tajik pie" was carved up. He currently holds the modest position of leader of the Party of Islamic Rebirth, which has no real influence in the country.

With financial and military support from the Taleban, the Tajik opposition may try to alter the political balance in their favour.

Apart from the high profile IMU and UTO, there is also the lesser-known Khizbi-ut Takhrir (the Party of Renewal), dedicated to the creation in Central Asia of an Islamic state.

The supporters of Khizbi-ut Takhrir are divided into small cells, each of which is unaware of the existence of the others, making it difficult to root them out, even if members are caught.

They conduct religious propaganda, handing out leaflets, and call for the overthrow of the authorities. It's though t the Taleban may turn their attention on this organization, if they haven't done so already.

"In this way a powerful religious-extremist force may destroy the countries of Central Asia from within,"the Tajik analyst said.

Vladimir Davlatov is a regular IWPR contributor.

Support our journalists