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

Kyrgyz Islamists Win Respect

The Khizb-ut-Takhrir group is gaining sympathy among many southern Kyrgyz tired of poverty and leery of the new US military presence.
By Ulugbek Babakulov

The ideas of the banned Islamic group Khizb-ut-Takhrir are finding more and more support among the people of southern Kyrgyzstan.


There may be little sympathy for the organisation's radical religious notions of a global Islamic state, but its criticisms of central government and the US military build-up in the country have struck home in the south, an area wracked by poverty and unemployment.


In one of their regular leafleting campaigns at the end of last year, Khizb-ut-Takhrir claimed the US was only using the war against terrorism as a pretext for setting up bases in the region. Their ultimate aim, said the group, is to impose itself across Central Asia - taking up where the Soviet Union left off.


Eliciting public sympathy in this way will doubtless rile the authorities in Bishkek who have attempted to root out members of the organisation for a number of years. Especially now that the leaflets have allegedly reached the capital and could stir up more bad feelings against a government whose popularity is already at a low ebb.


"I admire them (Khizb-ut-Takhrir)," said a businessman from the southern Kyrgyz town of Jalal-Abad. "I admire the fact that, no matter how many of them you put in prison, they bravely write about what is really happening in Kyrgyzstan."


The continued build up of US forces at their base near Bishkek will only increase sympathy for Khizb-ut-Takhrir who link the authorities' US alliance with an increasing blindness to the needs of their own people. How can they provide such a welcome for the US while their own people go hungry, they ask.


Ismail, who belongs to a small Muslim group in Jalal-Abad, said that Kyrgyz leaders had sold out to the US and that it was necessary "to sentence these traitors to death".


He said he was talking as a Muslim and not as a member of the Islamic group - and that his views represented those of many Muslims in southern Kyrgystan.


"What is happening in our country could only occur with a government that had no honour or dignity and no respect for its people," said human rights worker Azimjan Askarov.


Askarov and others have been appalled by what they've read in the Khizb-ut-Takhrir pamphlets, which describe in detail the living conditions of the US military. The Jalal-Abad businessman said he was shocked to find out that the troops were getting all their supplies provided duty-free.


"Do I, or people like me, not do enough for this country?" he asked. "They don't let normal entrepreneurs work under normal conditions, they squeeze them with taxes. Yet, here there are benefits for foreigners."


Members of Khizb-ut-Takhrir believes the US deployment in Kyrgyzstan is only the latest move in its bid to spread its influence throughout Central Asia and beyond.


Members of the organisation believe that the events which took place in New York on September 11 last year have provided an excellent excuse for the US to extend its sphere of influence. "Under the guise of a struggle against terrorism, America is beginning its invasion of Asia," states the group's pamphlet.


Khizb-ut-Takhrir members think that one of the main reasons for the US military presence in the region is a fear of China's spreading influence. But, they ask, can you imagine what the American reaction would be if the tables were turned and Beijing started setting up bases in Kyrgyzstan.


"At present there is no country in the world which has the authority, power and influence of the US," said a Khizb-ut-Takhrir spokesman. "And they want to be the only superpower in the world."


Concerns about US aims in the region look likely to grow if its bases become long-term fixtures, something which seems increasingly likely. Plans are already underway to expand the Manas airbase near the capital to accommodate 3000 troops - a significant increase on the few hundred currently there.


Ulugbek Babakulov is an IWPR contributor


More IWPR's Global Voices