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Taleban Own Up to IMU

The Taleban admit Uzbek Islamic militants are operating out of territory they control, but stop short of agreeing to extradition
By Galima Bukharbaeva

The Taleban movement in Afghanistan has admitted Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, leaders are sheltering in areas under Kabul's control.

Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said the admission had come during talks with Taleban representatives in Islamabad, Pakistan, but added the Afghans were refusing to hand over the suspects to Tashkent.

The Uzbek government has blamed IMU for bombings in Tashkent in February 1999 and armed incursions into the country in November 1999 and August 2000.

Two IMU leaders, Takhir Yuldash and Juma Namangani, both believed to be in Afghanistan, were sentenced to death in absentia by an Uzbek court for their alleged involvement in the attacks.

Despite the Taleban's refusal to extradite the IMU leaders, Kamilov said Uzbekistan would maintain ambassadorial level contact with the Taleban, but would keep up pressure on the organisation to end the activities of anti-Uzbek government forces and "various bandit groups" operating out of Afghanistan territory.

"So far we haven't had any concrete promises on the issue from Taleban," Kamilov conceded.

The minister said the Taleban had adopted an "incomprehensible" position on the issue of the IMU leaders.

"They say that according to Afghan traditions these people are guests and that the Taleban authorities therefore can't take any action whatsoever," Kamilov said. "Well, we can't take that seriously and will continue to apply pressure to ensure no threat to Uzbekistan comes from Afghanistan."

The minister added that should Afghanistan guarantee to eliminate security threats to Uzbekistan, "then we will be ready to develop good-neighbourly, two-way relations with Afghanistan."

Mir-Akbar Rakhmankulov, Uzbek National Security Council Secretary, believes the IMU's goals are limited to destabilising the region as a whole.

"We are not expecting any major military operations from them," Rakhmankulov said. "It's these very groups which are the largest organisers of drugs trafficking."

According to Uzbek officials the organisation consists of small irregular units and sub-units, capable of sabotage actions and "terrorist" strikes.

"The IMU is capable of carrying out sabotage actions and terrorist actions on the territory of Uzbekistan, but does not present a major threat in the way that the mass media in certain countries have reported, with claims that Uzbekistan stands on the brink of war, " Rakhmankulov said.

This statement was made in response to media reports and official comments, especially in the Russian and Kazak media, warning of possible IMU offensives extending as far as Kazakstan.

Tashkent believes these warnings are exaggerated. Officials say they have more to do with Russian and Kazak national interests, than any real threat posed by the IMU.

A report in the Russian daily Izvestia, for example, claimed Tashkent was planning to allow the United States to launch air strikes against Osama bin Laden from Uzbek territory. Bin Laden, blamed by the US for several bomb attacks, is based in Afghanistan.

"We haven't had any such discussions on this subject with anybody and we consider such a publication to be a clear case of provocation aimed at complicating relations between the countries mentioned, and first and foremost at complicating relations between the USA and Uzbekistan," said Rakhmankulov.

Both Moscow and Astana are pushing for a so-called regional "rapid reaction force" and various anti-terrorist centres within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS. They want all the Central Asian republics to contribute.

Uzbekistan left the CIS Collective Security Treaty in January 1999, a move which angered Moscow and other CIS states. Russia and Kazakstan would like to see Uzbekistan join once again into a unified military formation, thereby limiting Tashkent's room to manoeuvre independently on security issues.

By heightening the atmosphere of tension in the region Russia also stands to gain from any resultant increase in arms expenditure. Uzbekistan is already engaged in over 20 joint military projects with Russia, and as Uzbek President Islam Karimov once said, "Russia does do it for free we are paying for it."

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR's Project Editor in Tashkent.

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