Academic journal article Military Review

Uzbekistan's View of Security in Afghanistan after 2014

Academic journal article Military Review

Uzbekistan's View of Security in Afghanistan after 2014

Article excerpt


MUCH OF THE recent focus on Uzbekistan in relation to Afghanistan has been on the Northern Distribution Network, which the United States uses for two main purposes: to transport nonlethal supplies through Central Asia to troops in Afghanistan and for the New Silk Road economic projects to develop Afghanistan and the region over the next several years. The projects would improve transportation and energy links between Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and others) and Afghanistan. (1) In addition, in September 2011 the U.S. Congress decided to resume security assistance to Uzbekistan after a seven-year hiatus, reopening a debate on U.S. security interests taking priority over human rights in Uzbekistan.

Less considered is the issue of regional security, specifically Uzbekistan's view of the coming U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan. This viewpoint is difficult to capture, because it is not often directly voiced, but we can examine it through the government's previous actions on security issues.

Of the Central Asian states involved in either the Northern Distribution Network or New Silk Road projects, Uzbekistan has the strongest security forces and some power projection capability. Uzbekistan sees itself as the bulwark against terrorism and extremism among other Central Asian states. It has been the birthplace of regional extremist groups, most notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and the Uzbek government has demonstrated in the past that it will take any necessary action to protect its interests against such groups, especially if it perceives that a border state is not taking appropriate measures.

In October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom changed the security dynamic for Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and in particular, the status of the IMU, which had shifted its operational focus in 2001 to Afghanistan and Pakistan, partly because of the deaths of group cofounders Juma Namangani and later Tahir Yuldashev. The IMU and related groups will most likely remain in Afghanistan in some form even after U.S. military involvement there decreases over the next few years. While the IMU mainly operated in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, it reportedly also carried out attacks in Afghanistan's northern regions near the Uzbek border. This region is a significant narcotics trafficking route, an additional factor for violence. This situation could lead the Uzbekistan government to take unilateral military action. Uzbekistan's viewpoint on the Afghanistan security situation is vital to understand, rather than condemn or ignore, to achieve the best possible outcome during the coming U.S. and NATO drawdown.

The IMU and Uzbekistan's "International" War on Terrorism

One of the best ways to understand how Uzbekistan views security in the region is to look at the history of its conflicts with the IMU. The IMU grew out of an Islamic movement called Adolat (an Uzbek word meaning justice). When small- and medium-sized businesses developed in the last years of the Soviet Union, around 1989-1990, racketeers demanded protection money from business owners, particularly in the city of Namangan in Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley. The owners looked for ways to protect themselves against racketeers, and one business owner formed a protection group, Adolat, to fill that need. Within Adolat, young underground mullah Tahir Yuldashev emerged as an important leader along with one Juma Namangani, who had served in the Soviet Army in Afghanistan during the last years of the war. (2)

Adolat set up a vigilante group to patrol Namangan and enforce Islamic law and customs. The organization numbered a few hundred men (higher estimates put the number at a few thousand), and in December 1991, they occupied the local Communist Party headquarters. In spring 1992, Uzbekistan banned and cracked down on the movement. Both leaders and some Adolat members fled to Tajikistan, where they split up. …

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