As the armies of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan brace for a third summer of fighting against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), there are indications that the insurgency is broadening its appeal. Pressed by declining economic conditions and political repression, young men from across Central Asia are joining the ranks of the IMU. This trend suggests that the IMU is gradually developing into a pan-Central Asian movement.
A survey of conditions in and around the Ferghana Valley underscores the frustrations that heighten popular sympathy for the IMU. Fertile agricultural soil has deteriorated because of over-irrigation during the Soviet period. A lack of equipment further hampers efficient farming. Meanwhile, factories are shut and rusting away, and electricity is on for only four hours a day. International aid agencies estimate that the unemployment level approaches 80 percent in the Ferghana Valley and adjacent areas.
In villages around the Kyrgyz town of Batken, families bemoan the departure of their sons. In one village, nine young Kyrgyz have left to join IMU leader Juma Namangani, including four sons of a widow. More than a dozen young men have joined the IMU from Batken itself.
Ahmad Rashid is the author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Based in Pakistan, he writes frequently on developments in Afghanistan and Central Asia.