A government anti-terrorism campaign in southern Kyrgyzstan appears to be widening the inter-ethnic divide in the Central Asian country.
In recent weeks, Kyrgyz security forces have engaged in hundreds of search-and-seizure operations, arresting dozens of ethnic Uzbeks. Security officials contend that the raids have led to the recovery of explosives and propaganda material published by extremist organizations, and have disrupted terror cells that were supposedly plotting future attacks.
In response, representatives of southern Kyrgyzstan's sizable Uzbek minority accuse Kyrgyz authorities of discrimination in the planning and execution of the security sweep. In addition, some Kyrgyz observers are voicing alarm over the fact that Kyrgyz officials are carrying out anti-terrorism activities in cooperation with the hard-line government of neighboring Uzbekistan. Since the Andijan events of May 2005, Uzbek authorities have pursued policies designed to stamp out freedom of speech and religious expression. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"Our republics must unite their efforts in the fight against international terrorism and religious extremism," Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said in a presidential statement released in late July. "We will also have to make it clear that true Islam has nothing to do with propaganda or terror attacks staged by religious extremists."
The Kyrgyz-Uzbek tactical anti-terrorism alliance was cemented July 25, when the head of the Kyrgyz security service, Busurmankul Tabaldiyev signed an agreement with his Uzbek counterpart, Rustam Inoyatov, on conducting joint operations. The two countries also agreed to broaden intelligence cooperation.
In connection with the crackdown, Kyrgyz security forces have been involved in several controversial shootings. On July 14, five suspected extremists were killed by Kyrgyz forces in the southern center Jalal-Abad. Authorities accused the men of being members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU.)
Late on August 6, Kyrgyz security forces killed three individuals in a shootout, including a popular imam, Muhammadrafiq Kamalov. The other two victims were identified as Tajik citizens wanted for terrorism-related crimes. Officials insisted Kamolov was himself a terrorist who died while resisting arrest. A variety of weapons, including Kalashnikov automatic rifles, were found in the car in which he was driving at the time of his death, authorities claimed.
Kamalov was the imam of a mosque in Kara-suu, a town located on the border with Uzbekistan. He was noted for holding a comparatively liberal religious views; he permitted members of the underground radical group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, to worship at his mosque, even though he publicly disagreed with the organization's stated aim of reestablishing an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia. His message of tolerance attracted thousands of worshipers to his mosque on Fridays. Friends and family members vigorously disputed the government's characterization of Kamalov as an Islamic militant. Meanwhile, Hizb-ut-Tahrir issued a statement August 7 accusing the Kyrgyz government of carrying out an "extrajudicial assassination."
Local observers say the recent killings, in particular Kamalov's, are stoking anti-government sentiment among ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan. Few seem to believe the government's explanations for its anti-terrorism actions. "The security services are not presenting credible evidence. No proper investigation has taken place yet. In the past, we have witnessed how the security services linked the IMU and Islamists to various explosions and violent incidents. Those links didn't prove to be correct," a human rights observer who requested anonymity told EurasiaNet prior to Kamalov's death. Another human rights activist complained that authorities routinely conducted searches on private homes without obtaining warrants in advance.
Many feel that officials are using the anti-terrorism sweep as a cover for activities designed to snuff out Uzbek agitation for expanded civil rights, including recognition of Uzbek as a state language. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. To support this view, some Uzbeks point to the case against Mamatkadyr Karabaev, who led a May 27 rally in Jalal-abad calling for Uzbek language rights. Shortly after the rally, Karabaev was arrested, and on August 2, he received a seven-year suspended sentence after being found guilty of fraud and falsification of official documents. Karabaev insisted in an interview with the Ferghana.ru web site that the case against him was "fabricated."
In addition to Uzbek community representatives, civil society activists have been critical of authorities' conduct. Local observers say they now fear Uzbek-style policing and the loss of civil liberties. Both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Jalal-abad and Osh complain of increased extortion by traffic police and travel restriction due to road blocs. Hasanjon Hakimov, a local journalist in Osh told EurasiaNet: "The crackdown on religious dissent is likely to transform into crackdown on political dissent."
A representative of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Kara-suu predicted that Bishkek's reliance on tough tactics would destabilize southern Kyrgyzstan. "Repressive measures
Alisher Khamidov Alisher Khamidov is a PhD Candidate at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. Alisher Saipov is an independent journalist based in Osh and a frequent contributor to Ferghana.Ru information website.