As we reported yesterday, Kyrgyz authorities have said that two violent incidents this week were the work of Islamic militants. But authorities quickly arrived at this conclusion, without providing evidence, after presenting some odd accounts of the November 29 shootout in Osh and the November 30 bomb explosion in Bishkek. For the record:
Kushbak Tezekbaev, a deputy governor of Osh Province who was the first official to speak publicly about the events in Osh on November 29, claimed the Kyrgyz security services were conducting a special operation against a band of criminals in the Majrimtal district of Osh, an Uzbek-populated neighborhood that was one of the sites of ethnic clashes in June.
Tezekbaev said the event was “not an act of terrorism.”
Within hours, however, as the operation continued, Keneshbek Dushebayev, the head of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) said that the security services were engaged in a shootout with members of a "nationalist-separatist group" in Osh. Osh police announced that four members of the "nationalist-separatist" group consisting of ethnic Uzbeks, Russians and Kyrgyz were killed, one exploded himself, and three others were captured.
Yet later on November 29, Marat Imankulov, Secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, blamed the Islamic Movement of Turkestan [IMT] for the “terrorist acts in Osh."
In sum, in the course of a single day, Kyrgyz officials blamed three different actors: a band of criminals, a “nationalist-separatist group” and transnational terrorists.
When a bomb exploded in Bishkek on November 30, officials asserted that the explosion and the Osh clashes were linked.
Imankulov said that perpetrators of the Osh shootout and Bishkek explosion might have received training from camps operated by al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and/or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The government’s claims elicit many questions. If a “separatist” group consisting of ethnic Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Russians was responsible for the Osh incident, what goal does this group pursue? Does it seek to carve out a chunk of Kyrgyz territory to create a Kyrgyz-Russian-Uzbek enclave in the (heavily enclaved) Ferghana Valley?
The claim that the IMT was behind the two incidents is also unconvincing. Some analysts question whether the group even exists. The first reports about the IMT appeared in the fall of 2002 when the Kyrgyz National Security Service announced that the IMU was joining forces with Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other groups to form a regional Islamic alliance. Hizb-ut-Tahrir members regularly deny a link to any militant groups.
Kyrgyz security services have a long history of linking various events to Islamic militants without providing credible and consistent information. For example, in August 2006 troops from the SNB killed Muhammadrafiq Kamalov, a popular imam in the southern town of Kara-Suu. Officials claimed at the time that Kamalov was killed because he belonged to the IMU. When Kamalov’s death provoked a protest, authorities quickly changed the version of events and claimed that Kamalov was not a terrorist and that he died in a shootout between the security services and the IMU, which allegedly held him hostage.
Some point to evident local tensions behind the November 29 Osh violence. Ferghana.ru suggested that events were provoked by a property dispute. Uzbek residents of the district where the shoot out occurred – Majrimtal – have long been at odds with Osh authorities.
A few months before the outbreak of this summer’s ethnic violence, Osh’s notorious mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov reportedly advocated redevelopment plans in Majrimtal and other mainly Uzbek-populated districts of Osh. Many accounts say the city’s interethnic violence in June included clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz security services in Majrimtal.
So was this just a mopping-up operation? We'll probably never know, when evidence (and credibility) is in such short supply.