Social tensions and poverty in Central Asia actually provide opportunities for radical Islam to imbed itself in the society. The most active terrorist organization in the region is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). After being banned from its native Uzbekistan, the IMU and its affiliated groups spread south to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where its members continue to fight alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Weak border controls and harsh terrain make it easy for militants to travel undetected from Waziristan through the mountains to the Ferghana Valley and beyond.
Tajikistan alone detained some 200 members of extremist and terrorist organizations, and secured convictions against about 170 of them in 2011. Among those detained, 86 people were members of the IMU, 17 were members of the radical Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) and four others were involved in the activities of the Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat, which was declared extremist by Dushanbe in 2006. But who is behind these terrorist groups, whose tentacles embrace the whole of Central Asia?
The answer to this question is found in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the logic of the Cold War allowed the secret service of a small nation of Southern Asia to become one of the most important players on the international scene: we are speaking of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). To contain Soviet expansion, Washington started supporting the resistance of the mujahideen coming from all Muslim nations to fight the unfaithful. Although the jihadists were mostly financed, armed and trained by the CIA, the intermediary for most of these activities to disguise the sources of support for the resistance was the ISI. Once the Red Army left Afghanistan, in 1989, the ISI did not stop playing an active role in the events of the country, indeed taking advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union to expand its scope of activities to Central Asia and other regions of the former communist empire, including Chechnya.
Pakistan has always desired to expand its influence in Afghanistan and beyond. Central Asia is seen as an area of natural expansion for the country. Islamabad’s objectives in the region are determined by its geopolitical imperative: to turn itself into the leader of an Islamic bloc stretching from the Black Sea to China able to counter India’s influence and become an autonomous actor on the international scene. In this context, the destabilizing efforts carried out by the ISI through support to terrorist groups in Central Asia since the early 90s have been aimed at creating the right conditions so that the Pakistani leadership could gradually take over from of other major powers such as Russia, China and the United States.
Today, Islamabad is one of Washington’s closest allies in the war on terrorism; nevertheless, some of the ISI’s wings, and especially the “S Wing,” are still liaising and directing terrorist organizations in South and Central Asia. As revealed by a leak released by WikiLeaks last year, the US military itself classified the ISI as a terrorist support entity in 2007, putting Pakistan’s top spy agency, along with al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian intelligence services, among 32 groups on the list of “associated forces” hostile to the US and its allies.
|SENSITIVE TARGETS TO TERRORIST ATTACKS IN THE CENTRAL ASIAN REGION|