A Monthly Newsmagazine from Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT)
To Gain access to thousands of articles, khutbas, conferences, books (including tafsirs) & to participate in life enhancing events


Kyrgyzstan: how not to celebrate independence

Crescent International

When, like Kyrgyzstan, you are a small land-locked country in a volatile region, with a poorly-equipped army, you do not engage in battle highly-motivated groups that even mighty Russia is not confident of defeating and that are not targeting you. Such a move is particularly inadvisable during preparations for national celebrations that can only serve to draw attention to the folly of it all.

What began as a small affair in early August, when just 21 armed men tried to cross Kyrgyz territory on their way from from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan, and the Kyrgyz army attacked them instead of looking the other way, appeared to be out of control by August 31, the eighth anniversary of independence. Further confusion was added when Uzbekistan tried to help, but bombed Kyrgyz villages by mistake. And any hope of promised Russian military aid arriving was dashed on September 6, when president Boris Yeltsin virtually admitted defeat in Dagestan and publicly blamed the Russian army for being useless in the face of armed groups there.

The armed men - now grown to more than 750 - have captured several villages in Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region and are reportedly holding 16 hostages there, including four Japanese geologists. They are said to be led by Dzhuma Namangani, who fled Uzbekistan in 1992 and who is accused by president Islam Karimov of trying to assassinate him in a series of bomb-explosions in February in Tashkent, the capital. And like their leader, most of them are believed to have connections with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

Interviews on the BBC on September 1, a man introduced as representing the IMU said that the group wants to exchange Japanese hostages for its members held in Uzbekistan. Zubair ibn Abdurakhim said: “Our aim is to exchange them for several people who have been imprisoned and tortured by the Uzbek regime.” He also left no doubt that his group’s aim was to cross into Uzbekistan “with the help of Allah”.

While Zubair was declaring that his group had no quarrel with Kyrgyzstan and that it was relying on Allah’s help to succeed in its mission, the Kyrgyz government was soliciting the help of Russia and four other Central Asian states to crush it and, indeed, to take on Islamic movements throughout the region. Boris Silayev, the Kyrgyz first deputy prime minister, said in Moscow on September 2 that Russian military assistance had in fact already begun to arrive, and that he expected military aircraft to follow soon.

Only a day earlier, the Russian minister of defence was holding talks with president Askar Akayev in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, promising Russian military and financial assistance if countries of the region joined Moscow in a concerted war against ‘terrorists’.

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are already engaged in open war against their Islamic movements, referred to as ‘Wahabis’. They took their cooperation against ‘terrorism’ a step further when ministers met in Bishkek on August 28. All they could come up with was a statement that armed Islamic groups “constitute a threat to all states of the region”.

The Central Asian states must know that the promised Russian military and financial assistance is more symbolic than real. Moscow is dependent on loans from the IMF, cannot even pay its own soldiers, and is facing military defeat in Dagestan. to accompany its humiliation in Chechenya. Russian intervention can only strengthen the resolve of the region’s Islamic movements.

Kyrgyzstan, a small and virtually defenceless country, is certainly well-advised to stay out of the struggle between Uzbekistan and the IMU. With a population of only 4.5 million, and an annual military budget of just $31 million, it is ill-equipped to take on highly motivated Islamic movements in a region-wide conflict that could throw the border-areas it shares with four states, including China, into a permanent state of conflict.

The country’s terrain and the nomadic way of life of the majority of its population also suit guerrilla-warfare better than set-piece battles. By tradition, the Kyrgyz are a pastoral nomadic people, and most of the population still live in rural areas.

Perhaps conscious of these limitations, Bishkek has joined several defence-pacts. It joined the defence-structures of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), signing, with five other member-states, a collective security treaty in May 1992. In June 1994 it joined NATO’s ‘Partnership for Peace’ programme of military cooperation. But these arrangements are directed against the very Islamic movements that Bishkek needs to avoid fighting, and could get Akayev involved in precisely the sort of conflict he is trying to avoid.

Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1999

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 14

Jumada' al-Akhirah 06, 14201999-09-16

Sign In


Forgot Password ?


Not a Member? Sign Up