Crossroads Asia

Who Controls the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan?

Also, what’s it like being a “dealmaker” in “the Stans” and other must-reads.

Weekend links for Central Asia:

Starting with something to listen to this weekend: Nate Schenkkan is back with a new Central Asianist podcast. He is joined by Obaid Ali, assistant country director and researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, to discuss the increased activity of insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Ali notes a number of reasons for increased Taliban activity in Kunduz province, including less support from the central government, less confidence in local police, less coordination among security forces, and increased local Taliban propaganda.

After a Pakistani operation in northern Waziristan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which had been based there for the a number of years, shifted back into northern Afghanistan where there are large numbers of Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks already. Ali emphasized that this linguistic, ethnic, and cultural link allows the IMU to easily operate in the area. In recent weeks, rumors have spread that the IMU pledged support to ISIS but Ali commented that the IMU seemed, to him, to be totally under the control of the Taliban. They get pretty deep into the nuances, definitely worth listening to in full.

The worsening situation in northern Afghanistan has caused increased worrying across the border in Central Asia. A recent Eurasinet article led with an undated report that two stray shells from an operation in northern Afghanistan landed on the Tajik side of the Panj river. The piece digs further into Tajik worries about the spillover of violence in Central Asia. “Tajikistan is taking security assistance from anybody offering it,” Eurasianet notes. Russian media in particular has been prominently churning out a paranoid narrative pointing out Tajikistan’s inability to secure its own borders and American machinations. The central theme is that Moscow and the CSTO are the only things that can protect Tajikistan against both the U.S. and terrorists.

Elsewhere, Bloomberg published a glowing profile of Aidan Karibzhanov, a Kazakh private equity investor  “chasing riches in the rough-and-tumble former Soviet Republics.” The article is fairly sugary and glosses over the nastier parts of doing business in the region–failing to use the word “corruption” even once–while still highlighting Karibzhanov’s tete-a-tetes with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan over deals gone sour. (I don’t mean to imply that Karibzhanov is corrupt, but only that any realistic assessment of conducting business in the region should address corruption beyond a singular vague mention of “risk.”) Bloomberg also makes an outdated reference to the president of Uzbekistan’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova, saying that she has “parted ways with her father and sought fame as a pop star using the stage name Googoosha.” Perhaps “parted ways” is a new euphemism for “under house arrest.”

Karimova, from whom little has been heard since news emerged of her house arrest in early 2014, is at the center of a massive web of corruption scandals. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that authorities in the U.S. are “asking European counterparts to seize about $1 billion in assets related to a wide-ranging criminal probe of alleged corruption by three global telecom companies and intermediaries close to the daughter of Uzbekistan’s president.”

One last read: Forum 18, a Norwegian human rights organization focused on religious freedom, reported this week that police officials from the prosecutor’s office and education department raided a Baptist-run church-camp near Almaty. Forum 18 alleges that the authorities then handed video footage over to local media which reported that “camp organizers were teaching religion ‘illegally’ (including by foreign citizens) and without the knowledge of parents, and were using suspicious drinks and chewing gum.” When asked by Forum 18 why they did not give church members an opportunity to respond to the accusations, Tatyana Lisitskaya, Deputy Chief Editor of Almaty TV, said, “There were statements of the Church members in the video material, but we cut them out because we didn’t think them necessary.” She went on to respond to a question about whether this was a targeted “campaign of slander” against the church by saying, “I am not going to evaluate the actions of the authorities.”