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Central Asia Report: May 25, 2005

25 May 2005, Volume 5, Number 19

WEEK AT A GLANCE (16-22 May 2005) Bloodshed in Andijon, Uzbekistan on 13 May sparked international outrage and raised fears of impending instability in the region. Myriad eyewitness reports indicated that government forces fired on demonstrators in central Adijon, killing hundreds. Uzbek officials, from President Islam Karimov on down, told a different story, blaming religious extremists and unidentified outside forces for violence they said killed 169, virtually all of the victims either police or militants. Meanwhile, the unregistered opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers) asserted that a door-to-door survey in Andijon and nearby Pakhtaobod yielded the names of 745 dead. The European Union, United Nations, and United States called for an independent inquiry, with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw particularly vociferous in his criticism of the Uzbek government's actions, but President Karimov remained unmoved. With Karimov apparently committed to an ever harder line amid signs of mounting social and economic pressure, analysts nervously eyed the future not only of Uzbekistan, but of all Central Asia.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited Kazakhstan on 18 May, signing three bilateral cooperation agreements with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Two days later, Nazarbaev hosted a high-level CIS security meeting focused on counterterrorism cooperation and "economic security." Russian Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev told the gathering that recent unrest in Uzbekistan was linked to "instability in Afghanistan," confirming Russia's enthusiastic endorsement of the official Uzbek version of what happened in Andijon. On 22 May, 1,500 opposition activists demonstrated in Almaty to protest the recent closure of the opposition newspaper "Respublika" and call for greater freedom of speech.

Kyrgyzstan faced a tricky refugee situation in the wake of unrest in Andijon, which sent several hundred Uzbek citizens fleeing across the border. Kyrgyzstan granted some 500 would-be refugees asylum-seeker status, but Kyrgyz officials suggested they could not stay indefinitely. Kyrgyz NGOs warned they faced reprisals in the event of their return to Uzbekistan, and Uzbek President Islam Karimov stressed that he did not consider them refugees, in part because Kyrgyz border guards had confiscated weapons from some of them (an allegation subsequently denied by Kyrgyz border officials). In the shadow of this tension with its larger, more powerful neighbor, Kyrgyzstan prepared for 10 July presidential elections, with acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev running in tandem with political heavyweight Feliks Kulov and promising to make Kulov his prime minister in the event of victory. Bermet Akaeva, daughter of ousted President Askar Akaev, lost her parliamentary mandate by decision of the Central Election Commission. And acting President Bakiev appointed Murat Sutalinov, formerly a high-ranking official in Askar Akaev's presidential administration, acting interior minister.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Dushanbe on 18 May. They discussed recent events in Uzbekistan and prospects for expanded cooperation between their two countries. On the media front, Tajik tax police shuttered the independent Somoniyon TV station. And Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency opened a local office in the Afghan city of Konduz after a joint operation with Afghan forces netted two former Taliban commanders turned professional drug smugglers.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov executed one of his period cabinet shakeups, dismissing long-serving Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Gurbanmuradov, who had been responsible for the oil and gas sector. Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atajanova had reported that Gurbanmuradov misappropriated more than $60 million in state funds to maintain a polygamous lifestyle with three wives and buy luxury homes for friends and relatives. Guichnazar Tachnazarov will replace Gurbanmuradov.

UZBEKISTAN: FROM BUSINESSMEN TO PRISONERS TO REFUGEES -- ESCAPED ANDIJON PRISONERS TELL THEIR TALE. It was a jailbreak that kicked off the revolt in eastern Uzbek town of Andijon on 13 May. The 23 businessmen whose trial triggered the unrest were reportedly released, and some managed to escape to neighboring Kyrgyzstan. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Elmurod Yusupaliev visited the Uzbek refugee camp in the village of Karadarya, in the Jalal-Abad region of Kyrgyzstan, and spoke to two of the escaped prisoners.

Shamsiddin Atamatov was in his cell in Andijon's jail on the night of 12-13 May when a group of men suddenly burst in.

"That night, we heard shooting," he recalled. "The guards in the corridor ran. We thought it was the beginning of a war. Then, people came and broke in. Everyone ran outside. We did not expect anything like that. We had no idea about what was happening."

Burkhoniddin Nuritdinov was in another cell.

"We'd never seen anything like that before," Nuritdinov said from his temporary refuge in Kyrgyzstan. "I'd never heard any shooting in my entire life. I was shocked. We went to the corridor and were standing there for a while. The crowd was growing and someone said, 'Let's go downstairs.' We went downstairs, still in shock. We gathered outside. It was very dark, there were no lights on. Someone said, 'If you want you can go to 'hokimiyat' (regional administration). We will demand our rights'. People marched toward hokimiyat."

That rally turned to bloodshed when security forces opened fire on demonstrators. Authorities claim 169 people died in the violence in and around Andijon, although rights groups say up to 1,000 civilians might have been killed.

Now Atamatov and Nuritdinov are among more than 540 refugees at a makeshift camp in Kyrgyzstan.

It's a far cry from their life as wealthy businessmen in Andijon.

There, both Nuritdinov and Atamatov owned thriving companies, until they were imprisoned in 2004.

They were among 23 wealthy businessmen whose trial on charges of belonging to the banned Islamic group Akramiya triggered the Andijon unrest.

Nuritdinov and Atamatov say the religious extremism charges are trumped up -- and that they only came after the Uzbek authorities failed to find any financial wrongdoing.

"As for torture, I experienced all kinds," Nuritdinov said. "I spent 11 months in prison. For the first five months, they made no charges. They just investigated documents from my company. They failed to find any economic crime in my company's activity, they brought leaflets and literature [of Akramiya] and charged us with it."

Atamatov said he confessed to belonging to Akramiya under strong pressure: "No, I was not tortured. However, there was enormous pressure. They said, 'You know very well what is going to happen to you if you don't sign a confession,' and [they] forced me to sign all the papers."

Both men say the real reason behind their trial was economic. They say someone more powerful wanted to take their business that had to prove successful and was growing.

Independent observers and human rights activists agree. They say the government is facing difficulties meeting its budgetary needs and is trying to make up the shortfall by confiscating property from wealthy people.

"My understanding is the following," Nuritdinov said. "In Uzbekistan, every sector [of economy] is monopolized. Whenever anyone else reaches the level when he can become a real competitor for a monopolist, he is accused of belonging to [the banned Islamist group] Hizb ut-Tahrir, Wahhabis, or Akramiya, or simply charged with economic-financial crimes and is done away with."

After his release from jail, Nuritdinov said he joined other protestors outside Andijon's regional-administrative building.

He said none of the protestors had any weapons -- a claim that Uzbek authorities dispute.

Nuritdinov also insisted he does not know who the protesters were or who organized jailbreak and demonstrations.

"It might have been the people who were full of discontent," Nuritdinov said. "It might have been the authorities that wanted to provoke unrest and get rid of some people. They shoot at innocent babies. Why? Who needed this bloodshed? It was provocation. Authorities set several buildings on fire themselves and protestors extinguished it. People did not need anything like that."

Nuritdinov and Atamatov said they have asked the Kyrgyz government for political asylum.

They said they don't want to return to their home country -- that would mean, they say, further repression.

(RFE/RL correspondent Gulnoza Saidazimova contributed to this report. Originally published on 21 May 2005.)


The recent unrest in eastern Uzbekistan removed any doubts about whether President Islam Karimov is willing to resort to deadly force to maintain power.

The bloodshed in Andijon followed months of peaceful protests over the trial of 23 businessmen accused of membership of the Islamic extremist Akramiya group and ties to the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, a charge they deny. Events turned violent when an armed group attacked the local prison and freed perhaps thousands of inmates overnight on 12-13 May, also occupying a local government building and demanding the release of the "Akramiya" defendants. Thousands then turned out to demonstrate in central Andijon on 13 May before government forces opened fire on the crowd. Estimates of the death toll vary widely, depending on the source, but even the government conceded that at least 169 people are dead. Rights groups and political opponents put the death toll as high as 750 or 1,000.

Bad Signs

The protests in Andijon represent just the latest outburst of popular dissent with the current government. A strong indication that President Karimov would use force to silence serious opposition came one week earlier. On 3 May, a small group of unarmed civilians, many of them women and children, protested in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent. Their stated goal was to draw foreign attention to their calls for a return of expropriated land, the provision of jobs, and guarantees of the rule of law. Uzbek police and security officers dispersed the group, including through the brutal use of force in front of RFE/RL correspondents. That early May clampdown convinced many in Uzbekistan that -- unlike the ousted presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, or Kyrgyzstan -- Islam Karimov will do whatever it takes to keep his grip on power.

The lives of ordinary Uzbeks are extremely difficult, with high unemployment, particularly in rural areas; there are villages in the country that are virtually devoid of males, in part a result of forced migration in pursuit of wages. Local observers cite widespread corruption, accusing government officials of enriching themselves at the expense of the public.

The majority of Uzbeks try hard to make ends meet despite Uzbekistan's huge potential; it is among the largest producers of cotton and gold in the world. Meanwhile, most sectors of the economy are controlled by a small circle of people who might best be categorized into clan-like structures. The middle class has all but disappeared in Uzbekistan over the course of the past decade.

Karimov's Track Record

President Karimov has a declared commitment to facilitate political reforms. But human rights abuses in Uzbekistan are widespread, according to most independent observers. A UN investigator on torture, Theo Van Boven, concluded after a visit to Uzbekistan three years ago that torture there is systematic. The outspoken former British ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, suggested that inmates have been boiled to death. There is no secular opposition in the country, and international observers have dismissed last December's parliamentary elections as a farce. The country's parliament remains firmly subordinate to the president. There is no truly independent media, and journalists representing Western media organizations, including RFE/RL, are frequently harassed and intimidated.

Many Western and local observers are convinced the recent strife in Andijon is a direct result of the Karimov administration's policies. They point out that the Uzbek government denies its citizens basic rights, such as the right to work, freedom of speech and assembly, and the right to seek and receive information. Some observers assert that the lack of avenues for grievances or participation in political and social life pushes many young Uzbek men and women to join the ranks of radical Islamic groups; the result can be a vicious circle: increasing numbers of people attracted to such religious groups promising to deliver justice, and increasingly harsh responses by the government. President Karimov regularly cites or implies the threat of Islamic extremism, radicalism, or terrorism to justify many of his harsh policies. The fact that Uzbekistan became a strategic partner to the United States after 11 September 2001 arguably plays into Karimov's hands; according to some human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government has turned a blind eye to rights abuses in Uzbekistan. Some critics have accused Washington of excessive emphasis on the importance of the U.S. military base in Uzbekistan -- where Uzbeks host an air base at Hanabad near the Afghan border -- at the expense of promoting human rights there.

In A Corner?

After the recent transfer of power to the longtime opposition in Kyrgyzstan, many experts predicted a "domino effect" in the region. The perception was that some areas of the Ferghana Valley were vulnerable to unrest; observers suggested as well that such unrest could turn bloody, given President Karimov's capacity for response. Such fears became reality when Karimov ordered the use of lethal force, en masse, against apparently unarmed demonstrators. Moreover, in his speech on 14 May, Karimov signaled the possibility of further casualties when he warned the people of Andijon and the entire region that "a bullet will not choose who it shoots" in the event of conflict.

Karimov's harsh measures are arguably a sign of desperation. Indeed, Karimov appears to have few options in terms of an easy exit strategy -- if such a strategy were eventually required. Uzbek observers have argued that, in that regard, he could become a victim of his own brutal policies and a family dispute run amok. Karimov might believe that his fate would be unpredictable in the event of that he lost power, given resentment against him among Uzbeks -- and the precedent in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. He might also be reluctant to flee his country, since his older daughter Gulnara has an Interpol warrant out for her arrest based on a U.S. court's decision in a child-custody battle with the children's father, an American citizen. The combination of policy repercussions and the limits on his daughter's travel could significantly narrow Karimov's room for maneuver should he decide to pursue an exit strategy.

(Adolat Najimova is the director of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. Originally published on 20 May 2005.)


Women in Central Asia are hard-hit by joblessness and tend to dominate the shuttle trading that many destitute families depend on for a living. Women also make up a large part of the civic society that provides for the elderly, homeless, and orphans. The women who assembled in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon on 13 May to participate in mass demonstrations believed that they would be able to safely and peacefully voice their concerns. But they were seriously mistaken -- because the government opened fire. RFE/RL correspondents spoke to some of the Uzbek women who fled to a refugee camp that was set up in nearby Kyrgyzstan to house those who escaped the violence in Andijon.

It is a common belief in Central Asia that societal respect for women generally exempts them from harassment from police -- at border checkpoints, in markets, and even during protests.

Gulnoza, an Uzbek woman who is now living in a makeshift camp in Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad Province, describes the mindset of the women who took to the streets of Andijon on 13 May:

"We went to demonstrate because [the authorities] have raised the fees for gas and electricity, and to demand increase in pensions and salaries a bit," she said. "We demonstrated to demand a dignified life. My husband has been in Russia for two years. I have a child. I myself was sick and recovered recently. I went to the district committee to ask for help. They did not give me even one som [Uzbek currency]. A child until the age of 16 is entitled to a mere 3,300 soms [about $4]. They did not pay social benefits, they did not even lower the fees for gas at least for 50 percent. I haven't heard from my husband in two years. We went to protest because life has become unbearable."

But what had been intended to be a peaceful protest against worsening living conditions soon transformed into what is now often referred to by Uzbeks as "Bloody Friday."

"Women who gave birth to five, eight children will never lie," one Uzbek woman said. "Nobody [from the authorities] came [to speak to demonstrators]. There was [only] the prosecutor of Andijon and a representative of the SNB [National Security Service] who spoke to us. [Then] they started shooting at the unarmed women who were sitting around the square."

An estimated 3,000 people fled the violence in Andijon by foot -- seeking refuge about 40 kilometers away in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

A camp was set up to provide shelter for the more than 500 who safely made it across the border to Kyrgyzstan. There they were provided blankets, food, and electricity. Around 20 people were hospitalized with injuries they sustained in the violence.

Ten children and 82 women were among the refugees at the camp. An RFE/RL correspondent spoke to some of them to hear their harrowing accounts of how the events of 13 May unfolded.

"We came to demonstrate and to stay there if necessary for one month, one week, or 10 days," one woman said. "We women, children, had no weapons. We did not think they would shoot at women. We went out because of difficulties. [When they started shooting] without warning, we dropped on the ground covering our kids with our bodies."

"We went [to the demonstration in Andijon] while sacrificing our lives for our rights," another woman said. "Blood flowed like a river."

Umidakhan, a midwife from Andijon, described the scene: "It was so horrible that our own soldiers opened fire on us. [They were shooting] at women, their own mothers and grandmothers. We escaped into Kyrgyzstan while bullets were raining down on us."

There are reports saying that some refugees were targeted by Uzbek soldiers near the border. This is how refugee women described how they reached Kyrgyz territory: "[In Andijon] there were corpses lying all around us. Women around us were killed. In the evening women left [the town] on foot. [It was raining, so] our shoes sank in the mud. We left at 5 p.m., we arrived in Jalal-Abad [in Kyrgyzstan] early in the morning."

"My husband, five children, my parents and brothers are left behind in Andijon. Others, girls, all women [are here]. Thank you. Thank God, we made it here," a refugee named Tursunai said.

"After crossing the border we hesitated, not knowing whether to return or come here. We did not know how Kyrgyzstan would receive us. We came here by foot," a refugee named Mahfuza said.

But their fears were unfounded, and they are now thankful for the sanctuary they were provided by the Kyrgyz state. Mahfuza described their reception in Kyrgyzstan: "Very good. When we saw [the Kyrgyz] soldiers, we thought they might shoot at us as well. We kept wondering about what to do next. [We said to ourselves]: 'Let us women not die under fire here.' So we dragged on. [But] we were received very well. Thank you!"

The women are grateful for the help they have received, but long for their homeland. Under current circumstances though, they fear that it would be unsafe to return home. "Our aim is to return to our homeland, if there is peace," one woman said. "But there is no peace there. It is dangerous to go back. How do we return if they are shooting [at us]?!"

Many are concerned that if the situation in Uzbekistan continues to worsen, Kyrgyzstan might be flooded with refugees.

Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu said this week that as many as 1 million Uzbeks could attempt to flee to Kyrgyzstan. Such a situation would greatly affect the Kyrgyz economy unless international organizations step in to help alleviate the burden.

By yesterday, local doctors were warning that unsanitary conditions could lead to a spread of infectious diseases at the camp, where water and hygienic items for women are in short supply.

(RFE/RL Jalal-Abad correspondent Yrysbay Abdyraimov contributed to this report. Originally published on 20 May 2005.)


Bakhtiyor Rakhimov is one of dozens of people arrested after Uzbek troops entered the divided border town of Karasu today. Rakhimov's sister Yulduz Rakhimova told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Gofur Yuldoshev in Andijon about the arrest of her brother this morning.

Rakhimov's elder sister Yulduz Rakhimova was in her brother's house this morning with him, his wife, and five young children when he was arrested.

"Today, between 4 and 5 a.m., some 30 armed people came to Bakhtiyor's house. I think they were either soldiers or special forces. All of them had machine guns. There were some 30 people. I didn't count. I saw them in the window. They fired one shot. I looked and saw young men walking slowly like in movies," Rakhimova said.

Rakhimova told RFE/RL that soldiers did not show any arrest warrant. She said they beat her brother before taking him away.

"While I was talking to them my brother got up," she said. "Meanwhile, the armed men entered the room. Bakhtiyor said, "OK, OK" and asked them to go outside, so they don't wake any children up. But soldiers entered the room where children were sleeping. I said, 'There are kids here, they are going to be scared to death when they see your weapons'. They didn't listen to me, handcuffed [Bakhtiyor], hit his head with the butt of the machine gun, started kicking. It went on for quite some time. They didn't want him, didn't ask any questions."

Bakhtiyor Rakhimov has been a well-known figure in the border town of Karasu. Local people say he was one of those who initiated reconstruction of the bridge over the Shahrikhansay River that lies between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The bridge was destroyed two years ago at the order of Uzbek authorities. The act was seen as a crackdown on cross-border trade.

Pictures of Rakhimov riding a horse have been shown by many international channels since yesterday. Media reported -- referring to Uzbek refugees in camps in Kyrgyzstan -- that Rakhimov said the country must be ruled by Sharia law and that he had announced his intention to install an Islamic government in Uzbekistan.

Rakhimov and his aides -- also prominent people in Karasu -- were detained early today as Uzbek government troops occupied the city. The entry of the troops put an end to the "people�s power� situation established in Karasu after 14 May, when protesters chased local authorities out of the city.

Rakhimova said the soldiers' visit and Rahimov's arrest came as a surprise to all the family�s members.

"They went further upstairs and told children, 'You should come with us'. I asked if I could dress the children. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law looked shocked. She didn't have time to put her clothes on and was standing wrapped in a blanket. She was crying and asking them, 'Don't shoot, don't shoot,'" Rakhimova said.

However, Rakhimova says, the situation got worse when she realized that not only her brother, but also a teenage nephew was to be detained.

�[Bakhtiyor�s] son was also detained. He will turn 14 on 2 June," she said. "His name is Olovuddin. After [Bakhtiyor and his son were detained], a new group of soldiers came in. I told their commander: �Among those you�ve arrested, there is a 14-year-old boy who didn�t take part in anything. Please, release him.� They promised to release him, but they haven�t done so. I�m trying to do something now but I don�t know whom I should talk to and where I should go. It is very difficult for [the boy�s] mother.�

The Uzbek authorities have blamed Islamic extremists for the recent unrest in Andijon and Karasu. They have repeatedly said that banned Islamic groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and Akramiya were behind the attacks on government facilities last week.

Rakhimov�s sister insists her brother was not a member of any religious group. �Bakhtiyor opposes any groupings because he believes that dividing people into groups is wrong," she said. "We all are equal creatures of Allah. Yes, he believes in Allah, in God. But don�t we all need belief and faith?�

Bakhtiyor Rakhimov is a relatively wealthy farmer who was also involved in charitable activity.

Independent observers and human rights activists say the trial of 23 entrepreneurs from Andijon accused of belonging to a banned Islamic group that directly preceded the outbreak of last week�s unrest in eastern Uzbekistan was part of the Uzbek government�s crackdown on local businessmen.

(Originally published on 19 May 2005.)


On 13 May, Uzbek security forces fired on demonstrators in the eastern city of Andijon, following attacks on a police station, military barracks, and prison. The government has said that 169 people were killed, including more than 50 foreign fighters, though opposition groups say as many as 750 people were killed.

On 14 May, Interfax reported that according to information provided by "high-ranking sources" in the Russian Foreign Ministry, which was also confirmed by sources in "the Russian power-wielding agencies," prior to the uprising in Andijon a "large number of militants, comprising bandits, Islamist radicals, and Taliban fighters" infiltrated from Afghanistan and regrouped "at a junction between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan."

The same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the events in Andijon were planned in advance with the participation of "different groups" from the Ferghana Valley region and from Afghanistan "from the Taliban camp."

On 15 May, Lavrov elaborated on his earlier statement, saying that "evidently" groups from the Taliban camp took part in the events in Uzbekistan. Turning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's policy of offering amnesty to most members of the former Taliban regime except some 100 who have committed atrocities against the Afghan people, Lavrov said that if "we continue to condone terrorists and apply 'double standards' to them, including the notion of [the existence of] a moderate wing to the Taliban," then the "entire region" would be placed on the "brink of a crisis."

Lavrov's statement brings to the fore two separate issues. First, the ability of the neo-Taliban -- the resurgent militants in Afghanistan identifying themselves as the Taliban -- to infiltrate into Uzbekistan; and secondly, Moscow's disagreement with Kabul's policy of reconciling with the militants.

The Long Road To Andijon

There are several factors that cast doubt on the allegations made by Lavrov about the presence of the neo-Taliban in Uzbekistan. Geographically, for neo-Taliban fighters to cross over directly from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan, they would have to, first, reach the northern regions of Balkh Province -- where the neo-Taliban have not been active since late 2001; second, they would have to cross the carefully guarded, 135-kilometer border formed by the Amu River that separates Afghanistan from Uzbekistan. From there they would have to go though much of Uzbekistan and/or Tajikistan to reach the area mentioned by Lavrov.

While not impossible, to complete such a mission, the neo-Taliban fighters would need the skills of some of the world's best special-operations units, which, judging by their activities in Afghanistan, they don't seem likely to possess.

Related to this issue is the neo-Taliban's priorities and manpower. Their priority is to disrupt the situation in Afghanistan toward achieving their stated goal: the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Afghanistan and the establishment of what they believe to be a genuine Islamic state there. Despite the recent upsurge in violence associated with and claimed by the neo-Taliban in southern and southeastern Afghanistan -- far from the Afghan-Uzbek border -- the militants are not gaining new ground.

Manpower is another issue for the neo-Taliban. They don't have enough hard-core fighters to allow them to open several fronts against the Afghan government forces and their foreign backers. The last conventional battle in which the neo-Taliban and their allies participated with a significant number of fighters was Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002. Their current force structure is based on small units, who are easily deployable into localities where they not only know the terrain very well, but also have acquaintances or actually live. They don't seem to have reservists available to be dispatched to Uzbekistan.

Fighting Reconciliation

As for Lavrov's criticism of Karzai's policy of reconciliation with most militants fighting against his government, this is nothing new. During a visit to New Delhi in December 2004, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also criticized Karzai's reconciliation policy. According to ITAR-TASS, Ivanov said that dividing the neo-Taliban into "good" and "bad" factions is unacceptable to Moscow. Russia and India are "concerned about the attempts to Pashtunize Afghanistan," Ivanov said, referring to the Pashtun ethnic group to which most members of the neo-Taliban belong. The policy of reconciliation with the neo-Taliban is tantamount to "starting a new war," Ivanov warned, echoing Lavrov's more recent warning. "The so-called immoderate members of the Taliban are alive and kicking as well as the moderate ones...[who] walk the streets and make claims to be incorporated in the new Afghan government," Ivanov said.

While many Afghan media outlets and the Council of the Ulema of Afghanistan condemned Ivanov's statement at the time, Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin said that Kabul was hoping that Moscow would clarify its official position regarding Ivanov's comments, warning that such statements could hurt relations between Afghanistan and the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004).

For Afghanistan, any interference from Russia resurrects very bad memories. The Council of the Ulema said in December 2004 in response to Ivanov's statement that his "irresponsible" remarks "indicate his desire for the return of the past chaotic situation in Afghanistan," which was mainly due to "intervention and aggression" by the former Soviet Union in the country in 1979.

In response to the recent student-led demonstration in Afghanistan, President Karzai also accused foreign elements of instigating violence and trying to derail his government's attempts to establish a "strategic alliance" with the United States, with the possibility of the U.S. military basing units on Afghan soil, and to hamper his policy of bringing a peaceful conclusion to the neo-Taliban insurgency. Lavrov's statements surely add substance to Karzai's claims, though he did not single out any particular country for involvement in the Afghan violence.

(Originally published on 19 May 2005.)