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Instability Fuels Panic Over IS In Tajikistan


A video grab of Tajik youth purportedly fighting in Syria.

A video grab of Tajik youth purportedly fighting in Syria.

"Every fighter gets $5,000. Islamic State leaflets confuse the minds of Tajiks," reads a headline on the centralasia.ru website this week, repeating a popular rumor that has spread about the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.

According to that rumor, IS militants from Tajikistan are paid money to fight -- much more than the average Tajik would make at home or as a migrant laborer in Moscow.

The rumor, and the headline, reflect concerns in Tajikistan that IS militants, and the extremist group's ideology, could pose a threat to the Central Asian republic, particularly amid domestic economic issues and instability.

"Foreign fighters in IS get a salary of between $3,000-5,000. And that's a serious incentive for unemployed Tajiks," the article goes on to read.

The role played by Tajik militants in IS was highlighted in August, when reports began to circulate that an ethnic Tajik had been appointed as the commander of IS in Syria's Raqqa province. The reports said that IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had personally appointed the Tajik. No other details -- including the militant's name -- were given, nor have any emerged since.

The number of Tajik militants in Syria is not known, but experts estimate that there are no more than a few hundred.

As IS militants went on to capture more and more territory in Iraq and Syria, and with the advent of the U.S.-led coalition against IS, fears of the militant group have been ramped up in the Central Asian media, including in Tajikistan.

The centralasia.ru article goes onto warn that "seditious leaflets" calling for the overthrow of the Tajik government and the republic's president, Emomali Rahmon, are being distributed in mosques, markets, and schools across Tajikistan, including in the capital Dushanbe.

It is not clear how these leaflets are linked to IS -- but centralasia.ru says the Tajik security authorities are taking the threat seriously. "The republic's authoritative religious leaders are criticizing IS through the press, and explanatory lessons are being conducted in schools," the article claims.

Dr. Alisher Irkhamov, an expert on Islamic movements in Central Asia from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies, said that he considered the probability of the IS situation in Syria and Iraq being replicated in Central Asia was "close to zero."

However, Irkhamov warned that there is a threat of destabilization in the region, "particularly in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where the suppression of dissent, and corrupt authorities have reached unprecedented dimensions and have consequently weakened the government's legitimacy in the eyes of the population."

Extremist Islamist ideologies could take advantage of discontent among the masses, by offering an alternative to the existing regime, he added.

However, these Islamists would likely be "homegrown and not IS."

Such homegrown Islamists could develop against the backdrop of the internationalization of the jihadi movement, however, Irkhamov added.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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