PRAGUE, July 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said he has agreed with Uzbek President Islam Karimov to join forces in combating what he called "international terrorism" and "religious extremism."
"I had the full backing of Uzbek President Islam Abduganievich [Karimov] on the fight against destabilizing factors in Central Asia," Bakiev said after meeting Karimov on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Moscow on July 22.
Meanwhile, Kyrgyz state media has given extensive coverage of the meeting of "the leaders of the two fraternal countries."
The Bakiev-Karimov meeting was quickly followed by the first-ever meeting of the heads of the states' security services on July 25.
Kabar news agency reported that Kyrgyzstan's Busurmankul Tabaldiev and his Uzbek counterpart Rustam Inoyatov agreed to exchange information and conduct joint operations against "religious extremists and terrorists" in order to prevent terrorist attacks in their countries.
Because Central Asia has a long record of governments using the fight against extremism or terrorism as a pretext for cracking down on dissent, the immediate question that emerges from recent declarations is "who is defined as a terrorist?"
Vitaly Ponomaryov, the director of the Moscow-based Memorial's program for monitoring human rights in Central Asia, tells RFE/RL that the foremost "common enemy" of Tashkent and Bishkek is Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT).
"After the May  incidents on the border [when gunmen entered Kyrgyz territory from Tajikistan], the number of cases of detention of Hizb ut-Tahrir members has been on the rise in southern and northern Kyrgyzstan," Ponomaryov said. "In many cases, laws have been violated [and] charges were falsified. We have reason to [believe] that the courts will give lengthier prison terms and tougher punishments [to HT members]. This strengthening of repression is unjustified because Hizb ut-Tahrir is a nonviolent organization."
Banning Hizb ut-Tahrir
HT is banned in most of Central Asia. It aims to create an Islamic state, or caliphate, but officially denounces violence.
In Uzbekistan, hundreds of HT members have been imprisoned in recent years. In Kyrgyzstan, despite the official ban, the group enjoyed relative freedom in preaching its ideology and even holding charitable events -- until Bishkek's recent crackdown.
Kyrgyz officials said HT declared "jihad" against the country's law-enforcement agencies. On July 19, www.24.kg reported an unnamed official source as saying that in response, law-enforcement agencies declared "gazavat" (war) against HT.
Also on July 19, Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov said police will get additional defense technology and weapons to fight the HT.
Kyrgyz officials also say that HT membership has tripled in the last five years.
Difference Between IMU And The HT
And they insist that there are ties between HT and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMU was formed in the mid-1990s with the same aim of creating a caliphate in Central Asia. But, unlike HT, it has used violence in trying to reach its goals.
Kyrgyzstan's security forces killed five suspected members of the IMU in the southern city of Jalalabad on July 14.
They said the men had been involved in the February 1999 bombings in Tashkent that targeted Uzbek President Karimov, as well as a 2003 attack on a market in Bishkek.
On July 25, Kyrgyz police detained yet another Uzbek citizen, Bekmurat Karimov, in Osh, on charges of belonging to the IMU.
Aalybek Akunov is a professor of political studies at Kyrgyz National University. Endorsing the official views, he tells RFE/RL that Kyrgyz and Uzbek authorities face a serious threat of "international terrorism."
"The latest incidents in Kyrgyzstan's south, in the Jalalabad and Osh regions, [and] the detention of representatives of the IMU [and] Hizb ut-Tahrir -- all these things are a sign that there is a common enemy," he said. "For those terrorists, the [existing] Kyrgyz-Uzbek border is just virtual. Their goal is to create another state. That's why when I say a 'common enemy,' I mean international terrorism and religious extremism."
Just like officials in Tashkent, Kyrgyz authorities seem to have added the Akramiya religious group to their list of "enemies."
Uzbek authorities say Akramiya and its alleged leader, Akram Yuldoshev, who has been in prison since 1999, masterminded the May 2005 violence in Andijon.
About Face For Bishkek
Yuldoshev's daughter, Gulmira Maqsudova, was arrested last week along with five Uzbeks and three Kyrgyz in Osh. Kyrgyz police said they had found firearms and 400 grams of explosives during a search of one of the suspects' houses on July 18. Police accused six Uzbeks of being involved in the Andijon events.
This development is noticeable as it marks a definite change in between the two neighboring states.
Kyrgyzstan gave refuge to hundreds of Uzbek refugees following the Uzbek government troops' bloody crackdown of the Andijon protest.
Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations soured after officials in Bishkek allowed the United Nations to resettle Uzbeks in the West despite strong pressure from official Tashkent for them to be returned.
Recent official talk about strengthening Uzbek-Kyrgyz cooperation causes concern among human rights activists like Ponomaryov.
"The danger with this kind of cooperation is that a huge amount of information that Uzbekistan presents as official is actually absolutely false [and] gained under torture," he said. "This kind of testimony -- obtained under duress and presented as official -- then becomes grounds for detention and persecution of [innocent] people on the territory of neighboring countries."
Ponomaryov says he believes Dilshodbek Hojiev -- whose trial opened on July 25 in Tashkent -- was also subject to torture and fell victim to Uzbek-Kyrgyz cooperation.
Uzbek authorities accuse the 33-year old of leading the IMU in the late 1990s along with Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldosh. They say Hojiev also collaborated with the top leadership of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, including Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Hojiev fled to Kyrgyzstan from Andijon in May 2005. Kyrgyz authorities sent him back to Uzbekistan along with three of his countrymen, who were later sentenced to between 13 and 17 years in jail.
RFE/RL Central Asia Report
SUBSCRIBE For regular news and analysis on all five Central Asian countries by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Central Asia Report."