Tajik government officials and an Islamic opposition leader yesterday rejected remarks by a Kyrgyz military official on the presence of small and unorganized armed groups along the Tajik-Afghan border. The military official said the groups are capable of destabilizing the entire Central Asian region. But his detractors argued that terrorists will find no supporters in Tajikistan.
Prague, 7 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Earlier this week, (Feb 4), a senior Kyrgyz Defense Ministry official warned that militant groups operating along the Tajik-Afghan border posed a significant threat to regional security.
Colonel Malik Jumagulov, who heads the ministry's management department, told journalists there are significant numbers of armed Uzbek and Tajik fighters cooperating with international terrorist organizations along the border, as well as in the southern and northeastern regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Jumagulov went on to say that Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), has allegedly amassed a group of 800 armed militants including members of Al-Qaeda and Chechen and Uighur separatists.
The defense official said Kyrgyz intelligence services also believe that approximately 300 militants are based in western regions of Afghanistan close to the Iranian border, while roughly 300 more are based in Afghanistan's northern Badakhshan Province, near the Tajik border. It was not clear if these militants were part of the 800 IMU members Jumagulov mentioned.
Jumagulov also said the militants, who allegedly finance Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups through drug trafficking, have supporters among the population of Tajikistan.
A Kyrgyz Defense Ministry spokesman (Mirbek Koylubaev) later denied Jumagulov had made the remarks. But the comments drew a sharp response from a number of Tajik officials. Muhammadsharif Himmatzoda is deputy head of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and a member of the Tajik parliament. He says terrorist groups have no bases or support in Tajikistan.
Himmatzoda did acknowledge that some former members of Tajikistan's Islamic opposition -- who refused to recognize the peace and reconciliation accord signed in 1997 by the United Opposition Forces and the Tajik government -- had left for Afghanistan and had possibly joined forces there with the former ruling Taliban militia.
But those militants, he emphasized, are no longer members of the Islamic Renaissance Party. Himmatzoda says he and his fellow party members are neither responsible for nor capable of controlling the activities of former members who might have left Tajikistan: "[The militants] should not be linked to our Islamic opposition any more. It's not right. I don't have any information regarding their involvement in drug trafficking or other similar activities."
Himmatzoda says Tajikistan's Islamic opposition has discussed the issue with Afghan officials but has yet to receive confirmation that any Tajik militants have been located in the northern provinces of Afghanistan.
The government in Dushanbe holds a similar position. Mirzovatan Hasanaliev, deputy chief of the Tajik Security Council, tells RFE/RL there are no Tajik Islamic terrorist groups operating in the Tajik-Afghan border area or in Tajikistan: "There were some armed groups in Afghanistan, but they were disbanded by the American military operation. A few members of those groups may still be hiding in the mountain regions of Afghanistan. But they are not based near the Tajik border or inside Tajikistan."
Both government and Islamic opposition officials accuse Kyrgyz officials like Jumagulov of attempting to conceal their own country's political and economic tension by drawing attention to alleged foreign terrorist threats.
During his remarks to journalists, Jumagulov also referred to tensions among ethnic Tajik and Uzbek minorities in neighboring countries as posing a potential threat to regional stability. Tajik officials and opposition leaders dismissed the idea as baseless.
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan is the only officially registered Islamic movement in Central Asia. The party, which signed a power-sharing agreement with the government after five years of civil war, has distanced itself from terrorist and extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Hezb ut-Tahrir.