Uzbekistan is taking "necessary measures" to counter the threat of the Islamic State (IS) militant group to domestic security, and would cooperate with Russia in the event of any mobilization by IS on Uzbek soil, Tashkent-based political analyst Rafik Saifullin says.
Saifullin told the Interfax.az news agency on April 13 that the Uzbek law enforcement authorities were undertaking a number of approaches to assess and counter the "threat of the IS terrorist organization."
"Uzbekistan has not lost sight of this threat. I can assure you that Uzbekistan's intelligence services are undertaking the most decisive measures to ensure that IS does not set foot in Uzbekistan," Saifullin said.
The measures being taken by the Uzbek authorities, according to Saifullin, include outreach work among young people to prevent them from falling under the influence of IS.
Uzbek nationals fighting alongside IS in Syria and Iraq who attempt to return home would be "arrested at the border," Saifullin said. "I can assure you, there is a 'special' program of meeting [returnees from Syria] in Uzbekistan," Saifullin said, though he did not elaborate on what this program might involve.
Just as in other Central Asian states, Uzbek officials have increasingly sounded the alarm about the threat posed by IS to domestic security, particularly after reports that IS has emerged in Afghanistan. Last month, Bakhtiyor Sharafov of the republic's National Security Service told the website CentralAsiaOnline, which is sponsored by U.S. Central Command, that the emergence of IS "at the very gates" of Central Asia was a sign that "the potential threat has gone beyond the level of terrorist attacks."
Russia & 'IS Threat' In Central Asia
Russia has also increasingly expressed concerns about what it says is a rise in activity by IS in and close to Central Asia, particularly amid the emergence of IS in Afghanistan. In response, Russian officials have argued that the IS threat should be addressed by an increased Russian military presence in the region.
Uzbekistan itself has asked Russia for assistance in combating the IS threat, with Uzbek President Islam Karimov urging his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in December to help his country combat the threat of extremism. "Various representatives of [IS] have penetrated into Afghanistan from Iraq and Syria. This situation requires the introduction of preventative measures," Karimov told Putin.
Political analyst Saifullin told RIA Novosti that if IS should "activate" itself in Uzbekistan, then Tashkent would work jointly with Russia to counter it. "If IS decides on any activities [in Uzbekistan], then joint action with Russia would be immediately carried out. We have established close cooperation in order to prevent such situations," Saifullin said, according to Interfax.
Saifullin's comments come amid increasing calls by Russia for a "collective" approach to combating the threat of IS encroachment in Central Asia, via regional security and military alliances in particular the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
The CSTO, comprising Tajikistan, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, met in Tajikistan last week to discuss the threat posed to the region by the rise of IS.
The specter of the "IS threat" and the need for Russian military presence in Central Asia was raised by Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov in an April 11 interview with state news agency RIA Novosti ahead of the Fourth Moscow Conference for International Security on April 16-17.
Antonov said that an "escalation of tensions" in northern Afghanistan and a "possible 'overflow' into Central Asia" posed an "increased threat to Russia and its allies." "We are actively combating this evil together with our allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization," Antonov added, noting that the upcoming Moscow Conference for International Security will include discussions on "the role of international military cooperation in the fight against terrorism."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk