Analysis and comments



In Uzbekistan, more and more young people are falling under the influence of Islamist recruiters. Interestingly, the main ideologues of radical Islam in the Uzbek-speaking Internet space live mainly in Ukraine or Turkey. This is what expert from Uzbekistan, director of the Center for the Study of Regional Threats Viktor Mikhailov told EADaily.

- When discussing the topic of the interview, you noted that “the biggest threat in Uzbekistan is the growing radicalization of youth.” Tell us in more detail who is trying to recruit potential terrorists in Uzbekistan.

- Radicalization is a dynamic process that influences the personality in such a way that the object of influence begins to perceive violence as the only possible course of action in the allegedly existing situation. Perhaps, in the general mass, the number of radically minded young people is not critical, but the sharp increase in their number, which we observe in social media, causes concern.

The liberalization and democratization that came to society with a new president in 2016 had to affect the interest in Islam as well. The external attributes of a passion for Islam, which are noticed by everyone without exception, is a normal phenomenon. But in the context of the enthusiasm for traditional Islam in the virtual space, adherents of the so-called political Islam became more active. They are the carriers of Salafi ideology, very popular among the youth.

A lot of closed communities have appeared on social media, with members openly discussing the ideas of foreign terrorist and radical-extremist organizations, such as the “Muslim Brotherhood” or Hizb ut-Tahrir (both organizations are banned in Russia - EADaily). The comments of young guys to the sermons of radical “leaders” broadcasting from their base “apartments” in Istanbul or Odessa inspire serious concern. The main ideologues of radical Islam in the Uzbek-speaking space live abroad; in Ukraine, in Turkey.

This radical background strongly facilitates the work of the recruiting jamaats. And the difficulties with the logistics of transferring recruits to Afghanistan or Syria due to the pandemic should not calm our concerns, because the recruits remain in the countries where they were recruited in a “dormant mode.”

- Uzbekistan has a common border with Afghanistan, and this country is synonymous with a powder keg and uncertainty. How does Uzbekistan live next to its troubled neighbour?

- I don’t think that the threats from Afghanistan are so serious today. In 2001, it was much worse. Just the leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (banned in Russia - EADaily) had more than 4 thousand mujahideen under arms who dreamed of establishing a caliphate in the Fergana Valley. Today the situation is completely different. There are no more than 300 citizens of Uzbekistan in foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) in Afghanistan, and they are not the same dreamers; the level of their optimism and eagerness is not at all the same as those of the field commanders Juma Namangani and Tokhir Yuldash.

Besides, I do not believe that the Taliban are planning a march to the north - they have other plans. And the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan (let's not forget that the country has the strongest army in Central Asia) are ready to defend their southern borders.

Of course, official Kabul itself can guarantee very little in terms of the security of its external borders, but the southern borders of Uzbekistan do not represent any serious threats, anyway.

- The authorities in Afghanistan have been trying for a long time to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban who have their own plans for governing Afghanistan. What is the threat of political uncertainty inside Afghanistan for Central Asia?

- Firstly, no one will be able to predict with certainty the result of numerous efforts to bring the Taliban and official Kabul to the negotiating table. The parties to the conflict have too many contradictions, but the fact that the situation needs to be changed is understood by everyone in this long-suffering country, without exceptions.

Secondly, for me the Taliban are terrorists, no less terrible than the ISIS (IS, ISIS, “Islamic State”, or Daesh, a terrorist group banned in Russia - EADaily). Methods for achieving ideological goals used by the both are absolutely the same.

Third, will the Taliban change under the influence of the prevailing circumstances? Maybe only in rhetoric, but I don't believe in actual changes.

Speaking about the citizens of Uzbekistan who presently participate in hostilities on the side of groups controlled by the HTS (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a terrorist group banned in Russia - EADaily) in Syria, the situation with them is the same as with Afghanistan. In this part of the Middle East, the need for people who know how to kill will not diminish soon. So they will always earn a piece of bread. They do not want to return to Uzbekistan at all. They would rather lose what little they have, including their lives, than spend many years in the prison in their homeland.

- A representative of the British intelligence MI6 arranges a meeting with none other than the leader of the terrorist group Jebhat al-Nusra (banned in Russia - EADaily). What is your view of the situation?

- The new name of the foreign terrorist organization you mentioned after the rebranding is Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS). Indeed, the leaders of this group are trying to legalize their structures in every possible way for managing the territories that they now control. I think they are inspired by the success of the Taliban (banned in Russia - EADaily), with whose representatives met lots of various stakeholders.

The leaders of the HTS today control foreign terrorist organizations the immigrants from Central Asia fight for, so is important to know everything that happens in Syrian Idlib, where their camps are located.

However, I strongly doubt that legalization (which the leaders of the HTS are striving for today) will change their radical ideology, methods of carrying out hostilities and achieving their goals.

Considering the logistics of recruiting Central Asian citizens to this part of Syria, a lot will depend on the political will of the Turkish authorities. So far, the Turkish-Syrian border has been relatively transparent for recruits. How the situation will change this year is hard to say. It is influenced by too many different factors.

That is a good question about MI6. To be fair, British intelligence (MI6) is not well positioned in Central Asia. There are no vital interests for their specialists. Rather, their agents are lagging behind the Americans, Pakistanis, Russians, and Chinese. Today is not the 19th century, and not even the 20th. They don’t have the same power. MI6 has many issues in other regions, more important to London than Afghanistan.

- The US military is leaving Afghanistan. And, according to some analysts, they will try to gain a foothold in one of the republics of Central Asia. Will it be Uzbekistan?

- It seems to me that the US base will not provide any additional security to Uzbekistan. I have already mentioned the capacity of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan and talked about mythical threats from the south. In such circumstances, it makes no sense to offer your territory to foreign military personnel, especially taking into account the fact that ordinary citizens today are not what they used to be. They are active on social media and have already opposed someone's “predictions” about the transfer of American troops from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan. This is unrealistic.