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    Central Asia
     May 27, 2005
Remaking Central Asia
By Ramtanu Maitra

Most major media outlets have spelled out with a profusion of details the "exact" events that led to the death of what some claim to have been hundreds of people in the eastern Uzbekistan town of Andijan on May 13. Led by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the world media condemned much-maligned Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov for yet another bloody and ruthless suppression of "public dissent". Yet, all the details so far provided do not explain who the real players were or their end objectives.

It is certain, however, that the puzzle cannot be solved unless the London factor is understood. The answers lie in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Liverpool. The old British colonial establishment, with former intelligence officer Bernard Lewis as its mentor, appears to have set in motion a series of events that will bring endless bloodshed to Central Asia. London's objective would appear to be to keep both China and Russia under an open-ended threat. At this point, there is no one who can better serve this "Lewis Doctrine" than Muslims nurtured in Britain - the Hizbut-Tehrir (HT).

Ferghana Valley's importance
The most significant aspect of the violent incident in Andijan is that it occurred in the Ferghana Valley, a confluence of three former Soviet republics - Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Andijan is located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, where the seed crystal for the March uprising against Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev was planted. Within a span of 48 hours after the uprising began in Osh, Akayev was gone.

Andijan is also about 25 miles east of Namangan, the hotbed of the Saudi-funded Wahhabi form of Islamic extremism. Juma Namangani, now dead, was the leader of the movement that began in Namangan. The Ferghana Valley's 7 million inhabitants make it the most densely populated region in Central Asia. In other words, Andijan is in the heart of Ferghana Valley, and is the key to controlling it.

For years, Central Asian governments have pointed to the valley as a hotbed of Muslim extremists aiming to set up an Islamic state in the region. Largely ethnically Uzbek, the valley is split between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in a confused patchwork of Soviet-era borders that often leave enclaves of one country surrounded by the territory of another. In general, Uzbekistan holds the valley floor, Tajikistan holds its narrow mouth and Kyrgyzstan holds the high ground around. Though the valley mouth is narrow, the actual valley is vast at 22,000 square kilometers (8,500 square miles), and the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains that rise above it are only dimly visible, but they are the main source of the water that fertilizes the valley.

During the Soviet era, the valley was a major center of cotton and silk production, and the hills above are covered by walnut forests. The valley also has some oil and gas. That scene has not changed much. What has changed significantly since the1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, is its integration with the "free world", and that process has made Central Asia economically decrepit and turned it into a hotbed of transnational Islamic militants, controlled and funded by outside forces. Recently, the Kyrgyz media reported of personnel of the country's border control services saying that the illegal entry of foreign nationals and individuals without any citizenship into Kyrgyzstan was on the rise. What is important to note is that these militants were not parachuted out of airplanes: they are coming through Afghanistan and Pakistan. It could very well be a ticking time bomb for India, China and Russia.

Footsoldiers of foreign powers
Apart from various Islamic preachers, two major Islamic groups function in the Ferghana Valley, whose common objective is to change the regimes in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. These are the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the HT. While the IMU openly thrives on violence, the HT is strongly promoted by the United Kingdom, where it is headquartered, as peaceful. But records indicate that that the IMU and the HT work hand-in-hand. Most of the IMU recruits are from the HT, according to Rohan Gunaratna, an expert on world terrorist outfits. Gunaratna claims that Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the US, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian of Chechen origin who has remained active in the Iraqi insurgency against the US occupying forces, were both once members of the HT.

The relationship between the Taliban and the IMU pre-dates September 11. In September 1996, after the Taliban had captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev - long-time adversaries of Karimov and considered the founders of the IMU - held a press conference in the city to announce the formation of the IMU. Namangani, who had served as a Soviet paratrooper in Afghanistan in the 1980s, became the group's leader (or amir) and Yuldashev its military commander. Their aim was to topple Karimov and turn Uzbekistan, and ultimately the whole of Central Asia, into an Islamic state. The Taliban provided them with a place to shelter and train, and to plot against Karimov. It is also said that Yuldashev developed contact with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the two became supportive of each other. Although Karimov is a target of the IMU, in recent months he has identified the HT as the greater threat. Following the Andijan incident, Uzbek authorities again blamed the HT.

Unlike the IMU, which has concentrated its role in Central Asia, with the Ferghana Valley as the focus, the HT is an international Islamic movement. It is headquartered in London, but also has a strong organizational presence in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bradford. The UK group was co-founded by Omar Bakri Mohammed, who went to the UK after being expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1986. The HT's present leader is an information technology professional from the Indian sub-continent, Jalaluddin Patel.

The HT was established in 1953 in Palestine by a well-known religious figure, the judge of the appellate Sharia court in Jerusalem, Takieddin al-Nabahani al-Falastini (1909-1979). According to available reports, the group's first UK-based website was hosted by the London Imperial College - but following complaints to the college authorities, the site was closed down until a new host could be found. The group now posts in its own name as Hizbut-Tehrir.

Although portrayed as non-violent by British authorities, Bakri's links to bin Laden are widely known. Excerpts of a letter to Bakri from bin Laden, sent by fax from Afghanistan in the summer of 1998, were published in the Los Angeles Times. Bakri later released what he called bin Laden's four specific objectives for a jihad against the US: "Bring down their airliners. Prevent the safe passage of their ships. Occupy their embassies. Force the closure of their companies and banks." Many of those who follow HT activities are intrigued that the group is not more discreet. For instance, its website in 2003 carried "A Cry of Imam from the Muslims of Uzbekistan." In that article, the "imam" gave the call "to destroy Karimov" . Similar calls have been issued to oust the Jordanian and Turkish authorities. These are not empty threats. The HT is a huge organization. Some claim it has at least 10,000 footsoldiers in Central Asia. A few thousand more are lurking in Pakistan and Afghanistan. HT also has a strong presence in North Africa.

As one Indian analyst pointed out, Osh and Jalalabad, the cities that spearheaded the regime change in Kyrgyzstan, happen to be HT strongholds. HT is making huge gains in an entire belt stretching from the Ferghana provinces of Namangan, Andijan and Kokand (contiguous to Osh and Jalalabad) to the adjacent Penjekent Valley (Uzbekistan) and Khojent (Tajikistan).

The Lewis Doctrine
Writing for the Jamestown Foundation Journal (Vol 2 Issue 4), Stephen Ulph, in his article "Londonistan", seemed intrigued by that fact that scores of violent Islamic movements remain anchored in London. He writes:
It [London] is also a center for Islamist politics. You could say that London has become, for the exponents of radical Islam, the most important city in the Middle East. A framework of lenient asylum laws has allowed the development of the largest and most overt concentration of Islamist political activists since Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Just ask the French, whose exasperation with the indulgent toleration afforded to Algerian Islamic activists led them to dub the city dismissively as "l'antechambre de l'Afghanistan". They certainly have a point. Many of bin Laden's fatwas [religious edicts] were actually first publicized in London. In fact, the United Kingdom in general seems to differ from other European states in the degree to which it became a spiritual and communications hub for the jihad movement ...
Ulph does not, however, ask why it is that London remains an "Aladdin's Cave", chock-full of Islamic dissidents. Britain is no longer a military or economic power of substance. In order to be an almost-equal partner in the Atlantic alliance, Britain has two important ingredients to offer to the United States: first, its ability to undo the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and parts of the Indian sub-continent through the use of people living in London's Aladdin's cave; and second, its control of world currency movements through the City of London.

The West's policy - in other words, the policy of the Anglo-Americans, as the European Union does not have a policy worth citing - toward the Middle East has long been formulated by Bernard Lewis. The British-born Lewis started his career as an intelligence officer and has remained in bed with British intelligence ever since. Avowedly anti-Russia and pro-Israel, Lewis reaped a rich harvest among US academia and policymakers. He brought president Jimmy Carter's virulently anti-Russian National Security Council chief, Zbigniew Brzezinski, into his fold in the 1980s, and made the US neo-conservatives, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, dance to his tune on the Middle East in 2001. In between, he penned dozens of books and was taken seriously by people as a historian. But, in fact, Lewis is what he always was: a British intelligence officer.

To understand the "Lewis Doctrine", one must read the statement he made in Canada recently while discussing his article, "Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East" (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2005). "During the Second World War, Nazi Germany and the allies had all sorts of odd friends," Lewis said on that occasion. "When [Prime Minister Winston] Churchill was asked in the House of Commons about Britain's new ally, Russia, he replied that if Hitler would invade hell, 'I would find occasion to support the devil'. In this way, there is nothing odd about an alliance between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda." Or, one might be expected to conclude, between London and the Hizbut-Tehrir.

In 1979, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took over power in Iran and the West was in a quandary, Lewis sucked Brzezinski into his notion that "Koranic evangelism" could be a very useful political tool against Russia in the long term. His Time magazine story at the time, "The Crescent of Crisis", ended with the following telling observation:
In the long run there may even be targets of opportunity for the West created by ferment within the crescent. Islam is undoubtedly compatible with socialism, but it is inimical to atheistic communism. The Soviet Union is already the world's fifth largest Muslim nation. By the year 2000, the huge Islamic populations in the border republics may outnumber Russia's now dominant Slavs. From Islamic democracies on Russia's southern tier, zealous Koranic evangelism might sweep across the border into these politically repressed Soviet states, creating problems for the Kremlin ... Whatever the solution, there is a clear need for the US to recapture what [Henry] Kissinger calls the "geopolitical momentum". That more than anything else will help maintain order in the crescent of crisis.
The recent developments in Uzbekistan have all the hallmarks of the same process. This time the objective is to weaken China, Russia, and possibly India, using the HT to unleash the dogs of war in Central Asia. It is not difficult for those on the ground to see what is happening. The leader of the Islamic Party of Tajikistan, Deputy Prime Minister Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda, has identified HT as a Western-sponsored bogeyman for "remaking Central Asia". He said: "A more detailed analysis of HT's programmatic and ideological views and concrete examples of its activities suggests that it was created by anti-Islamic forces. One proof of this is the comfortable existence this organization enjoys in a number of Western countries, where it has large centers and offices that develop its concept of an Islamic caliphate." It is evident that Turajonzoda has seen through this game. But he has little capability to stop the juggernaut once it has been unleashed.

It is not a lack of understanding on the part of American neo-conservatives associated with the Bush administration, but their keenness to use the "Lewis Doctrine" to achieve what they believe is justified that promises untold danger. How important a brains-trust is Lewis to the neo-conservatives? Just read the words of Richard Perle, a leading neo-conservative who remains a close adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "Bernard Lewis has been the single-most important intellectual influence countering the conventional wisdom on managing the conflict between radical Islam and the West."

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)


Blame it on the Taliban (May 21, '05)

The lessons from Ferghana
(May 18, '05)

The US and its 'special' dictator
(May 17, '05)

 
 

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