Islamic warriors in Turkestan
Turkestan had experienced
the worst type of tyranny and oppression under autocratic Khanates of mid
– 19th century. It was despite the rulers and the ruled professing the
same faith. Before the communist ideology swept Central Asians with the
beginning of second decade of the 20th century, Central Asia was simmering
with political discontent.
Soviet system pulled Turkestan out of political,
social and economic stagnation and ushered in the culture of modern industrialised
society. Anybody desiring to know this saga of this metamorphosis would
do well to read the illuminating volume titled Dawn over Samarkand.
Religion in general and Islam in particular remained
an important factor in the social history of Turkestan. Bukhara, now in
Uzbekistan, was once called the second Madina. All the four schools of
Islamic jurisprudence surfaced in the lands of Turkestan.
It is an irony that today some Sunni-Wahhabi theocratic
regimes are dreaming of exporting Islam to Turkestan. Curiously enough,
they want to achieve this objective by fanning the flames of fundamentalist
terror. It is somewhat difficult to convince these regimes that Turkestan
has been the home of three major civilizations known to man viz. Buddhism,
Zoroastrians and Islam. Despite this, the Islamic fundamentalist-terrorist
operatives in a sinister fashion have targeted Turkestan.
Afghan, Pakistani and Arab militants are reported
to have participated in the August 1999 campaign led by the Farghana-based
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) to capture more than 20 villages in
southern Kkyrgyzstan. Earlier, in July, these militants joined the Chechen
contingents that stormed some parts of the tiny Caucasian republic of Dagestan,
sparking off the second TechNet war.
IMU together with the Chechen guerrillas poses
the most potent threat to stability in the region. They have been involved
in terrorist bombings and dashes with security forces within Uzbekistan.
Two separate attacks by its members in February and November 1999 resulted
in more than 40 deaths.
Islam Karimov, the President of Uzbekistan. escaped
a bid on his life by the IMU activists. He says that some of the militants
were trained in Chechnya while others, including one of the top IMU leaders,
Tahir Yuldashev, have taken refuge in Afghanistan. In June, the Taliban
rejected a request of the Uzbek government to extradite Yuldashev.
As militants find ever-safer sanctuaries in the
region, their sphere of operation expands to areas as far north as the
Russian Federation, which has been the target of terrorist attacks in recent
The Uighur Islamists inspired riots in the Baren
township near Kashghar in 1990, and again in Yining town near the Kazakh
border in 1997 resulting in what observers believe “ considerable” though
hitherto unspecified number of casualties. Periodic rioting has been taking
place almost regularly. According to an estimate 45 uprisings took place
in Xinjiang (Eastern Turkestan – now part of China) during April and May
1996 alone in which 65f, 000 people participated and over 1,000 were killed.
The Chinese conceded that the region has become “unstable”.
Chinese authorities are cautious in identifying
the elements responsible for these acts, putting the blame generally on
“reactionary forces in the west, separatists and religious extremists.”
A German expert on Eastern Turkestan, Dr. Fudrun Wacker, while quoting
Chinese officials, told a seminar in Peshawar some time ago that “there
are reports that the american CIA officials in Xinjiang in June 1997. Soon
afterwards, the Uighur Chairman of the province revealed the existence
of what he called the Party of Allah (Hizbollah), a fundamentalist Muslim
party fighting for independence with about 1,600 active members.
Chinese officials believe these militants are
being trained in Afghanistan and use Afghan heroin to fund their activities.
These officials are grappling with the mounting influx of heroin from Afghanistan
which targets more than one million heroin addicts in China, most of them
In the first week of February 1999, a Chinese
delegation led by the head of the Asia desk at the foreign office in Beijing
quietly visited Afghanistan to seek deportation of a number of Uighur militants
wanted by the Chinese authorities in cases of terrorism and drugs. The
Taliban told them. However, that no Uighur citizens were present in Afghanistan.