The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) appears to have returned to the scope of Uzbekistan’s articulated national security concerns. Between 2003 and 2013, the group did not appear to be capable executing violent operations against the Uzbek state or people in Central Asia. In the wake of the 2001 U.S.-led coalition assault into Afghanistan, the IMU was reported to have been scattered, lacking any commanding leadership, and isolated in Pakistan. Since 2013, however, the group appears to have resumed violent activity in Central Asia.
In May 2013, a spokesman for the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack on a police facility in Balochistan, as well as another attack in Quetta. The language of the statement appears to suggest that the IMU feels these were tit-for-tat attacks, responses to an alleged helicopter attack coordinated by Pakistan that killed several children. Later in June 2013, the IMU claimed responsibility for an attack on government buildings in Panjshir, Afghanistan, in which they were able to infiltrate wearing police uniforms and attack with firearms and grenades.
While attacks have increased in frequency, they are not being done solely by the IMU. The Turkestan Islamic Movement has a history of collaborating with IMU fighters. Three Russian nationals (members of Turkestan Islamic Movement) attempted a bombing on 9 May 2013 in Moscow after allegedly receiving training from the group in Afghanistan. In June 2013, both the Turkestan Islamic Movement and IMU published videos, showing their members armed with weapons and explosives and calling for total jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In August 2013, IMU numbers in Waziristan, Pakistan were reported to have numbered in the thousands. From Waziristan, the IMU can organize attacks, harbor suspected criminals, and recruit alienated or frustrated Central Asians. In March 2014, thousands of IMU fighters were reported to have gathered and settled in Badakhshan province, north-eastern Afghanistan.
Statements made by Uzbek security officials appear to confirm these suspicions, though they appear confident in their ability to neutralize and prevent the spread of the violent organization. Security officials from the National Security Service of Uzbekistan indicate that they are monitoring the movements of the group, and that any movement towards Afghanistan’s northern border with Uzbekistan will be addressed. The IMU is reportedly continuing to engage in drug trafficking in Badakhshan, facilitating the purchase of weapons, transportation, and recruitment of future militants. Uzbek security officials are monitoring travel and transit of Uzbeks leaving and entering the country, and it is quite likely that the newly-implemented biometric visa regime will contribute to this process.
A Tashkent imam calls the IMU militants ignorant and misguided, and lacking in a real connection of identity with their homeland. The association of identity likely has more to do with the fact that the membership of the IMU has become less Uzbek in composition, incorporating Tajik, Afghan, Pakistani, and other nationalities. While the IMU appears to lack popular support among Uzbekistan’s citizenry, the government remains vigilant and prepared to defend against the movement. This indicates that the government of Uzbekistan is a defensive foreign security policy, rather than an aggressive one that would call for pre-emptive strikes against the massing militants.
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