Earlier this week, the U.S. designated three men as members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), shadowy groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And U.S. agents arrested a fourth man in the U.S., charging him with supporting the IJU.
These moves have prompted skepticism about whether the IMU and IJU are in fact real threats, and questions about whether the U.S. is trumping up these charges -- or even selling out Uzbekistan's dissidents -- for the sake of Tashkent's cooperation on the Northern Distribution Network. These are worthwhile questions to be asking, even while there's still too little information to come to conclusive answers.
But if this is a sort of "payment" by Washington to Tashkent, it wouldn't be the first time. Political scientist Eric McGlinchey, in his new book Chaos, Violence, Dynasty: Politics and Islam in Central Asia, discusses how the IMU got on the State Department's official list of terrorist organizations -- ultimately making this week's arrest and sanctions possible:
Seeming quid pro quos... appear to have shaped U.S. relations with Uzbekistan. In the summer of 2000 the CIA began using Uzbek airfields to launch Predator drone missions over Afghanistan. Immediately following the Karimov government's granting of access to Uzbek airfields, the U.S. designated the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) a “foreign terror organization” – a designation Karimov subsequently used to justify dragnet police sweeps for alleged Islamist militants. A State Department official would later confide that U.S. base negotiators fully understood that they needed to “throw Karimov a bone” in return for Tashkent's cooperation on the covert Predator program.
So, whether or not these moves are motivated by the U.S.'s military ties with Uzbekistan, one could argue that the legal basis for them -- the U.S. designation of the IMU as a terrorist organization -- was so motivated 12 years ago.