The potential for radical Islamist militants to appear in Central Asia after the U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is perhaps the biggest fear in the region. But real information about militants' intentions vis-a-vis Central Asia is scarce, allowing speculation, and often fear-mongering, to fill the vacuum. So a new project by the website Registan to investigate the strategy of the biggest such group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is very much overdue. As the site's managing editor, Noah Tucker, put it in the first post on the topic:
It seems sometimes that in all the chatter about the supposedly imminent threat of an IMU invasion of Central Asia the only people not talking about it are the IMU themselves. In contrast, earlier this year the movement splintered for at least the second time to create a special unit in cooperation with the Tehrik-e Taliban’s (TTP) Adnan Rashid to focus on prison-break operations inside Pakistan. In the latest interview Hikmatiy claims, “our jihad is part of the completion of the Hind G’azasi [the (Holy) Conquest of Greater India] that our Prophet foretold and that was longed for by his honored companions [sahoba].” The reference to this particular obscure hadith, popular mostly with the Pakistani jihadi groups, is a sign of just how deeply the IMU has been pulled into the Af/Pak political labyrinth....
[T]he IMU were never really an Uzbekistani group in the first place. In spite of the fact that their experiences in Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley were central to the biographies of the Movement’s founders, their ideas, ideology, tactics and strategies were all formed in the Af/Pak region. Analysts focused on Central Asia usually dismiss or overlook or the fact that Tohir Yoldoshev (Muhammad Tohir Foruq, as the movement prefers to call him) swore an oath of allegiance to Muhammad Omar. The IMU doesn’t overlook it. In Jihod Bayrog’i [The Banner of Jihad], the extended hagiography of their leader who was killed in a suspected US drone strike in 2009, the IMU’s media studio spends only seconds on Uzbekistan and take a few more seconds to exaggerate Yoldashev’s role in the Tajik civil war and then hardly mention Central Asia again. Even in a clip included in the film from of one of Yoldashev’s sermons that outlines his conceptualization of victory in Afghanistan, his vision of the Emirate (interestingly enough) goes to the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and stops there.
Tucker links to a post on the IMU's web page (warning: clicking will put you on more NSA lists than you're on already) which -- despite the group's lack of focus on Uzbekistan -- is only in the Uzbek language. I asked Tucker about that:
The IMU don't just communicate in Uzbek, they also communicate in Russian, English and German, depending on their audience. A lot of the "What's Happening in the Tribal Areas" videos and some of their related material published for Pakistani audiences is in English, for example, because that's the language they use when focusing on Pakistan and trying to justify their presence there to the Pakistani people. You're right that they don't have other language options on their website, but in the "videos" section the Jundullah Media Studios productions are separated into different languages. Their media is scattershot, partly becuase the people who they have handling it often change, their website changed recently, and it goes up and down (online and offline) probably for technical reasons.
But I agree that it's a fair statement that they concentrate their media in the Uzbek language, and then it follows as a fair assessment that Uzbeks are their primary audience. They still think of themselves as Uzbeks, and they are an Uzbek movement, but not necessarily Uzbekistani. Their ideology is now and has been for some time that Uzbekistan has a kaffir, traitor government and that real Muslims should leave Uzbekistan (perform hijra) becuase they cannot practice true Islam there, which means they can't live according to shar'ia. Once they do hijra, they should join the jihad in whatever way they can, because jihad is farz ayn. So basically they've constructed an alternative Uzbek reality, one that's focused on establishing an Islamic state in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After that task would be finished, I'm sure they would be happy to extend it to Central Asia, since theoretically they plan to extend it to the whole of the Muslim world. The issue is the order of their priorities. Whether this order is actually ideological or a pragmatic adaptation to hard realities is another question entirely.
All of this has many implications for the security policies of the Central Asian governments, as well of as their Russian, American, and Chinese partners: obviously a sensible threat assessment is key to developing sensible security policies. So The Bug Pit will be following with interest.