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The Myth of Rising Radical Islamism in Post-2014 Central Asia

Monday, Dec. 30, 2013

For months the most debated issue in Central Asia has been the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the many destabilizing forces it might unleash on the region—among them trafficking in drugs, arms and humans, but also Islamic radicalism. Local leaders and many analysts predict that a severe deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan after the U.S. departs would encourage Central Asian jihadists who had fled their home countries to return and destabilize local regimes. But assessing the current role of Islam and Islamism in Central Asia, and the evolution of Central Asian jihadist groups themselves, reveals that the threat has been overwhelmingly exaggerated by local authorities, for both domestic and foreign political purposes.

There are sound reasons for concern about Islamic radicalism in Central Asia. Three of the five Central Asian republics—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan—border Afghanistan, and their people share long-standing cultural, religious and linguistic affinities with their Afghan brethren. The risk of jihadist spillover from Afghanistan is compounded by the fact that most jihadist movements once active in Central Asia took refuge in Afghanistan after being expelled by state security forces, and some found safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. ...

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