The ‘Spillover’ Fallacy: Islamic Militants in Central Asia

The ‘Spillover’ Fallacy: Islamic Militants in Central Asia

President Barack Obama's July 2011 deadline for a drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has raised concerns among Central Asian analysts, who worry that links between the Taliban, al-Qaida and Islamist militants in Central Asia could result in a negative spillover effect following the U.S. withdrawal. As if to highlight their fears, the al-Qaida-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) claimed responsibility for a Sept. 19 attack on a military convoy in Tajikistan, which left 25 military personnel dead. And according to Baktybek Abdrisaev, former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States and Canada and currently a visiting professor at Utah Valley University, there are now reports that leaders of the IMU and other militant groups are intermarrying, creating even deeper ties between them.

Proponents of the spillover argument argue that without the United States and NATO in Afghanistan, Islamist militants supported by the Taliban and based out of Afghanistan will be free to launch endless cross-border attacks. The drug-trafficking routes between Afghanistan and Russia, which run through Central Asia, will also expand, further destabilizing already weak Central Asian governments and fueling organized criminal networks. As a result, the whole region risks going up in flames.

According to S. Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, the existing connections between militant groups could well be a sign of things to come should the United States begin to draw down its forces in July 2011. "It shows what is possible," says Starr. "Obviously if there was no restraint across the border, you would be enfranchising Islamic militants." Starr believes that countries bordering Afghanistan would experience "horrific" effects with the expansion of strong radical Islamist movements in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- and that the drawdown will not happen for precisely this reason.

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