Two separate terrorist attacks rocked the international airport in Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, last week, killing dozens. On Sunday, the Pakistani military launched a long-delayed ground assault into its tribal regions in an effort to root out the militants that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif now calls a threat to “the sovereignty of the motherland.”
Pakistan has for years been locked in conflict with the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the TTP, a homegrown Pakistani group with links to the Afghan Taliban. But the Pakistani military’s initial statements on its operations in the tribal areas this week emphasized that among the more than 100 militants killed in air strikes preceding the ground assault, “most of those killed are Uzbeks.” Indeed it was a group with Uzbek origins, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), that claimed some of the credit for the Karachi airport attack, and the Pakistani military now appears to be targeting the group.
Alongside the TTP, the Pakistani government’s main domestic adversary, the IMU has also been battling the Pakistani military for a number of years. The IMU was first formed in the late 1990s by Uzbeks based in Northern Afghanistan with the intent of overthrowing the Uzbek state and installing a caliphate in Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley, which also extends to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. If the IMU’s concerns at the start were not strictly local, they did not explicitly extend to South Asia. So why has the IMU taken on the Pakistani military, far from its own home turf?