Turajonzoda Reflects on the IMU’s Origins

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Kofamikhon, Tajikistan — Today I conducted a lengthy interview with Akhbar Turajonzoda, the former Qazi Qalon and Deputy Prime Minister of Tajikistan. Turajonzoda served as deputy commander of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a coalition of democratic and Islamist parties allied against President Rahmon’s post-Soviet regime.

Turanjonzoda offered several interesting insights regarding the origins of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). First, he claims that IMU leader Juma Namgani’s contributions to the UTOs military operations were marginal. At the time Namagani’s Uzbek forces were not much larger than a platoon, and most of them served as ordinary infantrymen during the course of the war. According to Turajonzoda, IMU did not begin to grow in size and strength until after it forged it’s alliance with the Taliban in 1998.

Second, the Uzbek government pressured Tajikistan to expel Namangani and his forces once the Civil War ended. This decision exacerbated the growing rift between the UTO leadership and the foreign fighters from neighboring countries. Faced with these conditions, Uzbek militants like Namangani and hard-line Tajik Islamists like Mullo Abdullo forged relationships with the Taliban in a bid to find new allies and sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

Third, Turajonzoda arguing that IMU initially saw itself as an Uzbek counterpart to the UTO. That is, an Islamist opposition that would use civil conflict and political negotiations in order to establish itself as a recognized political party in Uzbekistan. Despite these early goals, however, Turanjonzoda noted that these objectives changed after the IMU entered into its alliance with the Taliban. This alliance changed them both ideologically and politically, providing them with a model of an armed Islamist movement that could achieve its goals through social mobilization and military conquest, rather than through civil war and political settlement.

Finally, Turajonzoda noted an important distinction between the IMU’s two top leaders in terms of their personality and alignments. Jumma Namangani was more practical and worked more closely with the UTO, while Tohir Yo’ldosh was an ideologue who built bridges with the Taliban even in the midst of the Tajik Civil War. As Yoldosh gained greater influence within the movement, so did his outlook and networks. This was particularly true following Namagani’s death in Mazar-e-Sharif during the 2001 U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan.