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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Analysis: Central Asians defy jihad call
Pro-Taleban demonstrators
Taleban supports are calling for a worldwide holy war
By Monica Whitlock in Dushanbe

The call from al-Qaeda for Muslims to join a holy war, or jihad, against the United States has met a mixed response in Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbours.

The leader of the best-known rebel Uzbek group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is based in Afghanistan, has said that his members would fight alongside its host, the Taleban.

Among ordinary people, there is certainly no call for holy war,

But elsewhere, Muslim politicians have said that they would not support any jihad, in line with public opinion.

Uzbekistan is the most populous Muslim country in the former Soviet Union and the biggest in Central Asia.

There is no legal Islamic party, but plenty of Uzbeks think that some sort of more Muslim-style government is the only alternative to what they feel is a corrupt and often brutal one-man regime in Tashkent.

Uzbek rebels

Some more desperate young men, perhaps a few hundred, have crossed the border into northern Afghanistan in recent years.

They have made camps around the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz as guests of the Taleban.

Uzbek Muslim
Many Central Asian Muslims are ignoring the call to arms
They belong to the IMU and their aim is to overthrow Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

The IMU leader, Taher Yuldash, has said his people would fight with the Taleban if need be, and he said those who sided with the United States were traitors - presumably meaning Uzbekistan, which has offered an airfield and air space for US recovery missions.

Given the delicate position the IMU is in, Mr Yuldash's view is not surprising.

He was speaking by telephone from an unknown location.

Tajik indifference

In Tajikistan, an Islamic party operates freely and, according to its leader, Said Abdullah Nuri, it does not support any sort of holy war.

The Tajiks have long fought a civil war themselves.

Many have spent years fighting in mountains and most have had more than enough.

Besides, most Tajiks are suspicious of the Taleban.

They greatly admired Ahmed Shah Masood, the military leader of the anti-Taleban alliance who was assassinated last month.

Among ordinary people, there is certainly no call for holy war, although many think that what the United States is doing is wrong.

Great numbers of Central Asians are devout Muslims, but have no interest in politics or trust in politicians.

Many are hazy about where the United States is: one woman told me it was probably a town in Afghanistan.

Some people are not even sure whether Osama bin Laden is a Muslim or not.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Middle East
In full: Al-Qaeda statement
10 Oct 01 | Middle East
TV station defends Bin Laden coverage
09 Oct 01 | Americas
America on high alert
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
US claims air supremacy
07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden defiant
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
08 Oct 01 | Media reports
Al-Jazeera goes it alone
10 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax scare shakes US
02 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tajiks stare starvation in the face
28 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Uzbekistan
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tajikistan
05 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
The US-Uzbekistan trade-off
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