The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has a long reach, but can it reach across the wide expanse of Central Asia? The thought of Central Asians fighting for the caliphate— particularly in Uzbekistan, the most populous of Central Asian countries—makes US policymakers and Eurasia watchers uneasy, but the complex relationship between Islam and the governments in Central Asian countries is rarely fully explained in the many articles on the topic today. Despite fears to the contrary, ISIS is unlikely to succeed in gaining popularity in Uzbekistan because of the state’s institutionalized cooptation of Islam and President Islam Karimov’s ruthless squashing of dissent.

At first glance, Uzbekistan seems like the perfect place for ISIS’ brand of Islamic extremism: it hosts a Muslim majority; it has relatively low economic development; and it is home Karimov, who has held office since 1991. Additionally, 34.1 percent of Uzbekistan’s population is under the age of 14. All face bleak job prospects and enjoy few social freedoms. Many writers have also argued that ISIS will be able to gain a foothold in Uzbekistan because of the rise of Islamic piety, the “security vacuum” in the Fergana Valley, and events such as the high-profile defection of Col. Gulmurod Khalimov, a US-trained commander of Tajikistan’s special operations police, announced in an ISIS-branded video last May. However, the state’s management of Islamic life and Karimov’s proven propensity to suppress dissent has historically served to limit the growth of Islamic extremism in Uzbekistan.

Religious piety has indeed grown in Uzbekistan since the universal atheism of the Soviet Union, but its development has been effectively managed and coopted by the state. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Uzbek government began explicitly creating a unique national identity that heavily incorporated Islam, and the government became a source of moral authority. Moreover, it built on the Soviet tradition that kept Islam directly under the purview of the government. For instance, the Committee for Religious Affairs decides which religious groups can or cannot be registered in Uzbekistan and has led a number of Muslim civil society groups to be blacklisted or classified as criminal organizations. Additionally, Uzbekistan’s Muslim Spiritual Board, also known as the Muftiate, holds great sway over the country’s Islamic leaders.

At the same time, in the late Soviet period, there was a marked increase in underground activities by Islamic activists. This activity expanded in the early days of Uzbekistan’s independence and it was from this milieu that the radical groups in Uzbekistan like Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan emerged, which is likely one of the reasons for Karimov’s wholehearted maintenance of the recalcitrant government-run institutions that control Islamic life in Uzbekistan.

Alongside the institutionalization of Islam in Uzbekistan, Karimov regularly accuses non-extremist activists of radicalization as a means of intimidating them and dissuading potential dissidents from speaking up. He cracks down on these extremist groups, filling up his jails with their adherents. At the same time, any sign of unofficial civil and religious groups gaining popularity fuels government suspicion of any Islamic voices outside official circles. In most cases today, false charges of extremism are lodged against members of independent-minded religious groups. This can be seen most clearly in the case of Rustam Klichev, a popular imam who was sentenced in 2004 to fourteen years in prison on charges of religious extremism.

For good and ill, the security services of Uzbekistan are not incompetent and they have by and large kept a careful eye on unapproved Islamic groups, extreme or not, in the country. The instance of the Andijan massacre in 2005 illustrates an extreme government response to civil society groups gaining too much power and defying government oversight. While the details of the violence are debatable, as many who were present hold that the crowd first opened fire on security forces, the incident exemplifies the tense relationship between religious and civil society, and the Karimov government.

Ultimately, the type of Islamic radicalization that leads to an ISIS foothold is not likely to grow in Uzbekistan based upon the government’s institutionalization and management of Islam and Karimov’s demonstrated ability to squash dissent in civil society. As long as the government appropriates Islam’s moral authority for itself, and then manipulates that authority to its own benefit, citizens will be more preoccupied with keeping themselves out of the government eye than cultivating radical sentiment and pledging allegiance to extremist groups such as ISIS.

Renee Slawsky is an intern in the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.