Post-9/11 Security Dynamics in Central Asia

By
Edita Krunkaityte

"No single event has had a more profound impact on the analytical underpinnings of Central Asian security than the rapid collapse of communism more than a decade ago," remarked Mehrdad Haghayeghi, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Southwest Missouri State University, and former Title VIII-Supported Research Scholar, Kennan Institute, in his presentation at the Kennan Institute on 21 January 2003. Haghayeghi identified four internal parameters affecting stability in Central Asia.

According to Haghayeghi, the first parameter is revolutionary Islam. He stated that "because militant Islam is somewhat taken care of, revolutionary Islam tries to fill that vacuum, and this radicalism has the capacity to destabilize Central Asia, if it's not dealt with effectively."

The second parameter to Central Asian security has to do with the challenge of the "deepening crisis of legitimacy." Haghayeghi emphasized that this is "the core of the security problem in Central Asia, because you have five regimes and presidents who are politically bankrupt." One of the contributing factors to this crisis is a concentration of power. Haghayeghi explained that current presidents have managed to "emasculate constitutions in order to give themselves greater power and justify corruption and nepotism."

Economic decline is another important parameter of security in the region. Haghayeghi noted that most Central Asian countries do not collect accurate economic data, which makes it hard to estimate the seriousness of the problem. He stated, "in terms of the numbers being presented, there is a tendency to give out false or unrealistic information." He cited one World Bank report that stated that per capita income in Turkmenistan had risen from $415 in 2000 to $950 in 2001. However, Haghayegi contended, "if you have gone to the region and seen how people live, the discrepancy between the reported numbers and reality is very obvious." He explained that because there have not been any substantial conomic improvements at the household level, most people have lost trust in the transition to a market economy.

The last internal parameter is ethnic conflict, particularly "a rise in Uzbek domination in the region." Haghayeghi explained that the Uzbek domination has been confronted by elites within the other republics who are not willing to relinquish control. He stated that another problem is in Kyrgyzstan, where there is "a growing, highly political division between South and North, which has roots in clan and kinship patterns that dominate Kyrgyz politics."

Haghayegi warned that external factors such as China, Afghanistan and Iran "need not be overlooked." According to Haghayegi, China is the dominating factor in the region, because it started out by trying to create "a buffer zone of stability on its Western flank." China has also managed to take advantage of the weakness of the Central Asian governments. For example, in terms of water and other natural resources, Tajikistan has lost "around 1000 square kilometers to China and Kyrgyzstan has lost around 1300 square kilometers." China, Haghayeghi claimed, wants to become a major player in world energy. It has been aggressively speculating for oil in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan and selling its products in the region. Haghayeghi stated that Afghanistan is "the biggest headache the U.S. has," because the country's drug trade and production have contributed to an overall increase in corruption, thereby affecting the legitimacy of other Central Asian governments.

Haghayeghi talked briefly about Iran and its role in the region. He argued that "the Iranian government wants to see an unstable Afghanistan." Reports show that Iranian intelligence agents are trying to prevent the U.S. from stabilizing the region. Given the fact that Iran is part of an "axis of evil," if the U.S. goes to war with Iraq, the Iranian government might feel that "they're next." Iran is trying to lessen the impact of the U.S. presence in the region through diplomatic and non-diplomatic means.

Haghayeghi concluded that the U.S. presence in the region has had some positive results. The most important fact is that the U.S. has been successful in getting rid of the Islamic militant threat in Central Asia. Also, the U.S. has managed to bring Uzbeks "on board with respect to our presence in Central Asia." However, he continued, "the U.S. presence in the region has had some negative impact." He explained that because of the U.S. presence in Tajikistan, Islamic opposition has been marginalized and there are growing authoritarian tendencies among Central Asian regimes. U.S. strategic ties with Uzbekistan are reinforcing such tendencies and causing "frictions with respect to border demarcation."

One the positive side, Haghayeghi thinks that the promise of the economic assistance could play a role in stabilizing the region. He proposed to "set up an accountability system, so that the money the U.S. gives is spent for the right reasons, which would offset the negative effect the U.S. has had on the region."

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