The Post-9/11 Security Dynamics in Central Asia
In a recent seminar at the Kennan Institute, Mehrdad Haghayeghi, Associate Professor of Political Science, Southwest Missouri State, discussed the new security dynamics facing the Central Asian states. He explained that the internal dynamics of security in Central Asia are defined by four main factors; the rise of militant and radical Islam in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; the growing authoritarianism of the Soviet-era power structures which are still present; the failure of economic reforms to produce positive results; and the ethnic makeup of the region. Haghayeghi concluded by pointing out a number of external factors that could also affect the security of the region.
According to Haghayeghi, several factors have contributed to the rise of Central Asian militant Islamic groups. He noted that newly emerging Muslim forces have been denied access to political power through both parliamentary and electoral processes. Exclusionary tactics imposed by several of the Central Asian regimes have increased frustration for Islamic groups in the region and affected the legitimacy of the regimes. Haghayeghi explained that the efforts of the Central Asian governments to promote Islamic culture have been perceived as inadequate or insincere.
Haghayeghi stated that while the U.S.-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan has had a measurable effect on reducing the Islamic threat to Central Asia, "its long-term strategic alliance with Uzbekistan and other republics inadvertently encouraged authoritarian tendencies of the other regimes in the region." He contended that the Soviet-era political power structures concentrate political power in the hands of the ruling elite. In both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the governments have banned political opposition. In other countries, opposition party leaders are subject to intimidation or arrest. Finally, factors such as corruption and nepotism continue to plague efforts to introduce democratic and economic reform and have contributed to strengthening of existing power structures.
Haghayeghi stated that the failure of economic transition has affected regime legitimacy throughout the region. He noted that despite government success in macroeconomic stabilization, the living standards of the average citizen throughout the region have decreased over the last 10 years. Haghayeghi contended that unemployment remains a serious concern for a large portion of the population. He stated that factors such as access to world markets, political elites' attitude toward economic reform, and the extent to which foreign aid is made available are critical for a successful economic transition.
According to Haghayeghi, the ethnic makeup of the region is a key element of security dynamics. He explained that the breakup of the Soviet Union, "resulted in three significant trends: the Uzbek drive for regional hegemony, ethnic de-Sovietization, and an intensification of intraethnic discord." Haghayeghi argued that the intensification of ethnic discord along regional and tribal lines is a worrisome problem for regional security. He noted that economic disparities play a significant role in these conflicts as more deprived regions or clans try to challenge their more wealthy counterparts.
Haghayeghi concluded by briefly discussing the external parameters that affect Central Asian security. He noted that Russia and China have a vested interest in the stability of the region and continue to exert influence in a number of ways. Haghayeghi pointed out that it appears that Afghanistan will continue to pose a long-term threat to the security of the region, as internal strife, drug trafficking and the regrouping of the Taliban and Al Qaida leaders remain serious concerns.