Friday, November 17, 2006

Remembering "the 'stans"

Jeff Weintraub reflects on the assault on freedom of expression in much of the former Soviet Union.
The pattern is uneven. [...] varying degrees of authoritarian repression have long been pervasive in countries like Belarus and most of the Central Asian republics. ...
(The conception of this post began back in the summer, but other issues seemed more pressing then. It is still a little sketchy.)

Central Asia contains two of the very worst dictatorships in the world. Other states in the region though, while far from being perfect democracies, might be described as 'swing countries'. Take Kyrgyzstan for example. The BBC sometimes carries reports from there by their correspondent, Natalia Antelava. Here are a few things that can be found on their website:
Police in Kyrgyzstan have arrested six people on charges of religious extremism and their links to events in the Uzbek town of Andijan in 2005. The arrests came amid heightened security in the south after shoot-outs between police and alleged Islamists near the border with Uzbekistan.

Police say the six have confessed to roles in last year's events in Andijan, when Uzbek troops fired on protesters. Andijan is close to Kyrgyzstan, and many survivors fled across the border. Most of them live in hiding, afraid of the regular incursions by the Uzbek security services, and their numbers are not clear. Uzbekistan has put pressure on its smaller and more impoverished neighbour, Kyrgyzstan, to send those people back.    ('Kyrgyz police hold "Andijan six"',  2006/07/20)
[..]
A prominent and popular imam has been killed in the south of Kyrgyzstan, in the town of Korasuv in the Ferghana Valley near the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. According to his family and local police, the imam - Rafik Kamalov - was shot dead by Kyrgyz special forces.  But security officials have not confirmed his death.
[..]
In an interview with the BBC, Kyrgyz security officials confirmed that they had killed three men during a special operation on Thursday night and that all of them were members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan - a banned radical organisation. The officials neither confirmed nor denied that Rafik Kamalov, the Imam of the biggest mosque along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, was among them. But family members, who are preparing for the funeral, deny that he belonged to any Islamic group.

For the past month, Kyrgyz security services, often with the help of their Uzbek colleagues, have launched a massive operation aimed at eradicating what the government here calls the serious threat of Islamic fundamentalism. But human rights groups have voiced concern that this label is often used to silence political dissent.    ('Popular Kyrgyz imam shot dead ', 2006/08/07)
[..]
Russian prosecutors say they will extradite to Uzbekistan 13 people facing terrorism charges over the 13 May 2005 Andijan crackdown. The men are suspected of crimes including incitement of extremist acts and murder, a Russian official said. But rights groups say the cases against the men, who they describe as refugees, are fabricated.
[..]
The Russian authorities say they have received a guarantee from Uzbekistan that the 13 men, all ethnic Uzbeks, will not be tortured or sentenced to death.
('Russia to return Uzbek "suspects" ', 2006/08/04)
A later report indicated that Russia had suspended the extradition:
The 13 had earlier appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against their extradition. The Russian prosecutor general's office said it was acting in line with the Court's rules, which prohibit deportation while appeals are pending. (2006/08/15)
Just to note one other thing:
Since the uprising in Kyrgyzstan last year, the new president, Bakiyev, has been less of an ally for the US and has turned increasingly to Russia for support. But at least they are allowing the US to keep the military base at Manas, though at a cost of $150m instead of the previous $2m. (FT, 12 Aug 2006.)

There is another aspect: I remember seeing a documentary a year or two ago called something like "Meet the 'stans", where officials in Tajikistan were struggling with very few resources to control the drug traffic coming across the Amu Darya (Oxus) River. I fail to understand why, when we are prepared to put our soldiers at risk in Afghanistan, we are unable to give more help to countries like this (but see update below).

An invaluable book for background is Ahmed Rashid's Jihad: The rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia, written in 2001. The general paradigm remains the same.
In a region beset with authoritarianism, Niyazov heads the most dictatorial regime in Central Asia, and his personality cult casts even that of Stalin in the shade. ... Already both the Taliban and the IMU have forged routes through Turkmenistan to help smuggle Afghan heroin to the West with the help of corrupt Turkmen officials.
[..]
 'Uzbekistan is leading a region wide crackdown on all forms of Islam that are not state-controlled - repression that is driving entire villages into opposition and forcing religion underground... If a Taliban style threat arises in central Asia, it will be because the dictatorships inadvertently helped to create it.' (New York Times, August 2001)
Update: a report on Channel 4 News this week states that only 15% of Afghanistan's opium production goes north. Most of the smuggling goes through Iran.

1 Comments:

Blogger Skillipedia said...

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12:25 pm, November 19, 2006  

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