Central Asia: Pay To Play

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March 12, 2011: As the snow melts, Islamic radicals have been detected moving around in the Fergana Valley. This area is one of the most agriculturally productive, and densely populated, in the region. Portions of the valley are shared by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and has long been an incubator of Islamic radicals, and ethnic disputes. Many of the Islamic radicals in the valley and Tajikistan are from the IMU (Islamic Union of Uzbekistan), which has been active since 1991, mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Because of the growing corruption and poor government in the three countries that share the valley, the ethnic tensions and government corruption have given the IMU plenty of recruits and support.

While Islamic radicalism is declared the major threat by Central Asian governments, the real problem is corruption and bad government. These problems provide Islamic radicals with an opportunity (to promise clean government via a religious dictatorship.) Experience elsewhere (like Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan) has shown that this approach doesn't work. But Central Asians are desperate for some relief, and this gives the Islamic radicals some traction.

Kyrgyzstan changed to a parliamentary form of government, to eliminate the threat of a "president for life" problem. Elections were held last October, with the new government formed after much bickering. The name of the country, Kyrgyzstan, means "Land of the 40 Clans." Democracy advocates, largely an urban minority, have not been able to get most people to away from a "clan first" mentality. Meanwhile, the drug gangs have reached key officials. The Drug Control Agency has been abolished, and that led to a 90 percent reduction in drug seizures. Government corruption, in general, is on the rise. Kyrgyzstan has long been considered one of the most corrupt nations on the planet.

Russia continues its energetic diplomatic, intelligence and police efforts to interrupt the flow of heroin from Afghanistan, via Tajikistan, then via Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, into Russia. These drugs are killing at least 30,000 Russians a year, and is a major cause of the spread of AIDS there as well. Russia believes that a quarter of Afghan heroin production (90 percent of the world total) is sold in Russia. Thus Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan have formally united to coordinate their anti-drug efforts.  This anti-heroin campaign has Russia being more helpful to the NATO effort in Afghanistan (like allowing combat vehicles to be shipped via rail through Russia.) The Central Asian nations, and Russia, are concerned about plans by NATO forces to withdraw from Afghanistan in the next four years. The fear is that the drug gangs will take over, as they are the wealthiest force in the country, and cash is a mighty weapon. Despite this, Russia has had increasing success in Tajikistan, with local police and border guards catching more drugs headed for Russia, and halting more drug refining chemicals being smuggled into Afghanistan.

Kazakhstan, with the help of the United States, has completed the removal of 13 tons of weapons grade uranium and plutonium (enough to make nearly 800 nuclear bombs) to a secure storage site (and eventual conversion into fuel for nuclear power plants). Kyrgyzstan is apparently content with the new deal (negotiated eight months ago) for the continued use of Manas air base by NATO forces. The U.S. has been operating there for a decade now.

 

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