Muzaffar OLIMOV

Saodat Olimov, Representative of the Central Asia and the Caucasus journal in Tajikistan

Muzaffar Olimov, Director, the SHARK Center for Scientific Research (Tajikistan)

The impact of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan on the adjacent Central Asian countries cannot be described in simple terms. In the conflict-prone areas (such as the Ferghana Valley) it was very complicated. The valley and Afghanistan have several things in common: they are close neighbors, the population shares the same religion, the ethnic groups are identical (Uzbeks and Tajiks living on both sides of the border), close historical and cultural ties inherited from hoary antiquity. In the last decade when the regions countries were developing as independent states the valley and Afghanistan entered into political contacts. The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) was based in Afghanistan, and the oppositional military-political Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) also had its bases there and actively cooperated with the Taliban. This allows us to speak about the influence of the Afghan events on the conflict-generating zones in the neighboring countries.

We would like to speak about various aspects of such influence in the Ferghana Valley, its effects, and possible development. We shall concentrate on the following issues: economic effects; popular response to the events of 11 September and the antiterrorist operation; cooperation between the Central Asian states and the United States and the international coalition; the way the situation in the valley is unfolding under the impact of the Afghan events (drug traffic and stricter border regimes); radical Islamic groups, and the dynamics of the Islamic factor.

We shall also offer our forecasts and recommendations.

1. The Main Background Factors in the Ferghana Valley

The Ferghana Valley belongs to three states and contains three regions of Kyrgyzstan (Dzhalal-Abad with the population of 0.9 million; Osh with 0.9 million, and Batken, with 0.4 million), three regions of Uzbekistan (Namangan, 1.8 million; Andizhan, 2.2 million, and Ferghana, 1.2 million) and the Sogd Region of Tajikistan with 2.0 million living in it.

Demographic Crisis

The valley is one of the most densely populated places on earth with 360 people living on each of its square kilometers. The Uzbek part is the most crowded (550 people per sq. km), the natality rate there being very high. According to expert estimates today the valley is home to 10 million, by 2010 the number will reach 14-15 million. The population is youngchildren and young people below 18 predominatewhich will preserve the high natality rate in future. Agrarian overpopulation and surplus labor are typical of all parts of the valley.

Economic and Social Situation

The valley suffers from the deficit of land and water, inefficient economic reforms, undeveloped small and medium business, bad investment climate, and non-existent local market created by the governments isolationist measures and tightened control at the borders.

The increasing demographic press makes all resources, land and water in the first place, especially precious. Because of little developed private enterprise the investment efficiency in the regions countries is low.

The economic crisis in the three countries does not allow them to maintain irrigation systems, infrastructures and the quality of soil. Because of the changed transit routes in all three countries the economy and society in the valley are in an extremely contradictory state: on the one hand, industry is disappearing and people are leaving cities, there is relative or even absolute contraction of the educational, medical and scientific potential. Society is going back to its traditions or even archaic customs in the social and economic spheres. On the other, there are market structures and institutions and a promise of democratic changes. There are new social groups determined to support modernization. The inefficient economic reforms go hand in hand with a grave social and economic situation. Shadow economy is highly developed together with corruption, its inevitable companion.

Poverty is spreading across the valley despite varied models of economic and political reforms and their pace. In 2001, people in the Kyrgyz part of the valley (in the south) earned on average $15 a month; in the Uzbek part, $11-12; in the Sogd Region (Tajikistan), $6. The parts of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan situated in the valley are the poorest in the corresponding republics. Under Soviet power the Sogd Region was the richest in Tajikistanin the last few years the standard of living has been declining faster than in the rest of the country. In 2001, the economic situation of 32 percent of the families worsened, the figure for the republic as a whole being 29 percent.1

Poverty is spreading together with contracted possibilities for many people. They can no longer afford good education, medical help and wholesome foodthis means that they have no choice and cannot control their lives. Poverty is destructing human capital, breeding violence and instability, and worsening social relations.

Unemployment is the most important factor and the worst problem in all parts of the valley: employment in the state sector dropped dramatically, private enterprise is developing at a slow pace, part of the industry is idling, there is a gap between the increasing workforce and the local need in it. In the Tajik part of the valley 27 percent of people over 18 have no jobs.2 The figures for the Kyrgyz and Uzbek parts are somewhat lower, yet the problem remains acute among women and the youth. In 2000, the share of youth among the unemployed in the Tajik part was 69 percent. Young people form groups that see no future for themselvesthey are open to asocial influences, totalitarian religious teachings, extremism, and drug pushing.

Construction of Ethnic States

Ethnic states are being built in all Central Asian countries, elites are being formed, ethnic myths created, boundaries delimited, border and migration regimes tightened. The Ferghana Valley that in the past knew no borders is being divided. At all times the local people were uncertain about their ethnic identity, many of them used more than one language. Today, as citizens of newly formed states they have to acquire new civilian and ethnic identities to replace the earlier regional and confessional awareness. Not all people living there are prepared to embrace ethnic nationalism as a dominating ideology. Some of the Tajik- and Uzbek-speaking groups have suddenly discovered that they were ethnic minorities subject to discrimination and are accumulating an opposition potential.

The division of the valley among the three states created territorial disagreements and tension over the use of water and irrigation, transport corridors and communications, and management of the power systems.

For the last ten years Afghanistan has been presenting the greatest threat to Central Asian security: it was the source of drugs, weapons, illegal immigrants, epidemics, refugees, and terrorists. The list is far from complete. The Central Asian countries extended wide support to the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, for example, offered its airport Manas in Bishkek for a military base. Today, 1,200 people from 11 countries of the antiterrorist coalition are stationed there.3 The Aini airport in Dushanbe is used by French aviation for transshipment, while Uzbekistan allowed the coalition to use the large military base and a military airfield in Khanabad.

The events of 11 September lengthened the list of problems the region has to deal with: there are less foreign investments, in the recent months Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been involved in regional cooperation on a much lesser scale and this negatively affected economic growth.

All Central Asian countries have to spend more on defensethe burden is too heavy for their budgets. They need technical assistance, their officers and military specialists need training. The power structures of the Central Asian states are actively cooperating with the members of the antiterrorist coalition. For example, the border guard service of the United States is providing technical and material assistance to the border guards of Tajikistan while the Defense Ministry of France is helping the Defense Ministry of Tajikistan. NATO is planning extensive assistance to the reforms of the army of Uzbekistan. Washington has already increased its aid to Tashkent: USAID has already allocated $37 million; $27 million will be allocated in the 2003 fiscal year.

Today the Central Asian countries are more actively cooperating among themselves and with other states in the field of security and antiterrorist struggle. This cooperation is normally proceeding along three lines. First, within the CIS Antiterrorist Center and the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces. In April 2002, Tajikistan was the scene of the South-Antiterror 2002 training exercises. Second, within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that in March 2002 received a regional antiterrorist structure. The border guard services of its members are engaged in active consultations. Third, there are bilateral military ties with India, China, Iran, and Turkey.

Recently, more and more voices in the Central Asian countries have been saying that when the Taliban is finally destroyed antiterrorist struggle will lose its topicality and the region will be confronted with a new problem: a complicated geopolitical struggle among the United States, Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey in which the local states will be nothing more than hostages.

The public in the Ferghana Valley negatively responded to the events of 11 September in the United States: according to a public opinion poll in the Sogd Region only 1.7 percent of the respondents approved the attacks, the rest condemned them. It should be added that 86 percent of the polled are negative about the antiterrorist action in Afghanistan: 4 percent approve it, 5.7 percent are indifferent, while 4 percent are undecided.4

2. How the Situation in the Ferghana Valley Is Developing under the Impact of Events in Afghanistan

Drug Trafficking and Corruption

The recent events in Afghanistan did not affect, to any noticeable degree, the flow of drugs to Tajikistan. The drug dealers remained unaffected by the antiterrorist operation despite the fact that the coalition had maps of narcotic crops and heroin laboratories in Afghanistan. According to experts of the Drug Control Agency the drug traffic decreased in the early 2002 for technical reasonsin February 2002 it regained its usual level. Heroin prices rose, though.5

Experts predict that in 2002 Afghanistan will produce over 3 thousand tons of opium that will be mainly shipped to Europe (70 percent of heroin used by European drug addicts come from Afghanistan).

The provisional government of Afghanistan banned opium poppy and is trying to buy out plantations of narcotic crops from those who grow them. One cannot expect a radical decline of drug production unless the socioeconomic situation is noticeably improved and the threat of famine removed. This means that the transit territories, the Ferghana Valley among them, will remain within the zone of activity of international drug dealers. Drugs are also grown locally, especially in the valleys Kyrgyz part. Drug growing and drug traffic are extending because of poverty, unemployment and lack of unity among the Central Asian states. The events of 11 September sent the heroin prices up and this extended the territories under narcotic crops and worsened the crime situation. Top-placed bureaucrats, militia and the military especially in the Kyrgyz and Tajik parts of the valley also deal in drugs. Corruption lives on the drug business, state power is undermined and the situation in the valley lacks stability.

Stricter Border Regimes

For many centuries the region remained undividedtoday state frontiers divided it. Economic, cultural, and political ties, the product of the areas historical development, have been ruptured, human contacts discontinued. Visas, humiliation, bribes and confiscation of property at the borders stir up discontent among those who live in the valleys three parts. This discontent became even greater when the Central Asian states closed their frontiers in the wake of 11 September. Afraid of refugees, uncontrolled migration and militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan produced by the rout of the Taliban Tashkent tightened border, customs, and migration control. This affected all those who lived in the valley. There were several tragic incidents at the valley borders: people were killed by land mines that the Uzbek authorities had placed along the stretches of the still undelimited borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (53 citizens of Tajikistan died including children, old men, women and border guards6), on 11 January 2002, Uzbek border guards shot at peaceful Kyrgyz citizens.7 This raised a wave of public indignation and forced the Central Asian leaders to more actively discuss the disputed border stretches and to optimize the border, customs, visa and migration regimes. The January visit of the Tajik President Rakhmonov to Tashkent was designed to settle at least some of the problems. In February the two countries signed in Tashkent an agreement On State Border Checkpoints.8 Representatives of the border guard services of the three countries regularly meet, yet the tension at the borders does not subsidein fact, it is rising.

The sealed off frontiers and steps toward greater isolation in the valley that followed the events of 11 September caused an unprecedented outburst of corruption connected with smuggling. Because of different trends and pace of economic reforms certain goods and agricultural produce are much cheaper in the Uzbek than in the Kyrgyz and, to some extent, in the Tajik part of the valley. Trade turnover is mainly illegal; labor and trade migration has become illegal as well. Today, shady capitals dominate the valley and stimulate corruption. The bureaucrats are rapidly blending with semi-criminal and criminal structures.

Isolation practiced by all countries, lack of harmony between their laws and contradictory practice of their application prevent a free movement of capitals, labor and goods. As a result the local transborder markets are destroyed, and private enterprises within the region cannot develop. This adds to poverty and instability in Central Asia.

Radical Islamic Groups and the Dynamics of the Islamic Factor

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (The Islamic Liberation Party) are two best-known radical Islamic organizations in the Ferghana Valley.

The IMU is a military-political Islamic structure that was connected with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Until recently it was based in Afghanistan from which it invaded Central Asian territory for terrorist acts and armed attacks. This happened in 1999 and 2000. There is information that a large number of its fighters perished at Kunduz under the coalitions bombs. At the same time, Russian military sources and certain Tajik observers reported that the IMU bases at Kunduz, Balkh, and Samangan had remained undamaged. There is no reliable information about IMU leader Juma Namangani: nobody knows whether he is dead or alive. According to Kyrgyz and Tajik experts the IMU has problems with leadership and organizational matters and is struggling for survival. It also lost its financial sources together with the control over drug trafficking in Tajikistan. At the same time the surviving members can form terrorist groups to work in the Central Asian countries. Its social and ideological roots remain in place, therefore the organization may reappear in a different guise.

People in the valley want peacethe war in Afghanistan has not affected this desire. The attitude of the government of Uzbekistan to the Islamist groups has not changed either though the governments pressure lightened. Arrests continue yet much publicized trials stopped.

Late in March Bishkek informed that it was not going to set up an armed formation in the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley in summer 2002 because the threat of terrorism had declined and there was no danger of armed intervention of the IMU in the valley. Today, the governments of the three countries are much less afraid of the Islamic extremists.

Recently Hizb ut-Tahrir has been extending its influence in the valley at a fast pace. This illegal Islamic party is promoting an idea of a single Islamic caliphate without frontiers in which Islamic justice will be reigning. Despite its extremist ideas the party is preaching peaceful changes. It relies on jobless young men. The party is persecuted in all countries yet in the Uzbek part of the valley persecution is especially cruel. This explains why some of the party activists escaped to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to continue their activity. After 11 September the party went deeper underground; it distributed leaflets that called on the people to fight the infidel countries (members of the antiterrorist coalition). The party membership in the valley is rapidly increasing; it obviously prefers to work in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan where the pressure is lighter.

It should be said that on the whole the influence of Islam is increasing: it is fed by the growing dissatisfaction with the political and economic situation and post-Soviet disappointment caused by corruption, skepticism about democracy, arbitrariness of the authorities and their obvious neglect of what people need.

3. Possible Scenarios

An Optimistic (Improbable) Scenario

Tashkents economic programs will finally bear fruit that will considerably decrease social tension in the valleys Uzbek part. The Tajik and Kyrgyz parts will receive roads that will connect them with the rest of the world bypassing Uzbekistan. This will help resolve many economic and social problems, and reduce social tension. The level of unemployment will remain highthe tension on the labor market will be relieved by labor and trade migration from these areas.

The talks on demarcation and delimitation of borders and on the land-and-water and power problems will go ahead. The states will start applying laws related to the customs, border, visa and immigration issues and will work hard to keep within these agreements. This will encourage economic growth, improve the social and economic situation and diminish tension along the frontiers.

There will be no serious changes in the corresponding governments and the nations will start adjusting themselves to new realities in all spheres of their lives.

Drug pushing will remain on the same level, bureaucrats and people from law enforcement bodies will not join the ranks of shadow businessmen and drug dealers because status quo will be acceptable.

Political entities will be working toward lowering the level of confrontation with religious radicalism. Legal Islamic political organizations loyal to the governments will appear in the Tajik and Kyrgyz parts of the valley.

The new geopolitical situation, including the U.S. presence in the region, will force all countries to formulate commonly accepted positions and approaches to regional security.

A Possible Scenario

Lower foreign investments will aggravate the deficit of money and worsen the economic situation. The valleys Kyrgyz and Tajik parts will be hit by a lower level of regional cooperation more than the Uzbek part. Poverty will increase and will send up opposition sentiments in relation to the governments of all countries, both ones own and neighboring. Islamic political movements working under the slogans of social justice will acquire more supporters; Hizb ut-Tahrir will extend its influence. One cannot imagine wide-scale social protests in the Uzbek and Tajik parts, yet the level of tension will remain high. Confrontation between the regime and opposition in the Kyrgyz part will become tenser.

Control on the borders, customs and migration control will tighten, lack of understanding between the countries will increase. Shadow business and smuggling will stabilize the situation and make up for the three states economic failures. Shadow business will maintain the present level of corruption that will even increase together with drug trafficking.

Each of the three countries present in the valley will continue infringing on the valley elites that will side with radical Islamic movements.

Ethnic problems in Southern Kyrgyzstan will probably increase. Religious terrorism of a mixed criminal and political nature will become a constant factor that will lead to contacts with Afghanistan and the IMU remnants.

The states should react together to the challenges and threats created by the water and energy problems, crumbling infrastructure, environmental problems, and the need to preserve security in the region. The governments will be forced to conduct active negotiations and make agreed decisions.

The Worst (and Most Probable) Scenario

Failure of economic reforms in Uzbekistan, continued economic crisis in the Tajik and Uzbek parts of the valley will worsen the social and economic situation and deepen poverty.

Visa regimes, tighter immigration and border control and a better-controlled use of foreign labor in Russia and Kazakhstan will discontinue labor and trade outflow from the valley. The unemployed no longer able to find jobs at home, emigrate elsewhere or start their own businesses because of unfavorable business climate will be drawn into drug pushing and radical opposition movements. One can expect that the IMU will revive, it may ally with other extremist groups pursuing similar short-term aims. Hizb ut-Tahrir may split, one of the parts abandoning peaceful tactics in favor of armed struggle.

Frightened by extremist movements the governments will increase repressions, erect even higher barriers between the valleys parts, and militarize it. The economic and political situation will become destabilized. One cannot exclude ethnic conflicts between the local Kyrgyz and Tajiks and between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks over land and water. The Kyrgyz population may side with the opposition, organize civilian disobedience actions, and even clash with the government forces.

The Ferghana elites believe that they can saddle the volatile situation to redistribute power and gain access to resourcesthis may trigger a social upheaval that will lead to mass disorders and a political crisis in one or all parts of the valley, armed clashes, massive migrations and interference of third countries.

4. Recommendations. What Can Be Done (in a priority order)

What International Organizations and Foreign Donors Can Do

The world community should help with food supplies and partial elimination of poverty together with suggesting promising prospects in this sphere; they can help develop transport and energy infrastructure, strengthen the local media, and fight drug trafficking. The area needs a coordinated program of political pressure, its needs training programs and money to urge the governments to fight corruption.

What the Governments Can Do

The valley needs an agricultural reform that should address long-term tasks topical for all countries related to maintenance of the irrigation system and fighting soil degradation. The investment climate should be improved, small and medium businesses need help. The three countries have to produce an efficient employment program and export of labor; they should decide what to do with the youth and how to support it. They should learn to live in peace with the legal Islamic organizations.

The borders should be delimited after consultations with the local authorities and people so that they understand what is being done in this sphere; the still undelimited stretches should not be protected with landmines; the already placed landmines should be removed.

What the Law Enforcement Bodies Can Do

They should fight terrorism. To do this better the law enforcement bodies of the three countries should contact each other on a higher level, they should exchange information and organize cooperation.

1 See: Dannye oprosa obshchestvennogo mnenia. Ianvar 2002, SHARK, Dushanbe, 2002.
2 Ibidem.
3 See: Azia plus, Dushanbe, 12 April 2002.
4 See: Natsionalniy opros obshchestvennogo mnenia v Tadzhikistane. Vlianie antiterroristicheskoi kampanii na obshchestvo v RT, SHARK, Dushanbe, 2002.
5 See: Interviu s zamestitelem komanduiushchego pograngruppoi RF v RT generalom Ramazanom Dzhafarovym, Azia plus, 31 March, 2002.
6 See: Azia plus, 28 February, 2002.
7 See: Ibid., 17 January, 2002.
8 See: Ibid., 14 February, 2002.

SCImago Journal & Country Rank
 - Advertorial UP - E-MAIL