Dialogue  April-June, 2005, Volume 6  No. 4

Challenges of Peace and Stability in Central Asia

Sadikov Mirkomil

Central Asia was rediscovered by the outside world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and with the resulting independence of the states Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan in 1991. A multi –ethnic and multilingual region, it is the home of different Turkic, Persian and European peoples1. In spite of certain inter-ethnic clashes in the early 90’s, Central Asia succeeded in preserving stability with the exception is Tajikistan, where a civil war erupted in 1992 on regionalist lines causing a huge number of casualties? A peace agreement between the government and the United Tajik Opposition was signed in 1997. In the meantime, tension has increased in the Farghana valley, considered the breadbasket of the region, which is divided between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Following independence in 1991, a number of Central Asian countries, particular Uzbekistan, have been made start the process of building more democratic societies, vital economic reforms have been introduced, and states have undertaken limited co-operation around issues of security and the struggle with terrorism.

Stabilisation of Central Asian internal policy and economy depended on many urgent issues. Some of countries in region are accelerate economic and political transition in Post-Soviet area. Political and economic reforms go hand –in- hand in building the stability and security that define prosperous, peaceful societies2. Central Asia is a land-locked region with great natural resources and depended on these commodity exports is much higher than in other countries of the former Soviet Union and comparable to the poorer countries of Latin America and Africa. For example Uzbekistan exports mainly natural gas, gold and other metal products, and also cotton, Kazakhstan metal products and oil, the Kyrgyz republic exports mainly electricity and gold, Tajikistan electricity, aluminium and cotton, Turkmenistan natural gas and oil.

More then 50-mln people in Central Asia live in an area almost of the size of Europe, located in dispersed settlements with the exception of the densely populated Ferghana Valley. Uzbekistan has large population resources. In that country currently lived more than 25 mln people and ethnic Uzbeks consisted 60 per cent of the total population of Central Asia.

In July, 1994 by initiative of Uzbekistan government the Central Asian Union3 was set up by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan with the aim of forming a “common economic area” for the free circulation of capital, goods, and labour and establishing common policies on credit, prices, taxes, customs and hard currency4. The organisation’s name was changed to the Central Asian Economic Union (CAEU) and again to the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation (CACO) in December 2001.

Despite that integration the problems in whole region still remain with border, water, ethnic, and politicisation of religion issues, etc. Presently solving these problems is more urgently needed than to establishing a stable domestic policy and accelerating a political and economic reform in the region. In above-mentioned context, we can raise a question: how is the water issue related to the regional stability?

Water is one of the most politicised of all resources. It is a factor responsible in at least 42 violent conflicts worldwide since the start of the last century, according one scholar.5 As countries push against the limits of water stress, there is rising concern that conflicts could erupt over the resource. From UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to the U.S. National Intelligence Council numerous leaders and reports have warned of this emerging problem.6 

The agricultural sectors of downstream countries Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are almost completely dependent on water from the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya. Southern Kazakhstan is also dependent on the Syr Darya. A majority of the population in all the Central Asia countries except Kazakhstan lives in countryside7.

In Uzbekistan agriculture accounts for 28 per cent of GDP.8 , and irrigation is used in the production of 95 per cent of crops.9 More significantly, in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, one major export crop, cotton, accounts for a large proportion of hard currency earnings. Thus, for both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, water supply is at the heart of their perceived national security interests.

Water will probably not lead to war in the future in Central Asia. But it is an increasingly important factor in the strained relations among the five states and an important contributor to local conflicts. Shortage are already inhibiting economic growth and limiting opportunities in rural areas. Without a greater effort to manage and use their water more efficiently, the Central Asian states will find themselves struggling to improve their economies.

Second important issue in the region is ethnic issue. As mentioned above, the Central Asia is multi-ethnic and multilingual region. Today highly populated Uzbekistan is faced with ethnic problem in Ferghana Valley. Ferghana Valley spread over 100 000 square kilometres, covering parts of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has an overall population of more than 10 mln.10 The area is zigzagged by borders, which were established at the time of the Soviet Union.

However, Soviet policies destroyed the complex balance of ethnic, religious and mutual political relationship. The territories of Uzbek khanates (kingdoms): Bukhara, Kokand and Khiva khanates became parts of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. With the creation of new borders by the soviet power, many people found no place in the formation of their governments. The Ferghana valley, populated primarily by Uzbeks, was divided into parts that went to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan.11 The traditional centres of Uzbek culture –Khujand viloyat (present Sogd region) and Osh viloyat (region) became part of Tajikstan and Kyrgyzstan. Also in the southern part Kazakhstan has a significant number of Uzbeks.12. And the number of Kazakhs in Uzbekistan is not less too. In this case the ethnic policy in Central Asia presently played significant role for establishing firm peace and stability. Uzbekistan must ensure the rights and freedoms of citizen irrespective of their ethnic origin, religious beliefs, social status or political convictions.13 Uzbekistan with a large population and highly developed sense of traditions harbours the ambition of assuming the role of a leader in Central Asia.

The ethnic identity based on region and religion is readily accessible to a much larger population of Central Asia. The Central Asian perception of Islam is also not in consonance with the perception of Islamic states of Pakistan, Talibanised state of Afghanistan, Islamic State of Iran and others.14. Besides ethnic issues, the region also has a radical Islamic influence, which is currently most urgent problem for Central Asian states.

It is true that after having lived alienated with the world of Islam for almost seventy years, the new republics are trying to relocate their Islamic roots but rediscovering Islamic past does not necessarily mean turning to fundamentalism. Religious awareness does not necessarily translate into political behaviour. The intellectual and political alit between religion and politics. The Iranian attempt at equating ethnicity with “common faith” (Islam) in imposing its ties with the republic did not find many takers. Compared to that, the Turkish model of “secular government in an Islamic society” is widely appreciated by the Central Asia. Uzbekistan has faced several violence by extremist radical Islamic movement. The Hezb at Tahrir al –Islam (HTI, or Party of Islamic liberalisation) is one of the main ideological and financial source of Radical Islamic Movement in Central Asia which had been accused by Uzbek government after explosion in Tashkent on 26 February, 1999 and the RIM is listed by the US state Department as a terrorist organisation for the first time in 2000.15 

The goal of The Hezb at Tahrir al –Islam is the creation of an Islamic state (a “Caliphate”) encompassing the entire region of Central Asia. In Central Asia it has been most active in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, although there has been growing evidence of The Hezb at Tahrir al –Islam activity in southern Kazakhstan.

The Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) was founded in Jordon in 1952 by a member of the Kaziat (Supreme Court) of that country, Taqiuddin Nabakhan and is one of the branches of the movement “Brothers of Muslims” which was founded in 1928. 16 The center with the greatest political weight today is that of the Radical-extremist Arab-Muslim Brotherhood, all of whose local branches are theoretically subordinate to the Egyptian leader. Back in the 1940s, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had organized a “Section for liaison with the Islamic World”, endowed with nine committees. This section dealt not only with propaganda but also with organizing communication among other Islamic movements of the Muslim World. Muslim Brotherhood branches were soon established in Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Kuwait, Sudan and Yemen.

The extremist Muslim Brotherhood has also had significant influence outside the Arab world proper. The founders of the Afghan Islamic Movement (Niazi and Rabbani) adapted the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood during their studies at Al-Azhar University in the 1950s. The Organizational charts of the Afghan groups and of the extremist Arab Muslim Brotherhood are similar, as are the seals and emblems, which generally depict the Quran between two swords.17

Muslim Brotherhood literature translated into Russian was distributed in the Central Asia from the Afghan mujahiddin centers in Peshawar. Like Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Arabic political parties that emerged after the 1930s, Hizb-ut-Tahrir took on characteristics of a modern political party, with a program and structures.

Almost from the beginning; Hizb-ut-Tahrir acted as a non-constitutional party, the Jordanian authorities having rejected its application for legal registration, but it still functioned fairly openly and as part of the wider political opposition17a

The party was banned in Syria and Egypt after being implicated in the putative 1974 coup18 and further arrests in 2002, apparently involving three British members of the party. The Party was also banned in other North African countries.

Banning of an activity of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the Middle East led some of the members to set up new chapters in Western Europe. It quickly gained ground among second-generation immigrants and now has important branches in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. With the Soviet collapse it also started working in Central Asia, where it began growing rapidly in the second half of the 1990 s.

The majority – though by no means all –of Hizb-ut-Tahrir members appear to be from the Ferghana Valley region (including the Andijan, Fergana and Namangan provincas of Uzbekistan; the Sughd province of Tajikistan and the Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces of Kyrgyzstan).

Much lower numbers were from the other provinces of the Ferghana Valley – Ferghana itself and Namangan province. The western Karakalpakistan and Navoi provinces had no representatives in the sample19.

In Tajikistan Hizb-ut-Tahrir adherents have overwhelmingly come from Sughd (formerly Leninabad and Khujand) province, its most industrial, literate and secular region20.

Nevertheless, again the mass of members are unemployed youth, although there are also a fair number of students.

Some have suggested that a more radical terrorist group could emerge from Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In 1999 in Uzbekistan a fairly significant group from the Tashkent branch set up its own party, Hizb-an-Nusra (Party of Victory). The details are not entirely clear, but it seems to have been dissatisfied with the propaganda method of political struggle, which had led to the arrest of a significant proportion of the younger membership, but it may also have been ready for more violent methods21.

One option for Hizb-ut-Tahrir to expand its influence is to join with other extremist groups that have similar aims but different tactics. Such terrorist groups are Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and the Islamic Movement of Turkistan22 (IMT). The IMT, however, increasingly became part of the international militant Islamic terrorist movement linked to the Taliban in Afghanistan and operated from military bases, initially in Tajikistan and later in Afghanistan.

After terrorist attack by radical international extremist Islamic groups in Tashkent in February 16, 1999, and in New York Trade Center, USA on 11 September, 2001, Uzbekistan and Western governments had banned extremist party Hazb-ut-Tahrir and IMT, claiming them to be terrorist organizations threatening global security.

U.S. has added the Hizb-ut-Tahrir to its list of international terrorist organizations.

Germany became the first Western state to ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir in January 2003 23.

Denmark government has apparently considered banning the party, which according to media reports has about 100 members24.

In UK, Hizb-ut-Tahrir remains very active, particularly in London and in towns with major Muslim populations such as Birmingham, Bradford and Sheffield. It has been notably successful in recruiting students, although it has been banned from many University campuses, because of its anti-Semitism, alleged threatening behavior towards students of other faiths. Many questions still remain unanswered about Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s organization – both globally and in Central Asia. Its financing and the depth of its international and domestic support is unclear. Its importance should not be overestimated. It has a small, but significant following in four Central Asian states but there is little real popular support for its fundamental long-term aim of building an Islamic state.     

As a consequence of the Radical views the party was banned in many Arabian counties of the world.

The ideological base of the Hazb-ut-Tahrir is Pan Islamism, and its activity consists of putting into practice its underlined teachings. Party ideologists, rejecting the armed methods of struggle, pursue their objective of uniting all Muslims, in the framework of one unitary Islamic government functioning on this basis of Shariat Law, presuming that the believers, particularly, in Central Asia are not ready to understand the idea of ‘Jihad’, party ideologists put before themselves. The task to organized illegal religious propaganda with the help of oral appeals and discussions, distribution of papers and related literature, in other words, the parties are creating a base for peaceful evolution from the secular government to the Caliphate where Muslims will realise the advantage of Islamic government and secular forces will be compelled to hand over the power to the selected Caliphate.25

Yet Islam in Central Asia is not of one cloth. There are major differences in the practice of Islam between the region’s five countries and within each of them. The reasons for this are partly historical and partly cultural. The populations which were Islamicized between the 17th and 19th centuries (most of the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz) do not have the same depth of Islamic tradition and are not so massively committed to their religion or such staunch Muslims as those that have been Muslim since the eighth and ninth centuries (the original population of present day Uzbekistan and Tajiks).26 By mid 1994 there were reportedly 5,000 functioning registered mosques in Uzbekistan as against less than 100 in 1987 and some 300 in 1988.27 

President Karimov had from the early stages of his presidential career become obsessed about the potential threat of radical Islam to the country’s stability and his economic reforms and explained in a book he published in Uzbekistan in 1995. “We support the idea that religion should accomplish its role in introducing the highest spiritual, moral and ethical values and in forming a part of the historical and cultural heritage among the population”. Yet, “We will never allow religious slogans to be… a pretext for intervention in politics, economy and legislation – because in this we see serious potential threat to the stability and security of our state”28 another serious problem confronting the governments of the region and bring destabilization of region is drug trafficking and use of narcotics. The tremendous growth of opium production in Afghanistan in the 90s made Central Asia one of the important link in the trafficking of drugs to the CIS and Europe and at the same time resulted in their direct sale in his region. The transit of narcotics through the states of Central Asia, along with other factors, created an atmosphere of crime, considerably increased corruption in spite of the opinion held by various researchers that Central Asian territory is not the main conduct in trafficking of narcotics from Afghanistan and Pakistan and that a large amount of narcotics (upto 70%)29 goes through the territory of Pakistan and Iran. Nevertheless, the quantity which transits through Central Asian counties is also significant. In fact, due to the illicit trafficking of narcotics of one time the image of Afghanistan and Tajikistan suffered badly in the international arena and more so amongst other Central Asian countries and the CIS.

In the last five years, the most volatile situation turns out to have been over border issues between Central Asian states.

Turkistan (presently Central Asian) borders had been divided by Soviet rule in 1920. The Turkistan, populated primarily by Uzbeks, was divided into parts that went to five Central Asian republics. The region’s border problems have never been raised since 1991. Presently that issue is one of the urgent problem for Central Asian countries too.

The strengthening of border regions, together with the failure of the Central Asian states to reach agreement on the delimitation of common frontiers, has circumscribed the movement of goods and people, thereby disrupting traditional patterns of commerce and in addition severely limiting cross-border trade Increased border controls have subjected travellers and trades to extortion and harassment by customs officials and border troops, leading to periodic rioting and the demolition of customs posts.30

In September 2002, President Karimov and Nazerbayev succeeded in demarcating the disputed areas of the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan frontier, finalizing the border delimitation between the two countries Uzbek-Kyrgyz border delimitation agreement was signed in 2000.

In October between Uzbekistan and Tajik over 80% percent of the shared frontier had been delimited.31 Between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan border delimitation agreement was finalized in November, in 2004 when the both state relations, after two years, become closer.

From the above discussion it emerges that there are many challenges to stability in Central Asia. Also there is little doubt that security and stability in Afghanistan is of paramount importance to the stability of countries in Central Asia. If we focus on regime stability, there are almost certainly more effective alternatives to the rather unsophisticated religious policy selected by the Central Asian presidents.

Also increasing of drug traffic from Afghanistan through Central Asia is one of the serious and urgent problem in Central Asian states.

To judge by the growing list of disputes and tensions among Central Asia States, the greatest threat to the region’s security and stability comes not from Afghanistan, Russia or Europe, but from within the region itself.

For Central Asia it means that there are two scenarios for the future. Either we will become an arena of rivalry and clashes of interests – then we will repeat the destiny of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Or a new order of relationships, new mechanisms and new techniques for political and military-political alliances, will be developed on our territories.

Some more time will be required for intra-regional problems. Various experts assess the time needed for the economic transition in the region to be up to 10-25 years. During this period, which should be considered the first stage of transition, the distribution and privatization of property will be completed and the new rules of the economic game will be established. The time needed for this is different for each country. In Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and possibly in Tajikistan it will take up to 2010. For Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan the time needed will be significantly longer, even if a change of leadership and economic direction occurs in the near future.

Presently the bilateral and regional initiatives to meet this new threat to the Central Asian states are encouraged. It is imperative to establish a network of regional institutions to address critical issues like ethnic relations, cross-border terrorism, drug traffic, environmental degradation, etc. This is likely to further cause of regional security and integration.


     1.   Russian, Ukraine, Belarusian, Greece, German, Poland, Israeli and etc., European nations living in Central Asia.

     2.   Helsinki Monitor. Quarterly on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Netherlands –2003. P.234

     3.   Helsinki Monitor. Quarterly on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Netherlands –2003. P.255

     4.   For excellent survey of the origins and main directions of the CAU and the CAEU, see N.A. Ushakov “Tsentralnoaziatskoe ekonomicheskoe soobshestvo”, in Protsescy integratsii na postsovetskom pronstranstve: tendentsii I

     5.   Peter Gleiek, “Water Conflict Chronology 2000”, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment of Security, 2000.

     6.   Sandra L. Postel and Aaron T. Wolf, “Dehydrating Conflict”, Foreign Policy, September/October 2001, also see “Central Asia: Water and Conflict”, op.cit.

     7.   In 1987, 42 percent of the Kazakh population, 52 percent of the Turkmen population, 58 per cent of the Uzbek population, 60 percent of the Kyrgyz population and 67 percent of the Tajik population lived in the countryside. See Central Asia: Water and Conflict ICG Asia Report No.34 (Osh/ Brussels) 2002 CA: New Economic Tendencies, Russian Academy of Science, p.21.

     8.   Human Development Report, UNDP (Tashkent, 2000), p.15.

     9.   Philip Micklin, Managing Water in CA, p.55.

   10.   Helsinki Monitor. Quarterly on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Netherlands –2003. p.309.

   11.   Dialogue. Quarterly journal, No.2, New Delhi 2004, p.108.

   12.   Chimkent region and Turkistan city was territories of Uzbek khanates in 19th century and from Soviet policies this territories became part of Kazakhstan.

   13.   Islam Karimov, Building the future: Uzbekistan – Its Own Model for Transition to a Market Economy (Tashkent, Uzbekistan: Uzbekistan, 1993), p.18.

   14.   Contemporary Central Asia Journal, V-VI, No.1-2, New Delhi 2002, p.18.

   15.   See Vitaly V. Noumkin, “Militant Islam in Central Asia: The Case of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, University of California, 2003.

   16.   Dialogue, Quarterly Journal Vol. 6, No. 2, October – December, New Delhi, 2004, p. 118.

   17.   Radical Islam in Central Asia (ICG Asia report N58.- Osh / Brussels – 2003, p. 2.

17a.   Ibid.

   18.   See Shereen Khairallah. “The Islamic liberation party: Search for a lost ideal”.- Vision and Revision in Arab Society 1974, Cenam Reports ( Beirut, 1975, Pp. 87-95). Vision and Revision in Arab Society 1974, Cenam Reports ( Beirut, 1975), Pp.87-95

   19.   The figures are calculated on the basis of arrest records gathered by the Memorial human rights organization, based in Moscow . See ICC s Asia Report N58, Osh /Brussels – 2003.- P.19.

   20.   See ICC s Asia Report.- N58.- Osh/Brussels – 2003. – P.19.

   21.   See Bakhtiyar Babadjanov. “O deyatelnosti Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami v Uzbekistane“. In Malashenko and Olcott (Eds.), Islam. – Pp. 164-165.

   22.   ICC s Asia Report.- N58.- Osh/Brussels – 2003. – P.20

   23.   ICG Asian report ... P. 11.

   24.   Associated Press.. 14 March 2003.

   25.   Bakhtior Babajanov, Religious – opposition groups in Uzbekistan // religious extremism in Central Asia, problems and perspectives. Materials o the conference of Dushanbe, 25 April 2002, p. 43-63.

   26.   Helsinki Monitor Quarterly on Security and cooperation in Europe. Netherlands 2003, No. 3, p. 242.

   27.   Dimitry Trofimov, “Friday Masques and their Imams in the former Soviet Union”, Religion, state and society vol. 24, 2/3, Sep. 1996, p. 217.

   28.   Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan on the threshold of the Twenty-first century, Richmond (Surrey), 1997, pp. 25-26.

   29.   Dialogue, Quarterly Journal of Astha Bharati , vol. 6, No. 2, New Delhi, 2004, p. 112.

   30.   Alisher, Khomidev, “Kyrgyz-Tajik Border Riots Highlights Building Inter-Ethnic Tension in Central Asia”, Eurasia Insight, 8 January 2003.

           Also see Helsinki Monitor. Special Issue Central Asia: Aspects of Security and Stability, Netherlands, 2003, No.3, p.261.

31.Hecati Polat, Boundary Issues in Central Asia, NY: 2002, pp.48-59.