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Labor migration to Russia which until recently provided for 50 percent of GDP in Tajikistan; 33 percent, in Kyrgyzstan; and 15 percent, in Uzbekistan was an important factor averting social explosions. However, the devaluation of the ruble in and a decline in the demand for labor in Russia have sharply reduced this source of income, which in turn has led to a serious deterioration of the social situation, especially in Tajikistan.

The fourth critical factor threatening the statehood of countries in the region is the existence of personalized sultanistic regimes ingrained in the clan systems that determine the intra-elite network configurations.


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The two key countries in the region—Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan—have not seen a single power change cycle over the post-Soviet period. The existing political institutions in both countries are closely linked with the outstanding personality of their presidents. However, due to their aging, change of supreme power will be soon on the agenda, which may cause exacerbation of inter-clan conflicts of the elites and further political destabilization. Fifth, there are serious interstate conflicts over water resources between countries located in the upper reaches of rivers Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and those lying in the lower reaches Uzbekistan and less so Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

These conflicts hinder cooperation, including joint struggle against security threats. Sixth, clashing interests of powers involved in the New Great Game for influence in Central Asia Russia, the United States, China, the EU, and some Islamic countries may aggravate security threats or, at best, reduce to naught their support for regional countries in countering various challenges. The aforementioned external threats from radical Islam emanating from Afghanistan and some other Middle East countries, exacerbated by numerous domestic problems, clearly indicate there is a certain crisis in the secular statehood model that took shape in Central Asia in the post-Soviet period.

The process of Islamization lasted for centuries and was not completed before the establishment of the Soviet regime. Remarkably, there was a clear-cut distinction between the settled peoples Uzbeks and Tajiks that were strongly influenced by Islam and the nomadic groups Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz and the Turkmen who were less impacted. This distinction is still valid as the problem of religious extremism is particularly urgent in countries with settled populations and areas of compact settlement in nomadic states southern Kazakhstan and southern Kyrgyzstan.

After Central Asian countries got independence their elites started actively supporting what they considered politically acceptable versions of Islam, thereby trying to create national forms of this religion that would legitimatize existing political systems of secular states. Today the situation in Tajikistan is the worst in terms of instability and the influence of radical Islam.

Secular Statehood Challenged by Radical Islam

Among the specific negative factors is its proximity to Afghanistan, a very complex domestic socio-economic situation, and the persisting destructive consequences of the civil war that took place in the first half of the s. The most blatant incident occurred in when a riot police colonel, Gulmurod Khalimov, deserted his unit and joined ISIS.

A military mutiny headed by Deputy Defense Minister Maj. Abdukhalim Nazarzoda occurred in the fall of The official authorities also attributed this to the influence of radical Islam. The central government of Tajikistan fails to ensure control over some of its territories such as Gorny Badakhshan. Excesses in the struggle against Islamism may also be conducive to the diffusion of radical Islam. Such actions as the mass closure of mosques, the introduction of a strict dress code contradicting Islamic traditions, and the banning of the moderate Islamic Revival of Tajikistan party may consolidate the radical Islamic underground.

Kyrgyzstan is also subjected to serious threats.

Fragile Central Asia

As the Batken war bore out, Kyrgyz government agencies are traditionally weak and were further weakened by two revolutions in and in Radical Islamism presents the biggest threat in the south of Kyrgyzstan, especially within the large Uzbek diaspora. The situation in this area is complicated by an acute ethnic conflict between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks which led to pogroms in The situation in Turkmenistan has been traditionally considered one of the most stable in the region as the above statehood ratings show.

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Nevertheless, it seriously deteriorated in , after ISIS had penetrated areas adjoining the Afghan-Turkmen border. The country does not have a strong army to protect its borders nor can it request military aid, for instance from Russia, as this would contradict the concept of neutrality.


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  • The domestic situation leaves much to be desired, too. If one goes by the abovementioned numbers of militants in Syria and Iraq counted in terms of militants per one million of the population , Turkmenistan ranks first in the post-Soviet space. In , the IMU staged massive terrorist attacks in Tashkent. Islamist propaganda and terrorist activities today are growing in Uzbekistan against the backdrop of an aggravating socio-economic crisis.

    Uzbekistan is second after Russia in the post-Soviet space in terms of the number of militants who are fighting in Syria and Iraq. The problem of the growing religious extremism in Uzbekistan is further complicated by its clan policy. During the post-Soviet evolution, the Samarkand clan the president himself belongs to it and the Tashkent clan in charge of the economy came to power in Uzbekistan. Many experts believe that the Fergana clan has traditionally used the threat of Islamic extremism to increase its influence. The aforementioned inter-clan alignment of political forces is highly important as the lingering power inheritance problem may sharply aggravate the struggle between clans.

    Two regions of Kazakhstan largely determine the overall situation with radical Islam in that country. Its recent revival in this area has been accompanied by the emergence of its radical forms.

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    A no less complex situation has been taking shape in western Kazakhstan. Riots in Zhanaozen in revealed tensions which, although not caused by the Islamic factor, may facilitate the growth of radical Islam in this complex situation.

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    The threats to secular statehood in Central Asia are substantial, but its countries have the potential for countering them. It is these local cultural traditions of Islam that are one of the main targets for Islamic radicals denying national forms of Muslim religion and culture.

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    Central Asian Sufis primarily the great Uzbek teacher of the Soviet era Muhammadjan Hindustani actively countered the spread of radical Islamism Salafism and Wahhabism. The potential of the traditional legal Hanafi School should not be underestimated either. It is one of the four Orthodox Sunni religious schools of jurisprudence, whereas radical Islamism Salafism is linked with the Saudi-adopted Hanbali School in the radical Wahhabi interpretation.

    The development of traditional Islam and the consolidation of the Hanafi School as officially recognized for instance, in Tajikistan is a resource for fighting radicalism along the Islamic path of development.

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    It should also be emphasized that Central Asian states have positive historical experience in modernizing Islamic ideology, which may well be used in current conditions. The late 19th and the early 20th centuries saw the emergence of the Jadid ideology Young Bukhara and Young Khiva movements, etc. It was introduced by Muslim liberal reformers in the regions that were in the lead of disseminating such ideas.

    The Soviet modernization heritage also facilitated the preservation of secular statehood.

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