Silkroad Papers and Monographs

Tuesday, 01 November 2005 11:52

Kyrgyzstan: The Path Forward

By Niklas L.P. Swanström, Svante E. Cornell

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By Shirin Akiner
Silk Road Paper
July 2005

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2005 Akiner CoverExecutive Summary

I was the co-director of a NATO Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) on “Global Security Challenges in Central Asia: Impact of Aggressive Religious Extremism and Terrorism on Central Asian States”, to be held in Tashkent 26-28 May 2005. The event was aborted on 18 May, following the decision of NATO Council to ‘postpone indefinitely’ this undertaking. The decision was taken in reaction to reports of violence in Andijan on 13 May.

Canceling the project at this late stage meant that there were organizational details which had to be resolved in person. Accordingly, I went to Tashkent 21-29 May (using the air ticket that had been purchased previously) to attend to these matters. When I was in Tashkent, I made time to visit Andijan. This report is based on my findings there.

My main reason for going to Andijan was to try to understand what had happened on 13 May, as I found the media reports confusing and inconsistent. I had good access in Andijan and was able to visit important locations (e.g. hospital, prison, cemeteries) and to speak to a wide range of people. I do not pretend to have definitive answers, but my tentative conclusions are as follows:

o The death toll was probably closer to the government estimate (i.e. under 200 deaths) than to the high estimates (1,000 and above) given in media reports.

o The action was initiated by armed, trained insurgents, some of whom came from outside Uzbekistan.

I did not find indications that the action was driven by religious or socioeconomic demands. It seems likely that the motive was political, intended as the opening phase of a coup d’état, on the lines of the Kyrgyz model. The choice of 13 May was, I believe, significant: it was a Friday, the main day of public prayer, and the insurgents appear to have believed that they could rally popular support by linking their action to a religious cause, underlined by the freeing of imprisoned members of the banned Islamist Akromiya movement. This did not in fact happen. I suspect that this incident was not an isolated occurrence, but part of a power struggle that will continue for some time to come.

The international reaction to the Andijan violence was largely shaped by sensational media reports which portrayed the incident as the deliberate massacre of innocent civilians. Very little mention was made of the fact that the insurgents were armed and that they had quite clearly planned the event as a military operation.

In Uzbekistan, some people supported the condemnation of the government by Western sources, but others (from a variety of backgrounds) felt that it was unjustified and opportunistic. It is likely that Uzbekistan will now review its foreign policy priorities. The result will probably be greater emphasis on relations with Russia and China, possibly also with other countries such as Iran and India. It seems likely, too, that participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will receive new impetus. Internally there will probably be a crackdown on human rights activists and NGOs.

By Niklas L.P. Swanström, Svante E. Cornell, Anara Tabyshalieva

June 2005

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By Svante E. Cornell, Niklas L.P. Swanström, Anara Tabyshalieva, Georgi Tcheishvili

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By Jacob Townsend

June 2005

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2005GCA-coverSilk Road Paper

By S. Frederick Starr

March 2005


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Executive Summary

Afghanistan is approaching a turning point. Security is increasing, institutional renewal is progressing, the economy is growing, and an open political system is taking root at both local and national levels. It is no exaggeration to declare that Afghanistan is emerging as the first major victory in the international war on terrorism. But victory should mark not just an end—in this case to civil chaos – but also a beginning. To now, America has scarcely considered what further vistas victory may open, let alone how it should respond to them. This is the urgent need of the moment.

This paper proposes that progress in Afghanistan has opened a stunning new prospect that was barely perceived, if at all, when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. This prospect is to assist in the transformation of Afghanistan and the entire region of which it is the heart into a zone of secure sovereignties sharing viable market economies, secular and relatively open systems of governance, respecting citizens’ rights, and maintaining positive relations with the U.S..

The emergence of this zone, referred to herein as “Greater Central Asia,” will roll back the forces that give rise to extremism and enhance continental security. It will bring enormous benefit to all the countries and peoples of the region, and, significantly, also to major powers nearby, notably Russia, China, and India, At the same time, it directly promotes U.S. interests by serving as an attractive model for developing Muslim societies elsewhere. Thus, the emergence of Greater Central Asia will open grand vistas that defy the usual zero-sum thinking.

Many of the greatest threats to Afghanistan today are regional in character:

  1.  Instability exists to the east and southeast, and could arise from countries to the west or north if evolutionary processes are thwarted there or if any single outside power expands its influence and control in the region at the expense of a reasonable balance among them. Any such instability is bound to involve global powers.
  2. Also, many of the domestic challenges facing Afghanistan, including issues of security, governance, economics, and culture, are regional in character, and not purely national.

If significant foreign and domestic challenges facing the new Afghanistan are regional in scope, so are the solutions. Only a regional approach will enable Afghanistan to take advantage of the many commonalities and complementarities that exist between it and its neighbors.

The major potential engine of positive change for Afghanistan and its immediate and more distance neighbors is the revival of regional and continental transport and trade. The arrangements that make possible such trade exist only in embryonic form today.

To minimize the threats and maximize the potential, the U.S. must adopt a strategy very different from that which guided its forces in 2002, one that is framed in terms of long-term objectives rather than immediate needs. These objectives include:

1.  Advance the war against terrorism and terrorist groups, building U.S.-linked security infrastructures (including necessary U.S. basing arrangements) on a national and regional basis, basing these on perceived mutual interests, and in such a way that the U.S. can use its presence there to respond to crisis in proximate regions such as South Asia and the Middle East.

2. Enable Afghanistan and its neighbors to protect themselves against radical Islamist groups, both foreign and domestic.

3. Assure that no single state or movement, external or internal, dominates the region of which Afghanistan is a part, and those resources which are its economic base.

4. Strengthen sovereignties by continuing to develop the Afghan economy and society and by strengthening trade and other ties between Afghanistan and its neighbors in the region.

5. Foster open, participatory, and rights-based political systems that can serve as attractive models for other countries with Muslim populations.

To pursue these objectives the U.S. should:

1. Adopt a “post-post 9:11 strategy that realigns all existing programs in Afghanistan and its neighbors with long-term goals and not just with the urgent but short-term needs that dominated after 9:11.

2. Adopt a systematic region-wide approach to U.S. security and developmental programs in Afghanistan and neighboring states.

3. Establish a permanent “Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development” (hereafter “GCAP”), led by a senior officer of the Department of State, that will coordinate and integrate the U.S.’ bilateral and region-wide programs in diverse fields, including economic and social development, governance, trade, counter-narcotics, anti-corruption, democracy, and transparency, as well as security. The GCAP should be proposed as a U.S. government entity but should be transformed, if the participants so desire, into an independent, multinational organization.

4. Engage Afghanistan and all regional states in GCAP activity as partners and on an a la carte basis.

5. Open GCAP activities to participation by other donor countries, as well to observers from other states with which the U.S. maintains normal relations.





  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...

  • CACI director Svante Cornell's interviewed on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election
    Friday, 19 May 2023 00:00

    Listen to CACI director Svante Cornell's recent interview on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election. Click here!

  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53


  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.


    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.


    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   

    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018




    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018




    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online


    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online




    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.