Central Asia: Offers You Can't Refuse

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March 25, 2006: Islamic radicalism is meeting its match in Central Asia. Long believed vulnerable to Islamic missionaries and the attractions of Islamic rule, the region is demonstrating that there are stronger elements at play. Seventy years of Communist rule, as part of over a century of Russian occupation, left behind lots of people who knew how to run an effective police state. But there were also local influences. The Soviet system recruited locals, who were allowed to use local methods to make the communist dictatorship work. When the Soviet Union collapsed (hey, police states ain't perfect), Central Asian politicians found themselves with excellent opportunities to take over the newly created Central Asian nations. They did, and they intend to hang on. The local opposition consists of democrats (who want a Western style democracy), Islamic radicals (who want a religious dictatorship), tribal traditionalists (who want to get their power and influence back) and warlords (who, these days, tend to run powerful and profitable criminal gangs). Before the Russians came long in the 19th century, the warlords and tribal leaders were the major powers, and were frequently fighting each other. That made it easier for the Russians to take over. The Russians exploited that factionalism to keep things under control. The Russian trained locals know the drill well, and that gives them a substantial advantage over Islamic radicals, or any other foe. Even when democrats appear to take over, as in Kyrgyzstan, the newly elected leaders run into offers they can't refuse from gang and clan leaders. But the ousting of the dictatorship in Kyrgyzstan, and attempts to do the same in Uzbekistan, shows that the democrats are a lot closer to taking power away from Soviet inspired dictators, than are Islamic radicals. There are a lot of guns out in the countryside, but there's also a lot more countryside than there are people. A rebel can't get much traction out in the boondocks, and the cities are locked down by a very efficient police state apparatus.

March 20, 2006: Uzbekistan is expelling the UN refugee agency, in retaliation for the UN aiding reform-minded Uzbeks in fleeing the country. Uzbekistan is a dictatorship, and sees the UN as a potential because the UN advocates democracy and clean government. Both of these things are in short supply in Uzbekistan.

March 3, 2006: Kazakhstan is slipping into clan warfare. While tribes still exist in Central Asia, their power as independent organizations was broken by over a century of Russian rule. But clans are another matter, and the several clans that supply the senior leadership of the country are now openly fighting each other. The goal is to be in position to replace current dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev. There are already at least a dozen dead, and perhaps many more. This war takes place in the shadows, with none of the participants even admitting there's a "war" going on.

 

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