4: Between disintegration and cooperation
The economy of the Soviet Union was a closely intertwined command economy governed by Moscow. Each Soviet republic was required to specialize in a few industries : Uzbekistan was set to grow fruit and cotton, mines were opened in Kazakhstan, and heavy industry was built. The first decade of independence was therefore a very difficult time in the whole region, with the collapse of trade, poverty growth and drastically reduced contact between neighboring countries. In many ways, Central Asia experienced the exact opposite of EU integration in Europe in the 1990s. The common administrative institutions from the Soviet era weathered and gave way to mutual distrust and legal vacuum.
There are still unresolved border issues . The common railway and electricity network has also broken down, and the countries are cooperating poorly on the management of the vital water resources from the rivers Amu Darja and Syr Darja. The latest issue has escalated into a cold war between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The crux of the dispute is that the upstream country of Tajikistan wants to build dams and hydropower plants that can supply the country with electricity in the winter.
Downstream country Uzbekistan needs large amounts of water for the cotton fields in the summer. Uzbekistan has therefore faced construction plans with closed borders, arbitrary restrictions on trade in goods and cuts in electricity supplies – which in turn makes the energy situation in Tajikistan even more critical.
Modernizing the severely obsolete production apparatus and a dilapidated infrastructure is the great challenge everywhere. In addition, there is a shortage of qualified labor. Many highly educated Russians and representatives of other minority groups have emigrated
after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have carried out large-scale privatization and opened up to foreign capital, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan still have a long way to go before a closed and state-run command economy.
Corruption, which permeates the entire society and the state apparatus, is also a major problem. Exams, positions, building permits, public contracts, rulings – everything is for sale for those who have money. For Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are also labor emigration a huge social problem – although it also brings revenue to the country. The economy of Tajikistan is gradually becoming completely dependent on remittances from Tajik migrant workers in Russia. For the traditional extended families and the agricultural economy, it is a great burden that so many able-bodied men and fathers are absent. In Russia, they often live in miserable conditions and without employment contracts.
Despite the problems, the region is becoming increasingly integrated into the world economy : China in particular is active everywhere and the sovereign largest supplier of consumer goods of all kinds. European, American, Turkish and Japanese investors are also ahead.
According to CELLPHONEEXPLORER, Kazakhstan benefits the most from foreign investment and stands out as the most developed and promising country. With large revenues from oil and gas exports, which have accelerated since the turn of the millennium, the country has a gross domestic product of almost $ 8,000 per capita – almost on a par with Russia. The brand new capital Astana, in the middle of the icy Kazakh steppe, is the very embodiment of Kazakhstan’s high level of ambition. There is also speculation in several new giant projects, such as a modern ” silk road ” with high-speed trains from China to Europe through Kazakhstan.
5: The pursuit of stability
The two main threats to stability in Central Asia stem from Islamists and the unrest in Kyrgyzstan. Of all the countries of the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan had the most tragic transition to independence. The country was plunged into a bloody civil war between different regional groups and with foreign interference. The war cost over 50,000 lives. A peace agreement was signed in 1997, but in 2010 scattered unrest broke out again. Neighboring Uzbekistan has also been challenged by Islamist insurgents, primarily the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan).
Poor, poor Kyrgyzstan, for its part, has been an exception in the monotonous Central Asian image of authoritarian rule and dictatorship. The first president, Askar Akayev, was the only non-Communist leader in the new Central Asian states. He wanted to make the mountain country “Central Asia’s Switzerland”. Instead, he himself fell victim to the “Central Asian disease” with corruption, electoral fraud and misrule and was overthrown after an uprising in 2005 – the so-called tulip revolution. The successor Kurmanbek Bakiyev was no luckier than his predecessor; he was removed after riots in April 2010.
In the wake of the ouster of Bakiyev, the worst unrest in the memory of a man broke out in ethnically divided southern Kyrgyzstan. In the city of Osj, entire districts were set on fire, and hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks fled across the border into Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz central government is today severely weakened and has only limited control in the south. This has caused concern in neighboring countries. Rather than becoming a showcase for democracy, Kyrgyzstan now appears to be threatened by internal disintegration.
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Russia are all concerned that southern Kyrgyzstan, which is already an important regional hub for smuggling opium and heroin from Afghanistan, could also become a base for Islamist insurgents.