Another Western Intervention? A View from Tajikistan
Kamoludin Abdullaev (Tajik State National University, Dushanbe, Tajikistan) [BIO]
What did the Western engagement bring to CA and CAsians?
- Yet, since 1991 the EU helped Central Asians to get acquainted with ideas and practices of democracy and open society,
- the West has not succeeded in changing the vectors of development in most of CA states. The market and modernization-oriented KZ and KR have moved in chosen direction, while those non market and modernization-oriented became more corrupted (TJ particularly) and less democratic
- The recent Western (mostly American) involvement in Central Asia that started in the aftermath of 9/11 has strengthened local authoritarian regimes (in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan firstly). Not people, civil society, but ruling elites have benefited from this engagement
- Many CA leaders have imitated Bush’s behavior in its worst form, declaring their own “wars on terror” against real, but mostly imagined terrorism and “Islamic extremism”
- With wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and possible war against Iran there is frustration, dissatisfaction and disillusionment of Central Asians and growing anti-Americanism, commonly associated with anti-Westernism spreading in the region
- Most of CAsians as well as developmental community believe: more money thrown into corrupt regimes leads to more corrupt outcomes.
Is this a right moment for the EU to intervene?
- Intervention can be successful, if states easily persuaded to influence from outside actors. In CA that was in the mid-’90s. At that time all emerging CA states needed international recognition and were sensitive to international advice. But this time has passed.
- Since the mid-90s, the CA leaders developed undemocratic habits like lack of responsibility to society and international community at large, inability and unwillingness to pursue developmental policy, distaste to democracy and pluralism, authoritarianism, systemic corruption etc. There is nothing predetermined about presidential regimes being authoritarian. Regime’s type is mostly determined by actors’ choices.
- Nevertheless, it is a right moment to intervene. Failure of democratization of Iraq has already resulted in a swing toward isolationism in the West and if the US fail in Iraq and Afghanistan and retreat, it would be a huge tragedy, as ‘a narrow and cynical realism’ (Francis Fukuyama) in Western foreign policy may cause stopping reforms and helping reformers in CA. Western power and influence are critical to the protection of an open and increasingly democratic order around the world.
What is needed to be done to make the EU engagement successful? How to avoid pushing the region into another crisis?
- To come with new ideas, human energy and … with more money
- To offer CA leaders and societies new strategic partnership that allow them to begin to drop their undemocratic practices and reexamine some of the choices that they had made
- To win political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary CAsians
What should be put in the center of the EU strategy?
- Boosting regional cooperation. The EU rightly sees regional level actions as a core priority for its Strategy. In is important to help CA to promote regional cooperation and to develop sense of REGION as Europeans did. Luck of cooperation and even existing political animosity is the main impediment to the sustainable development. Russia is unable to play a role of mediator between CA actors. It creates more problems than proposes solutions.
How successful can be the idea of supporting regional cooperation?
- It is not new: the idea of borderless multiethnic entity reminiscent of the Soviet era (USSR, Islamic Khalifat – popular projects supported by the communists and Hizbut Tahrir respectively). Particularly, one of the reasons of popularity of Hizb is in pretension to express the interest of all Muslims regardless of their national identity and advocacy of regional cooperation across borders
- People getting fed up by ugly state-based exclusivist (in TJ: racist) ethnic nationalism widely spread all over the region
- Water and energy sharing issues, preserving ecosystems and other environmental problems constitute a particular challenge that can be addressed only on regional level with the EU playing mediating and leading role
- Surely there are some impediments for cooperation, including ones based on cultural values. Unlike KR and KZ, TJ, UZ and TR see the rule of law and the tolerance of pluralism as a threat. Unlike Uzbekistan, we can’t say Kazakhstan is on its way into a huge crisis
- Despite lack of cooperation between CA regimes, there are no deep inter-ethnic animosities on a grass root level
- Sub-regional focus
- Uzbekistan, the most alarming, conflict-generating and, at the same time - resourceful state should be placed at the center of the EU interest, both of the crises and of the opportunity. Culturally, Uzbeks are close to Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Turkmen from one side, and Percianate Tajiks – from another. Currently, under Karimov presidency they are isolated, even hostile to both
- Is Islam a strategic factor in CA?
- The answer is “no”. Until now none of manifestations of Islam in the Post-Soviet has succeeded, even in TJ and UZ, to create a viable mass movement.
- Islam did not become an integrating factor among CA states
- There is no unifying Islamic opposition for the whole of CA
- Islam has different stand in CA states
- All state are secular: non of CA states openly conformed to Islamic standards especially in politics
- Except in Tajikistan, Islamic opposition did not succeed in gaining popular support and achieving visible political results
- Leaders of CA states are not properly ready to meet the “Islamic challenge” and opted for confrontation and exclusion
- There is no geostrategy of Islam because Islam is not a territorial factor. There are Muslims negotiating new identities by conflicting means –peaceful and violent
- Setting up a dialogue with moderate Islamists is crucial. The experience of the international community-sponsored legitimization of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan is worth supporting and replication
- The future of political Islam in CA (and worldwide) in uncertain.
- Cooperation, living together as a family and good neighbors is an old and widely shared concept in the region, while exclusivist tendencies are a more recent, post-Soviet product
- Reform (islah) is an honored idea and practice in the region and CA is proud to be a home of Islamic reformers (the Jadids). Reformers call people to live in a modern, technologically advanced and prosperous society. Not surprisingly, Tajik Islamists claim being a new generation of the Jadids
- It is needed to bring ideas of the EU strategy to the people, civil society, political parties to secure a firm Central Asian ownership of these through conferences, joint research, round tables, cultural exchanges, film festivals, concerts, exhibitions etc.
- In the basis of this dialogue should be placed shared cultural values of Europeans and people of Central Asia
Supporting democracy and security through dialogue, cooperation, education and advocacy is more helpful than false instrumentalist ‘presidential democratization’ from above or ‘global democratization’ promoted from outside by foreigners, not to mention ‘bringing democracy’ by a foreign military power.