Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Economics
in Central Asia

Geoffrey J. Jukes
Kirill Nourzhanov & Mikhail Alexandrov

Copyright (c) 1998 by the Slavic Research Center . All rights reserved.

Sovietisation of Central Asia envisaged establishing a modern industrial-type society devoid of social antagonisms, where social interests would be uniform and national distinctions erased. Implementing this policy involved (a) accelerating economic growth, urbanisation and cultural development to "catch up" with the European USSR; (b) secularising the societies, liquidating traditional patterns of socialisation, dismantling local ties and parochial loyalties; (c) installing a new mode of socialisation, based on uniform communist values; and (d), creating viable "Soviet" nations based on existing ethnic groups.

Why this Soviet experiment ultimately failed is beyond the scope of this paper. It is, however, imperative to try to understand why over almost seven decades it failed to assimilate Central Asians as "new Soviet men". It appears that three factors - the family, religious community and sub-ethnic regionalism - were able to challenge the state agencies' monopoly on making and enforcing rules. The traditional family in particular retained its main values and its adaptive role vis-a-vis society almost intact; a sociological survey conducted in eleven republics and regions of the USSR in 1988-90 showed, for example, that 49% of Tajiks were guided in their behaviour primarily by rules prescribed by the family, versus only 26% of Muscovites. *1
In times of political instability and economic decline, traditional institutions have tended to play an increasing part in providing security and welfare to the Central Asian populace. Cummunism, though the only sanctioned political system, could not transform what Shmuel Eisenstadt has called the "second level" of organisational activities, i e traditional collectivities and communities, "whose systemic boundaries are organised or patterned around symbols or likeness of common attributes and of participation in them, but which are not necessarily structured as systems with clear organisational boundaries".*2
This paper will attempt to indicate the linkages between economic and social factors in Central Asia, and to draw some conclusions about the future of the region in general and Russia's role in it in particular. First some points have to be made about the economic situation.

Economic Problems

Six years into an unsought independence, the Central Asian states, which were among the poorest in the Former Soviet Union (hereafter FSU) appear, except for Tajikistan, to have experienced a smaller average economic decline than any other part of the CIS. Nevertheless, the declines have been very substantial. Their extent can be illustrated by the fact that Uzbekistan is considered an economic success story because its per capita GNP in 1996 was 82-84% of its 1989 level. Declines elsewhere in the CIS have been far greater, with 1996 per capita GNP ranging from 58% of 1989's in Russia to 20% in Georgia. Among the Central Asians, Kyrgyzstan, with a per capita GNP 50-55% of the 1989 level, has done slightly better than the FSU average, and Kazakstan (45%) slightly worse. No figures are available for Turkmenistan, because its official data, which show consistent year-on-year growth since independence, are no longer considered credible. The CIS Statkom, European and International Banks for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD & IBRD or "World Bank") and other major international agencies do not use or publish them. Uzbekistan and Kazakstan both claimed a 1% increase in GNP in 1996, but this is well within margins of statistical incompleteness or error, and even if correct, too small to be taken as evidence that their economic decline has yet bottomed out. As for inflation, the lowest annual rate in Central Asia in 1996 was 31.9%, in Kyrgyzstan. In Tajikistan per capita GNP declined in 1996 by 18%, to only around 37% of its 1989 level, at which Tajikistan was already the poorest country in the FSU. For comparative purposes, it should be noted that in the first three years of the Great Depression, per capita GNP in the United States declined by 1932 to 78% of the 1929 level. The general economic decline within the FSU is therefore far greater than that which affected the capitalist world in the 1930s, and has been accompanied by high inflation, which was not the case in the Great Depression. It has involved seven years of almost uninterrupted annual falls of several percent in GDP and of slashing of capital investment as well; so it is not unreasonable to regard it as the greatest economic crisis of all time, and to be sceptical about statements from the World Bank and elsewhere which describe it as a "temporary decline in welfare" or a purely transitional problem. *3 Poverty, like wealth, is seldom shared out equally between or within ethnic groups, but inequality of poverty is far harder to bear than inequality of wealth, and because Central Asia, like the rest of the FSU, had become accustomed over several decades to a modest but gradually improving or at worst stable standard of living backed by non-cash benefits in the shape of comprehensive health, education and welfare services, the decline which began in the perestroika period and accelerated after independence has accentuated inter-ethnic and inter-regional tensions.
Problems in inter-ethnic relations in Central Asia are sometimes attributed to the arbitrary nature of the inter-state boundaries laid down by Stalin early in the Soviet period. The reasons for making the delimitation included factors which made arbitrariness unavoidable; Lenin's early belief that it mattered little where frontiers were drawn, because global Communist victory was imminent and would make them superfluous, was one of them, and so was the absence of any significant local political pressure for a single united Turkestan Republic. But more important were that the sedentary societies of the previous Emirates and Russian Turkestan had been separated by deserts rather than demarcated frontiers, that the ethnic groups had over centuries become so intermingled that any state based on one major local ethnicity was bound to have significant minorities of the others (and of Russians) within its borders, and that nomadism, inconsistent with fixed borders, was the dominant way of life of the major ethnic group (the Kazaks) in the former Steppe Governorate, and widespread in the rest of Central Asia. Considerations such as ensuring reasonably equal access to water for agriculture also played a part in the drawing of the borders.
But problems of ethnic relations arising from the way the borders were drawn are parallelled by economic problems arising from Soviet planning which ignored the borders altogether, and treated the entire Union as a single economic space. Thus Uzbekistan, despite being the largest fruit and vegetable producer in the FSU, is not self-sufficient in food, because over 40% of its agricultural land is devoted to cotton-growing; despite producing 90% of the FSU's cotton, it had to import cotton textiles, which were manufactured elsewhere in the Union; and despite producing one-third of Soviet gold, it was in per capita GNP the second poorest republic in the FSU. Tajikistan's northern province produced cotton and textiles, but exported them to Russia, while its southern provinces imported cotton textiles from Russia; and one of the world's largest aluminium smelters was built in Tajikistan, even though of the three main requirements for aluminium production - bauxite, cryolite and electricity - it possesses only the last.
Similar problems can be found all over the FSU, in agriculture as well as in industry. In all the Central Asian republics agriculture occupies a far higher percentage of the population than in Russia, but only Kazakstan is self-sufficient in food production. Grandiose Soviet-era irrigation projects undertaken in the interests of cotton production have reduced the Aral Sea to one-third its former area, while leakage, evaporation and uneconomical use of water (supplied free of charge, so that there was no incentive to economise in its use) meant that up to two-thirds of the water extracted from the rivers is wasted. The scale of the wastage can be inferred from figures for non-domestic water consumption in cubic metres per capita per annum. They are for 1994, but the disparities they show between countries are too large to be significantly altered in the period since then. The first column contains five high-income industrialised countries, the second four countries with climates similar to Central Asia, the third Russia and the Central Asian countries.*4

(1) (2) (3)
USA 1626 Israel 343 Russia 656
Japan 610 Turkey 445 Kazak 2202
France 559 Egypt 889 Tajik 2332
Australia 327 Iran 1307 Kyrgyz 2647
Switzerland 133
Uzbek 3956

Turkmen 6326
Turkmenistan's extremely high per capita water consumption derives mainly from its small population and dependence for irrigation water on the Kara Kum (now Turkmenbashi) Canal. This runs well over 800 km from the Amu Darya through the Kara Kum Desert, where summer temperatures engender high losses from evaporation, added to which there is substantial seepage through the unsealed banks and bed. But all the Central Asian republics show very high consumption compared to Australia and to the four countries in Column 2, which have similarly hot climates and economies in which agriculture, including cotton growing, occupies an important place.
A similar problem created by arbitrarily fixed Soviet-era low prices and indifference to costs is exceedingly inefficient use of energy. In the table below the same countries are compared, this time in terms of the GDP per capita in US Dollars generated in 1994 for a given consumption of energy.*5

(1) (2) (3)
USA $3.20 Israel $5.10 Russia $0.60
Japan 9.50 Turkey 2.30 Kazak 0.30
France 6.00 Egypt 1.20 Tajik 0.60
Australia 3.60 Iran 0.70 Kyrgyz 0.90
Switzerland 10.30
Uzbek 0.50

Turkmen -
It emerges that even the USA and Australia, neither particularly economical in using energy to create wealth compared to European countries or Japan, nevertheless have results four to seven times as good as those of the FSU countries. The disparity between the worst, Kazakstan, and the best, Kyrgyzstan, is less important than the FSU's uniformly low results compared not only to the high-income countries but to low-income Egypt and lower-middle income Turkey.
Where, as in the FSU, exceedingly uneconomic use of such basic resources as water and energy has become entrenched over more than two generations, no quick recovery can be expected, and any recovery at all is dependent on large-scale capital investment in both agriculture and industry. Soviet-made equipment, produced by enterprises safeguarded against foreign competition by import bans or tariff barriers, and usually possessing at least regional monopolies which ruled out domestic competition, has not often proved the best of its kind, *6 and tended also to be retained in service far longer than is usual in non-Communist industrialised countries,*7 so a massive capital investment in updating is necessary. However, in Central Asia gross domestic investment in 1996 compared to 1988 was 97.2% in Tajikistan, 65.9% in Uzbekistan, 55% in Kyrgyzstan, and only 15.5% in Kazakstan *8 (Turkmenistan claimed an unbelievable 210.8% in 1994, and data for subsequent years are not published). In Russia it was only 26.2% of the 1988 level, so Russia cannot currently serve as in the Soviet period as a significant provider of capital investment to Central Asia. Most funding therefore has to come from outside the CIS, whether as private sector investment or as grants or credits from governments and international institutions.
Instability of the local currencies has, as in Russia, created a preference for use of the US Dollar and other hard currencies, currency black markets, with the criminal activities and flights of capital associated with such markets, and complications for foreign investors additional to those already created by uncertainties in legislation and arbitrariness or inconsistency in its application.

Interethnic Relations

The effects of prolonged impoverishment on inter-ethnic relations in such heterogeneous societies as those of Central Asia are likely to be unfavourable, because poverty is seldom evenly spread between ethnicities, and minorities are often made scapegoats for it. The most obvious targets in Central Asia are the Russian communities, which except in Russian-majority Northern Kazakstan are concentrated in urban centres and higher-paid occupations as skilled workers, managers and professionals. So far, however, inter-ethnic violence has mostly been between locals rather than specifically anti-Russian.*9 But with growing local nationalism, erosion of former privileged status, worsening economic conditions compared to Russia's, *10 and a pessimistic view of a future in which locals will be in charge and fluency in their language obligatory, Russians who can obtain work elsewhere, i e in general the best qualified, have been leaving in quite large numbers *11 especially from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. However, this exodus only intensifies a trend which began in the late 1970s, and accelerated in the years of perestroika. Between 1980 and 1990 emigration of Russians from Central Asia exceeded immigration to there by 850,000; their numbers increased very slightly in Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, but fell in the other three republics, *12 and their proportion of the population fell substantially in all five because of the indigenes' much higher birthrates. *13 Already in 1990 more than twice as many Russians left Central Asia as arrived there.*14 Awareness of the economic damage continuation of this exodus could do prompted Turkmenistan to grant dual citizenship to its Russian population in December 1993, and Tajikistan to follow suit in September 1995, but Presidents Nazarbaev of Kazakstan and Karimov of Uzbekistan have declared themselves opposed to the very principle of dual citizenship (apparently for fear that to grant it to Russians could engender pressure for similar concessions from the large numbers of Central Asians who live as minorities in other Central Asian countries, e g Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, or Tajiks in Uzbekistan), and President Akayev, while declaring himself in favour of it, failed to persuade the Kyrgyz Parliament to approve it. In Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan parliamentary elections in 1995 and 1996 respectively have given Russians cause for additional apprehension, as in both countries the number of Russian Deputies returned is far lower than their proportion of the electorates.


French scholar Olivier Roy was the first analyst in the West to single out "the influence of political loyalties based on geographic origin" in the conflict in Tajikistan, defining it as "localism". *15 Roy's work, however, is somewhat sketchy, and its other major postulate, that the present fragmentation is largely a product of the Soviet period, could be misleading.
In this paper a region is defined as an area which has:

-distinctive physical traits, eg climate, length of growing season, vegetation;

-special cultural characteristics - e g, dialect, costume, architecture, use of given tools, rituals, what is referred to as a 'culture area' in anthropology;

-natural and artificial barriers, e g mountain ranges, administrative borders;

-a focus, such as a trade centre and/or political or historical capital;

-an ad hoc problem: environmental pollution, crime, ethnic tension, etc.*16

Taking Tajikistan as an example, the crucial point about regionalism is that, unlike America or Europe, it does not denote the interrelationship between the several areas in the total nation, and has a pronounced divisive meaning.
Administrative demarcation in Soviet Tajikistan was largely implemented along pre-existent boundaries. The six constituent regions became incorporated into the all-union division of labour, but economic integration between them remained low. For example, 75% of Tajikistan's light industry was located in the northern Leninabad oblast, and most of its output, primarily textiles, was exported to other Soviet republics; at the same time, the southern regions had to import fabrics from Russia. Soviet economic policy, however, was only one element in Tajikistan's intricate mosaic of inter-regional interests and contradictions.
Statements by Soviet authorities that the spread of literacy, general rise of culture caused by industrialisation and reconstruction of agriculture had made the groups of Tajiks closer to each other were not convincing. No "Socialist Tajik nation" ever eventuated; moreover, tensions among the six historico-geographical regions of Tajikistan intensified as the grotesquely uneven development patterns endured. They could be checked temporarily by coercion (such as campaigns against mestnichestvo ["Localism"] under Stalin and Khrushchev) or by channelling more resources from the centre (as under Brezhnev), but they were always present.
Interaction amongst regional elites has formed and forms the core of all symbolic processes (including political ideas, public ideologies and development strategies) and practical endeavours. During the Brezhnev era, the party-state structure demonstrated an almost infinite capacity to control regional ambitions in the republics. Moscow's "stabil'nost' kadrov" (stability of cadres) policy allowed the web of informal "understandings" and exchanges amongst regional elites to become institutionalised. As long as a region fulfilled its economic obligations to the Union and complied with the general line prescribed by the CPSU, Moscow did not seem to object to the peculiarities of local personnel policy.
In Tajik Academician Tursunov's words, "regionalism has firmly settled in the consciousness of our people, and not its backward section at that; regionalistic self-awareness manifests itself at all levels of social stratification, especially, to our shame, amidst the intelligentsia". Within the rigid framework of the Soviet system it could never acquire the form of violent political action. Moreover, it had been de facto institutionalised and, henceforth, could be controlled and manipulated to some extent. The ruling regional elite from Leninabad did not need to invoke traditional institutions of power to maintain its privileged position - its legitimacy was guaranteed by Moscow. Generally, in the Soviet period traditional social structures and popular Islam on the one hand, and regionalism on the other operated on different planes - private and public. However, these phenomena were closely linked, and there always remained a possibility that informal networks would be activated as the primary mechanism for establishing the authority of a regional clique.
The Soviet drive to modernise Central Asia yielded ambiguous results. Accelerated economic development, growth of education, secularisation of culture and political mobilisation of the masses altered the fabric of society considerably. The profundity and irreversibility of these changes, however, were questionable. After all, seventy years of the Communist experiment was not comparable in historical perspective with millennia of a continuous cultural tradition. Modernity presumes that "local ties and parochial perspectives give way to universal commitments and cosmopolitan attitudes; that the truths of utility, calculation, and science take precedence over those of the emotions, the sacred, and the non-rational; that the individual rather than the group be the primary unit of society and politics... that the identity be chosen and achieved, not ascribed and affirmed..." The most important failure of Soviet rule consisted in its inability to reform the Weltanschauung, traditional allegiances and omnipresent spirit of collectivism, that made an individual completely dependent on such institutions as the family, neighbourhood, solidarity network and coterie of fellow-regionalists.
In a handful of cities, at industrial enterprises and scholarly institutions, in government agencies, social praxis ostensibly was no different from patterns of mono-organisational Socialism elsewhere in the USSR. At the same time, in rural areas that were of little interest to Moscow-based industrialisers, and where even the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) proved uninterested in or incapable of setting up a network of informers,*17 an ethnocultural mentality based on traditional patrimonialism, popular Islam and regionalism survived, and any breakdown in the mechanisms of social control would inexorably transpose it into the realm of political action. The collapse of the Soviet Union was just such a breakdown.

Human Rights

On Human Rights in general, the position is patchy,*18 with no progress in Turkmenistan, slight progress in Uzbekistan, and some regression in the other three republics. President Niyazov of Turkmenistan continued to employ all the apparatus of Stalinism except mass executions, and political dissidents are harried, including being forcibly seized in other CIS countries and taken back to Turkmenistan to be charged with offences such as "insulting the President", "insulting the police", "preparing acts of terrorism", "preparing to overthrow the government", or involvement in drug or arms trafficking. Niyazov in October 1996 officially opened an Institute of Democracy and Human Rights in Ashgabat; *19 but the effects of this attempt to improve his poor international image were somewhat dissipated by his description of the Institute's purpose as "protecting the Presidency from the influence of other branches of power", and his warning to citizens not to take their complaints too far. He has courted public acceptance by providing benefits, notably free gas, electricity and water, monthly allowances of butter, sugar, flour and meat at 1/50th of market prices, and very cheap petrol. *20 However, a number of signs emerged during 1996 that economic problems were increasing and having social consequences. From 1 January 1996 student stipends were doubled, the minimum wage almost trebled, and pensions and child support trebled. In March 1996 the price of bread was increased by 150%; in June Niyazov denounced official corruption and links with criminal organisations; in July the subsidy on petrol prices was reduced and the quantity rationed to 100 litres a month, and free electricity supply to households was capped, with consumption above a monthly limit to be charged at the rate paid by industry. In January 1997 the ration of subsidised flour was cut for urban residents from 8 to 6 kilos a month, and its availability confined to those earning less than 200,000 Manat (about $US 37) a month. *21 On 14 January 1997 Niyazov stated that in 1996 crime had risen by 16% nationally and by 19% in the capital, prostitution had become widespread, involving girls as young as 12 or 13, and that police were profiting from it and from drug trafficking.*22 On 4 February he announced that from 1 March salaries of government employees and the military would be doubled. Meanwhile the exchange rate for the Manat has declined catastrophically compared to all other Central Asian currencies. Of the three introduced during 1993 the fall between the end of that year and the end of April 1997 has been: for the Turkmen Manat, from 2 to 5,300, a fall of 2,650 times; for the Kyrgyz Som from 8 to 17.9, or 2.29 times; the Kazak Tenge from 6.31 to 76.53, or 12.1 times. The Uzbek Sum (introduced in July 1994), fell from 25 to 58.1, or 2.32 times, and the Tajik Ruble (July 1995) from 293 to 420, a fall of 1.43 times. For comparison the Russian Rouble fell between 31 December 1993 and 30 April 1997 from 1247 to the Dollar to 5762, or by 4.62 times, almost exactly double the fall in the Kyrgyz and Uzbek currencies.*23 Niyazov appears to have no challengers, but a regime combining oppressiveness with impoverishment must be considered potentially unstable.
At the end of 1996 the annual survey by Freedom House classed Turkmenistan and Tajikistan among the seventeen most oppressive regimes in the world, noted some improvement in Uzbekistan (which up to and including its 1995 survey had also been classed among the most oppressive), classified all three and Kazakstan as "not free" and Kyrgyzstan as "partly free". This last was surprisingly generous; Kyrgyzstan (the only Central Asian country where the President was not formerly the head of the country's Communist Party; President Akayev had headed the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences) had hitherto been very much the West's favourite for its free press and freedom of political activity, as well as for being the Central Asian country which appeared to accept World Bank recommendations most assiduously. But the US State Department's annual human rights survey of 1996, which appeared on 30 January 1997, while agreeing with Freedom House in classing Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as "worst", and Uzbekistan as not much better, diplomatically noted that the growth of Presidential power in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan had "caused them to lag in the development of democracy and human rights". Human Rights Watch used less bland language, referring to a "dramatic deterioration" in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan during 1996. *24
In December 1996 a new "Movement for Deliverance from Poverty in Kyrgyzstan" held its founding Congress. One of its founders was at once arrested and detained for fifteen days, another, formerly Rector of the Humanities University, was charged with embezzlement of university funds, and in January 1997 sentenced to ten years' imprisonment with confiscation of all his property, despite evidence from the university's accountant that it had no claim against him. The sentence was somewhat reduced on appeal, but a journalist employed by the newspaper Kriminal was threatened with legal action for his reporting of the trial, and the Ministry of Justice ordered the newspaper closed. Later that month the Movement for Deliverance from Poverty applied for registration as an official opposition party, blaming government policy for wage arrears, deterioration of social services and falling living standards. *25
The new Constitution of Kazakstan was put to a referendum on 30 August 1995, and despite being boycotted by all Opposition parties, a 90% turnout and 89% approval were officially claimed. These figures were challenged by a Human Rights organisation, which monitored 622 polling stations and found the average turnout only 34%. The new constitution, which gives the President much expanded powers, was criticised by the US Embassy as "undemocratic". *26
From mid-1996 reports of popular unrest and socio-economic problems in Kazakstan became more frequent. A new pensions law, increasing pensionable age from 60 to 63 for men and 55 to 58 for women, and removing a number of special provisions for earlier payment to occupations such as miners and teachers, was passed by the Parliament in June only after first being rejected, and despite protests from the normally acquiescent trade union movement. In June also the government had to intervene in the troubled agricultural sector by writing off half of all its debt and all of its arrears in payments for electricity supplied up to 1 May. In August the national airline was declared bankrupt, and so was a major bank. In October Russia cut off electricity supplies to parts of North Kazakstan, claiming $420 million in unpaid bills, and that Kazak coal supplied to Troitsk power station was only 40% of that contracted. Kazakstan riposted by terminating supply of coal to all fourteen power stations in Omsk oblast. In October to December there were demonstrations of up to 4,000 people in Almaty, Shymkent and other centres against low living standards, interruptions in supplies of electricity and fuel, and lack of democratic rights. In November also the government appeared to put pressure on independent TV and radio stations, shutting some of them down on claimed invalidity of their licences and for allegedly using frequencies which interfered with those used by air trafflc controllers. A tendering process was introduced in January 1997, but several stations were again banned in February. In January 254 workers at a metal plant in South Kazakstan, later joined by local transport workers, struck for payment of wage arrears, as did 1,500 teachers in Semipalatinsk oblast.*27 A leader of the independent trade union federation claimed that some of the striking metal workers had not been paid for two years, and warned that a wave of strikes could sweep the country if wage arrears remained unpaid. Arrears of wages and pensions were estimated as approaching $1 billion, and there were fears that the increase in money supply if they were all suddenly paid would cause drastic devaluation of the Tenge. *28 Later another union leader appealed for international aid, claiming there was widespread famine and over one-third of households had no heating, electricity or gas.*29 An independent research institute challenged the official unemployment rate of 3.6%, estimating it as at least four times the official figure of 236,000, and noting that in a survey of 1,513 respondents in eight oblasts, 28.8% had had no fixed employment for several months. *30
In Uzbekistan, on the other hand, there were some apparent advances in the human rights field. In March 1996 an OSCE mission visited Tashkent to discuss human rights violations and drug control policy with the Human Rights Commissioner and the Justice Minister. On 25 June Karimov met President Clinton in Washington, and human rights were among the issues discussed. Laundering of Uzbekistan's image was clearly an objective of Karimov's visit to the USA; it can hardly have been coincidence that on the day after the Washington meeting, George Soros' Open Society Institute opened an office in Tashkent. In July Karimov held a press conference, at which he defined the "next tasks" as reforms in the areas of human rights and individual freedoms, and went on to list opposition parties, a Western-style press and observation of citizen's rights as essential to Uzbekistan's continued development and as "assuring democracy". In August Abdulmanop Pulatov, a dissident leader living in exile in the USA since 1993 returned to Tashkent on assurance from Karimov of his personal safety and freedom to pursue political activities, and at the end of the month Karimov told the Parliament that his government was committed to increased cooperation with human rights organisations. Pulatov tested Karimov's promises almost at once, by holding on 7 September a Congress of the Human Rights Society, of which he is Chairman. Delegates to the Congress said that the human rights situation was "beginning to improve". A further pointer in that direction was the opening four days later of a three-day human rights conference sponsored by OSCE, between Non-Governmental Organisations, government officials and media representatives. However, Pulatov's Congress was kept until the last moment in doubt as to whether it would be permitted to take place, and the media representatives at the OSCE conference were government-selected.
The agenda of the parliamentary session that opened on 26 November 1996 contained a number of democratisation proposals, including establishment of a government institute to ensure that legislation conformed to international standards of human rights and democracy, and laws on establishing political parties, protecting journalists, and allowing greater access to state information. But it also met in the shadow of the abduction and beating up of the son of a leading dissident on 9 November.
Karimov in February 1997 said the main task for the year was to build a property-owning middle class to be the "bedrock" of the state, and called for 1997 to be a year of "human interests". What these statements meant remained to be seen, but it may be significant that they went along with increased courting of foreign investment (which doubled in 1996 compared to 1995), an increase in the (hitherto slow) pace of privatisation, and a need to court the IMF, which temporarily suspended a stand-by loan of $US 185 million because of Uzbekistan's failure to cut inflation as much as planned. Two bad grain harvests in succession and a $700 million shortfall in tax revenues also impaired Uzbekistan's image as economically the most competent of the regional governments, but a good cotton harvest secured 100,000 tonnes of wheat from Russia in exchange for 18,200 tonnes of cotton.

Social Service Problems

Part of Central Asia's inheritance from the FSU was health services of scale, comprehensiveness and costs comparable to those found in much wealthier European "welfare states". As an example, the United Kingdom's very comprehensive National Health Service employs 1 person in 52 of the labour force, whereas in Kazakstan in 1989 the figure was 1 in 41. Budgets have declined to the extent that wages (often paid months in arrears) consume all or nearly all available funds, leaving little or nothing for maintenance, let alone replacement, of buildings and equipment or for supplies of pharmaceuticals. Public health is also endangered by polluted water supplies, and inadequate storage and handling on farms of herbicides and pesticides - for example, a substantial rise in birth defects and infant mortality has been observed in rural areas of Tajikistan, where agricultural labour is overwhelmingly female. The health services and educational levels inherited from the Soviet period have ensured infant mortality rates (deaths per 1,000 live births, Turkmenistan 60, Tajikistan 41, Kyrgyzstan 29, Uzbekistan 28, and Kazakstan 27) much lower than in most other low or low-middle income countries, but high compared to Russia (19) and very high compared to the high-income countries, which apart from Kuwait (11) and the United Arab Emirates (16) are all in the range 4 to 8. *31
Another problem inherited by all the Central Asian countries from the FSU is the loading of industrial enterprises with social responsibilities (provision of housing, creches, health services, often schools and holiday homes) which in market economies are undertaken by local authorities, the private sector, or a mixture of both. Enterprises are in principle being relieved of these, but the pace is slow and the process often resisted by management (because enterprises known to provide good services find it easier to recruit and retain good-quality labour), workers (through justified fears that rationalisation means paying full costs for housing and services previously free or subsidised) and local authorities (which lack the funds and experience for taking on their new responsibilities).


While in Soviet Central Asia political institutions and political processes were apparently completely freed from the influence of religion, Islam remained a source of identity, transmitter of cultural tradition and, more generally, way of life there. In the 1970s-1980s a kind of accommodation emerged between the state and Islam, characterised by two non-contradictory parameters: (a) state-sponsored secular institutions and norms of behaviour dominated the public realm, and (b) the religion was tacitly recognised as an integral element of private life. A unique sociological survey conducted in 1985 showed that, e g, 55.6 percent of Tajik Communists regarded themselves as true Muslims. *32
At least two factors contributed to the Soviet regime's non-treatment of Islam as a serious threat. First, so-called "official Islam", that segment of religious life revolving around the functioning mosques, registered mullahs and officially recognised religious communities, was closely monitored and regulated. All working mosques and clerics were registered with the republican branch (qoziyyot) of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakstan, as well as with the Council for Religious Affairs. Official mullahs were on the government payroll and their appointment subject to official approval. Second, "parallel", or "popular" Islam, based on the activities of clandestine Sufi/Naqshbandi orders and the great cultural tradition, and not controlled by the state, had too apolitical a character and too diffuse a structure to rally believers under an anti-Soviet political banner.
Popular Islam centres on a succession of ceremonies and rituals, most of which date back to pre-Muslim times. Birth, coming of age, marriage and funeral are landmark events for every family and kinship or neighbourhood community (Mahalla). Their proper commemoration according to Islamic or, to be more precise, local cultural tradition, is vitally important for any individual or social group, in terms of maintaining their social status. But even day-to-day life is largely regulated by beliefs which they perceive as Muslim, but which in reality have more to do with ancient fertility cults and various agricultural rites. The existence of a thriving institution of shamans, especially in Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, testifies to this.
Furthermore, folk Islam was loyal to authority and rejected political struggle. With this in mind, it should be easier to avoid the temptation to explain retention of traditional customs solely as manifesting religious zeal against the secular state - a theme fancied by some Western scholars during Soviet rule, and even now. In 1991, the percentage of weddings conducted in the presence of a mullah was 86.5% in Tajikistan, 80.1% in Turkmenistan, but only 32.4% in Kazakstan.*33 Moreover, Islamic mores appear to be highly particularistic: for example, Quranic views on exogamy are strictly observed amongst Tajiks whose ancestors migrated from Herat (heroti), whereas mountain Tajiks by and large ignore them.
Islam is, of course, an important factor in the formation of national identities in the newly independent Central Asian states, but its precise role and influence are difficult to determine. Two and a half generations of Communist rule on the one hand accustomed the society to a belief system that sought to penetrate and control all aspects of private as well as public life, and could therefore create receptivity to Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban variety. That this aspect of events in Afghanistan certainly engendered a common concern between Russia and the Central Asian states was shown by their reaction to the Taliban's capture of Kabul in August 1996. Russia's Defence Minister immediately flew to Tashkent for meetings with his Central Asian counterparts, and had a separate meeting with President Karimov before the talks began. It is not yet clear whether the Taliban will succeed in gaining control of Northern Afghanistan, with its mainly Uzbek, Turkmen and Tajik populations; the debacle it suffered at Mazar-i-Sharif in May 1997 suggests that the Afghan Civil War is far from ended, but has entered a new phase, much closer than hitherto to the Central Asian borders. At the same time, there are several reasons for Central Asian leaders to make much of the threat posed by Islamic radicalism and equate it with fundamentalism, and no incentives to play it down. One is that Soviet rule, while not eradicating Islam in Central Asia, did have two marked effects; by eliminating the Jadidist modernisers and driving Islam partly underground it tended to freeze it at its pre-1917 stage, and to separate it from the modernisation process, for which it created a large body of secularised if not actively atheist locals, especially prominent in the urban administrative elite and intelligentsia; existence of this large and influential secularised stratum precludes reversion to the pre-1917 traditional societies, let alone of their metamorphosis into theocracies. There is a great difference between secularised ex-Communists re-acquiring some Islamic credentials to enhance their political acceptability, and their embracing or even tolerating a fundamentalist radicalism which the vast majority of the Muslim world rejects. There is also no reason to believe that any substantial numbers of Central Asian Muslims are attracted by fundamentalism. Surveys made by Richard Dobson of USIA between August 1992 and March 1993 *34 indicated that in Kazakstan 27%, in Kyrgyzstan 14% and in Uzbekistan 43% of respondents did not believe in Islam, and 30%, 24% and 32% respectively did not think Islam should play any larger role than it already did. Dobson's fourth survey, of frequency of attendance at the mosque, showed that only 20% of believers attended once or more a month, whereas 46% attended once a year or less.*35 With indigenous non-believers, and believers who worship once a year or less, outnumbering by over three to one those who attend once or more a month, there would seem to be little chance of Central Asia's succumbing to Islamic fundamentalism. However, to play up the fundamentalist threat serves the internal and foreign policy purposes of the ruling regimes of Central Asia and also of Russia. Domestically it provides reasons why not only secularised but also normal moderate Muslim locals and non-Muslim non-local minorities should support their present leaders. Internationally it helps to engage interest and support from Western countries, especially from influential conservative elements which have already nominated Islam in general, and Islamic fundamentalism in particular, as the "next enemy". These might well baulk at assisting authoritarian regimes consisting of hastily recycled "previous enemy" Communists and with dubious human rights records, but may be less reluctant if those regimes can present themselves as the front line of defence against an even more disagreeable alternative. It is tacitly also common ground between the Russian and Central Asian leaders that potential foreign investors are more interested in whether a country is stable than whether it is democratic; all the Central Asian leaders, but especially Presidents Karimov and Nazarbaev, make frequent references to the importance of the political stability they claim to have delivered. *36
Russia, too, has strong incentives to emphasise the Islamic fundamentalist threat. It has large, though mostly secularised, Muslim populations of its own, particularly in Tatarstan and North Caucasus, and may consider itself vulnerable to repetitions elsewhere of the Chechnya experience, even though the Chechen rising was not initially motivated by religious differences, and was led until his death by a secularised Chechen, former Soviet Air Force Major-General Dzhokar Dudayev. And like the Central Asian regimes, it also shares with the Central Asian regimes an interest in being perceived by the West as holding the line for secularism against Islamic fundamentalism.
The key to the extent of Islam's future influence in Central Asia is Uzbekistan, the most populous of the Central Asian republics, possessor of the ancient Islamic centres of Bukhara and Samarkand, and influenced by the great Persian-Islamic culture more and longer than any of the others except Tajikistan. Karimov's fostering of national identity specifically links Islam and history. In May 1995 he decreed establishment of an lnternational Islamic Studies Centre in Tashkent, to be a Research Institute of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, funded equally by the government and the Muslim Spiritual Board and charged "to study the teachings and philosophy of Islam and the religious, historic and cultural heritage of the Uzbek people". *37 He proclaimed 1996, the 660th anniversary of the birth of Amir Timur (Tamerlane), "The Year of Timur"; in October 1995 he opened a Museum devoted to Timur and his successors in Tashkent, and unveiled statues of him there, in his birthplace (Sharhisabz) and in Samarkand. *38 In March 1996 it was announced that Uzbeks making the Hajj would receive government assistance in organising the pilgrimage and completing the necessary paperwork, and that the national airline would arrange flights. *39 However, no direct subsidisation appears to be involved, and secularism remains state policy. The Law on Political Parties promulgated in January 1997 bans parties based on religion, ethnicity, or advocating war or subversion.

Russia and Central Asia

Russia's continuing interests in Central Asia are based on several factors. The weightiest of them in foreign and economic policy terms is the perceived need to preserve as far as possible a hegemonic position held since the late 18th century, and now seen as under greater threat than it ever was at the height of the 19th century "Great Game" with British India. But in popular perception and therefore in domestic politics probably even more important is that despite several years of exodus there are still large populations of ethnic Russians in all of the newly-independent states, and Russia's post-Soviet military doctrine specifically includes protection of the lives and interests of Russians living outside Russia among the missions of the Russian armed forces. What this might involve is not spelled out, but the formulation at least leaves open the possibility of Russian intervention in an inter-ethnic conflict by unilateral Russian decision.
The seriousness of this possibility varies between Central Asian states. In all of them the Russian population constitutes a majority of the urban skilled workers and non-manual professionals, and Russian is the language not only of administration and "modern" activities, but the lingua franca of communication between most of the local ethnicities. Apart from the Bukhara-Samarkand areas of Uzbekistan, where most Tajiks appear bilingual in Tajik and Uzbek, bilingualism among the Central Asia ethnicities usually means knowledge of one's native language plus Russian. In the old undivided politico-economic spaces of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union few Russians bothered to acquire a local language. In the perestroika period Kolbin, a Russian appointed by Gorbachev to replace a Kazak (Kunayev) as First Secretary of the Kazakstan Communist Party despite having no previous connection with Kazakstan, responded to local unrest at his appointment by apparent concessions which made it "advisable" for Russians to learn Kazak but a "civic duty" for Kazaks to learn Russian.*40 The post-Soviet elevation of local languages to the status of "state languages" has therefore been viewed by the Russian population as a threat, even though deadlines for learning them have either not been laid down or have allowed ample time for doing so (in Kazakstan, for example, the legislation gives Kazaks in administrative posts until 2005, and non-Kazaks until 2010, to become proficient in Kazak). The erosion of a linguistically privileged position is one of the factors prompting an exodus not only of Russians but, in Kazakstan's case, of ethnic Germans as well. At its peak this population, comprising wartime deportees from the Volga German Autonomous Republic and their descendants, numbered 1.1 million, but two-thirds have exercised their right of "return" to Germany, so that the number now remaining in Kazakstan is estimated at only 350,000. Self-eradication of Kazakstan's German minority is not especially welcome in Germany, which has channelled considerable funds to Kazakstan to induce them to stay there. It is however, tacitly welcomed by Kazakstan, because it reduces the likelihood that 1979's unsuccessful attempt to create a German Autonomous Oblast around Tselinograd (Akmola) will be repeated; and similarly by Russia, because it excludes a potential demand, open to stimulation by poor economic conditions and recrudescent Kazak nationalism, for repatriation to a restored German Volga Republic.
The foreign policy imperative, backed by the needs of economics, is to preserve Russia's hegemonial position by countering outside influence-seeking. This is seen as multi-faceted and originating from a number of countries. Turkey has religious affinity with all the major local nationalities, ethnic and linguistic affinities with all of them except the Tajiks, and a secular model of statehood. As against that it has limited financial resources, a serious ethnic problem with the Kurds, and despite several centuries of Ottoman domination of the Islamic world, its post-Ottoman rulers have preferred to seek the country's future in associating it more with secular Europe than with the Muslim Middle East and Central Asia. Iran has ethnic and linguistic affinity with the Tajiks, and long-standing cultural and religious status within the Islamic world which modern Turkey lacks. But its Shiism divides it from most of Central Asia, overwhelmingly Sunni except in the remote and thinly-populated Gorno-Badakhshan area of Tajikistan, its clerically-dominated Islamic model of statehood is emphatically unattractive to the ruling elites of Central Asia, and despite its oil wealth, the parlous state of its economy limits its ability to gain influence through financial aid. Saudi Arabia has money, but a form of Islamic fundamentalist statehood which is totally unacceptable to Central Asia's ruling elites and probably, to the extent that they know about it, to most of their subjects as well. The Central Asian states are diversifying their relations, including with the Islamic world of South and South-East Asia, but it cannot be said that either Islam in the abstract or specific Muslim states pose any serious challenge to Russia's political or economic influence.
The major political and economic threats to Russia's predominance come in the medium term from the United States, Western Europe and Japan, and in the longer term from China as well. Central Asia's principal marketable assets are minerals (gold, silver, copper, chrome), energy and chemical-industry raw materials (gas, oil, coal) and cotton. US, Canadian, West European, Japanese and Korean multinationals are already active, mostly in consortiums but also with individual firms operating as joint venturers or sole contractors. For example, in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium formed to link Kazakstan's onshore Tengiz oilfield to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, Russia has a 44% share (Government 24%, Lukoil 12.5%, Rosneft 7.5%), and will derive financial benefit from a third Russian company, Transneft, which is not part of the consortium but will operate the pipeline after completion. The remaining 56% share is divided between the Kazakstan government (19%), the Oman government (7%), US firms Chevron (15%) and Mobil (7.5%), Italian AGIP, British Gas 2% each.
As the pipeline crosses Russian territory and terminates at a Russian port, Kazakstan had to accept a high degree of Russian participation in the consortium, and it is possible, though speculative, to argue that it sought Western involvement not merely for technical and financial reasons, but because it makes Russian interference with operations or pricing less likely than in a purely bilateral relationship.
That Kazakstan, where it has territorial control, seeks to minimise Russian involvement can be inferred from the composition of the consortium developing the Tengiz oilfield itself. Initially no Russian company was involved, but at a late stage Chevron sold one-tenth of its 50% share to Lukoil. But with Chevron retaining 45% and Mobil 25%, versus Lukoil's 5%, development of the field is clearly in American hands (the Kazak company Munaigas holds the remaining 25%).
The same consideration may apply in respect of two Soviet-built oil refineries in Kazakstan, though Russian industry's inability to supply suitable equipment may also be a factor. The larger of the two, at Pavlodar, was supplied with oil from West Siberia, but has been idle because supply stopped owing to Kazakstan's inability or unwillingness to pay.*41 The Kazakstan government invited tenders for modernisation of both refineries. The six firms tendering for the Pavlodar contract included two US, one Canadian, one British, two local and no Russian; the contract went to US CCL. The smaller refinery, at Aktyubinsk, attracted only one bid, from US multinational Exxon. A pipeline is being laid from Tengiz to both refineries, to end or at least reduce dependence on West Siberian oil. At the end of 1995 Exxon entered on an oil exploration joint venture in an area (Myortvy Kultuk) on Kazakstan's Caspian coast, south of the Tengiz field.
Similar resistance to Russian influence-seeking was apparent in the long drawn-out negotiations over division of the Caspian. Disagreement centred on whether it is a sea or, having no outlets, is a lake. In the former case Law of the Sea would apply, and each riparian country would have an Exclusive Economic Zone extending halfway to the opposite coast, whereas in the latter case division is a matter for mutual agreement. The effect of defining the Caspian as a sea would be to confine Russia to its north-west corner, the least promising for offshore oil and gas discoveries, while the most promising areas would be divided between Kazakstan and Azerbaijan. These two countries, not surprisingly, held out for defining the Caspian as a sea, and negotiations dragged on until 12 November 1996. Agreement was then reached for each country to have territorial waters extending 45 miles (75 km) from its coast, and for resources outside those limits to be developed jointly. However, this agreement, itself a compromise (Iran proposed 10-mile territorial waters, Russia 20, Turkmenistan 60 and Kazakhstan 80 miles), has not been signed by Azerbaijan, which wanted the entire Caspian divided into national sectors. *42 On the next day Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan signed an agreement on joint development of areas beyond the 45-mile limit, and invited Kazakstan and Azerbaijan to join it.
The Central Asian leaders regularly make statements about the continuing importance of Russia to the region, but their countries' trade patterns show determination to reduce their dependence on it. However, their opportunities to do so are limited by several factors. Their pre-independence economies were more tied in to the Soviet economy than was Russia's, and Soviet planning has left them very narrowly based, with only a small range of exportable products. The largest alternative markets for their exports are the Indian subcontinent and China. But they are separated from the subcontinent by poor roads, a lack of railways, an unstable Afghanistan, and difficult terrain. Communication with China is easier, because of better roads and the railway through Xinjiang which connects with the Central Asian system at the Sino-Kazak border. But transport costs are high, because the change of gauge at the border between Chinese standard gauge of 1435mm and Soviet of 1524mm necessitates either complete changes of wheelsets or transhipment of cargoes, and because China's main population centres are at the opposite end of the country; in addition, the subcontinent countries and China are all low-wage economies, so that Central Asia's low wages confer no comparative advantage. This may change, because even by 1994 China's per capita GNP was estimated by the World Bank to be above Tajikistan's in absolute terms and above those of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Purchasing Power Parity terms. *43 However, rises in per capita GNP do not necessarily translate at once (or at all) into higher wages, and with China's modernisation vastly more advanced than the Central Asians', Chinese productivity is likely to remain superior to average Central Asian levels for a long time to come, even if Chinese wages rise compared to those of Central Asia.
In the longer term the rapid development of China also poses a threat to Russian influence. For some time to come China is likely not only to continue to seek foreign investment, but to invest the wealth generated by growth into its own industries and infrastructure, rather than outside the country. But the history of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore tends to suggest that a long period of rapid economic growth such as China is currently experiencing eventually leads to establishment of subsidiaries and joint ventures abroad. In Central Asia this process is already apparent in, for example, establishment by the South Korean Daewoo corporation of two vehicle assembly plants in Uzbekistan *44 (where there are 200,000 Koreans, as a result of mass deportations from Soviet Far East frontier areas in 1937-38), or the recent contracts of $138 million for Mitsui and NEC to modernise Kazakstan's telephone system, *45 and $580 million for Itochu, JGC & Nissho Iwai to build a polypropylene plant in Turkmenistan.*46 It may not be too fanciful to see in the next decade Chinese involvement in joint ventures of comparable scale. By 1994, within three years of Kazakstan's becoming independent, China had already become its second largest trading partner, exchanges of visits of leaders between China and Central Asia are frequent, and Nazarbaev in particular has regularly placated China by denouncing separatism "of any kind"*47 (in deference to the estimated 200,000 Uighurs in Kazakstan he is never more specific, but his statements are readily understood to relate to Uighur separatism in the adjacent Chinese province of Xinjiang). When President Jiang Zemin visited Almaty in July 1996, resident Uighurs were prevented from holding a planned protest march; and discussions between him and Nazarbaev in February 1997 were specifically reported to have included possible Chinese involvement in exploiting Kazakstan's hydrocarbon (coal, gas and oil) resources. Though no decisions were mentioned at the time, an agreement was signed by Li Peng and Nazarbaev in late September 1997. Under it a pipeline will be built to carry Kazakstan oil to China, and China will also participate in development of two of Kazakstan's oilfields. China's total investment was not specified, but the scope of the undertakings suggests it will be larger than the $7.8 million invested by the international consortium developing Azerbaijan's oil resources.*48
Uighur separatism long predates Central Asian independence, but has undoubtedly been stimulated by it. Among the several reasons for unrest is that average incomes in Xinjiang are only about half the all-China average. The disparities between China's flourishing coastal and southern provinces and lagging interior provinces have long been a cause of domestic dissatisfaction, and to the extent that China's leadership attempts to deal with it, establishment in interior provinces bordering the former USSR of consumer goods producers to supply its Central Asian and Far Eastern markets would appear to offer considerable advantages. However, in population terms the Far Eastern market is only about one-tenth that of Central Asia; even allowing for higher per capita purchasing power it is only about one-fifth of Central Asia's. It is predominantly Russian, intensely suspicious of Chinese traders, of the quality of Chinese goods, and of presumed Chinese ambitions to resettle and ultimately re-acquire territory taken by Russia in the nineteenth century.
The Central Asian situation is entirely different. The territory there taken over by Russia in the 1860s is far smaller than that taken in the Far East, is adjacent to a minority area remote from the Han heartland, and is now part not of a powerful Russian Empire or Soviet Union, but of Kazakstan, which poses no threat to China. The possibility of an attempted Soviet takeover of Xinjiang, indicated by Stalin's support of rebellions there in the 1930s and 1940s was triply buried, by the Communist victory in China, the death of Stalin, and finally the demise of the Soviet Union. Uighur separatism receives no support from the Central Asian leaders, and at least by Kazakstan and Turkmenistan greater Chinese involvement in industrial development is already being actively solicited. As China's economic expansion continues an inevitable search for new markets is likely to lead it to follow the example of its predecessors in industrialisation. Initially this would probably take the form of joint ventures between Central Asian enterprises and Xinjiang-based subsidiaries of Chinese "heartland" firms, exchanging machinery, consumer goods and food products for Turkmen gas and Kazak oil, gas and coal. The Sino-Kazakstan agreement of September 1997 mentioned above indicates that this process has already started. But even without Chinese involvement, Russia's economic dominance of Central Asia has already been eroded enough for its continued political dominance to be in question. Russia is in no position to lift the Central Asian states out of the economic crisis caused by collapse of the Union and cessation of the subsidies it formerly provided to their economies, and their leaders have mixed feelings about its continued domination, punctuating persistent efforts to diversify their economic and political relationships with periodic statements about the importance of the Russian connection. The priority Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in particular are attaching to development of their gold deposits, for example, is mainly because gold is valuable enough to be flown out for sale, whereas their other exports largely depend for transit on Russian goodwill.
That Russian goodwill is not always forthcoming has been illustrated on several occasions. In the early post-independence years unrealistically low Soviet-era domestic prices for fuel remained in force. Russia paid $10 per thousand cubic metres for Turkmenistan's principal export, natural gas, which, when piped via Russia and Ukraine to Western Europe, sold for $72. When Turkmenistan raised its price to $28 Russia and Ukraine promptly fell into debt, and in 1993 Russia ceased to buy Turkmen gas for export, replacing it with gas from its own West Siberian fields. The only customers then left to Turkmenistan were CIS countries, paying only 60% of world prices *49 and often too short of cash to pay even at that figure. *50 Gas production in Turkmenistan promptly fell from 90 billion cubic metres a year in 1990 to 35.2 billion in 1996. *51 Niyazov places hopes for Turkmenistan's future on resumption of gas deliveries to Europe via the Russian pipeline and a new line to be built through Iran to a Turkish port, and on new pipelines to deliver gas to northern Iran and Pakistan. The pipeline to Iran is 200 kilometres long, and will cost about $190 million. Construction began in October 1996. *52 The Pakistan project is estimated to cost $2 billion. A preliminary agreement was signed in August 1996; as with the consortium developing Kazakstan's Tengiz oilfield, Russia's part is minor. The US Unocal and Saudi Delta companies hold an 85% share between them, Russian Gazprom 10%, and a Russo-Turkmen joint venture Turkmenrosgaz the remaining 5%. However, the feasibility of this project depends upon an end to fighting in Afghanistan, through which it must pass.
The future of the planned alternative route to Europe is even less certain. lt is estimated to cost $9 billion, and because of its routing through Iran US companies can currently participate neither in finance nor in construction, because of the US embargo on dealings with Iran, while other G7 countries are likely to adopt a wait-and-see position, given on the one hand the German court verdict that the Iranian government ordered the killing of four dissidents in Berlin in 1992, and on the other the recent election of a new Iranian President with a reputation as a moderate liberal. Even if construction starts this year, it will not be earning revenue before the turn of the century, and given the need to trans-ship the gas into tankers at a Turkish port, would not necessarily be able to compete profitably with existing Russian pipelines in deliveries to the most lucrative market, Western Europe. Niyazov's most grandiose project is a gas pipeline through Afghanistan and China to the Korean Peninsula and Japan.*53 Given the length of the line, the difficult terrain to be traversed, and the alternative supplies available to North-East Asia from nearer gas fields in Siberia and Sakhalin, this is probably best classified for the present as a pipe dream.
Another important reason for Russia to maintain a presence in Central Asia is the traffic in drugs. The Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan alone are now estimated as growing about 40% of the world's opium supply, and though most of it is still processed and exported via the tribal border areas of Pakistan, the porosity of Tajikistan's frontiers engendered by civil war, and the ease with which Customs controllers and Border Guards *54 (wretchedly paid when paid at all) can be bribed, is making a northern route via Tajikistan and Russia to Western Europe increasingly attractive to smugglers. Apart from the dangers an unimpeded Russian mafia-controlled trade in narcotics can pose to Russia itself, not to be seen combating the drug traffic would harm Russia's relations with the Western countries which are its main destinations. *55 Weapons smuggling is another reason for Russia to maintain tight control over external borders in Central Asia, particularly those with Afghanistan. Apart from those carried into Tajikistan by militants of the United Tajik Opposition for their own use or for equipping UTO members within the country, the abundance of weapons in Afghanistan makes it an obvious potential source of cheap armaments for militant movements or gangster groups. However, weapons are easier to detect than drugs, and weight for weight much less lucrative to smuggle; so far, at least, they are not a problem of severity comparable to drugs.
The Russian military is particularly sensitive to situations along its borders for two reasons, one physical, the other psychological. Physically, despite the ability of modern weaponry to destroy a country without actually invading it, Soviet military thinking from the mid-1960s to the end of the Union was dominated by the idea that in a future global war the superpowers, recognising the futility of mutual suicide, would not use nuclear weapons against each other's main centres. The war would be fought with conventional forces and tactical nuclear weapons around the periphery of the Soviet bloc, against US & European NATO forces over the entire area between the North Cape of Norway and the Soviet-Turkish border in Transcaucasus, and against US-Japanese-South Korean forces (in the worst case Chinese forces as well) attacking the Soviet Far East. By comparison Central Asia appeared the least threatened area, especially after the collapse of the Baghdad Pact/CENTO, the Communist coup in Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But Western, especially US, aid to the anti-Communist insurgents in Afghanistan, resuscitated nineteenth-century Tsarist fears of penetration of Central Asia by a hostile great power, prompting an ill-considered military intervention, undertaken over the military's own objections.*56 Psychologically, the present leaders of the Russian military mostly aged between 45 and 55 and therefore first commissioned from the mid-1960s onwards, were exposed throughout their careers to the dogma that the armed forces' most important mission would be defence of the periphery against the US-led alliance system. Bases, airfields, early warning radars, storage depots, supply and communications systems were located in accordance with that concept not only in Eastern Europe but in frontier areas of the Union, which everywhere except in the Far North and Far East are now independent states. The cost of replacing them with comparable installations on Russian territory is quite beyond current resources, so agreements have been concluded, with as many CIS states as were willing, for Russia to retain facilities and station troops, and to guard the external frontiers with Border Guards wholly or partly supplied by Russia and totally under Russian command. The Central Asian states have generally accepted Russian proposals, which they see as on the one hand involving little derogation of sovereignty (they merely perpetuate, mostly on a much reduced scale, a presence that has been there since the last century, and enable them to derive some financial benefit by charging for use of the facilities) and on the other saving them the costs and other problems of building up their own armed forces quickly to levels appropriate to self defence. Few Central Asians became officers in the Soviet Army, and hardly any reached the senior ranks, so the new Central Asian armies are still officered mainly by Russians.*57 Russian Army doctrine holds that four years are needed to train an officer to command a Company, ten a Battalion, and fifteen a Regiment, so Central Asian officers now being trained (mostly in Russia) will not be qualified to replace Russians as Battalion commanders until 2005, and as Regiment commanders until 2010. This situation makes medium-term dependence on Russia inevitable, so it is convenient to have Russia shoulder most of the defence burden as well, and far cheaper for Russia to do so than to build new installations along its own borders. The arrangement, like the playing of the Islamic threat card, therefore suits both sides.


The Central Asian states, except for Tajikistan, have declined economically somewhat less than most other states of the FSU, and Uzbekistan has been particularly successful in limiting economic decline. However, it cannot yet be said that their economic decline, generally worse than that of the 1930s "Great Depression" has "bottomed out". In all of them it began from a much lower economic base than in Russia, and they are having difficulties in overcoming the problems they inherited from the Soviet era, namely narrowly-based mainly rural economies, with industrial plants mostly too large and too specialised to meet their own needs, obsolete equipment in both industry and agriculture, health education and welfare services and pensions difficult to sustain since the cessation of the large subsidies they received from the Soviet central government, and a dependence on Russian goodwill which is not always forthcoming for transits of imports and exports. They are well-endowed with natural resources, but these were mostly under-exploited in Soviet times and to exploit them requires capital investment which neither the Central Asians nor Russia can provide. Russia retains considerable influence, and the Central Asians' efforts to reduce their dependence on it are constrained by the paucity of routes for export and import trade that do not go through Russian territory. In the short to medium term Russia's influence is challenged by development possibilities offered by several European countries, the United States, Canada, Japan and South Korea which Russia cannot match. In the longer term, China, already an important trading partner for post-independence Central Asia, has a potential for joint ventures or direct investment which Russia is unlikely to be able to match, and has already begun to demonstrate that potential in respect to Kazakstan.


  1. Sh Shoimatulloev, Stanovlenie molodoy sem'i, Tajik Academy of Sciences Publishing House, series Philosophy and Jurisprudence 3/1992, p. 27.
  2. S N Eisenstadt, Traditional Patrimonialism and Modern Neopatrimonialism, SAGE Publications, 1973, p. 63.
  3. This point is made by Stephen G Wheatcroft, "Revisiting the Crisis Zones of Euro-Asia", Part Two, Russian and Euro-Asian Bulletin, April 1997, Centre for Russian and Euro-Asian Studies, University of Melbourne, pp. 1-5.
  4. The data are extracted from Table 10 of From Plan to Market: World Development Report 1996; published for the World Bank by Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 206-207. (Hereafter cited as From Plan to Market...)
  5. Ibid, Table 8, pp. 202-203. The unit of energy consumption is one kilogram of oil equivalent.
  6. Two examples; Soviet machine-picked cotton on the international market was found to contain too much trash to secure top prices; gold-extraction machinery left enough gold behind to justify Uzbekistan letting a major contract to an Australian company to reprocess an enormous tailings dump, and Kyrgyzstan to entrust the exploitation of its own gold deposits to a Canadian firm.
  7. Abel Aganbegyan, one of Gorbachev's economic advisers, stated publicly that by the beginning of perestroika 71% of machinery in Soviet industry was obsolete.
  8. CIS Goskomstat data base.
  9. Since the signing of a cease-fire and power-sharing agreement between the government and the United Tajik Opposition in December 1996 there have been a number of killings of Russians in Tajikistan. These are denounced by both sides, and appear to be perpetrated by local "warlords" who benefited from the disorder of the Civil War.
  10. Per capita GNP at Purchasing Power Parity in 1996 is calculated at $US 789 in Tajikistan, 1788 in Kyrgyzstan, 2318 in Uzbekistan and 2572 in Kazakstan, versus $4293 in Russia. Wheatcroft, op cit, p. 8.
  11. E g at the peak in mid-1994 non-locals, overwhelmingly Russians, were claimed to be leaving Tajikistan at the rate of 2,000 a month. RFE/RL Daily Digest 20 June 1994. The Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan claimed that 365,000 of a Slav population of over 500,000 had left by mid-1994. Stolitsa 37/1994, p. 18. Of a Russian population of 1.1 million about 300,000 left Kyrgyzstan in the first two years of independence. Richard B Dobson, "Kyrgyzstan in a Time of Change", Central Asian Monitor (hereafter CAM) 2/1994, pp. 17-22. Of about 400,000 ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan, 75% have left. P Kubicek, "Building Social Tolerance: the Case of Kyrgyzstan", CAM 5/1996 pp. 16-19.
  12. Natsional'nyy Sostav Naseleniya SSSR, Moscow, Finansy i Statistika 1989, p. 26.
  13. Between the 1979 and 1989 censuses the Russian population in Central Asia increased by 2.2%, while the indigenous ethnicities increased by 20.6%. Rybakovskiy, L L, Sotsiologicheskie Issledovaniya 9/1995, p. 91.
  14. 179,000 arrived, 366,000 left. Ibid.
  15. Roy, O, "The Civil War in Tajikistan: Causes and Implications", Washington, US Institute of Peace, 1993, p. 16.
  16. Schema for defining regionalism adapted by K Nourzhanov from Wirth, L, "The Limits of Regionalism", in Jensen, M (Ed) Regionalism in America, University of Wisconsin Press, 1965, pp. 382-384.
  17. Malashenko, A, "The 1980s: a New Political Start for Islam", in Russian Politics And Law Vol 31/4, 1993, p. 25.
  18. An article by Abdumannob Polatov listed numerous human rights violations by Turkmen and Uzbek security forces, including beating, forcible seizure and extradition of dissidents who are citizens of or resident in or attending conferences in other CIS countries. CAM 2/1995, pp. 31-36.
  19. ITAR/TASS 23 October 1996.
  20. CAM 1/1996, p. 11.
  21. Interfax 7 January 1997.
  22. CAM 2/1997, p. 16.
  23. The figures are taken from Russian and Euro-Asian Bulletin, CRE-AS, Melbourne University, May 1997, p. 12.
  24. CAM 1/1997, pp. 1-2.
  25. CAM 2/1997, pp. 8-9 and 38. Despite Akayev's reputation as a liberal, he had earlier attempted to institute controls over the press, which he accused of "irresponsible behaviour stirring up social and political conflicts", and focussed particularly on the Russian-language Svobodnyye Gory parliamentary newspaper. The attempt was abandoned after a storm of protest from leading intellectuals and editors. Interfax 15 July 1994. See also Sydykova, Z, Za Kulisami Demokratii po-Kyrgyzski, Bishkek, "Res Publica", 1997.
  26. See also article by Barnabas Johnson, "The Role of the United States in the Erosion and Collapse of Constitutional Government in Kazakhstan", CAM 6/1995, pp. 14-19.
  27. CAM 2/1997, p. 6.
  28. CAM 2/1997, p. 7.
  29. AFP 9 February 1997.
  30. CAM 4/1996, p. 7.
  31. From Plan to Market..., Table 6, pp. 198-199.
  32. Ignatenko, A, in Ermakov & Mikulskiy (Eds) Islam v Rossii i Sredney Azii, Moscow, Lotos, 1993, p. 171.
  33. Iliasov, F N, "Skol'ko Stoit Nevesta?", Sotsiologicheskie Issledovaniya 6/1991, p. 69.
  34. Each sample was of about 1200 respondents, numbers of indigenes and Russians in each sample approximately corresponding to their proportion in the country's population. Richard B Dobson, "Islam in Central Asia: Results of Four Surveys", CAM 2/1994, pp. 17-22.
  35. Ibid.
  36. That they are not only addressing foreign investors is shown by a survey conducted by the US Institute of Peace in Central Asia in 1989. Roughly 90% of respondents then defined strengthening of social order and discipline as the most important problem, whereas only 47% of respondents in Uzbekistan and less than 40% in Kazakstan thought freedom of speech and a free press important. N Lubin in Colton, T J and Tucker, R C (Eds) Patterns in post-Soviet leadership, Westview Press, 1995, p. 221.
  37. lnterfax 20 May 1995.
  38. K Petersen in CAM 5/1996, pp. 14-15. In a gesture which may have owed as much to economics as to politics, the Tashkent statue of Timur was placed on a pediment originally provided for a statue of General Kaufmann, the first Russian Governor-General of Turkestan, then used for a statue of Stalin, replaced after de-Stalinisation by one of Karl Marx.
  39. CAM 2/96, p. 1
  40. Gorbachev in 1987 put it even more strongly "Experience has shown that two languages should be studied.. one's mother-tongue and Russian", implying that those whose mother tongue was Russian need learn no other. Gorbachev, M, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, London, Collins, 1987, p. 121.
  41. At one time Russia was charging Kazakstan three times as much per tonne for West Siberian crude as it was paying for oil it imported from fields in South-West Kazakstan.
  42. CAM 6/1996, p. 3.
  43. The PPP figures ($US) were Tajikistan 970, Kyrgyzstan 1730, Uzbekistan 2370, China 2510, Kazakstan 2810. From Plan to Market..., Table 1, p. 188.
  44. One in Tashkent, the other in Asaka, Andijon oblast, opened 25 March and 19 July 1996 respectively. CAM 4/1996, p. 13.
  45. ITAR/TASS 13 January 1997.
  46. Signed on 18 February 1997. RFE/RL 19 February 1997.
  47. E g during a 3-day visit to Beijing, Kyodo 13 September 1995, and following widespread Uighur rioting with "several thousand" arrests admitted by Chinese authorities, Xinhua 19 February 1997.
  48. Guardian Weekly 5 Oct 1997, p. 19.
  49. Delovoy Mir 20 Sep 94, p. 5.
  50. On 4 February 1997 Niyazov announced a doubling of salaries of government employees and military, to be paid for from fines imposed on Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan for overdue payments for gas delivered in 1994-6. CAM 2/1997, p. 19.
  51. CAM 2/1997, p. 17.
  52. CAM 2/1997, p. 12.
  53. Delovoy Mir 20 September 1994, p. 5.
  54. Lieutenant-General Tarasenko, commanding Russian Border Guard forces stationed in Tajikistan, complained in June 1995 that since 1 January there had been over 1,000 desertions, and that only 2,100 of a required 3,500 conscripts had reported for duty. A (Tajik) Lieutenant-Colonel Sharipov serving in the Russian 201 Motor Rifle Division (the core of the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan) was arrested with eight others in June 1995 for alleged involvement in the murders of 12 soldiers and use of military aircraft to convey drugs to Russia. CAM 4/1995, p. 10.
  55. The UN International Narcotics Control Board on 27 February 1995 identified Central Asia as a major source of cannabis, opium and ephedrine. 390 kilos of raw opium were seized on the Afghan-Tajik border in August 1995 alone. Drug-related arrests in Kyrgyzstan rose from 909 in 1990 to 2544 in 1994. CAM 2/1995, pp. 3-4, and 5/1995, pp. 11-12. A Russian Border Guards officer told a press conference on 21 November 1995 that so far that year 2 tonnes of drugs had been seized on the Turkmen-Afghan border, 1800 persons, mostly Afghans, detained, and there had been 50 armed clashes, mostly with drug smugglers. Interfax 21 November 1995.
  56. For the military objections, and the reasons they were overruled, see Krasnaya Zvezda 17 November 1989.
  57. The only detailed figures published relate to 1994, in which year the percentages of officers in the Central Asian armies who were ethnic Russians were: Kyrgyzstan 70%, Tajikistan 80%, Turkmenistan 85%, Uzbekistan 90-91%, Kazakstan 90-94%. Lt-Colonel V Mukhin "The Slav Factor in the Muslim CIS States", Moscow, Armiya 10/1994, pp. 20-26.