Uzbekistan’s first new president in more than a quarter century has taken some positive steps in the early days of his administration. In order to encourage more sustained progress, western partners and regional powers will need to balance conditional support with tactical pressure.
CrisisWatch is a monthly early warning bulletin designed to provide a regular update on the state of the most significant situations of conflict around the world.
After 25 years of authoritarian rule, Uzbekistan faces unpredictable neighbours, a jihadi threat and deep socio-economic challenges. New President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken small steps toward vital domestic and foreign policy reform, and outside partners should push him to do more to avert real dangers ahead.
The rapid rise of alternative interpretations of Islam, often at odds with the state’s concept of traditional identity, are being fueled in part by endemic corruption and perceptions of incompetency. The government must end economic marginalisation and improve inadequate institutions, or risk not just threats to internal security but also the resurfacing of ethnic tensions.
Domestic repression and self-imposed isolation has characterised Uzbekistan for much of the time since its independence in 1991. Following the death of Islam Karimov, the country’s long-time and only post-Soviet president, the outside world must seize a rare opportunity to re-engage with this critical Central Asian country.
Since its creation in 2015, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has kept only a few of its promises. Its limited economic success cannot mask the many tensions between Russia and its neighbours. Much of the EEU’s future success will depend on its members’ will to shift away from geopolitics and focus on international cooperation, governance, social welfare and migration.
Plagued by violence, corruption and economic hardship, and exposed to a long, insecure border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan is under dangerous stress. President Rahmon’s autocratic undermining of the 1997 peace agreement is fostering Islamic radicalisation. As Tajikistan’s growing fragility impacts a brittle region, the country must become a conflict-prevention priority.
If the succession process [in Uzbekistan] is less than smooth, there is potential for this to create regional instability, particularly if we look to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
If the transition [in Uzbekistan] turns to political chaos, the risk of violent conflict is high; and in a region as fragile as Central Asia, the risk of that spreading is also high.
Recent political protests in Kyrgyzstan signal the possibility of deeper trouble ahead of presidential elections in November. For the first time in the country’s pro-independence history, there is real competition for leadership in Central Asia’s only semi-functioning democracy.
Originally published in The Interpreter
El derrame cerebral sufrido por el histórico líder autoritario de Uzbekistán (y los rumores sin confirmar de un posible fallecimiento) ha empujado al país hacia lo desconocido, pero los más íntimos del presidente van a tratar de conservar el poder y lograr que haya los mínimos trastornos durante la transición.
Originally published in Esglobal