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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Releases > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Fact Sheets > 2002
Fact Sheet
Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Washington, DC
November 27, 2002

Frequently Asked Questions About U.S. Policy In Central Asia

Q: Why is Central Asia important to the United States?

A: The U.S. Government learned a harsh lesson after we disengaged from Afghanistan in the early 1990s. We must not allow countries to become breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism. To prevent these destructive forces from taking root in Central Asia, we have intensified our efforts to help the countries of this area become stable, prosperous, and fully integrated members of the world community and the global economy.

Our new relationship with the countries of the region includes not only increased military and counterterrorism cooperation, but also intense diplomatic engagement to press for fundamental political, economic, and societal reforms and to develop increased respect for human rights in accord with these countriesí United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) obligations. We have emphasized repeatedly that security, stability, and prosperity in the region is inextricably linked to democratic and economic reforms, a healthy respect for human rights, rule of law, and a willingness to work together to solve regional problems. Our goals in the region include the growth of independent media, political pluralism, and the development of a vibrant civil society. We continually make the case to these governments that a transition to democratic values and free-market economic development -- not increased repression -- are the best ways to ensure that their citizens do not turn to extremist and terrorist alternatives active in the region.

Moreover, Central Asia has world-class energy reserves. We want to facilitate the export of this energy to world markets to diversify world energy supplies. This would lead to greater stability in international energy markets and make world consumers less dependent on any one energy source.

For all of these reasons, the U.S. Government is committed to be fully engaged in Central Asia for the long term.

Q: What have the Central Asian states done to support the war on terrorism and Operation Enduring Freedom?

A: Soon after September 11, 2001, all of the governments in the region offered generous assistance to prosecute the war against terrorism. All the Central Asian states quickly joined the coalition and offered "whatever you need." As we began to establish facilities to prosecute the war in Afghanistan, Russian President Putin affirmed his support for the increased U.S. presence in the region to combat terrorism, noting that it was in Russia's interest to do so.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were the first to offer the use of their facilities to U.S. and coalition troops. Both played central roles as staging areas for our crucial early operations against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban. The bombing campaign in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, literally an hour after Uzbekistan and the United States signed the Status of Forces Agreement that provided the legal basis for the United States to carry out search and rescue missions from Karshi-Khanabad airbase.

All governments in the region provided blanket overflight rights, and Turkmenistan and Tajikistan facilitated the transfer of humanitarian aid into Afghanistan in the first few months of the effort. While several countries offered airbases for the long-term prosecution of the war, Manas, the civilian airport serving Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, was chosen to be the primary base for coalition air support for our troops in Afghanistan. We also obtained agreement to refuel aircraft at the Dushanbe and Ashgabat airports. Kazakhstan provided landing rights for coalition aircraft forced to divert from Manas due to inclement weather or technical emergencies.

All the countries of Central Asia have assured us of their continued cooperation in the global war on terrorism and until Afghanistan achieves stability.

Q: Does the U.S. plan to keep major bases in the region long-term?

A: We do not intend to establish permanent military bases in Central Asia. We are seeking long-term security relationships and access to military bases for the foreseeable future. Our current military presence in the region is likely to remain constant as long as our operations continue in Afghanistan.

Q: What is the terrorist threat in Central Asia? Are there terrorist groups in Central Asia?

A: The terrorist threat in Central Asia comes mainly from extremist groups that developed their presence in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and that identify their political causes with Islam. The most active of these groups is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), by some reports now the Islamic Movement of Central Asia. The State Department designated the IMU a Foreign Terrorist Organization in September 2000 after it conducted violent attacks against the governments of Central Asia. It has publicly called for the overthrow of the Government of Uzbekistan and has claimed responsibility for violent attacks in the territories of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Although they operated mainly from their bases in Afghanistan, the IMU also had established bases in Tajikistan prior to Operation Enduring Freedom; however, the government of Tajikistan pushed the vast majority of IMU fighters out of the country early in 2002. The IMU's actions over the years have resulted in the deaths of civilians, as well as Uzbek and Kyrgyz military personnel, and kidnappings of citizens and foreign nationals, including citizens of the United States.

The IMU established close political and military ties to al-Qa'ida and received al-Qa'ida funds. The IMU fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan against coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. Although disrupted and degraded as a cohesive organization by coalition operations in Afghanistan, remnants of the IMU continue to pose a terrorist threat to friends and allies in Central Asia and coalition forces operating in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. The United States re-designated the IMU as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in September 2002.

The East Turkistan Uighur movement has also produced a terrorist group, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). ETIM is a violent group believed responsible for committing numerous acts of terrorism in China, including bombings of buses, movie theaters, department stores, markets, and hotels; assassinations; and arson. From 1990 to 2001, members of ETIM reportedly committed over 200 acts of terrorism in China, resulting in at least 162 deaths and over 440 injuries. It includes components in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Xinjiang Province of China. Its objective is the creation of a fundamentalist Muslim state called "East Turkistan."

Although ETIM originally did not target U.S. nationals or other foreigners within China or plan attacks outside of China, there is evidence that ETIM members have changed tactics. In May, Kyrgyzstan deported two suspected ETIM members to China on the grounds that they were planning terrorist attacks, including assaults on foreign embassies. The United States has designated the ETIM as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

The United States is also closely monitoring the Hizb ut-Tahrir al Islami (HT) movement, which has called for the overthrow of the governments of Central Asia. Despite its inflammatory rhetoric, it professes non-violence. Because there is little if any evidence that HT has committed acts of violence to achieve its political goals, the United States has not designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Q: If the Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) is not a terrorist group and professes non-violence, why is the United States concerned about it?

A: HT is a secretive, cell-based, transnational organization with support among Muslims in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and with an organizational base in London. It has urged the overthrow of governments across the Islamic world and the establishment of a borderless, theocratic Islamic caliphate.

HT was founded in the Middle East in the 1950s. It promotes a utopian view of political Islam under which social problems like corruption and poverty would be eradicated by the strict application of sharia (Islamic law). HT uses a mixture of local history, arguments about socio-economic and political conditions, and advocacy for international religious solidarity to promote its cause.

HT is organized in secretive, five-member cells whose members later form their own groups or halkas. Only the leader of each halka has a connection to a higher halka. Public expression of its views usually is conducted through leaflets, and recruitment generally is conducted through friends and family, mirroring traditional social constructs. Members often emphasize the "inner jihad," or a psychological transformation, as the impetus for joining the group. This method has helped HT spread rapidly, especially in Kyrgyzstan. HT, at least in Uzbekistan, has a core of well-educated members. More recently it has expanded membership to rural areas and the less educated.

In Central Asia, HT members are generally ethnic Uzbeks, but recently the group has been active recruiting members in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, perhaps due to pressure on its members by the Government of Uzbekistan. Outside Uzbekistan, HTís appeal has centered on discontent with Kyrgyz and Tajik government policies toward religious practices. Some HT activity has been noticed in southern Kazakhstan.

HTís rhetoric since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism has turned more militant. HT leaflets have praised martyrdom operations against Israel and denounced coalition forces from Central Asia. HT leaflets have also claimed that the United States and the United Kingdom are at war with Islam, and have called for all Muslims to defend the faith and engage in jihad against these countries. Although there is no confirmed evidence of HTís involvement in violent actions or intention as an organization to commit them, it clearly incites violence. It also serves to indoctrinate dissatisfied and unemployed youth into radical Islam, who may then be recruited by more violent groups. While all of the Central Asian states are taking active measures to halt the spread of HT, there is little indication that HTís attractiveness will ebb in the foreseeable future.

Even though HT advocates the overthrow of existing secular systems, we advise officials in Central Asia that they should prosecute their citizens for illegal acts, not for their beliefs. We regularly remind these officials that indiscriminate activities alienate their citizens from the state and could have the unintended consequence of promoting the growth of HT.

Q: Some allege that the United States turns a blind eye to repression in Central Asia in return for security cooperation. Isn't it true that the human rights situation has worsened since the United States increased its military presence in the region?

A: No, this is not true. In fact, Kazakhstan -- where the United States has had the least military involvement -- has had the some of the most negative trends on human rights and political freedoms in the past year, even though its human rights situation is better overall then other countries in the region. By contrast, Uzbekistan -- with perhaps the most direct U.S. military involvement -- has made real progress, even as we recognize that Uzbekistan's human rights record requires significant improvement. Tajikistan has also made a great deal of progress on human rights, and by most accounts has no political prisoners. Kyrgyzstan has had a mixed year that included the killing of five activitists on March 17 by police during demonstrations, but recent trends have been decidedly more positive.

We believe the perception that the U.S. security relations in the region have emboldened leaders to crack down on human rights stems from activists' ideals not being met quickly. We deeply sympathize with their goals, but we must emphasize that changing long-ingrained patterns of behavior requires deep commitment and intense work over a long period of time.

Q: What specifics can you give about the human rights situation in Central Asia?

A: The regional human rights picture in Central Asia is without doubt a mixed one, with limited but real progress in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan; stasis in Turkmenistan; and some specific backsliding in Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistan has in the last year registered its first independent human rights non-governmental organization (NGO), worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to restart prison visits, ended direct censorship of the mass media, ceased its monopoly on Internet service provision, convicted and charged eight police officers in separate instances of the torture death of prisoners, and invited the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit the country.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, which has perhaps the most active civil society in Central Asia, President Akayev began dialogue this summer with the moderate opposition following the unfortunate events in Aksyy, and we hope it will lead to real democratic transition when Akayev's term ends in 2005. He has also initiated a process that, if followed through, will fundamentally shift the balance of power in the country to more democratic norms.

The Government of Tajikistan dropped charges against an exiled opposition journalist, ended its monopoly on the Internet, reduced the price of registering local NGOs, allowed ICRC access to prisons, and registered the first independent FM radio station in the country's history. The French NGO, Reporters Without Borders, recently judged Tajikistan's mass media to be the most free in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan, which has generally been ahead of its Central Asian neighbors in political reform and human rights, has not performed as well during much of 2002. It has selectively charged and convicted key opposition leaders for corruption, sentencing them to long prison terms. Independent media outlets and journalists have suffered intimidation and violence, and a new law has made it difficult for smaller political parties to register legally. In the positive column, however, new opposition media are reporting objectively and without interference, including on sensitive issues like alleged corruption by high officials.

Q: What has the United States done to promote human rights and religious freedoms in Central Asia?

A: The U.S. Government maintains an intense dialogue with the governments of each of the countries in the region on human rights and democratization and continues to be a frequent, and sometimes public, critic of each of the five Central Asian states' records in this area. We report objectively and in great detail in the annual Human Rights Report, the Trafficking in Persons Report, and the International Religious Freedom Report.

Recognizing that significant political change will take time, we have designed our assistance programs to promote the development of democratic freedoms. In the last fiscal year we spent about $50 million in Central Asia specifically on democracy programs. This includes everything from NGO support and Internet access for the region's citizens to promoting rule of law, judicial reform, grassroots political development, and the ability of local governments to be responsive to citizens' needs.

Q: Can you cite any progress on political reform?

A: Progress on political reform and democratization continues to be slow, with fundamental, across-the-board change not likely until there is a generational shift in leadership or dramatic expansion of prosperity. There has, however, been forward movement, and we are beginning to see positive steps toward democratic pluralism.

Tajikistan has incorporated its former Islamic opposition movements into its government. Kyrgyzstan has established a Constitutional Council, with participation by political opposition groups and private sector representatives, which could lead to a more democratic balance of power. Uzbekistan has allowed the banned Birlik opposition political party to hold six regional congresses, prerequisites for Birlik to register as an officially recognized political party. The situation in Turkmenistan has remained static, although there is a growing civil society focused primarily on citizens' concerns such as environmental and women's issues, which are elements of grassroots democracy. In Kazakhstan, Ak Zhol has garnered enough signatures to register as a legal political party. It has also launched its own mass media, which appear to be reporting objectively and fairly and without government interference.

Q: Has there been any progress on economic reforms?

A: Eleven years after independence, the states of Central Asia have had varied success in overhauling their former Soviet command economies. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have done well implementing economic reforms, but Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are only now beginning this difficult process.

Despite its relative lack of natural resources and its geographic isolation (doubly land-locked), Kyrgyzstan has achieved sustained economic growth and a small reduction in poverty through economic reform and World Trade Organization membership.

Kazakhstan had led the region in economic reform, especially in the banking and finance sectors, but endemic corruption threatens to harm its business climate and limit foreign investment.

Uzbekistan has taken steps to implement economic reforms and build its relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but progress has been slow because powerful entrenched interests oppose economic reform. We are working intensively with the Government of Uzbekistan to encourage it to meet all of the IMF preconditions for beginning negotiations on a Stand-By Agreement, which will help it move forward with economic reform.

The Government of Tajikistan, after recovering from its civil war, has renewed its relationship with the IMF through completing a Staff Monitored Program. The pace of economic reform should accelerate as the government becomes increasingly more stable.

Turkmenistan has made little progress on economic reforms, and the state still controls the vast majority of all economic activity. Ashgabat's misguided economic policies are seriously harming its economy. Direct foreign investment in this potentially wealthy (because of vast natural gas deposits) nation is negligible, and the education and healthcare sectors are rapidly declining.

Q: Two countries of Central Asia have been singled out in the Trafficking in Persons Report. What is the trafficking situation like in Central Asia?

A: The 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report designated Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as Tier-3 countries and Kazakhstan as a Tier-2 country. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were not ranked because of insufficient information. Tier-3 countries are those that do not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking as defined by the U.S. Trafficking Victims Act of 2000 and that have yet to make efforts to bring themselves into compliance with U.S. law and international standards. Tier-2 countries are those that do not comply with these minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.

Since the release of the report, we have had intensive consultations with most of the countries of Central Asia on improving their efforts to eliminate trafficking in their countries. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, in particular, have developed action plans, which include new legislation and concrete programs to fight trafficking. We are working with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to develop similar action plans. Through these programs, we hope to generate the political will to establish effective cooperation and the law enforcement mechanisms to combat this illegal activity. Awareness of this problem is still new in the region, but we are finding a strong will to take measures to attack this scourge. The United States is focusing its efforts both on governments and civil society.

Q: What are the prospects for energy development in Central Asia?

A: Central Asia has enormous potential for energy development. Kazakhstan has the potential to be one of the five top exporters of oil by 2015. Its production in 2002 will likely exceed 900,000 barrels a day, increasing to as much as 5 million barrels per day in 2015, more than Kuwait or Iran. Turkmenistan has one of the world's largest deposits of natural gas -- estimated at 101 trillion cubic feet -- and oil production of about 160,000 barrels per day. While the Caspian region will not rival total Middle East production, it is on track to become the largest non-Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) source of production growth in the next decade. Also, there is enormous potential for hydropower in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which could contribute to meeting energy needs in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and parts of South Asia.

Because the Caspian Basin is land-locked, producers there face monumental challenges getting their hydrocarbon resources to world markets. To support these countries in achieving their potential and strengthening their sovereignty and prosperity, the United States has promoted the development of multiple export routes. We have had some notable successes. The Caspian Pipeline Consortium pipeline opened in 2001 and is shipping Kazakh oil from Tengiz to the Black Sea. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which will ship one million barrels of oil per day from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, received final approval on August 1, 2002, and broke ground for construction on September 18. The Kazakhs are ready to start negotiations on sending future oil shipments into that line. We expect that the Shah Deniz natural gas pipeline, to be constructed parallel to BTC, will be sanctioned early in 2003. Also, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are working with the Asian Development Bank and World Bank to determine the commercial feasibility of a trans-Afghan gas pipeline to meet energy needs primarily in South Asia.

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