SFAR 1: Impacts on Kyrgyzstan Government Religious Policies in the Aftermath of the 16 December 2007 Elections

Executive Summary:
One of the most difficult challenges the newly elected government of President Bakiyev is facing is the rising Islamic radicalization and the threat it poses to secular institutions in Kyrgyzstan. It is highly likely that the government policy of tightening control over religious institutions and education will result in short-term stabilization of secular state institutions at the expense of long-term public discontent, heightened mistrust of state authorities, a strong likelihood of violence, and possible terrorist attacks.

Discussion:


Implications for Domestic Policy:
Toigonbek Kalmatov, head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs, has stated his intentions to adopt stricter rules on religion as a measure against the rising influence of radical Islamic groups, including re-registering and inspecting of religious associations and religious educational institutions. The newly elected government is facing three main challenges in building secular institutions in an Islamic context: (i) lack of clear legal framework for secularity, (ii) weak ideological basis for the co-existence of Islam and a secular state, and (iii) absence of democratic mechanisms for guaranteeing secularity.

The public tolerance of secularity enjoyed by a country with a large Muslim population is due to lack of extensive Islamic education.  With an increase in educational and religious propaganda activities of various Islamic groups, it is highly likely that such tolerance will quickly evaporate and become a major issue for the ruling elite’s perception of threat to state institutions and national security, which in the eyes of the government is one and the same. It is also highly likely that if Kyrgyz government authorities allow transparent democratic elections, pro-Islamic leaders and parties will win “unsavory” majority, thus undermining the secular principle of the state.

Implications for Foreign Policy:
Understanding of Islam by Kyrgyz government is similar to that in most countries with a secular orientation, including the U.S., Russia, and EU countries. The prevalent political rhetoric is a dichotomized view of Islam: the muftiate, or traditional Islam, and everything else as radical Islam. State authorities make no distinction between groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, IMU, the Salafis, and the Wahhabis. The muftiate is the largest organization in Kyrgyzstan, and it is mostly compatible with the state. Its popularity, however, is declining both as a result of its poor knowledge of Islam and its tolerant views of the secular state authorities. Instead, conservative Salafi Islam and the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which are largely incompatible with the state, are on the rise in public popularity.

As Kyrgyz government shares this dichotomized view of Islam with the U.S. and other Western governments, it is highly likely that it will continue to synchronize its foreign policy on the issue of religion with them. The renewed affirmation of Kyrgyz authorities to retain the U.S. air base outside Bishkek is a clear indication of a Bishkek-Washington rapprochement.  In the short term, this policy is likely to result in the stabilization and affirmation of secular state institutions, as well as ensure that those who are currently in power remain there. In the long term, it is likely that tightening control over religious institutions and education with the support of the U.S., Russia, and regional authoritarian-state actors, will result in aggravated public discontent, increased mistrust of the government, a strong likelihood of violence, and possible terrorist attacks.

Comment:
It is likely that Islam is used by state authorities to justify its methods for disposing of its opposition. In August 2006 Imam Mohammadrafiq Kamalov was killed in a joint operation by Uzbek and Kyrgyz security services because of alleged associations with Hizb ut-Tahrir and IMU. In October 2007, independent journalist and ardent critic of the Uzbek’s government human rights abuses, Alisher Saipov, was killed in plain view, in front of his office in Osh. While both Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities were quick to publish an official version of a connection between the two killings and the Hizb ut-Tahrir, such a connection is the least likely hypothesis.

Source Reliability: 7
Analytic Confidence: 7

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