Kyrgyzstan models itself as Central Asia’s only parliamentary democracy, but multiple challenges threaten its stability, says a new report from the International Crisis Group:
Divided ethnically between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks and geographically north and south, the state is deeply corrupt and fails to deliver basic services, in particular justice and law enforcement. Its political institutions are under stress: the October 2015 parliamentary elections had a veneer of respectability but were undermined by systematic graft at the party and administrative level, and presidential elections will test state cohesion in 2017. The 30 August suicide car bomb attack on the Chinese embassy in Bishkek underscored Kyrgyzstan’s security vulnerabilities. There is need to prevent and counter the threat of growing radicalization by bolstering the credibility of its institutions and adopting a more tolerant attitude toward non-violent Islamists.
In partial response, growing numbers look to Islam for political identity and a source of authority. Many of these face exclusion or discrimination. Religious Uzbeks are viewed with deep suspicion, and religious women of both ethnicities have few options. Hard-line interpretations of Islam also undermine the rights of children of both ethnicities. The environment is favorable for radical groups that reject the nation state, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, and those with a violent agenda, such as IS.
“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 authors conclude. “The government must end economic marginalization and improve inadequate institutions, or risk not just threats to internal security but also the resurfacing of ethnic tensions.”