Have you ever been to Central Asia
Dr. phil., born 1959; longtime Middle East editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit; since 2002 political advisor to the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, publicist and author.
Address: Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Hiroshimastr. 17, 10785 Berlin.
Email: [email protected]
Numerous publications on questions of Islam; last published: Tea in the garden of Timur. The crisis areas after the Iraq war, Hamburg 2003.
I. The "big game"
Central Asia has been a stage of world politics since September 11, 2001 at the latest. Since the region borders Afghanistan, it is of great geopolitical interest to the anti-terror coalition, which has thousands of soldiers stationed there. Extreme poverty, political instability, repression and the rampant self-enrichment of those in power are the reasons for the growing influence of radical Islamic movements, which have been on the rise in Central Asia since the end of the Soviet Union.
With the start of the attacks on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, which six weeks later led to the overthrow of the Taliban, military bases of the anti-terror coalition were set up in Central Asia, especially for the air force. There are bases in Kyrgyzstan (2,000 soldiers, mostly Americans and French) and Uzbekistan (1,500 Americans, 300 Germans), a small contingent (150 French, 30 Americans) is stationed in Tajikistan. The majority of the population regards the Western military presence with indifference. Political analysts on the ground fear that the growing American influence in the region will in the medium and long term clash primarily with Chinese, but also with Russian and Iranian interests. Last but not least, it is about access to natural resources, primarily crude oil and natural gas. The construction of new, predominantly American-financed pipelines (Baku, Azerbaijan - Ceyhan, Turkey; Turkmenistan - Pakistan via Afghanistan is planned) does not only determine the poverty or prosperity of the neighboring countries. At the same time it is a political signal, a symbol of the change of power. Russia's influence in Central Asia is waning and the US is filling the vacuum. Should Washington also perceive its new role as a regulatory power in the region, as in the Near and Middle East, the conflict with Beijing should not be long in coming.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan gained independence in 1991. The consequences have been an unprecedented economic decline, ethnic tensions, political repression and a boom in radical Islamic movements. All Central Asian states are presidential dictatorships, the opposition forces were largely smashed in the first two years of independence, and there are hardly any independent media. Government systems are characterized by nepotism and endemic corruption. The nomenclature from old Soviet times held its own in power, but now uses nationalistic or Islamic symbols to legitimize itself politically.
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