Islamic Extremists Find Unwitting Allies in Central Asian Dictatorships

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Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I am utterly appalled by the Taliban regime's vicious campaign to stamp out freedom and religious tolerance in Afghanistan. But the Taliban's zeal to propagate a warped version of Islam--and the support for terrorism and drug trafficking that goes along with it--is not limited to Afghanistan. Already, an Islamic movement which was designated as a terrorist group by the United States Department of State has taken root in the Fergana valley area where the borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan meet. This insurgency has the full support and assistance of the despotic Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

So far, Kazakhstan has not been directly affected by this insurgency. However, because of its oil and mineral wealth, Kazakhstan is the crown jewel of the region and is thus almost certainly the ultimate target of the Islamic extremists. Kazakhstan's authoritarian regime has taken note of the alarming developments with its neighbors to the south and has taken steps to strengthen its defenses. That's the good news. The bad news, however, is that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has also stepped up domestic repression.

Mr. Speaker, the people of Kazakhstan know that they inhabit a rich country, but they also know that very little of that wealth trickles down to them. They are also not blind to the questionable elections, the stifling of press freedom, and the jailing of opposition leaders that have characterized the country's political life. They are losing hope, and thus they are vulnerable to the siren calls of the Islamic extremists. The parallel to the situation under Suharto in Indonesia ought to be instructive. Fortunately for Indonesia, Islamic extremists were not the beneficiaries of Suharto's ouster, but the same could not be said for Kazakhstan and some of its neighbors.

In the March 3 issue of The Economist, there is an excellent article on Kazakhstan's security situation. The author of the article concludes: "Government repression and mismanagement help to nourish extremism and terrorism in Central Asia. An effort to improve social and economic conditions and freedom of expression might make Kazakhstan less fertile ground for militant zealots."

That, Mr. Speaker, is the crux of the issue. I submit the full text of this article from The Economist to be placed in the Record following my remarks.

Mr. Speaker, some here in Washington may be tempted to urge U.S. support for President Nazarbayev and the other authoritarian regimes in Central Asia, because they claim to be bulwarks of defense against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, however, the Central Asian domestic political environment is the problem, not the solution. Only a democratic political system, a free press and respect for human rights will stop Islamic extremists. And the United States must stand with those governments in Central Asia who share these values.

[From The Economist, Mar. 3, 2001]
Kazakhstan--In Defense

[article text]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).