Radicalism, Drug Trafficking and Outside Influence in Central Asia

Seminar Paper, 2018
27 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents


Current Status of Regional Stability in Central Asia

Indicators of Instability in Central Asia

Radicalism, Drug Trafficking and Outside Influence






Interconnections of Instability in Central Asia




Central Asia has been experiencing immense instability in the last decades, and this situation seems to have advanced into a curse of stability. Currently, it is speculated that peace in the post-Soviet Central Asia has been tense. As a result, there is a high potential for bloodshed in the region, and this aspect can be evidenced by the events which occurred in Kyrgyzstan recently in 2010. It is believed that waves of lethal violence which were experienced in Kyrgyzstan have spread within the Central Asian region. This is so because elements of radicalism have emerged in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Historically, volatility is one of the principal reputations of Central Asia since 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed resulting into tense security situation in the region. Since then, Central Asian states have been characterized by violence, instability, destabilization and Islamic extremism. In addition, other nefarious aspects have been reported within the region leading to the emergence of the so-called ‘the Eurasian Balkans.’ It is observed that the state of perennial instability within Central Asia is attributable to the crumbling infrastructure, remittance economies and brutal dictatorship[1]. In the past, political leadership in the region has been characterized with immense repression and corruption. As a result, citizens in the respective countries have been experiencing social injustice leading to radicalism and civil unrest.

It appears that the events occurring within Central Asia may lead to state collapse given that all countries are faced with mass violence. For instance, Tajikistan is experiencing separatism, Kyrgyzstan succumb ethnic warfare and Uzbekistan battles repression and violent conflict that erupted in 2005. Therefore, instability in Central Asia is something that should be paid attention, in order to address the tortuous decline of the affected countries. In response to peace lapses in the region, issues such as radicalism, drug trafficking and outside influence require extensive evaluation to ascertain their role in regional instability. Therefore, this research paper will provide a comprehensive overview on how radicalism, drug trafficking and outside influence may cause instability in Central Asia.

Current Status of Regional Stability in Central Asia

It is argued that countries in Central Asia have never become sovereign states even after gaining independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Inderfurth reaffirms that “a decade and a half later, the five nations in Central Asia are still adjusting to their new found (and largely unexpected) status as sovereign states.”[2] These is probably so because; Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have experienced significant turmoil in their approaches to achieve political transition.[3] Inderfurth, further, depicts the current security situation in Central Asia as virtuous or vicious circles which he explains as “a race between virtuous circles of peace and economic and political reform, on one hand, and vicious circles of war, strife within and between states, ethnic conflict, authoritarian regimes, poverty and closed or semi-closed economies, on the other.”[4]

Therefore, it is imperative to assert that regional stability in Central Asia has become more of a riddle than a reality, especially regarding the achievement of political transition into social democracy.[5]

Indicators of Instability in Central Asia

Instability in Central Asia can be explained through a comprehensive review of transitional threats that have raised security concerns among the five states in Central Asia. Some of the most significant indicators of instability in Central Asia include domestic insurgencies, fears of militant Islam, illicit trade in arms and narcotics, and other serious transitional threats such as the cross-border incursions.[6]

In recent years, domestic insurgencies have been witnessed in Central Asia in which various governments have been toppled. From a critical view, the rise of domestic insurgencies can be attributed to the existence of the so-called ‘rogue political regimes’ in some of the states in Central Asia. This has resulted to mass violence in some countries, and Uzbekistan serves as one of the most outstanding examples where domestic insurgencies have cause devastating impact. For instance, the civil unrest experienced in 2000 claimed thousands of lives and caused an enormous destruction of property. In 1999 and 2000, militant rebels, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, launched insurgencies in Central Asia with an objective of establishing an Islamic caliphate through seizing power from leaders who were loyal to the US and international community. Diplomatic reports indicate that Uzbekistan is one of the most stable states in Central Asia which are pro-Western. This is the reason militant Islamists turned against the Uzbekistan government because they were opposed to western influence. Another reason for the attack of the Uzbekistan government was its role in the war in Afghanistan in which the US fought the Taliban. Uzbekistan is known to be the only Afghanistan’s neighbor with a stable government, and this is why the US sought its cooperation in its security operations in the region.[7] Since then, Uzbekistan has not yet achieved political stability owing to the perennial problem of domestic insurgencies which pose security threats to the subsequent political regimes. As a result, political and economic reforms have been faced with immense challenges leading to unprecedented stagnation of the state’s progress towards stability.

On the other hand, cross-border incursions have become serious transitional threats in Central Asia. For instance, the Taliban group in Afghanistan has extended its activities to Central Asia where they have supported militia groups in different countries to cause instability.

Despite the impact caused by domestic insurgencies and cross-border incursions in Central Asia, radicalism, drug trafficking, and outside influence are believed to possess potential for causing instability in the region.

Radicalism, Drug Trafficking and Outside Influence

The erosion of communist atheism seems to have paved the way for the return of Islamic spiritual values leading to the current Islamic revival in Central Asia. It is argued that secularism has remained overshadowed by the Soviet heritage for decades, but Islamic revival has led to the emergence of a new form of Islamic radicalization in Central Asia which has been under the control of Russia. As a result, Islamic radicalization seems to have been confined to a number of localities within the region. However, it is worth noting that the acceptance of secularism in Central Asia is not the only reason for the localization of Islamic radicalization. There are other factors which have contributed to the confinement of Islamic radicalization within specific geographic boundaries. Some of these factors include social and political developments including changes in political systems and armed conflict, and foreign proselytizing.[8]

Survey shows that Fergana valley which is politically divided between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, a densely populated region has been the focus of radical groups and Islamic revival.[9] Historically, Fergana valley is known to be a significant center of Islamic fervor even before the formation of the Soviet Union which suppressed secularism in Central Asia. It is reported that the first foreign radicals sought refuge in this valley leading to the return of Islamic revival in the region. Other localities of Islamic radicalization are southern Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan where the Soviet occupation faced immense resistance leading to the emergence of radical Islamic movements. In a review, Baran, Cornell and Star report “South Kyrgyzstan is exposed to most of the same currents that prevail in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. By contrast, northern Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have seen considerably lower levels of Islamic activity.”[10]

The presence of radical Islamists dates back to 1970s when the Ikhwan group arrived in Central Asia in which they penetrated the region through Fergana valley. Before then, clergy members had become repressed owing to the influence of Salafi-Wahhabi leading to a gradual loss of contact with the Hanafi school of Islam. Therefore, the entry of the Ikhwan group into Central Asia which consisted of Muslim students from Iraq, Jordan and Afghanistan marked the beginning of Islamic radicalization in the region. It is argued that, the presence of the Ikhwan group in Central Asia reinforced the traditional radical Islamist groups such as the Adolat (Justice), Tauba (Repentance), Baraka (Blessings) and Warriors of Islam, commonly known as Islam Lashkarlari. These radical groups are believed to have carried their activities secretly during the Soviet period in which they surfaced during Gorbachev’s reforms. During this era, other radical groups emerged in the region including Uzun Soqol, Hizballah, Tabligh Jamaat, as well as, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Akramiya, and the so-called Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).[11] IMU remained as the most active radical group of all in which the operation in Afghanistan has led to an apparent splinter into other additional groups leading to a high level of radicalism in Central Asia. Some of the additional groups which splintered from IMU include the Islamic Movement of Central Asia (IMCA), the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG).[12] It is also worth noting that the Turkish Nurcular group that operates openly with less radical attitudes bears its roots in IMU. Currently, radicalism in Central Asia is considered as one of the most potential causes of instability in five Central Asian countries.

Despite the immense challenges to regional security which have been caused by the emergence of radical Islamists in Central Asia, the situation has been worsened by drug trafficking. As Yasin points out “Central Asia has emerged as a region of strategic importance given its vast energy resources, its regional threats of narcotics production and trafficking, and its geographic location.”[13] This aspect is reaffirmed by Olcott and Udalova through stating “Central Asia has recently emerged as a major international drug trafficking center. According to United Nations drug control experts, 80 percent of heroin consumed in Western Europe originates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”[14] In the past, drug trafficking in Central Asia has not been considered as a significant aspect of international security. This is probably why it has remained underappreciated and underreported yet it plays significant roles in fueling instability. In Central Asia, drug trafficking networks extend from Afghanistan which is known as the world’s leading producer of opium into the global market.[15] From an analytical perspective, drug trafficking in Central Asia appears to be a spillover effect from the former Taliban-led Afghanistan owing to poor border security between the country and its neighbors.[16] In addition, Russia plays a significant role in providing exit of narcotics from Afghanistan through countries in Central Asia.[17] As a result, all the five countries in Central Asia are experiencing enormous challenges from the illicit trade of narcotics. In addition, drug trafficking networks within the region are linked to arms smuggling across Central Asia. This situation increases the fears of the acquisition of the Soviet technologies that may lead to the development of weapons of mass destruction by the radical groups. Ideally, drug trafficking is perpetuated by terrorist groups and radical Islamists, in order to generate revenue for funding their operations within Central Asia, as well as, other terror networks around the globe.

Therefore, it is relatively difficult for the affected countries to curb the illicit trade. This aspect is reaffirmed by Peyrouse who remarks “There is no easy solution for drug trafficking from Afghanistan, whether in terms of its impact on public health or the shadow economy it generates. The states of Central Asia cannot fight the problem alone.”[18] This is probably so because; the states in Central Asia including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are found on transit routes from the production sites, especially in Afghanistan to European and Russian consumers. Krambs remarks “Concerning Central Asia, the demand for and respective seizures of illicit drugs primarily concern opioids due to the region’s proximity to Afghanistan, which has remained the global leader in opium production and cultivation for more than a decade.”[19]

Background of the illicit drug trade in Central Asia is relatively controversial although there are proves of the proliferation of opium. Recently, the United Nations, through the World Drug Report (WDR) reported that drug trafficking has been fueling criminal enterprises led by terrorist organizations. These criminal enterprises “have the capacity to corrupt public officials, and foster conflicts which pose a threat to national security and regional stability.”[20] Some of the widely used drugs which are valued in billions of dollars are cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants, cocaine and opioids.


[1] Akiner, Shirin. “The Politicisation of Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia.” Religion, State and Society 31, no. 2(2003): 98.

[2] Inderfurth, Karl. Instability and Security in Central Asia: Foreign Policy Implications, 3

[3] Roy, Allison. “Virtual regionalism, regional structures and regime security in Central Asia.” Central Asian Survey 27, no. 2(2008): 185.

[4] Inderfurth, 8

[5] Medeiros, Evan. “Strategic hedging and the future of Asia‐pacific stability.” The Washington Quarterly 29, no. 1(2005): 146.

[6] Zhao, Huasheng, Trenin, Dmitril and Rumer, Eugene. Central Asia: Views from Washington, Moscow, and Beijing. (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2007) 42.

[7] Spector, Regine. “Central Asia: More than Islamic Extremists.” The Washington Quarterly 25, no. 1 (2002): 193.

[8] Cornell, Svante, Baran, Zeyno and Star, Frederick. Islamic Radicalism in Central Asia and the Caucasus: Implications for the EU, 14.

[9] Rumer, Borisa. “The Powers in Central Asia.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 44, no. 3(2002): 58.

[10] Cornell, Svante, Baran, Zeyno and Star, Frederick, 15.

[11] Rashid, Ahmed. “The Fires of Faith in Central Asia.” World Policy Journal 18, no. 1(2001), 45.

[12] Cornell, Svante, Baran, Zeyno and Star, Frederick, 17.

[13] Yasin, Mazhar. Drug Trafficking in Uzbekistan, 3.

[14] Olcott, Martha and Udalova, Natalia. Drug Trafficking on the Great Silk Road: The Security Environment in Central Asia. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 4.

[15] Cilluffo, Frank. The Threat Posed from the Convergence of Organized Crime, Drug Trafficking, and Terrorism, 5.

[16] Perl, Raphael. Taliban and the Drug Trade, 1.

[17] Fenopetov, Vladimir. The Drug Crime Threat to Countries Located on the ‘Silk Road.’ China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 4, no. 1 (2006), 5.

[18] Peyrouse, Sebastien. Drug Trafficking in Central Asia A Poorly Considered Fight? (PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 218 September 2012), 5.

[19] Krambs, Timothy. Drug Control in Central Asia An Assessment of Compliance with International Law, 5.

[20] Krambs, 5.

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Radicalism, Drug Trafficking and Outside Influence in Central Asia
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radicalism, drug, trafficking, outside, influence, central, asia
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Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2018, Radicalism, Drug Trafficking and Outside Influence in Central Asia, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/433490


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