Country Brief: Kazakhstan, Violent Extremism, and Women's Rights

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Kazakhstan Kazakhstan presents an interesting opportunity for us to expand to a new region that is very different than the ones we currently work in. Kazakhstan, like other Central Asian countries, has an oppressive regime headed by an authoritarian president who has been in power for the last 19 years. It is the richest of the Central Asian countries due to its petroleum resources, and it is of high importance to United States strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan because much of the army¶s reso
  1   Kazakhstan Kazakhstan presents an interesting opportunity for us to expand to a new region that is verydifferent than the ones we currently work in. Kazakhstan, like other Central Asian countries,has an oppressive regime headed by an authoritarian president who has been in power for the last 19 years. It is the richest of the Central Asian countries due to its petroleumresources, and it is of high importance to United States strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistanbecause much of the army¶s resources are shipped by land over Kazakhstan. Although therehas been clear documentation of human rights violations and limitations of basic democraticrights (like freedom of the press), Kazakhstan has not gotten the reputation for brutality thatits neighbors Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have. Analysts are concerned that continuedgovernment oppression may lead to future instability as was seen in Kyrgyzstan last April.In regards to violent extremism and terrorism, there has been more concern about terroristcells in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, although there are certainly Islamist cells (like Hizb ut-Tahrir and Jamaat Mojahedin) in Kazakhstan. Currently, Kazakhstan¶s government isinconsistently tolerant towards religious practices. It has hosted the Congress of WorldReligions three times (2003, 2006, 2009), has created a government-sponsored spiritualcommittee for the Muslims of Kazakhstan, and has allowed the growth of Islamic universitiesand mosques (funded mostly by Arab foundations, but also by the state). However, someclaim that discrimination against Muslims is widespread, and accusations that Muslims areterrorists are common. Other religions have seen more formal governmental discrimination,as a law was recently debated but not passed to limit the activities of Baptists, Jehovah¶sWitnesses, and Hare Krishnas.Muslims constitute the largest religious group in the country, with 47% of the population,although members of the Russian Orthodox are almost equal, at 40% of the population.Muslim identity is seen as an issue of nationalism by many who are eager to cast off their former identity as a Soviet Republic and redefine a distinctive Kazakh identity. According to the Kazakh constitution, women have equal legal rights as men²including theright to own, inherit, and manage property²but in practice, women face considerablediscrimination. Domestic violence is common, and Kazakh still lacks legal guidelines for whatconstitutes rape. However, there seems to be an active community of female-driven NGOsand organizations to deliver social services, especially around the issues of domesticviolence. I have included a list of female organizations and community activists under the³Kazakhstan and Women¶s Rights´ section.  2   Basic information Capital: AstanaSize: 2,724,900 km 2 (9 th largest in the world, largest landlocked)Population: 15,399,437 according to CIA Factbook (62 nd in the world), 21.8% younger than15. Other estimates of the population put it between 14 and 16 million.Ethnic background: about 50% Kazakh, 30% Russian, small percentages of Ukrainian,Uzbek, German, Tatar, Uyghur, and others (in that order)Religion: 47% Muslim, 44% Russian Orthodox, 2% ProtestantLanguage: the official state language is Kazakh (Qazaq), but Russian is used in everydaybusiness and is the official ³language of interethnic communication´ Other facts: y High literacy rates for men and women y Was a Soviet Republic from 1936-1991 y President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev has been in power since 1 Dec. 1999 y The ³spiritual committee for the Muslims of Kazakhstan´ (DUMK) is the nationalumbrella organization for the country¶s Muslims y Currently, Kazakhstan has the chairmanship of the OSCE in Europe  A ccording to the CI   A World Factbook, current issues include: y developing a cohesive national identity; y expanding the development of the country's vast energy resources and exportingthem to world markets; y achieving a sustainable economic growth; y diversifying the economy outside the oil, gas, and mining sectors; y enhancing Kazakhstan's competitiveness; y strengthening relations with neighboring states and other foreign powers.  3   Kazakhstan and Violent Extremism  An article by Robert Templer, Asia Programme Director of the Intl. Crisis Group, says that ³Militant Islamism is flourishing in the forgotten prisons of the former Soviet Republics.´ He claims that ³Radical Islamists shrewdly exploit the weaknesses of theprison system, which is undermined by corruption, a lack of personnel and inadequategovernmental support.´ In ³How Not To Run An Empire´ (published in Foreign Policy magazine), Tom Malinowskiclaims that the recent uprising in Kyrgyzstan is indicative of tensions throughout the region,where ³people have felt betrayed by a government that came to power promising democracyand reform, but« delivered repression and nepotism instead.´ Regarding Islamism in theregion, he says ³the government¶s heavy-handed police methods have, according to someanalysts, helped radicalize a growing part of the Muslim population in southern Kyrgyzstan.´Regarding Kazakhstan in particular, Milanowski describes the rule of Nazarbayev as one that³maintains an atmosphere of quiet repression, stifling opposition media and manipulating thepolitical process.´ He also notes that the country¶s leading human rights defender, Yevgeny(also spelledEvgeniy and Evgenii)Zhovtis, is currently in jail. He does not refer to anyspecific concerns regarding violent extremism in Kazakhstan. However, he says moregenerally that continued human rights abuses and poverty in Central Asia have the potentialto undermine the stability of the area.  A report by Human Rights Watch lists Kazakhstan¶s primary human rights violations as³maintaining restrictive legislation on freedom of assembly, the media, and the internet, andat times blocking a number of websites and weblogs« refusing to register the mainopposition party  A lga!  , and« turning down appeals to reopen a case against the country'sleading human rights defender, Evgenii Zhovtis, who is in prison following an unfair trial.´However, their report clearly shows that there have been international cries for reform, whichalthough Kazakhstan does not seem interested in, perhaps would give us a platform fromwhich we could deliver SAVE²not threatening to the regime, a good token project for them,and for us a real opportunity to take Mothers for Change! to Central Asia. In 2009, Kazakhstan hosted the Congress of World Religions for the third time (previously in2003 and 2006). In his opening address, President Nazarbayev said the global financialcrisis offered the potential of restructuring the world order. Despite the Congress, which was  4   meant to highlight Kazakhstan¶s commitment to interreligious harmony, Edda Schlager reports that ³the Kazakh parliament has plans to tighten the country's law on religion. InFebruary of this year [2009] a proposed amendment was only stopped by the Kazakhconstitutional council, which deemed it unconstitutional.´ The proposed law would mandatethat children receive permission from both parents to participate in religious events and that³introducing, publishing, or disseminating religious literature´ would be punished. Schlager says that Baptists, Jehova's Witnesses, and members of Hare Krishna would be the primarytargets of the amendment. Saltanat Berdikeeva¶s article, ³Myth and Reality of Islamist Extremism in Central Asia´ argueswhile ³Islam is gaining a strong foothold in the region« political and extremist forms of Islamhave not received popular support, making the appeal of subversive Islamist groups limited.´The article further claims that there is ³a direct correlation between repressive policies of theregion¶s governments and the growth of radical Islam in Central Asia.´ Some of the major groups in Central Asia are Hizb ut-Tahrir, Akramiyya (a splinter group of HT), Hizb an-Nasra(another splinter group of HT), and Jamaat Mojahedin (related to al Qaeda). Berdikeeva saysthat the appeal of HT is partially related to the poverty of the region, as HT membershipcomes with financial awards, but that psychological factors are more important. Berdikeevasays, ³seeing the future fraught with uncertainty, failures, and endemic corruption, youngpeople with no jobs find ideological guidance, a sense of belonging, and something to do bybecoming a member of HT or other Islamist groups.´ (This sounds right up our alley).Berdikeeva does not consider HT as a serious threat because it has ³a decentralized andloose cell-like structure,´ but I don¶t agree that this is a reason to discredit HT²in fact, theloose cell-like structure has been an asset to many terrorist groups in the past. This may bethe only way for HT to survive in repressive regimes typical of Central Asia.The Jamaat Mojahedin are linked to Kazakhstan in particularly. A cell was dismantled in Nov.2004. Berdikeeva reports that ³the Kazakh security forces stressed that the group did notplan terrorist actions inside the country but planned a series of attacks in neighboringcountries, including Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia. It also sought to establish trainingbases in southern Kazakhstan.´ Kazakhstan has banned Usbat al-Ansar, the MuslimBrotherhood, the Taliban, Boz Gurd, Lakshar-i-Toiba, the Social Reform Soceity, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the People¶s Congress of Kurdistan (PKK), the IMU, and the Islamic Party of EastTurkestan.Something of interest in Kyrgyzstan is that Berdikeeva cites ³Interfax-Kazakhstan News Agency, June 21´ (a source that I could not verify) as saying the more women are beingactively involved in Islamist activities.
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