Roger Kangas, National Defense University
US Strategy for South Asia/Afghanistan and its Impact on Central Asia
I’ll speak from up here. First of all, I want to thank Marlene for inviting me back to what’s now become an annual event, and a productive one at that. A very good lineup this time around. And I also want to thank all of you for staying this late in the day. Last session. So our job is to make it worthwhile so you don’t go, “Oh, I should have caught that 3:30 metro.” So we will do our level best to make sure that you find that this discussion is worthwhile.
Now, my task in this is pretty simple and—I realize we’re in a clock-free zone, so I will put my phone there to make sure that I don’t go over—it’s really to look at a particular chain of events and, really, decisions made by one outside actor, the United States, but one that has an impact on a number of the regional actors—Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, among others—and then draw back and say, “Well, so what? What does this mean for Central Asia?”
Throughout the day, we’ve been looking at different ways in which security is defined, evaluated, viewed, in either individual Central Asian countries, across the region, or by outside actors, and so my attempt here, modest as it is, is really to look at this particular change or decision that the US has made over the past six months with respect to our presence in Afghanistan and simply ask, “What does this mean for our interests in Central Asia, if there are any?”
Now, quite frankly, I do think that there is a clearer strategy from this administration. I would say there’s some continuity from previous administrations, because of course now with Afghanistan into our 17th year, we can think in terms of multi-administration comparisons.
In terms of the challenges this offers, well, quite frankly, there are many. Strategies and ideas are great. Whoops. Okay. -are great in terms of political rhetoric, but you eventually have to fill in the details, and here indeed is where the devil lies. And then when it comes to the impact on Central Asia, well, we’ll see the silhouette. So that’s the threefold sequence.
Now, in terms of the strategy itself. As most of you probably know, on the 21st of August last year, President Trump delivered a speech not too far from here at Joint Base Myers-Henderson Hall, noting that the American people were frustrated with the inactivity and lack of success in Afghanistan and the ongoing expenses and costs in human lives as well that that conflict has taken, and we must solve it. So first and foremost, and to quote, he says, “Our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.”
So there’s a goal of victory. OK, so number one, we’re going to win. Second, this effort is conditions-based, not time-bound. This is critical. And in fact, criticisms, fair enough, can be levied against the Obama administration, when in December of 2009 he was quick to note that while Afghanistan is of strategic importance, the withdrawal of US forces will begin in 2011. And in fact, in a good betting pool, you would say by January 2017—that is, the last month of his administration—we would have zero combat troops in Afghanistan. That was the desire in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq, of course, the withdrawal took place earlier, and the goal was to have it in ’17 for Afghanistan.
Of course, a lot happened in this interim, and we know, of course, the resurgence of the Taliban, the resurgence of opposition force, the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Daesh in Khorezm or in Afghanistan, which caused the US to rethink. However, let’s be clear: we went from about 102,000 combat troops—American combat troops—in August of 2011 down to about 8,000 in January of 2017. So a 92 percent reduction in troops during this time. That’s a pretty significant drawdown. So what we’re saying now is: forget about timelines. We’re there for the long haul, or until certain conditions are met.
And thirdly, we have to recognize that the threat in the region is really about Islamic terrorist groups, and we have to phrase this specifically: Islamic terrorist groups. At my center at National Defense University, we work largely with Muslim participants, and this is a real pickle in terms of having to describe to them that in fact, no, it is not about Islam, it is about extremism, and yet you also see a pretty heavy rhetoric that says, “No, it actually is about Islam.”
This is a conundrum that within our government we are struggling. And I would say that this sense that the mission for the US is to obliterate, defeat, destroy such groups, you know, is the ultimate goal. Among other things, of course, proliferation of WMD and trans-regional trafficking, etc., this is important.
Now, in terms of actions on the ground, you know, commanders will have a lot more authority to act. They don’t have to call back to Washington. If there are civilian casualties, it’s unfortunate, but that is the cost of doing business. We will try to minimize those as much as possible, but we’re not going to have the same micromanagement needed before, because ultimately this is about counter-terrorism. We have to go out … and you can cynically say it’s whack-a-mole, or you can say we’re taking the fight to them. But at the end of the day, that’s it. It’s not about nation-building. It’s not about the business of reconstructing a state in the image of the United States. It is not about propping up a government through all sorts of means. We’re going to leave this blank, though, because of course, what kind of assistance are we looking at? Are we looking at financial assistance? Are we looking at effort? Are we looking at imposing values and transmitting values, Western values, US values, etc.?
Now, what’s interesting, and just kind of one final comment on the strategy, is outside powers are mentioned. And it’s fascinating to see the evolution of how these outside powers are discussed. In the original speech, and then in documents, and then in documents, and then in the national security strategy, which is for South Asia and Central Asia, is this. It’s a little less than a page. In this page—less—the notion of outside powers also comes up. And there are two in particular that are raised. India, which is seen as a regional force for good. It can offer developmental assistance, perhaps, and security assistance, that’s less clear. And Pakistan…deep sigh…followed by…”Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our efforts in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”
When that was presented, we had a group of senior Pakistani officials in our center. Needless to say, these were some fun conversations about having Pakistan as a safe haven, because in fact the narrative in Islamabad is there is a safe haven in the region and it’s all in Afghanistan. Pakistan has no bad guys on its territory. They all keep coming over from the other side.
And you know, just think, every week there’s something in the Post and the think tank commentary that somehow ferrets out more of this discussion and tension, really, between the US and Pakistan. And it’s no surprise that the media in these countries have picked this up.
Now, what are some of the challenges for this strategy and what does it mean for the U.S. presence in the region? And then, by extension, so what about the US and Central Asia?
Well, first of all, as I said, despite the flourish of success and victory, specific goals are unclear. There really are no specific goals of what victory looks like. Is it the absence of terrorist groups from the territory of Afghanistan? Is it a government that will be a cooperative partner? Is it regional cooperation? Remember, this has been a goal every once in a while, and I think as mentioned —I think Jeff Mankoff mentioned it in the first session—of this new Silk Road and the north-south connectivity. Well, a lot of this relied on an Afghanistan that was a strategic hub or partner: “Well, the Americans want our troops to stay there for another 17 years.” Current Pew and Gallup polls suggest otherwise. Anywhere from 55 to 60 percent say the entire conflict was a mistake. We should have never gone in in the first place. You contrast that to the exact same polls that were given in 2002, where 3 percent said it was a mistake, 95 percent it was the right thing to do. And so you can see we’ve had a bit of a shift in our opinions here in the US.
Secondly, what’s the future of our assistance in the region? And again, commentaries on USAID and commentaries on the presence of developmental assistance are important here, because this spills over regionally. We’re going to spend about $45 billion on Afghanistan. Most of that will be on the military mission.
In terms of social assistance, economic assistance, the desire is to, quote, “it’s a program designed to promote American prosperity through investments that expand markets for U.S. exports, help create a level playing field for U.S. businesses.” It is not about foreign direct investment. It is not about assistance. It’s about creating an environment so businesses can come in and do their thing.
We talked about transactional relations. We have to narrow this. It’s transactionalism with a business perspective, and I think this is critical when we look at assistance in the region.
Finally, to say from a security perspective, I’ve already noted one of our concerns is: how long will troops stay there? Is it 12,000? Is it going to be 6,000, 8,000? However these conditions are. Ultimately, with this small contingent, what’s the mission? The mission, again, is going to be counterterrorism—it’s going to be going after specific groups—and, interestingly, border protection. Discussions about Tajik-Afghan border security, Afghan-Turkmen border security. For some reason, the Uzbek-Afghan border is deemed wonderfully secure, so we can focus on the others. There is some discussion. But in terms of a northward expression, it’s really about managing the border and containing things within, to include, by the way, this rather sticky, unsolved question of reconciliation and extremist groups. And I know Eric’s going to be looking at extremism in a bit, or extreme vetting, I should say. And one of the things that comes up, and when we’ve seen this in action, is people’s links with such associations and groups… I would say that this is still the unsolved issue, because on the one hand, we will say that the strategy is all about going after terrorists, yet at the same time, we can say that a political reconciliation is viable. And you have forces on both sides that argue their positions.
So what does this mean in the end for Central Asia? First of all, it’s been about eight minutes of Afghanistan, Afghanistan, South Asia, South Asia. What does this mean for Central Asia? Sadly, that Central Asia will remain a region viewed through the lens of Afghanistan and South Asia.
Administratively, bureaucratically, this makes sense. In the Defense Department and the State Department, these regions are inextricably linked. They are bureaucratically tied to each other. In a recent Voice of America interview, Alice Wells from the State Department did say that no, we should not look at it this way, that we need to look at Central Asia and the countries therein … we need to look at their specific challenges and problems. And while I agree, and in fact, I support that perspective, all too often when it comes to program execution, when it comes to actually laying out broad policies, we do look at the South-Central Asia linkages.
Secondly, when it comes to looking at conquering Islamic extremism, again, that phrase…it’s interesting that the reach of such groups are seen as problematic for the Central Asian states. When security discussions with Central Asian partners comes up—and I’m thinking more specifically within the Defense Department—this connection, this concern, is raised increasingly. It’s not about internal security, it’s not about great powers coming in. It really is focusing on extremist groups, and even the threat of the so-called “returning foreign fighters,” which is now the buzz phrase throughout the region. Not just Central Asia, by the way. We see this in Southeast Asia, South Asia, in Central Africa, in Europe, and yes, even the United States. The notion that somehow the thousands of foreign fighters who somehow got out of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq will have some place to go does keep a few people up at night. And it is a concern.
Now, my concern is that if this becomes our focus, and if this is the way we evaluate foreign and security policy in the region, we limit other ways to engage these states. We really just look at this counter-terrorism. It’s not just, “Oh, our toolkit is getting smaller,” it’s we just simply have a hammer in our toolkit and that’s it, and we’re just going to keep using this for any effort.
Now, what I would say, finally, on this, is this lack of interest in nation building is paralleled—and a few comments were made earlier today, and I’m happy to continue this discussion in the Q&A— you know, of a lessening of interest, or at least commentary on human rights, democratization, other efforts, political party development, NGO development. And there’s clearly a debate on this. There are some who say it’s not our business to impose Western values, and in fact, we see this in a number of official documents, that we are not going to tell other people how to live. What happens in their borders—it’s almost a non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, à la Beijing, that seems to resonate. You see this in broader security documents from top officials, including National Security Advisor McMaster last year in the Wall Street Journal, who presented what I see as not just a realist approach but it’s a neo-Hobbesian approach of foreign affairs, where we really just look out for ourselves, where American interests, American markets are deemed primus inter pares, and it’s not just an “American-First” mantra. It is a way to do business. In fact, interestingly, the threats of tariffs this weekend actually fall quite well into that, so something to think about.
So in the end, what can we say in terms of our engagement and the “so what,” and whether we look at the next three years or seven years of this administration or its successors, are we thinking in terms of a continued, or a furthering of, U.S. engagement in central Asia, or a lessening or even a disappearance?
And I would say it’s interesting. On a bilateral basis, we’ve seen a lot of positive rhetoric. It’s fascinating to see that Uzbek— in discussions earlier about Uzbekistan and the United States, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan—the language is going in the right way. Unfortunately, from the U.S. perspective, this business-transactional approach requires that companies and other forces invest, and it’s going to be less of a government-led engagement. A lot can be said about that.
What I’d like to just add, to end, though, is a quick question that you would say from the other side, because transactions go both ways. We tend to think of it—and I should say, as an American, I would tend to look at it—more from the American perspective: what is the value of the US engaging with Central Asia? From the Central Asian perspective, what’s the value in engaging with us? If we’re not bringing a lot of cash, if we’re not bringing a lot of support, if perhaps we’re not even bringing a way to balance other powers, is it worth working with us? And particularly if the Afghanistan situation is one that’s going to remain really a limited counter-terrorism engagement, does that feed that narrative, that engagement focus? But these 100+ reforms of President Mirziyoyev—well, that’s not going to tap into most of those, so he’s going to have to look in other directions.
And what I would say is, you know, could we be an actor in the region? Well, we could be a unique player, but at the end of the day, we’re going to see the US most likely limit itself to these areas I’ve noted, and unless there’s a radical policy shift, expect more of the same on that.
But again, happy to dwell on more of this in the Q&A, but I’m going to stop for here and turn it over to my panelists. So thank you very much.
Eric McGlinchey, George Mason University
“Central Asian Terrorism” and the Limits of Extreme Vetting
Thank you for sticking around until the end of the day. I apologize that I am only coming now at the end of the whole deliberation today. It’s a challenge of one sick child and two working parents, so that’s my excuse.
What I’d like to talk about … Actually I want to pick up on one of Roger’s last points. Right, so you talked about having a hammer, a policy where we have a hammer, and it’s not being differentiated. And that hammer is focused on terror. I have “Central Asian Terrorism” in quotation marks, partly because I feel like we have a hammer looking for a target, but there’s really no target here. We assume, or we imply, that there’s a target, and we can certainly conjure up one in our minds, and I will in this presentation, but I think it’s much more amorphous, and I think you were getting at that in your points. And that poses some real policy challenges if we’re using a hammer against something that we’re not quite sure what it is.
I’d like to proceed in four steps. First, I want to briefly discuss the cases motivating my analysis today. These are cases that are primarily focused in North America, Europe, Russia, Turkey. They’re not Middle East cases. That’s somewhat of an arbitrary focus. I’m focusing on these because they’re the ones that tend to come into our news media the most and the ones that tend to capture the immediate imagination of our government, but certainly we could expand the range of cases that I’m looking at here.
The second: I’d like to take a look at responses to Central Asian terrorism. What I mean responses, these are really twofold. First, the U.S. government’s response under the current administration, and this idea of extreme vetting, but also, second, Central Asian scholars’ own responses—and here, it’s both the scholarly community in Central Asia but also the Western scholarly community.
Next, I’d like to question, in part, three the logic of these responses. So the logic not only of what we academics have said, but also the logic of what the U.S. government has said. And really try to question these responses in an empirical, causal way, right? Look at the logic of what’s going on here, and can we have some degree of confidence in what is underlying these responses? Ultimately, I would conclude “no.”
And then, lastly, I want to just bracket a few findings. One, some empirical findings about the logic of terror, what drives people towards terror, but also a normative- a normative finding about US foreign policy. A normative finding that relates to this question of extreme vetting.
So just to motivate the discussion here… I gotta escape out of here first, I think. All right. When I first went on the job market as an academic, my advisor always told me to have transparencies. Do you remember the days of transparencies? You never had to worry about an update with transparencies. Okay.
So I’ve selected a few cases. These are not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but they are illustrative of the cases that we’ve been paying attention to.
So, the most immediate one, and one that, I know some of you are from New York, is probably fresh in your mind, right, was the October attack that ended up, I think it was, killing seven people, I think it was, and injuring—actually eight people—and injuring several more.
There was an attack in Stockholm in April of 2017 that killed four people; this was also a truck attack.
There was another attack in St. Petersburg in April, which has received a little bit less attention—it’s a little bit actually more murky, certainly my colleagues in Kyrgyzstan tell me that it’s very murky—where an Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan, a suicide bomber, killed 15 and injured 16 more people.
There was an attack on New Year’s Day in a nightclub in Istanbul, which led to 39 people dying.
And we think—and again this is a little bit murky as well—that there was an Uzbek among the terrorists who killed 44 people in an attack in Istanbul, on the airport, in 2016.
And then, reaching way back, there’s a bit of a time lag here, but of course there was the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013.
So these are rather prominent cases of terror, either in North America, Europe, and if you wanna throw Russia and Turkey in Europe we’ll consider that as well, right, that have captured the imagination. And there’s a few things that are striking about these attacks.
I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is that with the exception of the Boston bombers, these are all Uzbeks. Maybe Uzbeks by way of Kyrgyzstan, but ethnic Uzbeks. And so that’s something to, I think, flag. The other thing is that there’s been a recent uptick, right, in the number of these attacks, which is, many, many people have remarked on. But there’s also one other thing that I’d say is striking, and that’s been both the U.S. government response to these attacks and what we academics have said.
So first, the U.S. government. And I challenge all of you to read the next quote with a neutral tone. Uh-oh. You lost? I had this tweet up here. I’ll, I’ll read it to you. So, this is right after the attack in New York in October 2017.
He said, “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already extreme vetting program.” This is Spinal Tap going to 11, right? It was at 10, and now we’re, now we’re going to 11. “Being politically correct is fine, but not for this.”
And I’m being intentionally somewhat flippant here, because I think most of us as academics and as observers will hear this and if we are of the politically correct ilk that Trump is citing, our initial response is to dismiss this out of hand. And I think that’s actually incorrect. We should pay attention to this response and we should, we should see what the logic is behind it, and if there’s some kind of merit. I think that’s our obligation as scholars to look at this, and I’m gonna do exactly that.
So, there’s one response, and the other response has been the response of academics. And here I would break this down into two central hypotheses. The third is the one that I’d like to introduce today. It’s not necessarily incompatible with the first two.
But the first one, this idea that these Uzbeks and, in the case of the Tsarnaevs these Chechen-by-way-of-Central Asia terrorists, radicalized abroad. So Erica has written convincingly about this, and she writes that, “Patterns of radicalization for Uzbeks are somewhat similar to the, to that of migrants from other countries, an inability to fit into the society where they live and an inability to live the American dream. They are looking for ways to belong, and extremist narratives seem to be the most attractive.”
Right? So they get to places, they don’t fit in, and for whatever reason, right, they get attracted to extremist narratives.
Marlene, who has also picked up this idea and she writes that Uzbek terrorism is a result of “difficult integration processes in host countries.” Now, here I think, in particular, Marlene is probably thinking about the process by which the Uzbeks have emigrated by way of Russia. There’s some idea that some of this radicalization has happened in Russia. Noah Tucker’s done a lot of work on this.
John Heathershaw, Alex’s coauthor, has written, “We can’t assume that someone seven or eight years ago who left their country, that they left with an intention of joining a militant group or launching an attack.”
Right, so this idea that we could somehow extreme-vet all of these…Scholars are suggesting, you’re not gonna detect this at the point of departure. Rather, these people are radicalizing abroad. So, that’s the first set of hypotheses.
There’s another set of hypotheses, and curiously these come primarily from Central Asian scholars in Central Asia or very closely linked to them, not from the Western, for lack of a better term, academy.
Ahunov, who’s an Uzbek analyst in Sweden has written that, “Uzbeks are of their own right very religious people, and so they gravitate into extremist-minded circles abroad, and they become very easy to manipulate.”
So here you notice the causality’s a little bit different. These people, these, you know, terrorists, Ahunov’s telling us, of his countrymen, have been more or less inclined towards radicalism in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan. And Sidikov spoke here—the director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service said that, “Uzbeks have a trademark on the black Islamist’s flag, they raised it in the 1991 Namangan uprising, and as Uzbeks,” he’s talking about himself, “we must begin to ask what is wrong with us?”
So there’s another group of scholars who have said that there is a problem in Uzbekistan—this is actually very similar to some of the stuff that you were talking about, Roger—there is this Islamist extremism, and it’s happening within the region, right, and we have to pay attention to that.
So, there is another group of hypotheses, I’ll return to the third one in a second, but I want to get to this idea of the first hypothesis—I’m sorry, the second hypothesis I just discussed—and the follow-on which is, if this is true, if Uzbeks are radicalizing in Uzbekistan, or Central Asians broadly, how might we, we being the U.S. government, vet for this, right?
And this is really empirically quite difficult, there’s a bit of- a kind of a tautological problem going on here. You know a militant only when they- you know a terrorist after they’ve committed a terrorist act, right? So it’s hard to identify a terrorist before they become a terrorist.
Then, if you’re not identifying them afterwards, if you’re trying to identify them before, you’re looking for proxies. You can’t directly go up to someone and say, “Hey, are you a militant terrorist?” I mean, I suppose you could, but that would be a problematic research assignment. It would be even more problematic than some of the survey discussions that we were talking about earlier.
But, you know, some people have tried to get at this question. And Pew has taken a crack at this, and I’ll be using their surveys to discuss this question. They’ve got a really fascinating study of “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society” from 2013.
This survey gets at questions of how people perceive militancy. Is it moral? Is it right to engage in militant acts? So they asked a couple questions in these surveys that may help us empirically get at this question.
Now, I too share some of your concerns about survey problems. Right? So there’s questions with these Pew surveys about how they had access, whether or not people were sufficiently willing to answer sensitive questions about the actual research design. The biggest issue, which actually didn’t come up in your question, right, is the relationship between the causal effect that we might find in the survey, and actually teasing out a causal mechanism. So there’s all kinds of issues.
Just to step back, when we’re talking about the work that Marlene and I are doing, primarily what we’re trying to do is leverage existing surveys, and then do things like focus groups, field research, structured interviews, to get at some of the issues that emerge in the surveys. So we’re going to follow up on these questions. Also, we’re doing some experimental design stuff. So some of the stuff that I’m going to be talking of here, there will be a follow-up. And I’d actually really welcome some of your thoughts about how I could follow up in a non-survey fashion to get at some of these causal mechanisms.
Okay, so let’s get to the Pew work here. The particular proxy that I’m going to be using is this question in the survey: “Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from the separatists.” So that’s the kind of prompt. “Other people believe that no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. What do you think?”
What do you think about this? And it’s kind of striking what the responses are and the variation is by country. For, I think, fairly obvious reasons, this question was not asked in Uzbekistan. Pew wasn’t allowed to run this question in Uzbekistan. But they did run it in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Russia.
Just out of curiosity, anybody want to make a bet about where, as far as … Who do you, which population would be most likely to say, “Never justified. Suicide bombing is never justified.”
Speaker 2: Islamists.
Well, by country. By country, right?
Speaker 3: Kazakhstan?
Speaker 1: Yeah, you know what, you’re right. That, to me, came as a big surprise. This is admittedly a little bit difficult to read. This is the responses by country in three Central Asian countries and Russia as a point of comparison.
And- absolutely, so Kazakhstan, even more so than Russia, right, said that- People’s respond, say, “This is never justified.”
I should step back for a second and say, these are samples that have been subsetted to only respond to answer, “yes,” they’re Muslim. So we’re looking only at Muslims here. People who self-identify as Muslim. That’s an important caveat that I didn’t mention earlier. And so Kazakhstan, absolutely, the vast majority of people say, “Never justified. Never justified. Suicide, violence…Suicide or violence against civilians is never justified in defense of religion.”
Kyrgyzstan, curiously, came out at the bottom here. Right? So there’s far more people, far fewer people are likely to say, “It’s never justified.”
Tajikistan was, you know, next after Kyrgyzstan, and then Russia kind of parallels Kazakhstan. And again, I should say, these are Muslim respondents in Russia. These are specifically Muslim-only respondents.
So, what I’ve done here is—and I promise you I’m not going to put up the coefficients, there’s no better way to … Order logistic coefficients are terrible, you’ll make your eyes bleed.
But, let me just say, when we- when I ran the model, and there’s a lot more work that needs to be done here, I threw in a whole bunch of stuff here that you would think might be predictive of variation at the country level for responses here. How frequently people go to mosque. Their perception of the West and Western culture. With their education level. What their gender is. Whether or not they think LGBT rights are a good thing. (By the way, almost universally, across the board, no one in Central Asia thinks that’s a good thing). Attitudes towards the veil, age variables… Right, so all the standard things that you would throw in there. And as far as results, they’re … None of this really came up as particularly significant.
But I do want to draw your attention to a few things. So if you’ll notice, I set up this discussion by saying, “What’s been striking about the recent terror attacks has been that they have been predominantly committed by Uzbeks.”
Within the Kyrgyz sample—remember, this question was not asked in Uzbekistan—but within the Kyrgyz sample, Pew was kind enough to share some of the not publicly available information. One of those questions allows me to kind of get at ethnicity, and what’s curious here is that Uzbeks disagree with Kyrgyz-language respondents. Uzbeks are less likely to say that suicide bombing and violence is acceptable.
Kyrgyz-language respondents were a little bit more likely to say it’s acceptable. Russian-language respondents were the least likely to say that this is acceptable.
So, you know, one of the interesting things that at least comes out of the Kyrgyz survey, you know, again with all the caveats necessary here, is that as far as support for violence, that is not here as far as who is actually committing the violence in these very small sample of terrorist attacks. So that’s one thing.
I wouldn’t- you know, I wouldn’t dwell too much on this, but the next thing, this is actually what came up as most significant in a multi-variant analysis. This is just a quick plot, a bivariate plot, taken from the multivariate of support for suicide bombing by perceptions of ethnic conflict.
It gets a little bit confusing here, but let me say that again. Support for suicide bombing violence by perceptions of ethnic conflict.
So for those people who say that conflict is not a problem, for those people in Kyrgyzstan who say conflict is not a problem, 84 percent say suicide bombing violence is never justified. In contrast, for those who say it’s a big problem, only 62 percent say it’s never justified. This comes out as significant not just in bivariate analysis but also in multi-variate analysis. This is one of the few variables actually comes out as significant.
There is a rich literature here on this topic. Several scholars have demonstrated, for example in the case of Palestine, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, that those people who had directly experienced violence, these are the ones who are more likely to express support for violence. Multiple scholars have found this in diverse settings. Right? So it’s not terribly surprising. And if you think about the Kyrgyz case, there have been multiple incidents of extreme violence that might be influencing perceptions here, right?
We have, most recently, the 2010 ethnic riots, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on that would make us pause and think about how this logic may be obtaining in the case of Kyrgyzstan.
So that’s the- the most significant finding that’s come out of the result, I’m coming to the end of my time here, but let me just spend one second if I can on some of the implications. So returning to that first slide here.
So what I’m suggesting here, and there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, and I welcome your guidance here because I’m just beginning some of this analysis, both quantitative and more field-based, but there’s a lot to suggest that this exposure to violent conflict that is really one of the biggest drivers of support.
So what does this say for extreme vetting? Well, what I would say is, we could empirically evaluate both the academics’ hypotheses and the Trump administration’s hypothesis, and here we found evidence that there is indeed something we can vet for. Right? We can vet for people’s exposure to violence, because this seems to be a strong predictor of whether or not someone will be supportive of terror.
But I would- I would say that this poses a normative issue, right? If you are vetting people and denying entry to the US based on whether or not they have- people have been subject to extreme violence, you are saying to people, “If you’ve been the victim of genocide, if you’ve been the victim of civil war, if you’ve been the victim of deadly ethnic crimes, well, sorry, we know that this is a predictor of violence for a very few number of people, and therefore you can’t come into the United States.”
So there is some empirical support for the Trump administration’s policy. I would conclude by saying, normatively, this should give us some pause. And the last thing I would say is, there isn’t much empirical support for extreme vetting based on the ascriptive characteristics that the Trump administration has laid out. Those don’t seem to be strong predictors of violence.
Erica Marat, National Defense University
The Politics of Police Reform in Central Asia
So I- so today there was a lot of discussion of how international influences come together in Central Asia, so Western, Chinese, Russian… My task today is, I’m going to focus more on everyday life, with keeping in mind that everyday life is influenced by international processes, but yet governments in Central Asia come up with their own policies that are designed to their political interests domestically and the social problems that they see happen at home. So I’m going to talk about policing in everyday life and during extraordinary situations. And I’m going to focus mostly on Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan because those two countries have been particularly active in developing unique policing strategies in Central Asia, however they are not unique in the post-Soviet space and even globally on how they choose to police their societies, and I think that other Central Asian states will follow one of the two models in the near future.
So both countries started thinking actively about fundamental police reform after acts of brutal violence, lethal violence in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 after about 95 people were shot dead by police, possibly the militarized wing of the interior ministry, and in Kazakhstan Zhanaozen events that took the lives of 16 protesters, minors, in Western Kazakhstan. That’s when we really see the government starting to think very seriously about policing. And the result of this was Kazakhstan expanded policing in rural areas, made it more pervasive, and in Kyrgyzstan there are more diverse discussions on what needs to be policed but also the tendency is still towards making policing more pervasive in everyday life.
And specifically, we see a strong focus on securitizing conflict spaces in urban areas. Kazakhstan—and it is citing policy documents here—has been referring to the “broke-windows” policing that first was initiated in New York City and later spread out across United States and also across the world. So, and it is part of the 2050 agenda that by 2050, Kazakhstan will be part of the developed world and that agenda in turn has a hundred steps of how this will be achieved, and creating modern policing is step 30 in this program and the document on policing specifically refers to New York City experience but also other countries.
Georgia has been a very important case here in the post-Soviet space because “broken windows” policing is synonymous to zero-tolerance policing. So you do not small instances of disorder, of asocial, quote-unquote asocial behavior of panhandling, loitering, littering, solicitation, and so on in order to prevent bigger crimes from taking place. And there’s also some references, Singapore, of how spitting and chewing gums is considered to be disorderly behavior.
So Kazakhstan has been advancing in that sense and enforcing “broken windows” policing strategy in its largest cities by capturing people who would behave in a disorderly manner, so the statistics of crime, criminal statistics has increased significantly over the past year. The amount of the fines collected also increased substantially in Kazakhstan’s cities.
Kyrgyzstan is also experimenting now with Bezopasnyi Gorod (Safe City), but unlike Kazakhstan, that kind of took an international model or Western model. “Safe City” originates in Russia, Bezopasnyi Gorod. So other countries in post-Soviet space experimented with this strategy as well, but the point there is you also securitize public spaces by installing more CCTV cameras, dispatching police forces to areas with high density of population, people. Again, in order to make sure that any abuse of law is reported, perpetrators are prosecuted so that we can save lives, we can prevent traffic accidents, and we can make sure that our public life is safe and secure.
However, what’s interesting is- about this- even though we clearly see international influences on policing strategies in both countries, what’s interesting is it is a top-down policy but it is a very carefully articulated policy in Kazakhstan in president’s administration. There are very educated, highly educated advisors, experts, who analyzed and processed various ideas from around the world and came up with this specific strategy. Same in Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister’s office. There is a widespread support among urban middle class, so on the one hand, it is a political idea behind it so that Kazakhstan achieves this status of a post-industrial country. On the other hand, there’s a sensitivity- there are surveys conducted in Kazakhstan and then there are public discussions held in Kyrgyzstan on the merits of these policing strategies.
In Kazakhstan, the majority of urban population, and by that I should mention that long-term urban residents, they support the idea of less spitting, less littering, less loitering on city streets. There is a huge buy-in among urban middle class. Their surveys talk about that. In Kyrgyzstan, there was a huge buy-in among civil society groups, who are- who range from neo-liberal organizations to those who are more leftist and support human rights and so on. I think it’s because they’re also part of the middle- the urban middle class and therefore they think that this is a great idea. This specific policing is implemented in major urban areas. Kazakhstan is more advanced now in its implementation process, but it will also expand into other areas across the country.
Very often you hear reference to civilized behavior. Civilized- and then civilized is contrasted with disorderly, with barbaric, with backwards behavior. That’s in official statements—or, not official statements, excuse me. In interviews with public officials, this kind of language comes up again and again. And again, I’m getting my examples- it’s created with a political idea on the one hand and with urban middle class on the other hand. This is one of the examples of some of the posters in Kazakhstan’s cities on how not to spit and how it will be punishable.
Whereas it is a political project, the implementation of this project, so the provision of public safety, and I should mention here, very important point, the mirroring of social norms of behavior with legal norms is entrusted to interior ministries in both countries. But interior ministries are not reformed themselves, but they’re happy to take on this project because these are extremely cost-intensive projects. So, basically, policing social norms at all times in very crowded areas, so there is a- the interior ministries are very much on board with these ideas.
What- so, what are the implications? The short-term implication is these projects, they allow a very measured- measurable result, especially in Kazakhstan, you know. The statistics from last year compared to the statistics from two years ago enforce crime rates increase and the number of fines collected increased as well so it helps, from what I see, it helps deal with political uncertainty of looming political transition that we are controlling the society. We are controlling the public space and things are okay. Things are under control, even though, in the bigger political scale, there is a level of uncertainty. In Kyrgyzstan, I think is also- it will help detain some thrillism, again Kyrgyzstan has not yet fully implemented Bezopasnyi Gorod, but there is a lot of talk about it and Chinese contractors have been already invited to provide CCTV cameras to major urban areas. But it is a way of dealing with political pluralism in urban spaces, especially in Bishkek and in Osh.
Long term, for Kazakhstan especially, it is the strive for a civilized future and becoming more of a developed state. And it is, I think, it’s an echo also of all the conversations that we saw in the beginning of the 21st century, of how rule of law is an important feature of economic development, political development, and that without rule of law, you’re really not- you can’t hold the state together, you’re not as accessible. You can’t succeed in any areas of nation-building.
So what are the results? And this is very important on everyday life. So these are the two pictures of urban areas in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. One is Astana and one is novostroiki in Bishkek. Novostroiki is sort of- I don’t want to call it, they’re not slums, but they’re newly constructed neighborhoods. So the type of behavior that is policed through these strategies, they’re commonly ascribed, you know, vernacular categories, they’re commonly ascribed to liminal groups of migrants: internal migrants and external migrants. Also can be defined as short-term residents or recent urban residents, or maybe not so recent but depending how you define it, but those who don’t, who have specific features in their behavior, in their- the way they look and the way they talk, there are vernacular categories for people like that in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
And those groups, they don’t enjoy all the benefits that long term residents enjoy. They don’t have, the areas where they live, infrastructure and utilities are not as accessible. They’re more likely to take public transportation and more likely to walk. So they’re more likely to find themselves littering, loitering as opposed to long-term urban residents who mostly live in city centers, or if they live in outskirts, they commute by using their private vehicles. And they have very little interaction on the street with law enforcement, maybe sometimes with patrol police but with law enforcement interaction is limited.
So who is really enforced? Whose behavior is really enforced? Whose behavior is really enforced here? This is the question here and it’s not only a Central Asian phenomenon or a Post-Soviet phenomenon, we saw the similarities in New York City as well. The rise of zero tolerance coincided with diversification in urban areas, urban spaces in this country that you saw cultural, social explosions, diversity explosion in areas, so there was a demand for norm-setting policing.
And police, just like in many Western cities, police—but there is a pushback now against this, I should say—police replace community power, police become, you know, the enforcers of community order, as opposed to helping, basically. The easiest way to state: as opposed to helping communities repair broken windows, it is the police that repairs those broken windows.
Some of the pressing issues are unaddressed, including of the long-term residents, urban residents. For instance, environmental issues are not addressed in urban places and increased levels of traffic. And then shortage of resources, such as water and utilities, those are the issues that are not addressed through public safety measures.
And finally, there is a huge potential for backlash. And one of the examples from the Post-Soviet space would be from Georgia and Ukraine, that seen the modernization of their police forces, yet they were done, again, with the middle class in mind, but those, when those police forces are in check, it can really trigger vulnerable groups, for instance political opposition, or in Georgia’s case, there was a prison scandal in 2012 of juvenile inmates, and backfire against the big state, against the big policing- police state. And then in Ukraine, we recently saw how this modern contingent of newly hired police forces, always- usually described as one of the few successful stories of post-Euromaidan development, how they dispersed, violently dispersed, pro-Saakashvili protest in front of the Ukrainian parliament.
So just echoing what Sean has said, the rule of law is a cultural transformation, it’s not really a set of projects. It’s a- it’s a continuum. The way that I define it, in my book, here I am, check it- in my book on police reform in former Soviet states, it is a consensus. It is a constant search of consensus on the limits of abuse of violence in everyday life, on the behavior of police. But what we see here is a narrow consensus between the middle, urban class and political establishment. So it is a type of consensus. It can be judged as a reform, yet it is a very fragile one as well. It is domestically driven, so it’s not imposed by any international organization. It is inspired by international examples but it is domestically driven—may only be based on the calculations of political elites of what’s politically beneficial for them.
And finally, maybe, these kind of trends also show us that this could be the end of heydays of international promotional rule of law and countries become more inward-looking and searching for ideas at home, but by also using domestic resources. Both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in implementing these policing strategies are relying on domestic resources as opposed to international financing.
- Digital Memory and a ‘Massacre’: Uzbek Identity in the Age of Social Media
- Selective Engagement: Russia’s Future Role in Central Asia
- Propiska as a Tool of Discrimination in Central Asia
- “Not In Our Name”: A research and documentary project developed by RFE/RL (video of the discussion)
- GW Library Research Guide-Central Asia