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Central Asian States. Efforts required to create functional economies, eradicate corruption and improve social services

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Bishkek/Brussels - If Central Asian countries want to survive as viable independent states and avoid political and social instability in the region, they need to make urgent reforms in the labour sector.

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Central Asia: Migrants and the Economic Crisis, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the impact of the global financial crisis on migration from three Central Asian countries:  Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The report warns that the lumpenisation of Central Asian societies will continue, as qualified, educated and healthy younger members of the work force leave for Russia and Kazakhstan.

“The crisis has focused attention on one of the crucial weakness of Central Asian governments: the ability of states like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to survive a crisis depends on good external conditions, not good policy”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Crisis Group’s Central Asia Project Director. “There is precious little of the latter: they handled unemployment by exporting it, did little to create jobs at home, and are now floundering in the face of the crisis”.

The economic crisis has not, as some predicted, produced an apocalyptic flood of angry radicalised migrants returning home to Central Asia. It will, however, continue to seriously strain the weakest countries in Central Asia. Migrant labourers also unwittingly performed a valuable political service for Central Asia’s leaders. The export of surplus labour allowed governments to rid themselves for part of the year of the segment of society – especially young men - that are the most likely source of unrest.

Without reforms, unemployed migrants will be added to the long list of ripening problems in the region. Government inaction may also reinforce the Islamists’ hand, as radical religious groups capitalise on migrants’ social insecurity and isolation. The removal of workers from the land is further diminishing agriculture; the removal of a parent from the family is leading to problem children and abused women.

Insecurity is growing, in part domestically generated, in part because of proximity to Afghanistan. Infrastructure is collapsing and weak economies are slipping still further. The governments of the region need to take energetic measures to carry out sweeping reforms. The West’s current and apparently short-term interest in Central Asia as a supply route for the Afghan war effort is likely to further lessen any desire to put pressure on local governments to reform.  Fast, effective action is needed, but there is little prospect of that in sight.

“Unrest cannot be ruled out in the future, but even without it, deep scars will remain”, says Robert Templer, Crisis’s Group Asia Program Director. “Without efforts to create functional economies, eradicate corruption and improve social services, Central Asian states will be at the mercy of the boom and bust cycles of its large neighbours”.
© Crisis International -
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