While accepting Russia’s big footprint in their security and economic lives, Central Asian countries have tried to conduct “multi-vector” foreign policies. These countries know that having good (or at least balanced) relations with Russia, China and the United States is important in the long term — and that Central Asian leaders who’ve tried to play the big powers against each other often wind up the loser.
Kazakhstan’s violent upheaval this month underscores that governments and international organizations need to more effectively help Central Asia’s 76 million people build responsive, effective governance across their five nations. Mass protests or communal violence also have struck Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in recent years. As the United States, allied governments and international institutions seek ways to promote nonviolent transitions toward more stable, democratic rule, new research suggests that they explore for partners in an often-ignored sector—Central Asia’s active and disparate Muslim civil society.
When Western policymakers and development practitioners turn their attention to Central Asia, they too often overlook Muslim civil society as a potential partner for addressing the region’s economic and social problems. This report, which is based on dozens of interviews with representatives of Muslim civil society organizations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, is intended to help generate a much-needed conversation about Muslim civil society in Central Asia and how Western donors and practitioners can begin tapping their potential.