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Unrest in Andizhan (Uzbekistan) can destabilize the situation in Central Asia
Unrest in Andizhan (Uzbekistan) can destabilize the situation in Central Asia, said Dina Malysheva, a leading researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences. According to her, the socio-economic and political situation in Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia has been tense since the 1990s. The situation in Uzbekistan was complicated by the fact that the so-called Islamic extremists found refuge in the country's Fergana Valley. But it would be too simple to explain the current unrest in Andizhan by the new revival of Islamism, though the city has been a center of unofficial opposition Islamic movement of Uzbekistan since the early 1990s. "It is very easy to say that the participants in unrest are members of Islamic organizations. We have been placing the label of Islamic extremism and terrorism without distinction on everyone who opposes the official authorities," said the expert. She pointed to several factors that could provoke unrest. First, relations between the people and law enforcers are a major problem. The harsh actions taken by the authorities against the "Islamic extremists" provoked public discontent. So, unrest could be a reply to the abuse of power and the harsh actions of the authorities. Proof of this is the fact that one of the first facilities to be attacked in Andizhan was a penitentiary. Part of prisoners were released. On the other hand, the events could be part of a criminal war: the role of criminal structures, which sometimes act under Islamist flags, has grown of late. Second, the events in Andizhan could be provoked by the socio-economic situation. The government failed to deal with mass unemployment, social inequality, jobless youths and growing drug trafficking. These problems may be the core of destabilization, which took the form of unrest. Even if the authorities put out the revolt, this will not solve the problems. And Andizhan and other regions may be shaken by new outbreaks of violence. Hence, the government should spotlight social problems and economic reforms. Third, the revolt cannot be viewed separately from the wave of "color revolutions" which began in the region in Kyrgyzstan. The threat of revolutions forces the regional authorities to deal with every element of discontent with special vigilance and harshness, even if thee are no revolutionaries or Islamic extremists behind the events. "The revolution in Kyrgyzstan created a precedent of an easy way of solving problems by violence," Malysheva said. And now the Uzbek authorities can only act firmly and nip the revolt in the bud, though this is not a guaranteed medicine. "In the worst possible case, the [revolutionary] flames can spread to other regional states, and we may have a second civil war in Tajikistan," the expert thinks. There is one more key element: "To believe information from Uzbekistan, the rebels have appealed to the Russian president to interfere and mediate for them. It is difficult to say who are these people and what aims they pursue. But, one way or another, the events in Uzbekistan is a chance for such regional structures as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to show in deed what it can do." Malysheva recalled that these organizations were set up, in part, to ensure security in Central Asia. Uzbekistan is a member of the SCO but halted its membership in the CSTO in 1999. The expert believes that Uzbekistan did the latter also because nobody had helped it to fight the Islamic threat, which it was the first to encounter. The Collective Security Treaty (CST) was signed on May 15, 1992 and its members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. The SCO is an international organization of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The declaration on its establishment was signed in Shanghai on June 15, 2001.
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