Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Collapse in Gastarbeiter Transfer Payments Pushing Central Asians to Look to ISIS

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 21 – Declines in transfer payments from Central Asian gastarbeiters to their families in their  homelands is leading to “a decline in the level of the loyalty of the population to the existing authorities” there and prompting Central Asians to ask then “uncomfortable” questions that ISIS can provide answers to, Gevorg Mirzayan says.

            As a result, many of the tactics that Russia and the Central Asian states are trying to put in place to stop the spread of ISIS influence may go for naught, the Moscow commentator says, because as of now, no one has come up with a way of compensating for these losses (

            Because of Russia’s economic difficulties and the outflow of gasarbeiters, the Russian Central Bank reports that in the first quarter of 2015, transfer payments to Uzbekistan were 49 percent lower than the same period a year ago, those to Tajikistan 44 percent lower, and those to Kyrgyzstan 41 percent down.

            Those are critical declines, Mirzayan argues, because none of the three governments has been able to come up with jobs for most of the gastarbeiters returning from Russia and consequently, that is hitting the population and the governments (from declines in tax revenues) extremely hard.

            In response, at least some in Central Asia are likely to listen to the ISIS message especially since, as Vladimir Putin pointed out in his speech to the CIS summit meeting in Kazakhstan, “up to 60 percent” of those fighting for ISIS from CIS countries are “from Kyrgyzstan,  Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and even relatively well-off Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.”

            “We of course cannot allow that they will apply the experience they’ve obtained in Syria at home,” Putin said. 

            After neglecting Central Asia for some time, Moscow is finally focusing on it as a security matter, “literally at the last moment,” Mirzayan says.  There has been a flurry of Russian military missions to the region to talk about what can be done, but “the main problem is that military means for the stabilization of Central Asia will be insufficient.”

            It will be possible “to defend the region against chaos only if there is a real transformation and modernization of the Central Asian regimes.” Otherwise the radicalization of their populations will only increase with all the instability that will involve.

            “One must understand that ISIS arose not as a project of the United States … but as a reaction to the failures of national elites in their attempts at the creation of stable secular states in a large part of the Muslim world,” including in Central Asia, the Moscow commentator continues.

            The flow of Muslims “into the ranks of the radicals began precisely with disappointments in those forms of secular governance which exist in their countries – in the widespread corruption, total poverty, ineffectiveness of government, and what is most important with the lack of hope that these problems will be solved in the framework of the existing system.”

            “And as a rule,” Mirzayan says, the Muslims “are right.”

            The Central Asian leaders have destroyed much of the progress made in Soviet times, shuttering schools and failing to protect economic development. But still more important, they have created authoritarian systems which deny the population any possibility of speaking out on issues of their concern.

            “The absence of a legal opposition” in most Central Asian countries and the tendency of rulers to call any opponents “Islamists” have meant that an increasing number of people there view the Islamists not as something alien but as the only group prepared to speak up on their behalf. 

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