Following on from my post at the beginning of January 2016, Central Asia: what lies ahead?, I’m going to dedicate the rest of this month to thinking about the situation in the region in the coming year. I plan to do this at both a macro (state, regional) level as well as considering the implications at a meso (institutional) level, focussing where possible on higher education. This plan is facilitated by reports and news stories that have already been coming my way.
I open the series with an article from Kazakhstan-based Astana Times of 18 January that does a wonderful job of setting the global picture for the region. In the article,
journalist Aiman Turebekova reports on the findings of the state-sponsored Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of Kazakhstan (which I wish used the English acronym KISS rather than its actual abbreviation, KazISS!), which an organization has the aim of providing analytical support to the President.
The KazISS report focusses on global events that could have important implications for the political and economic development, stability and security of Central Asian countries. This is beautifully presented through an infographic which I have copied below, and is (c) KazISS. The infographic offers an immediate visual interpretation of the extent to which the world interacts/intersects with Central Asia, and thus the importance of what is happening globally to what happens in Central Asia. An English translation of these headlines and the full Astana Times story [en] can be accessed on the Astana Times website or downloaded as a pdf here: Top Kazakh Think Tank Anticipates 10 Most Important Events in Central Asia in 2016 18.01.16.
The ten headlines, using the same numerical order as in the infographic, are:
- The deterioration of conditions in world markets and the slowdown in economic growth in Central Asian countries
- Finding new means of economic cooperation in Eurasia
- Expanding Chinese investment presence in Central Asia
- Continuing instability in Afghanistan and implications for the regional security agenda
- The increased terrorist threat arising from the Syrian conflict
- Increased efforts by Central Asian countries in the field of regional security
- Next election cycle in Central Asian countries
- A new stage in the development of regional transport and energy projects
- Iran’s return to regional processes
- A decision on Kazakhstan’s bid for non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for 2017-2018
Breaking these points down, we can identify three overarching themes that relate to the regional, global and national levels:
- Regional: The importance of regional cooperation, both at the level of the Central Asian countries and in partnership with other regional players such as Russia, China and Iran. The Central Asian countries have varying degrees of influence in the direction of regional processes (2, 3, 6, 8, 9);
- Global: The impact of transnational activities and processes, where the Central Asian countries may have limited ability to effect or control change (1, 10);
- National: Political and security concerns arising both from external factors such as terrorism and Syria and ongoing instability in Afghanistan, as well as internal factors such as forthcoming elections (4, 5, 7).
The analysis draws extensively on the Kazakh experience (the other Central Asian countries, for example, have little direct involvement in Kazakhstan’s bid to join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member) and this serves as a reminder that whilst we frequently think about the five Central Asian countries in their regional form, that they are all at different stages from one another, with different contexts and varying priorities. It’s a bit like describing France and Poland or Spain and Sweden in the same breath simply because they are all members of the European Union. This should not undermine the importance of analysis at the regional level, but help us recognize that we must also understand what is happening at the individual country level.
This is the text of a press release I have put together based on other excellent notes written by Tajik colleagues around the world. Please, please help us raise awareness in the international community about events taking place RIGHT NOW in Khorog, south-east Tajikistan. We are all absolutely clear that we want PEACE and we want the world to help us achieve that. Thank you.
PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE AND URGENT CIRCULATION
Date: July 27 2012
Civilians killed in military conflict, potential humanitarian crisis in Tajikistan, Central Asia
Armed conflict in the town of Khorog, south-east Tajikistan, on the border with Afghanistan, has been continuing since the early morning of 24 July 2012. Tajik security and military forces has started an operation involving reportedly over 3,000 personnel with automatic arms, armed personnel carrying vehicles and helicopters in the densely populated areas of the town, with no prior notice to or evacuation of the population. According to the Guardian newspaper, ‘the fighting marked one of the worst outbursts of violence in the impoverished ex-Soviet nation since a 2010 government campaign to wipe out Islamist militants’. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting calls the clashes ‘unprecedented’
All lines of communication have been terminated and all roads to Khorog are also reportedly closed. More than 30,000 residents of the Khorog area, including women, children and elderly, are trapped in this conflict. The communications blackout has left many hundreds of Tajiks living outside the Khorog region without any knowledge of whether their families and loved ones are safe or have been victims of the conflict.
Reports by the BBC have suggested over 200 casualties. The Economist has reports of ‘dozens of civilian casualties’. Video footage from the region is slowly emerging, and providing evidence of heavy gunfire.
Apart from the human dimension element of the situation, it poses a risk of escalation and deterioration of the situation in the Central Asian region. There are reports of armed groups gathering on the Afghan side of the border in the area of Khorog, so there is a high potential for a cross-border conflict. Even if there are militants in the area, the lives of innocent people must not be put in danger.
Independent local news agency Asia Plus reports that as at 09.33 BST Friday 27 July, the government has called an end to a temporary ceasefire. This raises the serious possibility that fighting will resume and yet more civilians will be killed or injured in a battle that has nothing to do with them.
With no way to import food or for people to travel safely around, and with unconfirmed reports of corpses in the streets of Khorog, an international humanitarian crisis is brewing. It is not clear whether those who have been wounded received adequate medical care. The surrounding Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region is the poorest in Tajikistan.
The actions by the Tajik authorities represent violations of the commitments and obligations of the Republic of Tajikistan under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other UN human rights instruments, the OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and American Embassy in Tajikistan have expressed their concern over the violent clashes and called for lines of communication to be opened.
CNN has reported on a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C. by Tajik-Americans. Peaceful demonstrations have also been held in Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia and London, UK. Social media networks such as the newly created Peace in Khorog group on Facebook, with nearly 1,000 members, are acting as informal support networks to the many Tajiks from the region dispersed around the world.
Citizens of Tajikistan around the world call for peace, for the immediate and permanent withdrawal of troops from Khorog and for lines of communication and humanitarian aid.
This is a plea to the international media to raise awareness of the conflict and human rights violations taking place in Tajikistan.
 The principle of proportionality (article 51(5)(b) IAP) is a basic principle that states that even if there is a clear military target it is not possible to attack it if the harm to civilians or civilian property is excessive to the expected military advantage.
Another foray into the fringes of my blog’s remit, but this is the first time I have read anything about contemporary Afghan higher education (anything else to do with education focusses on school level) and I thought it was worth re-posting from the original on Deutsche Welle.
My paper on Tajik nationals who have studied abroad is now just about finalised ahead of the conference “Micro-Level Analysis of Well-Being in Central Asia” on 10/11 May and this week I will post some of my key findings. I’ll also put up the paper and would welcome feedback and comments on it. I’ll also plan to post from the conference, which is being held at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin (DIW Berlin).
Fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan consumes most of the country’s resources. Rebuilding the educational system is not a political priority.
Professor Abdul Iqrar Wasel is pacing back and forth in front of the first row of students in his seminar. He is lecturing about the rights of government to impose punishments and the rights of the accused. About 50 students are writing down as much as they can. None of them have a laptop or books. The 15 young women in the course are all sitting on the left at the front of the class.
“You have to understand the individual in the social system,” explains Professor Wasel. He is the dean of the law and political sciences faculty at the University of Kabul – with more than 10,000 students, the largest university in Afghanistan. Toward the end of the previous Taliban regime, there were fewer than 8,000 students in the entire country.
“It is incredibly important that so many young Afghans are studying in this faculty because they will be the ones, after graduation, working in the justice, foreign and interior ministries,” stresses Wasel. “I hope that these young people will rebuild our country and change it, if we can successfully prepare the ground for them.”
Wasel’s faculty currently has 1,400 students learning in two groups. There is no other way – for space reasons. Those who study during the day do not have to pay anything. The evening courses for those who work cost about 80 euros ($104) a semester. For most Afghans, this is an enormous sum.
Past versus future
Dunia is one of the lucky ones to have been accepted for one of the highly coveted spots in law school – in the day group.
“This is the only faculty with which we can understand our society and how it works. We learn how other countries function and what rights and obligations they have toward each other. Afghanistan has changed a lot in recent years, but compared to other countries, there has been no breakthrough yet. We are still a backward and underdeveloped nation. I would like to help change that,” says Dunia.
Dunia wears tight jeans and a long, black blouse underneath a fashionable blazer. She wears make-up and her eyebrows have been carefully plucked. When she graduates, the 18-year-old wants to work in the foreign ministry – preferably as a diplomat.
“I would like Afghanistan to be just like any other country in which all the people are educated. More than half of the population here cannot read or write. But if my generation works hard enough, we can change that,” she says.
Lack of funding – lots of corruption
The thirst for education is huge in Afghanistan. Some 150,000 high school graduates took part in the most recent university entrance exams, but only 40,000 were accepted; a circumstance that generated a lot of anger and disappointment.
However, most of Afghanistan’s 20 state-run and private universities lack qualified lecturers, modern curricula, books, networked computers, seminar rooms and dormitories.
Nearly all students in Afghanistan who wish to study beyond a Bachelor’s degree need to go abroad because there are no suitable programs available at home – and that means going to Pakistan, India or Iran.
More than 30 years of war have left their mark. 19-year-old Farid would like to see more money invested directly in higher education.
“The international community needs to ensure more transparency with its financial aid. Foreign countries send so many millions of dollars to Afghanistan, but only a small portion of that reaches the people who need it. Our government is profoundly corrupt. The politicians can misuse the money because it does not flow directly into specific projects. That makes donor transparency all that more important,” he says.
Low priority investment
The first 10 years of the international Afghan mission cost Germany roughly 17 billion euros, according to finance experts. During this period, the German government says it spent just 110 million euros on education and cultural projects in Afghanistan. The figures are not much better for other donors.
The academic reconstruction of Afghanistan does not have a high political priority and military expenditures swallow up most of the money. Farid, meanwhile, dreams of a career in Afghanistan in the faculty for law and political science at the University of Kabul:
“Our future has not been decided, but if we are able to strengthen the rule of law, battle corruption and govern our nation better, then we have a chance.”
Author: Sandra Petersmann / gb
Editor: Sarah Berning