Kyrgyzstan, once part of the Soviet bloc, transformed from a one-party communist state into a republican democracy in 1991. Despite its reforms, though, the country is beset by both extreme poverty and government incompetence. With a significant portion of the population destitute, a thriving illegal narcotics market and ethnic tensions between native Kyrgyz and migrant Uzbeks, American investment in its government and people would see substantive U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan in terms of security.
State of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan’s location in geographically-isolated Central Asia and its lack of natural energy resources, such as oil and gas, prevent it from emulating the industrial rise of neighboring economic goliaths, Russia and China.
The inherent difficulty of encouraging economic growth, coupled with institutional problems and social disorder, has resulted in high poverty rates in Kyrgyzstan. As of 2010, more than 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan residents live below the poverty line. High rates of homelessness and unemployment have turned many to narcotics.
Factors Leading to Revolution
Trafficking drugs across a long, unguarded border with other Central Asian countries linked to Afghanistan is a profitable enterprise, making it lucrative to those who do not have sustainable incomes. The second-largest city in Kyrgyzstan, Osh, is often referred to as the “drug capital” due to the volume of illegal narcotics that passes through the city near Kyrgyzstan’s southern border.
In 2012, authorities seized at least six tons of various substances ranging from cannabis to heroin. The rampant nature of the drug problem, and the government’s inability to resolve it, was one factor that led to revolution.
In June of 2010, more than 350 people were killed in southern Kyrgyzstan during the Second Kyrgyz Revolution over a variety of issues — rape, wealth inequality between rural Kyrgyzstan migrants and urban Uzbeks and gang turf wars over the aforementioned drugs were a few. About 66 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population is Kyrgyz, with some 14 percent identifying as Uzbeks. The violence between the two ethnic groups in the larger frame of regime change displaced hundreds of thousands of citizens and left the region in turmoil.
Ethnic Tension and Cultural Conflict
Poverty is a breeding ground for radicalism. Its perpetuation is often a vicious cycle, wherein poverty causes political instability, resulting in civil wars and terrorism at home and abroad. These conflicts then wipe out much-needed crops and necessary social institutions like hospitals and schools. In Kyrgyzstan’s case, ethnic tension resulted from lopsided poverty and unaffordable utility prices.
It would be a mistake to assume, however, that the conflict between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz is limited to only Kyrgyzstan or Central Asia. In April 2017, an Uzbek born in Kyrgyzstan killed 14 in St. Petersburg, Russia by rail attack. In October 2017, an Uzbek immigrant killed eight in New York by driving a truck through pedestrians. More than 1,500 Uzbeks have joined the Islamic State, ostracized by many of the countries — especially Kyrgyzstan — they once lived in.
This global violence, spawned in part by the ineptitude of a corrupt and autocratic government in preventing the continuance of radicalization, is not in the interest of either the Kyrgyzstan people or the United States. Just as Kyrgyzstan benefits from foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan.
In the decades since the Soviet Union’s dissolution, subsequent American administrations have supplied aid intended mostly for the Kyrgyz Republic’s agricultural economy and on-the-ground humanitarian efforts. But it can do more — more for its government and more for its people.
U.S. Benefits From Foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan
Earmarking additional funds could support anti-corruption initiatives to dampen the prevalence of drug transport and abuse among the population. Increased investment in Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector could also diminish dependence on foreign energy and stabilize utility prices. A reduction in poverty and boost in living standards would increase income equality and alleviate some of the tension between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that currently plagues the country, and by extension of terrorist activity, the world.
As terrorism is such a buzzword in American politics today, preventing it would surely be high on most elected officials’ to-do lists. Helping the Kyrgyz Republic overcome its multidimensional poverty — which can prevent terrorist activity and save lives both in the United States and abroad — would increase national security at a fraction of the cost of not doing so.
To reiterate: the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan. The current administration’s plan to drastically cut its designated aid funds would render most, if not all, of these benefits void.
– Alex Qi