Members of Congress are expressing
concern that a perceived lack of legitimacy is undermining the efforts of Central
Asian countries to combat radical Islamic insurgencies. Lawmakers and government
officials discussed the matter during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House of Representatives'
Subcommittee on Central Asia, opened the hearing by saying religious extremism
and terrorism have been among the major threats to the former Soviet states
of Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991.
"A brand of radical, international Islam, Wahhabism, gave birth to many radical
movements including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," she said. "The former's
views are highly radical, advocating the overthrow of governments throughout
the Muslim world and their replacement by an Islamic state."
The Republican lawmaker noted that the United States has maintained close
ties with the former Soviet states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and
Kyrgyzstan since the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent, U.S.-led
intervention in nearby Afghanistan.
But she also said Central Asian countries have used the radical threat to
justify clamping down on political dissidents, something she insisted has undermined
the legitimacy of their governments as well as the war on terrorism.
"The reliance of governments, through the region, on force to meet the challenge
posed by these radicals does not only fail to adequately address the problem
of Islamic extremism, but it does not bode well for the prospects of democratic
reform in the five countries of the Central Asian region, given the use of
force to also stifle peaceful, political dissent," Ms. Ros-Lehtinen went on
All the committee members in attendance, Democrats and Republicans, agreed
that the Central Asian republics need to allow political liberalization.
The speakers were especially critical of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and
his family. They noted that Mr. Karimov's government has secured an Interpol
arrest warrant against his former son-in-law, Mansur Maqsudi, who is wanted
at home on fraud charges and now lives in the United States.
"This is obviously not only an abuse of power by the Uzbek president, this
not only has political overtones, but personal overtones as well, and Interpol
should not be used for that purpose," said Democrat Congresswoman Shelley Berkley.
Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones agreed with the lawmakers that
progress toward political reform has been slow and uneven in Central Asia.
She addressed concerns that political repression may boost the popularity of
radical Islamic movements.
"We talk to these governments at various levels with all of the intensity
that we can muster about the importance of not generating new recruits for
these terrorist organizations, and particularly about the role of repression
in generating potential new recruits," she said.
Secretary Jones said she hopes Congress will approve the Bush Administration's
plan to spend $100 million on educational and exchange programs in Central
Asia. These, she said, will strengthen civil society and help promote market-based
democracy in the region.