Thank you for the opportunity to once again testify to this commission. I am honored by it. I would like now to add some comments to my written testimony. As you will hear (and have heard) much today about the specific conditions in Kyrgyzstan from those who live there or from those who have left because their lives were made so difficult that they must now live elsewhere to struggle for human rights in Kyrgyzstan. I will not offer you a catalogue of who has been wronged as the process of democracy building has faltered in that country. There are many who have and others who have catalogued their plights more effectively than I could.
My goal is to add a little perspective to what has happened and maybe provide a little advise on how the US in general and your Commission in particular might try and help to improve things. Bust most of the solutions have to come from the Kyrgyz themselves.
When I sit here in Washington DC and read about Kyrgyzstan I often get angry. People I know and have regard for-like Feliks Kulov-get arrested. I read about human rights activists getting beaten, I hear of religious missionaries getting arrested, of members of the press whom I respect as honest journalists like Zamira Sydykova having enormous difficulties getting their publications out because of punitive fines and other forms of harassment.
But when I go to Kyrgyzstan generally for a short trip once or twice a year, I am always more hopeful because I get to see the events that disturb me in a broader perspective. This doesn't mean that I fail to notice the things that so disturbed me while sitting at home. These events remain troubling but they seem less deeply disturbing when I view them in late context that they took place. Because unlike many of the Kyrgyz democracy activists themselves I immediately see them in a regional context and because of this I am able to notice some hopeful signs that indicate how the situation could still be reversed.
To say the situation in Kyrgyzstan is better than that of neighboring states is damning with faint praise and ignores those lives that are currently being trampled on.
But in fact it remains true. The amount of space available for political debate in Kyrgyzstan is far greater than that in neighboring countries and far greater than that which I associate with authoritarian states. My model of authoritarian countries is not simply the former communist countries, but states like Franco's Spain where I am old enough to have visited and be familiar with.
In Kyrgysztan people still feel quite free to criticize the government in semi-public spaces, the Parliament for all its innumerable deficits allows some political debate and has spawned a few legislators who make use of public tributes including the state managed (although not always state owned) mass media for advancing controversial political ideas. Experienced critics still have some wiggle room. As I observed when I was recently in Kyrgyzstan, everyone had to use me and my recent meeting with President Askar Akaev to get critical statements made by me about him and the current political situation into print or on the air something that is easier if a foreigner is quoted. My retort though was that I criticize from at home, in settings like today's.
And I do not want to make light of the deterioration in the political environment in Kyrgyzstan. The contraction of public political space is everywhere apparent. But what I want to emphasize is that it is not too late to influence developments in the country. In fact, in the wake of September 11 it is probably easier to influence developments there now than it might have been beforehand.
Unlike a few years ago, the Kyrgyz government is no longer testing the boundaries of its relationship with Russia and with the U.S. Both are now fairly clear as are the parameters of the relationships with China.
Ties with Kazakhstan are normalizing as well and the influence of this northern "big brother" (as the Kazakhs like to see themselves) is being modified somewhat.
Whatever personal ties and business relations persist between the two ruling families, they seem to be becoming more compartmentalized and I don't mean to imply that members of both families didn't pursue personal economic interest in a way that others would view as correct or detrimental to national interests.
But a greater sense of national interest is emerging parallel to this. We see evidence of this in Kyrgyzstan's continued pressure for improved trade conditions across Kazakhstan so that their goods can reach Russia without paying a prohibitive tariff of 100% and we see evidence of this in recent decisions to fill Kyrgyz water to neighboring states. Also, for all his undoubted flaws I see no profit in weighing in on the much debated question of whether President Akayev is weak or strong, a captive of strong family members or the "evil genius" behind some of the convoluted economic and political maneuverings which have emerged in recent years.
What I do feel strongly about is that he is politically savvy and for that reason I pressure that he is monitoring very carefully what is going on in neighboring Kazakhstan, where the ruling elite shows strong signs of fraying from within. One hopes that he is drawing the appropriate lessons. Kyrgyzstan must open up again politically and work toward greater economic transparency both through the creation of an independent judiciary and through a more directed and far reaching campaign against corruption. Parenthetically, the only way that the latter can succeed is if the first family withdraws from commercial activities, thus I would urge the quiet selling-off of all their current assets-reprivatization so to speak, which should yield enough money for even the most distant cousins to provide for their families for a few generations, if current rumors are at all based in substance.
In this instance there would be far less for the Kyrgyz ruling elite to fear from their critics human rights groups and in the press. Kazakhstan's ruling Nazarbayev family is resisting doing that and its next crisis will be much more severe than the current one.
The Kyrgyz state is potentially far more fragile and cannot afford to take such risks, its border with Uzbekistan is a far less secure one, not to speak of the border with Tajikistan.
First about Uzbekistan. Unfortunately I am afraid that they are the cause (and not just the excuse) for much that has gone wrong in Kyrgyzstan. President Islam Karimov's refusal to risk the empowerment of both secular and religious groups has led to the paralysis of economic reform in Uzbekistan and the perpetration of the distortions of the Soviet-era economy in order to register a current growth in the country's GDP.
In large part to sustain this economy, Uzbekistan has closed off its borders to all its neighbors destroying any possibility for the development of a regional economy and with it any hopes that Kyrgyzstan had of a relatively easy transition to a market economy. Kyrgyzstan's economy is too small to go it alone and the realization that economic reform was sure to fail absent a regional market must undoubtedly have fueled but not excuse the salting away of international assistance money.
But some of this would have occurred anyway as Soviet-era Kyrgyzstan had more than its share of scams to skim off state assets. Uzbekistan is also the source of the region's religious revival which predates that of Tajikistan although the two ruling communities were in close contact and fed off each other.
There always would have been some overflow into Kyrgyzstan. But the frustration of Uzbek Islamists is currently so great that a critical mass of them are determined to politicize Islam within Kyrgyzstan as a way to pressure the Uzbek regime.
This strategy is working, at least in terms of the growth in religiosity of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan youth in Southern Kyrgyzstan. The current campaign against the Hezb-ut Tahrir is another point of contention for human rights activists as the civil rights of alleged followers of the movement are often abused. The Hezb-ut Tahrir also has fertile ground in the poverty in the south (where they pay pamphleteers and such) making more pressing the case for economic reform. There, too, public debate and political participation would do more to dampen the appeal of these religious activists. As the mandates of similar NGO's would steal some of their agenda.
A more effective campaign against the drug trade in neighboring states (both in Afghanistan and Tajikistan) would help Kyrgyzstan enormously. Were it up to me, I would secure an important source of self-financing from extreme religious groups in Kyrgyzstan and in Tajikistan, as this latter state's sole transit routes to the outside world are through Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.
In this regard the corruption of Kyrgyz law enforcement officials must be addressed and this means more money for higher salaries as an elementary starting point.
Anyway, I think the current discussion provides a sense of the interconnectedness of Kyrgyzstan's problems and why embracing the principles of good governance. What I have termed the "luxury" of democracy in my written testimony is absolutely essential for the Kyrgyz government in order to help ensure the survival of their state.