How safe is Kyrgyz ‘Stan’?

BISHKEK (TCA) — Whenever you hear a country which ends in ‘Stan’, you might associate things with war and terrorism. It might be the association with the situation in Afghanistan. But what is the life like in my home country, Kyrgyzstan, located just a bit over a 1,000 km to the northeast of Afghanistan?

Kyrgyzstan is the most democratic and one of the safe Central Asian countries so far. Despite Kyrgyzstan’s lack of finance, the law enforcement bodies of the country are doing an excellent job combating terrorism, as they have thwarted all planned terrorist acts, Kadyr Malikov, the director of Kyrgyzstan’s analytical center Religion, Law and Politics, said in an emailed interview.

Malikov is the well-known Kyrgyz theologian who has always criticized fake religious supporters. He was attacked by IS supporters with a knife in November 2015. The attackers were arrested a few days after the attack, in Turkey, and extradited to Kyrgyzstan.

In late August 2017, during an anti-terrorist operation, the Kyrgyz National Security Committee liquidated an armed group who had planned terrorist attacks in Bishkek and the north of Kyrgyzstan.

In 2016, a car driven by a suicide bomber exploded after ramming the gates of the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan. During the incident, three embassy security staff were injured. The incident was characterized as an attack by Xinjiang-linked Uighur extremists. Even though the incident was an action not directed at the crowd, it had alerted people from coming to Kyrgyzstan.

In 2015, a group of four who planned a terrorist act in the Russian air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan and its surroundings were killed. Seven men were arrested. They all belonged to the Islamic State. During the special operation, four officers of the Kyrgyz National Security Committee were injured.

The Kyrgyz National Security Committee identified and liquidated 15 terrorist groups and 27 extremist religious groups in 2016. Last year, on 181 cases the criminal proceedings were instituted and 102 people received warnings from the Committee, Rahat Sulaymanov, the press secretary of the National Security Committee, said in an emailed interview.

The main reason for radicalization among the youth is social injustice, non-existence of social elevations, non-existence of self-realization and no opportunity to find a job, says Kadyr Malikov.

Things are changing

But the situation in Kyrgyzstan is slowly changing. There have been many programs within the last two decades offering scholarships to Kyrgyzstanis and citizens of other Central Asian countries to study overseas or improve their skills. Young people who have studied in the US, European, and Asian countries are returning back to Kyrgyzstan and fighting corruption. It is possible to see the job of many overseas graduates on social media. They are fighting corruption in the country by exposing particular cases on social media.

One of the examples is Aibek Baratov, a local social media activist who has dedicated himself to fighting injustice on the capital’s roads and combating corruption in the State Auto Inspection in Bishkek.

After graduating his school in the UK, he quickly became famous on social media for exposing officers of the State Auto Inspection for their wrongdoings and the drivers’ bad behaviour as well. He also organizes fundraising to fix road signs in Bishkek.

Recently, Kyrgyz media reported that a graduate of Harvard University, Talant Sultanov, a graduate of Heidelberg University, Esenkul Momunkulov, and a current student of Oxford University have become Advisors to the new Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan.

Education and society

There are Turkish and American universities in Bishkek offering bright and disadvantaged students good-quality free or discounted education. The Government is building better roads and hospitals. People who have studied or worked overseas are creating their new businesses such as new restaurants, schools, and shopping malls. By the way, eating in some new restaurants in Bishkek is more expensive than in European restaurants. Yet, they have found their customers who can afford eating in those venues.

More people in Kyrgyzstan now speak English and are active on social media. More people travel and can afford traveling overseas.

Even though there are yet many problems to be fixed like corruption in local universities, government structures, courts, and unemployment, my every visit back to Kyrgyzstan and the observation of Kyrgyzstan’s life via social media show that the economy of Kyrgyzstan is improving. The National Security is doing its best to ensure the safety of the citizens and the country’s future is being passed over from old Soviet-era thinkers to younger and brighter people.

* Zarina Satybaldieva is a TCA contributor, currently based in Australia

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author

Sergey Kwan

Zarina Satybaldieva*

Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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