By Paul Goble
Many Russian and some Western commentators have suggested that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are best understood as “’failed states,’” territories in which the central government does not have effective control over many aspects of life and the economy is dependent on foreign aid and remittances from gastarbeiters abroad.
But four analysts in those countries dispute that conclusion, arguing that at most their governments are weaker than they should be and suggesting that few if any would categorize other countries with the same or analogous problems, such as Russia, of being “failed states” (cabar.asia/ru/eksprty-o-kontseptsii-failed-setates-vneshnej-pomoshhi-i-zavisimosti-gosudarstv-tsentralnoj-azii/?_utl_t=tw).
Aynura Akhmataliyeva, the director of Bishkek’s Institute for Political Forecasting, notes that last year, the Fragile State Index listed all the countries of Central Asia except for Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as at high risk of state failure, a category in which Russia and Iran were put as well.
Despite that, she argues, such a categorization is less an objective one than a means of “exerting pressure” on the regimes by some members of the international community. Consequently, this is a political term rather than a scientific one and no one “can exclude the politicization of the results” of such surveys.
It is not only that some states are classified as failed when they do not deserve to be but others are characterized as successful when in fact they are not. That is the case, Akhmataliyeva says, with regard to several countries in Central Asia in which criminal family groups are in power rather than state institutions.
The related notion that dependence on foreign economic involvement and aid makes a state “failed” is simply nonsense, the Kyrgyz analyst argues. All countries today are interrelated economically and thus that is not by itself a factor that determines whether a state is successful or a failure.
Medet Tyulegenov, the head of the comparative politics department of the American University in Bishkek, says that the term “’failed state’” applies to only a quite limited number of countries and that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are not properly among them because it is simply not the case that their governments do not control anything or rule in the regions.
He notes that there is corruption and localism but that such things exist in other countries like the Russian Federation where relations between Moscow and Chechnya are far more tenuous than between Dushanbe and Bishkek and regions in their countries. “However,” he says, “no one calls Russia ‘a failed state.’”
Rashid Gani Abdullo, a political scientist in Dushanbe, also rejects the very idea that Tajikistan is a failed state. The central government there is sufficiently strong to ensure “full sovereignty” over the entire territory of the country. There are problems in the econoy but “these problems for the time being are ‘not fatal.’”
In his opinion, a state can be considered a “failed” one only if one of the three centers of world power – Russia, China and the US – are interested in having it fall into that status. At present, none of them wants to see Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan become “failed states.” He too says that despite Russia’s problems, “no one speaks about it as a ‘failed’ state.”
And Tajik journalist Nurali Davlatov too insists that his country is anything but a failed state because the country’s government is quite capable of conducting punitive raids against regional elites and criminal groups, although he admits that for the foreseeable future, Dushanbe won’t be able to solve its economic problems because of overly rapid population growth.
Three things are striking about the comments of these four experts. First, they are unanimous in arguing that the two countries in Central Asia many have concluded are failed or failing states in fact are not and in insisting that other states there may in fact be weaker despite their ability to hide behind clan-based criminal governments.
Second, they accept a relatively primitive understanding of what a failed state is. A failed state, as most analysts in the West have said, is not one in which there are not powerful institutions and forces but rather one in which there is no controlling center that can set the rules for all of them and whose rules are accepted as more or less legitimate.
And third, they say that Russia now shares many of their problems but that no one has called Russia a failed state. That is not true. For examples of those who have, see “Russia’s Aggression Now Reflects RSFSR’s Past Failure to Become a State” at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/03/russias-aggression-now-reflects-rsfsrs.html; and this author’s “Russia as a Failed State,” Baltic Defense Review, 12:2 (2004), at bdcol.ee/files/docs/bdreview/bdr-2004-12-sec3-art3.pdf.