- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Central Asian stability

The Kyrgyz Republic is one Muslim-majority country that is thankful the United States has Islamic terrorists on the run.

"Without a solution to the Afghan problem, there will be no security in Central Asia," Kyrgyz Ambassador Baktybek Abdrissaev said yesterday.

The ambassador said his country was being used as a highway for terrorists waging war against Uzbekistan on the western Kyrgyz border. The best news the ambassador has had in the war was the reported death last week of Juma Namangani, a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who had been leading incursions into Kyrgyzstan for several years.

"Kyrgyzstan became a transit point for attacks on Uzbekistan," Mr. Abdrissaev told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

His country suffered casualties and instability as a result. Bin Laden's al Qaeda network made several large forays into Kyrgyzstan in 1999, but the West took little notice.

"September 11 changed everything," Mr. Abdrissaev said. "We have a dramatically different situation in Central Asia."

The terrorist threat only compounded a bad situation in Kyrgyzstan, which the United States has criticized for a poor human rights record and an authoritarian government. The country is also suffering economically. The ambassador insisted the government is trying to reform in all of those areas.

"We are interested in eradicating terrorist roots completely," he said, explaining that democracy cannot grow in a climate of instability.

Kyrgyzstan is also "trying to develop an Islamic culture" after 70 years of Soviet domination but wants no part of radical Muslim movements like the Taliban.

"We don't want to allow the spread of radical Islam in our country," Mr. Abdrissaev said. "We want to promote democratic values and an open society."

One indication that Kyrgyzstan is moving in the right direction is the decision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) to hold an anti-terrorism conference in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, Dec. 13 and 14. The OSCE last year criticized Kyrgyz parliamentary elections as unfair to opposition parties.

"One difficult problem is how to make a transition to a society that is democratic," Mr. Abdrissaev said. "We will continue to try to develop a democratic society, despite the criticism."


Religion in Afghanistan

A congressionally mandated religious-rights panel is urging Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to guarantee freedom of religion in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

"Without strong U.S. leadership to ensure the protection of religious freedom and tolerance, we fear that egregious persecution will soon again be the norm," the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a recent letter to Mr. Powell.

"Many Afghans' experience of society, politics and religion has been marred by the intolerant and harsh example of the Taliban, who have violently coerced those under their control to follow a radically narrow interpretation of Islam in all aspects of life.

"Muslim Afghan women and girls have suffered in particular, at tremendous cost to the future of Afghan society."

Chairman Michael K. Young, who signed the letter, said his commission understands the complexity of forming a broad-based Afghan government to reconstruct the country and agreed that the United States cannot impose its will on a new regime.

However, he urged Mr. Powell "to promote the idea of a future Afghan political system that practices religious tolerance and respects the basic human rights of all, including religious minorities and women."

That message should be central to all discussions with Afghan factions, the United Nations and foreign governments involved in the reconstruction of the country, he said.

Mr. Young complained that the administration has failed so far to make religious freedom a priority.

"We appreciate the fact that balanced ethnic representation has been publicly stressed by the administration as a necessity for the stability of a post-Taliban government.

"But a commitment of such a future government to religious tolerance and pluralism, also central to stability, has not been so openly recognized as a U.S. policy priority."

The commission was established by Congress under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.


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