Central Asia's Crisis of Governance

Since emerging as independent states from the ruins of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, the five Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have struggled with the fundamental question of statehood: how to govern their societies fairly and effectively. Asia Society’s January 2012 report Central Asia's Crisis of Governance describes critical governance and stability challenges in a region marred by staggering levels of corruption, human rights abuses, conflict, and civil unrest.

Though distinctly different, all five Central Asian countries share an authoritarian model of government that they embraced immediately upon independence, when well-placed Communist party bosses grabbed the reins of power. Home to some 50 million people and vast natural resources, Central Asia occupies a strategically important neighborhood: China lies to the East, Russia to the North, and Afghanistan to the South.

The U.S., China, Russia, and the European Union are all focusing their policies toward Central Asia on relatively short-term transactional results. None of these major powers has formulated a coherent regional strategy, and this approach has only deepened the harmful tendencies of local governments and the region’s crisis of governance. Given these geopolitical conditions and a general lack of economic development, the region is likely to remain a nexus for civil strife and power struggles for years to come.

Central Asia's Crisis of Governance was written by 2011 Bernard Schwartz Fellow Philip Shishkin, with input from current and former senior government officials, experts, scholars, and journalists from the United States and Central Asia.