Sébastien Peyrouse

Since the early 2000s, The People’s Republic of China has invited itself to the “Great Central Asian Game” that traditionally counterpoised Russian and US interests. Today, Central Asia’s future lies mainly in its capacity to avoid neighbouring Middle Eastern destabilisations and integrate the Asia-Pacific Zone through China’s influence. In less than two decades, China has managed to enter significantly and in a variety of forms in the Central Asian region. The country has imposed itself as a faithful partner in terms of bilateral diplomacy and transformed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation into a regional structure much appreciated by its members. China has moved to the fore as an economic player in Central Asia in the trade sector, hydrocarbons, and infrastructures. Nevertheless, social fears have grown linked to this ever growing Chinese presence, and a number of Central Asian experts specialising in China do not hide their political, economic and cultural apprehensions when it comes to dealing with a neighbour whose power will be difficult to manage in the long run.

Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh

Changes in the architecture of international engagements in peacemaking over the last decade can be traced through a comparison of the Peace Accords of 1997 which ended five years of civil war in Tajikistan with the on-going intervention in Afghanistan which began in the context of the global war against terrorism. The comparison points to the challenges that complex interventions face today: the collapse of stabilization, transition and consolidation phases of peacemaking; the lack of clarity about motivations for engagement; the ambiguous methods of state-building and uncertain ownership of peace processes. The success of the externally-led Tajikistan peace process can be attributed to the common search for collaboration between international organizations and regional powers and the gradual sequencing of the different stages: negotiation for power sharing, followed by consolidation, and finally state-building. By contrast, the changing motivations for intervention, the isolation of the Western alliance from regional actors, and the external actors’ own role as parties to war, which provokes escalating reactions, are the potential elements of failure in Afghanistan. Ultimately, it is the national ownership of peace processes that creates the necessary legitimacy for peacemaking to be durable.

Post-Soviet Azerbaijan is the theater of an Islamic revival in the public sphere, a direct consequence of exiting from the empire and achieving independence, which involved the rehabilitation of religion, even the integration of Islam in a new national identitarian policy. Azerbaijan stands out from the rest of the former USSR by the fact that it is the most secularized Muslim country due to its early entrance into Russia’s bosom and the fact that it was long the ground for an ideological clash between the Shiite Persian Empires and the Sunni Ottoman Empire. It is through the convergence of internal factors – a preserved Islam despite the anti-religious Soviet policy – and external factors – the influence of neighboring countries, Turkey, Iran and the Arab world – that Azerbaijani Islam has been reconfigured since the end of the communist era. Eager to preserve the country’s secularity – the pride of the elites – and to ensure that the religious revival does not turn into a source of tension between the two essential components of its population (Shiites and Sunnis), the state has – with difficulty and sometimes a lack of subtlety – set up a religious policy that is far from receiving general approval. However, even if its handling of Islam is disputed, the Azerbaijan government controls the religious phenomenon through a policy that alternates between tolerance and repression.

Rémi Castets

With a substantial Uyghur population, Xinjiang (East Turkistan) is, after Uzbekistan, the second largest Muslim Turkic-speaking area of settlement area in Central Asia. Annexed by China fairly late, this territory has a tumultuous history punctuated by foreign interference and separatist insurrections. Through strict control of the regional political system and a massive influx of Han settlers, the communist regime has managed to integrate this strategic region and its large oil deposits into the rest of China. However, over the past twenty years, unrest in Xinjiang has dramatically intensified. Less familiar to Western countries than the problem of Tibet, the Uyghur question is nevertheless a deeper source of concern for the Chinese authorities. After a long media blackout about this unrest until September 11, 2001, the Chinese government issued a series of documents attempting to depict the Uyghur opposition as an outside terrorist force linked to transnational Islamist terrorist networks. This rhetoric, which portrays the current unrest as a foreign attempt to destabilize the region, conceals a deep socio-political malaise and an opposition that actually takes on a far different shape from the vision official discourse tries to impose.

Olivier Roy

One of the causes of the weakness of the State in the Middle East is that prime allegiance goes to the "solidarity group" (açabiyya), a social network which is always founded on family and personal relationships. These solidarity groups either are committed to a national strategy in order to control the State or, on the contrary, become delocalised and internationalised within diasporas which create their own transnational networks. Solidarity groups are not the expression of the permanence of a traditional society within a modern State, but rather a recomposition of allegiance networks within a political space definitively modified by the existence of a State. This recomposition can take three main forms. Firstly territorial establishment and the development of a community within sub-ethnic groups competing for power: the Kulabis in Tajikistan for example. Secondly the delocalisation of power networks which fade away once their objective, the obtaining of State power, is achieved (the Samarkand faction in Uzbekistan). Finally it can be achieved by the linking to an international network, for example that of humanitarian aid. These different types of recomposition do not weaken the State as such, which remains the framework of any possible inscription in the political space. But they do hinder the transition towards an ethnic State which can function only when it is built from above: thus Uzbekistan exists - not Baluchistan.