"Nothing that took place in Bishkek is intrinsic to Kyrgyzstan," said Quinn-Judge, who is based in Bishkek and the author of one of the first comprehensive reports on last month's uprising that led to the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
Don't call dictators democrats just because they're helping you.
Quinn-Judge took part in a briefing hosted by the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and organized by RFE/RL and ICG to discuss Kyrgyzstan and the wider problems of instability and extremism in Central Asia. The panel included Eric McGlinchey from George Mason University and Daniel Kimmage of the George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute. RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin moderated the discussion.
"These countries, at the top, by and large have governments and political systems that are dominated by political patronage, nepotism, and corruption," said Gedmin. "And at the bottom, they have weak civil societies and extremists. How should we handle them?"
"For one thing, we need to call things by their real name," said Kimmage. "Don't call dictators democrats just because they're helping you out. The U.S. needs to be more cautious before supporting authoritarian regimes in Central Asia because history shows us how unstable they are."
Similarly, Quinn-Judge said that "associating so closely with a regime like Bakiev's in Kyrgyzstan or Karimov's in Uzbekistan, the U.S. undermines the very principles it claims to be espousing."
McGlinchey, who has been studying Central Asia for a decade and is currently writing a book on Islam and patronage politics in the region, said Western aid is part of the problem.
"The U.S. should cut off all aid to Kyrgyzstan," he said. "It doesn't help and only keeps authoritarians in power."
Panelists also explored the role of Islamic extremism in the region. Kimmage, an expert on militant Islam, said U.S. pressure on terrorist safe havens in Pakistan could force Central Asian jihadists to return home and "set off a destabilizing cycle of violence." He added that the hostility toward religion by the region's rulers might cause added alienation and extremism.
One bright spot, according to Quinn-Judge, is RFE/RL's presence in Central Asia.
"Radio Azattyk [RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service] played an exceedingly important role during the uprising. They provided a remarkable degree of reliable information, something that continues to be in short supply in Kyrgyzstan and the region," he said.
About RFE/RL's Broadcasts to Central Asia
RFE/RL provides objective news, analysis, and discussion to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in all of the countries' main languages. Based on the conviction that the first requirement of democracy is a well-informed citizenry, RFE/RL strengthens civil societies and promotes mutual understanding among peoples.
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Corruption, Repression, & Extremism in Central Asia