Saferworld has been working in Central Asia since 2009, predominantly in the Ferghana Valley, which spans Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Through our community security programming we are enabling communities and civil society to respond more effectively to conflict and security issues in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
We have also trained civil society organisations and the media to understand the impact they have on conflict dynamics. We have conducted research and advocacy activities in the other Central Asian states to ensure we have an expert view of conflict sensitivities and local perceptions of safety in the region.
Community security in the Ferghana Valley
Together with our partners – the Association for Scientific and Technological Intelligentsia (ASTI), Youth Development Initiatives (MIR), and the Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI) – we have been developing inclusive approaches to community security and community policing in the Ferghana Valley. We have been working in two contexts: with communities living in the border areas between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which has evolved to working in more regions in both countries; and with Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the Osh and Jalal-Abad areas. Our work brings together communities from different ethnicities, encouraging constructive cooperation on local security issues between residents, authorities, and law enforcement agencies. From this experience we develop practical, evidence-based policy recommendations to feed into wider debates on community security effectiveness, linking our community work with national policy changes.
Watch our video about our community security work in cross-border communities of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
In Krygyzstan our community security/policing approach is being successfully implemented by Local Crime Prevention Centres (LCPCs), made up of members of local authorities and communities whose work is based on multi-year strategic plans. In Tajikistan the approach is being implemented by supporting the capacity of Public Councils and Community Police Partnership Teams on countering violent extremism, domestic violence, and gender equality; and on addressing local problems identified and planned jointly by the police and the community.
We also apply a community policing approach to preventing radicalisation and violent extremism in south Kyrgyzstan. We work in partnership with the police, local government and communities, enabling collaborative problem solving of the issues identified by communities themselves. This approach ensures we can find solutions to address the drivers of insecurity and conflict before they become violent and destabilising.
Inclusive police reform in Kyrgyzstan
We are working with the Liberal Youth Alliance (LYA) to call for changes in the way security is provided in Kyrgyzstan. Together we have established the ‘Civic Union for Reform and Results’ (CURR), a coalition of 24 civil society organisations, former police officers, journalists, and researchers on police reform from all regions of Kyrgyzstan. Its priority is to focus on progressive changes in the law enforcement system through promoting civil society’s ideas about police reform in Kyrgyzstan.
With CURR we strengthen the capacities of representative civil society to further promote community policing, analyse security issues, and engage in policy debates/discussions with local, national and international decision-makers on causes of insecurity and mechanisms for people-centred security provision in Kyrgyzstan.
Through CURR’s campaigning, government agencies have started to consider civil society’s views on police reform. CURR has assessed the needs and problems related to policing identified by local people during consultations, and is now working with local people and authorities to promote progressive changes in the law enforcement system.
In Tajikistan our work contributes to the 2014-2020 Police Reform strategy, approved by the Government of Tajikistan, and wider international efforts to improve security provision. Past efforts by national and international actors on community policing and National Police reform strategies prompted changes in the way security is provided, through systematic reform and creating platforms for police-public partnerships. Saferworld is complementing these initiatives by focusing on building the capacities of local police, communities and civil society to institutionalise the types of relationships and behaviours required for successful community policing.
Promoting youth leadership and inter-ethnic collaboration on security provision in Southern Kyrgyzstan
We are working to promote youth leadership and inter-ethnic collaboration on security provision in Southern Kyrgyzstan. The project supports a movement away from heated ethnic discourse by developing young, ethnically diverse grass-roots activists into leaders and supporting constructive cooperation between them, their communities and security providers. The practical focus of cooperation is on addressing mutual security challenges and promoting the emergence of inclusive policy and practice in security provision.
Supporting conflict-sensitive and gender-sensitive interventions
Since 2010 Saferworld has been supporting civil society organisations in southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan to put conflict-sensitive and gender-sensitive approaches into practice in their work. We provide training, consultancy, and mentoring on conflict sensitivity, conflict analysis, and security sector reform, building the capacity of local civil society within Central Asia.
Rising powers in Central Asia
In addition, we are collaborating with a group of British universities on a project that examines how China, India, Turkey, and Russia’s policies and practices affect conflict management in Central Asia.
This work has been funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the European Union Delegation to the Kyrgyz Republic, the US Department of State, US Institute of Peace, and the Department of Foreign Afrairs, Trade and Development of Canada.
The five countries of Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan – constitute a distinct sub-region shaped by a shared Soviet legacy. This includes weak democratic institutions and poorly adapting economies, over-centralised and increasingly authoritarian governments, arbitrary and often disputed borders, inter-ethnic tension, and a reliance on sometimes repressive law enforcement agencies. Situated strategically at the intersection between Europe and Asia, Central Asia is a transit corridor for various forms of trafficking including narcotics, small arms, and migrants. Afghanistan’s proximity is also a major concern for security in Central Asia, with suspected trafficking of drugs and small arms and light weapons, contributing to the criminalisation of economies, particularly with the withdrawal of international troops.
Political and inter-ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 resulted in the deaths of over 400 people. It not only exposed the country’s fragility but also had significant implications for neighbouring states, as well as the international community working on stability in the region. Although time has passed since the events, the underlying causes of the violence – poor governance, economic growth, and security provision – have not been resolved. These issues pose similar threats in other parts of the region and it is clear that long-term efforts to prevent the spread of violence and conflict in Central Asia require significant investment in these root causes to bring about positive change.
A further driver of conflict in Central Asia relates to the unfinished process of delimitation and demarcation of state borders between neighbouring countries. Conflicts often arise between residents living in border areas over access to natural resources located in disputed segments of the border. In recent years there were several cross-border incidents between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, involving both local people from each country and border guards. While the governments of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan often try to respond by organising high-level working meetings to investigate incidents and establishing joint delimitation-demarcation groups, they have not always been able to successfully develop and/or undertake preventive measures. This has led to an increased level of insecurity within cross-border communities as well as mistrust towards their respective governments. There is still very little cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan officials.
There is also a perception within the region that society is becoming increasingly religiously (and politically/ideologically) radicalised and that therefore the threat of violent extremism is increasing. While there have been very few actual incidents of violence by extremist groups in Central Asia, the existence of cells of such groups within the region has been a cause for concern. The emergence and activism of politically motivated Islamic groups are often a reaction to the geopolitical reality in the region and a result of the transnational forces and dynamics. They are also a response to the historical circumstances and precedents, socioeconomic factors, and cultural and religious frameworks.