Crossroads Asia

Peacefulness on the Rise in Central Asia

In the latest Global Peace Index, Central Asia shows improvement.

Peacefulness on the Rise in Central Asia
Credit: Public Domain

Given the economic slowdowns, threats of Russian revanchism, and entrenching autocracies across the region, there would seem little grounds for optimism girding Central Asia’s broader near-term outlook. However, while certain aspects of regional development point toward concerns ahead — say, Turkmenistan’s economic cul-de-sac, or Kazakhstan’s lack of presidential succession plans — not all news on the region’s outlook need necessarily be dire.

Such are the findings of the most recent Global Peace Index (GPI), an annual ranking from the Institute for Economics and Peace that collates the “level of peacefulness” across the world. The GPI is made up of 23 “indicators of the violence or fear of violence,” from number and duration of both internal and external conflicts to military expenditures, number of homicides per year, and more subjective judgments about the likelihood of violent demonstrations and perceptions of political instability.

All told, and bucking the pessimism swirling Washington and Brussels, the GPI actually found that “the global level of peace has slightly improved this year,” with only 68 of the 163 countries surveyed posting lower scores than last year. (Syria and Afghanistan remain the two worst countries in terms of “peacefulness,” while Iceland and New Zealand lead the pack.) Indeed, six of the nine regions surveyed improved their lot, led by South America,  a stark contrast to North America, which the United States almost single-handedly dragged into decline.

Moreover, some of the starkest improvements could be found in, of all places, Central Asia. For instance, the Russia/Eurasia region was one of only two regions surveyed — the other being Central America and the Caribbean — that didn’t see an overall worsening in the GPI’s internal conflicts indicator.

The welcome numbers also extended to country-level scores. Uzbekistan came in at 101st globally, not necessarily a stellar mark in its own right, but nonetheless a jump of eight spots from last year. Much of that improvement, as the GPI’s authors note, stemmed from President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s nods to reform: “This includes boosting the role of the legislature and strengthening the rule of law, although progress on any tentative democratizing plans is likely to be minimal.” Of course, it’s easy to look magnanimous when stacked up against former president Islam Karimov, but the rise will nonetheless please Tashkent.

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Kyrgyzstan, at 111, and Tajikistan, at 118, also improved their scores, with the former jumping an impressive 12 slots. (The two now bookend both the United States, which landed at 114, and China, at 116.) Likewise, Kazakhstan pushed into 72nd place overall, nestling between Peru and Greece.

But not all the regional news was rosy. Russia, for instance, managed to come in at 151st internationally, just behind North Korea. (Such are the results of invading and occupying parts of a pair of its neighbors.) Likewise, Turkmenistan slid some 13 slots to 119th globally, although the reason given had nothing to do with concerns about its border with Afghanistan. Rather, the report’s authors pointed to fraying ties with another southern neighbor: “The deterioration in Turkmenistan’s overall score was driven by worsening relations… with Iran over a dispute about gas payments, causing tensions between the governments of the two countries.” The likelihood of some kind of Turkmen-Iranian clash remains minimal, but Ashgabat’s domestic stability, as the score indicates, looks far more questionable than a few years ago.

All told, the GPI results will do little to stanch the coming issues the region looks set to face. But when it comes to the “level of peacefulness” apparent, the region can at least boast something other than the pessimism that often makes the rounds.