This report is a mapping of the situation regarding the control of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in three Central Asian Republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Despite a number of potentially escalating factors, such as authoritarian governance, poverty, ethnic tensions, corruption and resource competition (especially over land and water), Central Asia has remained largely peaceful, with the exception of the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan and a number of small-scale clashes, mostly in the Ferghana Valley and the bordering areas. Since the start of the US-led Coalition’s war against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, international attention to Central Asia has significantly increased. However, despite its new strategic importance the region has received relatively little attention in terms of SALW research.
This research demonstrates that the management of surplus weapons stockpiles and bringing national legislation into compliance with international norms are the matters of primary concern regarding SALW in these countries. SALW manufacturing and civilian possession, though relevant, are of secondary concern. There is only limited legal manufacturing in Central Asia: a SALW-producing facility in Kazakhstan and an ammunition-producing facility in the Kyrgyz Republic. Although it is difficult to assess the degree to which the region has a problem with regard to misuse and demand for SALW, illegal gun ownership has been identified as a relevant issue. This is particularly relevant for Tajikistan, due to its proximity to Afghanistan and the surplus weapons dating from the conflict in Tajikistan. In some parts of the country there does appear to be some ownership of SALW, however, cultural traditions have restricted their use. A culture of secrecy regarding security issues on the governmental level makes it very difficult to assess the quantities and condition of surplus weapons in the three countries studied. Stockpile security is therefore an important matter of concern in all the countries examined.
There are a number of relevant international SALW instruments in Central Asia, including the United Nations 2001 Programme of Action (PoA), the OSCE principles, the OSCE SALW Document and the OSCE Ammunitions Document. However, all these documents are politically, but not legally binding. So far, only Tajikistan has submitted a formal report on the implementation of the UN PoA in July 2003. While there have been a number of allegations that weapons from Central Asia have been illegally diverted to countries with a poor human rights record or are in conflict, subject to UN sanctions, most of these allegations date back a number of years and most exports currently appear complying with international norms. However, due to the lack of transparency in the region this information is difficult to verify.
In the conclusion, the authors recommend the following:
- To take measures to increase transparency with regards to SALW exports;
- To revise and enhance the present stockpile management procedures;
- To build research and advocacy capacities of civil society organisations so that they can fulfil their vital conflict prevention role; and
- To increase involvement in international instruments on SALW control and bring national legislation into compliance with these.