In a new report released this week, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a leading independent international body working for conflict prevention, urged the three Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to step up police reforms in order to achieve the kind of security required for peaceful economic and political development.
The ICG document suggests that police in the three states remain a coercive arm of government without the expertise to tackle terrorism and serious crime. Corruption is also a major problem - often police forces in the region organise, or do not prevent, extortion rackets and other crimes, the report says.
"After 11 September, there has been increased military and security aid to the region, but little attention paid to the need to reform security structures," ICG Central Asia Project Director David Lewis told IRIN from Kyrgyzstan’s southern city of Osh on Wednesday.
Central Asian states have aligned themselves with the US-led western coalition against terrorism by offering military bases in return for economic assistance.
"Without reform, most of this aid will be of very limited use in improving security, and may even legitimise existing bad practices," he said. Although the societies and economic systems in the three former Soviet republics have changed rapidly, the structure of the police has changed little since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago.
The report notes that, unlike their counterparts in many developing countries, the police in Central Asia are often more powerful than their military counterparts, and play a considerable role in political life. Bishkek used its police force on a number of occasions this year to crush dissent in the south of the country with considerable loss of life.
Whereas, according to ICG, the entire security sector in these countries - including the military, the judicial and penal systems and the various internal security forces - requires sustained long-term reform, restructuring the police stands out as a first priority. "It is vital that governments take security service reform seriously, recognising that the present structures are serious impediments to democratisation, economic development and genuine long-term security," Lewis said.
Efforts to control terrorism, drugs trafficking and organised crime - the major threats to security in Central Asia today - all required adequate security forces which were trusted by society and immune to corruption, he added. "At present, repressive security forces have served to radicalise some parts of the population," Lewis said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions