Experts have welcomed an initiative by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to prevent conflicts in the Ferghana Valley, which includes territories of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The region is one of the most volatile in Central Asia.
"This is a good initiative and one of the first to look into a wide range of issues affecting the region," David Lewis, Director of Central Asia Project at International Crisis Group (ICG) told IRIN from Kyrgyzstan's southwestern city of Osh on Thursday.
The project aims at regulating conflicts - mostly over land and water - at community level without the involvement of the authorities. It also focuses on community development projects, and tries to establish links between the different countries of the Ferghana Valley, and the different resident ethnic groups.
Lewis added that the region faced a plethora of problems. "There are borders disputes, land and water are in short supply - and there is support for radical Islamist groups. It's a complex region," he said.
Asked what implications such initiatives might have on the region, he maintained that it was too early to predict. "At least it's a good start," he said. In an earlier report, ICG, a private multinational organisation working to prevent conflict, noted that the Ferghana Valley was deeply affected by poverty, overcrowding, falling agriculture prices, Islamic militancy, drug trafficking and increasing resentment directed against ruling elites.
Commenting on the issue, the regional analyst and author, Ahmed Rashid, told IRIN that in the post-11 September scenario, a more regional and broadly based approach on the part of the international community was needed. "The international community has to include the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan, Ferghana Valley in Central Asia and Sistan Baluchestan in Iran in any effort of reconstruction in Afghanistan," he said, adding that these remained pockets of "enormous instability" in the region.
Terming the initiative as positive, Rashid maintained that the major issue in the Ferghana Valley which the bordering countries needed to address was the establishment was a more flexible cross-border regime to facilitate the movement of people. "This can be only done through community level initiatives," he stressed.
In the aftermath of 11 September, USAID has stepped up its assistance to the region. The projects aim at encouraging dialogue with civil society, promoting employment, growth and helping to improve health, education and environmental conditions.
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