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Cablegate: Kazakhstan: Two Fronts in "the War of Ideas"

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RR RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHNEH RUEHPW RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #2353/01 3310217
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260217Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3973
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0864
RUCNCLS/SCA COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0271
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0973
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2079
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2411
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0431
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0346
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 002353

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, SCA/PPD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI KISL KPAO ZK RS KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: TWO FRONTS IN "THE WAR OF IDEAS"

REF: (A) JAKARTA 2048, (B) SECSTATE 114917

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: Embassy Kazakhstan is facing a "War of Ideas" on
two separate fronts. As a Muslim-majority country, Kazakhstan is
susceptible to religious extremism from its neighbors to the south.
As a former Soviet and largely Russian-speaking nation, Kazakhstan
receives much of its news and forms its public opinion of the
outside world, and especially the United States, through Russian
media, especially television. Public diplomacy tools to counter the
Russian-dominated media have largely been decimated over the years.
We should consider paying new attention to this "second front of the
War of Ideas." END SUMMARY.

3. (SBU) The United States faces a two-front public diplomacy
challenge in Kazakhstan, yet a current U.S. government poll asking
average Kazakhstanis their opinion of other nations shows that a
respectable 64 percent of the population views the United States
either very or somewhat favorably. This number is down from 2002
(73 percent). Still, the United States has a solid base to work
from in promoting its policy and values to a Kazakhstani audience.
To use our political capital, however, we must create the right
tools to engage in the "War of Ideas" in two very different areas -
potential extremism in the south and Russian media and
disinformation from the north.

POTENTIAL EXTREMISM IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN

4. (SBU) Kazakhstan is a slightly-Muslim-majority country (Sunni),
but still mainly secular due to its Soviet heritage. The government
openly preaches religious and ethnic tolerance, often touting its
support for the small Kazakhstani Jewish community, for example; but
like other governments in Central Asia, it keeps a tight rein on
religious groups, in part because of the legacy of post-Soviet
Afghanistan.

5. (SBU) Outside of its former capital, Almaty, southern Kazakhstan
is among the country's most economically depressed areas and is
composed of regional centers Shymkent (population 2.5 million),
Taraz (population 700,000), and Kyzylorda (population 600,000). The
region has high rates of poverty and unemployment, a comparatively
young and poorly educated population, high teen crime rates and drug
addiction, and rampant corruption among municipal and
law-enforcement officials. The major population centers of southern
Kazakhstan, like Almaty and Shymkent, are more heavily Muslim and
ethnic Kazakh than the rest of the country and are, therefore, more
vulnerable to the spread of extremist ideology. These factors, plus
the region's proximity to the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, create an area ripe for extremist
recruitment.

6. (SBU) Groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic
Jihad Union, and the Hizb ut-Tahrir are known to operate in this
region, and their activities have already spilled into southern
Kazakhstan. In late December 2007, 30 Kazakhstani members of Hizb
ut-Tahrir were convicted of recruiting and promoting terrorist
ideology within Kazakhstan. All those convicted were between the
ages of 25 and 30 and were born in Shymkent.

EFFECTIVE PD TOOLS AMID NEW TRADITIONS

7. (SBU) Mission Kazakhstan has made it a priority to reach out to
Kazakhstani Muslims, many of whom have only recently re-embraced a
faith that was discouraged during 70 years of Soviet domination, and
these programs have demonstrated positive results. For example,
using Department Youth Enrichment Program funds, the Embassy
sponsored a summer-long camp near Taraz for 180 disadvantaged Muslim
youngsters. The program fostered leadership, confidence, and
independent thinking, and post augmented the camp using the Sports
Envoy Program. Olympic basketball stars Sam Perkins and Becky
Bonner visited the remote, Soviet-era Pioneer camp to run basketball
clinics with the assistance of Peace Corps volunteers. Many of the
young Kazakhstanis had never met someone from outside the region, or
played basketball for that matter. Their reaction to the extremely
tall envoys was a startling and tears-inducing welcome, with some
100 loudly cheering and clapping children lining each side of a path
on which the Olympians walked into the camp.

ASTANA 00002353 002 OF 003

8. (SBU) Embassy Astana has also worked closely with the imam at the
National Mosque in Astana, bringing distinguished visitors to meet
him and tour his impressive mosque, the largest in Central Asia, of
which he is justifiably proud. The DCM hosted him and some of his
madrassa students at an iftaar dinner in September, also attended by
the Ambassador. The imam was floored to learn of the extent to
which Islam is practiced in America, and he noted that the U.S.
Embassy was the only foreign mission to reach out to the madrassa to
host an iftaar.

9. (SBU) USAID's Muslim outreach includes its Community Connections
Program, which sent a group of clerics on a "Religion in Secular
Society" program. One of its alumni, Nurmukhamed Akhmediyanov, an
imam from the Abai city mosque, has since founded a new NGO called
Zhas Urpak, or "Young Generation" in Kazakh. Zhas Urpak, which
supports at-risk youth in Abai, is the first local NGO founded and
led by a religious leader in Kazakhstan.

10. (SBU) USAID's Internews satellite television program provides
grants to local media outlets that produce Islam-focused programs,
which are uploaded to the satellite for downloading at local
stations in the region. Programming by the production group
Sairam-Akashami in Aksykent includes three programs in Kazakh and
Uzbek highlighting the peaceful coexistence of various religious
groups.

11. (SBU) Re-emerging Islam in post-Soviet Kazakhstan is a
fascinating mlange of cultures and heritages. At a Kazakhstan
wedding or funeral, it is not unusual to see an imam, who has just
led the party in a solemn moment of Arabic prayer, swiftly raise his
head and offer an appropriate vodka toast in a blend of Russian and
Kazakh. The government and community are still trying to find the
perfect mix for this cocktail of traditions. The government is
providing a narrative of tolerance, yet there is still potential for
extremists to gain a foothold. The United States has an excellent
opportunity to work as a partner with the government to promote a
form of Islam that embraces tolerance.

THE SECOND FRONT

12. (SBU) While the front in the "War of Ideas" continues to play
out along the southern border of Kazakhstan, a second and,
unfortunately, familiar one has opened from the north. Central
Asians get their news and information -- and form worldviews --
predominantly through Russian-language mass media, including
newspapers, television (90 percent of the population watches Russian
television), and web sites.

13. (SBU) Undersecretary Glassman noted that during the Cold War,
the United States "became good at public diplomacy," but in the
1990s, it began a "process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons
of advocacy," which is certainly evident in Central Asia. Since at
least 2004, Russia has sought to undermine progress toward democracy
with barely-countered, neo-Soviet disinformation, including
characterizations of so-called "color revolutions" that equate
democratic change with instability and castigate those who work for
it as traitors. There is no major Russian-language, neutral,
news-oriented commercial TV other than Euronews dubbed into
Russian.

14. (SBU) Russian-media inspired messages are widespread, such as
the notion that the United States wants a weak Russia and is working
to surround it to bring it to its knees, and that the United States
military is actually promoting narcotics exports from Afghanistan to
the north. Leaders across the region will less likely have to face
hard questions about their own policies as long as they have
American windmills to tilt at.

A PD APPARATUS UNPREPARED FOR CURRENT CHALLENGES

15. (SBU) The process of "unilateral disarmament" described by U/S
Glassman left the PD cupboard without some key resources, and the
much-needed replenishments that have arrived during the past few
years are designed more for the southern front than the northern
one. The resources that Washington has made available for the Youth
Enrichment Program, for example, led to a resoundingly successful
camp experience for nearly 200 children who will remember it for the

ASTANA 00002353 003 OF 003


rest of their lives. But a smaller and less substantive
Russian-language Washington File and the lack of Russian-language
translation services make it difficult to counter the disinformation
Kazakhstanis absorb on a daily basis. Even a rejuvenated,
objective, Cold War-era "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty" would find
it a challenge to hold its own in this Russian-dominated media
environment, but today's RFE/RL is so strangled for resources it has
drifted from content to comment, its website and Kazakh-language
Radio Azzytyk becoming perceived by governments in the region as
"Radio Oppo." Using freelancers who often provoke more than
enlighten, RFE/RL at times is barely distinguishable from some of
the more strident opposition media outlets.

16. (SBU) The distancing of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and
the Voice of America (VOA) from the traditional public diplomacy
context after USIA's 1999 consolidation with the State Department
has created a serious information deficit in the region that must be
re-bridged, especially in an age of electronic journalism, when
radio has emerged, to the surprise of many, as a vibrant
communicator. Although USAID funds the Internews satellite TV
project, it is not designed to project U.S policy and values, as
RFE/RL once did.

17. (SBU) Incredibly, VOA, suffering severe budget cutbacks, no
longer broadcasts in Russian, except through internet streaming.
Even more incredible, VOA's Russian-language broadcasts were killed
shortly before Russia's incursion into Georgia. Now, all that is
left of VOA on radio is in English. And although RFE/RL's
Kazakh-language Radio Azzytyk is a strong presence in Kazakhstan and
breaks some very important stories, we need to consider whether its
move away from traditional journalistic objectivity serves U.S.
interests.

18. (SBU) COMMENT: The United States needs its full arsenal of
Russian-language tools updated and expanded. Our ability to get out
a lot of information in the appropriate languages as quickly as
possible is critical. A reinvigorated Russian-language Washington
File that would add, at a minimum, many more transcripts, would be a
huge help, especially considering foreign interest in the new U.S.
presidential administration. In the field, we need to start
communicating with VOA, giving input on programming and determining
how best to use its materials, and we need Washington to facilitate
these contacts and restore Russian-language broadcasting. Right
now, the only real VOA contact we have is a technician who comes
around once every few years to check our satellite dish. END
COMMENT.

TWO THINGS THAT CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE NOW

19. (SBU) There are two tools the Department can deliver right away
that could make a huge difference: first, a 21st century Internet
system with high bandwidth. More bandwidth provides more
opportunities for streaming video, doing web casts, and
disseminating Department content more widely. It also requires
money.

20. (SBU) The second tool is the English language itself. It is
something we have and the rest of the world wants. In Kazakhstan,
President Nazarbayev has declared English a third priority language,
after Kazakh and Russian. We need more and still more funding for
English-language programs. Not only would English-language programs
bring people into our Information Resource Centers and American
Corners, where they would be exposed to more American materials and
ideas, but it would also create educated viewers who could flip the
channel from Russian Channel One to CNN or BBC to see the West more
objectively.

21. COMMENT: We must have tools that demonstrate we are as
passionate about democracy's marketplace of ideas as extremists are
devoted to its destruction and Russian media addicted to skewing the
debate. In counteracting disinformation, perhaps we should
reexamine whether it is really helpful to characterize an open and
spirited exchange of ideas as any kind of "war" at all, while we get
on with breathing life into more programs that can change minds.
END COMMENT.

HOAGLAND

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