CENTRAL ASIA'S CONNECTION TO THE Islamic faith and the larger Muslim East is a highly politicized issue. Western observers have been virtually obsessed with the role of Islam in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan since those countries became independent in 1991. Capitalizing on Western naivete, Russia is playing upon the fear of Islamic fundamentalism to promote its regional interests - all the while working to strengthen its influence among renegade, as well as respectable, Middle Eastern and western Asian states.

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