With the disintegration of the Soviet Union the five Central Asian countries became independent states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (Kirgizstan), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. They cover a total area of 3,882,000 square kilometers, have a combined population of about 60 million and share borders with Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Iran. The main religion in neighboring Russia is Christian Orthodox; in China Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are the major religious doctrines; and the Central Asian countries are predominantly Muslim. In this respect they are similar to neighboring Afghanistan and Iran but they enjoy greater diversity, religious freedom, and secularism. Since independence internal and external forces have pushed for a greater role for Islam in social and political life, which would strongly affect the social fabric of the Central Asian countries if secularism were replaced by Muslim fundamentalism. Tajikistan has already experienced a devastating civil war that was triggered by extreme religious fundamentalists intent on increasing the role of Islam in the functioning of the state.
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