The Peace Corps, a volunteer program that aims to spread American goodwill and soft power, is abruptly pulling out of Kazakhstan.
Officials in Astana, as well as Peace Corps representatives, downplay any notion of tension surrounding the volunteers’ presence in Kazakhstan, and instead portray the pullout announcement as the natural outgrowth of the country’s spreading prosperity. However, local observers in seeking an explanation for the unexpected development are looking at other potential factors, including sexual assaults, the threat of terrorism, and an uncomfortable operating environment, in which allegations of espionage have been aired in the mass media.
The Peace Corps announced November 18 that it had “suspended its volunteer activities in Kazakhstan based on a number of operational considerations.” After 18 years in the country, the agency is pulling out 117 volunteers, pointing out that “Kazakhstan is one of the most developed countries in the world to host a Peace Corps program.”
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.