An abundance of natural resources has helped Kazakhstan attract billions in investments. Despite its booming economy, the government is unlikely to move towards democracy any time soon.
Central Asia's most populous country is stagnant and repressive, but its two massive neighbours want in now Islam Karimov is gone.
Tajikistan, a longstanding human rights violator, has been cracking down harshly on what's left of its political opposition.
Islamic State has been spreading its influence beyond the Middle East – and Central Asia could be in the firing line.
In seeking to link IS to earlier Islamic movements, Western commentators have associated the jihadist group with the medieval Ismailis, made famous in Europe by returning Crusaders as the Assassins.