Books on Kyrgyzstan
Update No: 309 - (26/09/06)
Central Asian echoes of 9:11
It is five years on from 9:11. It is a salutary indication of the significance
of the event that it had enormous repercussions even in remote Kyrgyzstan.
Washington established military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan from where it
could easily strike Afghanistan, while Russia, the long-time regional master,
could only look on.
These alliances in the name of Washington's "war on terror" made for
some unusual bedfellows. Not only did former communist states welcome US troops,
but Washington ignored the region's authoritarianism, including what human
rights experts describe as outright repression in Uzbekistan.
"But this period did not last long and it ended as soon as the US reverted
to its other agenda - the mission to spread democracy throughout the
world," said Dosym Satpaiyev, from the Risk Assessment Group. This of
course refers to the neo-con agenda in the Iraq War and thereabouts, which has
not exactly covered itself in glory. The cock-up theory of history usually,
alas, wins out.
The Kyrgyz benefit from the Uzbek mayhem
The tide is turning. "In five years, (US) influence in Central Asia has
developed incredibly and now we are seeing a major reversal."
A turning point was the bloody repression in May 2005 in the eastern Uzbek town
of Andijan, where human rights organisations say several hundred people were
gunned down by troops.
Washington and its European allies piled pressure on Tashkent, while the Uzbek
government claimed that the trouble in Andijan had been stirred up by the US and
Islamist militants. Soon afterwards, Tashkent ordered the closing of the US base
on its soil and expelled a number of US-funded non-profit groups.
Russia swiftly began to restore its temporarily lost links. "Moscow
profited from the situation after having been forced for four years to watch its
influence collapse along its borders," a Western diplomat in Tashkent said
on condition of anonymity.
Kyrgyzstan began to backtrack on support for Washington, joining the rest of the
Shanghai Co-operation Organisation - China, Kazakstan, Russia, Tajikistan,
Uzbekistan - in July 2005 with a call for an end to the presence of US troops in
Only after negotiating a contract for the US air base near Bishkek worth
US$150mn a year did Kyrgyzstan relent. "The Americans will never admit it,
but the closing of the Uzbek base was a terrible blow for them in Afghanistan.
They had to do anything to stay in Kyrgyzstan," said a European diplomat,
asking not to be named.
Trouble and strife call the tune at home
Domestically, things are not going so well, a year and a half after the
so-called Tulip Revolution in March, 2005. The government of Kyrgyzstan is
racked with controversy. The head of the National Security Service (SNB),
Busurmankul Tabaldiyev, tendered his resignation on September 12th, and
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fired his own brother, Zhanysh Bakiyev, from the
post of SNB deputy director.
The incident that led to the dismissal was the detention of Member of Parliament
Omurbek Tekebayev in Poland on September 6th. A wooden matryoshka doll was
discovered in his luggage, stuffed with 595 grams of heroin. Tekebayev was
dismissed from custody with apologies two days later as evidence began to
surface that he had been framed.
Closed-circuit camera footage from Kyrgyzstan's Manas airport captured
Tekebayev's luggage being taken away by a uniformed airport security service
officer and returned 14 minutes later by the same man, who looked on as the bag
was x-rayed. Then a parliamentary commission, formed to investigate the
incident, discovered a written statement implicating Zhanysh Bakiyev in
personally arranging the smear operation against Tekebayev.
The Kyrgyz government is not exactly a shining example of transparency and
stability, but this operation was a clumsy attempt to discredit Tekebayev, who
resigned as speaker of parliament in February and has since been a vocal critic
of the president.
While cause for a scandal, it is unlikely that this will be the act that causes
the weak Kyrgyz government to fall. An uneasy alliance between Bakiyev and Prime
Minister Felix Kulov has trudged along since the Tulip Revolution. Neither of
the two factions is powerful enough to topple the other, and both have to
contend with a parliament that was elected before the change in power and
frequently opposes the current government.
More fundamentally, Kyrgyzstan is at its core an artificial creation. Drawn
up during Soviet times so as not to empower any single ethnic group, the country
is divided in half by a mountain range. Kulov draws support from the north and
Bakiyev from the south, and the arrangement is further complicated by various
allegiances to clans and criminal groupings. With no clear dominating force, the
country is forced to remain in uneasy stasis, until something big shakes it out
of its equilibrium, such of course as the Tulip Revolution turned out to be.
At the moment, no external force is particularly interested in destabilizing
little Kyrgyzstan. Bordering China is content with things as they are, so long
as Bishkek is able to control any militant activity that could spill across the
border. Much larger Kazakstan practically runs the tiny Kyrgyz economy, and
Uzbekistan supplies its energy; both neighbours are happy with the status quo.
Bakiyev has been very careful to not anger Moscow, yet has compromised with
Washington as well, by allowing the Unites states to maintain its air base at
Manas (albeit with a substantial rent hike).
There is one internal factor that could break the stasis: an alliance, however
temporary, of two or more factions in the government. However, the constant
infighting that has become the trademark of this administration does not leave
much room for such a coalition to form. The parliament had a vote on September
14th on a resolution calling for the resignation of the president, the prime
minister and the rest of the government and security officials. But it is
doubtful whether the parliament can remove any of the officials without the due
constitutional process. Protests will follow and, likely, more shuffling of top
Tensions between the Kyrgyz government and parliament will continue as the
legislature returns from its summer vacation. Public disillusionment with the
Bakiyev administration over its inability to stem endemic problems of corruption
and poverty will continue to bring occasional protests to the streets. The
divisions among the leadership will further stall the necessary reforms.
However, Kyrgyzstan will continue to stumble along either until it becomes
strategically valuable to someone larger, or until the internal tensions reach a
Human rights groups wary of rise in Kyrgyz-Uzbek security cooperation
Kyrgyz security officials have declared victory in an anti-terrorism
offensive in southern Kyrgyzstan. Some observers say the crackdown is linked to
Bishkek's effort to improve ties with neighbouring Uzbekistan.
The chief of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service, Lt. Gen. Busurmankul
Tabaldiyev, announced September 4 that a series of special operations had
succeeded in eliminating the leadership of the Islamic Party of Turkestan, which
has been blamed for carrying out raids on border posts in Kyrgyzstan and
Tajikistan last May.
Radical groups "are now left with no people to plot terror acts and other
unlawful actions," a news agency quoted Tabaldiyev as saying. The security
chief said a total of 11 Islamic militants have been killed during the
anti-terrorism campaign. In some instances, Kyrgyz and Uzbek security forces
carried out joint anti-terrorist operations, including one that resulted in the
controversial death of a prominent imam in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Political analysts in the region say Kyrgyzstan's security sweep is tied to a
desire by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to gain favour with Uzbek leader
Islam Karimov. There are two motives at work, the analysts add. One, Bakiyev
appears to believe that Karimov's political support might help him in his
ongoing effort to consolidate his political authority in Bishkek. The Kyrgyz
president also wants to ensure that Uzbekistan will be a reliable supplier of
natural gas this winter, some analysts add.
Meanwhile, human rights advocates suspect the expansion of Kyrgyz-Uzbek security
cooperation is connected with the recent disappearances of four Uzbek refugees
in Kyrgyzstan. Two men, identified as Ilhom Abdunabiev and Bakhtiar Ahmedov,
were reportedly abducted in southern Kyrgyzstan's main city, Osh, on August
23rd, according to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch. According to other
reports, Abdunabiev and Ahmedov may now be in Uzbek custody. In mid-August, two
other refugees -- Valim Babajanov and Saidullo Shakirov -- were taken from their
temporary homes and presumably returned to Uzbekistan.
"We're afraid these men have been handed over to Uzbek authorities and that
their lives are in danger," Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director
at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "Kyrgyzstan is responsible for
the safety of refugees and asylum seekers in its territory and it must find
these men. The United Nations, the European Union and Washington should call
upon the Kyrgyz government to protect refugees and asylum seekers."
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said in a separate statement
that the four abducted Uzbeks could be subjected to torture at the hands of
Uzbek authorities. "In numerous previous cases, Uzbek asylum seekers who
have been forcibly returned to their home country in the aftermath of the
Andijan events have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment and given harsh
sentences in unfair trials," said the IHF statement.
Jennifer Pagonis, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, said all the abducted men had been registered with the Kyrgyz
migration authorities and UNHCR. "They were among the hundreds of Uzbeks
who escaped their country in the aftermath of the Andijan events on May 13th
2005," Pagonis said. UNHCR has announced plans to relocate Uzbek refugees
from Osh to Bishkek, in northern Kyrgyzstan, presumably to lower the risk of
abduction and return to Uzbekistan.
International pressure is growing on Kyrgyzstan to investigate the
disappearances. A spokesman for the US embassy in Bishkek said, "We urge
the Kyrgyz Government to take immediate steps to ensure the safety and rights of
all refugees and asylum-seekers in Kyrgyzstan and to uphold Kyrgyzstan's
international commitments to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol,
as well as to the UN Convention Against Torture."
US-Kyrgyz relations back on solid ground -- but for how long?
After hitting a rough patch earlier this summer, US-Kyrgyzstan relations now
seem to be back on solid ground. But some political experts in Bishkek believe
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's apparent preference for Russia could lead to a
renewal of US-Kyrgyz tension down the road.
A dispute over lease terms for the American air base at Manas, located outside
the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, had threatened to cause a break in US-Kyrgyz
relations. Adding to the tension was a dispute in which Kyrgyzstan expelled two
US diplomats over alleged inappropriate conduct, prompting the United States to
retaliate by declaring two Kyrgyz diplomats in Washington persona non grata. In
July, US officials agreed to raise the annual payment for use of the Manas base
to US$150 million from the earlier level of roughly $2 million, thus defusing
During a mid-August visit to Bishkek, Assistant Secretary of State Richard
Boucher predicted an expansion of bilateral relations in the coming months.
"I think you will see a lot of cooperation in a lot of areas with the
United States and Kyrgyzstan," a report distributed by the State Department
quoted Boucher as saying.
Boucher also insisted that the Kyrgyz government decision to expel the US
diplomats had been based on inaccurate information. "The thing we really
need to do is make sure that the false information and false stories don't
disrupt the relationship," Boucher said.
Kyrgyzstan is the home of not only an American air base, but also a Russian
military facility in the Bishkek suburb of Kant. The Russian base technically
operates under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a
grouping of former Soviet states that is dominated by Moscow. Over the past 18
months or so, Kyrgyzstan has emerged as one of the primary arenas for
geopolitical competition between Russia and the United States. Boucher, however,
sought to downplay the notion that Washington was vying for strategic dominance
in Central Asia. "We are not here to play games or contend for influence
with different countries," Boucher said, according to the August 14 State
Department report. "We are here to provide additional options."
Many Kyrgyz experts are pleased that Washington is retaining its base in
Kyrgyzstan. "The result reached through these negotiations is the best case
scenario for Kyrgyzstan in all its aspects, including the geopolitical
one," said Kadyr Malikov, an expert at the Institute for Analysis and
Planning in Bishkek.
Orozbek Moldaliev, head of the Bishkek-based Centre for Politics, Religion and
Security Research, suggested that Bakiyev was primarily responsible for
instigating the crisis. "The way Bakiyev handled the question of the
American military presence was unacceptable," he said.
In an effort to shore up his relatively weak domestic power base, Bakiyev in
2006 has sought increased political support from Russia. Some experts believe he
may have given serious consideration to booting the Americans out of Manas, but
ultimately decided that his administration couldn't depend on Russia to fill the
economic assistance void that the US departure would create. "Russia's
financial capacity is growing due to the high price of oil nowadays. But the
scope of Russia's problems is growing as well," Moldaliev said. "In
reality, Russia can hardly offer any adequate [economic] support to Kyrgyzstan."
Even so, Bakiyev remains deeply interested in integrating Kyrgyzstan into
Moscow-dominated multilateral organizations, specifically the CSTO, and the
Eurasian Economic Community.
Government officials also make it clear that Russia will figure prominently in
Kyrgyzstan's foreign policy calculations for the foreseeable future. Russia's
"position and opinion is crucial for us," said Aibek Moldogaziev, a
top Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry official. "Today the Russian Federation
understands and supports our efforts in collaborating with the US-led
anti-terror coalition, and Moscow doesn't pressure us about forcing out the
American military base."
Many observers in Bishkek look askance at such comments. Given the Bakiyev
administration's strengthening ties with Russia, experts tend to believe that it
is only a matter of time before questions about the future of the American base
arise again. "Bakiyev's political resources … are currently very limited,
so decisions made today are not necessarily final,' said Muratbek Imanaliyev, a
former minister of foreign affairs under former president Askar Akayev.
Meeting to boost cooperation with Iran in various sectors
At the September 11th meeting between Iran's first Vice-President, Parviz
Dawoodi, and Kyrgyzstan's Ambassador to Tehran, Avaz Beik Aghkhanev, the two
discussed the development of ties with regional and Muslim states, set a
priority for the Islamic Republic foreign policy, Interfax News Agency reported.
A statement released by the presidential press office said that during the
meeting, Dawoodi further noted the formation of the two countries' joint
commission and stressed that continued meetings of the joint commission play a
crucial role in increasing the level of exchanges in all the different sectors.
He added that the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully prepared to extend
cooperation in this context. Dawoodi reiterated that the increasing development
of ties between Muslim and friendly states would have positive results in
uplifting the power of such countries in the face of significant global issues.
He recalled the presence of Iran and Kyrgyzstan in regional and international
conferences and organisations, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,
as an influential factor for boosting the two countries' cooperation. Citing the
historical and cultural commonalities shared by the two countries, Dawoodi
called on the two countries' officials to increase their efforts in order to
develop the two sides' cooperation in the various economic, educational and
cultural sectors. For his part, Beik Aghkhanev noted the significant role of the
Islamic Republic of Iran in the global and regional issues and stressed that the
development of ties with Tehran is a principal priority for his government.
Bishkek, Washington discuss bilateral cooperation
Ways to attract US investments in Kyrgyzstan's economy received special
attention during talks between Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and US
Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Boucher. Bakiyev and Boucher
"discussed key issues in bilateral relations, prospects for Kyrgyz-American
cooperation in politics, culture and humanitarian affairs and the fight against
international terrorism," the president's press service said.
"The participants in the meeting underscored the two states' intention to
step up efforts to broaden bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the area of
trade and business. During the talks, special attention was paid to encouraging
American investments in the economy of Kyrgyzstan," the press service said.
"The president of the country and the US Assistant Secretary of State
discussed issues dealing with democracy in Kyrgyzstan. Boucher expressed
America's readiness to continue to assist the republic's government in
reforms," it said.
The United States and Kyrgyzstan have reached an agreement to continue the use
of the airbase at Bishkek's Manas Airport for the anti-terrorist coalition
Boucher announced in Bishkek, Interfax News Agency reported.
An agreement was reached to continue to use the airbase for the operations of
the anti-terrorist coalition, he said. The United States has been fulfilling its
obligations under the agreement reached by the two countries' leaders in July
2006, he said. Boucher held talks with Kyrgyz Prime Minister, Felix Kulov and
Foreign Minister, Alibek Dzhekshenkulov.
Negotiations are in progress on fuel deliveries for the airbase, and other
issues on which the United States and Kyrgyzstan could cooperate as they counter
terrorism, are being discussed, the US official said. Commenting on Kyrgyz-US
cooperation, Dzhekshenkulov said, "Kyrgyz-American relations have sound
prospects. We closely cooperate in politics and the economy." "We have
huge potential in the area of business cooperation. But we have not taken
advantage of it yet." "I am sure that both sides would benefit from
broader economic ties. We raised this issue during the meeting with the US
assistant secretary of state. Boucher expressed interest in developing business
cooperation, primarily in the energy sector," he said. Speaking about
negotiations on the Ganci airbase, Dzhekshenkulov said, "We explored all
issues in great detail, taking into account comments and suggestions from all
ministries and agencies and other entities related to the Ganci base in one way
or another." "As a result, we drew up a draft agreement and submitted
it to the American side for consideration. The Americans studied it for quite a
long period of time, after which we held the first round of talks.
"As you know, the first round was quite effective. We clarified the
parties' positions virtually on all issues. This issue was entrusted to Security
Council Secretary, Miroslav Niyazov, a the final stage of negotiations,"
the minister said.