Books on Kyrgyzstan
Update No: 320 - (31/08/07)
Host to the SCO
In mid-August Kyrgyzstan was host to a gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation (SCO), a sort of Asiatic NATO. The SCO includes China and Russia,
plus four key Central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan, but not troublesome Afghanistan or isolationist Turkmenistan, which,
nevertheless, for the first time was represented by its new president as an
observer. It is clearly just a matter of time before Turkmenistan becomes the
seventh member of the SCO. Significantly other observer states include Iran,
Pakistan and India.
Everybody has heard of the Tulip Revolution, which toppled President Askar
Akayev two years ago. It put Kyrgyzstan decisively on the map. It was the first
true revolution in the history of Central Asia. Will it be the last?
Everybody is aware of how fragile post-communist states are. Their legitimacy is
always in doubt. The Chinese are to the fore here, which is why they cling to
the fiction that they are still communist.
Chinese president in town for the first time
The most important neighbour, or rather near-neighbour, of Kyrgyzstan used to be
Russia, which in the shape of the USSR owned it. But today, even though Russia
is hugely influential, the new looming neighbour is China, the rising sun of
It was, therefore, a milestone for China-Kyrgyzstan ties on August 15th as
President Hu Jintao began his first state visit to the Central Asian country. He
must have been mightily intrigued at his reception and the state of his host
Kyrgyzstan is a vital country for China, as it so happens. It hosts a US base at
Manas, close to the Chinese border, that is used to oversee North China, not
just Afghanistan. It has intelligence resources and an airfield. It has 3,000
The Chinese want it closed
The two neighbours signed a joint communique and inked nine agreements on
environmental protection, information technology, anti-drug trafficking, even
the establishment of a Confucius Institute, among other, more tractable matters.
Hu met Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the House of Government. The visit
coincides with the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties
between the two countries and the fifth anniversary of the signing of the
Sino-Kyrgyz Friendly Treaty on Good-Neighbourly Cooperation in 2002.
Bakiyev paid a state visit to China in June last year, which experts said marked
the start of a new period of development in Sino-Kyrgyz relations. "Kyrgyzstan-China
relations have a long history. The ancient Silk Road brought us together and it
was a bridge for us to trade our goods and exchange our views and values,"
Hu attended the Bishkek Summit of the SCO in July this year and went on to
observe the joint military exercises "Peace Mission 2007" (which from
the film footage looked anything but peaceful), at Chelyabinsk in the Ural
Mountains of Russia, before flying to Astana for a state visit to Kazakhstan on
The SCO was established by Russia and China to jointly resist US military
hegemony, the immediate priority being to get the worldwide loop of US military
bases out of former Soviet central Asia. It includes Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as members, with Iran, Pakistan, and
India holding observer status as seemingly does Turkmenistan.
It has been seen as directed primarily against the US, and so inevitably NATO.
But reports that India is seeking full membership fly in the face of the SCO
itself being regarded as potentially a military alliance. Neither India nor
Pakistan are joining a military alliance against the US with whom they are on
good terms. What it will do however is be regarded as wonderful news by the US
arms lobbyists as being capable of providing just the right kind of threat to
ensure the Congress keeps up its astronomical defence budgets.
The Cinderella comes good
In recent years, Sino-Kyrgyz economic ties have seen rapid development, making
Kyrgyzstan China's second largest trade partner in Central Asia. According to
official figures, bilateral trade volume hit $2.26 billion last year, up 128.6
percent from the previous year. In the first six months of this year, it reached
$1.14 billion, up more than 70 percent over the same period last year.
"I like China because the increasing economic cooperation has created more
jobs for us," said Eric Abudumanef, a 33-year-old taxi driver who plies
between Manas International Airport and hotels in Bishkek.
China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is one company that has not only built
more than 300 km of good roads, but also provides hundreds of jobs. "Our
company has more than 20 employees in Kyrgyzstan and hires more than 500 Kyrgyz
people. And we are glad that we can not only expand our business, but also help
develop the local economy," Wang Jingchun, vice-president of CRBC, told
China Daily. "The transport facilities in Kyrgyzstan are not very good, so
we expect more projects," said Wang.
The Kyrgyz are keen to be on the route of the Turkmen-Chinese gas pipeline, due
for completion in 2009.
Overture to the Turkmens
President Bakiyev and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbangyly Berdymukhamedov held
talks on August 17th. During the talks, they decided to intensify mutually
advantageous cooperation in all directions. The presidents' meeting was held at
the Ala-Archa state residence in Bishkek where a summit of the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) was to be held on the next day, the press service
of the Kyrgyz president reported. The Turkmen president participated in the SCO
summit as an honorary guest for the first time. "This is your first arrival
in Kyrgyzstan," Bakiyev said during the meeting. "We attach great
importance to Turkmenistan's participation in the SCO summit," he noted.
Bakliyev also expressed confidence that the arrival of the Turkmen head of state
in Bishkek "will give a new impetus to deepening of all-round ties"
between Bishkek and Ashkhabad. Berdymukhamedov, for his part, assured him that
Turkmenistan is grateful to SCO representatives for an invitation to take part
in the summit and expressed readiness to raise cooperation with Kyrgyzstan in
all spheres to a more qualitative level.
IS SCO UNITY AN ILLUSION?
A EurasiaNet Commentary by Igor Rotar. The recent Shanghai Cooperation
Organization summit held in Bishkek fostered an image of unity among Central
Asian states. The reality of the region's political and economic conditions,
however, belies such solidarity.
According to a joint communiqué issued in connection with the August 16 summit,
SCO member states - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan - agreed to take coordinated, though unspecified action to promote
regional stability. In addition, SCO members indicated that they are fully
capable of ensuring Central Asia's steady economic and political development - a
backhanded way of saying a strong US presence in the region is neither needed,
Joint military exercises involving troops from SCO states, staged August 9-17 in
Russia in conjunction with the Bishkek summit, reinforced the impression that
the organization is striving to become a security alternative that renders
American strategic involvement in Central Asia redundant.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed the gathering as the most
productive yet. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an interview
posted on his presidential website, scoffed at the notion that the SCO aims to
develop a military capability that would enable it to challenge the United
States and NATO for strategic supremacy in Central Asia. Putin insisted,
"the economic element is the main focus" of the SCO, going on to say
"concerning the military element, it is not military per se, but an
Regardless of the SCO's nature, Putin and other Russian officials have exuded
optimism that the organization can serve as an instrument of pressure, helping
the Kremlin achieve a major strategic aim in Central Asia - the drastic
reduction of US security and economic influence in the area.
Underlying conditions in Central Asia suggest that Russian confidence may be
misplaced. The prevailing spirit among Central Asian states is more
confrontational than it is cooperative.
One of the most acute problems in Central Asia is on-going inter-ethnic tension.
This tension is largely responsible for Uzbekistan's acrimonious relationship
with Tajikistan, and it has also complicated Tashkent's ties with Kyrgyzstan.
The present situation in the Soghd Region in northern Tajikistan is extremely
tense, underscored by the early August convictions of three Uzbek nationals on
espionage charges by a local court. This wasn't the first espionage incident in
the region, as three other Uzbeks were found guilty of spying for Uzbekistan in
2006. "Such trials do not surprise me at all.
Tajikistan's border regions with Uzbekistan are home to a sizeable Uzbek
diaspora, which the Tajik authorities tend to see as a 'Fifth Column,'"
said Hikmatullo Saifullozoda, a political scientist affiliated with the Islamic
Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
Tajik-Uzbek relations have been in the deep freeze for almost a decade. Tajik
leaders remain convinced that Tashkent played an influential role in stoking a
failed 1998 uprising in northern Tajikistan against President Imomali Rahmon's
government. The leader of that incident, former Tajik Col. Mahmud Khudoiberdyev,
escaped capture, and according to some accounts, found sanctuary in Uzbekistan.
Soon after the failed 1998 uprising, the then chairman of the Islamic
Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Said Abdullo Nuri, reportedly met in Dushanbe
with Juma Namangani, the leader of a radical Uzbek militant group who at the
time was living in Tajikistan. Soon after that meeting, Namangani and his
followers made an armed attempt to return back home.
Rahmon remains worried that Tashkent is intent on using the Uzbek diaspora in
Tajikistan as a means to gain political leverage over Dushanbe. According to
Saifullozoda, about a year ago Rahmon signed off on a plan to resettle ethnic
Tajiks in areas densely populated by Uzbeks in western Tajikistan. The aim of
the resettlement policy is to reduce Uzbek influence in border areas. "The
exact number of those resettled is not available. However, according to some
estimates, it has exceeded 10,000 families," Saifullozoda told EurasiaNet.
In Kyrgyzstan, a potentially volatile situation is brewing, centering on efforts
by ethnic Uzbeks in the southern Osh and Jalal-abad regions to secure broader
civil rights. Since the downfall of former president Askar Akayev's
administration in 2005, Uzbeks have increasingly complained about being treated
as second-class citizens.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has been slow to respond to Uzbek expressions of
concern, apparently out of a desire not to rile his presidential
administration's nationalist support base.
A far greater source of tension among Central Asian states is connected with the
use of scarce water resources. Even at the Bishkek summit, tension over the
water issue was evident, as Uzbek President Islam Karimov voiced alarm about
water-related projects that would affect the flow of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya
rivers. In particular, Karimov is wary of several dams in Tajikistan that are
either under construction or on the drawing board. Some Central Asian experts
have also voiced concern about Chinese intentions to build dams to accommodate
economic growth in western Xinjiang Province.
Even if the worst-case scenarios fail to play out involving Tajik and Chinese
dam projects, local conflicts over water resources appear to be inevitable. The
situation along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border offers a case in point. In 1989, violent
inter-ethnic clashes over the use of canal water broke out along the border of
Kyrgyzstan's Batken Region and Tajikistan's Isfar Region. The water-use issue
remains unresolved to this day, in part because the inter-state frontier has yet
to be fully demarcated.
The myriad squabbles over ethnic rights, water, borders and other issues hamper
the ability of Central Asian states to trust one another. And lacking mutual
trust, it is doubtful, at least over the near term, that the SCO will be able to
reach a level of consensus needed to undertake substantive action in fact, and
not just on paper.