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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 37, September 4, 2010

Kyrgyzstan: A Pawn in the Geopolitical Game

Wednesday 8 September 2010, by Ash Narain Roy

Not content with having one finger in the Afghan pie, the United States is trying to pull out a plum in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian republics too. The "Tulip Revolution" of 2005 in Kyrgyzstan and the earlier "Rose Revolution" in Georgia and the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine were all engineered by the Americans primarily to undermine Russia and to weaken its regional clout. Today, all these manufactured revolutions are floundering, with Ukraine having crossed over to the Russian side and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili getting a bloody nose after his misadventure in 2008 against Russia.

It is an open secret that Georgia’s "Rose Revolution" had been planned and centrally coordinated by the US Government. The Wall Street Journal had credited it to "a raft of non-governmental organisations supported by American and other Western foundations." It was a similar story with Ukraine’s "Orange Revolution". In 2005 when the corrupt Kyrgyz President, Askar Akayev, was toppled, the Bush Administration celebrated it as a victory of democratic values. Now that the utterly corrupt and repressive successor regime has been toppled, the Americans see a Russian hand.

It is of course easy to blame Russia. Moscow has become a favourite whipping boy of the West. But the reasons lie elsewhere. Last June’s pogroms were the handiwork of the remnants of the Bakiyev political machine, prominent mainstream politicians and organised crime. Given the interim government’s inability to handle the situation and addressing the causes and consequences of violence, the danger of another explosion is quite high.

The turmoil in Kyrgyzstan will have a destabilising impact on the already fragile situation in Central Asia. A climate of bitterness and resentment has been created which could poison all of Central Asia for generations. One only hopes Central Asia does not see the cycle of ethnic violence that former Yugoslavia witnessed a few years ago.

For some reason the present President, Roza Otunbayeva, has desisted from seeking external help. Unlike in 1990, when Soviet troops were deployed there to normalise the situation, this time, Moscow has declined to send peacekeepers. The UN Security Council too has done precious little. The country is virtually divided. The writ of the Central Government does not run in the south where the authorities are engaged in a punitive anti-Uzbek policy. Kyrgyzstan is 75 per cent Muslim, with 65 per cent of the population ethnic Kyrgyz and 14 per cent Uzbek. Russians constitute 12.5 per cent of the population.

The US has an air base in Manas which is a key hub for troops, equipment, ammunition and other supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan. There are indications that the US may use the current volatile situation in Kyrgyzstan to strengthen its hold in Central Asia. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 NATO troops and warplanes have operated out of bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Pentagon has announced plans to open training centres in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in addition to the transit centre at Manas through which 50,000 US and NATO troops pass each month to and from Afghanistan.

The five former Soviet Central Asian Republics -Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan-are NATO’s Partnership for Peace members. Going by the recent aggressive US postures towards China in its vicinity, analysts believe the same tactics will be used against Central Asian countries who are slowly moving back into the Russian fold. The joint naval exercises with South Korea, that consisted of 200 aircraft and 8000 troops in the Sea of Japan, and a spirited diplomatic defence of the freedom of South China Sea are clearly meant to convey a message to China and Russia.

During her trips to nine nations from the Baltic to the South China Sea, especially during her stays in Georgia and Vietnam, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a startling revelation. She said that the US recognises no "spheres of influence" by any other nation anywhere in the world, including the ones by Russia and China on their borders and in their immediate neighbourhoods and that Washington reserves the exclusive right to intervene in regional conflicts around the world and to internationalise them when and how it deems fit.

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WASHINGTON’S intentions are clear. The US finds Kyrgyzstan a perfect place to implement its coercive strategy. Kyrgyzstan has all along offered the coalition forces unrestricted overflight rights for aircraft flying combat, humanitarian and search-and-rescue missions. Some years ago, when Bakiyev threatened to shut down the base, the US promptly tripled the annual rent. It is very clear Washington wants to use the Manas base for carrying out its game plan for Central Asia.

Manas is the only NATO military base in the region outside Afghanistan since 2005, when Kazakhstan closed a US support hub there. Such is the geography and strategic importance of the Manas base that the US will never give it up. Not many believe America’s mission in Afghanistan will be over soon even though the bulk of US troops is withdrawing. Central Asia is far more important than Afghanistan in terms of energy resources.

The way world politics is evolving, the US will continue to see Russia and China in antagonistic terms. Promotion of democracy is a façade; it is the new "Great Game" that is being played all over again for supremacy and strategic control over resources. What Afghanistan is going through may happen elsewhere in the region as well. The Great Game will be soaked in blood and may turn into the devil’s tears for the Central Asian region and its hapless people. The playing fields will be dirtied by oil barons and multinationals, corrupt leaders and warlords.

Russians have reasons to worry. It has to ensure Kyrgyzstan does not become a Kosovo. There is already growing resistance to the deployment of even a symbolic police force from the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) into the two troubled cities in south Kyrgyzstan. The Americans could be behind this.

Hundreds of people were killed last June when ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks had clashed in and around the cities of Osh and Jalalabad. If such eruptions resume, the local police will not be able to contain such violence. The Mayor of Osh has opposed the deployment of foreign force. Posters and banners like "No Kosovo" and "No Yugoslavia in Kyrgyzstan" could be seen in many parts of the country.

Controlled chaos seems to be the strategy that the US is following in its bid to gain firmer hold in the region. If there is destabilisation in Central Asia, the US will be tempted to bring in part of its contingent from Afghanistan. Such fears are being expressed in Russia and Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan is incendiary enough. One hopes it does not become a tinder box.

The author is the Associate Director, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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