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Central Asian Backlash Against US Franchised Revolutions
K. Gajendra Singh
After a meeting on 5 July in the Kazakh capital Astana, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in a statement called on USA to spell out a deadline for withdrawal of its troops and military hardware from the region. The SCO which was constituted as Shanghai Five at China’s initiative in 1995 is now composed of, apart from China and Russia, the central Asian Republics (CARs) of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan .India, Iran and Pakistan, who attended the summit in Astana have joined it as observers.
While stating that "We support and will support the international coalition, which is carrying out an anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilize the situation, "the declaration added, "as the active military phase in the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition's members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents' presence in those countries."
There was considerable discussion among members in finalizing the polite sting. Use of the phrase coalition members added at Russia ’s behest points to the presence of Western troops in Afghanistan as well. AFX reported that "the leaders also included a clause on the inadmissibility of 'monopolizing or dominating international affairs' –an apparent reference to growing US interference in Central Asia."
SCO is still a loose organization originally established to counter Islamic terrorism , but with militarily powerful states like Russia, China and India and galloping Chinese and Indian economies and energy based economic recovery in Russia with its immense reserves and in other SCO members and observers, it could develop into an economic challenge to a US economy addicted to reckless deficits at home and in external trade, a stagnant and confused Europe Union.
USA is now caught in an Iraqi quagmire of its own making , which US leadership and Tony Blair regime thought would give them free run of Iraq oil and strategic control over the resources of the region. Extending US military presence beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan into central Asia was to further US led Western control and influence over central Asia ’s energy and raw materials .
There could be an economic ,political and strategic space for the countries of the East i.e. Asia and Russia to coalesce into more a more formal and institutionalized structure. The SCO call to leave central Asia alone is the first challenge in the ongoing strategic East and West rivalry which is as old as history.
US air bases in central Asia
Apart from the bases in Afghanistan and help from non- NATO strategic ally Pakistan, the huge air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan has as many as 1,200 US military personnel, mostly from rapid deployment units. When fully completed, the base would accommodate upwards of 3,000 troops. The U.S. also uses the Karshi-Khanabad airfield in south-eastern Uzbekistan since late 2001, but has failed to convince the Uzbek Government to convert its temporary status into a permanent one like in Kyrgyzstan. After the Andijan uprising in May, permission for night flights was ruled out.
About 18,000 coalition forces are in Afghanistan tracking al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. Another 200 French personnel are deployed at an air force base in Tajikistan .
SCO Summit in Astana
In their speeches at the SCO summit, the Russian officials referred to attempts by unspecified foreign forces to destabilize the region, but the Chinese President Hu Jintao and Uzbek President Islam Karimov contained veiled criticism of Western interference in Central Asia. Said Karimov, “(They) aim to create a situation of so-called manageable instability and ... foist on us their own model of development.” Speaking through a Russian interpreter Hu said . “The people of Central Asia are the only masters of their destiny,” adding that “They are wise and free enough to put their own houses in order.”
“There should be no place for interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states," said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. UzReport.com, Uzbekistan's largest business Internet portal, reported that Secretary-General of the SCO Zhang Deguang said that three evils – terrorism, extremism, and separatism – are the main threat to peace and security in the region.
Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that the call was being made since active operations in Afghanistan were coming to an end. "No one is telling them it should be tomorrow, in a month, in five months or in a year and a half, but it's just straightforward that SCO members know by when the anti-terrorist coalition will leave," he said. Sanobar Shermatova, an Uzbek political analyst based in Moscow , said, "There is a growing feeling in central Asia that the Americans are only a source of instability."
Acting Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, reiterating the SCO demand next day on 6 July told reporters that she believed the situation in Afghanistan had stabilized "The question we're posing is what is the term of presence, "Otunbayeva said "We have put forward quite reasonable questions and I don't think our relations (with the United States) should be damaged," she said. But Otunbayeva refused to say when the Kyrgyz leadership wanted the U.S. troops to leave.
SCO members are also affected by events in neighboring Afghanistan, with a post-Taliban (now re-emerging!) surge in poppy production; CARs are used as silk routes for narcotics. Some Russian experts claim that drug lords often team up with religious extremists, to create rebellion and chaos , useful for both sides . "Everyone is watching with very deep concern as the drug pipeline widens and deepens, while political stability deteriorates in some parts of Central Asia," says Sergei Kolmakov, an expert with PBN, an international strategic consultancy.
Russian- Chinese joint statement last week on the new world order, their emphasis on a new security concept for Asia and now, the SCO statement for a timetable for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, suggest maneuvers and battles for extension of strategic space between the East and the West.
Rejecting the call for a deadline, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. military presence "is determined by the terms of our bilateral agreements, under which both countries have concluded that there is a benefit to both sides from our activities." The U.S. Defense Department, spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said that regarding U.S. bases in Uzbekistan , "it's a decision the Uzbek government has to make as to whether or not we would continue to operate from that."
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador John Ordway in Kazakhstan told reporters in its commercial capital Almaty that the coalition operations in Afghanistan “are ongoing and will be for some time to come. “Unfortunately, there are a number of challenges remaining in Afghanistan and the military contingents there remain essential in the struggle to provide that security and stability.”
‘Rumsfeld’ Military doctrine
Military doctrines and strategy under US Secretary of State Ronald Rumsfeld’s ‘ regime’ in the Pentagon , now in tatters , following a determined Iraqi resistance and under review and revision, had emphasized less on large bases with large number of troops but on the forward deployment of small but highly mobile expeditionary or rapid reaction forces. In the last year’s Pentagon's Global Posture Review, the emphasis was on "capabilities" rather than sheer numbers. The Manas like air bases are to serve as "lily pads" from which troops may be "leap-frogged" to nearby trouble-spots at a moment's notice. In case of a bigger military engagement these bases could also serve as links for additional forces and equipment flown directly from the United States . It is proving not a success in Iraq , where the insurgency has imposed its own doctrine and strategy.
British Role after 7 July
British media recently suggested that UK is planning a major cutback in the British forces in Iraq to concentrate on its new responsibility for the security of Afghanistan which the US wants to leave earliest (to concentrate on Iraq). Contrary to the ground situation in Iraq , British commanders are making optimistic noises about progress in training of Iraqi security forces in provinces under its control.. British troops could be cut to less than 2,000 in year or so from 9,000 now. British operations in Iraq cost about $ 2 billion a year while the deployment in Afghanistan would cost half of that over three years. British officials claim that the US no longer has an interest in Afghanistan , including its opium crop, 90% of which ends up as heroin on the streets of Europe and not America .
London has been looking for a way out from an unpopular war on Iraq at home. The unkindest cut was George Bush’s statement that Tony Blair had joined him in the war on Iraq for his own reasons. There would be no quid pro quo. The terrorist attacks on London’s transport network which has killed many dozens and injured hundreds would need a serious review of Britain’s policy, so far in tandem with USA. The long term impact on British society and economy of 7 July attacks would be far reaching.
US Presence in Central Asia
After the stunning September 11 attacks, Washington signed (or cajoled and bribed) agreements with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to use their bases for refueling aircraft and ferrying troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. The leaders of CARs , all former Russian Communist party leaders while initially unhappy to be jettisoned out from the Soviet Union soon got used to the new sovereign status and independence and , the power and pelf which it bestowed .They wanted to use the American presence to counter Russia which after USSR’s break up had wanted to bring back under its influence its former republics ,‘the near abroad’.
Both China and Russia , although suspicious , acquiesced as the new CARs had become sensitive of their independence status and their own fight with Muslim radical movements for independence in Chechnya and a similar movement by ethnic Turkic Uighur populated Xinjiang province of China , encouraged after the emergence of independent ethnic CARs . Al-Qaeda and other militant organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan were training Islamic groups from CARs , China and Russia and extending support to them.
But it is now an open secret that the neo-cons in Bush administration had planned to bring about a regime change in Iraq for its oil and use the opportunity to further extend its military influence in Central Asia to also control its energy and other resources. 11 September only provided an opportunity .Thus what followed opened the eyes of the CARs leadership to the true nature of US objectives as Kyrgyz President Akaev, now in exile in Moscow , learnt to his cost .The Andijan uprising shook Uzbek President Karimov ‘s throne. They might have assumed that as in Pakistan , the Gulf and Egypt , Washington , would acquiesce in their authoritarian rule in exchange for use of their bases.
A pro-West expert on the region, Niklas Swanstrom, director of the Silk Road Studies Program at Uppsala University in Sweden outlines Chinese interest. “What the Chinese are hoping for is to strengthen the SCO. The Russians were not very eager to participate. Neither the Uzbeks, who felt that SCO would decrease their influence, the strongest state in Central Asia. The Russians said, ‘why should we deal with them multilaterally when we can deal with the Central Asian states bilaterally?’”
China wants stability in a region for its oil and gas resources . “If Central Asia is unstable, Chinese access to oil and gas will be more problematic and, of course, it is more crucial in Kazakhstan than in any other [Central Asian] state,” Swanstrom added. A Kazakh oil pipeline to China with up to 20 million tons capacity is due to be completed by 16 December.
The SCO members regard the recent 13 May uprising in Andijan as one example of the threat they face. Both China and Russia were among the first to agree with Karimov’s view that the violence was the work of Islamic militants .While Uzbekistan claimed that 176 lives were lost in its brutal suppression , Human Rights groups disagree, and said that up to 500 to 700 people, mostly civilians, died .Calls by Western governments for an international inquiry into the events were rejected by Tashkent.
Beijing also wants the SCO to help in combating separatists among its own Turkic-speaking Uighurs in Xinjiang. Swantsrom said “The Chinese suspect, or believe, that the Uighurs are supported by the Central Asian states, not necessarily by the governments but by the population, and there is probably some truth to that, that the Uighurs are seen quite positively in some of the [SCO] member states.”
China, Russia and CARs would like to coordinate and cooperate in their fight against militant and separatist groups. Swanstrom added that “The Chinese have paid ridiculous amounts of money for oil and gas in Kazakhstan , way over market prices, but the Kazakhs and the Central Asians in general are very much afraid that the Chinese will dominate. So, they also would look favorably at some kind of decreased Chinese influence, because they don’t want to exchange Russian dominance for Chinese dominance,” Swanstrom said. After the fall of the Berlin wall , the old Cold War alliances may have collapsed and changed but small and weak nations need cover from a big power – albeit at some cost.
Not sudden developments
The closing of ranks by the East against US led Western unilateralism is not a sudden development but culmination of a growing backlash against open and blatant US-led Western interventions in the internal affairs of many countries, beginning from Orthodox Slav Serbia, a traditional Russian friend to its near abroad ie Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine and then finally right into the heart of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which made SCO members to say enough is enough.
The uprising in Andijan took place in spite of Karimov being forewarned and his having taken measures to forestall the creeping US financed and supported revolutions like the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia and the “Orange Revolution “ in Ukraine . International media including the author have documented overt and covert role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); its affiliates the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS),the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Freedom House and George Soros' Open Society Institute and others in these US franchised revolutions by street action. Karimov did shut down many of the US financed NGOs. But the ‘Tulip revolution’ in neighboring Kyrgyzstan was scorchingly too close. It had begun in Osh, 50 kms from Andijan.
Karimov who had had initially welcomed the US invasion of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime started shifting gears away from USA and the West when the Anglo-Saxons built up the momentum for war on Iraq towards the end of 2002 . Unlike Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan , which dispatched token contingents to Iraq , he did not support the invasion .He moved closer to SCO and insisted that its anti-terrorist center be located in Tashkent . Karimov sent his Foreign Minister Sodik Safaev to China . Soon there was a visit by President Hu Jintao to Tashkent and the SCO summit meeting was held in Tashkent . Soon after suppressing the Andijan uprising he sought the Chinese embrace and was duly comforted in Beijing .
Uzbekistan which joined the GUUAM (US sponsored organization of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova formed in 1997) in 1999, withdrew from it on May, 2005. when the US installed rulers in Georgia and Ukraine , promoted integration with Western economic and political structures as a counter to Russia . Russian political analysts welcomed the withdrawal as a "friendly gesture towards Moscow."
While the Uzbek government accusations of Muslim terrorists might be exaggerated, one is not sure if they were not involved in Andijan . Freeing prisoners and killing security personnel does need training , organization and encouragement from outside. Uzbek authorities alleged that Hiz-bul Tehrir cadres in Andijan were in touch with their leaders in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan . Of course HT spokesmen in London routinely denied the charges. Many Jihadi organizations , even Sikh militant ones were allowed to operate in UK , whose role remains questionable .
US trained and financed most of the Jihadi outfits in Afghanistan against USSR and gave them international exposure by bringing them to Albania and Kosovo to fight Russian ally Milosevic. USA has still not blacklisted many outfits which organize terror in Kashmir and India . While it has blacklisted Marxist Kurdish Labor party (PKK) of Turkey, it has done little to eliminate it in north Iraq under its control, in spite of repeated promises to Turkey. It would be interesting how UK would deal with HT and other such outfits after 7 July terrorist’s attacks in London .
In Kyrgyzstan, US had full freedom through its institutions to promote ‘democracy’ which only resulted in Akaev’s downfall. But after the Tulip revolution the Kyrgyz leaders, even those who have come into power are wiser with Russia playing a stabilizing role .On Putin’s advice acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the other strongman Felix Kulov have agreed to maintain peace and unity at home. Kulov was also reconciled with
Bakiyev extended support to Karimov over Andijan and said ,"This violence happened because of those known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hiz-bul Tehrir. In no way this can lead to a good life. There should be peace. I do not support the views of those who want to establish a state under the rule of a religious body." The Kyrgyz and Uzbek security authorities are now working closely to stabilize the situation but problems remain. The regime change in Kyrgyzstan has brought little gains to its people.
Till a few years ago , President Akaev was USA ’s poster boy for democracy in the region, for , apart from implementing various economic reforms , he let USA have a free run of his country including granting a base in 2001 for possible spying across into China . To reward Akaev , in 1998, USA helped Kyrgyzstan become the first Central Asian republic to join the World Trade Organization. As proved elsewhere , US controlled IMF program was a disaster in Kyrgyzstan . This and family capitalism led to massive increase in unemployment and further impoverishment of its people , who vented their frustration during the rioting and the looting , in which many people were killed.
Pepe Escobar , who traversed the region in 2003 wrote in Asia Times on 26 March that the Tulip Revolution would be cited by the “ Bush administration as the first "spread of freedom and democracy" success story in Central Asia . The whole arsenal of US foundations - National Endowment for Democracy, International Republic Institute, Ifes, Eurasia Foundation, Inter news, among others - which fueled opposition movements in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, has also been deployed in Bishkek. It generated, among other developments, a small army of Kyrgyz youngsters who went to Kiev, financed by the Americans, to get a glimpse of the Orange Revolution, and then became "infected" with the democratic virus.
”Practically everything that passes for civil society in Kyrgyzstan is financed by these US foundations or by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). At least 170 non-governmental organizations charged with development or promotion of democracy have been created or sponsored by the Americans. The US State Department has operated its own independent printing house in Bishkek since 2002 - which means printing at least 60 different titles, including a bunch of fiery opposition newspapers. USAID invested at least $2 million prior to the Kyrgyz elections - quite something in a country where the average salary is $30 a month. “
Otunbaeva who became the Foreign Minister was a protégé of USA. Her advisers were US citizens .She admitted publicly that "yes, we are supported by the US". Otunbayeva, known in Kyrgyzstan as the locomotive of the opposition, was Kyrgyzstan‘s ambassador to the USA, Canada and Great Britain, where she established good contacts with the west. As shown by her statements after the SCO summit in Astana, she is a much wiser person now.
West would talk of spreading democracy ,the pattern of Western efforts for regime change by street power in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere were similar and have been documented by the Guardian, Global search and other websites. According to New Statesman Yushchenko was supported covertly by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Freedom House and George Soros' Open Society Institute, the very entities, which had helped oust Shevardnadze last year. They” provide technical assistance to aspiring democrats worldwide."
The economic stagnation and political crisis under its provisional president, Bakiyev has only worsened. There were riots again last month in Osh. A fortnight ago a crowd supporting banned presidential candidate Urmat Baryktabasov stormed Bishkek's main government buildings but the security forces beat them back. There are 6 candidates in Sunday's presidential polls, with an electoral alliance between Mr. Bakiyev, from the ethnically diverse south, and northern strongman Felix Kulov likely to win.
There are differences between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan too, with the former under enormous pressure to turn over more than 400 Uzbek residents that crossed the border after the Andijan uprising and the crackdown. The West has asked the new leadership in Bishkek to fulfill its international obligations to treat asylum seekers properly. “We’ll do everything to get out of this situation with dignity and in dialogue with Uzbekistan and the international community, ”Otunbayeva said. Uzbek authorities say some of the asylum seekers committed crimes in Uzbekistan
Michigan University Prof Juan Cole commented recently that ‘In fact, the Bush administration has a messianic commitment to destabilizing the area, under the rubric of "democratization." Apparently it prefers failed states such as American-dominated Afghanistan and Iraq to stable, even pro-American dictatorships. This policy creates a key contradiction. Bush needs authoritarian states such as Syria and Uzbekistan to fight radical Muslim groups. But even as it seeks their help in this endeavor, it announces that it hopes to toss their leaders out of power.’
’The persistent rumors that the United States ran a covert operation to produce the crisis in the Ukraine, -- appears to have given leaders like Uzbekistan's Karimov and Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev a bad chill. The last straw for them came when crowds overthrew Askar Akaev in Kyrgyzstan in March. From the point of view of Astana and Tashkent , this event looked suspiciously like the Ukraine reprised, and they appear to have seen an American hand in it.”
He says that “Just as Syria abruptly ceased helping the US against al-Qaeda when the Neo-cons pushed through new sanctions against that country in Congress, so the Central Asians now want out. Bush has not handled the Russians and the Chinese very diplomatically, either, so they have every reason to cooperate with Karimov and Nazarbayev in beginning a push for getting rid of the US .”
Prof Cole wonders “whether an elected Afghan parliament, which will certainly be dominated by Muslim fundamentalists, will want a US presence much longer, either?
Reproduced by permission of the author
The original article appeared in South Asia Analysis Group
(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in1992 -96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the1990 - 91Gulf war), Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. The views expressed here are his own.