Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, having secured a deal over the future of the U.S. military deployment at Manas, is rapidly consolidating his regional reputation for combating terrorism and extremism. He is doing so primarily through his contacts with Uzbekistan, and, by broadening his definition of potential security threats, he is maximizing assistance from China and other regional players.
On July 24 Bakiyev met Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Moscow during a meeting of heads of state from members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. They considered the potential threat posed by religious extremists, particularly the Islamist movement Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Both linked violence in Tashkent with more recent events in Jalalabad, when the Kyrgyz security service coordinated a response to a group of religious extremists. Bakiyev believes that both countries have taken a consistently resolute stance against terrorism and that they wish to expand cooperation through multilateral routes such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as well as bilaterally. “I had the full backing of Uzbek President Karimov, namely on the fight against destabilizing factors in Central Asia on the whole. And in the future, we will coordinate our actions in the fight against international terrorism and religious extremism. Unfortunately sometimes there are forces that would like to use Islam for a totally different purpose. I think here we have serious and painstaking work ahead of us,” explained Bakiyev. He certainly played to Karimov’s long-standing security concerns regarding Hizb-ut-Tahrir, but made little distinction between this group and the wider task of combating terrorists operating in the region.
Recognizing Karimov’s need for friends in the region, and that a regional state with good relations with Tashkent may be useful to Washington as way of continuing to maintain some support, influence, and interests in Uzbekistan, Bakiyev agreed to pay an official state visit to Tashkent later this year. Presidential talks were quickly followed with action upon Bakiyev’s return home, as Lieutenant-General Busurmankul Tabaldiyev, head of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, met his Uzbek counterpart, Colonel-General Rustam Inoyatov, in the Uzbek town of Fergana. The meeting, held on July 25, explored further Kyrgyz-Uzbek cooperation and various methods of combating international terrorism, religious extremism, drugs, and organized crime (Kyrgyz Television First Channel, July 24-25).
China is also a focal point in Bakiyev’s security calculations. Kyrgyz Defense Ministry officials met their Chinese counterparts in Bishkek on July 27, discussing issues relating to stepping up the training of Kyrgyz officers in Chinese military training facilities (24.kg, July 27). China is not simply offering generic military and security cooperation to the Central Asian states; instead, it pursues very specific areas within which it offers intense training and assistance. Tajikistan, for example, is set to receive much more help from Chinese border guard specialists and this is likely to be reflected in the bilateral arrangements for Kyrgyzstan.
Moreover, China has used Uzbekistan to foster regional cooperation in anti-narcotics trafficking. Chen Xiaojin and Dai Suykuy, officials from the Chinese embassy in Uzbekistan, recently visited the Surkhondaryo region’s interior directorate, with the aim of providing forensic equipment. The Chinese delegation discussed the smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan through Tajikistan and into Uzbekistan, and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security agreed to assist the interior directorates of the region and Denov district to set up a drug-testing laboratory (Postda, July 22). This follows a pattern of Chinese assistance to one country in the region, presented as a means of expanding to a regional level.
On July 25 General John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, visited Kyrgyzstan to attend a seminar held for the armed forces of the countries that participated in the Regional Cooperation-2006 exercise, which was designed to improve emergency response to natural disasters. He met with Lieutenant-General Ismail Isakov, the Kyrgyz defense minister, hearing first hand how U.S. security assistance has improved elements of the Kyrgyz armed forces. Abizaid expressed gratitude to the Kyrgyz leadership “for understanding the important role played by the anti-terrorist coalition’s airbase at Manas.”
Future U.S.-Kyrgyz military cooperation will focus on improving the infrastructure of the Ministry of Defense special forces and in improving the material and technical equipment of the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry’s center for training sergeants. On the sidelines of the seminar held in connection with the Regional Cooperation-2006 exercise, Isakov offered Kyrgyz help for training Afghan military personnel during a meeting with General Abdorrahim Wardak, Afghanistan’s defense minister. Wardag praised the significant role played by Kyrgyzstan in fighting international terrorism. He singled out the Manas base and its part in supplying humanitarian aid and assistance in combating terrorism and maintaining peace through this airbase (Akipress, July 25).
Bishkek can promote greater regional efforts, politically and in practical terms, to assist the Afghan government as it builds its own security forces. This is an emerging element in the task of engaging Central Asian states, linking their future stability with an understanding that they also need to assist Afghanistan. Bakiyev wants American, Turkish, British, as well as NATO assistance for his military and security forces. But he equally benefits from Chinese help, which he would like to keep low key.
Bishkek’s security relations with Tashkent seem stable, and both sides use the language of enhancing practical cooperation. Bakiyev’s backing for Karimov, combined with adopting Karimov-friendly expressions condemning Hizb-ut-Tahrir, invites closer relations with Uzbekistan. Intelligence cooperation will be the key for tracking and monitoring militants operating in the Fergana Valley, but it is often only mooted at presidential levels rather than implemented. Bakiyev’s timing and motives for playing the security card with Karimov may, in fact, be rooted in his recognition of the lack of success in intelligence cooperation among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.