CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES WILLING TO HOST MORE WESTERN FORCES.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 1

Acting on French and Canadian requests, Kyrgyzstan has entered into agreements with those two countries on the use of its territory by their air forces. The two agreements, signed during the last days of December, are in the form of notes exchanged by the Kyrgyz government with the French and Canadian governments, respectively. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is set to ratify both agreements during the first half of January. The Legislative Assembly’s foreign relations committee has already voted unanimously–that is, with Communist and pro-Russian deputies on board–to recommend ratification.

As summed up by that committee’s chairman, Alisher Abdymomunov, and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Lidya Imanalieva, the agreements envisage the deployment of up to fifty French and Canadian planes. The mix is to include mostly fighter-bombers from the French and mostly military transport planes from the Canadians. These are to be based at the Manas international airport outside Bishkek, but the agreement does not limit the deployment to that airport alone. The French and Canadian military personnel are to enjoy a legal status equivalent to that of employees of the respective embassies in Kyrgyzstan. More than 200 French and some 600 Canadian airmen are expected to arrive soon. Concluded initially for one year, the agreements are renewable as required by the conduct of antiterrorist operations and the ensuing economic reconstruction in the region.

In both content and procedure, these agreements seem analogous to one signed in November 2001 by Bishkek with Washington for the use of Kyrgyz territory by the U.S. Air Force (Public Educational Radio and Television Bishkek, Interfax, December 28-29; see the Monitor, November 30, December 11; Fortnight in Review, November 30, December 14, 2001).

Tajikistan, meanwhile, not only hosts U.S. warplanes, but also displays interest in military cooperation with France. A French military delegation conferred with Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Hairulloev on December 30-31 in Dushanbe. The delegation also met with Russia’s ambassador Maksim Peshkov who “laid out Russia’s position,” not further specified in this case, but known to call for clear time limits on the U.S. and other Western military deployments in Central Asia. The French delegation then proceeded to Mazar-e-Sharif, in Afghanistan’s Uzbek-inhabited north, where some 200 French special troops and air force personnel have secured the airport. French Defense Minister Alain Richard is due to arrive in Dushanbe very soon–a visit that constitutes a historic first.

In another unprecedented development, Tajikistan is asking Russia to begin paying rent and associated costs for the use of land, military compounds and training ranges in and near Dushanbe by the 201st motor-rifle division, which forms the backbone of Russian forces in Tajikistan. President Imomali Rahmonov demands, with growing insistence, that the Russian command either pay up or relocate the division’s units from Dushanbe to southern Tajikistan, where some of its units are already stationed. According to Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister and ground forces’ commander in chief, Colonel-General Nikolai Kormiltsev, the Tajik government is intimating that it may demand up to US$200 million in rent and upkeep expenses. Moscow takes the position that it would rather relocate its troops away from Dushanbe, but only on condition that Tajikistan pay the moving expenses. With U.S. troops stationed in Tajikistan since November, the Russian military worries that “if Russia is presented with a bill and can not come up with the money, our new [American] allies will be glad to acquire the infrastructure on a competitive basis” (Asia-Plus, Interfax, December 29-31; Izvestia, December 28; see the Monitor, November 21, December 5, 7, 18; Fortnight in Review, November 30, December 14).

On December 29, Kazakhstan’s Defense Minister, Colonel-General Mukhtar Altynbaev, reconfirmed in Almaty the offer to host U.S. forces at a military airport in the south of the country, apparently Shymkent. Altynbaev has only last month been reappointed to the defense minister’s post by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who had repeatedly extended that proposal since September. With Kazakhstan’s geographic location not directly relevant to operations in Afghanistan, the government in Astana would still like to provide at least a “reserve airport” for the U.S.-led coalition.

Altynbaev, moreover, proposed on December 29 that the elite KazBat unit–Kazakhstan’s rapid deployment battalion, trained by U.S. instructors during the mid- and late 1990s–join the international force to be deployed in Afghanistan. In offering such cooperation, Kazakhstan’s motives include enhancing national security, promoting military modernization and obtaining trickle-down economic benefits. According to Kazakh officials, Washington has earmarked US$38 million for purchases of Kazakh grain in 2001. The grain, from Kazakhstan’s bumper crop in 2000, is to be used for humanitarian relief operations administered by the U.S. and international agencies (Habar, Kazakh Commercial Television, Interfax, December 28-30; see the Monitor, November 12, 21, December 11; Fortnight in Review, November 30, December 14).

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