Uzbek President Islam Karimov was the first among Central Asian leaders to have offered airspace and military bases for American-led antiterrorist operations. According to unconfirmed but persisting reports since September 22, U.S. planes and equipment with a small number of ground personnel have landed in Uzbekistan. Western news agencies on September 23-25 cited Uzbek military officials variously as confirming, denying or equivocating such reports. On September 25 Uzbek military officials suggested, and the U.S. embassy denied, that advance teams of American specialists had arrived to inspect airfields at Chirchik, Termez and Karshi for further landings of U.S. units and possible use by U.S. tactical aviation.
On September 24, it became apparent that the American unmanned reconnaissance plane, lost or shot down over Taliban-controlled Afghan territory two days earlier, had originated in Uzbekistan. The Taliban foreign affairs minister, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, made public a protest note to his Uzbek counterpart Abdulaziz Kamilov. The document warns Uzbekistan “not to involve itself in trouble,” and urges “Uzbek Muslims to impress upon the government to stay out of a war from which it would find it difficult to pull out” (AP, AFP, DPA, Interfax, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), September 23-25; Afghan Islamic Press, September 24).
On September 23, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev declared, while receiving Pope John Paul II in Astana, that Kazakhstan is “ready to join a coalition of states in order to combat terrorism.” The televised statement amounted to recognition of American leadership in that effort, inasmuch as the only coalition in sight is being put together by the United States. In a September 24 news conference, Nazarbaev dismissed a Russian correspondent’s suggestion that Kazakhstan had adjusted to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position in the matter. The Kazakh president cited his own statement of the preceding week, offering to support antiterrorist operations in Asia. He stated, furthermore, that Kazakhstan’s decisions in the matter are national decisions, not taken within a CIS framework, though “we consult and notify each other about our intentions.”
At that news conference, Nazarbaev made the strongest statement yet by any Central Asian or indeed post-Soviet leader in support of the American-led effort. He stated that Kazakhstan would, if requested, make available its air space, military bases and “all the means at its disposal” in order to support strikes against terrorist organizations. While expressing quasi-certainty that Kazakhstan’s soldiers would not have to become involved in combat abroad, Nazarbaev added: “Having said ‘A,’ that is, that we oppose terrorism and want to fight it, we would be dishonest if we did not say ‘B,’ that is, that we must take part in the real fight if it comes to that.”
Nazarbaev and his military leaders held talks on September 19-21 with a Turkish military delegation headed by its defense minister, General Sabahattin Cakmakoglu. Both sides cited Turkey’s experience in combating terrorism–a reference to the Kurdish insurgency. The Kazakh side accepted a Turkish offer to train Kazakhstan’s elite antiterrorist battalion in Turkey as an “urgent measure” (Habar television and news agency, Reuters, Interfax, September 23-24; Anatolia news agency, September 21-22).
On June 24, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niazov clarified his country’s policy in the course of a televised session of the cabinet of ministers. Turkmenistan would grant air and ground corridors, he said, and allow the use of its transport infrastructure, for humanitarian cargoes bound for Afghanistan in the course of an antiterrorist operation. Citing Turkmenistan’s internationally recognized status of permanent neutrality, Niazov ruled out his country’s participation in a military operation. He stopped short, however, of explicitly barring military transit through Turkmenistan. And he underscored that his decisions followed consultations with both the United States and Russia. He also emphasized the consensus he had reached with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, but neglected to say what Putin or other Russian officials may have told him.
At the same time, Niazov proposed some political steps toward the pacification of Afghanistan. He called for renewed negotiations among the parties to the inter-Afghan conflict and offered to mediate and host such negotiations. This offer seems a throwback to pre-September 11 times. Niazov did in his remarks endorse the use of force against terrorist organizations in Afghanistan–“that evil must be punished”–but called for a clear distinction to be made between “hitting the criminals” and “hurting innocent people.”
Niazov made clear that Turkmenistan fears an influx of Afghan refugees in the event of large-scale hostilities. Turkmenistan shares a border of more than 700 kilometers with Afghanistan. The area opposite the border has long been controlled by the Taliban and is inhabited by an estimated 1 million Turkmens. Parts of the border seem poorly guarded by unmotivated army and border troops. On September 23, Niazov publicly berated “cowardly” Turkmen conscripts for paying bribes in order to be transferred away from the Mari and Lebap sectors of that border. The president threatened to punish the bribe-taking officers who collude in such transfers (Turkmen Television, Turkmenistan.ru, Interfax, September 23-25).
On September 25, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev announced his decision to grant overflight rights for American retaliatory strikes on terrorist bases in Afghanistan. He said that he was responding to a U.S. request. Unlike other Central Asian presidents, Akaev declared that he had concerted his decision with Putin, and that the Russian-Kyrgyz consultations adhered to procedures of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Akaev’s foreign policy adviser, Askar Aitmatov, had on September 22 anticipated a “positive decision” on the U.S. requests, but Akaev apparently chose to await the green light from Moscow (Kabar, Kyrgyz International Press Service, Interfax, September 22, 25). Tajikistan, Russia’s sole close ally in the region, has not yet clarified its stance publicly.
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