General Nikolai Bordyuzha, general secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), visited Bishkek May 21-23 to discuss CSTO plans for the second half of this year and the first half of 2008, when Kyrgyzstan is due to head the organization. Bordyuzha’s trip to Bishkek was the latest in a series of visits to the CSTO member states. In March, he traveled to Armenia and Tajikistan, while in April he visited Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russia and Uzbekistan round out the CSTO membership.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev told Bordyuzha that his country prioritizes cooperation within the framework of the CSTO to uphold security in Central Asia. The CSTO should work to counter threats and challenges, he said. Kyrgyzstan faces threats from international terrorism, and now the country’s armed and special forces are prepared to safeguard security within the framework of the CSTO, according to Bakiyev (Interfax, May 23).
On the eve of the upcoming June CSTO summit, the leaders of the organization have apparently intensified their diplomatic activities. On May 21, the CSTO held a session of its Permanent Council in Moscow, which reportedly focused on military and collective security planning for 2008.
On May 22, Bordyuzha told a conference in Bishkek that the CSTO was moving toward forming an Anti-Terrorist Committee to include top security and intelligence officials, as well as establishing Collective Regional Anti-Terrorist Forces. He also said that the CSTO was also considering creating its own peacekeeping forces, as well as a joint system to deal with illegal migration.
The CSTO officially views Islamic militants as a major challenge in the region. Bordyuzha cited Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as ongoing terrorist threats, saying these radial groups aim to overthrow secular regimes in Central Asia and create a theocratic Caliphate in the Ferghana Valley. These plans constitute a threat to territorial integrity of the three countries: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Simultaneously, the CSTO appeared to view Western activities in the region as meddling and yet another challenge. NATO and the United States are trying to broaden their influence in Central Asia, Bordyuzha said. “Challenges and risks brought from outside do not contribute to stability” in the region, he argued. He cited increased activity by NATO, EU, and third countries as risk factors (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, May 22).
Bordyuzha also criticized the concept of a “Greater Central Asia” as aimed at sowing divisions between Russia and countries of the region. It constitutes an attempt to “re-orient Central Asian states to cooperate with the U.S. in a new format to include Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India eventually,” he said.
Kyrgyz Secretary of State Adakhan Madumarov sounded more diplomatic in his address, as he only suggested boosting multilateral cooperation to deal with modern threats. He also hailed the CSTO, the SCO, and well as the Commonwealth of Independent States Anti-Terrorist Center for upholding regional security. He argued that Russia’s Kant airbase plays an important role in safeguarding Kyrgyz security.
After a meeting with Bordyuzha, Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov confirmed that the CSTO plans to form a joint army group in addition to the existing CSTO collective rapid reaction forces. However, he conceded differences exist among member states on the issue, notably between Russia and Kazakhstan, but he did not elaborate (Interfax, May 21).
The CSTO joint army group would work to neutralize possible terrorist attacks, notably by Taliban militants in Afghanistan, Bordyuzha said. The CSTO countries are also drafting an agreement on military aid to a member state in the event of external aggression, he said. Due to weakness of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban is becoming increasingly stronger and Central Asian leaders may find themselves face-to-face with this threat at any time, he claimed.
The CSTO has long criticized the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan for failing to eradicate terrorist bases and for tolerating the trafficking of Afghan heroin to Russia and Europe. CSTO officials have repeatedly lashed out at NATO’s perceived reluctance to cooperate with the CSTO in Afghanistan. At the June 2005 CSTO summit in Moscow, leaders decided to set up a working group to coordinate with Afghanistan.
CSTO officials have tried to be restrained in their criticism of the U.S.-led coalition. On May 21, Bordyuzha announced that the CSTO was not concerned about the presence of coalition forces at Manas airbase outside Bishkek. Once stabilization has been achieved in Afghanistan, then the Manas base would no longer be relevant, he argued (Regnum, May 21). Since Bordyuzha’s trip there have been renewed calls to revisit the agreement on Manas airbase.
Some Kyrgyz officials also hinted that an increased Russian security presence in the country could be an option. On May 21 Kyrgyz parliament speaker Marat Sultanov said that, during a recent visit to Moscow, he had discussed a possible return of Russian border guard troops to Kyrgyzstan. He argued that the country does not have sufficient resources to protect its southern borders, which also constitute the CSTO frontier (RIA-Novosti, May 21). Russian border guards left Kyrgyzstan in 1999.