AMERICA SEIZES THE INITIATIVE FROM NATO
On December 6, 2001, the deputies of the Legislative Assembly of Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council) ratified a reply note from the republic’s Foreign Ministry to a diplomatic note received from the U.S. Embassy, granting permission for the use of Bishkek’s Manas International Airport as a base for American military aircraft. Five days later, on December 11, an extraordinary session of the Chamber of the People’s Representatives also confirmed the ratification of this important document for Kyrgyzstan. Although the overwhelming majority of deputies in both chambers of parliament voted for the ratification, the document provoked mixed reactions among the public and amongst the people’s elected representatives.
Apparently in view of this, and of the possibility of unforeseen complications arising from the adoption of the document, President Askar Akaev attended the sessions in both chambers, delivering a special address to the deputies, the key message of which was: “I am here to request that you accept the proposed draft law. It is essential if we are to guarantee the security of our nation. Kyrgyzstan expresses solidarity with those states carrying out the antiterrorist operation, and we must now clarify our position not in words but in deeds.”
But the president’s fears were groundless because, as is generally known, parliament consists for the most part of Akaev’s supporters. During the parliamentary elections of 2000, by and large, the only candidates who became deputies were those who expressed their loyalty to the republic’s presiding regime. At the time, the president’s administration had set the Central Electoral Commission the task of preventing anyone holding oppositionist views from entering parliament. Result: considerable malpractice in the course of the elections. But in spite of the illegal activities of the Central Electoral Commission, a dozen or so members of the opposition did nevertheless make it into parliament.
The views expressed by these opposition deputies on the question of Manas Airport were interesting. They did not reject the Foreign Ministry’s proposed reply note to the U.S. Embassy. In other words, they were not against the deployment of military aircraft at Manas Airport. Their concerns lay elsewhere: The Foreign Ministry’s proposed draft law was deficient: The reply note omitted, for example, any draft of what should have been the most important document–an accord between the two countries. Thus it was not entirely clear what the rights and obligations of the two parties would be during the military aircraft’s deployment at the republic’s main airport. The Foreign Ministry’s information was incomplete and it was hard to get a clear picture of the relationship between the two countries from the details available.
Deputy Foreign Minister Asanbek Osmonaliev pleaded pressure of time: The government had only received the U.S. Embassy’s Note #542 on December 5. According to the December 12, 2001 edition of the daily paper “Delo N”, the U.S. Embassy had been working flat out on December 3 and 4 to draw up their note and a draft agreement for the Kyrgyz government. While working on the drafts, the Embassy was in constant consultation with Washington. On December 5 the government of the republic hastily examined the Embassy’s documents in closed session and forwarded them on the same day to the International Affairs Committee of the Legislative Assembly, which immediately approved the proposed draft law and put it before the chamber for consideration. This begs the question: What was it that prompted such a rush? It is certainly not usual for the U.S. government to be so precipitate in preparing its documents. The reason appears to be that Kyrgyzstan had entered the realm of the United States’ future strategic interests, as demonstrated by the following fact. At the end of November, the governments of three states–France, Canada and Italy–simultaneously approached the leadership of the Kyrgyz Republic with a request that they make their airfields available as bases for the military aircraft which they were planning to use in Afghanistan. It seems that this demarche by the three NATO members was chiefly prompted by their own strategic objectives, rather than any desire to assist the United States in the war against the terrorists. For them, the conflict in Afghanistan, which was by then almost over, was in all probability no more than a smoke-screen behind which they might conveniently achieve their own strategic goals in the region:
–First, Russia is still no more than a semi-partner in NATO. In a rapidly changing world, Russia might turn from a semi-partner into a full-blown enemy. In such a scenario, NATO would already be in position to the rear of Russia.
–Second, a build-up of the armed forces of these nations on Kyrgyz territory would help NATO to exert an active influence on the politics and economies of the independent states of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
–Third, it would be possible for NATO to neutralize the political activities of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization.
–Fourth, Central Asia is becoming one of the main sources of cheap oil and gas and offers the shortest route for their transportation to the port terminals of Pakistan.
Naturally, the United States could not ignore these points either, especially as the main burden of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has fallen on U.S. shoulders. The NATO partners clearly hoped to seize the moment and take advantage of the achievements of the U.S. military without any effort. Evidently this was why the U.S. government gave its Embassy in Kyrgyzstan orders for the urgent preparation of the note and the draft agreement on the deployment of military aircraft at Manas Airport.
ECONOMIC OUTWEIGH POLITICAL BENEFITS
The haste with which the legislative documents were drawn up had a marked effect on the speeches made by opposition members of parliament.
The chairman of the Legislative Assembly’s Security Committee, General Ismail Isakov, observed in his address that signing the agreement with the United States would have both negative and positive consequences for the republic. On the negative side, he mentioned the possibility of social division (not everyone approved of the agreement), and uncertainty about the reaction of Belarus, a partner in the Agreement on Collective Security. But in the General’s opinion, there were more pros than cons because of the economic benefits for Kyrgyzstan of the military deployment at Manas Airport.
The chairman of the Legislative Assembly’s Defense Committee, General Myrzakan Subanov, commented that the matter put to parliament was a complex one. The twenty-first century had opened with the question: Do we want democracy or terror? If we choose democracy, then, like so many other countries, we must offer the United States practical support by putting our territory at their disposal.
Deputy Arslanbek Maliyev said that the United States should not be made to pay either for the territory or for other services. Why should Kyrgyzstan herself not make a contribution to the war on international terrorism? For ten years we have only been on the receiving end. It is time to give something back. If the plague of terrorism becomes any more widespread, the damage to Kyrgyzstan will be much greater.
Deputy Adahan Madumarov used his speech to ask a question: Who will be refueling the American aircraft at Manas? And he provided the answer himself: Aalam-Servis. It is common knowledge who this company belongs to (it is rumored to be a front for the Akaev family through the former presidential hopeful, now Minister for Transport and Communications, Kubanichbek Dzhumaliyev). This company will be beyond the reach of the Tax Code. Where is the text of the agreement? Aksakals (a term of respect used to address one’s elders), we’re in too much of a hurry! The war in Afghanistan is nearing an end. So we should be writing into the agreement that these thirty-three aircraft will be flying here on reconnaissance missions!
Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov stated bluntly that according to the documents presented, the United States had no obligations towards the republic at all. Kyrgyzstan might find herself isolated from her neighbors. The United States might use Kyrgyzstan for the bombing of other Islamic states. The note contains no restrictions on this. We must prohibit the use of bacteriological weapons from our airports. America will be gone in a year and we may end up suffering for it. I am not opposed to the war against terrorism, but I cannot accept the document in this form.
A spokesman for the communist faction, Nikolai Bailo, directed the attention of those present to the fact that the Russian presidential adviser, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, had stressed that the presence of foreign powers on the territory of Central Asia must cease once operations in Afghanistan were over.
The lack of comprehensive detail in the note produced by the republic’s foreign Ministry in reply to the U.S. Embassy was reflected also in local press coverage of the matter. Paradoxically, the pro-Presidential newspaper, “Vecherny Bishkek”, wrote on December 7 2001: “The U.S. Embassy has proposed that Kyrgyzstan does not charge for landing, navigation, over-flight or transit through our territory, nor for parking facilities and transit landings by American aircraft and transport assets.” If this is really the case, then it turns out that the value of the privileges granted will greatly exceed the cost of servicing the thirty-three aircraft (US$231,000) at Manas Airport. The Aalam-Servis company alone will make more from refueling the aircraft than the diminutive budget of the whole republic. The other category of people who, according to the local press, stand to make the greatest profits are the prostitutes, and not the political kind, but our own native ‘women of easy virtue’. If this is the case, President Akaev seems to be lobbying not for the economic interests of the republic, but for private individuals. And this is probably close to the truth, because Akaev’s ten years in power have shown that the president is poor at second-guessing what the strategic objectives of his partners in the international arena might be. You need only look at the concessions made to his neighbors in recent years. The Kyrgyz Republic has constant problems with the under-supply of natural gas from Uzbekistan, and will shortly be ceding almost 125 thousand hectares of border land to China. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan recently exchanged several territories along the border, in an agreement signed by Akaev and Nazarbaev. According to the agreement, Kyrgyzstan was to receive irrigated lands in return for a quarry in Talassk Oblast. But on December 15, Parliamentary Committee Chairman Azimbek Beknazarov informed a Radio Azattyk (Freedom) correspondent that the quarry handed over to Kazakhstan may contain gold deposits. In addition, the exchange of territories has given Kazakhstan control over a section of the strategic route from Bishkek to Balykchy near the town of Tokmok.
WHO DOES THE UNITED STATES RATE HIGHER: AKAEV OR KARIMOV?
After September 11 the traditional doctrine for the conduct of military operations against the enemy underwent a change. Looking at the United States’ policy on its relations with the countries sharing borders with Afghanistan, it can be seen that the superpower has revised its military doctrine as concerns this terrorist stronghold. At the heart of the doctrine is the concentration of anti-terrorist bases in the states surrounding Afghanistan. The advantages of this military tactic for the United States are obvious:
–they are spared the necessity of establishing military bases in Afghanistan itself, where the locals would rapidly begin to view the U.S. military as an invading force, resulting in an intensification of military activity by the terrorists;