Sunday, September 03, 2006

Shifting Alignments in Central Asia

It is now almost 16 months since the bloody events at Andizhan on May 13 2005, which marked a turning-point in Uzbekistan's relations with the West, particularly the United States. The bloodshed also set the seal on a process of change in Central Asian politics as a whole, one that had been gathering momentum for some time and involved a regional shift of emphasis away from Western and U.S. interests to an alignment with other powers, primarily China and Russia. Not only Uzbekistan, but also Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and indeed all the countries of the region are now gravitating away from the United States and towards Moscow and Beijing.

The last few days have seen a remarkable upsurge of movement between the Central Asian states, including preparations for a regional summit to be held today in the Kazakh capital. There has also been an energy-related visit to Moscow by Kyrgyz prime minister Feliks Kulov, and the beginnings of an attempt by Uzbekistan to forge a separate understanding with the European Union. Meanwhile, China has officially opened a network of 22 new transport routes to connect the border cities of China and Kazakhstan.

An AIA study published in April this year examines Washington's defeat in the region, and sums up what it will mean in terms of the "war on terror" (AIA's translation, with my minor editing):
First, Iran, Pakistan and India intend in the near future to become full members of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation [SCO](for the present they have only the status of observers there).

As a consequence, Afghanistan, governed by the pro-American regime of Hamid Karzai, will become enclosed by the states of the SCO. This will inevitably be reflected in the balance of forces of the Afghani leadership between a part of the Pushtu elite focused on the West, and national minorities supported by regional rivals of America and their allies (Uzbeks – Uzbekistan and Turkey; Tajiks – Tajikistan, Iran and Russia; Khazars – Iran and China).

Secondly, the final defeat of the US in the Central Asia will provide Teheran with reliable rears in the northeast, in case of an American-Iranian conflict. Yet before such a conflict has begun, it will allow the Islamic republic to make room for the forces of the diplomatic department and special services, in particular in the direction of the Southern Caucasus. To fundamentally change the situation in Kyrgyzstan in favour of the US is already almost impossible. The stakes on Bakiyev’s opponents would demand many more financial resources than were contributed to the organization of last year's revolution. Besides, the support for regime change would be interfaced to the development of the US long-term strategy regarding this republic, and calculated for the period before and after Bakiyev's overthrow.

However, even in that case the new regime would hardly turn out to be of great vitality. First, it will immediately collide with a great number of accumulated social and economic problems. Its position will also be complicated by the sharp polarization of society, in many respects aggravated as a result of the events of the last one-and-a-half years (division into political groupings, regional clans and elites, indigenous population and national minorities, etc.).

Secondly, China, Russia and Uzbekistan, possessing perceptible influence in Kyrgyzstan, will put a maximum of effort into eliminating any pro-American regime. The analysis of Washington's post-Soviet policy in Central Asia leads to the conclusion that Washington is not capable of realizing such an expensive and long-term project.
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