The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Stabilising Kyrgyzstan

After the events that have taken place in Kyrgyzstan this week I'd like to follow-on from Patrick's previous post - "Realpolitik in Central Asia" - by highlighting that the current ethnic violence is, in part, a side-effect of the political vacuum left by the removal of President Bakayev. Following the Tulip revolution, both Russia and the United States failed to promote good governance in Kyrgyzstan, which has resulted in history repeating itself. However, there is now an opportunity - for the United States in particular - to help stabilise the country and show the Kyrgyz people that it cares about more than just the Manas air base. The U.S. and its allies need to demonstrate that they seek the creation of a stable and viable government that doesn't enrich itself at the expense of its own people.

As is often the case with Central Asia, the International Crisis Group's most recent report offers valid recommendations on what direction Western policy towards Kyrgyzstan should take. The report is particularly critical of the policy adopted by the Obama Administration, an approach that it claims can be summed-up in one word: "Afghanistan."

In an effort to address the mistakes of the Bush era (and its attempts to spread democracy), the current U.S administration may have swung too far in the other direction and, in doing so, is laying the seeds for future unrest. As the ICG rightly point out "ignoring major problems such as political brutality and institutionalised corruption is seen by the populace as condoning them."

The United States needs to find a policy that avoids both the imposition of a particular system and the propping up of a corrupt leader. The ICG sums this up as follows:

Future policies towards authoritarian regimes in Central Asia need to be encased in a clear framework, where obligations, undertakings and needs are carefully articulated, but where the U.S. speaks out clearly but politely, in a spirit of dialogue, when a host nation deviates from fundamental values of governance or human rights.

This may be easier said than done. But the current state of political limbo in Kyrgyzstan does offer an opportunity to introduce visible civilian personnel that can help ensure the creation of a stable government. It seems fundamental that the majority of U.S./allied resources shouldn't be devoted to the training of a military that the Kyrgyz government can then turn on its own people - as may have been the case on 7 April. Visibility seems to be important and the people of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, in particular, will need to be able to associate the West with more than just counter-terrorism and the war in Afghanistan.

While Russia will continue to be an impediment to some policies, it is in Moscow's interest to see Kyrgyzstan stabilised. This is also true of China, whose concerns over the Uighurs in Xinjiang mean that it wants to avoid any upswirl in Central Asian radicalism.

No doubt the Kyrgyz leadership will continue to play the U.S. and Russia off against each other, but its important for Moscow and Washington to at least try and concentrate on what unites them in central Asia rather than what divides them. In this case what unites them is the need for stability. Unless they achieve this aim then the rise of a young male population that's disenchanted and militant may be difficult to prevent.

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