The Lesson of Kyrgyzstan

by , March 26, 2005

The idea that the people of Kyrgyzstan have risen up, all on their own, to establish “democracy” and the “rule of law” in a land that has never known either, is the sort of fairy tale that even the most na├»ve will probably greet with a considerable degree of skepticism. This is especially true if we look at the sort of characters who are coming forward as the new “democratic” leaders of this poor isolated country of some 5 million:

  • opposition leader and former Vice President Felix Kulov, sprung from jail by the “Pink Revolutionaries,” was a deputy interior minister in the Soviet era, when he commanded troops who killed dozens of protesters who stormed a police station in southern Kyrgyzstan during the last days of the Soviet Union;

  • former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev – under his regime, in March 2002, riots broke out in his home region in the south, protesting the arrest of their parliamentary deputy. Police fired into a crowd of 1,500, and five people died. Bakiyev was forced to resign after an investigation;

  • Ishenbai Kadyrbekov – elected “provisional” speaker by a dubious amalgam of the former parliament and others. Mr. Kadyrbeko is an incumbent deputy leader of the Communist Party, who accused the administration of President Askar Akayev of bugging his telephone (something a Communist would never do!), and a man, furthermore, with a somewhat dubious reputation.

When the Kyrgyz parliament took a critical look at U.S. military operations in Iraq, and some wondered aloud whether the U.S. base in their country might have negative consequences for them, Mr. Kadyrbekov was quick to warn that Kyrgyzstan ought not to risk alienating its chief benefactor:

“Kyrgyzstan’s position on the Iraq issue may influence Washington’s policies, and we might be deprived of financial aid which we cannot do without.”

That’s a good dog!

Unlike Islam Karimov, the Supreme Leader of Uzbekistan, who has been gung-ho on the U.S. war effort in Iraq, President Akayev did not take direction well, or, at least, not well enough. Akayev was too adept at playing off the U.S. against Russia and China, and, as one analyst put it in a 2002 paper:

“It may not be the case that Kyrgyzstan needs the United States as much as the United States needs Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has credible defense partner alternatives, and if the United States wants Kyrgyz support for its activities in the region, there may be limits to the pressure it can apply for political change.”

Except, of course, when it comes to regime change. But why would the U.S. move to topple the “president” of this impoverished backwater, a country with no oil, no abundance of other natural resources (except lots of water), and one that certainly represents no threat to the mighty U.S.? Part of the answer may lie in Kyrgyzstan’s strategic position and the future of the U.S. air base, as detailed in this interesting news story from February:

“Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov said yesterday that American AWACS reconnaissance planes will not be deployed at the Ganci air base outside the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Aitmatov made the statement after a trip to Moscow. Some observers say the Kyrgyz government’s decision was made to please Russia, with the aim of gaining the Kremlin’s support ahead of February 27 parliamentary elections and the presidential election in October.”

It was a fateful visit to Moscow, from which the foreign minister returned sporting “two decisions,” as reported by Eurasianet:

“The first – announced on February 11 – was to send more Russian military equipment and weaponry to the Russian Kant air base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The other decision was to deny the U.S. request to deploy the AWACS reconnaissance planes at the U.S. Ganci air base, which is also near Bishkek. ‘It has been decided that the deployment of planes of this type (AWACS) would not quite fit the mandate of the Ganci air base, which is to provide support to the operation in Afghanistan,’ Aitmatov said yesterday. ‘We hope our Western partners and friends will accept Kyrgyzstan’s position with understanding.'”

Last anyone heard from Aitmatov, he was in Geneva, at the International Commission for Human Rights, complaining that “Interpretations for the benefit of geo-strategic interests eventually would harm the principle of its universality.” As President Akayev was fleeing Kyrgyzstan, and mobs were looting government buildings and other dwellings in the capital city of Bishkek, Aitmotov was addressing the assembled delegates, averring:

“Western-centric approaches, double standards and unilateral attempts to impose democracy from outside were counterproductive. Democracy had to grow from inside a society, correspond to the historical practice and experience of the country, and had to penetrate into people’s consciousness. Only in this manner could democracy strongly take root in a society.”

Mr. Aitmatov may have a point – but it’s far too late to make it. It was thought necessary to gin up a “revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, for whatever reason – certainly not “democracy” – and the die is already cast. As to why Akayev was targeted – in particular, by John McCain and the hyperactive American ambassador, Stephen Young – is only partially explained by the tension over the Ganci base. There was another change in Akayev’s policy that took place around the same time as the AWACS controversy, however, one that particularly angered the politically powerful gang over at “Freedom House,” which is close to McCain and the neoconservatives.

Akayev had started to make moves against Islamic extremist elements, particularly the cult-like Hizb-ut-Tahrir organization, which had begun to make inroads in Kyrgyzstan. “Freedom House,” which supports the terrorist Chechen movement – and any movement that opposes Vladimir Putin and Russia – had recently taken up the cause of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT). As the Institute for War and Peace Reporting put it:

“In another sign of Kyrgyzstan’s apparent shift away from the West, the country’s security forces have accused foreign civil rights advocates of helping the radical Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. At a government meeting on 28 June, National Security Service, NSS, spokesman Tokon Mamitov said the banned group was exploiting the undue attention it was paid by groups like the United States-based Freedom House.”

Hut is a mysterious, well-funded international Islamic “party” that supposedly eschews violence and seeks to establish a worldwide Islamic Caliphate. Founded in Jerusalem by Sheik Takiuddin an-Nabahani in 1953, and organized like a Marxist-Leninist group – secret cells presided over by a hierarchy organized along military lines – Hut has reportedly spread its tentacles far and wide, including into Central Asia. While this has resulted in limited success in more secular Kyrgyzstan, the Jamestown Foundation reports the remarks of Dr. Rafik Saifulin, deputy director of the Uzbekistan Institute for Strategic Studies, who foresaw trouble as long ago as last year:

“Regarding Uzbekistan formation of military structures is problematic, but not necessarily implausible given the deteriorating economic situation. In the case of Tajikistan, HT military structures can develop quickly since the HT branch in that country has had some contact with the violent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). It is in Kyrgyzstan that HT has the greatest potential to develop armed capabilities not least because the party is developing a sophisticated infrastructure in that country.”

The Jamestown report goes on to describe Akayev’s turn:

“Until recently the Kyrgyz government was the most tolerant of all Central Asian regimes toward Hizb ut-Tahrir. In an interview with the Jamestown Foundation on August 27, 2004, the Counselor of the Kyrgyzstan State commission on religious affairs in the Southern region, Mr. Zakirov Shamshibek Shakir, said that in the Fergana Valley (the most densely-populated area of Central Asia), HT members are active, but local authorities have not generally detained them if they found them distributing leaflets since there was no law that proscribed propagandistic activities. But given the increasing confidence and audacity of the party, the government is beginning to revise its tolerant attitude. On October 23, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, speaking at a session of the country’s Security Council in Bishkek, said that Hizb ut-Tahrir was one of the most significant extremist forces in Kyrgyzstan and its aim was to clearly establish an Islamic state in the Fergana Valley and thus ‘declare an ideological jihad against the whole of Central Asia.'”

The real aim of Hut is to destabilize Russia, and they are recruiting among the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan – the starting point of the recent rebellion – and taking up the cause of their Chechen brothers. A crackdown on the group across Central Asia has brought Western organizations like “Freedom House” – which enjoys not only the patronage and favor of high U.S. government officials, but also has its hands in the Treasury via the “National Endowment for Democracy” and other “democracy”-exporting agencies – to the defense of these “dissidents.”

The irony is that these same dissidents are filling the ranks of the Iraqi insurgency in the form of “foreign fighters” and other jihadists. In the Middle East, they are the “enemy,” but in Central Asia they are actually being protected and succored by the West. Why else has a star-studded constellation of foreign policy poobahs and “anti-terrorist” neocons taken up the cause of the poor pacifistic Chechens, the authors of the Beslan massacre and other atrocities visited on Russia? What else is the “American Committee for Peace in Chechnya” – featuring Jim Woolsey, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Michael Ledeen, and including a sprinkling of liberal Democrats like Zbigniew Brzezinski – all about?

The reason is because the real strategic goal of U.S. policy in the region is to roll back Russian influence – and even to effect “regime change” in Moscow. The “war on terrorism”? Fuggedaboutit! That’s just a come-on for the rubes.

The March meeting at which Freedom House invited Hut as an expert witness on the use of torture was supposedly “part of a groundbreaking attempt to build meaningful debate between law enforcement officers and alleged victims of torture,” according to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. The event, averred Freedom House, had been “misinterpreted” – but there is no way to misinterpret the message clearly being sent to all countries in the region by Kyrgyzstan’s U.S.-backed “Pink Revolution”: either get with the program, or get on a plane.

Read more by Justin Raimondo