By Alexander Shustov (Russia)
The present list of top 10 developments in Central Asia in 2010 was compiled on the basis of the author’s assessment of their impact on the region’s political and socioeconomic landscape. In any case, the developments surveyed below will likely have enduring repercussions for Central Asia.
1. The second revolution in Kyrgyzstan. In April 2010 K. Bakiyev’s seemingly stable regime collapsed unexpectedly as a result of mass protests which culminated in the seizure of a number of the Kyrgyz government’s buildings. A coalition of the opposition forces formed an interim government while Bakiyev took refuge in the Jalalabat province, his home part of Kyrgyzstan and the stronghold of his supporters. Later Bakiyev escaped to Belarus where he is currently hiding. The coup – the second one in Kyrgyzstan’s independence epoch (the previous coup took place in March, 2005) – plunged the republic into lingering chaos.
2. Inter-ethnic clashes in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. Tensions between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities of Kyrgyzstan started growing immediately upon the ouster of K. Bakiyev. Uzbeks make up a third of the populations in Kyrgyzstan’s three southern provinces. Having thrown their support behind the interim government, the Uzbek leaders claimed a higher political status for themselves and a recognition of the particular rights of the Uzbek community. In June, the conflict which ensued escalated into fighting involving fire exchanges in the Osh and Jalalabat provinces leaving at least 2,000 people dead and devastating most of the former and much of the latter. Fatalities were predominantly suffered by the Uzbek community and the administration’s forces occasionally intervened on the Kyrgyz side. Some 100,000 Uzbeks fled to Uzbekistan and were sheltered in tents in refugee camps.
3. The extension of the Manas airbase lease in Kyrgyzstan. Already amidst the protests which brought about the ouster of Bakiyev, experts predicted that the US airbase would continue to exist in Kyrgyzstan’s Manas when the dust settles down. The forecast proved accurate on December 2 when US Secretary of State H. Clinton said on a visit to Bishkek that the Manas lease had been renewed till 2014, the year by which the US plans to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Considering that 2011 was the withdrawal deadline set by Washington’s previous timetable, a prolongation of the Manas lease past 2014 in a not-so-distant future should not come as a surprise.
4. The Uzbek-Tajik transit war. Discord between Tashkent and Dushanbe was brewing for years and culminated when Tajikistan decided to complete building the controversial Roghun Dam regardless of Russia’s opting out of the project. In December, 2009, Uzbekistan imposed a de facto railroad blockade on Tajikistan in an undisguised attempt to disrupt the construction. Tajikistan even probed into complaining to the UN about the situation and the blockade was temporarily lifted, but supply delays recurred shortly thereafter.
5. The specter of a civil war in Tajikistan. In August, 25 inmates including relatives and associates of recently killed or jailed key opposition figures burst out of the pretrial detention facility of the Tajik security service in Dushanbe. Security was tightened across Tajikistan but the escapees remained at large. The jailbreak was followed by intense fighting in the Rasht Valley, the territory which used to be the United Tajik Opposition’s citadel, and the picture became strongly reminiscent of the past civil war in Tajikistan. A military convoy was ambushed and 25 to 40 soldiers were killed in the Rasht district in September. The same month, terrorist attacks attributed to the escaped mujahideen were launched in Khujand and Dushanbe. The government dispatched army forces to the Rasht Valley and shut down cell phone, stationary phone, and Internet networks in the area. Reportedly, control over the situation was regained and some of the escapees were neutralized by the fall, but tensions evidently persist.
6. Turkmenistan’s new gas policies. The relations between Russia and Turkmenistan in the gas sphere which sank to an all-time low in 2009 failed to revert to normalcy. An agreement between the countries was penned by the end of 2009 that Russia would resume gas transit from Turkmenistan to Europe, but the contact volume – 10 bcm annually instead of the former 40-50 bcm – predictably left Ashgabat disgruntled. A broader deal could not be reached as Turkmenistan was reluctant to supply gas at discount prices while Russia could not offer better terms due to the drastic demand contraction. The dispute led Ashgabat to adopt a new gas policy oriented towards the Chinese and Iranian markets. The Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline with a target throughput of 40 bcm a year to be attained by 2013 was inaugurated in December, 2009. In 2010, the Turkmenistan-Iran pipeline was upgraded to raise the the export avenue’s capacity to 20 bcm annually. Furthermore, Ashgabat gave a boost to the cooperation with European companies in the hope to implement the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project heavily criticized by Russia and Iran and to integrate the proposed pipeline into Nabucco.
7. Russia beefed up the campaign against drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Increasingly aware of the actual proportions of the threat posed by the inflow of drugs from Afghanistan, in 2010 the Russian administration made serious efforts to address the problem. Throughout the year Moscow struggled without visible success to talk the US into eradicating drug crops in Afghanistan and cracking down on the country’s vast network of narcotics factories. As a parallel process, Russia strengthened the cooperation with the countries notorious for the highest concentrations of illicit drug activities on their territories. In December, the Russian, Tajik, Afghan, and Pakistani drug-enforcement agencies signed an agreement to combine their anti-narcotics initiatives in the framework of a “Central Asian anti-drug quartet”.
8. Kazakhstan held the rotating OSCE chairmanship. For Kazakhstan, 2010 was marked with the OSCE chairmanship viewed by a cohort of analysts as a special birthday gift to the republic’s 70-year old president N. Nazarbayev. The December OSCE summit which convened in Astana was a rare opportunity to showcase the republic which over the two decades of its existence evolved into a stable and dynamic economy. Nevertheless, it is an open secret that Kazakhstan’s democracy record does not measure up to the European standards, and the chairmanship thus highlighted the decline of the OSCE, an organization incrementally losing touch with the purpose of its own existence.
9. Uzbekistan’s war against monuments. In Uzbekistan, the past year saw an aggressive reconstruction of the downtown Tashkent where parks whose origin could be tracked to the epoch of the Russian Empire were leveled and architectural landmarks – demolished or rebuilt beyond recognition. Thus, the city lost the 1898 St. Alexander of Neva Russian Orthodox church designed by prominent Russian architect Alexei Benois and the Stalin-era Stolitza hotel sited nearby. A World War II memorial and all of the old exhibits were removed from the radically transformed armed forces museum which in its present shape does not reflect the Soviet period of history. The monument to World War II hero Gen. Sabir Rakhimov, the only general of the epoch who was an ethnic Uzbek, was destroyed on January 6, 2011. The thinly veiled purpose of the campaign was to erase the imprints of the Russian Imperial and Soviet epochs on the urban landscape and – on the level of daily life – to banish any idea of Russia’s and Russians’ contribution from the minds of the Uzbek people.
10. Central Asia mirrored by WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks revelations shed light on a whole range of shadowy aspects of the US policies in Central Asia. For example, the WikiLeaks materials concerning Kyrgyzstan exposed the rivalry between Moscow and Washington over the US airbase in Manas, during which Washington managed to entrain the former Kyrgyz president’s younger son Maxim who was selling himself as a pro-US politician. A sensation was caused by the information about the contacts between US representatives and Tajikistan’s former ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and current foreign minister Hamrokhon Zarifi whom, as various reports indicate, Washington schemed to install as Tajik president Emomalii Rahmon’s successor. Needless to say, Mr. Zarifi did not welcome the publicity.
Source: Strategic Culture