Central Asia Theater
Kyrgyzstan has demanded the US hand over for trial an Air Force serviceman who shot dead a Kyrgyz truck driver in December at the Manas airbase. The Kyrgyz government threatened to review its agreement with the US on the use of the base, where US troops have been operating since 2001. The US maintains the troops enjoy similar status to diplomats and cannot be prosecuted by Kyrgyz courts. US officials say the truck driver threatened the airman with a knife at a Manas checkpoint. The serviceman shot him twice in the chest. US officials said the airman "used deadly force in response to a threat". President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has demanded more rent for the Manas base, said the airman should not leave the country until an investigation has taken place. (Reuters, March 19)
From Phayul.com, March 11 (links added):
NEW YORK - As the Tibetans all over the world commemorate the 48th Tibetan National Uprising day hundreds of Tibetans walked with pro-independence banners, placards and Tibetan national flags in the heart of New York city. Students for a Free Tibet, regional Tibetan Youth Congress chapters of New York and New Jersey led the rally which began from Brooklyn this morning.
This Dec. 22 account from the Russian daily Kommersant reveals another recent win for Moscow in its bid to rebuild influence in the "near abroad" of Central Asia, and beat the American and European competition to the punch in securing strategic control of its hydrocarbon resources. This ups the ante on the US to exploit that passing of Turkmenistan's wacky despot Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov to effect another pro-West "revolution" in the region. We will be watching Turkmenistan closely in the weeks to come:
We almost wet our pants laughing a few years back when Exxon took out an ad on the New York Times op-ed page praising the despotism of Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev as a "democracy." But these days Bush is writing much better material. So is Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who recently got hot under the collar about "petro-authoritarians" taking Uncle Sam for a ride. He singled out Chavez and Ahmadinejad (of course), but Nazarbayev seems to have escaped his ire. Why is that, we wonder? From the New York Times, Sept. 29 (emphasis added):
We can feel George Bush cringing. Why did Sacha Baron Cohen have to pick on Kazakhstan of all places, which the US sees as a strategic bulwark against both Russian and Islamist influence in Central Asia, and which Dick Cheney and his pals hope to turn into the next Saudi Arabia? But which, ultimately, is worse: Cohen's politically incorrect humor, or the White House's accomodation of Kazakhstan's sleazy dictatorship? From the UK's Daily Mail, Sept. 12:
Kyrgyzstan briefly surfaced in the headlines following the case of Air Force Major Jill Metzger of North Carolina, assigned to the US base at Manas, who managed to escape after being kidnapped Sept. 5. But the US media pays little heed to the growing signs of a looming social explosion in Central Asia, where the Pentagon has maintained a large presence since 9-11. Taalaibek Amanov writes for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, Sept. 14:
Perhaps this was an exercise in surrealist performance art. From RFE/RL, Sept. 13:
International rights organizations are criticizing UNESCO's decision to award Uzbek President Islam Karimov the Borobudur gold medal for "strengthening friendship and cooperation between the nations, development of cultural and religious dialogue, and supporting cultural diversity."
Despite the recent tensions between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, both governments seem equally paranoid about Western-backed subversion within their borders. And perhaps with reason. From RFE/RL, July 12:
A Tashkent court today ordered the closure of the Urban Institute, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization.