|Central Asia: Impact of siding with
By Eugen Tomiuc
Two years after the September 11 attacks in New York
City and on the Pentagon, Central Asian republics have
established themselves as reliable allies of the United
States in the "war on terrorism".
they have contributed troops and equipment to the
anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, or have offered
the use of bases on their territory for US forces.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan host hundreds of coalition
troops at two air bases. The other three Central Asian
republics, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, have
granted US military planes the right to use their
But has the full support for the US in
the "war on terrorism" - and, in some cases, the war in
Iraq - had a positive impact on these countries?
Central Asian states' support for the US-led war
on terror has brought something completely new for the
region - international attention, said analyst Alex
Vatanka of the Jane's Sentinel group.
11, 2001, "brought about a whole new era as far as
Central Asian presence in the international community
was concerned. It was suddenly noticed - you read about
Uzbekistan in the New York Times, something that you
very rarely did before. People were discussing who the
Central Asian people are, and so on. So it had a massive
public relations impact as far as the five relatively
unknown states were concerned," he said.
former Soviet states of Central Asia have authoritarian
political regimes, and reports of violations of human
rights have been widespread. Vatanka says the US
administration has had to deal with such regimes,
despite their poor democratic and human-rights record.
But two years on, he says the human-rights situation is
the same, and the US presence in the region has spurred
no democratic changes.
"Domestically, I would
say, it has had very little impact at all. In reality,
the outside world noticing the shortcomings of, say,
Uzbekistan's human-rights record hasn't produced
anything tangible on the ground, and it comes down to
this point: the Americans, who are the ones who really
have narrowed the gap with the Central Asian states,
have needed them to such extent that they have been
willing to look away and say 'We will have to try and
work with them and produce results and reform within the
framework of the existing regime.' They haven't gone for
anything radical," Vatanka said.
Asian republics, with the notable exception of oil-rich
Kazakhstan, are among the poorest countries in the
world. Therefore, even the relatively modest economic
benefits from their political and military cooperation
with the United States were extremely important.
Kyrgyzstan has seen some financial gains from the
presence of the US troops stationed at its Manas airport
near the capital Bishkek. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, has
received an International Monetary Fund financial
package of some US$100 million for its cooperation.
But analyst Vatanka says increased economic and
democratic change in Central Asia will depend both on
how long - and how significant - a presence the United
States intends to maintain there.
2003 RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission
of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,
1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC