Whoever does not help to resolve the conflict in Kyrgyzstan, must then deal with the consequences of this omission
By Akezhan Kazhegeldin
The collapse of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's regime in Kyrgyzstan and the subsequent wave of violence have woken European politicians up to the fact that the Central Asian region is far from stable.
Now, at the height of the crisis, we are compelled to offer help to the victims and refugees quickly in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. However, in order to prevent the current events being repeated in future, we should critically review the relationship between the European Union and Russia and the post-Soviet Central Asian states over the last twenty years.
Russia and the EU must rethink the very concept of stability which in this region has always simply meant the irremovability of the incumbent president. They should abandon the prejudiced view they have taken that the so-called colour revolutions were the result of subversive activities in Brussels. Similarly, they should also abandon the prejudiced view that the leaders' overthrow that came about as a result of the revolutions is part of Moscow's imperial policy.
The bloody disorder in Kyrgyzstan has not come about because President Bakiyev was driven from office. On the contrary, the orgy of violence is a result of his own authoritarian rule and the authoritarian rule of his predecessor, President Akayev. They both intended to remain president for life, rewrote the constitution, falsified election results and put their own relatives in key positions, allowing them to ransack the state coffers.
Once the President's guards and secret police detachments had fled the angry crowds, there no longer remained any forces in Bishkek capable of preventing violence and guarantee the smooth running of the state.
If Kyrgyzstan isn't helped quickly, it could fall prey to extremist forces. Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban once the Soviet troops withdrew, the state collapsed and the West turned a blind eye. Now coalition nations, including EU countries, are risking the lives of their soldiers and spending huge sums of money to help Afghans get the situation back under control.
Unfortunately, when it comes to conflict resolution in Central Asia, we cannot rely on regional forces. No state leader has any authority in the eyes of his counterparts which would allow him to act as a mediator. The leaders of the states of Central Asia jostle for supremacy, fight over water resources and make territorial claims against each other. As a result, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan closed their borders, fearing 'spreading disorder,' which affected Kyrgyzstan's economy extremely adversely.
The matter of getting aid to Kyrgyzstan must not get bogged down in multi-party consultations and international conferences. It is urgent that the people's trust is restored and that the refugees can return home from Uzbekistan to gather this year's harvest. Otherwise refugees will remain in camps for years because they won't be able to feed themselves, their homes will fall into disrepair and their land will be seized.
My view is that success can only be achieved via co-operation in a new, international format between the interim government of Kyrgyzstan, Russia and the European Union. There is no rivalry between Moscow and Brussels in the region, nor will they affect the interests of other countries and their growing desire to co-operate needs to manifest itself in new ways.
There is no way Russia cannot be involved in the reconstruction of the Kyrgyz state because it is a historical ally and Kyrgyzstan's chief trading partner. Almost a quarter of Kyrgyzstan's able-bodied populace works in Russia. Russia has also had success in putting an end to inter-ethnic conflict and civil wars on the territory of the CIS.
Help from the European Union would enable the Kyrgyz authorities to re-establish the most important institutes of state, namely parliament, the legal system, the police, local government and the civil service.
European experts will be involved in investigating what caused the bloody events in the capital in April and the massacres in the south of Kyrgyzstan. The results they provide will restore trust and help to calm passions within the country. Based on that report, it will be easier for the new Kyrgyz authorities in Bishkek to seek the extradition of guilty parties claiming asylum abroad.
Unfortunately, we must admit that in relation to Kyrgyzstan international organisations have shown how limited their capabilities are. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, currently being chaired by Kazakhstan, was unable to provide security or assure co-operation in Kyrgyzstan. Its efforts were as ineffective as they were inconspicuous.
The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has expanded to incorporate Belarus and Armenia in recent years which has taken away its formerly regional character. The prospect of Uzbekistan intervening militarily in Kyrgyz matters threatens to turn inter-ethnic conflict into an international conflict between two states within the aforementioned organisation.
For want of any new universal conflict resolution bodies, the affected parties will have to take the responsibility upon themselves. In this case, that means Russia and the European Union. If they act at cross purposes, as was the case in the former Yugoslavia, they both risk losing out. The result would be refugees streaming over the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, putting an end to any idea of a visa-free space from the English Channel to Vladivostok.
During the German presidency of the EU, a Central Asia strategy was devised but proved unviable specifically because it ignored the region's contradictions and the role Russia plays there. By working together with Russia in Kyrgyzstan, the European Union would be improving its own security, gaining new experience in co-operating and building trust with Russia and marking itself out as a strong partner for Central Asia. Europe's efforts and resources should be aimed at resolving the conflict now, not dealing with its long-term consequences.
Akezhan Kazhegeldin, 58, Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan (1994-1997).
He lives in exile in London
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