Intervening in Kyrgyzstan

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by Joshua Foust on 6/10/2011 · 3 comments

“We are monitoring the situation in Kyrgyzstan, we know that there are elements of aggravation,” the news agency reported CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha as saying after a one-day CSTO Defense Ministers’ meeting in the Belarus capital Minsk on Wednesday.

He offered those comments as Interim President Roza Otunbayeva made an impassioned call for “harmony and understanding” between the Kyrgyz in the southwest and the ethnic Uzbek minority that was brutally persecuted last year.

Southwestern Kyrgyzstan doesn’t only face some sort of threat from the unresolved issues leftover from last year’s Osh riots. There is also the annual water clashes in Batken to contend with:

The confrontational mood this year is especially fraught with the risk of violence. Already, residents and troops on both sides have destroyed property and detained each other. With the painful memory of last summer’s ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, many fear Batken, and Tajikistan’s Sughd Province across the “border,” could become the next flashpoint for upheaval in the Ferghana Valley.

One of the challenges along this border is that no one is absolutely certain of where it lies. As a result, it’s easy for different groups—there are Kyrgyz and Tajik settlements on both sides, depending on which map you look at—to claim ownership of scare resources like water and violently contest access. Making things interesting there is the location of a proposed U.S. Counterterrorism Training Center in town of Kyzyl-Kiya.

Batken’s location, right next to Tajikistan and very near to Uzbekistan, makes any sort of ethnic violence difficult to figure out and resolve. The whole southwest of Kyrgyzstan, in a lot of ways, is a big question mark in that regard. As for the CSTO, they very conspicuously declined to intervene in Kyrzgystan during an obvious transnational humanitarian crisis (and Uzbekistan, despite its appalling human rights record, deserves praise for how it handled the 400,000 or so refugees who fled toward Andijon).

How the CSTO will determine the threshold for intervention in Kyrgyzstan will probably be as opaque and mysterious as how NATO decided to intervene in Libya; equally uncertain is what they will use as a peacemaking, and later peacekeeping force, and whether whatever government is in place at the time in Bishkek will quietly accept the help. Any bad decision on this front would, potentially, prove catastrophic for long-term conflict resolution in the area. It’s difficult to see how this turns out well, regardless of what happens. But then again, people familiar with the area are probably used to that feeling anyway.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Grant June 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I’m a bit irritated (though I can understand it) that Kyrgyzstan has mostly dropped off the international news radar.

Jangak June 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Irritated, yes. Surprised? Not really.

R.B. Moreno June 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Thanks for the update, Josh. More thoughts on the anniversary: “Remembering Osh”

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