Tursunbai Bakir uulu, Kyrgyz deputy and leader of the Erk (Free Kyrgyzstan) party, has hit out at the continued presence of United States-led anti-terror coalition forces in the country. His concern represents the highest-level criticism of the western bases to date.
“A number of statements by President George W Bush regarding the USA’s intention to undertake military campaigns against Iraq, Libya, Syria and other countries, are raising protests among my voters,” said Bakir uulu.
“As a Muslim state, we do not have a right to allow the implementation of military operations against Muslim countries through our territory.”
He also called the financial benefits from the presence of US forces at the Manas airfield, near the capital Bishkek, into question.
“US representatives talk of multi-million dollar sums allegedly received by Kyrgyzstan as a result of their military presence. In reality, people know that these enormous resources end up in the pockets of those close to the country’s top leaders: the two or three companies with permission to provide various services to the foreigners,” Bakir uulu claimed.
The deputy, who is one of very few to stress his Muslim heritage, believes Kyrgyzstan’s links with its fellow Muslim states are very important and could be jeopardised by the US military presence.
The US government approached the Kyrgyz authorities in December 2001 with a request to open the Manas civilian airport to military personnel and aircraft as part of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. Kyrgyz president Askar Akaev agreed, saying this was his country’s contribution to the fight against international terrorism.
Manas is currently host to around 3000 foreign troops from 12 countries, although there is a 12-month time-limit on the agreement.
The country’s Communist Party, led by Professor Klara Ajibekova, has backed Bakir uulu’s initiative. “Thanks to the stupid policies of President Akaev, who for ten years appears to have followed western recommendations without question, Kyrgyzstan now finds itself among the insolvent states of the world,” said Ajibekova.
“One gets the impression that American financial aid is being provided not to the people but to the current regime.”
As a first step, supporters of the movement plan to ask the Bush administration to voluntarily leave Kyrgyz territory.
“In case of a refusal by Washington’s officials, we will organise a protest march to Manas,” said Bakir uulu.
General Ismail Isakov, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Security, described such a protest as “absurd”. In his opinion the “hotbeds of international terrorism” have not yet been fully eliminated, and the security of Kyrgyzstan remains under threat.
“According to intelligence reports some terrorists remain in the region. Besides, our state is subject to pressure from our neighbours, who are voicing their territorial claims increasingly loudly,” Isakov told IWPR.
“Under such circumstances we need a strong military partnership, which is exactly what the coalition represents. Its sudden departure could have unpredictable consequences for the security of our country.”
General Isakov said he was ready to urge deputies to vote for an extension of the 12-month agreement, although he did raise questions about some of its aspects.
“Many people ask why the bulk of the money received does not go into the state budget but is received by those companies conducting lucrative business with the military base. We have to raise this issue in parliament,” Isakov said.
President Akaev’s spokesman, General Bolot Januzakov, told IWPR that calls for an end to the foreign military presence were nothing more than a premeditated attempt to undermine Kyrgyzstan’s respectability in the eyes of the international community.
“President Akaev’s enemies are doing this to discredit his foreign policy and ruin his forthcoming official visit to the USA,” said Januzakov. He also confirmed that the Kyrgyz leader intended to continue close cooperation with the anti-terrorist coalition.
A group of Kyrgyz citizens, led by Nuradil Saskeev, has submitted a request to the justice ministry to register a movement in support of the military base at Manas.
“The years of sovereignty of our little country have shown that without the support of powerful states, we are doomed. Russia, on whom the Kyrgyz people are used to placing their hopes, has not justified expectations,” said Saskeev.
Dmitri Kabak, president of the Kyrgyz non-governmental organisation Open Viewpoint Foundation, believes Bakir uulu’s initiative will have little impact.
“In the eyes of the government and population as a whole, the economic benefits from the base outweigh other negative considerations. In general there is no widespread hatred of the US,” he said.
Saskeev’s movement claims, perhaps with some justification, that it can muster more powerful supporters than those who oppose the presence of foreign forces in Kyrgyzstan.
Still, Tursunbai Bakir uulu’s criticism is significant, as it represents the strongest, senior-level political attack on the anti-terror coalition bases in Kyrgyzstan in the nine months of their operations here.
Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek.This article originally appeared in Reporting Central Asia, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, http://www.iwpr.net/.