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Central Asia Report: December 27, 2001

27 December 2001, Volume 1, Number 23

TRADE, AID, OIL, AND NONPROLIFERATION THE KEYSTONES TO 'NEW KAZAKHSTAN-AMERICAN RELATIONSHIP.' As a highlight to his four-day visit to the United States from 19-22 December that included stops in Texas and New York, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was welcomed at the White House on 21 December for a 30-minute meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, after which the two leaders signed a pact calling for "long-term strategic partnership and cooperation between our nations," Reuters and CNA reported. The so-called "Joint Statement [...] on the New Kazakhstan-American Relationship," while touching on customary bilateral issues such as developing Kazakhstan's energy resources and improving its investment climate, also specified the need for closer cooperation on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation issues. It also stressed the need to integrate a prosperous, democratic Kazakhstan into the global economy. As such, the pact testified to the accelerating pace of contacts between America and Central Asia in response to the events of 11 September, Reuters noted.

It also might be interpreted as part of Nazarbaev's reward for staunchly supporting U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. Moreover, it restored some balance to American policy in Central Asia after Washington appeared to be picking favorites by announcing a "qualitatively new relationship" with Uzbekistan on 7 October. Following Nazarbaev's visit, the U.S. formally has established special relationships with both of the Central Asian rivals contending for regional hegemony. In turn, Uzbek President Islam Karimov is expected to visit Washington early next year.

To improve Kazakhstan's domestic economy, the joint statement underscored the importance of a "transparent and predictable investment climate" where contracts and the rule of law were respected, and promised to increase bilateral trade and business contacts. To accelerate the Central Asian republic's integration into the international economy, the Bush administration pledged to support its application to the World Trade Organization, and to work to release Kazakhstan from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a piece of Soviet-era legislation whereby normal trade relations with the U.S. are dependent on the partner country demonstrating each year that it does not restrict emigration, particularly Jewish emigration. Tajikistan and Russia are other countries for which the administration is reportedly seeking to waive the amendment's criteria (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 1 November 2001). Meanwhile, on 25 December Kazakh Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Tokaev expected the country would post 13 percent growth in GDP for 2001, as against a 9.8 percent rise last year, and he conservatively predicted a 7 percent rise in 2002 due to an anticipated fall in world oil prices, Reuters reported.

To enhance Central Asian security and stability, the joint statement focused not only on the threat of terrorism and efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan, but on the need for regional cooperation in developing cross-border water resources and transport infrastructure. That said, Washington promised to "consider enhancing assistance programs to Kazakhstan to strengthen border security and to increase the defensive capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan."

Tightening border controls has also long been a priority concern for Washington because of the risk of illegal export of nuclear materials from the region. Praising independent Kazakhstan's renunciation of its nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, the joint declaration noted the danger posed by trafficking of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and proposed closer efforts to prevent smuggling of such materials under the United States-Kazakhstan Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement. A separate document signed by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Kazakh counterpart, Yerlan Idrisov, aimed to upgrade information exchanges about nuclear-arms control by establishing a hotline between the U.S. Nuclear Risk Reduction Center and the equivalent center in Kazakhstan, as part of the Secure Link Agreement originally completed by the two sides in December 2000. The agreement mandates intergovernmental communications on the status and implementation of existing or future arms-control treaties.

While the statement advocated pushing forward with democratization and political reforms in Kazakhstan, Nazarbaev told "The Washington Times" on 21 December that human rights were not a topic raised in his meeting with Bush. In any case, he told the newspaper that his country enjoyed a vibrant political life with a large number of political parties and media outlets. Previously, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch had sent a letter to Bush urging him to address Kazakhstan's poor human rights record and controversial election law during his meeting with Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Kazakh News," 21 December 2001). But parallel, lower-level meetings between Kazakh and U.S. State Department officials were "confrontational on several issues" and reflected American concerns about Nazarbaev's authoritarian ways and corrupt regime, according to the Kazakh opposition bulletin "Voice of Democracy" of 21 December.

Also in Washington, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Kazakh government signed a memorandum of understanding that looked forward to the delivery of more American assistance, especially in the spheres of fiscal reforms, business development, and medicine. In fiscal year 2001, Kazakhstan received almost $71 million of U.S. government funding, according to a U.S. State Department Fact Sheet of 21 December. It further said that USAID had bought about $6 million worth of Kazakh wheat in October to help starving Afghans. Meanwhile in the Kazakh capital Astana, Deputy Economy and Trade Minister Yerkin Asabaev acknowledged to journalists on 20 December that 30 percent of his country's citizens were living below the poverty line, predominantly women and children, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported.

Finally, the statement came out strongly in favor of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) Pipeline (officially opened in November and stretching 1,530 kilometers from Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk) as an export route for Kazakh crude, as well as the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline debouching into the Mediterranean Sea. Underscoring those preferences, particularly the latter option, Powell and Idrisov signed a separate Energy Partnership Declaration that "reaffirms U.S. support for multiple export routes of oil," according to a State Department Fact Sheet of 21 December, adding that it "strengthens cooperation on energy security and enhanced protection of production and transport facilities and promotes further cooperation on electrical power, nuclear energy, and environmental protection." Yet despite the Partnership Declaration's implication that the two sides see eye-to-eye about oil export routes, the differences that they are known to have about the desirability of a pipeline crossing Iran did emerge in Washington. For example, Idrisov told Reuters on 21 December that, although he supported the CPC and Baku-Ceyhan route, "Iran is not excluded completely." On the same day Nazarbaev reminded "The Washington Times" that a pipeline through Iran would be cheaper than any other option, and that the sanctions preventing American oil companies from participating in projects in Iran only hurt Americans.

U.S. MILITARY DEPLOYMENT BEGINS AT KYRGYZ AIR BASE... The first five American military airplanes landed at the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek's Manas airport on 19 December, Kabar news agency reported, the day after President Askar Akaev signed the law making the airport available to the U.S. Air Force for one year. The five aircraft -- three C-17s and two C-5A Galaxies -- delivered personnel, vehicles, and equipment to clear the runways of ice and snow, the agency said. The 150 American technicians who came in on the first flight, from a U.S. military base in Frankfurt, represented the first wave of the 2,000 American servicemen due to arrive before 20 January, Russian TV6 said on 20 December. On the same day, RIA-Novosti reported a decision of the Kyrgyz parliament that all American servicemen based in country for the duration of the operation in Afghanistan will have diplomatic status similar to that of U.S. Embassy personnel. The Americans are expected to be joined by 1,000 more French, Australian, Canadian, Italian, and possibly South Korean soldiers. All in all, 40 planes from various states of the antiterrorist coalition will be stationed in Kyrgyzstan for purposes of delivering humanitarian aid to Afghanistan northern provinces, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 December, citing U.S. Special Adviser on Central Asian Conflict Prevention Deborah Klepp. However, the request made by Paris on 7 December for permission to station French troops in Kyrgyzstan was still dragging through the Legislative Assembly (Kyrgyz parliament's lower chamber) two weeks later, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported on 21 December, while a Canadian official told Russian television on the same day that Bishkek had yet to make any formal reply to a similar request from Ottawa. The Legislative Assembly finally approved the government's decision to made Kyrgyz air fields and other facilities available to French warplanes on 25 December, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.

Despite reports that Manas airport had fallen into disrepair, the first contingent of American technicians were generally satisfied with its navigation and air-traffic control systems, Kabar news agency said on 21 December, although supplementary navigation equipment might have to be brought in, according to Brigadier General Christopher Kelley. But on the previous day, CNA reported that the Japanese government had given Bishkek a $5-million low-interest loan to reconstruct the airport, in addition to some $46 million of credit that Tokyo has already given this year for repairing the landing strips and cargo terminals. Moreover, Kyrgyz television has reported that the U.S. will pay Kyrgyzstan $7,000 every time one of its planes takes off or lands, and that the money will not go into the national budget but directly into the budget of Manas airport. Moreover, a Manas airport official told RFE/RL on 24 December that Kyrgyzstan gets $1,000 per American truck and $500 per car entering the airport.

Further indications emerged of the dilapidated state of Kyrgyzstan's military infrastructure when Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov, following talks with visiting U.S. State Department officials, announced that Washington was giving Bishkek $3.5 million to buy spare parts for its helicopters and repair its fixed-wing aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). Some of the money will be used to buy law-enforcement officials X-ray equipment and uniforms, Kabar added. The Kyrgyz newspaper "Vechernii Bishkek" revealed on 20 December that even officials of the Russian air force were in the country to advise its officials on modernizing its air-defense system. Also on 20 December, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported that Kyrgyz Ambassador to China Erlan Abdyldaev and Chinese Security Minister Tsia Chun Wan signed an agreement in Beijing whereby Beijing will provide technical assistance valued at 4 million yuans ($483,000) to the Kyrgyz security organs.

...DISRUPTS LIFE IN UZBEKISTAN... In contrast to Kyrgyz practice, Tashkent does not charge the Pentagon for use of the Hanabad airfield in southern Uzbekistan, where some 1,500 U.S. troops are stationed, Uzbek President Islam Karimov told journalists on 21 December, stressing that, "We don�t have a pay desk for counting the number of aircraft to land and take off," CNA reported. The only condition set by the Uzbek side was that the base not be used for land operations or air strikes against Afghanistan, but only for humanitarian and search-and-rescue missions, the president said. He lauded the U.S. servicemen at Hanabad who "are conducting themselves as they a foreign country," and said that consequently, "[W]e have not heard any dissatisfaction among the local population," AP reported.

That last claim may be less than accurate since, in another contrast with the situation in Kyrgyzstan, where American troops are being housed in hotels in Bishkek (at least for now), the soldiers at Hanabad operate in maximum secrecy and are kept as separate as possible from local residents, who are forced to use round-about routes to get to their houses and must endure continual security checks. According to the opposition "Birlik" website on 19 December, plans are afoot to resettle the area's population to enhance the security and operational convenience of the U.S. forces. To that end, local people are likely to be moved, at Washington's expense, to the nearby city of Qarshi or to towns around Tashkent, the website report said.

...AND CONTENDS WITH CRUMBLING INFRASTRUCTURE IN TAJIKISTAN. In Tajikistan, the first Western military aircraft touched down on 20 December at the airfield at Kulyab, in the south of the country, Russian news sources reported. According to RIA-Novosti, these were small transport aircraft (5-ton capacity) belonging to member states of the anti-Taliban coalition but delivering humanitarian cargos under UN colors to towns in northern Afghanistan such as Fayzabad, Kondoz, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Twenty American servicemen were headed from the Tajik capital Dushanbe for Kulyab to ready the airfield for military transport planes expected later this week, ITAR-TASS said on 21 December. But recent reports from both French and Italian sources suggested that the airfield is in such a poor state that the arrival of their contingents may be delayed for weeks. As in Kyrgyzstan, U.S. servicemen in Tajikistan involved in operations in Afghanistan will have the status of embassy staff, Interfax said on the same day, and so will Department of Defense civil personnel. But Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zukhurov stressed on 20 December that all arrangements are temporary and, in a sense, informal. He said that Western aircraft will leave as soon as the work in Afghanistan is finished, and no international treaties have been signed underpinning the military deployments in Tajikistan, which are short-term arrangements worked out between the relevant foreign ministries, RIA-Novosti reported.

Another parallel with Kyrgyzstan is that, as evidenced by events last week, Tajikistan's military is badly under-financed and looking for aid and partners to enhance its capacities. Security Council Secretary Amirqul Azimov claimed on 21 December that his country had deliberately chosen not to join the international peacekeeping contingent in Afghanistan, and anyway its composition was a matter for the UN to decide, the Varorud news agency reported. But Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov let the cat out of the bag when he admitted that that dire economic shortfalls meant that Tajikistan simply cannot afford to cover the expenses of a peacekeeping mission, Kabar reported on 20 December. (Meanwhile in Washington, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov told Reuters that Astana would be willing to contribute troops to an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.) Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloev, during a three-day visit to New Delhi, met his counterpart George Fernandes on 21 December and discussed Indian assistance in training Tajik troops, repairing military equipment, and maintaining infrastructure, the Indian news agency PTI reported. Two days before, Tajik television acknowledged that the Chinese Embassy in Dushanbe had substantially aided the Tajik Border Protection Committee by giving it nine computers, two printers, and a fax machine.