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A New Relationship Between The United States And Central Asia?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atamabev in Bishke on October 31.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be touring all five of the Central Asian states starting on October 31 and ending on November 2.

It is Kerry's first trip to the region in more than 2 1/2 years as secretary of state, and it comes as the United States and Central Asia enter a new relationship: the post-Afghanistan relationship.

Though the United States will be keeping some troops in Afghanistan at least through the end of 2016, gone are the days when the United States, of need, had to court Central Asia's governments. The U.S. base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan is closed, as is the NATO base outside Dushanbe in Tajikistan. And the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) that once ferried goods by rail and road from Europe through Russia and Central Asia into Afghanistan was shut down last year.

So Kerry goes to Central Asia with perhaps the strongest hand a U.S. secretary of state has had in some 15 years. This time, the United States really does not need anything from Central Asia.

However, the view from here at the Qishloq is that Central Asia could really use help from the United States.

Central Asia's foreign policy is a balancing act. There are many outside players in this crossroad of Eurasia, but three main parties are Russia, China, and the United States. So without the United States as a friend and partner, Central Asia is left with Russia and China. Not an enviable situation, particularly since both are neighbors.

If either Russia or China, or both, decides to put pressure on Central Asia, there is not much the Central Asian states could do to resist without another great power supporting them.

Another point worth remembering is no matter how one views the results of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the Central Asians certainly have benefited in terms of security from having U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan since late 2001. In fact, the United States even paid the Central Asian states for allowing U.S. forces to use Central Asian airports (in every Central Asian country) and transiting goods through their territories.

So now Kerry visits, hopefully to discuss the new relationship between the United States and Central Asia. There is no longer any need to mute criticism or avoid uncomfortable topics during this trip.

Remember the WikiLeaks cable about Uzbek President Islam Karimov in March 2009 warning U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland that Uzbekistan might suspend the transit of goods via the NDN as retaliation for the United States giving an award to Uzbek rights activist Mutabar Tajikbaeva?

That won't work anymore. And neither will many other games Central Asian leaders knew they could play because the United States needed them.

So now would be a good time to go back to some of the policies of the 1990s, when the United States put more emphasis on friendship and alliances with partners in Central Asia that shared, or at least were trying to share, U.S. values and ideals.

And no more: "We're moving toward democracy, taking into consideration our traditions and history." Mongolia got it right and they did not have any more experience with democracy than the countries in Central Asia.

The Qishloq does not wish to give advice to Kerry about what quid pro quo there should be for good ties with the United States.

But I do support these suggestions and encourage anyone reading this to also look at these statements. And I hope Kerry will raise these issues when he meets with Central Asian leaders:

Kerry Should Speak Up for Human Rights in Central Asia

United States: Feature Rights in Central Asia Talks

CPJ Urges Kerry To Call For Release Of imprisoned Journalists In Central Asia

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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