The recent visit of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Kyrgyzstan highlighted the US' commitment to maintaining its presence in the former Soviet Republics. Aside from Kyrgyzstan, the US is involved in Ukraine and Georgia, both of which saw revolutions prior to the March 24 coup which ousted President Askar Akayev from Kyrgyzstan. There's increasing support for the view that it is the US that is orchestrating these regime changes from behind the scenes in former Soviet Republics. They warn that this might in places incite precisely the Islamic nationalist strife that gave US forces the excuse to park themselves out there.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made sure there was hardly any doubt about US intentions in the former Russian republics when she commented on the Kygyzstan situation just after the unrest broke out; "This is a process that's just beginning. We know where we want to go." She will have referred to increased democracy, but one couldn't help but thinking she was speaking about countries like Kazachstan, where it is rumored the US is working to effect a 'velvet revolution', after having successfully outmanoeuvered the Russian influence in Ukraine, which saw an 'orange' revolution as well as in Georgia where earlier a 'rose' revolution took place.
Each time a coup or revolution happened, the world was bepuzzled as to what exactly drove the hordes of people to the streets. Especially in the case of Kyrgyzstan it was unclear whether the uproar was driven by ethnic tensions or whether geographical lines and the divide between poor and very poor did spark the events. There was however some real evidence of involvement by US representatives on the ground. In Kyrgyzstan for instance, the US Embassy helped opposition parties in distributing their newspapers by switching its internally operated electricity generators to presses when the incumbent government had cut off power supply. There are numerous other reports of similar involvement.
All is not without its consequences. People on the ground report from post-revolution realities that the events are bringing out more pronounced ethnic divides and fears of renewed repression from rulers. It will be interesting to see how the US is planning to resolve these issues, but to date there is no evidence that it is at all interested in the internal affairs of these tiny countries beyond ascertaining regime changes that show off some serious US prowess to the Russians.
In the future, new challenges will arise however as a result. One is the area where the Kyrgyzstan revolution started, the impoverished Ferghana Valley that connects Kyrgyzstan with Uzbekistan and where the towns of Jalal-Abad and Osh are located, where the events started that led to the March revolution.
People say that on the Uzbekistan side of the border some unrest has been spotted. Less is known about the way in which incitements have been quelled, but it's almost certain that the Uzbek authorities will be way more prone to violence than any of the surrounding countries in stamping out unrest. One Uzbek activist, Abdukadyr Sattorov, head of the Mezon NGO, a local pro-democracy group, in Kokand city, quoted on the UN newswire said "I can see that we can do the same here [in Uzbekistan], there is no difference between them [Kyrgyz] and us. Oh yes, there is a difference, our situation is worse," he said.
The Uzbeks living on the other side of the border - as a result of Stalin era population migration policies- are the poorest people in Kyrgyzstan. Trade between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan however has been halted as borders are closed. People have to use illegitimate routes to get to markets to either sell or buy food. Prices are skyrocketing and even Chinese goods which are tradionally cheap are no longer flushing the market as this border also has been closed.
And it is exactly in this area where now the ethnic tensions are rising anew. The Uzbek minority on the Kyrgyz side of the valley, is worried that the new nationalist Kyrgyz leadership might not necessarily take too kindly to them. It was as recent as 1990 that hundreds were murdered in anti-Uzbek pogroms. Strangely, no guarantees that such things won't happen again are heard from either the country's new leaders or the US troops that might just make themselves useful here.
Outside criticism on the US and also the UK's one sided relations with rulers in the former Soviet Republic is most potent when it comes to the role Uzbeki authorities played in the war against terror. The secret services of the US and the UK however did not have any scrupules cooperating with a regime they knew applied highly brutal practices to extract information on Islamic movements. The issue is currently coming out in the open due to the former UK's ambassador to Tashkent who made objections to the practices after he received photos in his office of a corpse of a man boiled to death by Uzbek authorities.
The ambassador, Craig Murray, has launched a political campaign, standing against Jack F. Straw in the next elections in the Blackburn constituency of Southern England. His open spitefulness hopefully draws the public's attention to the issue that Straw prevented Murray from achieving as an ambassador.
Murray was forced out of his job by Straw after he objected to UK cooperation with the Uzbek authorities, something Straw, who steers on the British intelligence services, would not hear of. "Obviously there are major problems with [passing information from the Uzbek torturers to Western governments]. It means we are receiving intelligence directly obtained by torture and also the intelligence is rubbish. It's what the Uzbeks want us to believe and mostly it says that, you know there's a terrific Islamic threat to the regime in Uzbekistan which is of course what justifies their dreadful repression," said Murray, who launched his political campaign earlier this week.
Uzbekistan is the most autocratic of all the Central Asian countries, and the Ferghana Valley is Uzbekistan's bastion of Islamic conservatism. There are reports that the community is growing increasingly restive. "Recently, human rights activists in the Ferghana Valley contacted foreign organizations and mass media outlets, informing them about plans to stage protests in front of government buildings in several cities and districts throughout the valley", according to the Registan.com weblog.
Apparently, the authorities found out about the plans and made sure they crushed them straight away, said Mutabar Tajibayeva, who heads a rights group named Flaming Hearts. "That morning, a law enforcement agent called me up and summoned me to the district police department for a meeting with a high-ranking officer," Tajibayeva said. "They kept me at the department until 6 pm and then let me go."
The major risk aside from a renewed plunge into poverty is that the country is now going to be ruled by the previous parties that were in opposition and that this effects a split with the areas where the previous ruling parties came from. It is possible that a situation will arise which divides the 5 million headed country into north and south.
This would create a largely isolated south, where Islamist strife will flourish freely, fired on by poverty and discrimination against ethnic minorities the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Uighuris, which are part of the Chinese Xinjaing region.
Angelique van Engelen is a freelance journalist who is involved in www.reporTwitters.com, a journalistic project that combines reporting with Twitter. She crowdsourced opinions on this issue on this site.