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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

01 August 2005

US asked to leave K-2

Uzbekistan has asked Washington to evacuate the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base (known in the military as K-2) within six months time. Tashkent is apparently irritated with the UN operation that flew 440 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan to Romania, refugees that reached Kyrgyzstan after the May uprising in the Andijan province in Uzbekistan.

Among those flown out are 14 people that Uzbekistan claims led the May revolt and wants returned so they can be tried. Even now, the BBC reports that Bishkek is likely to comply with Tashkent and turn over up to 15 people; the exact number will depend on Bishkek’s agreement with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, who has granted refugee status to some of the 15 people in question.

The Bush Administration has been quick to minimize the effect of this expulsion; the New York Times quotes a senior Air Force officer as saying: “It's not a big deal, especially if they continue to grant us overflight rights. Even without the overflight, we're still O.K. It's just a longer routing going into Afghanistan,” while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld commented that, “We always think ahead. We'll be fine.”

But this latest development shows the growing incompatibility between America’s military objectives in the region and its human rights rhetoric. Even more, it highlights how limited America’s capacity to affect change can be, particularly as it depends on countries for assistance in fighting terror.

In Kyrgyzstan, America has been allowed to maintain its air base in Manas on a conditional basis; the Kyrgyz Defense Minister has said that the US base will remain “as long as the situation in Afghanistan requires.” This suggests a tactical rather than strategic partnership between America and the country.

The BBC has also reported that Pakistan is soon to acquire two F16 planes, the first delivery to that country since a 1990 embargo over Islamabad’s nuclear program; in the future, Pakistan is believed to be after as many as 25 planes (to add to its fleet of 30 existing F16s). There is no doubt that this sale is a reward for Pakistan’s assistance in the “war on terror.”

Pakistan aside, the difficulties that America is facing have much to do with China’s own growing influence in Central Asia—its cozying up to Uzbekistan is surely responsible for the confidence the Tashkent felt in confronting America. In other words, Secretary Rumsfeld might always be thinking ahead, but the latest developments should give a pause to Secretary Rice about a region were America might slowly be edged out of.

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