Two years after the September 11 attacks in New York City and on the Pentagon, Central Asian republics have established themselves as reliable allies of the United States in the "war on terrorism".
Militarily, they have contributed troops and equipment to the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, or have offered the use of bases on their territory for US forces. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan host hundreds of coalition troops at two air bases. The other three Central Asian republics, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, have granted US military planes the right to use their airspace.
But has the full support for the US in the "war on terrorism" - and, in some cases, the war in Iraq - had a positive impact on these countries?
Central Asian states' support for the US-led war on terror has brought something completely new for the region - international attention, said analyst Alex Vatanka of the Jane's Sentinel group.
September 11, 2001, "brought about a whole new era as far as Central Asian presence in the international community was concerned. It was suddenly noticed - you read about Uzbekistan in the New York Times, something that you very rarely did before. People were discussing who the Central Asian people are, and so on. So it had a massive public relations impact as far as the five relatively unknown states were concerned," he said.
But the former Soviet states of Central Asia have authoritarian political regimes, and reports of violations of human rights have been widespread. Vatanka says the US administration has had to deal with such regimes, despite their poor democratic and human-rights record. But two years on, he says the human-rights situation is the same, and the US presence in the region has spurred no democratic changes.
"Domestically, I would say, it has had very little impact at all. In reality, the outside world noticing the shortcomings of, say, Uzbekistan's human-rights record hasn't produced anything tangible on the ground, and it comes down to this point: the Americans, who are the ones who really have narrowed the gap with the Central Asian states, have needed them to such extent that they have been willing to look away and say 'We will have to try and work with them and produce results and reform within the framework of the existing regime.' They haven't gone for anything radical," Vatanka said.
The Central Asian republics, with the notable exception of oil-rich Kazakhstan, are among the poorest countries in the world. Therefore, even the relatively modest economic benefits from their political and military cooperation with the United States were extremely important. Kyrgyzstan has seen some financial gains from the presence of the US troops stationed at its Manas airport near the capital Bishkek. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, has received an International Monetary Fund financial package of some US$100 million for its cooperation.
But analyst Vatanka says increased economic and democratic change in Central Asia will depend both on how long - and how significant - a presence the United States intends to maintain there.
By Eugen Tomiuc,
Asia Times/RFE/RL, September 11, 2003