Saturday, July 3, 2010

The South Country, Part 6


From Kyrgyzstan: Anatomy Of A Conflict, by Bruce Pannier, dated July 3, 2010:

Longstanding tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks had been simmering for months in southern Kyrgyzstan before violence broke out. But interviews with scores of witnesses in Osh and officials in Bishkek suggest that it was more than ethnic resentment that triggered the fighting.

Various factions in the ongoing struggle that has roiled Kyrgyzstan since President Kurmanbek Bakiev was ousted in a popular uprising in April appear to have stoked and manipulated ethnic tensions in the south as they attempted to gain political advantage. The interim government, led by Roza Otunbaeva, blames forces loyal to Bakiev for sparking the violence as part of an effort to discredit Kyrgyzstan's new rulers. But a number of analysts, human rights activists, and other observers present a more complicated picture.

While not denying a possible role for Bakiev and other instigators in sparking the violence, these observers say that police and military in the south appear to have participated in attacks on ethnic Uzbeks, suggesting that as ethnic kinship trumped loyalty to the state, the authorities in Bishkek lost control of at least some of their own armed forces.

Government forces went "rogue" on Kyrgyzstan's central government, participating in ethnic violence - violence said to have been instigated, at least in part, by the former Kyrgyzstan president, who was run out of town on a rail.

But, what is the motive?

Clearly, there was an undercurrent of ethnic tensions, to some extent turning southern parts of Kyrgyzstan into a tinder box. The predominantly rural Kyrgyz resented the relative affluence of the urbanized Uzbeks; the Uzbeks resented the political power of the Kyrgyz.

But what other undercurrents were there?

Skipping down:

Kyrgyzstan's south, which is a known haven for drug traffickers, has long been difficult for authorities in Bishkek to control.

The latest round of fighting in Osh began in the predawn hours of June 10-11, when two youth gangs -- one Kyrgyz and one Uzbek -- were gambling in a local casino. Each accused the other of cheating and a scuffle broke out. The fighting spilled out onto the street as reinforcements on both sides -- alerted by text messages -- joined the brawl.

Texting is a neat way to get the homies together for a good fight.

A haven for drug traffickers... guaranteed low-level local distribution of drugs - especially heroin from nearby Afghanistan - is a source of business for local gangs.

Of course, the big money is to be made shipping Afghan heroin through Kyrgyzstan to Russia, Europe and perhaps elsewhere.

Rumors quickly spread -- which were later debunked in a Human Rights Watch report -- that an Uzbek mob raped as many as 12 Kyrgyz girls and killed three at a nearby dormitory. The false reports stoked Kyrgyz anger as mobs took to the streets to exact revenge.

Women have always been of use in wartime - abusing them has been seen as the spoils of war (codified in Islamic law for Islam's holy warriors), but they serve as a propaganda tool as well: nothing like accusing "them" of raping "our" women to get the fight going strong.

In that atmosphere, engineering an ethnic violence crisis that the government would lose control of seems easy to do.

Skipping down:

Kyrgyz officials deny the armed forces were involved and allege that criminal groups stole military uniforms, vehicles, and munitions before staging the attacks. The authorities, however, have provided no evidence to support that claim and appear to have made no effort to investigate wrongdoing on the part of rogue elements in the armed forces and security services.

If this were engineered, with adequate resources, then it would be expected that there would be some false flag operations. A foreign government or even an organized crime cartel would have the resources to acquire some uniforms and hire some thugs with military training - and this would embarrass the government and greatly further the ethnic unrest.

Reports indicate the "random mob violence" was confined to areas where supporting sniper fire could take out any Uzbeks trying to defend themselves; outside this safe zone, there was no "random mob violence" on the part of the Kyrgyz mobs.

Skipping down:

Kyrgyz law-enforcement officials say they arrested 20 snipers, seven of whom they claim are foreigners. The authorities, however, have provided no additional information about the alleged snipers' identities.

This is not beyond the capabilities of a drug cartel....

The government blamed the former president for starting the trouble. From farther down:

The government's case is somewhat bolstered by an intercepted telephone conversation in May, which was posted on the Internet, in which Maksim Bakiev, the ousted former president's son, said he planned to bring down the government by provoking unrest in the south. According to press reports, he is currently seeking asylum in Britain.

Officials in the interim government say the Bakievs hired mercenaries from Tajikistan and Afghanistan to do the job. Kurmanbek Bakiev, for his part, denies playing any role in the violence. Otunbaeva has also alleged that drug traffickers in Osh also contributed to the violence.

The government also claimed that militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan had infiltrated Uzbek neighborhoods and were provoking the violence. Mainstream Muslim leaders, however, appeared to be going out of their way to urge restraint.

At Friday Prayers at Osh's Imam al-Buhari Mosque on June 18, a week after the fighting broke out, the loudspeakers blared out the imam's message. "Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are Muslims and Muslims are brothers," the imam said in Uzbek. "Do not give into provocations. If you do, you are doing the work of Satan."

At the conclusion of the prayers both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz exited the mosque together.

It is true that, in theory, all Muslims are supposed to be brothers to each other (women are kind of discriminated against in Islam); however, Muslims are not immune to racial and ethnic divisions.

Importantly, though, if Islamic extremists were involved, it is easy to make takfir out of the other side; Islamic texts offer plenty of encouragement and excuses, and with heroin trafficking up for grabs, there is plenty of motivation.

Skipping down:

Mirzakmatov also said the authorities suspected that Islamic terrorists were hiding in Uzbek neighborhoods, adding that "all the barricades" protecting these quarters must be removed by the next day or security forces would "resort to force."

The interim government has been unable, or unwilling, to exert control over Mirzakmatov.

Osh Mayor Melis Mirzakmatov is widely viewed as a crony holdover from the previous regime; he's a powerful Uzbek who is viewed suspiciously by the local Uzbek community.

At least two Uzbeks were killed when security services targeted the ethnic Uzbek neighborhood of Nariman. Another operation targeted Otkhona, an untouched area where those fleeing violence in the adjacent Cheryomushki neighborhood had taken refuge.

Security forces said they found heroin in humanitarian supplies in Otkhona and detained an ethnic Uzbek businessman there who had been helping the displaced. Residents said security forces also took food, money, and jewelry.

Heroin just keeps cropping up in this.

Meanwhile, from Kyrgyzstan's interim leader sworn in as president, also dated July 3, 2010:

Roza Otunbayeva was sworn in as Kyrgyzstan's president on Saturday, making her the first female leader in the history of the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation.

In front of more than 1,000 cheering onlookers at a packed concert hall in the capital Bishkek, Otunbayeva somberly took her oath and promised a new political era for crisis-ridden Kyrgyzstan.

"As president, I will spare no effort to create a new political culture for the country based on a strict adherence to the rule of law," she told the assembled crowd.

"I must be principled and consistently make demands on all branches of government to ensure it. The new policy can not be built on fantasies and illusions. It must be real and effective."

Madame President, the Turkic peoples may think that Kyrgyzstan is the South Country, but you are perhaps thinking your problems stem from a country that is south of you.

The reality is that many of your most serious problems are rooted in a land far to the west of you.

Worth by some estimates a half a trillion US dollars per year, the first reality you, as the new Kyrgyz president, will have to take into consideration is the Afghan heroin industry: the proximity of your country to it, and corruption it fuels from Kabul to Washington. Run afoul of this cartel, and you might wake up dead, or at least finding Washington-backed Islamic terrorists trained by and allied with Al-Qaeda trying to oust you while the world looks cluelessly on, unable to put two and two together.

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