Kyrgyzstan to close down controversial US base

The Kyrgyzstan parliament has decided to close down a US military base in its territory.

Kyrgyzstan to close down controversial US base

As the former Soviet Republic celebrates its 22nd anniversary since gaining its independence, Kyrgyzstan has made a groundbreaking decision which is set to impact the regional rivalry between the US and Russia. The Kyrgyz parliament has passed a bill that will end the US lease on the transit airbase at the Manas airport near the country's capital Bishkek. US troops are expected to withdraw from the site by July 11, 2014. Among many political criticisms, the base was the target of Kyrgyz environmentalist circles, especially after the fall of an American tanker aircraft into a forest caused the spread of 90 tons of fuel over a space of 50 hectares. Kyrgyz officials usually said the base had been used in the invasion of Afghanistan. Therefore in the planned event of the withdrawal of US soldiers from Afghanistan, they will not need the base any more.

Despite being geographically small, Kyrgyzstan proves to attract in interest of superpower states due to its geostrategic location and water resources. The country has a complicated demographic structure containing 30 different ethnicities within its 198500 square kilometers. Despite the fact that the mountainous characteristic of the land makes agricultural production difficult, its snowy mountains make Kyrgyzstan the region’s most water-rich country. It consists of 7 provinces, 40 states and 22 cities, with a total population of 5.6 million. The population is dominated by Russians, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Uyghurs and Dungans along with many others. Ethnic Kyrgyz people constitute 20 percent of the total population. Having been ruled by the Soviets for 70 years, they announced their independence in 1991 and prepared the first constitution two years later. Over the course of two decades, the country underwent two large public unrests both of which concluded with regime changes. In 2011, Almazbeg Atambayev won the elections and became the country’s first-elected president.

No solution for water deadlock

Kyrgyzstan’s rich water resources have usually caused problems with neighbors in regards to the way the water is shared. According to the law of transcending waters, Kyrgyzstan is described as upper riparian which means that the rivers which originate in Kyrgyzstan proceed to neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, both relatively dry countries. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan built hydroelectric plants on the Amu Darya and Sry Darya rivers, which caused a decrease in the surface water in Kyrgyzstan and worsened the drying up of the Aral Sea. Kyrgyzstan Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev paid an official visit to Tajikistan and attended the international water conference which was held there. Delegations of both countries came together but failed to find a solution to the long lasting water conflict.

The water debate is not the only conflict between Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors. There are 55 check points on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border which demonstrates their lack of mutual trust and inability to provide border security. The border conflicts are mainly about unresolved disagreements over the sharing of agricultural land and natural resources. During Kyrgyz Prime Minister Satybaldiyev’s last visit to Uzbekistan, both sides agreed to launch high-level negotiations. On the other hand, there were 15 clashes on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border, some of which resulted in deaths on both sides. Complicated borders which were drawn in the Soviet era is the main reason behind today’s problems.   

Another controversial issue regarding Kyrgyzstan’s political economy is the future of the Kumtor gold mine. Having been launched after the nation’s independence, the total reserves of the mine is estimated to be 700 tones. Despite being one of the most important segments of the Kyrgyz economy, the Kumtor gold mine appears to have lost some of its weight. The Minister of Economy Temir Sariyev said his government is working to proliferate the sources of national income, thus it is normal to expect Kumtor’s decreasing role in the economy. “I do not agree with the idea that should Kumtor become dysfunctional, the country’s economy would be on the edge of collapse. But if we are not able to make a certain decision after a transparent process, this would spark the people’s criticism. Because of this, the negotiations proceed slowly, yet we have to come to compromise,” he said. Drawing attention the lack of time to present the outcomes of their research, the minister said his government received another offer which includes forming a company to run the goldmine, half of which belongs to Kyrgyz state while the rest is owned by Centerra, a Canadian based gold mining company. 

 Kuzey News Agency

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Eylül 2013, 11:39