OSCE Summit Highlights Disagreements Between Astana and Tashkent

By Erica Marat

The situation in Kyrgyzstan generated an emotive exchange between Kazakh and Uzbek officials during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Astana, on December 1-2, highlighting continuing disagreements between neighbors.

While Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, affirmed that the OSCE has done everything possible to halt the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, said that the organization failed to prevent the conflict (www.ca-news.org, December 1). “An acute political crisis in Kyrgyzstan could have served as a catalyst for new conflicts in Central Asia. Together with the US and Russia, Kazakhstan has tried to use all available OSCE instruments to prevent the escalation of the conflict,” Nazarbayev said about the ethnic violence in June in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbek Foreign Minister, Vladimir Norov, attacked the OSCE, saying: “We have to admit that, unfortunately, the OSCE and its structures did not play a positive role in the prevention and neutralization of the bloody events in southern Kyrgyzstan in June this year” (www.en.rian.ru, December 1).

Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva, meanwhile, tried to steer a middle course between these two large neighbors, by pointing to the need to reform the OSCE and increase its regional efficiency. Roughly 450 people reportedly died and more than 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks were forced out of their homes during the June violence. All regional security organizations, including the Russian-led Collective Security Organization Treaty (CSTO), China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the OSCE, proved incapable of reacting rapidly and halting the violence.

Since the April 7 regime change in Bishkek, Kazakhstan has played a dual role in Kyrgyzstan’s domestic developments –as chairman of the OSCE and also as a neighbor upon whom the country depends economically. In its role as OSCE chair, Astana helped Otunbayeva’s fragile government expel the deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to Belarus, thus contributing to short-term stability in Kyrgyzstan.

In the months that followed, however, Astana maintained a strict border policy with Kyrgyzstan, considerably damaging local businesses. Despite numerous pleas by Kyrgyz politicians, Astana gave no specific indication about what it considers to be a normalized situation in order to have the border reopened. Kyrgyz businessmen claimed that they suffered millions of dollars of losses due to the closure of the border. Uncertainty over the political and economic situation further increased a sense of overall frustration with the recent political changes in the country.

Furthermore, as the OSCE Chairman, Kazakhstan will offer the final judgment as to whether the Kyrgyz elections were a regional breakthrough or signified another failure for Kyrgyzstan’s attempt to change. In the absence of any experience of holding free and fair elections, Kazakhstan might well ignore some of the irregularities in the course of elections. As Central Asia’s largest state, however, Kazakhstan is determined to be the one to set the political and economic example in the region. Kazakhstan’s overall role throughout 2010 is therefore perceived negatively in Kyrgyzstan.

President Karimov on the other end, earned international approval for opening his country’s borders for roughly 400,000 ethnic-Uzbek refugees as the violence erupted in Osh and Jalalabad during June 11-14. Karimov allowed the international community to provide emergency and early aid to Uzbek refugees. The Uzbek authorities, however, forced refugees back into Kyrgyzstan to participate in the June 27 constitutional referendum.

Meanwhile, after almost two months of infighting, the Kyrgyz parliament has finally formed a ruling coalition. The Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Respublika, and Ata-Meken parties formed a coalition, taking 67 parliamentary seats out of total 120. The opposition will be represented by the Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys parties. According to the agreement within the coalition, SDPK leader, Almazmek Atambayev, will serve as prime minister, the head of Respublika, Omurbek Babanov, as Vice-Premier, and Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of the Ata-Meken Party, will be the Parliamentary Speaker (www.akipress.kg, November 30).

Agreeing on a major cadre decision was the major challenge facing the formation of the coalition. However, now that the coalition has been formed the political process is more certain in Kyrgyzstan, offering fresh hope for the new parliamentary system of governance in the country. Indeed, the coalition was formed after a day of tensions in Osh and a bomb blast in Bishkek on the one hand and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s, upcoming visit to Bishkek –on the other.

Neither Kazakhstan nor Uzbekistan approves of Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary system or, for that matter, the frequent regime changes. Nevertheless, within the OSCE Summit’s scope, the enduring rivalry between Karimov and Nazarbayev proved to be conducive for the OSCE’s own introspection.
The Jamestown Foundation