Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kyrgyzstan key US supply route to Afghan war

Kyrgyzstan Protests: Opposition Claims Control
AP: A revolution in the Central Asian nation was proclaimed by leaders of the opposition, who have called for the closure of a US air base outside the capital that serves as a key transit point for supplies essential to the war in nearby Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan at the hub of superpowers' plans
BBC News: Kyrgyzstan has found itself in the cockpit of what has been dubbed the new 'great game' in the region -- so-called because the modern big powers jostling for influence there appear reminiscent of the 19th Century contest between the British and Russian empires over access to India.

It has been a scramble for access to energy and other natural resources, trade routes, and more recently Western supply routes for operations in Afghanistan... For Kyrgyzstan -- one of the poorest of the neighbours in this region -- the chief international focus has been access for military bases. The Manas air base has become a key strategic staging post for the US military in Afghanistan -- especially after the closure of the so-called K2 base in Uzbekistan.

That itself followed the souring of relations between the US and Uzbek governments in 2005... But the sensitivities have been growing -- not least from Moscow, as the US-led operations in Afghanistan, and therefore also Washington's military interest in the region, have become ever more prolonged... It took a personal intervention by President Barak Obama to keep the Manas base open to the Americans. Even then it was on a compromise basis, under which Manas was to be described as a 'transit centre.'

But the bumpy nature of relationships in the region has helped fuel a debate over how much commitment the West -- and especially the US -- should have in the region in the long term, particularly if operations in Afghanistan eventually tail off... There are broader Western concerns about stability, governance, access to energy... but how these should be translated into long-term policy, against the background of Russian, Chinese and other local sensitivities, is very much open to question.

Image source here.