the Disillusioned kid: The New Great Game Kicks Off
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Saturday, July 09, 2005

The New Great Game Kicks Off

There are some interesting noises being made by the Uzbek government which you may have missed with the understandable focus on Thursday's bombings.

On Tuesday the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which brings together Uzbekistan, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan called for the US and its Coalition Allies to set a timeline for the withdrawal of its forces from several member states in Central Asia. The US set up shop in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the aftermath of September 11.

Bagila Burkhabayeva writing for Associated Press, suggests,
The alliance's move appeared to be an attempt to push the United States out of a region that Moscow regards as historically part of its sphere of influence and in which China seeks a dominant role because of its extensive energy resources.
Writer and expert on the region Ahmed Rashid has talked of a "New Great Game" (a reference to "the Great Game" when the British and Tsarist Empires struggled for control of Central Asia during the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries) as world powers struggle to control the not inconsiderable natural resources (particularly oil) in the region. Noam Chomsky also suggested that the establishment of permanent US bases in the region was one of the most significant consequences of the US-led assault on Afghanistan both for this reason and because it helps surround the even more significant Persian energy system. In light of this it is clear that the SCO's statement could prove to be of considerable significance.

As if to prove the point, Uzbekistan's foreign ministry suggested on Thursday that it was reconsidering the future of the US airbase at Karshi-Khanabad. This had been used to support operations in northern Afghanistan during the US-led assault on the country in late-2001. The ministry stated that it was only intended for combat operations leading to the overthrow of the Taliban. "Any other prospects for a US military presence in Uzbekistan were not considered by the Uzbek side," they insisted.

Uzbekistan also claimed that the US had not paid takeoff and landing fees for all flights to and from the base, nor had it adequately compensated Uzbek authorities for additional costs which they incurred for guarding the base and providing new infrastructure. "In the view of the foreign ministry of Uzbekistan, these considerations should be central to examining the prospects of the future presence of the US military force at the Khanabad air base," they concluded.

Where this goes next remains to be seen. I think it is unlikely that Uzbekistan will go so far as to kick out the US. It also seems unlikely that the US will abandon its bases in so strategically significant a region without a fight. Perhaps we will see a redeployment of US forces to bases in Afghanistan with its more compliant government, although the ongoing violence led by guerilla groups which seems to be becoming more effective may make this difficult.

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