Eye on Central Asia

Blocked by Pakistan, U.S. Eyes Supply Routes in Central Asia

"Pakistan's decision to block overland supply lines for NATO troops in Afghanistan points to a growing problem for Washington,” says Asia Society’s new Bernard Schwartz Fellow Philip Shishkin. “The West's mammoth military and civilian effort in the land-locked Afghanistan has become heavily dependent on logistical convoys from Pakistan, which often disagrees with the way the Afghan war is conducted. For months now, the U.S. has been quietly expanding alternate supply routes running through Central Asia, an effort likely to gain momentum after Pakistan's recent step, taken in protest over a NATO air strike within its borders. That strategy has problems of its own: the main alternate supply route runs through Uzbekistan, a dictatorship that only five years ago evicted the Americans from a local military base after Washington complained too loudly about a violent government crackdown on protesters. But lately, U.S. relations with Uzbekistan have been improving, mostly because Washington once again needs Uzbekistan as a logistical base for the Afghan war.”

Kygyzstan at a Crossroads, Again

Ahead of parliamentary elections on Oct. 10, “the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan faces an uncertain future and a real risk of becoming a failed state. The overthrow of a corrupt regime in April -- the second coup d'etat in five years -- gave Kyrgyzstan another chance to start with a clean slate and build a better government. Instead, the hodgepodge of leaders who came to power in April oversaw a dangerous weakening and fracturing of the state that will take years if not decades to reverse. This summer, clashes in the ethnically mixed south of the country left hundreds dead. Despite the rousing rhetoric about democracy and human rights that accompanied its assent to power, the new government couldn't do much as its citizens started killing one another in a spasm of ethnic cleansing. Beyond the immediate human tragedy, the recent events point to the failings of Kyrgyzstan's democratic experiment. Alone in post-Soviet Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan managed to create a semblance of a civil society and political competition. But while the country has gotten good at removing bad regimes from office and dissecting their wrongdoings in full public view, Kyrgyzstan's political elites haven't matched this skill with the ability to govern. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, corruption and clannish politics have at times usurped the trappings of democracy here with disastrous results. If Kyrgyzstan fails again, it will be a setback not only for its citizens but for the entire Central Asia where dictatorship is the only other model of governance.”

Philip, who divides his time between New York and Washington DC, is Asia Society’s newest resident fellow and will focus on Central Asia. To arrange an interview, contact the Asia Society communications department at 212-327-9271 or pr@asiasociety.org.