by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 13, Rabi' al-Thani, 1418)
Uncle Sam’s globe-trotting habit is taking him to Central Asia this month; for military exercises. As if the region needed American ‘peacekeeping’ efforts, some 500 troops from the US 82nd airborne regiment will participate in what are dubbed as exercises in the spirit of ‘Partnership for Peace.’
Troops from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey and Denmark will join the Americans in military exercises to be held in Chernayevka (Kazakhstan) and Chirchik (Uzbekistan). Who are the troops supposed to protect the Muslim Republics from? Certainly not Russia, which is also participating in the exercises.
A clue to America’s latest adventure can be gleaned from the composition of its troops. In the eighties, units of the 82nd airborne participated with Egypt in what were dubbed ‘bright star’ exercises. Then the Americans needed to protect their Egyptian client from the wrath of the Islamic Movement. Are not American troops involved in a similar effort this time?
If the Muslim Republics are likely to face any challenge, it is from as yet dormant Islamic Movement. The Tajik government has had to make a hurried compromise when its forces could not longer stem the tide of victories piled up by the mujahideen. While Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan face no imminent challenge, it seems Uncle Sam is taking no chances.
The other likely target of the US military muscle-flexing is Iran which shares a long border with Turkmenstan and has established important commercial and cultural links with most of these Republics. But the US is also trying to contain Russian influence in the region.
In June, Moscow reacted angrily to news that an American AWACS plane equipped with sophisticated electronic eavesdropping equipment had arrived in Kazakhstan. The ostensible reason for this spy in the sky plane was that it would monitor radiation levels in areas where Russia used to conduct nuclear tests. That may very well be but the plane could also monitor Russian nuclear missile installations.
The Americans are taking the military exercises so seriously that US marine corps general, John J Sheehan, supreme allied commander of the Atlantic, personally visited Tashkent on July 3 to confer with Uzbek defence minister. Sheehan is a leading contender for the post of chairman joint chiefs of staff committee. He also discussed with Uzbek foreign minister Abdulaziz Komilov the setting up of a joint commission to oversee bilateral relations. Komilov had earlier agreed this with the US state department.
Since the warming of relations with Washington, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev has taken quite a belligerent attitude towards Moscow. After meeting US vice president Al Gore at the end of June, Nazarbiyev gave an unusually aggressive speech against Russia on television. ‘There are many ill-wishers. They have drawn up different programmes. If not to bring back the Soviet Union, then bring Kazakhstan back under Russia’s wing.’ He went on to warn his countrymen that they should be ready to ‘preserve their country’s independence and integrity.’
Nazarbiyev should be careful about putting too much trust in Uncle Sam. He is known to betray even long-standing friends. The greedy uncle only knows how to rob and plunder. Friendship or loyalty do not exist in his dictionary. Nazarbiyev has to live in the region with the neighbours. It is better not to muddy relations too much.
America, however, is on an expansionist binge. In November, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of the US president, is expected to visit Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as well as Russia and the Ukraine. The entire exercise is designed to charm the people of the region and to disarm them for the American onslaught.
Muslimedia - September 1-15, 1997