06 July, 2010

On the Precipice

pp 70-72, Geopolitics, Vol I, Issue IV, Aug 2010

Abstract: Will Kyrgyzstan see the light of the day after continuous turmoil since April this year? What would be India’s stand point in this regard? And is the Russian resurgence somewhere embedded in this string of events?

Finally, amidst the uncertainty of political and ethnic clashes, Kyrgyzstan appears to have survived. The referendum to decide on a new constitution was held on June 27. The results indicate an overwhelming success; both in terms of voter turn out as well as from the prospect of the first parliamentary democracy being erected in the arena of the ‘Great Game’.

The plebiscite, in which around 2.7 million citizens took part, was marred to a considerable degree because of the large quantum of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) as fallout of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek riots in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

Nonetheless, about 90 per cent of the voters vouched for a parliamentary democracy. They had had enough of Presidential autocracy. Rosa Otunbayeva was equanimity exemplified. She stays on till December this year as the Interim Head of State by when universal adult suffrage would have been held.

So far, so good. This small land-locked state in Central Asia has witnessed reasonable mayhem, terror and pogrom for the last three months. It was in a pendulous anarchical condition. Nevertheless, hopefully the opportune moment has come when the peoples of Kyrgyzstan are on the verge of being anointed for an enlightened democracy. Perhaps this ‘cataclysm’ was essential for their rejuvenation.

Neither was it the first time that the country has gone through such a state of ‘entropy’ nor is it the only state of Central Asia to have proclaimed any sort of ‘revolution’ post-1991. In fact, apart from the obvious geographical proximity, the Central Asian region may boast of a close connection with some momentous phases of History in erstwhile Soviet Russia.

It was 08 March 1917 when riots broke out in Petrograd. The ‘proles’ and the ‘have-nots’ clashed with Tsar’s infantrymen. In the process, 40 people were killed. But any ‘revolution’ can claim a resounding success and more so be embedded in the annals of History, if and only if the civilians and the army act in unison. And that’s what happened on that day in St Petersburg.

The rest was simply obvious. The Tsar had to abdicate the monarchy and the Russian Duma took over, bowing down before popular diktat.

Ninety three years later: a lower latitudinal plane, a different racial denomination but a part of former Soviet Union; the streets of Bishkek witnessed a grossly similar upheaval ---- a spontaneous peoples’ movement, not marred by any ‘political’ colour or ‘external’ flavour.

It might not be a very futile exercise to chart the reasons behind the upsurge which swept Bishkek and rest of the country in April this year but a meticulous student of International Relations prima facie may not diametrically differ with the apparently simplistic rationale that it was the primary demands of livelihood which were unmet by Bakiyev and his coterie, thus leading to the outburst.

The man on the street, the worker below the bridge, the peasant with the plough, the student lurking in the library and the intellectual pressing the keys of his laptop hugely differ in their demands for satiation and merrily find succour in completely contrasting items. However, when one finds people from the full spectrum of the populace sum up their demands and zero in on the Presidential palace to engineer emancipation; then one needs to be absolutely sure that the State, instead of adhering to the conditions of the Social Contract has bungled to the extreme. When Hobbes’ State of Nature becomes a viable formula of redemption for the commoner, then the scrupulousness of the State is genuinely under the scanner.

But then when was there a ‘State’ in Kyrgyzstan since 1991? Or for that matter, is there a ‘State’ in the Central Asian ‘stans’? A framework might have existed or still exist, but democracy even up to the standards of the ‘mafia-politician-bureaucrat nexus ridden India’ is lacking in the former Soviet colonies since their political freedom from USSR.

Arguments can be posited forthright: the Central Asian ‘stans’ are novice compared to India, at least in terms of age. After all how can one compare a six-decade old ‘democratic haggard’ with a two decade old ‘parliamentary youth’? Moreover, did the Kyrgyz people derive their notion on democracy from the ‘White men’ who were glorified by the Glorious Revolution? Rather, they had in fact translated the dictates of Constitutionalism from the ‘Slavs’ that were baptized by the Marxian dogmas of financial distribution and were bathed in the culture of popular revolts.

Stalinism: the skewed and warped form of Marxism-Leninism was a unique feature of Bolshevik Russia. Furthermore, post-1917 Russia (read Soviet Union) put in humungous efforts to diffuse the ideological dictum of Stalin’s perception of ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ into the neighbouring satellite states of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia.

Hence, when USSR collapsed under financial and political turmoil, the aforementioned ‘culture’ was to an extent rooted in the psychology of the political masters of the ‘stans’. Thus a series of ‘dictators’, in the garb of democratically elected leaders usurped office in the Central Asian Republics (CAR). Constitutions were also fabricated, may be at the behest of the West. Nevertheless, the Strategos continued ‘ruling’ with an iron hand, masked themselves behind a constitutional façade and squeezed the masses with the aid of an ‘apparatchiki’.

Nepotism, corruption, inflation and unemployment surged. And the boiling point was reached in two republics: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The former was a witness to a civil war from 1992 – 1997 with a somewhat useless result by planting into office the ‘never-ending regime’ of Emomali Rakhmon.

On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan has shown a better ‘political maturity’ vis-à-vis the other ‘stans’. In 2005, it evinced a clamour with the Colour Revolution by virtue of which Bakiyev claimed office. And once again in 2010, after the malfeasance exhibited in the 2009 elections, the Kyrgyz masses hemmed in Bakiyev from all sides, forced him to flee to Belarus; thus avoiding further bloodbath by inciting a civil war, which nonetheless was not completely averted with reports of bloodbath and fisticuffs from the southern part: Bakiyev’s stronghold.

If democracy means that fifty per cent of the adult franchise (some reluctantly in case of India), go to the polling booths to cast their ballot, then both India and Kyrgyzstan are perfect democracies. In fact, Kyrgyzstan would stand notches ahead, at least at the present juncture.

But if democracy means ‘rule of law’, then Kyrgyzstan had strongly deviated from the definition of ideal democracy. If democracy connotes the servile acceptance of the ‘rule from above’ of those people who might not have mustered ‘authority’ by legitimate means, then India can be cited as an obedient case whereas Kyrgyzstan would flounder to be bracketed in that league.

Abjuring tautology, the germane question is that what holds in the future for Kyrgyzstan? And how does this peoples’ movement affect the other ‘stans’, if at all it does.

Though the nation-state of Kyrgyzstan is at the cross-roads but to project its future might not have been an overt challenge to the French apothecary Nostradamus. The interim government led by Rosa Otunbayeva is slowly tightening its grips over the southern territory. However, a couple of issues would bother them in the recent future.

First, the loyalty of the armed forces needs to be sorted out. Though Bakiyev has found refuge at Minsk, but his loyal followers are still trying to wreak havoc both in the civilian as well as non-civilian sectors. Secondly, the country warrants a ‘proper democratic election’ scheduled to take place at October this year and an amended constitution which would proffer equity and justice through better distribution of powers.

The June 27 referendum has thus been a shot in the arm for the Interim government.

One thing might be guaranteed without hedging. Total anarchy in Kyrgyzstan would be avoided, if not by the interim government; then at least by either of the external stake-holders: USA or Russia. After all, the geographical location of the nation-state and presence of the military bases of both the cold war protagonists shall not allow them to de-focus from this ‘stan’.

Bypassing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Otunbayeva’s government went overboard to invite Russia to send in its forces during the ethnic clashes. However, Putin had enough political acumen to not accept the offer publicly. One just could not help guessing that Otunbayeva’s request had a ‘in the black box’ Russian command. It served a two-fold purpose for Russia. One, to Washington, it was an insignia of the Russian resurgence. And another was a clear signal for the other ‘stans’ as regard to the Russian muscle.

The ongoing Global War on Terror in the Af-Pak region and the consequent suppression of the Al Qaeda-Taliban might as well provide fresh breeding grounds for the terrorist groups in Kyrgyzstan. The old adage goes: “Dissatisfaction foments disruption”. And it is dissatisfaction that is merrily needed by Osama’s men. Then only the secular social-fabric strewn across the Soviet-era ‘stans’ can be outrightly lambasted. This time round the Islamist groups like the Hizb-ut-Tehrir or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan may not spurn the opportunity.

One more thing can be assured. The ‘wise heads’ of South Block in New Delhi would wait for the total pacification of the state of affairs in the land. In fact, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) remained totally tight lipped regarding the present run of events in that country. Indian foreign policy had always been wary to take a pro-active stance and that culture is still persisting. At least it could have offered a solution to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek riots in the form of sending a ‘peace-keeping’ force under the auspices of the United Nations.

New Delhi needs to realize that the CAR holds significance on many counts. It is not only geo-economics or the Pakistan factor that should fuel India’s strategic interest in the region but China’s rapid incursions into CAR has to be a worrisome factor.

Presently, by all estimates, India may opt for any or all of the following:

1. Offer a team of ‘expert constitutionalists’ who would visit Bishkek to ‘aid and advise’ the Kyrgyz people to draft a ‘better’ constitution, in the lines of the Government of India Act 1935.
2. Offer to send a team of ‘expert supervisors’ to oversee the process of electioneering.
3. Would appeal to the ‘conscience’ of all ‘peace-loving’ people of Kyrgyzstan to abjure violence and look for an ‘all-encompassing’ solution which suits the best interests of all the sections of the populace, cutting across ethnic domains, religious denominations and gender groups.

Nonetheless, the Indian government has at least performed a decent job of evacuating the 105 students from the southern parts of the perturbed land. The MEA seems to be really busy with students, be it Malaysia or Australia or now Kyrgyzstan.

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