News / Asia

Next Kyrgyzstan Government Expected to Keep US Base

US military planes at Manas US military base, in Bishkek airport, Kyrgyzstan (File Photo)
US military planes at Manas US military base, in Bishkek airport, Kyrgyzstan (File Photo)
James Brooke

After Sunday's parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, five political parties now are deep in talks about forming a coalition government. During the campaign, several parties said the new government should close an American run base that supports NATO in Afghanistan. 

This year, almost all NATO soldiers bound for Afghanistan and about one third of the air fuel for the war have passed through Manas, a U.S.-run transit center near Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. Last month, some Kyrgyz politicians called for closing the base, saying it violates agreements with Russia or that it will draw attacks from Taliban supporters.

But now the election is over. Analysts here and in Moscow believe the transit center will continue largely unaffected by the political change here.

Andrei Grozin, Central Asia expert at the CIS Institute in Moscow, says the Russian government increasingly sees the utility of the American-led war effort in Afghanistan.

Grozin said that many Kremlin officials now believe that Americans are doing "pro-Russian work" by fighting to keep Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists away from Central Asia, historically a Russian area of influence. Russia now allows hundreds of overflights and thousands of railroad cars to pass through its territory, carrying cargo for the NATO war effort in Afghanistan.

Taking a cue from Russia, most leading Krygyz politicians are backing away from anti-base positions. Omurbek Babanov leads Respublika, a party seen as playing a kingmaker role in talks to forge a ruling coalition.

Responding to a question by VOA, he said he favored studying the base issue and consulting with Russia.

Shortly after he spoke, he met with Susan M. Elliot, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, who was visiting from Washington. Asked about Manas she told reporters here: "We are meeting with all the parties who will be involved with forming the government.  We haven't finished those meetings, but I know that we will be able to come to agreement about the continuation of the transit center."

In Washington her boss, Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, told VOA:

"We very much welcome that kind of conversation because we see that the Manas transit center is part of a wider shared objective that we have which is to help to stabilize Afghanistan so that militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan do not pose a threat either to their neighbors, like Kyrgyzstan, or to the United States," he said.

Last year, Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted to close the base. The United States retained the base by quadrupling its annual rent payment. Next spring, lease negotiations are to start again.

If Pakistan keeps closing the border and the Taliban keep attacking truck convoys, the Kyrgyz landlords have a strong bargaining hand. With southern supply routes in disarray, they hold a key piece to the northern supply route to Afghanistan.

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