08 April 2010

Psst! Democratic courage surges in Kyrgyzstan

KABUL, Afghanistan—I wish I had the admiration for my fellow Americans that I feel for the people of Kyrgyzstan who have toppled the authoritarian government of Pres. Kurmanbek Bakiev.

The alliance of opposition groups today claimed they have dissolved parliament and will operate a transitional government for six months, when national elections will be held. Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister and the transition leader, asked for patience and an end to two days of violence, which left at least 68 people dead and another 400 injured, according to The New York Times.

On Wednesday, Kyrgyz security forces fired upon and killed protesters in Bishkek, the capital. They were quickly over run by demonstrators who beat them, almost certainly killing some, stole their weapons, which including grenade launchers, and turned them on the retreating security personnel, according to published reports. Protestors also ransacked and looted the parliament, the “White House” executive building, and nearby businesses.

Since assuming power in the spring of 2005 in the “Tulip Revolution,” a coup d’état more accurately, Bakiev’s government has grown steadily more brutal and authoritarian. State security forces and criminal goons have jailed, beaten and harassed political opponents and are heavily implicated in the killing and beatings of journalists, human right activists and other dissidents.

Mountainous Kyrgyzstan was once considered the “island of democracy” within the five former Soviet republics, which include Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Each had independence dumped on it with the Soviet collapse, a far from typical route to nationhood. The Kyrgyz Republic has a longer history of diverse political parties than its neighbors, though few have a clear or consistent ideology. An exception is the Social Democrats, who are well represented in the transitional leadership.

Political power on ground in the Central Asia is often organized around historic clan and regional affiliations, some of which are little more than criminal syndicates. Governments are typically operated as a vehicle for the transfer of public wealth into the pockets of a select few, starting with families. Bakiev recently reorganized the state bureaucracy and created a centralized economic development authority, then turned the leadership over to one of his sons, Maksim, who was almost immediately suspected of funneling funds into his private accounts. Yet, despite the train of abuses, what appeared to put the activist public over the top this week was another round of utility increases, this time for bottled gas and mobile telephone access.

From Bishkek, Reuters India reported:
“Bakiev’s was a corrupt and criminal government, which plundered his own nation,” said Karybek, a 55-year-old man... “This is why the entire nation rose against him and took power into its hands, even without any help from the opposition. This was a real people's revolution.”

Bakiev apparently fled Bishkek by plane Wednesday, possibly to his native Jalalabad in southern Kyrgyzstan. Some reports indicate he could be organizing a counteroffensive, but the Kyrgyz military is widely politicized, some officers have vocally supported the opposition over the last five years, so it is uncertain whether Bakiev can count on their support.

Here in Kabul, there is mounting tension and stepped-up security approaching June, when U.S-. led western forces are scheduled to launch their very public offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s “commander of the faithful,” was born in Singesar, a village near Kandahar city. Earlier today, Afghan authorities told CNN that they apprehended five would-be suicide bombers affiliated with the Haqqani network just outside Kabul. The Haqqani network has been part of the Taliban coalition, though it recently engaged in a deadly firefight with another Taliban faction in northern Afghanistan.

The first phase of Pres. Obama’s Afghan “surge” began last month in Marjah district, and some its early gains are already being rolled back by the resistance, which trusts neither U.S. military or Afghan officials, particularly the corrupt national police. Civilian casualties have also surged despite the promise by Gen. Stanley McChrystal that they would fall. Earlier this week, NATO admitted that that U.S. Special Operations forces killed five civilians, including two pregnant women, on Feb. 12 in Khataba, Afghanistan, and then tried to cover-up the incident.

The U.S.-led military effort appears to have learned nothing about asymmetric warfare in the three decades since Vietnam. The American military efforts stubbornly insists on overwhelming and indiscriminate spectacles of technological and firepower superiority, unsupported by on-the-ground intelligence, which yields massive body counts, no assurance of victory, and new enemies whose hatred may burn for generations.

Back in Homeland Insecurity, there is too little resistance to the plundering of the commons by Wall Street, the wealthy, and the weapon makers, too little opposition by average Americans, like me, to the government we fund that kills in some twisted defense of “our” way of life. O history will renders us as guilty as the Germans who denied the Nazism in their midst. Systematic oppression stands on the backs of those who fail to resist, but there is, thankfully, some courage in Kyrgyzstan.

Photo: Defacing the presidential portrait, Bishkek

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