The international community faces an acute test of its political will in Kyrgyzstan.
This small Central Asian country with a population of 5.3 million people is now in a deep political, economic and social crisis. As the tragic events of last month have shown, relations between the majority Kyrgyz population and some of the country’s minorities have started to fracture in the south leaving the interim government struggling to regain control and maintain a functioning state.
Some people may ask: Why does the situation in Kyrgyzstan matter? For many of them it is probably, as Neville Chamberlain said famously of Czechoslovakia, a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing. In fact, Kyrgyzstan is one of the main conduits for opium and heroin smuggling from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe.
If lawlessness and loss of authority are allowed to take root in Kyrgyzstan there is a danger that the country may be subject to infiltration by extremist groups, including terrorists.
The consequences of a complete breakdown of Kyrgyzstan could be very serious for Central Asia and the region beyond. The prospect of further violence, refugee flows to neighboring countries and a complete loss of control throughout the nation should be sufficient to galvanize world leaders to address the problems.
Kazakhstan, which holds the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (O.S.C.E.), is a neighbor of Kyrgyzstan and the largest investor in the country. Kazakhstan feels a special responsibility to find a formula for deploying the resources of the international community to set Kyrgyzstan back on its feet.
In April, when the turbulence was at its height, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, together with President Dmitri A. Medvedev and President Barack Obama contributed decisively to averting a civil war in Kyrgyzstan.
As chairman in office of the O.S.C.E., I have begun urgent consultations with the leadership of the United Nations and the European Union as well as with heads of foreign offices of regional players, including Russia, United States, China and Turkey, to coordinate our joint efforts on stabilizing Kyrgyzstan.
Under Kazakhstan’s chairmanship, the O.S.C.E. deployed Zhanybek Karibzhanov as a special representative to Bishkek. Mr. Karibazhanov, deputy speaker of Kazakhstan’s lower house of Parliament and chairman of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz interparliamentary group, together with envoys from the U.N. and the E.U., played an influential role in facilitating dialogue and defusing tensions.
While I believe that our efforts contained the crisis in April, the violence that erupted in mid-June is a chilling reminder of the fragility of the country and the limits of what the international community is currently able to achieve in Kyrgyzstan.
Let us be clear: Kyrgyzstan’s root problems are social and economic, not political or ethnic. Since independence in 1991 successive governments in Bishkek have been unable to ensure adequate economic development in Kyrgyzstan leaving it with G.D.P. levels up to five times below that of its immediate neighbors. This has resulted in the sense of hopelessness and despair that is creating political divisions and driving the breakdown in relations between ethnic groups, most of which have a long history of living together peacefully.
That is why Kazakhstan has provided and continues to provide tangible humanitarian assistance to its close neighbor, sending fuel, seeds and foodstuffs. And that is why Mr. Nazarbayev has proposed to develop, together with Kyrgyzstan, an international plan of assistance for the country and a strategic program for its economic development.
Uzbekistan deserves great credit for opening its borders and offering sanctuary to tens of thousands of Uzbek refugees. Although most of them have now returned to Kyrgyzstan, the situation in the south of the country remains volatile and there are concerns that the splintering of Kyrgyzstan’s ruling class and society could lead to disturbances in the north as well.
The O.S.C.E. has invested significant resources since 2003 to reform Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement bodies and played a major role as a mediator in stabilizing the political crisis of 2005 when President Askar Akayev was forced out of office amid violent scenes in several parts of the country.
Kazakhstan has welcomed the success of the Kyrgyz referendum on June 27 as an important step toward returning a legal framework and peaceful development to the country. We urge all political forces in Kyrgyzstan to unite their efforts in reviving the economy and solving the most acute social problems. Kazakhstan stands ready to share its experience of economic and political reforms to help our brotherly nation.
It is vital now that the international community find the resolve to support the Kyrgyz government’s capacity to maintain public order and advance national reconciliation.
The O.S.C.E. is ready to make its contribution to accomplishing this mission. With this in mind, we seek the strengthening of the O.S.C.E. center in Bishkek and its operations throughout Kyrgyzstan.
To help Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan as chairman of the O.S.C.E. is working hard to employ the organization’s potential to the fullest extent possible. It is important that the political will of its 56 member states now be mobilized to offer Kyrgyzstan the assistance that it so urgently needs.
Kanat Saudabayev, the foreign minister of Kazakhstan and chairman in office of the O.S.C.E.