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The lead story in today’s New York Times looks at the deteriorating human rights conditions in the Kyrgyz Republic:
”You know what this is for,” Emilbek Kaptagaev recalled being told by the police officers who snatched him off the street. No other words, just blows to the head, then all went black. Mr. Kaptagaev, an opponent of Kyrgyzstan’s president, who is a vital American ally in the war in nearby Afghanistan, was found later in a field with a concussion, broken ribs and a face swollen into a mosaic of bruises. Mr. Kaptagaev said that the beating last month was a warning to stop campaigning against the president, but that he would not. And so he received an anonymous call only a few days ago. “Have you forgotten?” the voice growled. “Want it to happen again?”
Mr. Kaptagaev’s story is not unusual in this poor former Soviet republic in the mountains of Central Asia. Many opposition politicians and independent journalists have been arrested, prosecuted, attacked and even killed over the last year as the Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has consolidated control in advance of elections on Thursday, which he is all but certain to win.
No one who knows President Bakiyev—and I have known him for sixteen years—is likely to find this surprising. In a recent description of challenges to his administration, he put the word “freedom” in first place. Is he concerned that the Kyrgyz have too much of it? Accounts like the one above suggest that he’s out to give “freedom” a good, sound thrashing. So how does the United States react? Since early 2002, the Kyrgyz Republic has had an important position in Washington’s view—it is home to Ganci Air Force Base. And maintaining that military installation has been the alpha and omega of U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. The collapse of the nation’s nascent democracy hardly seems to be given a second thought.
Today, the two leading opposition candidates for president withdrew, charging fraud–a perspective almost universally accepted by the Kyrgyz. According to one poll only 26% of Kyrgyz voters believe their elections will be “free and fair.”
When interviewed, of course, American diplomats intone pious platitudes like this:
Interviewed about the political situation, another State Department official, George A. Krol, said reports of violence “greatly disturb the department.” “The United States doesn’t shy away from raising these issues with the Kyrgyz authorities,” he said.
But the realities of the situation were laid bare by former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States Baktybek Abdrisaev in a February op-ed in the Washington Post:
Once the base was set up, I saw a fairly radical change in American attitudes. Before, Washington had consistently juggled a series of priorities–broadly speaking, they were security concerns, economic concerns, and advocacy of human rights and democracy. But once the base was established, it became clear that while other concerns might be voiced from time to time, only one thing really mattered: the air base. In the end, this shift served neither country’s interests.
He’s right about that. So far, the Clinton State Department has its Central Asia policy set on autopilot. It’s badly in need of a reassessment. And as it happens, the Central Asia policy of the Clinton presidency would furnish a solid reference point for a “restart.” Under President Clinton, Central Asia policy involved national security, energy, and human rights, and diplomats were encouraged to take a longer-term perspective on the region and its needs. They largely came to recognize that investment in the region’s human capital was more important than investment in its hydrocarbons and offered greater potential returns for the region and the United States. That would make a fine starting point for a new policy.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.
Amount traders on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange can be fined for fighting, per punch:
Philadelphian teenagers who want to lose weight also tend to drink too much soda, whereas Bostonian teenagers who drink too much soda are likelier to carry guns.
Nuremberg’s Neues Museum filed a criminal complaint against a 91-year-old woman who completed a crossword puzzle that was in fact a $116,000 piece of avant-garde Danish art.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”