extension for supply point used by international forces in war on Taleban.  By 
Urmatbek Tashmatov in Bishkek

TAJIKS STRUGGLE TO COPE WITH FLOOD DAMAGE  Government lacks resources to handle 
multiple disasters.  By Nafisa Pisaredjeva in Dushanbe and Sayrahmon Nazriev in 

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Afghan leader pleads for extension for supply point used by international 
forces in war on Taleban.

By Urmatbek Tashmatov in Bishkek

Following Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close the United States airbase near the 
capital Bishkek earlier this year, there are signs a deal is emerging which 
would allow the Americans to remain there.

On June 4, Afghan president Hamid Karzai wrote to his Kyrgyz counterpart 
Kurmanbek Bakiev asking him to keep the base at Manas airport open as it was 
vital to the success of military operations against the Taleban.

Karzai’s letter is seen by analysts as part of Washington’s efforts to maintain 
the airbase in Kyrgyzstan.

Maxim Kaganer, deputy head of Kyrgyz president’s secretariat, confirmed the 
existence of the letter, in which he said Karzai voiced concern about the 
situation in Afghanistan and noted that “it could turn into a problem for the 
whole of Asia”.

On June 11, Kyrgyz officials said US President Barack Obama had written to 
Bakiev calling for increased bilateral cooperation, although apparently without 
referring specifically to the fate of the Manas base.

The US-led Coalition in Afghanistan acquired the lease of the base in 2001 to 
provide logistical support for its military operations. The base provides air 
refuelling and other services for operations in Afghanistan, and is used a 
stopping-off point for freight and personnel transporters. 

The Americans plan to double their troop presence in Afghanistan to 60,000 this 
year, increasing the argument in favour of having air supply routes from the 
north, especially as roads into Afghanistan from Pakistan are under increasing 
pressure from Taleban attacks. 

In February, the Kyrgyz parliament voted to close the base, arguing that the 
need for it had fallen away, more than seven years after the Coalition moved 
into Afghanistan. 

Parliament’s decision followed President Bakiev's announcement that the base 
was to close, made on a visit to Moscow during which he secured pledges of 
loans and investment worth two billion dollars. Some analysts argued that 
Bakiev traded the US base for Russian financial and political support. (See 
Kyrgyzstan: How Imminent is US Base Closure?, RCA No. 565, 5-Feb-09.) 

In principle, American forces should vacate the Manas facility within 180 days 
of the vote, in other words by August 18. 

Analysts believe that despite what appeared to be an irreversible eviction 
order, the US presence is turning out to be negotiable after all. 

What is not entirely clear is whether, as some analysts suspect, regional 
powerbroker Russia is also part of the Kyrgyz-US negotiating process. 

The first clear signal that Kyrgyzstan was open to negotiation came on March 4, 
when president Bakiev told the BBC that “the door was not closed”, and his 
administration would listen any proposal made by Washington. 

In an immediate reaction to the Kyrgyz parliament’s decision, US defence 
secretary Robert Gates told NATO defence ministers on February 19, “I continue 
to believe that this is not a closed issue and that there remains the potential 
at least to reopen this issue with the Kyrgyz and perhaps reach a new 

Analysts in Bishkek believe that as well as the letter from Karzai, the 
Americans have also engaged Abdullah Gul, president of NATO member Turkey, as a 
go-between in these delicate negotiations. 

Although the US airbase was not officially a topic during Gul’s trip to 
Kyrgyzstan in late May, he did say afterwards that the situation in Afghanistan 
had been discussed, and that “we have to do all we can to stabilise the 
situation in that country”.

“Given that the Turkish president had not visited Kyrgyzstan in a long time, it 
may be assumed that the US asked him to talk to his Kyrgyz counterpart,” 
analyst Mars Sariev told IWPR. 

Bakiev has suggested that “new terms” would apply to any future arrangements. 

Political analyst Marat Kazakpaev told the 24.kg news agency that he believed 
this meant that American armed forces would be still be withdrawn, but that 
Manas could still be used as a stopping-off point for non-military humanitarian 
freight going to Afghanistan. 

Another issue up for renegotiation would be money. Until now, the Washington 
has reportedly been paying 17.4 million US dollars in rent as part of a 150 
million dollar annual package of aid and fees. 

A third factor prompting the re-opening of talks on Manas could be the 
deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. 

“Russian experts and also our own president previously stated that military 
operation in Afghanistan were drawing to a close, and that there was no need 
for the military airbase,” said security affairs analyst Orozbek Moldaliev. “As 
you can see, they were profoundly wrong. It’s now evident that it will take a 
long time to restore peace to Afghanistan.” 

Bishkek-based political analyst Mars Sariev says the Manas base is really the 
only feasible option for air transport at the moment, despite a recent deal 
under which South Korea will lease an airport at Navoi in Uzbekistan, and use 
it to provide transit services for NATO planes carrying non-military freight to 
Afghanistan. (See Uzbekistan Opens Airbase to NATO Freight, News Briefing 
Central Asia 15-May-09.) 

“This base is of crucial importance to the Americans. Manas is the only airport 
in the region that can service heavy cargo planes,” said Sariev. “The Americans 
are trying to set up a base in the Uzbek city of Navoi, but it will take two or 
three years to upgrade it.” 

For some analysts, the Karzai letter is less a last-ditch attempt to get Bakiev 
to change his mind, than a sign that secret talks are nearing their conclusion. 

According to this view, the Afghan leader’s plea for support would help Kyrgyz 
leaders explain their volte face to the public. 

“The decision has been taken,” said Paul Quinn-Judge, Central Asia Project 
Director at the International Crisis Group, a leading think-tank. “The Kyrgyz 
authorities faced the task of justifying it. Karzai’s letter, as part of this 
strategy, has put an end to it.” 

Mars Sariev agreed that the letter indicated that a consensus had been reached 
by all sides, adding that “these sides are the US, Russia and Kyrgyzstan”. 

“If the question of the Manas base remaining had been unclear, it’s unlikely 
anyone would have found out about Karzai’s message. The Kyrgyz government would 
have responded quietly via diplomatic channels,” he said. 

Analysts believe a final decision on the future of the American base will be 
announced following a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation - a 
regional security block including Russia, China and four Central Asian states – 
which is due to take place on June 16 in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. 

Urmatbek Tashmatov is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bishkek. 


Government lacks resources to handle multiple disasters.

By Nafisa Pisaredjeva in Dushanbe and Sayrahmon Nazriev in Qurghonteppa

The devastation left by floods, mudslides and landslides that hit Tajikistan 
this spring has underscored the inability of the country’s disaster response 
services to cope with large-scale emergencies.

The Tajik authorities say at least 20 people died, half of them children, while 
some 200 homes were completely destroyed and many more were badly damaged by 
rushing water, mud and debris following torrential rain. 

Roads, bridges and power lines were swept away, thousands of farm animals 
drowned, and hospitals, schools and electricity substations also suffered 

Large areas of farmland only recently sown with crops – including cotton, a key 
export commodity for Tajikistan – were swamped and will have to be replanted. 

Various parts of the country were affected, with the worst disruption in Panj 
district close to the southern border with Afghanistan and Khuroson in the 
southwest, the latter suffering two mudslides, one on April 21-22 and then 
another on May14. 

The second of these mudflows caused a reservoir located on higher ground to 
overflow, swamping four villages. 

Khurshed, a resident of the village of Uyali, said rain and hail were followed 
by a great rumbling sound. 

“When we went out, I saw a huge mudflow moving towards us,” he told IWPR. 
“People were coming out of their houses screaming.”

Within half an hour, the settlement was covered in a thick layer of mud. With 
the help of some neighbours, Khurshid used planks of wood to reach his wife who 
was stuck in mud up to her waist, and rescued her. 

“It’s impossible to recount what happened in words. Anyone who didn’t see it 
with their own eyes cannot imagine what it was like,” he said.

Around 1,900 people in Khuroson and Panj were displaced, and tent camps were 
set up to house them, two in the former district and one in the latter. 

Nuriddin Sharipov, a pensioner from Uyali now housed in one of the camps with 
his large family, said, “This year I finally managed to complete the house I 
started building in the Nineties. Now it’s gone, and all my efforts were for 

After the Tajik government appealed for assistance, the United Nations said on 
June 1 that 1.3 million US dollars was needed urgently to help some 15,000 
people, in particular to lay on water and sanitation for the 3,000 living in 

The total cost is estimated at 100 million dollars, around four times the 
damage caused by flooding and mudslides last year. 

“The situation is exacerbated by difficult access to some disaster areas,” 
Tajikistan’s representative at the UN Sirojiddin Aslov was reported as saying 
by UN Radio on May 19. “There is an acute shortage of building materials, metal 
structures, fuel and portable generators.”

Aslov said his government was doing what it could, but the scale of the damage 
made it impossible for Tajikistan to cope on its own.

A duty doctor at a camp in Khuroson, Bakhtior Karimov, said life there was 
particularly tough for women with newborn babies. 

“The damp has a bad effect on health, causing acute respiratory illnesses, and 
there are some cases of dysentery,” he added

While relief assistance is being channelled through the Rapid Emergency 
Assessment and Coordination Team, which brings government and UN agencies 
together with the Red Crescent and other bodies, it is Tajikistan’s Committee 
for Emergency Situations and Civil Defence that is in direct charge of disaster 
relief operations on the ground. 

Government agencies have come in for some criticism both for their response and 
for failing to make adequate preparations for what is an annual occurrence. 

The emergencies committee’s chief of staff for the southern Khatlon region, 
Abdusattor Khushvakhtov, acknowledges that it lacks the resources to deal with 
so many crises at the same time. 

“We don’t have cars, let alone bulldozers, to reach the places where these 
incidents happened, and we have no equipment to provide people with basic 
assistance,” he told IWPR.

A former employee of the committee who gave his first name as Ibodullo said it 
made little difference whether an administrative region had a relatively 
well-equipped emergencies committee department or not. 

“Even when there is equipment on hand, there isn’t much of it and even then it 
isn’t used for its proper purpose,” he said, adding that staffing was also a 
major problem – the pay was poor and local offices had to hire unqualified 
personnel to fill the gap. 

Dustmurod Zabirov, an official with the emergencies committee, is optimistic 
that things will get better as the government has plans to reform the agency by 
2012, with the creation of a unified system for preventing and responding to 
natural disasters.

Ibodullo was sceptical, saying, “The things envisaged in this [reform] 
programme will require substantial funding, which… the government does not 
have. I fear that this programme will exist only on paper.” 

As emergencies official Khushvakhtov pointed out, some of the areas affected by 
mudslides have long been identified as at risk. 

“Local people were warned of the dangers but they found it difficult to leave 
the places where they had settled and lived for a number of years,” he said. 

In one of the areas identified as unsound, Uyali, local residents counter that 
if irrigation canals and had been maintained properly, the flow of mud and 
water would have been contained and diverted.

“These collectors [auxiliary canals] used to be cleaned on annual basis and 
mudflows used to go past without destroying anything,” said a local resident 
who did not want to give his name. 

Nafisa Pisaredjeva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Dushanbe. Sayrahmon Nazriev 
is a correspondent for the Asia Plus news agency in Qurghonteppa.

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