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sábado, 30 de outubro de 2010

De novo, o "grande jogo" na Asia Central - Der Spiegel

Apenas o primeiro e o último de uma série especial da revista semanal alemã Der Spiegel, sobre o novo "grande jogo" das grandes potências mundiais em torno das ex-satrapias soviéticas que ascenderam à independência na sequência do desaparecimento da União Soviética em condições de estabilidade política, de exploração de recursos naturais e de relacionamento com os vizinhos regionais e os grandes interesses internacionais em condições muito diversas, algumas preservando o antigo poder autocrático (ou até agravando seus traços mais deletério, outras tentando se inserir no novo contexto democrático). No site da Der Spiegel internacional podem ser lidos outros materiais sobre a região.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida
SPIEGEL Central Asia Special

The New Great Game

Der Spiegel, 10/08/2010

In a special series launched this week, SPIEGEL International will explore Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These countries, once the center of the "Great Game," a bitter struggle over natural resources and strategic bases between the British and Russian colonial powers, are seeing history repeat itself.
The Pamir, Hindu Kush and Tian Shan mountain ranges and the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers border a region in which two world religions, Islam and Christianity, collided, astronomy blossomed and eminent doctors taught. Central Asia is one of the eternal hot spots in world history, a place where Darius I and Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane left their marks. The British and Russian colonial powers followed suit when they embarked on the "Great Game," a bitter struggle over natural resources and strategic bases.

The Great Game was adjourned at the beginning of the 20th century. But after 1920 an even more brutal dictator, Josef Stalin, put his stamp on the region when he redrew the borders of Central Asia. Stalin created five Soviet republics, carving up traditional trading zones, and settled areas in the process. His goal was to weaken and sow discord among the region's Muslim ethnic groups and thus make them less of a threat to Moscow. The seeds of ethnic strife had been sown. They began to sprout when the vast Soviet realm was dissolved and its republics became independent nations, separated by unnatural borders. Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once referred to Central Asia, a hotbed of conflict and, in Brzezinski's view, one of the most strategically important parts of the world, as the "Eurasian Balkans."
Today the major powers' interests in the region range from military bases for waging the war against the Taliban to oil and gas pipelines and drug prevention. One of the most important heroin smuggling routes passes through a part of Central Asia controlled by Islamists.
For these reasons, the world is now witnessing a new version of the Great Game, this time involving both the former players, Russia and Great Britain, and new players, the United States, China and Iran. None of the countries within their field of vision is stable, eccentric dictators are in control almost everywhere, corruption is rampant and many nations are at odds with their neighbors. After several coups and ethnic unrest, Kyrgyzstan is leaderless. Kazakhstan, rich in natural resources, feels pressured by China. Islamists in Tajikistan have renewed their fight against the regime, and in Uzbekistan, a major cotton exporter, the opposition is brutally persecuted.
In a new series, SPIEGEL describes the worrisome situation in Central Asia, a region where American historian Kenneth Weisbrode fears "a massive storm could be brewing."

The first installment on Kyrgyzstan, where elections will be held on Saturday, posted this week. A dispatch from Kazahkstan will follow next week, along with reports on Tajikstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the coming days.

'A Completely Lawless Place': Kyrgyzstan Has Become an Ungovernable Country (10/08/2010)

'A Completely Lawless Place'

Kyrgyzstan Has Become an Ungovernable Country

By Erich Follath and Christian Neef in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

In the wake of ethnic violence in June that killed almost 2,000 people, Kyrgyzstan has been plagued by violence and lawlessness. Now the country is to become the first parliamentary republic in Central Asia. But is it ready for democracy?
Editor's note: This feature is the first of a series on Central Asia that will be running on SPIEGEL International in the coming weeks. You can read more about future installments in the series here.
The sun is high in the sky, directly above the Taht-I-Suleiman, a giant rock in the middle of the city where the Biblical King Solomon was once said to have preached. In fact, the sun is so unrelentingly bright that the snow-covered peaks of the Tian Shan have disappeared behind a curtain of flickering heat. Somewhere in the city a muezzin is calling the faithful to prayer.

On the surface, Osh seems almost idyllic. But that impression is misleading. On this morning, four girls were found dead in the cellar of a mosque in Osh, covered with debris. Their bodies, wrapped in carpets, had been completely burned and some had even been beheaded. They were Kyrgyz girls from Osh. Soon afterwards, 13 bodies, including that of a pediatrician, were brought to Osh from Andijan, a city in nearby Uzbekistan. The bodies, their hands bound and, like the four girls, horribly disfigured, had floated down the Ak-Bura River and across the border into Uzbekistan. The 13 dead were also Kyrgyz from Osh.
For the men and women gathered in the tent cities near the large white regional administration building, the case is clear. "The murderers were Uzbeks," says Gumira Alykulova, a 35-year-old Kyrgyz. Uzbeks, though an ethnic minority in Kyrgyzstan, form the majority in Osh. They own most of the city's markets, restaurants and much of the surrounding farmland and, as angry citizens believe, they are determined to drive the Kyrgyz out of the city.
A Wave of Pogroms
Since the bloody four days of violence in June, the small tent city has been one of the main sources of news in Osh -- from the Kyrgyz perspective, that is. Anyone wishing to hear the other side's version of the truth has to drive two kilometers farther down the road to an Uzbek neighborhood like Shark.
Shark looks like it has recently been carpet-bombed. The district was completely burned down, with nothing but blackened foundation walls remaining where many buildings, including the schools, once stood. The Uzbeks in Shark blame the Kyrgyz.
According to official figures, more than 370 people died in the pogroms, when the Kyrgyz went on a rampage against the Uzbeks and the Uzbeks against the Kyrgyz. But the true figure is probably upwards of 2,000. More than 75,000 people fled to Uzbekistan. The news coming out of the city shocked people around the world.
What happened in Osh? Why are no officials, including the mayor, the provincial administrator, the chief of police and the head of intelligence, willing to say how the killing began? Why are the newspapers avoiding the issue?
The silence that has descended on Osh after the so-called incidents has instilled fear in the residents of a city that was cosmopolitan for centuries, a peaceful trading center and a crossroads on the legendary Silk Road.
Osh is 3,000 years old, even older than Rome. Caravans from China once passed through the city, and even Alexander the Great is believed to have stopped at the Taht-I-Suleiman en route to India.
A Lawless City
But since June this city of 250,000 has been only a shadow of its former self. The four days of violence left behind a broad trail of destruction. Major thoroughfares like Kyrgyzstan Street are devastated, with all of the businesses on the right side of the street, as well as cafés, restaurants and a Muslim hospital, burned to the ground. The left side, where the Kyrgyz live, remained unharmed.
This is one version of the events: Uzbeks attacked a student dormitory at the University of Osh and raped female Kyrgyz students. This prompted the Kyrgyz to retaliate.
According to another version, the rapes never occurred and the riots were deliberately provoked.
Osh is now a lawless city. At night, men wearing camouflage uniforms without shoulder insignia rule the pitch-black streets, during hours of revenge and violence. Some 3,000 ethnic Uzbeks have reportedly been arrested, while others have been abducted or simply disappeared. All Uzbeks in government positions were let go.
What is happening in Osh is not some provincial drama. Osh has become a warning sign -- for an entire country and perhaps even an entire region.
The pogroms were a consequence of the most recent change of power in the capital Bishkek. After bloody protests in April, the corrupt president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was ousted and forced to flee the country. The government that replaced Bakiyev also no longer exists. Transitional President Rosa Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister and then a member of the opposition, rules the country with decrees. She intends to hold parliamentary elections on Oct. 10, but protestors have already returned to the streets in Bishkek, the police are back to using teargas, and opposition members are being arrested once again.
A Decline of Historic Proportions
Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous Muslim republic with a population of only 5.3 million, has become ungovernable. This would be a footnote in world history if this country, where the towns have names like Toru-Aigyr and Kurkurëu and the people are called Momun and Oroskul, were not at the center of a region that has alarmed the world's powerful.

The country's decline is one of historic proportions. In the early Middle Ages, the Kyrgyz were the largest power in Central Asia. But then came the invasions led by Genghis Khan, followed by the Chinese and, in 1876, the Russians. Stalin drew the borders of the later Soviet republic straight through areas settled by Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Kyrgyzstan is a poor country today. It exports gold and uranium, but the average monthly income is only €60 ($82). A country without leadership is an ideal haven for extremists and criminals. Fundamentalists fighting the government in neighboring Tajikistan are in the country, as are Uighur activists from China's troubled Xinjiang Province. Drug traffickers use Kyrgyzstan as an important transport route, which passes from Afghanistan straight through Osh. For the world's major powers, Kyrgyzstan is a dangerous weak link in the region.
But the foreign powers also need this small country. China hopes to use Kyrgyzstan to satisfy its demand for natural resources. Moscow needs the region as a buffer zone against the advances of fundamentalist Islam, and the United States uses it as the site of a resupply base for its war against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Chaos and anarchy in Kyrgyzstan are the last thing the Americans, Russians and Chinese need. Ironically, the Western press only recently referred to this country as "the Switzerland of Central Asia."

Appeasing the Uzbek Dictator

Who's Afraid of the Ruler of the Silk Road?

By Erich Follath and Christian Neef
Uzbekistan is both a nation of terror led by brutal dictator Islam Karimov and a partner of the West that is an important staging ground for NATO's war in Afghanistan. Its story is best told through the eyes of two men -- the flamboyant former British ambassador and the current top German diplomat in the country.
Some cities are tedium set in stone, joyless places where people don't live but merely survive.

And then there are the cities whose names alone are the stuff of legend. They are places of stunning geography, impressive history and breathtaking architecture. Three of these cities are Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, located on the legendary Silk Road in Uzbekistan in Central Asia, lined up like a string of pearls, each rising up from the shimmering heat of the surrounding deserts like mirages. These are magical places. Their turquoise domes, madrassas decorated with mosaics and ornate caravanserai roadside inns are not only evidence of the skill of those who built them, but also of the ambitions of the ethnic groups that proudly left their mark on the region in past centuries: Persians, Greeks, Mongols and Turks. In the 19th century, the British and the Russians competed over strategic bases and mineral resources in the region, in what was known as the "Great Game." After 1920, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin drew the arbitrary borders that would later outline the Central Asian nations. Today, the region's conflicts are crystallizing once again.
Uzbekistan is the most populous and probably most important of the new Central Asian countries that emerged from the former Soviet Union. Islam Karimov, the Communist Party's first secretary in Uzbekistan prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, easily transitioned into his new role as president, brutally eliminating all opposition and placing members of his family into positions of power. Today Karimov has his eye on billions in future business. Uzbekistan is the world's sixth-largest cotton producer and has massive reserves of natural gas as well as gold and uranium deposits. It is potentially a wealthy country.
A Supply Base for Afghan War
For the world's major powers, there is much more at stake. Military bases, for one thing. Uzbekistan borders on Afghanistan and serves as a supply base for the war against the Taliban. The Germans have their largest and most important supply base in the southern Uzbek city of Termez. They are also interested in building oil and gas pipelines from Uzbekistan that could help satisfy Western Europe's energy needs. Finally, drug prevention is an important issue for the major powers. Some of the world's most important heroin trafficking routes pass through the region and are controlled by Islamists, who threaten to deploy their fighters to commit acts of terror well beyond the borders of these countries.
This explains why we are now experiencing a revival of the Great Game. Only this time a few other powerful players have joined in: the United States, China, Iran, India and Germany.
Once again, they are competing for influence in the region. And, as in the past, foreign envoys play a central role. Just like in the old days, they have a presence on the ground and send reports back home.
A Briton from Norfolk, who is extroverted, narcissistic and combative, and a German from the town of Hüls in western Germany, who is introverted, reliable and accommodating, managed to land their dream jobs. They were named the ambassadors of their respective countries in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
But how should they handle an authoritarian country that is so important for the West? Should they flatter the dictator to wrest concessions from him? That would be in the interests of European politicians and military officials -- and perhaps also in the interests of the Uzbek civil rights activists behind bars, who wouldn't stand a chance without a gentle, behind-the-scenes slap on the wrist. Or should they confront the dictator with his misdeeds, sharply criticize his human rights violations and expose the regime, and thus risk a breakdown in relations and the loss of all influence? And how much scope do the ambassadors, who are largely expected to follow their governments' instructions, actually have to make their own decisions on such matters?
With their different approaches and diametrically opposed characters, the only thing these two men have in common is their sincere commitment to a difficult host country. British Ambassador Craig Murray, 51, and German Ambassador Wolfgang Neuen, 63, are ambassadors of a somewhat different stripe. This is their story.
An Upstart and an Outsider
It is the summer of 2002, and the new British envoy has only been in Tashkent for a few weeks. He finally has time to catch his breath, after surviving the obligatory appointment at Buckingham Palace. Craig Murray has every reason to be proud. Following diplomat posts in Poland, Russia and Africa, he is now the youngest ambassador working for the British government. He is only 43, and already he is an ambassador in an important, embattled country.

Nevertheless, Murray still feels like an outsider in the club of private school and Oxford and Cambridge graduates in Whitehall. He doesn't get their jokes and he despises their arrogant demeanor. Murray, on the other hand, is from a working-class family and attended Dundee University, not one of Britain's more prestigious higher education institutions. He believes that everyone in Britain's class-conscious society can immediately recognize him as an upstart and an outsider. Perhaps this is the source of Murray's rebellious streak and his pronounced sense of justice. Fighting is his life's motto. And so is not taking no for an answer. Uzbek's national holiday is an obligatory engagement for diplomats in the country. The protocol in Tashkent requires the ambassadors to arrive hours before the ceremony, forcing the diplomatic corps to endure the 40 degree Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit) heat without complaint. But not Murray. He issues a written statement informing the Uzbek government that in the future he will not arrive until shortly before the ceremony. The defiant letter gets him the recognition of his fellow diplomats, who would never have dared to take such a step. But it alienates the Karimov administration.
Unlike his predecessors and most of his fellow diplomats, who tend to focus on the capital, Murray insists on traveling around the country, to beautiful places like Samarkand, for example. But Murray also travels to places where there are no paved roads or acceptable hotels, such as a remote corner of the Fergana Valley, an area strongly influenced by fundamentalists, and to what is left of the polluted Aral Sea, where residents live under wretched conditions.

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