Afghan president's appeal can prevent Manas' closure: Chatham house expert

Azerbaijan, Baku, June 10 / Trend , V. Zhavoronkova/ Afghan President Hamid Karzai's possible appeal to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev not to close Manas airbase can be very good pretext for Bishkek to avoid keeping promises to Moscow, European expert on Central Asia Yuri Federov said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in connection with the complication of the situation in his country, asked the head of Kyrgyzstan's Bakiev not to close the NATO base in Manas, which is used by alliance forces to fight Taliban in Afghanistan, Central Asian news portals reported. This request came after a few months after the decision to withdraw antiterrorist coalition forces from Kyrgyz Republic was approved by parliament and president.

The base is substantial and for a number of settings is an indispensable complement to the main channel of supply of international coalition troops operating in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom.

It was used by NATO forces since the 11 September attacks in the United States. About 500 tons of cargo runs through Manas each month, including for military purposes, as well as up to 15,000 troops for Afghanistan and returning from there. Every year aircraft-tankers based there make about 11,000 refueling for aircrafts operating in Afghanistan.

Federov said Kyrgyz leadership decided to close Manas at Moscow's suggestion.  

"In the winter of this year, Bakiyev has been in a difficult situation, and if he had rejected Moscow's demands to close the Manas, Russia would not have issued loan which is necessary in terms of the international economic crisis and upcoming elections," said Trend via e-mail researcher of the London Royal Institute for the Study of International Affairs Chatham House Fedorov.

Presidential elections in the country in which President Bakiyev will be also nominated, will be held in July. The president does not enjoy much support by the voters.

The opposition, which periodically rallies against the president, joined in a single movement and nominated as a single candidate.

In case of Bakiyev's refusal to close the base, according to experts, Moscow is likely to support a candidate opposing Bakiev.

"Therefore, before the election he has his hands tied and there is no need to expect any change in Kyrgyzstan's position regarding Manas," Fedorov said.

Anti-terrorist coalition troops are expected to leave the base completely in August.
However, according to experts, post-election situation may change, and Bakiyev may use Karzai's proposal as a pretext for the base presence in the country.

Fedorov believes that the actions of Russia in relation to the Manas airbase are directly contrary to the interests of Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

The success of the Taliban, in his opinion, could lead to a series of armed incursions by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants in the Fergana Valley with difficult predictable consequences.

"The success of Taliban in Afghanistan may turn out to be dangerous for Russia, which is not too far from the center of the conflict, than for the United States or Europe," Fedorov said. "For example, Taliban's links with the North Caucasian Islamists are well known."

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