Kyrgyzstan Sees Instability at End of Afghan Mission

By Rick Gladstone

The departing president of Kyrgyzstan, the small but strategically important Central Asian country that houses a vital American air base for supplying the NATO war effort in neighboring Afghanistan, expressed deep concern on Wednesday about the potential for a contagious economic collapse in Afghanistan when foreign military forces withdraw.

The president, Roza Otunbayeva, whose term expires in a week, said she feared that Afghanistan had grown so accustomed to protracted deprivation and war that it was unprepared for adjusting to life without the enormous foreign military presence, which has also become an important economic underpinning in Afghanistan. The American-led NATO forces, which have been battling a Taliban insurgency for more than 10 years, are scheduled to depart in 2014.

Without the development of businesses in Afghanistan besides its illicit but lucrative opium trade, Ms. Otunbayeva said, the economic impact of the NATO pullout could destabilize Afghanistan and its neighbors by unleashing a flood of unemployed Afghan refugees, armed extremists and crime.

“I think the region is in dismay over what will happen, how to cope with all these problems,” she said in an interview at The New York Times. If the NATO strategy to defeat the Taliban consisted of “only military operations, and withdrawal in 2014, of course it will be worse,” the president said.
> Map of Kyrgyzstan
Ms. Otunbayeva said that Kyrgyzstan had been helping to train Afghan civilians in customs protocols and microfinance — efforts that have been appreciated by the United States — and that other countries should be doing “everything possible to integrate Afghans into a normal life.”

Her concern echoed a World Bank report, released on Tuesday, that warned that Afghanistan could suffer a devastating recession in 2014 and beyond because of the impending vacuum created by the military withdrawal and dwindling aid. More than 90 percent of Afghanistan’s annual budget comes from foreign donors.

Ms. Otunbayeva, 61, has held a number of political posts in Kyrgyzstan, one of the poorest, most isolated and politically volatile of the former Soviet republics, which nonetheless has enormous strategic importance to Russia and the United States. She has led an interim government there since an uprising that forced out a predecessor, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, in 2010, and has won compliments for overseeing changes that have led to a stable parliamentary democracy.

Almazbek Atambayev, the interim prime minister, is Kyrgyzstan’s first elected leader since the country gained its independence two decades ago. He was elected in a vote that international monitors considered clean and fair.

Mr. Atambayev said after his election last month that he would seek to close the American-run base that ferries supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan when its lease expires in 2014, partly because he feared it could become a security risk. The base, officially known as a transit center, is at the Manas airport near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

Ms. Otunbayeva had a more flexible view of the base, suggesting in the interview that it was premature to say what would happen until much closer to the lease expiration date. She also said the base could be put to other uses. “We could turn this transit center into a civil transit center in the future,” she said. “I think it’s one of the options, how to use this infrastructure.”
The NY Times