A week after it commenced the silk route journey in Astana, the Kazakh Capital, the India-Central Asia Foundation-led Car Rally crossed from the Kazakh steppe into the less-intimidating landscape of the neighbouring Kyrgyz Republic on September 27, 2013. The rallyists boarded a new set of vehicles after the border crossing and drove into Bishkek, the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic with its leafy neighbourhoods, and lush gardens.
The Kyrgyz Republic is an island of relative peace and stability in a region driven by social dissensions and religious turmoil, but that is only in the northern part of the country. In the south lies the fertile Ferghana Valley that straddles Uzbekistan also. Here, the Soviet influence that fostered secularism and scientific temperament is fast unravelling thanks to winds from across the border. Spilling over from the three neighbours, namely, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, the southern part of the Kyrgyz Republic is buffeted by religious and social unrest, fuelled by rising unemployment and iniquitous income distribution. But there is little evidence of it in the capital where Mercedez and Skodas vie for road space and malls stock the best European brands.
At a round table organised in Bishkek to interact with the ICAF delegates, some major think tanks were present including Diplomatic Academy of Kyrgyz Republic, an agency of its foreign ministry.
Irena Oralbayeva, former Kyrgyz Ambassador to India informs us that while there were just fifty madrassas in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2002, now there are over 2000. That Islam is staging a coming back is also evident from the number of hijabs one spots on the streets of Kyrgyz Republic, in contrast to neighbouring Kazakhstan.
While Kyrgyz Republic does not share a border with Afghanistan, it does have a border with Tajikistan that has its own brand of Taliban. Hizb-ul-Tehrir, the Central Asian counterpart of militant outfits in South Asia is a destabilising influence in the region. That explains why the Kyrgyz would rather have a Karzai government continue in Afghanistan since he is able to stanch the seepage of militancy across his border. Apart from Afghanistan and Hizb-ul-Tehrir, the Kyrgyz also have to reckon with a thousand kilometre border with Xinjiang region of China with its attendant problems of Uighur infiltration.
Kyrgyz Republic is perhaps the least resource-rich in the region. The Kyrgyz have a huge gold mine at Kumtol, being mined by a Canadian company and have abundant water resources, next only to neighbouring Tajikistan. Located downstream of the two major river systems of the region, namely, Amu Darya and Syr Darya and their many tributaries, the landscape is relatively greener and conducive to cultivation.
Yet, the Kyrgyz are worried since Tajikistan, the upper riverine country is planning to build dams and power projects. In fact, Tajikistan’s Cassa 1000 hydel project has signed a deal to export electricity to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The lines will have to transit Kyrgyz territory. Kyrgyz government is in talks with both Afghanistan and Pakistan to export electricity from its own hydel projects as well. N. Aitmurzaev, Rector of the Diplomatic Academy assures that as and when the Kyrgyz hydel stations and transmission lines get built, the supply will not stop at Pakistan, but will extend beyond to India as well. Jayant Khobragade, India’s Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic hosted a dinner in honour of the delegation. Mr. Khobragade is full of ideas to strengthen Indo-Kyrgyz relations through the extension of soft power represented by Bollywood. He is also exploring the possibility of Indian investors setting up hydel projects in the Kyrgyz Republic as has been done in Bhutan.