A high-profile meeting between the Afghan and Kyrgyz presidents is paving the way for a public announcement that a contentious US air base near Bishkek will stay open, experts say.
Hamid Karzai and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, both reaffirmed their commitment to regional stability and acknowledged America's role in Afghanistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"The Afghan head of state stressed that the cooperation of Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan [with] the United States of America against terrorism and religious extremism in the region is effective and necessary," a statement released by Bakiyev's office on June 17 said.
"We look forward to further assistance from Kyrgyzstan in the transit of goods to Afghanistan," it also quotes Karzai as saying.
Paul Quinn-Judge, the Bishkek-based Central Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, says such meetings are necessary to prepare public opinion for what would essentially be a U-turn in government policy on the American presence at Manas air base outside Bishkek.
American forces are currently expected to vacate the facility by August 18. However, US officials have long indicated that they are striving to find a way to keep US troops in Kyrgyzstan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"It looks like the meeting was part of the process -- it's been underway now for a couple of weeks -- of preparing public and elite opinion here for an announcement that the base will remain open after all. This would suggest that whatever negotiations are going on between Kyrgyzstan and the United States are approaching their conclusion," Quinn-Judge told EurasiaNet.
"The chances are that the base will remain, albeit perhaps with some sort of new, faintly face-saving changes in status," he added. "Senior Kyrgyz [officials] have stressed since the start of the base wrangling that the paramount issue was money. Of course one can't rule out a last minute power play by the Kyrgyz to get some more cash, or some sort of pressure from Moscow. At this point, though, I would be surprised and intrigued if the base were closed and US troops left."