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Washington’s interest in Central Asia growing again

Henry Ensher (center). Photo: abctv.kz

On February 5, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia and Afghanistan Affairs Henry Ensher started his trip to Kyrgyzstan. This will complete his regional visit to the countries of Central Asia.

According to the press office of the US Embassy in Bishkek, Henry Ensher intends to discuss a wide range of issues with the leaders of the Kyrgyz state, members of the parliament, and opinion leaders. In addition, he is planning to meet with participants in US government exchange programs. "The purpose of the visit is to learn more about the tasks the Kyrgyz government is facing and discuss issues of common interest," the representative of the diplomatic mission said, refraining from more specifically mentioning Ensher’s tasks and even participants in his meetings. It can be assumed that the topics he is going to cover in Bishkek will be similar to those he raised in Dushanbe on the eve. Especially given that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, for all their differences, are the "weakest links" in the Central Asian region.

However, the topics of Henry Ensher's talks in Tajikistan are not open either. The Tajik side confined itself to stating the very fact of the arrival of the American official, but no more. Against this background, the message of the US embassy in Dushanbe looks like a lengthy report; however, it also does not give a clear idea either.

In its statement, the US embassy said that during a two-day visit, Henry Ensher held a series of talks with representatives of the Government of Tajikistan, during which both international and bilateral issues were considered. In these meetings, the Tajik side included the heads of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and ministers of defense and economy. A meeting was also held with representatives of non-governmental organizations of that country. The embassy's message says that special attention was paid to the expansion of cooperation between the US and Tajikistan, and 26 years of cooperation and partnership contributes to improving the living standards in Tajikistan. Since 1992, the United States has provided over $1.8 billion in programs and humanitarian aid that support Tajikistan’s agriculture, energy and business development, health and education, and democratic institutions, as well as supporting security and stability in Central Asia.

However, in fact, not everything can be as simple as presented in the report of the US embassy, according to senior researcher at the Center for Central Asian and Afghan Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Candidate of Sciences (History) Leonid Gusev.

"Speaking about the visit of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan and Central Asia Henry Ensher to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it should be noted that he had worked for a long time as a senior civil representative at the military airdrome Kandahar-South in Afghanistan, Director of the Department of State Affairs of Afghanistan USA, Director for Political Affairs of Iraq in the Middle East Bureau of the US Department of State. Given his experience and expertise, we can conclude that the talks touched upon the problems of regional security, the issues of combating terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking," Leonid Gusev told EADaily.

According to Gusev, it is also worth remembering that an American military base used to be located in Kyrgyzstan, in Manas, and it can be assumed that in Bishkek Henry Ensher can raise the issue of revamping this base in one or another form and in general will try to probe the position of the new President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov on topical issues of regional security.

"It should be noted that this January, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells declared that the US hopes to develop a dialogue with Kyrgyzstan and the new president of this country, stressing that "the future depends on the future development of Kyrgyzstan region as a whole.” After all, the relations between Bishkek and Washington became strained in the middle of 2015, after the US State Department presented an award for the protection of human rights to Azimzhan Askarov, a man sentenced for life for participation in mass riots in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. In response, Bishkek broke the bilateral cooperation agreement signed in 1993, and it was not until October 2015, during the visit of the then US Secretary of State John Kerry to Kyrgyzstan, that the plan was announced to prepare a new cooperation agreement. That is, the US is trying to "reset" relations with both Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the region," Leonid Gusev said.

In his opinion, the recent meeting in Dushanbe of the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Emomali Rahmon can also be regarded as a reconciliation of positions before the visit of the representative of the US administration. "And the fact that the United States recently began to pay considerable attention to the region is confirmed by the visit of Alice Wells to Tashkent in early February," Leonid Gusev said.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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