What to make of the OSCE police force in Kyrgyzstan?
Over the weekend, a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Almaty agreed to send a small multinational police "advisory group" to southern Kyrgyzstan to help maintain the fragile peace there:
The agreement said the group would comprise 52 police officers with the possibility to send an additional 50 officers at a later stage. The group would be in Kyrgyzstan for four months, with a possibility to extend as needed and agreed.
"The tasks of this mission is first of all advising the Kyrgyz police. The Police Advisory Group will have contact with all parts of the population in southern Kyrgyzstan," [Director of the OSCE Secretariat's Conflict Prevention Centre Herbert] Salber said. "They will be assisting and also monitoring the Kyrgyz police. They will accompany them in their work with the communities there with the objective of strengthening the confidence in this area, in particular between the police and the population."
That's obviously not very many officers, and Kyrgyzstan president Roza Otunbayeva says they won't be armed. Another OSCE official told Al Jazeera that the OSCE police are "not peacekeepers, in the UN sense. They are people who will be embedded with the Kyrgyz police to try to assist them and to encourage them to do the right things."
But that sort of force seems about right. The police and military in Kyrgyzstan probably could have stopped a good deal of the violence, but instead probably exacerbated, and possibly instigated, the violence. Having those monitors makes a repeat of that less likely (though not impossible, as the recent 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre reminds us). Kyrgyzstan doesn't want to be an international pariah, and will be sensitive to any accusations by the OSCE, and so even a small, unarmed force can be effective in that case. But of course, we'll see.
The geopolitical ramifications of this also could be big. Remember, when the violence started and Otunbayeva asked for Russian assistance, lots of observers (The Bug Pit included) couldn't imagine any other scenario than that Russia would say yes and begin a permanent Russian military presence in southern Kyygyzstan. Russia, for whatever reason, declined, and now a Europe-dominated organization is stepping in.
Finally: does this represent a victory for Kazakhstan's much-maligned OSCE chairmanship? The Asia Times's M K Bhadrakumar suggests that while it may seem that way, it is in fact not. He says the OSCE police force was actually a proposal by Uzbekistan, which was then picked up by western members of the organization:
[I]t is unclear how far and how diligently Kazakhstan played a lead role in this OSCE decision. In all probability it buckled under Western pressure.
There has been virulent criticism by Western spokesmen in recent weeks that Kazakhstan was lackadaisical in mobilizing an effective OSCE response to the Kyrgyz crisis and was in fact arguing against any international intervention.
Western critics targeted Nazarbayev personally for failure to lead the OSCE. They alleged that "Kazakhstan has acted more like Russia's ally in regard to Kyrgyzstan than as the chairman of the OSCE". The pressure tactic finally worked.
United States diplomacy also seems to have pitted Uzbekistan against Kazakhstan - two regional rivals vying for leadership - by cozying up to Tashkent and portraying the Uzbek leadership as very cooperative and mature in its response to the Kyrgyz crisis in comparison with Nazarbayev and, therefore, more worthy of its self-styled credentials as the region's key country.
I can't judge that analysis independently, but it's anyway food for thought, and worth considering when Kazakhstan inevitably loudly trumpets this for years to come as an example of its world-class statesmanship.
Still: let's hope it works for the unfortunate people of southern Kyrgyzstan.