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Central Asia’s Perfect Storm

FLORENCE – Dean Acheson, US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, liked to quote a friend who said that being in government made him scared, but that being out of it made him worried. To those of us not privy to the hidden complexities of NATO’s military intervention in Afghanistan, the situation there – and across Central Asia -- is extremely worrisome.

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai is said by his critics to be on the verge of casting his lot with Pakistan and the Taliban, the Pentagon has signaled its fear that the war may spread beyond the Pashtun heartland to the largely Tajik and Uzbek areas in the north of the country. The US is reportedly constructing a $100 million “Special Operations Complex” near Mazar-i-Sharif across the border from Uzbekistan.

It also planned to build a similar “counter-terrorism training compound” nearby in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, the site last June of the worst outbreak of fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Central Asia's Ferghana valley since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Several hundred people were killed, entire neighborhoods were destroyed, and an estimated 400,000 people were made into refugees.

There is little agreement about who lit the fuse. Possible culprits include various Russians, the family of deposed Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and criminal gangs in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring countries.