So, when are we invading Kyrgyzstan?

The pro-war liberal left is shamefully silent about the killings there.

The world obsesses over the oil spill off the southern coast of the United States while Osh burns.

From Luke Harding's depressing account in today's Guardian:

It was early afternoon when the mob surged down an alley of neat rose bushes and halted outside Zarifa's house. The Kyrgyz men broke into her courtyard and sat Zarifa down next to a cherry tree. They asked her a couple of questions. After confirming she was an ethnic Uzbek, they stripped her, raped her and cut off her fingers. After that they killed her and her small son, throwing their bodies into the street. They then moved on to the next house.

"They were like beasts," Zarifa's neighbour, Bakhtir Irgayshon, said today, pointing to the gutted bedframe where she had been assaulted. A few pots and pans remained; the rest of the family home was a charred ruin. Zarifa's husband, Ilham, was missing, Irgayshon said, probably dead. Only his mother, Adina, survived the Kyrgyz-instigated conflagration that engulfed the neighbourhood of Cheremushki last Friday.

Such horrific descriptions of the violence and killings plaguing Kyrgyzstan are reminiscent of Kosovo in early 1999, which led to the Nato bombing campaign of Yugoslavia and the subsequent toppling of Slobodan Milosevic. The death toll in and around Osh since fighting broke out on 10 June is believed to be closer to 2,000 Uzbeks, rather than the official estimate of roughly 200. Thousands of refugees have fled across the border from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan.

So where, I wonder, are the pro-war liberal-lefties this time round? I've yet to hear from the likes Johann Hari, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, John Rentoul or Christopher Hitchens on the need to "intervene" in Kyrgyzstan. And David Cameron and Barack Obama, unlike Blair and Clinton in 1999, have not despatched bombers in the direction of Bishkek. (The "latest news" section on the Foreign Office website has only two references to the fighting in Kyrgyzstan, and both relate to travel advice for British citizens in the region.)

Don't get me wrong: I'm not advocating armed intervention by western powers. I'm not one of those lefties who believes the first response to a humanitarian crisis or a civil war should be to launch a Nato bombing campaign. No, I'm just pointing out the double standard; I'm engaging perhaps in what Cohen calls "whataboutery".

Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about the background to the violence, check out the blog of Craig Murray -- our former man in Uzbekistan.

And if you want to know why we in Britain and the west should care about, and feel partly responsible for, what is going on, check out this blog post from the Telegraph's Richard Spencer. Or this provocative piece from the lefty American polemicist Ted Rall.

Spencer writes:

Are not the rapes and killings of hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks at the hands of Kyrgyz mobs, allegedly aided by Kyrgyz troops, just another terrible news story from a faraway place of which we know little?

Well, if I pointed out that just a few months ago the United States agreed to fund and train Kyrgyz troops who were gearing up to fight Uzbeks, that might raise a few eyebrows. And, as it's true, though surprisingly no one else seems to have noticed, point it out I will.

I will also point out that it is no coincidence that the man accused of fomenting the violence, Maxim Bakiyev, son of the leader ousted in a popular revolution in April, was arrested in Britain the other day. It wasn't just because he had, in the way of dubiously rich ex-Soviet princelings, bought a British football club. It was because we were his sort of country.

His father came to power five years ago on a wave of pro-democracy fervour whipped up by our own Tony Blair. George Bush of course had a lot to do with it -- it was his insistence that American power brought with it a responsibility to foment freedom, even in other powers' backyards, that sent a second wave of velvet revolutions across the former Soviet empire, from Georgia to Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan.

Rall writes:

This latest outbreak of violence represents something new. First, it's worse: bigger and more widespread. Second, as most central Asians know, it's delayed fallout from George W Bush's misadventures in regime change.

Bush's military-CIA complex had more than Iraq and Afghanistan on its collective mind. Over the course of six years, they toppled or attempted to overthrow the governments of Venezuela, Haiti, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine -- and, yes, Kyrgyzstan.

In March 2005 a CIA-backed (and in some cases -trained) mob of conservative Muslim young men from Osh drove up to Bishkek and stormed the presidential palace. President Askar Akayev, a former physicist who had been the only democratically elected president in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, fled into exile in Russia.

Kyrgyzstan, like so many central Asian nations, is an unlucky country. Save the Children is preparing to send emergency relief to Osh; you can donate to its campaign here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.