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.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.