Central Asia has been in the news this last week, and none of it for good reasons.
Whether it was Kazakhstan closing off a town that has been protesting since May 2011, or Tajikistan’s military operations in the countries eastern area where opposition forces were located during the 1990’s civil war, or the unrest in Andijan where protests in 2005 protests lead to a massive government crack down.
If you haven’t heard about any of these things, I’m not really surprised. The problem with reporting from Central Asia is that most western media outlets have no one there to report anything. The reason it is said, is because no one knows or cares about these areas. Yet due to Andijan the US was thrown out/pulled out of Uzbekistani bases, meaning that NATO troops had to be supplied through Pakistan, which went really well for NATO. Kazakhstan is where all of the worlds astronauts now take off from, and is a growing leader in energy production. The area is also stuck in the middle of one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in the world, and yet rarely does news break from there. It is only after something comes out on the internet does news begin to leak out.
This last week showed a stark reminder of what happens when journalists are not on the ground, and news agencies simply use other news sites or government information. Before it could really be checked out some websites picked up the story of protests in Andijan. The problem? There were no protests in Andijan. The Uzbek media had made it up.
Then there was the question of who exactly the Tajik army is fighting on its own territory. Some media sites picked up what the Tajik government was saying and claimed that they are fighting Islamists, others simply drug dealers. The situation though is fairly complex. Now I realize that reporting can not get too complex because most people stop reading after paragraph five, but ignoring that the fact that the man they are after was, until a few days ago when the military came in, a government employee seems negligent.
The news from Central Asia is important. Gas prices will probably go up due to issues in Kazakhstan, NATO supply lines will be hindered and instability MAY spread south into Afghanistan due to actions in Tajikistan (and also if anything did happen in Uzbekistan). These situations will provoke comments and possibly responses from both China and Russia. Yet US news services do not have the resources or people on the ground to be able to explain this amazingly complex and yet fairly important part of the world to people. They must use the internet and what government controlled media releases, resulting in incorrect or incomplete stories.
Thus if revolution ever does happen in this part of the world, don’t expect it to be televised, because there simply isn’t anyone there to do so. As one writer recently wrote when talking about Uzbekistan, “In Uzbekistan, the real revolution may be written in retrospect.” The same will be true for most of the region.