Monday, March 12, 2012

327 US losing the Afghan War - James Petras. War spreading to Kyrgyzstan - Eric Walberg

US losing the Afghan War - James Petras. War spreading to Kyrgyzstan - Eric Walberg

(1) US losing the Afghan War - James Petras
(2) Afghan war spreading to Kyrgyzstan - Eric Walberg
(3) Irkeshtam Pass, main border crossing between Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang, China
(4) Irkeshtam ... and on to Kashgar

(1) US losing the Afghan War - James Petras

From: James Petras <> Date: 16.06.2010 06:58 AM

Afghanistan: The Longest Lost War

By James Petras


Despite almost a decade of warfare, including an invasion and occupation, the US military and its allies and client state armed forces are losing the war in Afghanistan. Outside of the central districts of a few cities and the military fortresses, the Afghan national resistance forces, in all of their complex local, regional and national alliances, are in control, of territory, people and administration.

The prolonged unending war has become a major drain on the morale of the US armed forces and undermined civilian support in the US, limiting the capacity of the White House to launch new imperial wars. The annual multi-billion dollar military expenditures, are exacerbating the out-of-control budget deficit and forcing harsh unpopular cuts on social programs, at all levels of government. There is no end in sight, as the Obama regime keeps increasing the number of troops by the tens of thousands and military expenditures by the dozens of billions but the resistance advances, both military and politically.

Faced with rising popular discontent and demands for fiscal restraint by a wide spectrum of banking and citizen groups, Obama and the general command have sought "partial exit" via the recruitment and training of a large scale long term Afghan mercenary army and police force under the direction of US and NATO officers.

The US Strategy: The Making of an Afghan Neocolony:

Between 2001-2010 the US military expenditures total $428 billion dollars; the colonial occupation has led to over 7,228 dead and wounded as of June 1, 2010. As the US military situation deteriorates, the White House escalates the number of troops resulting in a greater number of killed and wounded. During the past 18 months of the Obama regime more soldiers were killed or wounded than in the previous eight years.

The White House and Pentagon strategy is premised on massive flows of money, arms and an increase in the number of surrogates, mainly subsidized warlords and puppet western educated ex-pats. The White House "development aid" involves, literally, purchasing the transient loyalties of clan leaders. The White House attempts to give a veneer of legitimacy by running elections, which enhance the corrupt image of the incumbent puppet regime in Kabul and its regional associates.

On the military front, the Pentagon launches one "offensive" after another, announcing one success after another, followed by a retreat and return of the Resistance fighters. The US campaigns disrupt trade, agricultural harvests and markets, while the air assaults targeting "Taliban" and militants, more frequently than not end up killing more civilians celebrating weddings, religious holidays and shoppers at markets than combatants. The reason for the high percentage of civilian killings is clear to everyone except the US Generals: there are no distinctions between "militants" and millions of Afghan civilians since the former are an integral part of their communities.

The key and ultimately decisive problem facing the US occupation is that it is a colonial enclave in the midst of a colonized people. The US, its local puppets and its NATO allies are a foreign colonial army and its Afghan military and police recruits are seen as mere instruments perpetuating illegitimate rule. Every action, whether violent or benign, is perceived and interpreted as transgressing the norms and historical legacies of a proud and independent people. In everyday life, every move by the occupation is disruptive; nothing moves except by command of the foreign directed military and police. Under threat of force, people fake co-operation and then provide assistance to their fathers, brothers and sons in the Resistance. The recruits take the money and turn their arms over to the Resistance. The paid village informants are double agents or identified by their neighbors and targeted by insurgents.

The Afghan collaborators, Washington's closest allies, are seen as corrupt traitors; transient rulers who have their bags packed and US passports in hand, ready to flee when the US is forced to exit. All the programs, "reconstruction" funds, training missions and "civic programs" have failed to win the allegiance of the Afghan people, now as in the past as well as in the future, because they are seen as part of the US military occupation ultimately based on violence.

Ten Reasons Why the Afghan Resistance Will Win:
1.) The Resistance has deep roots in the population – family community, linguistic and cultural ties which the US does not possess nor can "invent"; nor can these ties be bought, traded or replicated by their Afghan 'collaborators' or imposed by propaganda.
2.) The Resistance has fluid borders and broad international support especially with Pakistan but also with other anti-imperialist, Islamic groups who provide arms and volunteers and who engage in actively attacking the logistical transport supply lines of US-NATO military in Pakistan. They also pressure overseas US client regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia opening multiple fronts.
3.) Widespread infiltration, voluntary, active and passive support of the Resistance among the US recruited and trained Afghan military and police results in crucial intelligence on troop movements. Desertions and absenteeism undermines "military competence".
4.) The scope and breadth of Resistance activity over extends the imperial armies at its current strength and causes it to rely on unreliable Afghan security, who have no stomach for killing their brethren, especially when directed against communities with relatives or ethnic kin.
5.) Resistance allies are more loyal, less corrupt and reliable because of deeply shared beliefs. US allies are loyal only because of ephemeral monetary gratification and the temporary presence of US military force.
6.) The Resistance appeals to the people in the name of a return to law and order in everyday life, which preceded the disruptive invasion. The US promise of positive outcomes following a successful war, have no popular resonance after a decade long destructive occupation.
7.) The US has no belief system that can compete with the religious-nationalist-traditionalist appeal of the Resistance to the vast majority of village, small town and displaced rural population.
8.) The Resistance's support of Iraqi, Palestinian and other anti-imperialist forces has a positive appeal among the Afghan people who have seen the destructive results of US wars in Iraq and proxy wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The US backed Israeli assault of Lebanon and the humanitarian ship destined for Palestine and the highly visible presence of Zionist militants in the US government, repels the more politically aware opinion leaders in Afghanistan.
9.) Afghans have, by force of circumstances, longer staying power in resisting the US military occupation, than the US people who have other, far more pressing needs and the US military with growing commitments in the Gulf.
10.) The Afghan Resistance does not normally kill civilians in combat missions since the US troops and NATO are clearly identified. Whereas, the opposite is not true. The Afghans who are part of the villages in occupied communities are subject to assassinations by "Special Forces" and drone bombings. In these circumstances ordinary people suffer the same military assaults as Resistance fighters.

A Failed Mission: The Incapacity to Build a Reliable, Effective Afghan Mercenary Army

A US government audit published in late June of this year demolished the Obama regime's claims that it is succeeding in building an effective Afghan mercenary army and police capable of buttressing the current client regime in Kabul. The Report, based on a detailed analysis and field observations argues that the Obama Pentagon relies on "standards [which are] woefully inadequate, inflating the abilities of Afghan units that Mr. Obama called "core to our mission" (Financial Times, June 7, 2010, p1). In other words, Obama continues to play the con game, which he inaugurated during his electoral campaign with his phony promises of 'change' and "ending the wars", and continued with his bail out of Wall Street in the name of 'saving the economy'. He followed up by escalating the war in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 more troops and increasing military and police expenditures to $325.5 billion, approximately 132% higher than the last year of the Bush Administration (Congressional Research Service, FY 2010 Supplemental for Wars … June 2010).

The Obama regime's phony claims of progress were based on self-serving bureaucratic and technical criteria, rather than the actual fighting performance and behavior of the Afghan mercenary army. The military command's reports and progress reports were based on how many courses were taught, the length and breadth of training and the amount and quality of arms and equipment supplied to the Afghan troops. As the number of Afghan units passing the "training missions" increased from zero to 22, between 2008 - 2009, the Pentagon claimed extraordinary progress. To correct the errors, the Pentagon has turned to "field assessments by commanders" – which is also failing, since the officials have a vested interest in inflating the performance of the Afghans mercenaries under their command in order to secure promotions and merit badges. The Obama regime plans to increase the Afghan military from 97,000 in November 2009 to 134,000 in October 2010, to 171,000 in October 2011 a 75% increase in two years (Congressional Research Service 2010, p 13). The same increase occurs with the police: from 93,800 in November 2009 to 134,000 in October 2011 a 43% increase.

Obama's claim that the war is gradually being handed over to the US "trained" Afghan army is fully belied by two other basic facts. The White House has requested $1.9 billion – double the 2009 level under Bush – for military construction of new bases and installations for a "long term presence" (which the con-man Obama claims does not mean a "permanent presence"). Secondly, using the familiar double-talk of the Obama regime, Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now argue that Obama's campaign promise of beginning the retirement of troops in July 2010 really means "a day we start transitioning … not a date we're leaving", which would be based on "conditions on the ground … a several year process" (Gates Testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, December 2, 2009). In plain English "transitioning" is not "leaving". It means staying, fighting and occupying Afghanistan for decades. It means adding more troops, building more bases. It means spending another $400 billion over the next 5 years. And it means doubling the number of American soldiers killed and wounded over the next 3 years, from over seven thousand to fourteen thousand.

The criteria of 'success' in Afghanizing the war is belied by the growing Americanizing of the bases, combat troops and expenditures. The reason is that the Afghan army figures are as phony as Obama's promises. The number of US personnel is growing because the Afghan political puppets are so corrupt, ineffective and despised by their people that Washington has to surround them with "monitors", "advisers" and "operatives" who in turn are totally incapable of relating to the needs and practices of the communities. Increased US "aid" has led to greater corruption, more unfulfilled promises and greater animosity from the would be popular recipients.

The fundamental problem is that this is an American war and that is why Afghan units suffer a 50% reduction of strength due to at a minimum, a 20% desertion rate, admitted by US military officials (Congressional Research, op cit, p.14). In other words, the Afghan recruits, take the money and their arms and return to their villages, neighborhoods, families, and perhaps not a few, use their military training, joining with the National Resistance. With such high levels of disaffection among Afghan recruits and even officials it is not surprising that the Resistance has such high quality intelligence on US troop movements. Given the degree of disaffection it is not surprising that some of the US intelligence collaborators are double agents or vulnerable to exposure and execution. Faced with a billion dollar recruitment program with high rates of desertion and the "turning of guns on their mentors," the White House, Pentagon and Congress refuse to recognize the reality that the imperial occupations is the source of the resistance of almost the whole people. Instead they call for more trainees, more funds for "training programs", more "transparent" mercenary contractors.

The reality is that with a bigger American occupation, with escalating military expenditures, the Resistance is growing, surrounding the major cities, targeting meetings in the center of Kabul and rocketing the biggest US military bases around the country. It is clear that the US has lost the war politically and is in the process of losing it militarily.

Despite the most advanced military technology, the drones, the Special Forces, the increase in the number of trainees, advisers, NGOers and the building of more military bases, the Resistance is winning. The White House by adding to the millions of displaced and murdered and maimed Afghans is increasing the hostility of the vast majority of the Afghans. Civilian killings are turning more and more of their military recruits into deserters and "unreliable" soldiers. Some of whom are 'turned' into committed combatants for the 'other side'. As in Indo-China, Algeria and elsewhere, a popular, highly motivated guerrilla resistance army, deeply embedded in the national-religious culture of an oppressed population is proving more resistant, enduring and victorious over an alien high tech imperial army. Obama's 'rule or ruin' Afghan War, sooner rather than later, will ruin America and end his shameful presidency.

(2) Afghan war spreading to Kyrgyzstan - Eric Walberg

From: efgh1951 <> Date: 17.06.2010 02:47 AM

Kyrgyzstan: Eurasian geopolitics 101

The war in Afghanistan is officially spreading to the Central Asian republics. First stop, Kyrgyzstan, warns Eric Walberg

Wednesday, 16 June 2010 01:41

For the moment, the Pentagon is breathing a sigh of relief. Vital US fuel supply flights from its Manas base to Afghanistan resumed last week even as Kyrgyzstan slid into chaos. At least 171 and possibly as many as 500 have died in rioting in southern Kyrgyzstan this week, almost all ethnic Uzbeks, with thousands injured. More than 80,000 fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan, forcing it to close its borders as it cannot cope with more. On Monday, China began evacuating the majority of its 1000 nationals.

Armed Kyrgyz in Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, Jalalabad and some villages targeted Uzbek neighbourhoods, burning and killing indiscriminately. The Red Cross said 100 bodies were seen buried in just one cemetery. The chaos spread to the capital Bishkek but was brought under control when riot police fired tear gas and flash grenades.

Kyrgyzstan's acting President Roza Otunbayeva declared a state of emergency in the south, ordered the mobilisation of military reservists, and issued a shoot to kill order after Russia refused her request Saturday to send in troops to quell the rioters. Defending her moves, said Sergei Abashin, senior researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology in Moscow, "Local police would easily surrender their weapons to young Kyrgyz rioters as they have common relatives and friends in this clan, and they would never shoot at their own." 

After consulting on Monday with other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO, which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), Russia decided to send helicopters, trucks and fuel in addition to humanitarian aid, though it ruled out sending troops. "Russia is unlikely to intervene unless it felt that the situation was going to make the region unstable or ethnic Russians were in danger," analyst Asher Pirt told Deutsche Welle.

The unrest has been simmering since the interim government came to power on 7 April, when 81 protesters were killed by police and president Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the capital to his home in the south. The new government quickly established control over the capital and the north of the country, but not in Bakiyev's south, part of the Ferghana Valley where Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks have been living side-by-side for centuries. Stalin divvied the valley up between ethnic republics in the 1920s, creating the basis for the current problems. Ethnicity, however, is really a cover for the underlying settler/ nomad distinction, the Uzbeks being more business-oriented and, in the current pro-market environment, richer, the Kyrgyz more pastoral. The People's Friendship University was razed because it was funded by a wealthy Uzbek businessman.

Washington's discrete {sic} silence except to condemn the violence suggests it realises it would only make matters worse by speaking up. As long as its base is allowed to function, it will stay in the background. The US base is highly unpopular with locals, and the resentment and instability it encourages prompted Otunbayeva initially to call for it to be closed for "security reasons", though under intense US pressure, the contract for the base was renewed for another year. Kyrgyz authorities blocked the operations of the fuel sub-contractor Mina Corp, which is linked to Maksim Bakiyev, son of the disgraced president, accused of embezzling millions in "rent" and other service charges on the US base, but operations resumed even as the country unravelled.

The US Congress Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs launched an investigation in April into the Gilbraltar-listed Mina Corp. The Kyrgyz government launched an investigation into six companies owned by Maksim Bakiyev: Manas Fuel Services, Kyrgyz Aviation, Central Asia Fuel, Aviation Fuel Service, Aircraft Petrol Ltd, and Central Asia Trade Group. Both moves augur ill for the Bakiyevs and the current travails are no doubt a welcome distraction for them.

There is little at this point the Kyrgyz can do to stop the Americans from operating their base as virtually a sovereign entity and this is one political crisis where Obama can honestly say "not me". But, alas, the US is the chief source of the ongoing instability, having drawn Kygyzstan and three other central Asian states into NATO's Partnership for Peace programme in 1994, and dumped democracy-promoting NGOs there in the past two decades. The Tulip Revolution of 2005 was coordinated from the US embassy, overthrowing the respected president Askar Akayev (he was getting too close to China and Russia), fatally rupturing any faith in the fledgling independent state. Then there's the massive US base and the many problems it has caused and is still causing, from murder, drugs and prostitution to espionage, terror and corruption.

The longstanding ethnic divide had abated under Akayev, but worsened in the five years since Bakiyev's Tulip Revolution, as he turned Kyrgyzstan into his own clan's fiefdom, leaving the relatively prosperous Uzbeks with no political power. The Uzbeks represent 15 per cent of the population and close to half in the south. They indeed rejoiced at his downfall. But then so did the majority of Kyrgyz. The worsening discrimination has been exacerbated by the return of migrant labourers who lost their jobs in Russia's current recession. This toxic brew resulted in a replay of violent ethnic clashes in Osh in 1990 that left hundreds dead and only abated when the Soviet government sent in troops.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva's government had hoped to hold a referendum to approve a new constitution on 27 June, but the likelihood of that vote taking place are slim.  It will take all the energy of the interim government, a great deal of help from Russia, and most important, the closure of Manas to return the country to a semblance of normality.

That Otunbayeva is not the corrupt, vengeful would-be pasha that Bakiyev turned into is clear to all. Former prime minister Felix Kulov, who is not in the interim government, has formed a group under the slogan "Whoever Values Peace -- Unite!"

Those most worried about the collapse of authority are its immediate neighbours. The lack of law and order now makes Kyrgyzstan a playground for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other outlawed groups intent on overthrowing the anti-Muslim Uzbek president next door. Uzbekistan is a police state which brutally suppresses devout Uzbeks, and the regime has good cause to fear the consequences of a failed state next door. Tajikistan suffered a wrenching civil war between eastern Islamists and reformers and western pro-government forces in the 1990s, and its current peace is fragile at best.

China's Xinjiang region shares a 530-mile border with Kyrgyzstan. There were widespread riots just last year by its Muslim Uighurs, who yearn for their own independent state like their "lucky" Kyrgyz brothers. China understandably worries about the massive US military base just next door crawling with CIA operatives plus a now porous border which, according to analyst Nick Amies, will facilitate "covert destabilising operations into the strategically vital and politically fragile province."

Russia has no border with Kyrgyzstan, but like China, has geopolitical interests there. Washington's success in expanding NATO's presence throughout the region, crowned by the huge Manas base, has been justified by its "war on terror", but its real goals are political and economic hegemony. After all, it was the US that funded, trained and parachuted in the Islamic militants that now infest Eurasia, according to the principle: create the problem, provide the solution. Is there any reason to think the US has changed its modus operandi, especially now that it has such easy access to the region?

As for Afghanistan, NATO's supply routes there through Pakistan are close to unusable, making Manas the crucial link in the current surges. Last week militants destroyed 50 NATO supply trucks and the Taliban killed 31 NATO soldiers. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato's troops, boasted capturing and/or killing 120 Taliban leaders in the past 90 days, but "not enough" say officials, as more "grass" sprouts each day in Afghanistan's unforgiving climate. ***

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly You can reach him at

(3) Irkeshtam Pass, main border crossing between Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang, China


Irkeshtam is a village east of the Alay Valley in southern Osh Province, Kyrgyzstan. It is one of the two main border crossings between Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang, China, the other being Torugart, some 165 km (103 mi) to the northeast. Both passes lead to Kashgar, Irkeshtam from the west, and Torugart from the north. ...

Irkeshtam is strategically located about 200 kilometres (120 mi) west of Kashgar, and controls the main trade routes leading to the west out of the Tarim Basin — the route heading down the Alay Valley towards modern Dushanbe, Termez and Balkh, as well as the alternative route which turns off to the north and then through the Terek Pass (elevation 4,128 metres (13,543 ft), which is open all year), to the Ferghana Valley, Khujand (ancient Alexandria Eschate), and Samarkand.

On the Kyrgyz side, a rather poor road goes west over a pass or divide into the Alay Valley and on to Sary-Tash, where the M41 highway leads north to Osh in the Ferghana Valley and the European road E60 to the west. Travel can be difficult due to poor infrastructure, snowfall, broken down trucks, closed customs posts, border formalities, etc.

There is now a bus that travels every Monday and Tuesday from Kashgar to Osh through Irkeshtam, and obviously travels in the other direction too. It is also possible to make more informal arrangements.[1] ...

This page was last modified on 17 December 2009 at 09:13. ==

Irkeshtam Pass, Kyrgyzstan

The road from Osh to Irkeshtam

Irkeshtam is approached from Osh, the second city of Kyrgyzstan, in the South of the country. The road travels south along the valley of the Taldyk and Gulcho river gorges to the village of Sary Tash ("Yellow Stone" in Kyrgyz), which sits on a cross roads. To the West lies the road to Dushanbe in Tajikistan through the Kyzyl-Suu valley; to the South lies the road over the Kyzyl Art pass into the Gorno Badakshan region of Tajikistan and Murgab; to the east heading into the mountains lies the road to Irkeshtam and the Chinese border.

This stretch of road is infamous for road accidents. It is asphalt until you reach Sary Tash, and then becomes a stone road and although the scenery is spectacular – with snow capped peaks on one side and green mountain meadows on the other – travelling along the road is slow and can take a long time – especially if you encounter a broken down vehicle which blocks the road. On the Chinese side, the road down to Kashgar is better, but still difficult.

As the shortest route to China from the Ferghana valley in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan there has been a lot of interest in repairing the road – which would take about 6 years to complete – including a TACIS funded project. The work came to a stop after armed insurgents threatened the stability of the region in 1999.

In Soviet times, China was seen as a real threat and this was reflected on the border. Now the two countries are allies and relationships between the respective border troops are friendly.

The border post is named in honour of a frontier border guard, Andrei Bescennov, who was killed in a clash with the Basmachi rebels in 1931. Until the end of 1999 it was manned by Russian troops – who, apparently took all their equipment when they left. The post is now manned by border guards from the Osh oblast. It is not an easy posting. By all accounts, the guards are not fed well but no-one has died of hunger. However, a year's service here is counted as equal to two year's military service elsewhere.

In this mountainous region, as in Kyrgyzstan generally, horses play an important role in daily life. The lack of roads means that soldiers who patrol the border ride the local breed of Kyrgyz pony, which are renowned for being sturdy and well suited to this sort of terrain. The post also boasts a number of dogs, including German shepherds and a number of mongrels.

The pass lies some 238 km from Osh and 250km from Kashgar. Chang Chien is sometimes credited as the first person to cross in 128 BC when he entered the Ferghana Valley on a diplomatic mission from the then emporer of China, in seach of allies against their mutal enemies the Xiongnu. In 1893 the horse path between Osh and Ishkertam was widened, fortified and developed. It was even named "a wheel road", though the goods used to be transported on pack animals: horses, donkeys and camels.

For a long time the Irkeshtam pass was open only for commercial goods traffic for a limited period each month, although for several years there were plans to open it for passenger traffic and these finally came to fruition in the summer of 2002. Technically, no permissions are needed to cross the border here but it is still a sensitive border zone. Also its remoteness means that transport probably has to be arranged on both sides of the border – which means that, once again, it is not a cheap border crossing. There is a Chinese bus service.

At the post there are places to eat a few other facilities. The Chinese immigration post is housed in a large, new, purpose built building, three kilometres from the border – and it is another three kilometres to the Kyrgyz post. As with Torugart, you are not allowed to walk across this no-man's land. This can be a problem because Kyrgyz vehicles and staff are currently (August 2003) not allowed to cross either … (In 2003, an agreement between the Chinese and Kyrgyz governments imposed a visa regime for the citizens of each country to visit the other. As a result, technically, drivers and guides need a Chinese visa to pass through Immigration and Customs. In Torugart, there are currently (August 2003) special arrangements so that they can travel between the post and the border with tourists – but not at Irkeshtam.)

The hours of operation are restricted and there is a long lunchbreak (which can last three and a half hours).

(4) Irkeshtam ... and on to Kashgar

The Great Silk Road with one's own eyes. Part IV. Kashgar

14.01.2008 15:52 msk

Ulugbek Babakulov

... Irkeshtam was but a small transshipment base a few years ago. The crossing point worked ten days every month and remained shut down the rest of the time. This state of affairs was ascribed to the Chinese, and the Kyrgyzes had to play ball. Traffic across the border greatly increased in the last two years, and the crossing point operates practically every day now (apart from week-ends and holidays). In fact, the border gets closed only for Chinese state holidays.

The increasing traffic has had a positive effect on the local infrastructure. House trailers for drivers and loaders gave way to several hotels ten bedrooms for 5-8 men each. Owners of the hotels will easily convert whatever else is available to accommodate customers as long as the latter are prepared to pay for it. ...

Owners of hotels in Irkeshtam and Chinese drivers to be found at every cafe are the men to approach whenever one needs hard currency exchanged. The exchange rate they offer is invariably better than anywhere in Bishkek. ...

Whoever wants to make Chinese Irkeshtam or Zymkana (it stands for Behind The Barbed Wire in Kyrgyz driver's parlance) needs to pass four crossing points. The first of the four, a Kyrgyz one, is located seven kilometers from the principal checkpoint. This crossing point negotiated, Ferghana.Ru correspondent found himself on the no-man's land two or three kilometers long.


Time zone difference between all of China and Bishkek is two hours. Chinese border guard close the checkpoint for lunch from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. local time (noon to 2 p.m. Bishkek time) every day. Whoever has failed to cross the border before that has to wait, glancing every now and then at the large clock on the crossing point building.


Infrastructure in the Chinese part of Irkeshtam is way better than in the Kyrgyz. It is a kind of settlement with stores filled with cheap Chinese goods. There is even an Internet-cafe there with IP communication services available. This correspondent immediately placed a call home in Bishkek. The bill, however, turned out to be quite impressive - almost $0.5 per minute.

Kyrgyz drivers ferrying loads from China to Irkeshtam live in barracks converted into hotels. Their owners are Kyrgyzes too, but Chinese Kyrgyzes. Slip into Russian in a conversation with one, and the man cannot understand you anymore. Owners of these so called hotels usually work at nearby cafes. One of them by name of Mamatkali invited this correspondent over to his place for a beer. Sipping at his beer, Mamatkali said he was owner of the hotel and a local butcher, selling mutton at 10-16 yuans to all local cafes. The slaughterhouse was nearby, he explained.

According to Mamatkali, the government of China respects the wealthy. "Sure, the authorities do help the poor too, but these latter do not command that much respect, you know. As for me, I'm quite well-to-do," he boasted pointing at sackfuls of flour heaped right in the same room.

Flagging a cab driven by a Kyrgyz girl, this correspondent set out for the town of Uulcha located approximately halfway to Kashgar. The driver said the population of Uulcha was mostly Kyrgyz. The temptation to take a few days off and just walk this nice town was strong but this correspondent had business in Kashgar to attend to.

This correspondent changed the cab soon, and the new driver promised to make it right to the needed hotel in Kashgar. ...

A cab ride to any location within Kashgar costs five yuans. Cab rides and cafe prices are not to be negotiated, but everything else... The more one argues the demanded price, the better it is. A good bargainer will shave up to 80% off the demanded price and leave with whatever it is he bought and the vendor's vast respect.

Staying overnight

Two hundred and fifty kilometers of the impeccable highway and this correspondent was in Kashgar. A room with a shower, bathroom, and wash-basin at the Chynybak hotel cost 100 yuans. Not exactly an opulent hotel of course, but quite all right if the alternatives are 2,000 yuans a night on the one hand or 20 yuans in a boarding house frequented by the locals on the other.

Staying at Chynybak, this correspondent met Kyrgyz vendors working in Kashgar and travellers from Kazakhstan on tour of Xinjang.

There was more to Chynybak that immediately met the eye - another building with different prices and quality of service. A brief visit there resulted in making the acquaintance of a married Uzbek couple from the United States. Descendants of some immigrants who moved to the United States from the Tsarist Russia, they must have decided to make a tour of the land of their ancestors.

Kashgar is a crossroads of the Great Silk Road, a point from which roads to almost a dozen Asian countries branch off. Population of the region (and its consumer market therefore) stand at nearly a billion. Before the sea route to China was open in the 15th century, it had been essentially the only road to this country.

The city was founded two millennia ago. The impression was that time was standing still or even reversed, that a junkman would turn the corner any moment with Aladdin's magic lamp for sale.

Central Kashgar is known as the old city. In fact, it is literally old. Clay fences and walls cannot help reminding traveller of The Diamond Arm, the movie where Andrei Mironov's character got lost in exactly a similar town.

The Uigurs have populated the old city for centuries. Involved in primitive arts and crafts, they sell their wares right in the street in front of their dwellings or else take them to bazaars and offer to tourists.

The main mosque built in the middle of the 15th century is located in the central square. Some call it the largest mosque in China, probably because it accommodates up to 10,000 believers Fridays. This correspondent was not particularly impressed though, because the minarets did not amount to too much. Every citizen of post-Soviet Central Asia will tell you that high minarets are a must for every mosque. Not so in Kashgar, however, where the minarets are quite low. This correspondent discovered afterwards that mosques had low minarets all over Xinjang.

Not all of Kashgar was that ancient, however. The old city turned out to be located in the ring of three- and four-floor buildings, just like the brick tenements of the Soviet era. Colossal modern sky-scrapers were there too.

Monument to the Great Helmsman Mao Tse-tung, with a star in the forehead and one arm stretched to show the proper direction for the nation to follow, is in the central square too. And literally crowds of local kids. Forget about giving one a mochen (0.1 yuan) or you will be swarmed by the rest, each demanding a coin too.

Some kids even wear the Soviet Pioneer ties, old and dirty. Soviet ideologists must have been in a class by themselves. They did convince Soviet and, apparently Chinese, kids that the red tie was a part of the heat.

The locals converge to the central square by night to watch a Jackie Chan or some other suchlike movie on the huge monitor set up there for the purpose.

An impromptu kitchen under the open sky is located not far from the central square. The impression is that it is mostly for the poor. People eat right there, on their hunkers or on the long bench. Where dishes were washed afterwards remained a mystery to this correspondent.

Whoever refuses to take unnecessary risks may dine at Uigur cafes, easily recognizable by the odor and shop-signs each depicting the cafe's specialty. Food is cheap and quite tasty. A teapot of green tea is an element of every meal, courtesy of the house. It may be added that this correspondent's horrible mixture of the Uzbek and Kyrgyz languages turned out to be quite passable and was even taken for Uigur.

A couple of days later this correspondent did find a cozy and clean cafe, owned by an Uigur woman who employed women alone for staff. It was like something one encounters in Bishkek - a cafe with clean tablecloths and nice waitresses wearing clean banians. By the way, telling Uigur women from Chinese was easy - the former cover the heads.

Recalling the Peking Duck cafe in Bishkek, this correspondent decided to try his luck at a Chinese cafe. It was a fiasco. First, the menu was in Chinese and therefore indecipherable. Second, spicy odors emanating from the kitchen turned out to be more than could be endured. As a matter of fact, this correspondent did manage to treat himself to a Chinese meal once. The hotel's restaurants had its menus in English. The waitress brought this correspondent tepid tea three times, each time in response to a request to heat it first. A local Uigur eventually took pity and explained that the Chinese did not take their tea hot.

Strolling down the streets, this correspondent noticed a great deal of dentists'. Eyeing one of them, Ferghana.Ru correspondent was all but run down by a "terminator of journalists" - a practically noiseless bike (the second most popular conveyance in Kashgar after autos). They run on electric power which makes them relatively cheap. Charge it, and the battery is good for five hours - more than enough for the trip to the office and back home (with a visit to friends, perhaps).

It was also noticeable that a great deal of drivers were women - and that there were practically no traffic lights in Kashgar. Whoever need to cross the street had to wait for the traffic to ease off some and make it across posthaste. A country whose population stands at 1.5 billion and the annual birth rate is estimated at 6 million probably can afford to do without traffic lights.

Where is your AIDS certificate?

The question was asked of this correspondent by the border guard manning the crossing point. Vendors waiting for their turn explained that the AIDS-free certificate should have been obtained at home, in Bishkek, or at least bought for 100 soms in Osh. What was really surprising was that the Chinese border guard was demanding the document when this correspondent was leaving China and not entering it. "How come nobody demanded to see it when I was entering? What if I communicated it to other Chinese on my stay in your country?" The question was left unanswered.

The vendors showed their papers to the border guard and were waved through, leaving this correspondent behind. Fortunately, the very Chinese Kyrgyz this correspondent had made acquaintance of when entering China emerged at this point. Given a gist of the situation, he cleared the matter with the passport control in no time at all. This correspondent finally left the crossing point - only to encounter the same vendors outside, busy talking to another Chinese border guard.

As it turned out, the vendors had decided to get a lift but the Chinese was insisting that they should take the same mini-bus that had brought them to the border. Moreover, he was demanding 20 yuans per man this time. One of the vendors and yours truly chose to walk to the Kyrgyz border.

A minibus pulled over a minute or two later and a border guard jumped out, demanding to see our passports again.

This correspondent's blue Kyrgyz passport was promptly put in the officer's pocket and the Uigur translator accompanying him said this correspondent was to be detained. The vendor, however, turned out to be a citizen of Russia. That changed the border guard's in a hurry. Assuming that the vendor and this correspondent were companions, he immediately fished out the latter's passport of out his pocket. It cost this correspondent 10 yuans all the same. ...

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