Most people assert that the world has dramatically changed after the tragic events of September 11 in the United States of America. Old perceptions and concepts of threats and alliances gave way to a new and different set of ideas on how to live in this changed world.
I agree that those unfortunate events had a significant impact on world affairs. They also had a significant effect on Kyrgyz-American bilateral relations. But the events of September 11 have not changed relations between our countries. Rather, they have added dynamism to the way our two countries interact in this contemporary world.
Since its independence, Kyrgyzstan has attached great importance to relations with the United States. The U.S. was one of the first countries to recognize our independence at the beginning of the 1990s, and extended its help and assistance in promoting comprehensive reforms in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz leadership, supported by ordinary people, made an enormous effort to bring those innovations to Kyrgyzstan. Certainly, we were aware that this process is a rocky one and required some sacrifices. We have never hidden our problems and shortcomings, and we admit having made mistakes, which I think were the natural consequences of any profound transition from one system to a totally different one. We faced a task of transforming the country within a very short period of time in order to keep pace with modern and far-reaching democratic and economic forces in the world. And we achieved a lot thanks to American help and understanding of the difficulty of this transformation.
PURSUING FUNDAMENTAL REFORMS
From the very beginning of independence we concentrated our efforts on pursuing parallel reforms in all spheres of Kyrgyz society. Liberal economic policy, protection of human rights, religious freedom, minority rights, and many other areas were all integral parts of the overall strategy. Beside democratic development, economic reforms were one of the main objectives in transforming our country. In this area, Kyrgyzstan aggressively pursued a policy of liberalization. Our objective was the establishment of a new class of entrepreneurs, the active participation of the whole society in economic life, and the creation of modern and enforceable economic laws. We were well aware that only the active participation of the whole society in economic life, emergence of a culture of strict compliance with existing laws, and mature economic relations could significantly reinforce Kyrgyzstan's chances to be fully integrated in the civilized world.
If we look at what was done during this uneasy transition period in the sphere of economics, I would like to underline that, among other things, Kyrgyzstan was the first country in Central Asia to introduce its own currency; Kyrgyzstan from the very beginning was an active partner in world economic and financial organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; Kyrgyzstan was one of the first countries in the region which established modern investment laws; Kyrgyzstan was the first country which introduced private land ownership. And it was not a surprise that Kyrgyzstan in 1998 (only a year and a half after submitting documents to Geneva) became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and in 2000 Kyrgyzstan was granted PNTR (permanent normal trade relations) status with United States. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, at present Kyrgyzstan is the country in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that has undertaken the most market economic reform. All these results we achieved due to a strong commitment and determination on the part of Kyrgyz leaders and to invaluable assistance from the United States.
The United States provided both financial and moral assistance to Kyrgyzstan in building the foundation for a modern economy. Our economic and investment laws were written with the help of American specialists. With the assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development and other American agencies Kyrgyzstan implemented various projects in the economic area that taught our entrepreneurs how to do business with the outside world. If we look at all these developments and facts, we clearly see how much a small and young Kyrgyzstan could achieve in just a little bit more than 10 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kyrgyzstan has actively and aggressively pursued all these liberal policies because we believed that the sooner we adopted them, the sooner we would pass this unpredictable transition period. We believed that only a liberal and open economy, free entrepreneurship, would be the solid foundation for a successful long-term development. And as a result, until 1998 Kyrgyzstan's development was moving very rapidly.
The regional environment dramatically changed that year when the profound financial crisis in Russia had a deep, sweeping impact on the economies of almost all the countries of the CIS. Its impact on our economy was reduced due to the solid foundation of our economy, which was achieved thanks to all of our liberal reforms. But the countries of the region were compelled to impose some protectionist policies in order not to expose their own populations to the negative effects of this development.
The next year, international terrorism came to our soil and Islamic militants invaded Kyrgyzstan, which furthered the trend towards enforcement of national borders and protectionism. Kyrgyzstan managed to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity at a cost of the lives of at least 50 Kyrgyz citizens and huge budget appropriations toward defense needs. Certainly, all these factors have had a negative effect on the sustainability of our development.
That is why the tragic events of September 11 and, as a result, the defeat of the Taliban and al- Qaeda terrorist network in neighboring Afghanistan by the antiterrorist coalition led by the United States significantly improved security in our region, and Kyrgyzstan in particular. Today, we can concentrate our attention and more resources to pursue reforms in our countries. We are continuing our cooperation with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, especially in pursuing the strategy of sustainable development of Kyrgyzstan under the umbrella of the World Bank's Comprehensive Development Framework program. The main goals of that strategy are connected with the necessity to deepen structural changes in our country, including transformations in such areas as the system of governance, the court system, and the strengthening of our fight against corruption. It also involves reform in the system of taxation, pension reform, restructuring our energy sector, etc. It's briefly about our internal transformations.
The events of September 11 only reinforced our belief that economic cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and the United States should proceed more rapidly and broadly. But this cooperation cannot fully materialize without creation of a strong regional economic framework based on principles of free movement of goods, people, and ideas. We are sure that only active regional cooperation with no artificial restrictions and barriers can create conditions whereby the destructive forces of terrorism will have less chances to recruit their followers by using the economic hardships and problems of the region. Being aware of this, Kyrgyzstan always seeks to be a part of any regional entity which can enhance and deepen a regional cooperation. That is why we strongly support the efforts of President Bush to bring Russia and other countries of the CIS, especially our Central Asian neighbors, under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization and to grant them PNTR status. We believe that the current visit of the Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill, to Central Asia will also further this very promising idea.
In order to better illustrate how important free trade is for Kyrgyzstan and its internal achievements, it is worthwhile to speak about the recent entrance of China to the WTO. Its membership created significant advantages for Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan serves as the trade bridge between the West and China. We are planning to build a railroad through the territory of Kyrgyzstan, which connects the whole of Central Asia with China. We are sure that such transport projects will allow us to make Kyrgyzstan a linking element in the global trade between the East and the West. We hope that the United States will make its contribution to implementing these projects.
FIGHTING A COMMON ENEMY
In addition to the economic aspect of our bilateral cooperation, we also certainly need to mention another area where the September 11 events brought some dynamism. That is our cooperation in the sphere of security and the war on terrorism. There has been close military cooperation between our nations since our independence. Kyrgyzstan established very fruitful relations with the Pentagon, the Central Command, and the National Guard of Montana. Our young officers have learned English in the U.S. Kyrgyzstan and the U.S. cooperated closely in the framework of the "Partnership for Peace" program and Central Asian Battalion. American and Kyrgyz military have conducted joint bilateral and multilateral military exercises. The National Guard of Kyrgyzstan has conducted joint military exercises in Montana with the National Guard of this state, during which they shared expertise in conducting military actions in mountainous areas. This expertise and experience were very instrumental in allowing our army to be able to defeat very strong groups of Islamic militants. As you know, in 1999 and 2000 Islamic militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IDU) invaded our territory on their way to Uzbekistan. During that harsh time, the U.S. Administration was very quick to provide us with the military assistance which was so needed to defeat our enemies. The Kyrgyz Army was given radios and other valuable military equipment.
That is why I would say that the deployment of American and coalition forces in Kyrgyzstan was a natural and expected move because we fight a common enemy, which continues to pose a threat to stability and peace in Central Asia and our goals to create open and democratic society in our country. This military cooperation reached a unprecedented level, and we know that we can effectively combat international terrorism only by joint efforts.
Kyrgyzstan is ready to continue these joint efforts in combating international terrorism, in bringing the lasting peace and security in Afghanistan, which unfortunately because of the world's negligence and ignorance served as a haven for terrorism. We will support any American policy toward uniting Afghanistan and turning it into a secure and prosperous place. We will provide any assistance within our abilities to resolve the problem of Afghanistan finally.
His Excellency Baktybek Abdrisaev is the Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United States.