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Efforts of the central asian states after the isaf withdrawal from Afghanistan

The drawdown of NATO forces may destabilise Afghanistan and neighbouring Central Asia. The closer neighbours – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – are more concerned than more distant Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. All the Central Asian states see economic potential in Afghanistan, but also security threats such as terrorism, religious fundamentalism and drugs trafficking. As for peace in Afghanistan, they

agree that there is no military solution. Economic restoration should play a bigger role; a political process must be Afghan-led and involve all actors (which means the Taliban as well) and respect Afghanistan’s traditions and culture; and, finally,

the UN and the international community should be more involved. Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are likely to rely on multilateral institutions, while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan prefer bilateral relations. But the middle road between them – regional efforts between the five Central Asian states – will be less travelled.


Afghanistan is still facing serious security, political and economic challenges. The threat of terrorism is the primary cause of instability. All the Central Asian states understand that ongoing counter-terrorism campaigns, particularly military deterrence, have no future in Afghanistan.

Despite the international effort aimed at creating the conditions for Afghanistan’s sustainable development, the situation in the country is not improving. Afghanistan is still not succeeding in tackling instability, setting up a viable government or fostering economic development. In these circumstances, the drawdown of coalition forces, primarily from the United States and other NATO countries, might act as a catalyst to destabilise the situation both in Afghanistan and in the neighbouring states, including Central Asia. Afghanistan and Central Asia will in that case face challenges that are persistent, certain and, at this stage, insurmountable.

Terrorism, feeding on extremism and militancy, threatens national governments and exploits ethnic, sectarian and secessionist conflict. It also destabilises regions with the threat of interstate wars, which may even draw in global powers. Furthermore, terror groups are capitalising on the Afghan drugs trade and robbing all actors of the chance of realising economic opportunities, which in turn leads to the displacement of large populations. Against this background, this chapter aims to discuss the prospects for multilateral security cooperation in Central Asia in the light of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of ISAF.

Relations between Central Asian states and Afghanistan revolve primarily around issues of national security and, to some extent, political stability. The Central Asian states view Afghanistan as a source of long-term threats such as terrorism, religious fundamentalism and drugs trafficking. The impact of these threats varies from country to country by virtue of their geographic location.

Consequently, the Central Asian governments have different views on Afghanistan and the priority that should be given to agendas relating to Afghanistan. Altogether, this makes it harder to alleviate the Central Asian states’ concerns about post-ISAF Afghanistan.

Several problems need to be successfully addressed if the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are to be able to evolve as an adequate security tool after the planned withdrawal of ISAF. A limited Western anti-terror and training force needs to stay behind after the combat forces leave. Financial and technical support for the ANSF must be expanded and the flow of aid sustained. Reduced corruption, a legitimate political transition and more active and effective regional diplomacy would also help. All this would make it easier for the ANSF to defend and provide security for Afghanistan, and safeguard it from the Taliban or a return of al-Qaeda. This in turn would help to reduce the risk of renewed civil war and create better conditions for development, for economic growth and for consolidating democratic institutions and other gains made since 2001. It might even nudge regional actors towards acting more with a collective interest in mind. The wish list is long, but none of these factors is likely to materialise.

Instability related to Afghanistan is likely to continue to influence Central Asia in the foresee able future. The level and nature of the concerns of the Central Asian states regarding Afghanistan vary with distance. By virtue of their geographic locations, the Central Asian states fall into two groups. The first group, Afghanistan’s immediate northern neighbours – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – border Afghanistan and are consistently involved in processes related to their southern neighbour. The second group – Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in the wider neighbourhood – lack common borders with Afghanistan and are consequently less involved than the members of the first. Below, each country is dealt with separately within the framework of each group.


Two basic assumptions lie at the core of Uzbekistan’s position on Afghanistan. First, the resolution of the Afghan problem cannot be achieved by force alone. Second, for this reason, economic measures should take a more prominent role in conflict resolution in and the restoration of Afghanistan. More concrete Uzbek interests are borders and geopolitics. Uzbekistan shares a small and tightly monitored border with Afghanistan. Uzbek concerns pertain more to the porous nature of the Afghan–Tajik border and Tajikistan’s ability to maintain border control. Uzbekistan also sees the crisis in Afghanistan as an opportunity to create an international role for itself that is independent of Russia.

Uzbekistan’s key message is that restoration of the economy is the only way to reduce the conflict potential inside Afghanistan. Priority, therefore, should be given to targeted economic assistance to Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is one of the most important neighbours of Afghanistan in the conflict regulation process.

Initially, from the 1990s Uzbek diplomacy worked on coordinated international efforts to promote a dialogue between Afghanistan’s warring factions in various formats that included Afghanistan’s neighbours and major powers. This however enjoyed limited success, and Uzbekistan consequently focused on bilateral cooperation.

In July 2012, the Foreign Policy Concept of Uzbekistan was adopted. It includes several principles that are relevant for Afghanistan. Policy towards neighbouring countries should be based on open and pragmatic relations. Conflict resolution in Afghanistan should be based on mutual respect and non-interference. Political, economic and other measures should be taken to avoid involvement in armed conflicts in its neighbourhood. No foreign military installations will be allowed in Uzbekistan.

Apart from diplomacy, Uzbekistan has also implemented economic projects in Afghanistan such as railway construction, the extraction industry and educational exchange projects. More specific examples include Uzbekistan’s participa

tion since 2002 in the construction of 11 bridges between Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul, and building a 442 km-long power grid from Kabul to the Uzbek border, as well as setting up Internet cable infrastructure and mobile communications. Trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan almost doubled between 2010 (when it amounted to 557 million USD) and 2012 (1.073 billion USD). In 2012 Uzbekistan became Afghanistan’s second most important trading partner, surpassed only by Pakistan, with 1.477 billion USD.

Given the stipulations of the Foreign Policy Concept, Uzbekistan’s future policy towards Afghanistan is likely to entail intensified action to facilitate a domestic political dialogue between different political forces in Afghanistan in order to strengthen and preserve a unified Afghan

state. It will also prefer bilateral settings, since multilateral formats have proved ineffective. Uzbekistan will assist in the resolution of the social and economic problems of Afghanistan and will implement specific projects aimed at creating aviable economy. It will base its actions on its experience of concrete project-based cooperation.

In the long term, Uzbekistan would have wanted a continued US presence in Afghanistan in order to keep on gaining economic dividends without itself having to succumb to political reform. By aligning itself with the US, the regime gained political legitimacy and Uzbekistan became something of a counterweight to Russia and a privileged zone of influence and leadership in

the region. If all this fails, Uzbekistan can always nurture its relationship with the ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his party in Afghanistan to create a buffer zone against Taliban advances in the north of Afghanistan.

Tajikistan’s political elite believes that Afghanistan is a key determinant for its country’s future. Tajikistan’s stance on Afghanistan is based on several principles. Tajikistan advocates rational neighbourly relations and wants to preserve Afghanistan’s integrity and independence, whilst recognising that military action is not a solution. Furthermore, Tajikistan emphasises the need for international consensus on Afghanistan and refrains from emphasizing ideological, ethnic and regional aspects in its Afghanistan policies. Afghanistan should be a partner on both energy and security issues. As for illegal drug production, the focus should be on workable solutions both within Afghanistan and regarding trafficking outside Afghanistan, as well as resto

ration of the social fabric in Afghanistan. Finally, Tajikistan also wants to develop a coordinated, regional, Central Asian policy on Afghanistan focusing on joint development of Afghanistan’s markets (energy and food) and mutually beneficial use of infrastructure and transport links between Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Tajikistan, like Kyrgyzstan, sees the possibility of stabilisation in and reconstruction of Afghanistan as an opportunity to export electricity to Afghanistan and to energy-poor India and Pakistan. Tajikistan has made numerous proposals for how to develop future electricity exports should it successfully develop the Rogun hydropower dam. One is to build transmission lines from Rogun to Iran through Mazar-e Sharif and another to go through Kunduz and Kabul and on to Jalalabad in Pakistan. The problem with these proposals is that Tajikistan struggles with its own electricity supply during winter. Furthermore, the construction of the Rogun dam is being challenged by neighbouring Uzbekistan, which weakens the prospects for sustainable cooperation. Tajikistan also hopes to benefit from trade and transport routes to Afghanistan. Should plans for improving the railway system inside Afghanistan materialise, Tajikistan would want to build a Dushanbe–Kurgan Teppe–Kunduz railway.

Undoubtedly there are good prospects for relations between Tajikistan and Afghanistan based on equal rights and mutual advantage, provided that the situation in Afghanistan remains stable. The further development of these relations, including the realisation of planned joint projects in the fields of hydro-energy and transport, depends to a great extent on the military-political situation in Afghanistan and in the region as a whole after the withdrawal of ISAF.

Currently it is difficult to account for Turkmenistan’s position on the Afghan issue, since Turkmenistan is not represented on the regional security agenda. Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov seems to wants to make it an international issue, for example by saying that the only way out of the crisis is through negotiations, through the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA). The Turkmen government maintains contacts with the Turkmen community in Afghanistan, around 2 per cent of the population, but is not involved in the local political struggles.


Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have formal relations with Afghanistan, but without common borders there is limited scope for interaction. Both countries are extending reconstruction assistance. Their shared overall view is that international efforts should be geared to making Afghanistan less dependent on aid and more economically stable so that it can develop financial relations with its extended neighbourhood and become a more attractive destination for investment. Afghanistan could also become an important transit centre. Kazakhstan’s position on the resolution of the Afghan conflict is based on several premises.

Afghanistan’s stability and sustainability are prerequisites for containing threats like international terrorism, religious fundamentalism and the drugs trade. The international community and the UN should work with the Afghan government and play an active role in a political resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s de

pendence on humanitarian aid should gradually be replaced by foreign investment, preferably by transnational corporations rather than foreign governments. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan’s contribution today focuses on targeted economic aid for financial assistance, the construction of social, industrial and infrastructure facilities, and staff training. In a future vision for regional economic integration, Kazakhstan may have a leading role to play as a potential donor to and investor in regional infrastructure projects, including in Afghanistan.

Where security and cross-border threats emanating from Afghanistan are concerned, Kazakhstan is the least affected of the Central Asian countries. It participates in multilateral programmes on Afghanistan through NATO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and is especially active in the latter two organisations’ Afghanistan-related working groups. However, in Kazakhstan’s view neither NATO nor the SCO is appropriate for stabilising Afghanistan as neither organisation has Afghanistan as its natural focus. While all international processes and organisations should be used, Kazakhstan prefers the United Nations. Kazakhstan stresses that outside nations should not interfere in Afghanistan’s domestic and foreign policy. If Afghanistan opts for neutrality, this should be supported. Kazakhstan did have a debate about despatching a contingent from its peacekeeping brigade (KAZBRIG) to support ISAF in Afghanistan, but the parliament finally vetoed it. Kazakhstan also has a political and economic stake in the success of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN).

In bilateral relations, the concrete measures taken by Kazakhstan have given it an advantage over the other Central Asian republics in Afghanistan. It has provided humanitarian aid (food aid and grain), implemented several large- scale social projects, assisted Afghanistan’s parliament, and introduced scholarships worth 50 million USD for the education and training of Afghan nationals.

Kyrgyzstan is less involved with Afghanistan for two reasons. It is relatively weak in resources and its domestic political situation is unstable. Kyrgyzstan hosts one of the most important military installations on the NDN, the Transit Centre at Manas Airport near Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan, although lacking a border with Afghanistan, has been an important player in NATO’s efforts by leasing out this military base. It also made a brief attempt to propose a political solution for Afghanistan before it became engulfed in its own political turmoil. Kyrgyzstan, like Tajikistan, also sees potential for exporting electricity to Afghanistan.


The Central Asian countries differ in their positions on Afghanistan, but a comparative analysis reveals that they take a common stand on a number of issues. All see economic potential in Afghanistan as a transport route to South Asia. All (except Turkmenistan) are implementing programmes on education and for developing professional skills among Afghans. In security matters, they share the concerns about the two main threats from Afghanistan, religious fundamentalism and Afghan-produced drugs. They also share perceptions about five areas of peace and stability in Afghanistan. First, there is no military solution to the Afghan problem. NATO’s strategy to pacify Afghanistan is not expected to yield the anticipated results. Their preference would be for a greater use of intelligence rather than military force and a search for a political solution through national reconciliation.

Second, priority should be given to peace through economic reconstruction as a way to achieve security through regional integration, and to incentives such as tackling the problems of poverty, unemployment and quality of life in Afghanistan in order to alleviate the conditions that are driving instability in the region. Third, any Afghan solution must show full respect for the traditions, customs and values of Islam of the people of Afghanistan. Fourth, Afghan talks should be primarily Afghan-led and include all relevant actors – in other words, not only the Taliban but also the Northern Alliance – which would facilitate reconciliation based on power sharing between the different ethnic groups. Finally, the UN and its specialised agencies should be engaged more actively.

The Central Asian countries’ interest in Afghanistan as a transit route to South Asia opens the way for further discussion of the New Silk Road initiative. |1| This discussion would be made easier if the ideological connotations were removed and the focus put on seeking solutions to specific transport, trade and politicomilitary problems.

Other (non-Central Asian) countries also have a major role in shaping the approaches of the Central Asian states to Afghanistan. Some Central Asian countries currently play a more important role in addressing Afghanistan-related problems. Tajikistan is a key actor, for objective reasons, as it feels the direct impact of the developments in Afghanistan more than other regional countries.

Uzbekistan can play a pivotal role: thanks to its resources it can have the strongest influence on processes inside Afghanistan. Kazakhstan is the most resource-rich Central Asian state with a bigger potential than the others to contribute to (primarily) economic developments. The other two countries will play more limited roles, Turkmenistan due to its isolationism and unwillingness and inability to get involved, Kyrgyzstan because of its internal stability problem and reduced importance once the transit through Manas becomes less important.


Central Asian governments are not openly discussing the possible geopolitical transformation in the region following the NATO drawdown in Afghanistan, but experts believe that this transformation may become a crucial key factor for future regional destabilisation.

A number of uncertainties may affect Central Asian countries’ positions and approaches towards Afghanistan, including short- and medium-term changes in the social, economic and political conditions such as possible political shifts due to attempts at changes like the Orange Revolution or Arab Spring, or power transitions if there are leadership changes. Another uncertainty is the format, strategy and tactics of the NATO drawdown from Afghanistan and the possible agreements between NATO member states (most notably the US) and Central Asian countries with respect to the drawdown of forces from Afghanistan.

Judging from the current situation in and around Afghanistan, the Central Asian countries are most likely to bolster their efforts to establish political dialogue with all forces inside Afghanistan, as well as with neighbouring countries and leading powers that support a unified Afghan state. They are likely to assist Afghanistan in addressing social and economic concerns and supporting projects to develop a growing and sustainable Afghan economy. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, in all probability, will focus on bilateral relations, while Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are more likely to rely on multilateral institutions that are already involved in the restoration of Afghanistan. But the middle road between them – regional efforts between the five Central Asian states – is unlikely to be taken.


1 The New Silk Road initiative spells out a vision for creating an ‘international web and network of economic and transit connections’ that would make Afghanistan a hub for linking Central and South Asia through creating trade and transport corridors and ‘removing bureaucratic barriers and other impediments to the free flow of goods and people’. It was first

launched by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 20 July 2011 during a speech in the Indian city of Chennai (Consulate General of the United States, Chennai, ‘Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks on India and the United States: a vision for the 21st century’, 20 July 2011, http://chennai.usconsulate.gov/sec- clintonspeechacl_110721.html).

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