What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Central Asia's foothold in Bucharest and in Afghanistan - Precarious?

The Weekly Great Game - Special Issue #3 (April 9)
The Weekly Great Game series returns here with a special issue about Uzbekistan's "shifting" position in the regional game (it's probably worth to remark in advance that one of the conclusions here is actually that it's shifting not in terms of orientation but potentially in importance rather). Joshua Foust was faster than me, but there's no stopping me doing this. And there's the added advantage that I can also afford to quote Josh in this post for some economy of effort from my part.
So, what I offer first of all is that the following sequence of events could be considered.
In January, the U.S. CENTCOM's commander, the by now "fallen" William Fallon went to Central Asia. And soon after that started the circulation of rumours about the U.S. and/or NATO being given the chance to use Termez airbase in Uzbekistan in the future. Then there were denials that the U.S. or even NATO could use the airbase so simply, just like that. Only perhaps, with a lot of conditions, on a case-by-case basis, it was to be possible, so it was stated.
Meanwhile, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan visited Moscow in February, and Afghanistan.ru summed up the outcome like this.

"Russia and Uzbekistan will closely coordinate efforts concerning the situation in Afghanistan. This was stated after a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov in the Kremlin in Moscow on the 6th Wednesday.

“The two countries will closely resume further coordination of efforts on key issues on the international agenda, including the situation in Afghanistan and work in the regional integrating structures – Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Economic Union, Collective Security Treaty organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization”, said President Putin.

According to the Russian leader, Moscow sees Uzbekistan as one of its most important strategic allies in Central Asia."

And then, parallel to that, started talk of a transit agreement with Russia: that NATO would start sending supplies across Russia to Afghanistan, to ease dependence to a degree on the nowadays somewhat vulnerable supply lines through Pakistan. That of course only made sense if one assumed that transit could work across Central Asia even. And Uzbekistan therefore seemed kind of important, and one wondered how the past fallout with the U.S. over Andijan and human rights would affect that. Then at last week's NATO Summit in Bucharest the transit agreement was finalised, with at least the important opportunity to deliver so-called "nonlethal supplies," including fuel one has to presume, through Russia. So something had to surface with regards to Uzbekistan, too. And it did - as RIA Novosti reports (discussing the significance of the scheme even with regards to Turkmenistan):

"The one interesting initiative on Afghanistan made in Bucharest was Uzbek President Islam Karimov's proposal to add NATO to the 6+2 talks on peace and stability in Afghanistan, held between the countries bordering on it - Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, plus the United States and Russia, as guarantors.

The 6+2 group was set up in 1997 and had been effective until 2001. It drafted proposals on settling the political crisis in Afghanistan under UN auspices and held a meeting of the warring sides in Tashkent in July 1999, which adopted the declaration on the guidelines for settling the conflict. It was later used to draft a UN Security Council decision on political solutions to the conflict between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban.

The terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 halted the group's operation.

The Uzbek president's proposal to add NATO to the group is logical, because NATO troops are directly involved in the operation in Afghanistan. Karimov said that only the involvement of all parties concerned could help draft a comprehensive plan for reconstructing Afghanistan. Unlike the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional security bloc in Central Asia that includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which comprises Russia, China and four ex-Soviet Central Asian states, the 6+2 group includes Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is one of Afghanistan's most active economic partners. At the summit in Bucharest, it has proposed building a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan, which will create thousands of jobs in Afghanistan. Kabul wholeheartedly supports this idea.

It was first advanced in the 1990s by Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurat Niyazov. At that time, Pakistan and India pledged to buy gas delivered along the pipeline, but the project was put on ice because of the civil war. The situation has improved since then, and the other day India and Turkmenistan signed a memorandum of understanding on gas production. India plans to join the project soon.

Turkmenistan also supports Kabul's idea of building a ring railroad around Afghanistan to unite all railroads in the region.

(...)

Islam Karimov's proposal of adding NATO to the 6+2 talks on Afghanistan is important because NATO is actively cooperating with Pakistan to improve the situation in Afghanistan, in particular protecting the Pakistani-Afghan border and exchanging intelligence data. It has set up a trilateral commission comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and ISAF representatives for this purpose. Why not set up similar commissions with other members of the 6+2 group? Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan would gladly participate in them, but Brussels needs time to digest Karimov's proposal. "

Yep. And not only Islam Karimov but also Turkmenistan's leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was there in Bucharest last week, at the NATO Summit.

"The United States worked painstakingly in recent months to repair bilateral relations with Uzbekistan, and to obtain Tashkent’s approval for a transit corridor. NATO planners feel that an overland rail supply route would greatly ease the logistical hassles connected with reconstruction and counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.

Capping a period of intensive diplomacy, Pamela Spratlen, the acting US deputy secretary of state for Central and South Asian affairs, spent five days in Uzbekistan, from March 27-April 1, meeting with top Uzbek leaders. The mission was shrouded in secrecy -- a fact underscored by a statement issued April 1 by the US embassy in Tashkent that described Spratlen’s extended tour in Uzbekistan only as "a useful visit."

Prior to the NATO conclave in Bucharest on April 2-4, Russia signaled that it would facilitate a transit corridor. Attending the discussions on April 4, Uzbek President Islam Karimov also formally endorsed the plan. An overland route may prove a particular boost to reconstruction assistance bound for Afghanistan.

"We in Uzbekistan are acutely aware that the decisive factor for security is the attainment of peace and stability in Afghanistan," Karimov said in an address to the assembled heads of state. Karimov added that Afghanistan’s stabilization would create "big opportunities for the resolution of vitally important problems of the stable socio-economic development of the entire Central Asian region."

Karimov indicated that Tashkent was agreeing to a transit corridor -- in which the Uzbek border city of Termez would serve as the hub -- mainly out of a desire to keep NATO engaged in Afghanistan. During the run-up to the Bucharest summit, some NATO member states indicated that they might consider pulling their troop contingents out of Afghanistan if no steps were taken to reinforce the war effort."

Let me echo: "to keep NATO engaged in Afghanistan."

So the US started to worry a little whether they might be paving Russian influence's way in the southern direction if they would have agreed to accept all that was offered too easily. Continuing still with EurasiaNet here:

"... the Uzbek leader made a proposal in Bucharest sure to give Washington pause. Specifically, he called for the revival of the so-called 6 + 2 stabilization process. The 6 +2 formula, which functioned from 1997 up until the September 11 terrorist tragedy, brought together the United States and Russia, along with Afghanistan’s six neighboring states -- China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- in efforts to promote Afghan stabilization.

In Bucharest, Karimov proposed expanding the format to 6 + 3 with the inclusion of NATO as a new participant. Russia appeared to give a rapid endorsement to Karimov’s suggestion. But the United States, which wields the most outside influence over stabilization operations, seems certain to resist such a plan, given that it would seem to give nations with interests that diverge drastically from Washington’s agenda a license to meddle in Afghanistan.

Aside from the 6 +3 proposal, there is plentiful evidence to suggest that while Uzbekistan is again willing to work with the United States, Tashkent is not necessarily Washington’s friend. During Spratlen’s visit to Tashkent, for example, the Uzbek senate formally ratified the Collective Security Treaty, a Central Asian security arrangement that is dominated by Moscow. The timing of the move seemed to reaffirm Tashkent’s commitment to close strategic cooperation with Russia."

Like, there is a reason I'm calling this series here the Weekly Great Game... I just hope this doesn't detract attention from the fact that beside Russia and Great Britain the U.S. there is also a country called CHINA. Oh, and there's no British Empire any more but there's a country called Pakistan to be found to the east and south of Afghanistan. And... for now I'm not continuing this description of what has changed. Suffice to say much has changed.

And to get back to Earth from the dizzying heights of the Great Game there is also the mundane reality of the state of Central Asian infrastructure to consider. Finishing here quoting Joshua Foust:

"... to the best of my knowledge, Afghanistan doesn’t have a rail system to speak of—most of its previous rulers had rejected rail links to British India or Soviet Turkestan for a variety of (well founded) strategic reasons, like the desire not to have an easy method of importing large numbers of foreign troops. How good is this rail link? The few rails that operate along the Amu Darya have major rail break problems, in that they operate at a different gauge than their neighbors. This tells me freight can make it only as far as Termez, and from there it must be either shipped or flown to its final destination.
Which leaves the original problem barely addressed: if the insurgents are targeting resupply convoys, changing the route is effective only in the short term. It doesn’t get at the roots of the problem. So what is NATO doing to address the problem of under-protected supply convoys?"

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