CENTRAL ASIA AFTER 11 SEPTEMBER
Murat Laumulin, Deputy Director, Kazakhstani Institute for Strategic Studies (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
The terrorist acts of 11 September in the United States and the subsequent routing of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan changed the geopolitical situation in the world forever. Central Asia has had its share of these dramatic changes, too. The roles of all geopolitical and regional leaders—Russia, the U.S., China, the EU, Iran, Turkey, and the Central Asian countries—altered, to a certain degree. The Afghan conflict no longer affects Central Asia. The situation is stabilizing.
First, the relationships between the U.S. and its NATO allies improved and the recent contradictions over the anti-missile system and certain financial and economic issues (including the oil projects of European companies in Iran) lost their edge. The Western countries closed ranks in the face of Muslim extremists threatening their citizens. Russia and its Central Asian allies, as well as the Caucasian countries loyal to the West joined the anti-Taliban coalition and added strength to the united front.
Second, the United States strengthened its influence in the Middle East and South Asia: the Gulf countries (including Saudi Arabia and Oman that had recognized the Taliban) refused to extend even moral support to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Iran and Iraq did not form an anti-U.S. Union with the Taliban. The authorities quenched anti-American sentiments that gripped people in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. The Philippine leaders went even further and allowed the U.S. armed forces to move against Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist terrorist organization. In a certain sense the Muslim world split: the leaders and the people disagreed over politics. This is fraught with new domestic and, probably, regional conflicts.
Third, the United States strengthened its ties with South Caucasian and Central Asian states, which means that it intruded into the sphere of Russia’s vital interests. Under the slogan of antiterrorist unity the White House is training antiterrorist units in Georgia, it set up temporal military bases in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, and is sending more money to these countries. The aims are still unclear: the U.S. is either working toward greater stability there, closer ties with these countries or weaker Russia’s influence in the region. America might be pursuing all these aims at one and the same time. The attempt to establish a loyal regime in Afghanistan means that the American oil lobby is trying to channel the Caspian oil and gas to the south. The route that will exclude Russia and by-pass hostile Iran will bring oil to the promising South Asian markets (India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia).
Fourth, the situation in the Middle East, an arena of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brothers and other terrorist groups, may change. The United States and its allies can exploit the commonly shared antiterrorist sentiments to threaten the countries that shelter (or allegedly shelter) these groups and to force the Arab states move closer to the Western position on the Middle Eastern settlement. At the same time, the United States does not want Israel to play an independent role there: it repeatedly warned Tel Aviv against using force in its relations with Arab states without American consent. It seems that the peace initiatives of the U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell are aimed at encouraging loyalty to Washington in the Arab world much needed in view of an anti-Iraqi operation.
On the whole, its successful anti-Taliban operation allowed the United States to strengthen its domination in the world. In fact, China, the only country able to oppose the United States, hastened to seize the moment to move against terrorists at home and to enlist support of its neighbors in squashing separatists in China. This explains why Beijing offers no comment on the American act of retribution in Afghanistan.
The change of government in Afghanistan produced the following results: first, world financial aid and investment flow change their direction, in particular, much more money is channeled to the development of Central Asia and Afghanistan, second, the balance of forces on the world map of strategic resources is altering because the Caspian region is gradually becoming one of the largest suppliers of energy fuels, third, the military-political situation in the Asian part of the Eurasian continent has become different. According to the press, when the passions in Pakistan caused by the war in Afghanistan reached their peak the Pakistani leaders planned to move the nuclear weapons away from the country and as far as possible from the local extremists. India had to regulate its relations with Pakistan under the threat that the neighbor’s nuclear armaments may fall into the hands of Muslim extremists if they come to power there. For some time the rising wave of an armed confrontation between the two countries retreated.
By the middle of 2001 the Washington operation in Afghanistan destroyed the tacitly accepted balance of forces in the region between Russia, the U.S., and China.
Today, the Kremlin is obviously less active in Central Asia while Washington is stepping up its activity there. Despite the seemingly closer ties between Russia and the West (and the United States in particular) no historic rapprochement occurred. On 13 December, 2001 Washington unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty while NATO did not abandon its eastward enlargement.
Russia’s position weakened in several respects: first, it is no longer the only dominating military-political force in the region. The American military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have become the linchpin of the unfolding American large-scale military and political presence in Central Asia. Second, the United States is more and more actively claiming the role of the guarantor of regional security. Third, America’s active efforts to exclude Russia from the system of hydrocarbons transportation are also indicative.
Russia is being pushed out of the region on a large scale—its spheres of influence are contracting. Moscow has neither political nor economic levers to close the region to other centers of power and remain the only dominating force there.
Afghanistan’s New Role in Central Asia
The military-political processes that took place late in 2001 and early in 2002 in Afghanistan and around it affected the course of the antiterrorist operation and the country’s future, and created new geopolitical realities in Central Asia and around the world. In December 2001 Afghanistan acquired an interim government of Hamid Karzai that completely depended on the international community or, rather, on the U.S.-led anti-Taliban coalition in the military, financial, and political respects.
The events in Afghanistan were unfolding against the international and geopolitical background not quite favorable for the United States: tension in the Middle East had mounted, the Indian-Pakistani confrontation over Kashmir had reached another peak, Islamists in other areas of the world had stepped up their activities while confrontation with Iraq had become even tenser. Washington has to disperse its forces. The contradictions among the allies became more obvious. Some of them (Russia and China) are displeased with the wide scale of the American military presence in the region and stronger American influence there. The European allies repeatedly voiced their dissatisfaction with Washington’s policies and its readiness to move its military operation to other regions, against Iraq in the first place. They also obviously want to limit their military presence in Afghanistan.
The American high command and the military in command of the operation have opposing opinions about the future of the operation. The Vietnamese syndrome is obviously still strong: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld opposes wider American military presence in Afghanistan while the military tend to disagree with him. The CIA suggests that the area of the international security forces should be extended to include all large and average-sized towns, that American units should be used in armed conflicts on the side of the government. The CIA believes that America needs an institute of advisors with the right to resolve conflicts—an alias for an occupational administration.
On the whole, in Afghanistan and Central Asia the U.S. is trying to avoid an involvement in a protracted conflict and to shift the burden to non-American forces. The military bases in Central Asia do not allow the Pentagon to gain full-scale strategic control yet allow it to resolve local operational tasks.
Central Asia is still not immune to the threat of possible destabilization in Afghanistan. Ethnic minorities there want autonomy, they are working toward the country’s federalization and regionalization while the Pashtoon majority needs a politically united country. This is a source of political dissent and possible rupture. The trend has become quite obvious and will develop into a bad headache for the country’s leaders.
The U.S. Aims and Its Strategy
American influence in the region rose dramatically and this undermined the positions of Russia and China, two most influential foreign-policy factors of the previous period. Moscow can no longer protect its interests in the CIS when dealing with Washington. Russia’s influence in Central Asia is rapidly declining. Today Astana can deal with Washington independently, without looking over its shoulder at Moscow. This is a serious geopolitical change in the local balance of forces—America is pushing at its complete control over the Caspian area.
Nobody doubts that today in Kazakhstan the United States is concentrating on the Caspian basin: the White House is strengthening its geopolitical grip of the region and is pushing forward the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, its favorite variant. America is trying to reduce to a possible minimum Russia’s role as a Caspian oil transit country and completely exclude Iran as another oil transit country. In the nearest future Washington has to prepare the Caspian states to step up hydrocarbon extraction and export under its direct political and economic supervision.
To reach the aim all U.S. federal agencies have to concentrate on fulfilling the recommendations signed by President Bush in May 2001: maximal support of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project that should become commercially viable; close cooperation between the U.S. government, the American oil companies and the third countries in attracting the firms already operating in Kazakhstan and in orientating them toward the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project; a more active trade dialog with Astana and other Caspian capitals with an aim of creating a transparent business climate in the field of energy and energy-related projects.
Traditionally, in Central Asia America has been working in eight key directions. The first, and most important from Washington’s point of view, is the so-called aid programs: between 1992 and 1998 the Central Asian countries received $1.3 billion of American aid. Throughout the period of independence Kazakhstan received more money from the U.S. than its Central Asian neighbors: in 1997, $35.5 million; in 1998, $40.5 million; in 1999, $44.2 million; in 2000, $53.5 million; in 2001, $71.5 million. It is planned to give Kazakhstan $81.6 million in 2002. There is an obvious upward trend, yet this year Uzbekistan suddenly outstripped Kazakhstan where American aid is concerned: it has received $161.8 million ($55.9 million in 2001); Tajikistan comes second with $85.3 million ($56.4 million in 2001). The United States has obviously shifted its priorities under an impact of geopolitical changes caused by the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan that boosted the strategic importance of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The United States is seeking an active involvement in what is going on in the region and is promoting personal contacts between American politicians and the regional political leaders. This is the second trend of American strategy in Central Asia. More democracy and respect for human rights form another trend of American involvement: formally they are the basic principles of American policy. The fourth trend, closely connected with the third one, is support for market reforms.
The U.S. government described lower conflict potential and fighting against all possible threats as one of the major tasks in the sphere of security in which it is prepared to closely cooperate with the Central Asian countries. In 1997, Central Asia was transferred from the zone of responsibility of European Operational Command to the zone of responsibility of the U.S. Central Command. This created a basis for the U.S. strategic interests in the region. The Central Asian battalion (Tsentrazbat) is one of the major forms of cooperation in the security sphere between the United States and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.
Global integration is yet another trend of American Caspian and Central Asian strategy: the local countries should be involved in world economy and the system of global political, economic, technological, information, and financial relations. The U.S. energy interests and their protection are the main object of American strategy in the region throughout the entire period of its independent development. To pursue this major aim the United States opted for two basic lines: direct investments in oil and gas production and control over the pipelines and construction projects.
In the nearest and more distant future the United States will continue promoting its very concrete interests in Kazakhstan: the republic should remain in the orbit of American regional and global strategy with due account for the Caspian factor. Washington’s further moves will depend on how this immediate task is fulfilled: Astana should be gradually removed from Moscow’s influence; the Shanghai process as a system of regional security should be weakened and dissolved; American presence in the region should be used to put pressure on China; the level of threat of international terrorism and the conflict potential in Central Asia should be reduced with the help of America’s direct presence and interference; efficient international control should be gradually established over production and illegal drug trafficking for the purpose of fighting this evil; Kazakhstan should be helped to develop democratic processes and all sorts of NGOs so that America could increase its influence on public opinion and create additional political outlets of its indirect dialog with the government; Kazakhstan and its Central Asian neighbors should be gradually included in all sorts of U.S.-controlled international trade and economic unions, the WTO in the first place.
Is Russia Retreating?
So far, Russia has not adequately responded to America’s lightning advance in the region and the developments around Afghanistan and Central Asia. Today Moscow has to reassess its policy in Central Asia under the pressure of the following factors: the loss of the functions of a political arbiter and a security guarantor; degradation of the main instrument of military and political domination (the Collective Security Treaty—CST); transformation of the United States from an economic into a military-political force in the region; weaker positions of China as Russia’s main strategic partner in Central Asia and a threat of decline of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a system of Russian-Chinese security in Central Asia; a real threat of new pipelines by-passing Russia; the growth of trade and economic contradictions between the Russian Federation and the Central Asian states, and the decreasing integration potential of the CIS.
This may force Moscow revise the tactics it was pursuing in the last six months. Russia has a well-oiled system of guiding intra-regional processes, it knows what it needs and has acquired an adequate experience. It may step up its activity in the nearest future and preserve its influence in Central Asia. One should not forget that Moscow has acquired considerable experience of non-formal contacts.
Russia’s changed role and its decreased influence in Central Asia, and in Kazakhstan, after 11 September is a painful (from the military-political and geopolitical points of view) yet real process. Moscow’s traditional positions in Kazakhstan and the degree of its influence on Astana are based on long-term and even eternal factors: geography, geopolitics, and history.
On the whole the two countries continue to cooperate in the following priority spheres: trade and economy, regional and transborder cooperation, fuel and energy, transport, military technology, and in the humanitarian sphere.
In fact, Kazakhstan is the only country in Central Asia where the positions of Moscow remained practically the same while the other key republics have moved away. Still the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Kazakhstan in April 2002 weakened Moscow’s positions in the republic: Kazakhstan actually allowed the U.S. to use its air space and air bases.
It seems that until the end of 2002 the relations between Moscow and Astana will follow a complicated route of bilateral cooperation, decreased attention to the CIS and its structures; Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and the CST will be strengthened. The Kremlin will oppose all attempts of Kazakhstan to continue its dialog with the United States in the context of American military-political presence in Central Asia. The Caspian problem will aggravate, the United States will insist on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline while Russia and China will demonstrate their unity within the SCO.
Kazakhstan cannot afford crippling its stable and strategically important relationships with Russia. Neither can it succumb to Moscow and Beijing’s pressure and cool its relations with the U.S. There are reasons to believe that Russia is waging a sophisticated game with the United States based on compromises and concessions that involves Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus.
On the whole, Russia’s policy today can be described as a tactical retreat. In fact, one concession after another leads to a strategic retreat. Russia cannot accept American presence in Central Asia once the antiterrorist operation is over. Moscow is losing its instruments of influence. In May 2002, Moscow tried to restore its influence within the EurAsEC and the CST.
It seems that we are watching how Russia is decreasing into an average regional power.
Collective Security Treaty
Until recently Russia relied on the military-political component and the Collective Security Treaty to ensure its presence in the strategically important post-Soviet areas. Within the CIS only Russia was regarded as a real factor and a guarantor of security when extremism and terrorism came to the fore.
By summer 2001 the CST members had accumulated a lot of security problems. Afghanistan and the threat to Central Asia was the central question. The treaty members arrived at a decision to set up Collective Rapid Deployment Forces to operate at first in Central Asia and later in any other place threatened with terrorism.
The Collective Rapid Deployment Forces included a Kazakhstani assault battalion (Kazbat), a Kyrgyz mountain rifle battalion, a Russian tactical group (battalion) and an independent signal battalion, a Tajik landing assault battalion. The Forces received the necessary means of aviation that included transport and assault aviation and helicopters.
The Forces could wage mobile operations and close battles with small groups of terrorists (like those that invaded Batken). They were ill-suited, however, to rebuff large-scale invasions or conduct peacekeeping operations on the regional scale. Significantly, as soon as the Forces were formed some of the NATO members displayed a desire to help Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan train and equip their units and teach them how to wage mountain warfare.
Today, further development of the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces makes no sense, at least in the nearest future: armed forces of the antiterrorist coalition are stationed in Central Asia while Afghanistan presents no threat. Strategically, a network of NATO military bases in Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries allows the coalition to adequately control the region and promptly respond to military-political changes.
Ten years of the Collective Security Treaty have demonstrated that it failed to resolve all problems and justify the hopes of some of its members: no military-political bloc under Russia’s aegis was formed: bitterly disappointed by the allies inaction, Uzbekistan, one of the key Central Asian members, withdrew from the treaty. When Islamic militants captured Pamir peaks, it turned out that the mechanism stalled and could not be fully used because of mutual claims and contradictions (Bishkek insisted that Russian border guards be removed from Kyrgyzstan).
Many hopes were pinned on the Moscow summit of the CST that took place in mid-May 2002. Russia tried to develop the treaty into a military-political alliance, yet the problems of security were pushed to the background under the pressure of other issues: a summit of the EurAsEC and the talks between Russia and Kazakhstan on the division of the Caspian shelf. The treaty members remained on their old positions: President Nazarbaev described the treaty as an “insurance policy” that remained unclaimed. Possible intensification of military-technological cooperation between the treaty members is the only important result of the Moscow summit. This is an economic rather than a political issue. Despite this President Nazarbaev supported the idea of Vladimir Putin who suggested that the Collective Security Treaty be transformed into an international organization, that is, into a military-political bloc.
The Chinese Factor
Support that the Central Asian Uighurs extend to the separatists in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China is one of Beijing’s worst headaches. In many respects the Caspian and Central Asian region is a factor that helps the western provinces of China develop economically.
Stronger U.S. positions in Central Asia and Washington’s pressure on the world scale are pushing Beijing toward Iran, Libya and other Arab states. In short, China is seeking anti-American cooperation. This first became obvious early in April 2002, yet one can say that the trend has not developed into a strategy. China is looking for an exit from the strategic impasse it found itself in after the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan and the first signs of Russia’s possible retreat from anti-American partnership with the PRC.
Beijing regards the U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and the American military presence in Central Asia as an obvious threat to its security. It should be added that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China’s important regional instrument, lost some of its political influence some time ago. One cannot exclude a possibility that, perhaps on a Chinese initiative, Russia and China will try to boost the organization’s prestige and increase its influence in Central Asia. One cannot exclude, either, that Kazakhstan will feel stronger pressure than its neighbors. At the same time, Moscow’s already obvious geopolitical drift toward NATO (“NATO at 20” is the result of it) may wipe away China’s efforts to restore domination of the Moscow-Beijing axis in Central Asia.
In May 2002, the border problems between China and the Central Asian countries attracted attention once more. Kazakhstan ratified the delimitation of its frontier with China and confirmed this during the visit of its State Secretary/Foreign Minister K. Tokaev to Beijing. The problem of delimitation aggravated the situation in Kyrgyzstan when the upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament refused to ratify the agreement under the pressure of public opinion: the nation did not want to accept the territorial concessions to China. This created a domestic political crisis and a threat to the country and region’s stability. This, and the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan, may lead to serious regional and geopolitical problems.
In the interests of regional stability we should not allow the SCO to split into an anti- and pro-American blocs. Uzbekistan might withdraw from it, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may gradually drift away, Kazakhstan does not want an anti-American bloc to be formed in Central Asia with Russia and China playing the first fiddle and our republic attached to them as a junior partner.
The Situation in Central Asia
It was quite recently that Uzbekistan was looking at Russia as its main foreign-policy landmark. The antiterrorist operation and the military bases in some of the Central Asian states cooled the relations between Russia and Uzbekistan once more. Tashkent is now looking at Washington: on 12 March, 2002 Uzbekistan and the United States signed a Declaration on Strategic Partnership and Cooperation within which the sides confirmed their desire to “carry on dynamic military and military-technological cooperation.” The document emphasized that any external threat to Uzbekistan’s security and territorial integrity will be regarded with great concern in Washington. Today, over 1,000 American military and specialists are stationed in Uzbekistan in connection with the antiterrorist operation. The United States insists that its military presence is temporary, yet the agreements signed within the framework of the Declaration are designed to create deeper relations on the long-term basis between the two countries. According to the earlier agreements, the United States will triple its aid to Uzbekistan (that will top $160 million).
Tashkent is resolved to continue its strategic cooperation with the United States that started late in 2001. During his visit to Washington in March 2002 President Karimov actually confirmed his country’s loyalty to the antiterrorist operation and its later stages. Uzbekistan is afraid that the military infrastructure in Afghanistan has not been destroyed and that in future Islamists may strike again in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. There are doubts about the Western peacekeepers’ ability to control the situation in Afghanistan, yet Tashkent wants the U.S. and its allies to remain there as long as possible.
Tashkent’s strategic partnership with Washington has already produced results: President Karimov’s regime strengthened its positions and its presidentship was extended; late in April 2002 the border delimitation talks between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan failed because of the latter’s inflexible stand.
The situation in Tajikistan is not simple either: like all its neighbors it decided to maximally profit from the antiterrorist operation and establish qualitatively new relationships with the United States to lower its still great dependence on Moscow.
The American bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan may produce several military-political and geopolitical consequences. They are an indirect indication that the United States has resolved to counterbalance Russia’s military presence in Tajikistan. In future the U.S. will shift an accent of its military presence from Pakistan (where the military bases are open to attacks of local Islamists and of what remained of the Taliban). Growing confrontation between India and Pakistan is one of the potential threats the United States is facing there while its stronger military positions in Central Asia will allow Washington to continue controlling the military-strategic developments in Afghanistan and in the region as a whole.
The United States will control the process of restoring the Great Silk Road, that is, the directions, scales and means by which the energy fuels will be moved from Central Asia (the Caspian area in the first place) to the world markets. This will be the main geopolitical result of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan and the U.S. military presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
The Caspian Problem
Early this year the post-11 September temporal improvement of the U.S.-Iranian relations ended. Tehran (that together with Moscow extended considerable assistance to the anti-Taliban forces) expected reciprocal steps from Washington, yet the latter, apprehensive of greater Iranian influence in post-Taliban Afghanistan, deliberately resumed the containment strategy in relation to Iran. Today, Iran is living in fear of being encircled by American military bases in the Near and Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caspian.
This may prompt Iranian support for the anti-American forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan and stronger ties with Russia based on an anti-American platform. Iran may try to strengthen its positions in Central Asia by compromising over some debatable issues like delimitation of the Caspian Sea. It should be added that so far Tehran has been firm, or even aggressive, on the Caspian issue probably because of political squabbles inside the country.
The summit held late in April 2002 in Ashghabad discussed the Caspian issue and demonstrated that neither Iran nor other Caspian states were close to a compromise. Iran and Turkmenistan seemed to have moved closer on the anti-Azerbaijanian platform while Kazakhstan and Russia agreed on the use of the shelf. Early in May 2002, immediately after the summit, Moscow hinted that cooperation with Tehran had been and remained its important foreign-political priority of which the Caspian issue was part. Iran was invited as an observer to the June exercises of the Russian Navy designed to demonstrate Russia’s military superiority to its Caspian neighbors.
There is information that Iran plans to strengthen its naval forces on the Caspian by creating an operational-tactical squadron able to wage hostilities in certain areas of the Caspian Sea. Recently, anti-Russian sentiments provoked by Moscow’s drift to Washington have been ripening among Iranian political leaders. The sea has become an arena of intensive militarization and an area pregnant with armed conflicts: Azerbaijan that may expect American and British support is stepping up military preparations, Turkmenistan is doing the same with the help of Ukraine.
The April visit of President Khatami to the Central Asian states and his May visit to Azerbaijan testified that Tehran was resolved to keep its positions that seemed to be lost because of American presence. There is information that Iran is prepared to join the SCO, an organization with an anti-American bias. One can conclude, therefore, that Iran has no intentions to keep out of the geopolitical changes in Central Asia and the Caspian region and will stubbornly defend its interests.
The Threat of Destabilization in South Asia
In the wake of events in Afghanistan India tried to tie the Taliban and the Kashmir problems together and to present the Kashmir separatists as international terrorists to impress Washington. Delhi is seeking its support in the struggle against the terrorists in Kashmir.
There is an increasing conviction among Indian politicians that the antiterrorist operation is nothing more than an instrument of establishing American control over the energy sources of Central Asia and the Middle East. On the whole, Delhi would greet weaker Islamist influence in the region; at the same time it does not want weaker Russia and the American total military-strategic control over Central Asia. India regards as negative the growing confrontation in the adjacent areas and the use of Central Asia as an American toehold. It would like to see a final rupture of the strategic alliance between the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan and weaker Pakistani political and strategic grip on South Asia.
Pakistan supports the interim government of Hamid Karzai as a guarantee of the Pashtoons’ continued influence—it will keep Afghanistan in Islamabad’s political orbit, which is one of Pakistan’s strategic goals. One of its immediate aims is a maximally reduced influence of the Northern Alliance. Despite a certain progress in its relations with the U.S. and because of its timely rejection of the Taliban the country has found itself in a very complicated domestic and foreign-political situation.
In its relations with Delhi Islamabad still relies on demonstrations of force. Its leader announced that his country would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if the pressure became too strong. Late in 2001 and early in 2002 Pakistan regrouped its forces in Kashmir and along the Indian border, moved tank brigades and medium-range missiles closer to the possible theater of war. India interpreted the moves as war preparations. In May tension grew once more. The situation is aggravated by the American military presence in Pakistan. The American troops and bases serve a sort of a shield against Indian strikes and intensify the risk of confrontation. The Pakistani military may be tempted to revenge themselves in Kashmir and remove the source of constant tension along the Indian border. This perpetuates tension in South Asia and affects security of Central Asia.
The European Factor
The United States played the decisive role in wiping off the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, yet the European Union’s influence on the political developments around this country for the last year should not be ignored. It was the first in the West to announce its support to the Northern Alliance. It was European politicians who insisted that terrorism and the drug trafficking that originated in Afghanistan and destabilized Central Asia should be defeated. The EU made several attempts at setting up a political bloc under the OSCE aegis with the CIS countries’ participation (Russia and the Central Asian states in the first place). Finally, the EU and Japan will have to contribute the largest amounts of money to restoration of Afghanistan.
The European countries, and Germany in particular, stepped up their military-political activity so that not to lose their foreign-political influence earned thanks to the common European foreign and defense policy, strategic dialog with the Near and Middle East, South Asia and the Asian-Pacific Region. Germany insisted on its equal involvement in military operations of the U.S. and U.K. Obviously, Berlin had no intention to discard the common European foreign and defense policy regarded as an instrument of transforming the EU into a geopolitical player and a global factor.
The summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union held in mid-February 2002 in Istanbul demonstrated that Europe was prepared to continue its dialog with the Muslim world. The EU played a positive role in the 2001 conflict: immediately after the tragic events of 11 September the Europeans unequivocally supported their American ally. On the other hand, it was Europe that prevented an escalation of the antiterrorist operation (something which the United States was prepared to do) and extension of the conflict to the Middle East. France and Germany managed to pass a decision under which the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan was conducted by the U.N., not the U.S. or NATO.
In the nearest future the European Union will have to channel considerable funds and extend technological support to Afghanistan to help it restore its economy. At a conference of the donor-countries held in January 2002 in Tokyo the European Union promised to donate $495 million (while Germany promised $362 million). There is another important aspect: the EU is a stabilizing factor on a vast territory stretching from the Caucasus to Pakistan. In fact, its stabilizing role may even increase if tension between Washington and Moscow or between Washington and Beijing caused by the American presence in Central Asia mounts.
In the recent months the balance of forces in the region has been changing rapidly: the United States came as a military factor and its influence became strongly felt across the region. There is a latent yet gradually accelerating process of pushing Russia out of its spheres of military-political and economic influence. By their presence in Central Asia the United States and NATO have created a military threat to China. There is also the need to neutralize the so-called Islamic threat.
Today, Central Asia and the nature of bi- and multilateral relations in the region are changing at a fast pace. The former geopolitical structure in Central Asia and around it that stood on a triangle formed by the West (the U.S. plus Europe), Russia, and China has collapsed. In the past Russia dominated in the military-political sphere, American money was gradually penetrating the local oil and gas sector, China remained neutral, while the Islamic South threatened to destabilize the region.
At the same time, there is a trend toward closer military-political cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty, the SCO and closer integration within the Eurasian Economic Community. As a result the search for compromises with Russia on delimitation of the Caspian Sea and construction of alternative pipelines has intensified.
The Central Asian countries expect that the United States will move toward closer regional cooperation to confirm that it is serious about its plans in the region. Such moves should include additional investments, broader bilateral cooperation in the energy sector, search for a new security model and for possibilities of the U.S. strategic presence in the region that would take the interests of all states into account. It is expected that Washington will tone down its criticism of the situation in the sphere of human rights and democracy.
Chinese influence in Central Asia will continue declining if the local countries distance themselves from possible Chinese initiatives in the sphere of security and neutralization of the American military presence. The Central Asian members may display certain coolness in relation to the SCO—this will be another cause for alarm in Beijing.
In the wake of the events of 11 September geopolitics in Central Asia changed dramatically—on the whole the above analysis says that we are witnessing a new stage of geopolitical developments that will bring the region into a close contact with the world’s economy and geopolitics. Today, the security situation is far from stable—old threat has been replaced with new ones born by geopolitical rivalry in Central Asia. The Great Game has entered another stage but it is far from being over.