ISLAMIC PLAYERS ON THE CENTRAL ASIAN ARENA: WHAT ARE THE INTERESTS OF THE NEIGHBORING MUSLIM STATES IN THIS REGION?
Murat Laumulin, Deputy Director, Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Research (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
The West sees the spread in so-called Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and the possible absorption of the entire region into the Muslim world as one of the most serious threats to its security since the collapse in the Soviet Union. Subsequent events showed that these concerns were in some ways justified, and in others overly exaggerated. The Islamic factor played its role as a serious destabilizing force on two occasions. First in 1991-1992 during the civil war in Tajikistan; and second at the end of the 1990s during the Batken events in Kyrgyzstan when militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan made attempts to penetrate into Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan, thus increasing the threat from the so-called Wahhabis and the Taliban. But on the whole, in our opinion, the threats associated with Islam have largely been posed by internal rather than external reasons, that is, they were not generated by outside interference by the Islamic countries, but by domestic political contradictions and the critical socioeconomic situation in the Central Asian countries.
Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the ideological and religious strivings by several Arab states, Pakistan, and the Afghani Taliban to promote a spread in Islam throughout the region, including by forceful and other means prohibited by the secular legislation of the Central Asian republics. From this viewpoint, the restrained and moderate policy conducted by Iran, which for the past few decades has been accused of exporting Islamic revolution, arouses our respect. This policy toward the region can in general be characterized as stabilizing (not counting the brief episode involving the events in Tajikistan at the beginning of the 1990s).
As for Turkey, it can only be considered an Islamic player in Central Asia from a purely external standpoint (although the domestic policy trends on the Turkish political scene do not exclude the possibility of this country being fully classified as an Islamic state in the future). During the period under review, Ankara’s policy toward the region has been characterized by two elements: it has been part of the West’s strategy, and it developed under the strong influence of the Turkic factor, particularly during the first half of the 1990s.
Afghanistan stands by itself among the Islamic players. Here is it appropriate to talk not only of its role as a player on the Central Asian geostrategic arena, but also of the significance of the Central Asian players in the Afghani political field. In terms of security, the interdependence between Afghanistan and Central Asia is obvious.
The Caspian factor has also had an effect to one degree or another on the standpoint of all the Muslim players. The situation in the region underwent a dramatic change after 11 September, 2001, particularly after launching the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan by the United States and its western allies, the formation of their military bases in Central Asia, and the overthrow of the Taliban. These changes could not help but have an effect on all the Islamic players in the region. This primarily applies to Pakistan and Iran.
Pakistan had to undergo a dramatic transformation. Under pressure from the antiterrorist coalition, this country, which was a Taliban ally before 11 September, was forced to go over to the anti-Taliban camp. The domestic political development in Islamabad and the stability of Pervez Musharraf’s regime, particularly after the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2002, also gave reason for concern due to the continuing threat of the country’s destabilization and growing influence of Islamic circles on its foreign policy. The confrontation between Pakistan and India, which was largely provoked by a weakening in Islamabad’s strategic foothold during the aftermath of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, brought the entire South Asia region to the brink of a military and nuclear conflict in the spring of 2002.
At the beginning of the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, the opportunity presented itself for ending the many years of opposition between Iran and the United States, which would naturally have had a favorable impact on the international situation in the Middle East, as well as in the Caspian Sea region. But despite Tehran’s support of the anti-Taliban operation Washington not only continued to be at loggerheads with Iran, but also toughened up its policy by stating in February 2002 that Iran belonged to the “axis of evil.” It is possible that the strengthening of the U.S.’s presence in Central Asia and the weakening of Iran’s foothold here caused Tehran, under pressure from conservative forces, to take a more stringent stance at the negotiations on delimitation of the Caspian Sea.
Influence of the Situation in Afghanistan on Central Asia
For twenty-five years now, since the April 1978 revolution to this very day, Afghanistan has been the main source of instability on the Eurasian continent. However, until the end of 2001, the situation was in an impasse. Taking into account the real possibilities of the opposing forces (the Taliban and the Northern Alliance), as well as the forces behind them, not one of the sides was able to tip the scales decisively in its favor. Nevertheless, this military-political conflict has become all the more tangible both in Afghanistan itself, and far beyond its borders. The country has turned into one of the world’s main producers and suppliers of drugs, as well as a springboard for exporting terrorism, and political and religious extremism.
The instability in Afghanistan has had an extremely destructive impact on its immediate neighbors, including the Central Asian republics, which got a full taste of all the real and potential consequences, primarily military, social, and humanitarian, of living in close proximity to this state. The influence of the incessant war in Afghanistan on the situation in the region is multifarious, taking the form of export of radical ideology and terrorism, the support of extremist organizations based in several of the region’s countries, the problem of refugees, the increase in ethnic and interstate tension, the transportation of drugs and arms, the potential military threat, and so on.
The events of recent years in the south of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have proven once more that one of the main and real threats to the stability of the secular regimes in Central Asia is posed by religious extremists. These groups do not accept the achievements of the modernization process reached in their countries and are against the existing organizational principles of the states and societies in the region, which also means they are against the local political elite.1 In the mid-1990s, the only ally of the extremist radical opposition in the Central Asian republics was the Taliban movement, which was in favor of returning to the values of the primary Muslim community, in so doing denying the right of the region’s traditional secular elite to legitimate rule in the Muslim societies of several of its countries, primarily Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
A no less dangerous threat, which keeps the leadership of the Central Asian countries in a constant state of tension, is the possible emergence of an uncontrollable influx of refugees from Afghanistan provoked by the ongoing military action, which would destabilize the situation throughout the entire region. Nor should the potential danger of a direct military threat from the Taliban movement be ignored. In cahoots with its allies, it accrued immense military power, which requires military action in order to keep it under control. In this way, if there is no stability in Afghanistan, it is impossible to ensure security in Central Asia.
Of course, all the states in the region without exception were very interested in normalizing the situation in Afghanistan and establishing stable peace in this country, thus ensuring that it stopped exporting drugs, international terrorism, and religious extremism.
The terrorist acts of 11 September, 2001 in New York and Washington and the subsequent operation by American and British troops in Afghanistan caused a dramatic change in the geopolitical breakdown in forces in the world, whereby within an extremely short time. The geographical proximity of the Central Asian CIS states to Afghanistan determined their active involvement in the antiterrorist coalition of the international community.
Uzbekistan was the first to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate by consenting to the deployment of subdivisions of armed forces from several foreign states headed by the U.S. on its territory. Implementation of America’s plans was made easier by the presence of former Soviet military bases and aerodromes used by the Soviet Union in the war against Afghanistan in the 1980s. On the whole, Uzbekistan continued its previous policy of strategic cooperation with the U.S. During a visit by the republic’s president, Islam Karimov, to Washington (in mid-March 2002), Tashkent essentially confirmed its loyalty to the United States regarding the antiterrorist campaign and its further support. Uzbekistan was afraid that the military infrastructure of the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan would not be completely destroyed, making new attacks by the extremists both within this country itself and against Uzbekistan likely in the future. Despite its doubts in the ability of the western peacekeepers to control the situation, Tashkent was interested in prolonging the military presence of the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan as long as possible.
What is more, Uzbekistan was able to represent its interests in the Afghani government. A member of the large Uzbek diaspora, which is traditionally loyal to Tashkent, obtained the post of vice president with all the corresponding powers. Rashid Doustom, as the figure in question, is capable of significantly facilitating resolution of the problem of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the territory where it was initially active. It should be noted that the plan proposed by Rashid Doustom of creating a confederation in Afghanistan is potentially advantageous to the Uzbek leadership. In this event, the authorities will have an Uzbek group under their control in the Afghani territory bordering on Uzbekistan, which would ensure essentially complete security of Uzbekistan’s southern borders and create a powerful lever of influence on the geopolitical processes in this strategically important region.
Tajikistan also said it was willing for its territory to be used for maneuvers during the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, although in terms of many parameters, the specific features of Tashkent’s and Dushanbe’s foreign policy are in direct opposition to each other. Tajikistan is one of Russia’s closest allies in the CIS and depends on it much more than the other Central Asian states. It can be presumed that the actions of the Tajik leadership are directly linked to the changes in Russia’s foreign policy. So it was more likely Moscow’s move than Dushanbe’s, or one of the concessions the Kremlin made to Washington.
Kyrgyzstan’s participation in the campaign in Afghanistan consisted of providing access to the country’s main airport in Manas (close to Bishkek) for deploying the antiterrorist coalition forces and rendering humanitarian aid to the Afghani population. The reasons compelling the Kyrgyz authorities to take this step objectively coincided with those put forward by the Uzbeks—assistance in eliminating the threat of an armed invasion by Afghanistan. The striving of official Bishkek to make use of the external factor in resolving domestic political and economic problems also plays a role here.
The Turkmenistan leadership stated that it would support the initiative to create an international antiterrorist coalition only if its activity is coordinated by the U.N. The matter primarily concerns information and humanitarian cooperation and not the deployment of foreign armed groups. The Turkmenistan Foreign Ministry denied the report that the republic intends to offer its territory and military facilities to foreign states for conducting military operations. So in this case, Ashghabad was clearly upholding the principle of neutrality it declared at one time.
Kazakhstan’s geographic and geopolitical status in Central Asia presupposed Astana’s support of the goals and tasks of the world community’s antiterrorist campaign. Our republic has come forward on several occasions with initiatives for settling the situation in Afghanistan. Its approach was based on the need to intercept any external assistance to the opposing sides and on the need to convene a special U.N. Security Council session, which would discuss the situation in Afghanistan. These initiatives were voiced in September 2000 at the U.N. Millennium Summit.
Immediately after the events of 11 September, the Kazakhstan president made an official statement in which he condemned the terrorists’ inhuman actions and expressed our republic’s willingness to render any assistance in catching and punishing them. As Nursultan Nazarbaev noted, the people of Kazakhstan believe that the terrorists and their sponsors should be punished.
Kazakhstan was ready from the beginning to support the U.S. antiterrorist campaign with every means at its disposal. At a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the republic’s president stated: “We all know that the American leadership has turned to many states with these requests. If it turns to the Kazakhstan leadership, our response will be positive.”2 In addition, a report distributed as an official document of the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly on settlement of the situation in Afghanistan set forth the main aspects of Kazakhstan’s standpoint on this question. It noted in particular that Astana is very interested in establishing normal peaceful living conditions in Afghanistan, as well as developing close political and economic relations with it.
When reviewing the situation in Afghanistan, we cannot ignore the negative influence of the drug business on Central Asia. According to the data of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, approximately 65% of the Afghani poison currently passes through Central Asia, mainly through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan to China and Russia, and then on to Europe and the United States.3
So Afghanistan continues to be one of the “liveliest” crossroads of interests of the foreign, including Islamic, players in Central Asia. The lack of correlation in these interests is the main reason why this country is a permanent hotbed of instability.
Pakistan and Central Asia
Pakistan has never hidden its intention of playing the role of a regional power center in Central Asia, which is directly in the orbit of official Islamabad’s geopolitical interests. But until the end of 2001 Afghanistan, or to be more exact the Taliban regime in dominance there, was a factor complicating Pakistan’s relationship with the states of the region. Islamabad was the Taliban’s main ally, with all the ensuing consequences. But the post-Soviet states of the region saw the Afghani regime as the main threat to their security. This contradiction played an important role in the political instability of Pakistani-Central Asian relations.
After the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, the distribution in forces in the country itself, as well as around it, dramatically changed. The Taliban’s departure from the political arena and the creation of a new coalition government made up of representatives of essentially all the interested sides opened up new opportunities for Pakistan to carry out its tasks in Central Asia.
Two main spheres of Islamabad’s interests in the region can be singled out, political and economic, whereby they frequently intercept. Today, the project for building the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline is being actively discussed, which is one of the alternatives for delivering natural gas to Pakistan and on to the markets of Southeast Asia. The construction of a gas liquefaction plant not far from Karachi is also in the offing. According to the project, the gas pipeline will stretch for 1,500 km and cost $2-2.5 billion.
But realization of this idea is being hindered by several very important factors: the gas pipeline will pass through unstable territories, in particular provinces of Afghanistan where local interests do not coincide with the interests of the Center; the sociopolitical situation along the future route is still extremely strained; there is permanent tension between Islamabad and Delhi, and it is economically inexpedient to build the gas pipeline for only one consumer; and the transit rates for transporting the gas through Afghanistan and the final price for the consumer, Pakistan, have not been stipulated.
At this juncture it should be noted that the industrial gas supplies in Turkmenistan do not ensure the economic efficiency of the project. Further exploration of the subsurface is required and only if this is successful will it be possible to transfer the predicted resources into industrial categories, which will require billions of dollars in investments. But the member states in the project do not have the financial resources necessary for this. In 2000 the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as the International Monetary Fund, officially refused to allot Turkmenistan the funds for these purposes, and Russia and Ukraine, who have been invited to participate in this project, do not possess such amounts.
There is another extremely significant factor. In 2002, the Southern Pars gas field was put into operation in Iran, with Russia participating in this undertaking. Iran’s industrial resources of blue fuel amount to 22 trillion cubic meters. What is more, Tehran has signed an agreement with Islamabad on gas delivery. Development of the Southern Pars field will make it possible for Iran (via Turkey) not only to meet the demands of the western and Asian markets for blue fuel, but also block the export of Turkmen gas to these markets.4
In this way, Islamabad’s desire to activate its policy in Central Asia is hindered by resource and financial difficulties, the potentially high level of instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s significant involvement in the Afghani conflict, its ongoing confrontation with India, and the country’s domestic problems.
Iran and Central Asia
Iran views its relations with the Central Asian republics as a vital necessity generated by the task declared by the country’s leadership of reinforcing its foothold in the new geopolitical area. Under conditions of isolation, primarily from the U.S., Tehran is making increasingly insistent attempts to enhance its economic, political, and cultural presence in the region. This striving is still based on a sober evaluation of its advantageous geographic location and on its relatively stable domestic policy situation. Iran sees its favorable geopolitical and geographic location as a link between Central Asia and the countries of the Middle East, Turkey, and Europe. It is building its relations with the states of the region in precisely this context.
The political component of Iran’s activity in the Central Asian direction is defined by several strategic interests.
The first is politics and security. One of Tehran’s main tasks is ensuring the security of the country’s northern borders. Whereby this task is interpreted as the need to help ensure and maintain stability and security in the Central Asian states themselves.
Second, establishing relations with the states of the region is important for Iran within the framework of its overall policy aimed at coming out of international isolation. And it sees Central Asia as a possible basis for intensifying its relations with the EU and the states of Southeast Asia (primarily with China and Japan). Its striving to come out of international isolation as quickly as possible was set forth in the programmed statement by the country’s president M. Khatami at a special session of the U.N. General Assembly in December 1997.
Third, the pivotal factor in the policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) in the Central Asian direction is the problem of the Caspian Sea. For Tehran, which owns a significant portion of the oil supplies in the Persian Gulf, assimilation of the deposits on the Caspian Shelf is in no way a priority task. Of course it is important for the IRI to retain its access to the Caspian bioresources, but it is primarily striving to direct its participation in Caspian affairs toward increasing its political influence in the region, with the prospect of using this influence as a trump card in the big geopolitical game.5
A component of Tehran’s foreign policy is its desire to make maximum use of its advantageous geostrategic position as the most convenient route for transporting oil and gas. The operation of old and the laying of new pipelines are vitally important for Iran. Therefore, in this area, the country’s priorities are as follows. First, completing the extensive network of internal transportation communication lines, in particular pipelines, which would connect the country’s north with terminals on the Gulf coast, as well as pipelines that connect the Central Asian republics with Iran’s pipeline network. Second, building the Mashhad-Bandar Abbas railroad, which will shorten the current route from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf by 900 km. Third, rapidly developing the economic infrastructure in the provinces and the country’s free economic areas. As of today, there are three free economic areas in Iran located on the coasts of the Persian and Oman gulfs. The shortest route to the Central Asian republics lies through the Chabahar free economic area in the southeast of the IRI.6
In 2002 Tehran noticeably stepped up pressure on its northern neighbors, again confirming its adherence to the principle of dividing the Caspian into five equal parts or 20% for each coastal state. The official Iranian authorities state that the legal conditions involving the sea must only be settled by means of consensus and Tehran will not permit any infringement of its national interests. This standpoint could block the interstate compromise in the offing on this issue. What is more, we should not forget that Iran is the only Caspian state that belongs to OPEC, whereby it is one of its most active members and has a perceptible influence on this organization.
Despite Iran’s interest in expanding relations with the Central Asian countries, the sides have been unable to fully make use of their opportunities for enhancing economic cooperation. According to the available statistics, Iran’s goods turnover with all the countries of the region does not even reach $900 million. And if we bear in mind that the volume of goods turnover on the markets of these countries amounts to $28 billion, the IRI accounts for only 4%.
This is helping to define the main priorities of Iranian policy in the Central Asian states: increasing political cooperation; strengthening ties in the Caspian zone; developing transportation corridors; expanding economic trade contacts; and interacting in settling regional conflicts, particularly in Afghanistan.
Turkey and the Caspian Question
After the collapse in the Soviet Union, Turkey became one of the key players competing for influence in Central Asia. Ankara saw its role as a bridge between the West and East, and as the representative of its western partners in the region.7 In the Caspian, it acted cautiously due to its desire to maintain good relations with Russia, economic cooperation with which Turkey is developing at a rapid rate.
Turkey’s main interests in the Caspian Region lie in the following areas. First, it wants to reinforce its foreign policy foothold at the expense of the Caspian states. Second, it would like to increase the West’s dependence on Ankara’s policy in the region. The long-term goal in this respect is striving to achieve full-fledged membership in the European Union. Big oil is capable of giving Turkey additional levers of influence on the European community and promote greater economic and, as a result, political integration into the EC structures. But we will note that Turkey’s status as a transit country is not stable enough in the eyes of the Europeans.8 Third, Turkey wants to ensure the import of energy resources. Due to the severe cooling off in relations between the U.S. and the Arab world, Ankara’s alliance relations with Washington could have a negative effect on Turkey’s cooperation with the oil-producing states of the Middle East. Fourth, it wants to ensure control over the export flows of Caspian hydrocarbons to the world market. Ankara is the main driving force in implementing the main export pipeline project Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. In order to increase the attractiveness of this project, Ankara introduced several tough restrictions on the passage of oil tankers through its Black Sea straits. Motivating this action by environmental considerations, Ankara is apparently trying to reduce the role of pipelines oriented toward the Russian port of Novorossiisk.
Turkey has the closet relations with Azerbaijan among the Caspian states. This is due to their historical, cultural, and ethnic communality, similar foreign policy priorities (orientation toward the West), and common interest in implementing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project. Cooperation between these countries extends to essentially all spheres of interaction, from economic to military-political. For example, during the incident that arose in the Caspian between Baku and Tehran, Ankara stated that in the event of military combat it was willing to stand up in defense of Azerbaijan.
But in Central Asia, particularly in Kazakhstan, Ankara’s position is not as strong as it is in Azerbaijan. This is possibly due to the fact that the states of the region, which during the first years of their independence did not accept Turkey’s pan-Turkic ideas, are still worried about an increase in its activity here, including in the Caspian, preferring to establish relations with the West directly. What is more, the strength of the American-Turkish strategic alliance has recently been subjected to doubt. Washington naturally confirms its support of Turkey, but in so doing is guided exclusively by its own interests. This primarily applies to Central Asia, where the U.S., by taking advantage of the favorable geopolitical situation, is strengthening its military foothold.
The low effectiveness of Turkey’s mediating efforts, its misunderstanding of the special features of our region, and the indeterminate nature of its national priorities have doomed Ankara’s policy to perceptible halfway policy and obvious inconsistency. Its foreign policy stance in Central Asia was weakened even more after the economic crisis that encroached on Turkey, which gave rise to essentially complete curtailment of the country’s foreign financing.
Conclusion: Geopolitical Prospects
Today it is crystal clear that since the collapse in the Soviet Union the Central Asian geopolitical map has undergone serious changes. This applies both to the leading geopolitical players and the regional actors, which naturally include the region’s Muslim neighbors. The relations between its countries and the Islamic world are part of a more general and complex geopolitical process, which begins in Afghanistan, continues on through Central Asia, the Caspian, and the Caucasus, and ends up in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
It is obvious that the Afghani conflict has still far from reached its ultimate conclusion. The only positive factor is that all the sides involved in it (both the great powers and the regional players) are interested in lasting peaceful settlement of the situation in Afghanistan and its rapid stabilization. But along with its own urgent internal problems, the situation in this country is under the negative influence of world policy in distant regions. This particularly applies to the escalation of tension in the Middle East. During the past 15-20 years, Afghanistan and the Middle East have become interrelated in their development. A phenomenon has emerged which analysts from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London) wrote about in the mid-1990s as “Islamintern,” that is, the formation of a widespread international terrorist network acting under Islamic slogans. Frankly speaking, the events of 11 September are a direct consequence of this course of events.
At present, the question is whether or not the possible military action by the U.S. and the West in the Persian Gulf and against Iraq will lead to a stepping up in the activity of armed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. There is every reason to believe that the military and organizational foundations of the Taliban have far from been destroyed. In so doing, we cannot exclude a new outburst in hostilities or the beginning of a prolonged partisan war against American and international peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan. And whereas the war against Iraq only has a tangential bearing on the security of Kazakhstan and all of Central Asia, revival of combat action in Afghanistan, and the use of bases and aerodromes located on the territory of our region will mean drawing its states into a prolonged military conflict.
In the short term, the American bases in Central Asia may also be in demand with respect to the possible military operation in the Persian Gulf. It cannot be excluded that in the medium and long term, the U.S. military presence will also become an element of Sino-American and Russian-American relations. And it is impossible to predict what effect it will have, positive or negative, on these relations, and more important, on stability in Central Asia.
We primarily named Pakistan and Iran among the main regional players, states that directly border on Afghanistan and play a significant role in the development of events in this country. Islamabad and Tehran are age-old participants in the Afghani drama: during the Soviet intervention, they were on the same side of the barricade, then, during the civil war and the Taliban rule, they were on opposing sides, and after the overthrow of the Taliban they are again trying to play an important role in the domestic political struggle in Afghanistan. Naturally they cannot help but be affected by the events in this country.
After 11 September and on the threshold of the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, Islamabad was in an extremely difficult position. Theoretically, General Pervez Musharaff should have made a historical choice, which would have determined the geopolitical fate of Pakistan for long years to come. Musharaff’s decision to support the antiterrorist coalition and sacrifice Islamabad’s “client,” the Taliban, was of immense significance to Afghanistan and to Pakistan itself. In contrast to many other participants in this geopolitical game, Islamabad did not obtain anything in terms of foreign political security, but dealt a blow to its domestic political stability. What is more, its relations with Delhi took a turn for the worse again, bringing the traditional rivals to the brink of a major collision. Since that time, Pakistan’s domestic stability and its security have been directly dependent on the success (or failure) of American policy with respect to the global fight against international terrorism, or to be more precise, on the development of events in Afghanistan itself and in the Middle East. The outburst of anti-American sentiments in the Middle East could easily provoke an anti-American jihad by homebred Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan itself. One of the direct consequences of the changes in the region is the weakening in Islamabad’s foothold, which had to give up its claims to playing an independent (without U.S. support) geopolitical role in the region.
Iran’s role in the geopolitical situation around Central Asia significantly differs from that of the other regional powers, since Tehran is playing this role in several regions of the world at the same time: in Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, the Middle East, and the Islamic world. Thus, the international influence of the IRI is seen as carrying even more weight than the real geopolitical and military-political possibilities of Tehran. In contrast to Pakistan, which at one time unsuccessfully tried to play a geopolitical role in Central Asia, the Iranian factor is constant in this region. Iran will always be the immediate geographic and geopolitical neighbor of the Central Asian, Caspian and Caucasian states. The nature of relations between the IRI and Central Asia should be interpreted precisely from an understanding of this fact.
Along with their customary interest in strengthening trade and economic ties with Iran, two other aspects are very important for the states of our region. The first is for the inevitable process of liberalizing and declericalizing Iranian society to develop gradually and in so doing not lead to a confrontation between the reforming and conservative forces. The second aspect is that it is advantageous to the Central Asian states for Iran to restore normal political relations with the West, primarily the U.S., as quickly as possible, which will give a boost to the Caspian projects and have a positive impact in general on the international situation in this region of the world.
The essence of the geopolitical intrigue around the future of Caspian oil is well known. The question here is who will control the main pipelines connecting the Caspian fields with potential sales markets. From the viewpoint of classical geopolitics, the winner will be the one who can take this control into his own hands.
This approach explains to a certain extent Washington’s former insistent striving to prevent the main pipeline from being dependent on Russia and Iran. But it does not present the entire picture of what is going on. There are still no reliable data on the actual volumes of oil resources in the Caspian, on the real cost of their production and transportation, and so on. Since the U.S. is playing an extremely complicated game in the Persian Gulf aimed at a radical and long-term reduction in oil prices after establishing its control over Iraq, it is difficult to predict what awaits the Caspian projects. If the world oil prices fall to even $16 a barrel, commercial development of Caspian oil, including Kazakhstanian, will become unprofitable. On the other hand, the U.S. has recently been taking a resolute stance with respect to the Caspian and other sources of energy resources in Central Eurasia. Washington intends to make them a serious alternative to Middle East oil as a source of energy for the West. And the European countries are following suit. If events develop according to this scenario, the geopolitical picture in Central Asia should become stable.
In 2002 the problem of security remained one of the central issues in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy activity. The most significant event in this area was the first Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICBMA) held in Almaty last June. This summit not only demonstrated the urgency of security problems for our region and the Asian continent as a whole, but also essentially confirmed that the Kazakhstan initiative, which the republic’s president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, came forward with for the first time ten years ago in the U.N., has become a political reality and an inalienable part of international relations.
Astana is developing the main areas of its multifaceted foreign policy and is maintaining intensive relations with all of its traditional partners both in the West and in the East: in Central Asia, the CIS, the Islamic world, Europe, America, and Asia. During the difficult international antiterrorist campaign, the multifaceted policy of our republic again proved its efficiency and last year played a stabilizing role in relations between Central Asia and the Muslim world, when some states of the region made obvious bow in the West’s direction.
1 See: S. Akimbekov, Afganskiy uzel i problemy bezopasnosti Tsentral’noi Azii, Almaty, 1998, pp. 136-137.
2 Interfax, 24 September, 2001.
3 See: I. Komissina, A. Kurtov, “Narcotic ‘Glow’ Over Central Asia—A New Threat to Civilization,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 5, 2000, p. 115.
4 See: Tsentral’naia Azia do i posle 11 sentiabria: geopolitika i bezopasnost’, KISI, Almaty, 2002, pp. 69-71.
5 See: V. Mesamed, “Iran: Ten Years in Post-Soviet Central Asia,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 1 (13), 2002, pp. 28-29.
6 See: M. Ashimbaev, L. Erekesheva, “Iran kak budushchaia regional’naia derzhava,” Analytic (Almaty), No. 2, 2001, pp. 26-29.
7 See: A. Abishev, Kaspii: neft i politika, Center of Foreign Policy and Analysis, Almaty, 2002, p. 356.
8 See: S. Kushkumbaev, “Geopolitika transportnykh communikatsii v Kaspiiskom regione, ” in: Natsional’naia i regional’naia bezopasnost’ Tsentral’noaziatskikh stran v basseine Kaspiiskogog moria, Almaty, 2000, p. 76.