Central Asia needs cooperation to survive terrorism




December 19, 2009, Viktoriya Zhavoronkova



Recently the situation in Central Asia has been heating up, fueled by intense terrorist activities in Afghanistan, increased drug trafficking and domestic turmoil.


Central Asia's peaceful coexistence depend on the answers to the following to questions: What has happened due to the complication of the regional situation? And who will solve the problems of the Central Asian states?


The first factor complicating the situation in Central Asia is intensified terrorist activity in Afghanistan. Three of the five Central Asian states border Afghanistan.


Two countries - Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - are subjected to the greatest danger of succumbing to radical Islamic groups from Afghanistan. The threat for Tajikistan is rooted in the long length of the border with Afghanistan, which is difficult to patrol and protect.


Kyrgyzstan's threat is the outside world's ability to influence the defenseless state due to the low standard of living in the country and its weak army.


Afghanistan's influence can be shown in different ways, starting from organizing terrorist acts to simply spreading radical teachings among the population.


Residents of Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan are subjected to agitation, and most of them are uneducated and live on the brink of poverty, which makes the susceptible to such influence. Another threat from Afghanistan is increasing drug trafficking.


The borders of Tajikistan are not sufficiently protected from the penetration of drug traffickers and their moving into the region. Uzbekistan, despite its common border with Afghanistan, is less subjected to these threats as it is better equipped in the military and technical sphere.


Besides foreign factors, there are also domestic factors negatively influencing Central Asia. They include relationships between regional states. Uzbekistan has the most complex relations with its neighbors Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Sometimes it seems they are just a step away from a war.


The apple of discord here is water and electricity. These countries cannot divide their water resources. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan prefer to use the water for energy. But this counters the interests of Tashkent. Uzbekistan just needs water. According to the government, water resources will be fewer after the construction of hydropower stations in neighboring countries.


Recently Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov accused his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov of infringing the rights of Tajiks in Uzbekistan. He promised to seize Samarkand and Bukhara, and even mentioned fights that allegedly took place between the presidents of the two countries.


Kazakhstan is the largest country in the region. It competes with Uzbekistan, not for water, but for regional supremacy. Turkmenistan simply declared neutrality and prefers to watch the scene from the outside.


Participation in several organizations, in particular the Organization of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), unites these countries.


Participation in the CSTO includes military cooperation between organization participants. But how is this possible in practice?


The organization includes four of the five Central Asian states: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There is no agreement between them. Then what is the purpose of an organization where an internal conflict can occur any moment?


Although the Central Asian governments follow their own national interests, they will not allow relations with their neighbors to deteriorate. For example, if one imagines a conflict between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Tashkent, despite its serious military advantage, would lose, because by weakening Dushanbe, Afghan terror would gain a stronghold in the country.


The Collective Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) demonstrates the poor effectiveness of the CSTO as an organization. Uzbekistan initially refused to participate in the group, although the RRF is a major CSTO project.


The only thing that can really give fruit in the current situation is combining the efforts of the countries of the region to confront terrorism, as well as solving the domestic problems that hamper the development of Central Asia.


They should at least be able to find common ground over the distribution of water and electric power in Central Asia. They will fail to solve this problem without creating commissions and expert groups to study the problem.


It is necessary to create a unified system of protection to reduce threats from neighboring Afghanistan. It can operate not only with the participation of Central Asian states, but also use the support of other countries interested in such a system. In its turn, it will assist in solving the drug trafficking problem.

One should hope that someday the Central Asian states will find joint solutions to regional problems.