Afghanistan and regional security in Central Asia
by Vladimir Odintsov on 08 Dec 2022 0 Comment

Having an important geostrategic position and being an essential link in the development of cooperation between Central and South Asia as well as in regional security issues, Afghanistan has attracted a lot of attention from its regional neighbours.


The Central Asian countries, objectively interested in multifaceted cooperation with all their neighbours, see Afghanistan not only as a source of possible challenges and threats, but also as a country of opportunity that is bound to be integrated into the larger Central Asian family in the future. Given that no political force equal to the Taliban (banned in the Russian Federation) has emerged in the country since 2021, the region is aware of the importance of avoiding the situation of the 1990s, when the Taliban’s isolation contributed to its extreme radicalization and integration with international terrorism.


Therefore, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and even Kazakhstan began to actively develop a dialogue with the current government of Afghanistan, both directly and within various international formats, including Tashkent, to send humanitarian aid there. The Central Asian states have stronger trade and economic ties with their southern neighbour, and several major infrastructure projects, including a railway line from Mazar-i-Sharif to Pakistan’s Peshawar, are due to be implemented jointly.


In the absence of peace and stability on Afghan soil so far, the issues of security and countering the threats of radical Islamism and terrorism emanating from Afghanistan remain a key topic of multilateral dialogue for the Central Asian countries. The region is well aware that, for all the assurances given by the Taliban that the radical Afghan opposition will not encroach on the territorial integrity of Central Asia, mere words are not enough. Especially when the current authorities in Kabul do not control all of Afghanistan and are unable to keep track of the activities of various extremist and terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaeda and ISIS (both terrorist groups banned in the Russian Federation), which have significantly expanded their presence in the country over the past year.


The unabated terrorist threat from the territory of Afghanistan is indicated by numerous expert publications, as well as by the UN Security Council, which earlier this year noted the reconstruction of training camps of terrorist organizations on the territory of Afghanistan and the release of many ISIS fighters from Afghan prisons. Various sources have also reported a significant increase in the number of al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters in recent months, resulting in an increase in terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan. Experts estimate that the humanitarian and economic crises that have overtaken the country since the change of power have contributed greatly to the rise in terrorist activity in Afghanistan: over 97% of the population has been pushed to the brink of poverty in the past year and the Afghan economy has shrunk by more than 40%.


Regional security issues in relation to developments in Afghanistan have therefore recently come to the fore. Central Asian leaders at various regional and international platforms have emphasized their willingness to develop cooperation to ensure security and stability on the long-suffering land of Afghanistan. The need for such interaction was, in particular, set out in the outcome document of the Fourth Consultative Meeting of the Heads of State of the region, held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, in July this year.


However, the effectiveness of the measures taken by the Central Asian countries in this respect is constrained by the growing US strategic rivalry in the region with China and Russia, as well as attempts by the “collective West” to turn the Russian special operation in Ukraine into a war of the West against Russia, dragging regions quite distant from Kiev into these events to keep regional powers – China, Russia and Iran – in suspense.


In addition, the sanctions war waged against Russia by the US and NATO countries is trying to split the global market and force the leaders of the region to choose between the “Eurasian” and “Atlantic” direction of development, naturally in the interests of Washington. To this end, in particular, the US Department of Treasury has placed Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on a list of countries that allegedly violate the sanctions regime. In Tashkent, the US and UK ambassadors expressed dissatisfaction that local media were not sufficiently “anti-Russian” in their coverage of events in Ukraine, advocating a ban on Russian media outlets.


Another recent attempt to build a regional security structure beneficial to Washington was made by the United States in Doha, where a representative delegation from the CIA, the Pentagon, the US Department of State and representatives of the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Defense, met with acting intelligence chief Abdul Haq Wasiq on October 9. According to anecdotal reports in the Western media, the meeting allegedly focused on the implementation of the Doha agreement, the lifting of sanctions on the Afghan banking sector and the transfer of Afghan gold and foreign exchange reserves to a Swiss trust fund. It was also about US UAVs violating Afghan airspace and strikes on Afghan territory, in particular to kill al-Qaeda terrorist leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul at the end of August.


However, the meeting and the very representative composition of its participants (notably in the person of David Cohen, Deputy Director of US intelligence, Elizabeth Kimber, Deputy Director of CIA for Operations, Thomas West, US Special Representative for Afghanistan) demonstrate the attempts of both the US and the Taliban to try to reach new agreements. Thus, the Taliban clearly want to prevent attacks on the territory under their control by the extremist groups Viloyat Khorasan, ISIS, IMU, Jamaat Ansarullah and others (all of which are banned in the Russian Federation) by enlisting the support of the US. The Afghan edition of Hasht-e Subh, in particular, points this out. Furthermore, against the backdrop of recent strained relations between Western countries and Russia, Iran and China, the new Afghan leadership at this meeting clearly tried to clarify for itself what its future position and role in the “New Great Game in Central Asia” should be.


According to Afghan journalist Sami Darayi, acting Taliban intelligence chief Abdul Haq Wasik allegedly arranged with the CIA to deploy 3,000 US special forces troops in northern Afghanistan in exchange for more economic aid and work to soften Washington’s attitude towards the idea of recognizing the Taliban government.


According to the Tajik news resource Sangar, the talks focused on northern issues, the establishment of terrorist fronts in northern Afghanistan and the training of terrorist groups for future US objectives in creating security problems for China and Russia. In particular, the formation of active war fronts in Central Asia and the northern frontiers of Afghanistan.


What draws attention is the recent blatantly neo-colonial US stance on Central Asia, voiced by Antony Blinken during a Senate hearing, that the US Department of State is sending “admonitions” to the countries of the region.


This Washington stance is openly opposed by the population and elite of the Central Asian states, with the result that the sympathy of that society is on Russia’s side in the current confrontation. And this is evidenced by the results of a Gallup poll, according to which in 2021 76% of Kyrgyz, 69% of Uzbek and 55% of Kazakh residents supported Russian leadership in the region.


Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.” Courtesy 

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