Dialogue January-March, 2012, Volume 13 No. 3


The Situation in Afghanistan: Challenges and Opportunities for Central Asia

Ravshan M. Alimov


Declaration of the United States to withdraw, starting in 2011 the American troops, and since 2014, the NATO forces from Afghanistan, puts the international community in the situation of uncertainty.

Experts are wondering: What if it failed to destroy the network of international terrorist organizations in the given period of time? How will the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia develop further, if the withdrawal of troops is realized? Will the Afghan leadership be able to take control over the country where, according to some estimates, 35 –40% of the area are under influence of the Taliban forces? Will the United States and NATO countries revise the format of their involvement in the Afghan affairs or leave the country to its fate?

The recent murder of one of the leaders of the Afghan mujahideen, the leader of the Supreme Council for Peace in Afghanistan B. Rabbani, proves the insolvency of any scenario in Afghanistan and demonstrates the fragility of peace and security in this country and could be a detonator to blow up military and political situation in the most sensitive national-ethnic aspect.

As it’s known, from the very beginning of its development the Afghan contlict is largely determined by the interests and involvement of external parties. They form the balance of military and political forces in Afghanistan, as well as relevant international environment surrounding the conflict. In fact, Afghanistan remained extremely open to outside interference during the entire time since the war began in this country.

Most experts tend to believe that the actions of the coalition forces in Afghanistan have significantly changed the geopolitical balance of power in Central Asia. During the U.S. anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, the so-called secret tripartite balance of the interests of big powers in Afghanistan - the USA, Russia, China has been violated, which had existed here before the events of September 11, 2001.

Against this background, the states of Central Asia began to take active part in solving of the Afghan problem. Individual states in the region provided their territory, air space and other necessary conditions for a successful campaign against terrorism. Cooperation of the Central Asian countries with the international coalition forces in the Afghan settlement has also become one of the reasons for transforming the region’s status in the main center of the fight against the spread of terrorism and religious extremism.

In this context, we should emphasize that the increasing presence of the West, primarily the United States in the region, had significantly influenced the foreign policy approaches of Russia and China towards Central Asia. At first there was the coincidence of their interests in combating terrorism, including support for the coalition forces to conduct anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, later the stereotypes of geopolitical competition, so-called new "Great Game" began to show up, which is totally counterproductive, leading to the loss of all parties involved. Undoubtedly, this trend has had a negative impact on the security situation, in Central Asia and the world as a whole.

Currently, the domestic political situation in Afghanistan is completely different from the realities that had existed in this country only a few years ago. In recent years there was some progress in the country in the socio-political sphere, in the opening schools and universities; and the emancipation of Afghan women. The recently held rock music festival in Kabul is another evidence of changes taking place in Afghanistan.

Today it is getting more obvious that there is no military solution to the Afghan problem, and the chosen strategy of the coalition forces to pacify Afghanistan does not provide expected results. Every day of the war leads to further aggravation of the poor condition of the Afghan people and makes salvation of the problem even more difficult.

In the current situation it is extremely important to find alternative ways of achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan. Among them establishment of UN Contact Group "6 plus 3", which was initiated by the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov in 2008 in Bucharest, could play an important role. The meaning and the essence of this initiative based on the fact that the problems of the country should be decided by the Afghans themselves with the assistance of all stakeholders, first of all, the U.S., NATO, Russia, which are involved in the peacekeeping mission, as well as the immediate neighboring countries to Afghanistan1. It’s worthy to note that the recently declared initiative of the US Administration of the "New Silk Road" Strategy, in its essence, is a prototype of the Uzbekistan’s ‘6 plus 3’ initiative.

The urgency of the initiative of Uzbekistan caused by the fact that it is impossible to solve the Afghanistan problem without the direct involvement of neighboring states in the region, which have been suffering the destructive impact of the Afghan crisis for the last 30 years. Since the Afghan issue is a global one, Uzbekistan’s leader has called for consideration ofthe Afghan problem’s solution on a global scale too, with the participation of the member states of the international coalition, members of the ISAF.

The international community realizes that without international assistance Kabul is not able to solve the most pressing problems of the country. Until now, the international community proceeded mainly on the provision of substantial financial investments in the Afghan economy, army and state apparatus. However, the presence of corruption and lack of a long-term strategy, has made such a policy very ineffective. In these circumstances, it is appropriate to form such conditions in Afghanistan, which would enable the country to create their own sources of revenue that could become a significant alternative to international aid. Such opportunities for Afghanistan can only be created through the gradual integration of the country’s economic and transport structures to Central Asia2.

Thus, the involvement of Afghanistan in implementing large-scale communication projects in Central Asia, that would facilitate the development of huge reserves of oil and energy resources and exporting them to world markets, would be equally beneficial to the Central Asian states and international investors. The creation of alternative transport corridors could form a single coherent system of communication that would provide the region reliable access to promising markets.

The participation of the Central Asian countries in reconstruction programs in Afghanistan is the most appropriate mechanism to promote stabilization of a coherent military and political situation in this country. At the same time the supply of Central Asian goods, materials and services to Afghanistan for post-war reconstruction has actually been stimulating the economies of the region’s countries.

Kazakhstan and Afghanistan

The Republic of Kazakhstan (ROK) is quite proactive in Afghanistan. At the London Conference in 2006, Astana supported the agreement between the Afghanistan Government and the international community, which allowed to determine the prospects and timing of restoration of the Afghan economy, a list of socio-economic projects, topical issues of regional security, including problem of drug control.

In June 2008, at the Paris International Conference Kazakhstan has supported the National Development Strategy until 2013. Kazakhstan and Afghanistan also cooperate within the SCO, OSCE (Astana Summit in 2010), the CICA and the NATO PFP. During 2009-2011 Kazakhstan has allocated. $1.5 million assistance to Afghanistan under the Plan. In 2008, Kazakhstan has allocated $2.4 million for projects to build schools in Afghanistan. In the framework of international support for education in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan has allocated $50 million for training Afghan students in higher educational institutions of Kazakhstan.

In the period 2006-2010, the agenda of economic cooperation between the ROK and Afghanistan included the construction of the railway by Kazakhstan in Afghanistan, investment in exploration and mining of mineral resources (oil, gas, iron ore, coal, copper) in Afghanistan. Trade turnover between the two countries increased in 2007-2010 from $196.5 million to $290 million primarily due to Kazakhstan’s exports3.

In general, Astana has supported all peace initiatives and processes to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan. In May 2011, Kazakhstan has sent to Afghanistan limited staff (consisting of 4 persons) in a mission that includes diplomatic and technical support for humanitarian assistance provided by the Central Asian country.

The participation of Kyrgyzstan in Afghan affairs

As it’s known, since 2002 the Embassy of the Transitional Islamic Government of Afghanistan in Bishkek operates. The main tasks of the diplomatic mission are assistance to Afghan refugees in Kyrgyzstan and the establishment of bilateral trade and economic ties.

The diplomatic and trade relations between Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan were established after coming to power of anti-Taliban forces led by Hamid Karzai. Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan have no common borders, but states are not far apart (from the southern capital of Kyrgyzstan - Osh, to the Afghan city of Kunduz, a distance of about 1,300 km). This was one of the main arguments in favor of placing the antiterrorist coalition forces at Kyrgyz airport "Manas". American fighters "Hornet" and French "Mirage" make sorties into Afghanistan from Kyrgyzstan for military and humanitarian tasks.

Over the years, as part of humanitarian action for the people of Afghanistan, as well as under the auspices of the UN World Food Program, Kyrgyzstan delivered several tons of humanitarian cargo along the route Osh-Khorog-Ishkashim- Faizabad.

In addition, Kyrgyzstan, among the other countries of Central Asia, received Afghan refugees, a part of whom have returned to their homeland. Kyrgyzstan, like the other Central Asian countries, is in serious trouble because of drugs from Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan is located on the route of trafficking of large quantities of heroin and marijuana. The flow of Afghan drugs increases every spring through the territory of Kyrgyzstan.

Currently the Kyrgyz government works on a draft program on the participation of Kyrgyzstan in the post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan. The project envisages the participation of Kyrgyzstan in the economic reconstruction of that country by sending specialists in various fields to Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan supports the initiative of the government of Kyrgyzstan for sending specialists in construction and food supplies as well as in other fields to Afghanistan.

The position of Tajikistan

In Central Asia, the closest cultural and economic relations of Afghanistan is with Tajikistan. Cooperation between the two neighboring countries is developing in four main areas: cross-border trade (about $20 million annually), hydropower, the joint struggle against drug trafficking and extremism, development of cultural relations in the Persian-speaking world.

The most successful field of cooperation between the two countries is the energy sector. According to Russian experts, with the completion of Sangtuda, involving Russian and Iranian companies Tajikistan will obtain an excess of electricity, which will be delivered to Afghanistan and further to Pakistan. With the assistance of Russians, the power transmission line has already been built from the Afghan- Tajik border to the town of Pul-i-Khumri. Then it goes through Kabul to Pakistan. Dushanbe and Kabul are developing plans to build a cascade of the hydropower plant on Panj River; Panji (13 plants with total capacity of 17 720 MW with an annual production of 86.3 billion kWh.). However, the implementation of the project, developed in the Soviet times, is impossible without creating inter-state consortium with the participation of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

However, Dushanbe uses the Afghan factor to solve its own foreign policy objectives. The Tajik government focuses to expand its military cooperation with the U.S. using the Afghan factor. The US has created a training center to train local military personnel in the Tajik territory. Americans have also paid for construction of the four bridges across the Tajik border onto Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the total amount of loans granted by the United States and other various assistances to Tajikistan exceeded $ 1 billion.

Turkmenistan and Afghanistan

These two countries have close relations. Ashgabat has continued to work with Kabul, even during the Taliban rule, when the country was headed by Niyazov. In 1997 Turkmenistan organized an international conference to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. In 1999, Ashgabat held another round of intra-Afghan talks. The same year Turkmenistan opposed the introduction of the UN Security Council sanctions against the Taliban regime for the protection of international terrorism. During the last years of the Taliban rule the trade between the two countries adopted a respectable proportion. This attitude of Turkmenistan to the Taliban regime is associated with the personal attitude of the former President Saparmurat Niyazov. Turkmenbashi was actually afraid of the Taliban regime, whose leadership stated for several times that at the first opportunity they would seize Turkmenistan.

Political and economic cooperation between the. two countries was resumed after a new government was installed in Kabul. Cooperation has developed in such areas as energy, education and health. During 2000s Turkmenistan and Afghanistan made considerable efforts to reanimate the idea of a trans-Afghan gas pipeline. Thanks to Turkmenistan new power transmission lines were laid to Mazar-e Sharif and Herat. Turkmen specialists are also involved in the reconstruction of the railway in the area of Turgundi.

The new leadership of Turkmenistan due to the geographical reasons, historical and ethnic ties is vitally interested in stabilization of Afghanistan, establishing a full-fledged economic cooperation with that country. The main purpose of the Turkmen foreign policy in this direction is the gas pipeline project from the Dauletabad to India through Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan and Afghanistan are reliable partners

In terms of participation of the Central Asian countries in reconstruction of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan plays special role by virtue of being an immediate neighbour. This significantly reduces the cost of construction projects on the Afghan soil, reducing transport and insurance costs. Besides the well-developed transport infrastructure in Uzbekistan could effectively coordinate the turnover of goods sent to Afghanistan in the early stages.

It’s also necessary to stress that the official Kabul considers Uzbekistan as one of its major trusted partners, as evidenced by a number of successful visits of official delegations from Afghanistan to Tashkent. To date, the trade tumover between the two countries reached about U.S. $170 million.

According to the signed bilateral agreements Uzbekistan is privileged to the implementation of some vitally important projects for the Afghan economy, including the reconstruction of Jelalabad irrigation complex, the "Sarde" and "Kukcha" irrigation system, construction of oil and gas sector in Afghanistan, opening a field hospital and a joint factory to produce medicines in Mazar-e Sharif.

Uzbekistan, like the other nations of the world, provides assistance to Afghanistan, since Tashkent regards it as a strategic investment in security. For example, Uzbek companies and engineers in the last 2-3 years have built 11 bridges along the route "Mazar-e Sharif - Kabul." Construction of power transmission lines Surkhan Naibabad-Kabul in 2009 enabled the increased electricity supply from Uzbekistan up to 6 times and provide electricity to Kabul round the clock. Currently Uzbekistan supplies to Afghanistan 850 MW electrical energy. As a result of measures taken in the recent years to modemize the energy infrastructure of Uzbekistan, it added about 2,000 MW new facilities. This will allow further increase of the supply of electricity to Afghanistan, At the same time Uzbek Telecom and Afgan Telecom Corp. have an agreement to establish fiber-optic networks and provide Internet access in Afghanistan.

In November 2008 Uzbekistan and Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding to build for the first time in the history of this country, a railway line from Termez in Uzbekistan to the northern capital of Mazar-e-Sharif, and then through the northern provinces of the country to Herat. It is planned that from this point it will go to the Iranian border, which has built a branch railway from the Iranian city of Mashhad. Thus, the Central Asian railway network will be linked with the Iranian and the Central Asian countries and have access to the Persian Gulf. Kabul and Tashkent have requested the ADB to undertake a feasibility study for this project.

In November 2010, the first part of the project on construction of the railway route Hairatan-Mazar-e Sharif, the total length of 75 km, was completed, by «Uzbekistan Railways", which had won the tender. The project was implemented through a grant from the ADB of U.S. $ 165 million and own funds of the Govemment of Afghanistan in the amount of $5 million. Another manifestation of Uzbekistan in the sphere of transit is the completion of the final segment of the railway line of North Distribution Network of NATO, which was commissioned in February 2011 and provides an increasing amount of goods for the ISAF troops in Afghanistan.

All this demonstrates the strong position of Uzbekistan as an active participant in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. However, a comprehensive solution. to the problem, given the difficulties in this country must start from the new reality, where no single country, not even the United States, can solve them alone.

Uzbekistan is convinced that 10 years after the signing of the Tashkent

Declaration, powerful military and political organization, which is the NATO, should be extensively involved in the settlement of the Afghan crisis and beyond military action. The essence of the Uzbek position is that the North Atlantic Alliance is not only responsible for the successful implementation of the military mission of the ISAF, but also for achieving a lasting political settlement based on a new model of national reconciliation.

India’s position

Uzbekistan appreciates the efforts of India, which is an active participant in the process of reconstruction in Afghanistan. India is the largest donor to Afghanistan in the region and the sixth-largest in the world. Sustainability of its products is demonstrated by the $2 billion invested in various development projects – from a new parliament building to highway construction in Iran.

So, Delhi has provided Afghanistan a grant of $70 million to build a 230- kilometer stretch of road on the route Zaranj - Dilara, connecting Afghanistan with the Iranian port of Chahbahar. India has also provided a grant to Afghanistan of $100 million to supply three A-300 passenger aircrafts, about 400 buses and 200 minibuses, 300 military vehicles. The Government of India is involved in the government program to reform Afghanistan’s National Airline "Ariana". As a gift Afghanistan was handed over the three "Boeing" aircrafts.

The Indian side reconstructed and equipped an electric substation in the vicinity of Dasht-e-Barch to the west of Kabul. The process of construction by the Indian companies of a new building .of the Afghan parliament cost $177 million is underway. Every year Indian high schools provide about 500 grants to Afghan students.

At the present time, Indian firms are going to invest heavily in the development of deposits of iron in the heart of Afghanistan, despite the worsening security situation and ongoing battles with the Taliban. Thus, the consortium led by the «Steel Authority of India» is ready to invest $6 billion in the oil field development Hajigak in Bamyan Province, railroads and steel mills4. This demonstrates India’s desire to preserve its long-term presence in Afghanistan.

It should be noted that the positions of Uzbekistan and India towards Afghanistan are very similar to each other. India also supports the position that all processes of the reconstruction of Afghanistan should be carried out by the people of the country with the active assistance of the international community and in compliance with the principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Delhi remains committed to the principles of the multipolar world order, collective security and non-alignment, maintains friendly relations with almost all countries, taking part in the processes of Asian and regional integration. We highly value the position of Delhi that there must be no place for "double standards" in the fight against terrorism and religious extremism.

Scenarios for security in Afghanistan

The military-political situation, as well as recent developments in Afghanistan allow-us to propose a number of scenarios:

The first scenario is perfectly hypothetical in nature and therefore impossible. Under this scenario, the US and NATO forces defeat the Taliban, international terrorism and create in Afghanistan a functioning state apparatus, institutions, socio-economic development, form a solid foundation of civil society and leave the country within the specified time. But even if such a scenario is possible hypothetically, no one can guarantee long-term stability and security, and absence of international terrorism and further "talibanization" of Afghanistan.

The second scenario is based on the analysis of the current situation’ in Afghanistan. Under this scenario, the US and NATO forces leave the country; thus, they did not win. Such an outcome is more closely associated with the inability to achieve military success, that is, to establish control over all the provinces of the country’, including those hosting the coalition forces, as well as lack of financial resources, infidelity of allies in the coalition. In this regard one may also consider failure of Taliban leadership to negotiate with the "occupiers" and their puppets. Under such circumstances official Washington would be forced to abandon plans to bring peace to Afghanistan. At the international level anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan is declared successfully completed, but actually moving of the US military and NATO out of Afghanistan means their defeat.

The most pragmatic scenario can be called the third scenario, which is based on the analysis of the recent actions of the American administration. Under this scenario, salvation of the Afghan problem would be systematically postponed, "negotiations" is the only decision for Taliban issue, "their complete destruction" will be delayed indefinitely. According to experts, the solution is just in this state of affairs. This scenario is based on recent statements of President Barack Obama, who announced the strengthening of the American groupings in Afghanistan. This position was also confirmed by US Gen. John Allen, commander of the ISAF, who literally said that "the US troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, despite the existing agreement’5. According to the logic of the American military and political leadership, a temporary increase of the troops is the shortest way to their final withdrawal. But Washington is not going to reveal all their cards.

These considered scenarios for the Afghan security prove that in such ambiguous present situation in this country the international community should work to create an atmosphere of trust between all stakeholders in the Afghan. settlement on the basis of common interests. For only the dialogue, mutual understanding, transparency and support to each other are the key to solving the Afghan problem.

Final theses

During the last decade, Uzbekistan is at the forefront of regional efforts to find ways to comprehensive solution of the Afghan crisis. Uzbekistan, being one of the bordering countries to Afghanistan, has a mandatory resources and well developed proposals for easing Afghanistan’s long years of conflict and the subsequent economic growth. An important resource for solving the problem of Afghanistan is also a presence in Uzbekistan of in-depth knowledge of culture of this country, mentality, customs and traditions of the people received during centuries as a result of close historical and cultural ties.

In general, socio-economic recovery of Afghanistan must remain a key focus of regional and international cooperation within the framework of strengthening security in the country. Decreased attention to the problems of Afghanistan because of various reasons, may lead to its territory to once again become a source of armed conflict, terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking.

Taking the above-mentioned facts into account, we can assume that in many aspects 2012 could be decisive for the fate of the Afghan mission of the international coalition and, as a consequence, of the new American strategy. Today, almost everyone realizes that the Afghan problem can not be solved by military means only. It requires parallel efforts to strengthen the military and police forces in Afghanistan, boosting the economy, rooting out corruption, creating an ideological platform of revival, the fight against drug cultivation industry and many others. Over the past 10 years a lot has been done, but there have also been obvious failures in many areas.

Will the government of Hamid Karzai be able with support of the international coalition to solve in the two years the problems, which have accumulated over the decade, - is a very complex issue. Of course, it’s unlikely that all problems will be solved, but it is important to give new impetus to the development of the country and the Afghan society. Otherwise, all military efforts and large financial investments will have smaller impact than expected. Uzbekistan will gradually continue to strengthen its bilateral relations with Afghanistan, as we believed and still believe in safe and peaceful future for Afghanistan. Today, more than ever, the international community recognizes that a stable Afghanistan - is no longer an illusion, but the necessity for the regional and global security.


1. See: Speech by President Islam Karimov at the high-level plenary on the Millennium Development Goals UN General Assembly. - Tashkent: Uzbekistan, 2010. - s. 98.
2. See: Karirnova G. I. The Afghan question in light of geopolitical interests in Uzbekistan// Uzbekistan - Central Asia. Information-analytical bulletin CPS. - Tashkent: Center for Political Studies, 2010. - P.47.
3. See: Laumulin M. Three scenarios for Afghanistan - International and regional ositions.- http://www.arnews.ro/newsIl415653.html
4. See: India and the U.S. are ready to seriously invest in mining in Afghanistan. - 2011, September 20. www.ferganuru

             5. See: The U.S. military will remain in Afghanistan until 2014, and for a long time - the American general. - 2011, October 5. - www.ca-news.org  

* Professor Ravshan M. Alimov. University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Paper presented in International Conference on 'Indian and Central Asian Perspective on Afghanistan', organised by India Central Asia Foundation, New Delhi October 27-29, 2011.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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