Se­cu­rity of Cen­tral Asian Re­gion

The se­cu­rity in­ter­de­pen­dence be­tween states in the re­gion is par­tic­u­larly in­tense be­cause of the na­ture of per­ceived se­cu­rity threats. Transna­tional non-tra­di­tional se­cu­rity threats dom­i­nate the Cen­tral Asian se­cu­rity nar­ra­tive, im­ply­ing that th­ese have a

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral (Retd) P.C. Ka­toch

The se­cu­rity in­ter­de­pen­dence be­tween states in the re­gion is par­tic­u­larly in­tense be­cause of the na­ture of per­ceived se­cu­rity threats.

THE CEN­TRAL ASIAN RE­GION (CAR) com­pris­ing Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Ta­jik­istan, Turk­menistan and Uzbek­istan mea­sures some four mil­lion square kilo­me­ters and is in­hab­ited by just over 64 mil­lion peo­ple with most pop­u­la­tion con­cen­tra­tions in the Ferghana Val­ley, its pe­riph­ery, and the north of Kaza­khstan. With GDP of $166 bil­lion and per capita GDP of $2,700, ac­cess to sea ports range from 2,770 kilo­me­ters to 5,500 kilo­me­ters. Al­ter­na­tion in ex­panses of desert and moun­tain ranges has led to vast un­pop­u­lated ar­eas ly­ing along­side other rel­a­tively densely pop­u­lated ar­eas. Many are un­aware that bulk of present day In­dian pop­u­la­tion has its an­ces­try in CAR and it is the east­ward mi­gra­tion of CAR in­hab­i­tants cen­turies ago on ac­count of dry­ing up of river basins that led to the ori­gin of In­dus Val­ley Civil­i­sa­tion.

For the CAR, un­ex­pected break­down of USSR did cre­ate chaos with ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes erupt­ing overnight, but it also cre­ated new op­por­tu­ni­ties in­clud­ing new part­ners and al­lies. The US, Turkey, Iran, In­dia, Pak­istan, China and Rus­sia were quick to es­tab­lish re­la­tions with the new coun­tries. What is re­ferred as the ‘New Great Game’ to­day, ac­tu­ally is the mod­ern ver­sion of the tra­di­tional power plays in the re­gion by the ma­jor play­ers (Rus­sia, China, the US) due to the in­creas­ing im­por­tance of Cen­tral Asia stem­ming from ex­is­tence of vast re­serves of hy­dro­car­bons (oil and gas) and min­er­als like ura­nium, plus its strate­gic po­si­tion as a link be­tween ma­jor mar­kets of Europe and Asia. The re­gion is inex­orably linked to Afghanistan with grow­ing un­cer­tain­ties post 2014. A re­gional se­cu­rity per­spec­tive must in­clude in­ter­nal dy­nam­ics of CAR and the ex­ter­nal fac­tors. The se­cu­rity par­a­digm in Cen­tral Asia is of­ten not re­gion­ally in­ter­re­lated and in­ter­de­pen­dent but in­flu­enced by ex­ter­nal pow­ers on an in­di­vid­ual state-unit rather than re­gional level, mul­ti­lat­eral se­cu­rity frame­works not­with­stand­ing. CAR coun­tries have dif­fer­ing at­ti­tudes to­wards ex­ter­nal at­tempts to in­flu­ence re­gional pol­i­tics and se­cu­rity. For ex­am­ple, 80 per cent of the US in­vest­ment in CAR is in Kaza­khstan, which is per­haps not liked by some other CAR coun­tries. It would not be wrong to say that Uzbek­istan and Turk­menistan re­gard the US in­flu­ence in the re­gion as a threat in it­self. There­fore, CAR coun­tries can be ex­pected to re­spond at dif­fer­ent lev­els to for­eign in­ter­ven­tion­ist pres­ence de­spite pos­si­bil­ity of in­creased Tal­iban in­flu­ence in Afghanistan.

In­ter­nal Dy­nam­ics

Econ­omy, un­em­ploy­ment, drug trade, il­licit weapons are fac­tors that con­trib­ute to in­sta­bil­ity in any coun­try cou­pled with lack of gov­er­nance, in­ept han­dling of so­cial change, lack of av­enues of po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion and jus­tice. Cen­tral Asia is an area of­fer­ing cer­tain geo-economics ad­van­tages to coun­tries or multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions that have par­tic­u­lar re­gional or global as­pi­ra­tions, due ei­ther to their own in­ter­ests or to the need to neu­tralise other na­tions or com­pa­nies which they see as ri­vals. As per the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund (IMF), in Cau­ca­sus and Cen­tral Asia, the eco­nomic out­look re­mains favourable, re­flect­ing high oil prices that are ben­e­fit­ing oil and gas ex­porters, sup­port­ive com­mod­ity prices and re­mit­tance in­flows ben­e­fit­ing oil and gas im­porters, and, for both groups, mod­er­ate di­rect ex­po­sure to Europe. The pos­i­tive out­look pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to strengthen pol­icy buf­fers to pre­pare for any down­side risks. How­ever, the out­look on un­em­ploy­ment, drugs and il­le­gal weapons, is not that bright. The eco­nomic cri­sis has caused mil­lions of mi­grant labour­ers from Ta­jik­istan, Kyr­gyzs­tan and Uzbek­istan to lose their jobs in the boom economies of Rus­sia and Kaza­khstan. Un­em­ploy­ment rates in Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan and Uzbek­istan are 6.1 per cent, 8.2 per cent and eight per cent re­spec­tively, which are man­age­able. How­ever, Ta­jik­istan and Turk­menistan have un­em­ploy­ment rates of 60 per cent and 70 per cent re­spec­tively. This in con­junc­tion with their im­me­di­ate neigh­bour Afghanistan’s un­em­ploy­ment rate of 36 per cent, form a tri­lat­eral of in­sta­bil­ity con­ducive to ter­ror­ism, es­pe­cially since this large un­em­ployed seg­ment has ac­cess to vast quan­ti­ties of drugs from both Afghanistan and Iran. In 2009 it­self, some 90 met­ric tonnes of drugs came from Afghanistan. Then is

Econ­omy, un­em­ploy­ment, drug trade and il­licit weapons are fac­tors that con­trib­ute to in­sta­bil­ity in any coun­try cou­pled with lack of gov­er­nance, in­ept han­dling of so­cial change, lack of av­enues of po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion and jus­tice

the prob­lem of il­le­gal weapons which has alarmed most CAR coun­tries and seizures by se­cu­rity forces has taken place in Ta­jik­istan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Kaza­khstan and Uzbek­istan. Gun run­ning in CAR is en­demic with il­le­gal weapons com­ing from Rus­sia, China, Iran and Pak­istan, lat­ter via Afghanistan. In June 2012, Kyr­gyzs­tan ad­mit­ted that only half of the small arms that went miss­ing dur­ing the coun­try’s 2010 po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic vi­o­lence have been ac­counted for and the miss­ing quan­ti­ties are con­sid­ered enough to carry out an­other rev­o­lu­tion.

An­other im­por­tant fac­tor con­tribut­ing to in­sta­bil­ity and in­se­cu­rity in the CAR is bor­der dis­putes. For ex­am­ple, bor­ders among Kyr­gyzs­tan, Uzbek­istan and Ta­jik­istan are not prop­erly de­fined. Ferghana Val­ley is rife with ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, es­pe­cially in densely pop­u­lated ar­eas with com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources and fric­tion pe­ri­od­i­cally erupts into vi­o­lence among Kyr­gyz, Ta­jiks and Uzbeks. Ferghana Val­ley is also teem­ing with var­i­ous ex­trem­ist/ ter­ror­ist ele­ments and their role in larger con­flicts can­not be dis­counted. There has also been prob­lem of ri­valry like be­tween Uzbek­istan and Kaza­khstan. Se­ri­ous eth­nic di­vi­sions like in Kyr­gyzs­tan in June 2010 caused hun­dreds of peo­ple and mostly Uzbeks killed, and over 2,000 homes and build­ings de­stroyed. There is also the risk that Cen­tral Asian ji­hadis cur­rently fight­ing along­side Tal­iban in Afghanistan may take their strug­gle back home af­ter 2014. This would in­crease in­sta­bil­ity and pose ma­jor dif­fi­cul­ties for Cen­tral Asia and even China. Ta­jik­istan al­ready faces a threat from the Is­lamic Move­ment of Uzbek­istan (IMU), a group with a vi­sion of an Is­lamist caliphate that is fight­ing in Afghanistan along­side the Tal­iban.

Ex­ter­nal Fac­tors

There is no deny­ing that USA and China are ri­vals com­pet­ing for the booty of un­tapped min­eral wealth and hy­dro­car­bons, strad­dling the vast ex­panse from the Xin­jiangKazakh/Kyr­gyz bor­der to the western shores of the Caspian Sea. Their in­di­vid­ual per­cep­tions, how best their po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests can be served, dif­fer vastly in ge­o­graph­i­cal terms.

USA: At the Is­tan­bul Con­fer­ence on Afghanistan, Hil­lary Clin­ton, then Sec­re­tary of State had ex­plained the US New Silk Road Strat­egy as “a web of eco­nomic and tran­sit con­nec­tions that will bind a re­gion too long torn apart by con­flict and di­vi­sion”. The US per­ceives Cen­tral Asia, South Asia and South East Asia as a re­gion play­ing a cru­cial role in sta­bil­is­ing Asia, with Afghanistan as the bridge be­tween CAR and Eura­sia and South-South East Asia. How­ever, the key prob­lems are the out­right re­fusal by Pak­istan to pro­vide ac­cess to Afghanistan by land to In­dia and the US-Iran ten­sions on the nu­clear is­sue. Re­sul­tantly, both the TAPI and Iran-Pak­istanIn­dia pipe­lines have not been re­alised yet. As of now, In­dia’s ac­cess to CAR is through the Ira­nian port of Chah­ba­har.

China: China has made enor­mous in­vest­ments in CAR; Kazakh and Uzbek oil, Turk­men gas and Kyr­gyz and Ta­jik min­eral wealth. Its ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity is an enor­mous ad­van­tage. China al­ready has trade with CAR to the tune of $29 bil­lion as com­pared to just $500 in case of In­dia. China also has stakes in Ira­nian en­ergy re­sources, for which, she would like to make use of the IranTurk­menistan co­op­er­a­tion for oil and gas ex­plo­ration and ex­ploita­tion. This link once es­tab­lished and made func­tional would help China flood the Cen­tral Asian mar­kets with its goods. China has also in­vested in Afghanistan in­clud­ing build­ing a rail­road from Logar to Kabul and China’s CNPC be­gan Afghan oil pro­duc­tion in Oc­to­ber 2012, ex­tract­ing 1.5 mil­lion bar­rels of oil an­nu­ally. China has an ac­tive plan for a quadri­lat­eral freight rail­road from Xin­jiang through Ta­jik­istan, Afghanistan to Pak­istan. The ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion for China’s Silk Road pol­i­tics is Eura­sia across Cen­tral Asian Steppes or the heart­land of the Tur­kic re­gion and the for­mer Eastern Europe. China en­vis­ages rail, road and oil/gas pipe­lines through this heart­land and nu­mer­ous ar­ter­ies feed­ing it from south and fi­nally land­ing in the Euro­pean Con­ti­nent. China’s CNPC built a pipe­line con­nect­ing China’s eastern coast with gas fields of Turk­menistan in just 18 months in 2007-2008 and is ex­tend­ing it to reach the Caspian Sea. CNPC plans to ex­pand its nat­u­ral gas net­work to all five Cen­tral Asian states and Afghanistan in the next five years. China has also taken on the re­gion’s high­way, rail­road and elec­tric­ity trans­mis­sion chal­lenges through very dif­fi­cult ter­rain for Chi­nese goods to reach Europe, the Mid­dle East and Chi­nese-built ports in Pak­istan and Iran. But there are down­sides to the China-CAR re­la­tion­ship with grow­ing be­lief of eco­nomic hege­mony laced with neg­a­tive im­ages of en­vi­ron­men­tal depre­da­tion by Chi­nese mines, bad work­ing con­di­tions in Chi­nese plants, and Chi­nese busi­ness­men squeez­ing out com­peti­tors with lib­eral bribes to of­fi­cials. The na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment in the re­gion also views with sus­pi­cion Chi­nese de­mo­graphic in­va­sion in­clud­ing

il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Bei­jing is start­ing to take ten­ta­tive po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity ini­tia­tives in the re­gion through Shang­hai Cor­po­ra­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (SCO) but this or­gan­i­sa­tion has proved in­ef­fec­tive in times of un­rest. Bei­jing’s ma­jor con­cern also is the se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment of its Xin­jiang Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, which shares 2,800 kilo­me­ters of bor­ders with Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan and Ta­jik­istan. The core of its strat­egy seems to be cre­ation of close ties be­tween Xin­jiang and Cen­tral Asia, with the aim of re­in­forc­ing both eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity. China has been en­gag­ing Tal­iban to in­duce them to scale back their per­ceived sup­port for Uighur sep­a­ratist groups, such as the East Turkestan Is­lamic Move­ment (ETIM). Yet, Chi­nese pol­i­cy­mak­ers have yet to come up with a clear plan to work to­ward sta­bil­ity in both Afghanistan and Cen­tral Asia while rul­ing out any mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion even in a case of ex­treme un­rest. But if Chi­nese in­vest­ments and national in­ter­ests are threat­ened, they may force to do so. On bal­ance, China’s CAR pol­icy rests on four ob­jec­tives; keep­ing Uighur sep­a­ratists down, keep­ing north-eastern neigh­bours sta­ble, man­ag­ing nat­u­ral re­sources ef­fec­tively and con­tin­u­ing to de­velop new mar­kets.

Rus­sia: Rus­sia is de­ter­mined to main­tain in­ter­ests and ac­cess in Cen­tral Asia by dom­i­nat­ing the se­cu­rity frame­work through Col­lec­tive Se­cu­rity Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( CSTO) and con­trol­ling ma­jor pipe­lines that al­low re­sources to en­ter and exit the re­gion. In ad­di­tion to eco­nomic, labour and sta­bil­ity in­ter­ests, Rus­sian in­ter­ests also lie with the large Rus­sian pop­u­la­tions in Kaza­khstan and Turk­menistan. More re­cently, Rus­sia is at­tempt­ing to in­te­grate CAR coun­tries into the Eurasian Union that cre­ates a dilemma for the coun­tries in the re­gion al­beit Kaza­khstan seems to have de­cided to join. Whether CAR coun­tries, Kyr­gyzs­tan and Kaza­khstan in par­tic­u­lar, will join Rus­sia’s Eurasian Union or tilt to China is the test for in­flu­ence in the re­gion. Eurasian Union would have neg­a­tive ef­fect on the in­vest­ment that China has made on both sides of its bor­der. Erec­tion of a Rus­sia con­trolled tar­iff bar­ri­ers will ad­versely af­fect China’s trade with CAR.

Iran: Iran has al­ready in­vested $340 mil­lion in the de­vel­op­ment of Chah­ba­har port and In­dia’s con­tri­bu­tion is over 100 mil­lion dollars. At the same time, In­dia has in­vested over 136 mil­lion dollars in the con­struc­tion of Afghan Ring Road High­way (Hel­mand sec­tor) that will be con­nect­ing Chah­ba­har with Kabul and thus pro­vide Kabul ac­cess to In­dian Ocean. This fits with the Rus­sian con­cept of con­struct­ing North­South cor­ri­dors. De­void of land ac­cess through Pak­istan, this is the av­enue for In­dia to con­nect with Cen­tral Asia. Iran is ea­ger to de­velop its eastern re­gion and ex­pand its trade with Afghanistan and Cen­tral Asia, and is also work­ing to link Mashshad with Herat in Afghanistan. The Chah­ba­har-Kabul link for trade and com­merce will en­able oil and gas rich Cen­tral Asian states of Kaza­khstan, Uzbek­istan and Turk­menistan to reach the South East and South Asian mar­kets. This route will also suit western na­tions in ad­di­tion to via Caspian Sea.

Afghanistan: As per a re­port on the cost of the US war in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2013, re­leased by the Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, USA on Jan­uary 14, 2013, if all fig­ures for FY 2001-FY 2013 that fol­low are to­taled for all di­rect spend­ing on the war, they reach $641.7 bil­lion, of which $198.2 bil­lion—or over 30 per cent—will be spent in FY2012 and FY2013. This is an in­cred­i­ble amount of money to have spent with so few con­trols, so few plans, so lit­tle au­dit­ing, and al­most no cred­i­ble mea­sures of ef­fec­tive­ness. The vi­tal rev­e­la­tion is that vast ma­jor­ity of the aid went to the Afghan National Se­cu­rity Forces and not de­vel­op­ment. This im­plies that the US was never both­ered about eco­nomic se­cu­rity of Afghanistan and with re­duced troop strength post 2014, will be con­tent with hold­ing on to North­ern Afghanistan as buf­fer to en­sure Tal­iban do not reach the CAR. There­fore, a cer­tain amount of chaos in South and East Afghanistan is very pos­si­ble.

Re­gional Se­cu­rity Par­a­digm

Threats and prob­lems that con­front the CAR can be sum­marised as fol­lows: Cen­trifu­gal forces caus­ing dis­par­ity, ri­valry, lack of trust. Weak econ­omy, po­lit­i­cal sys­tems and cor­rup­tion. Se­cu­rity cri­sis; bor­der and eth­nic con­flicts, drugs, rad­i­cals. Tal­iban threat post 2014 through Afghanistan. The US, China, Rus­sia ri­valry plus CSTO and SCO pro­mot­ing geopo­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions and con­cerns of Rus­sia and China re­spec­tively. In­creas­ing PLA ca­pac­ity and mod­erni­sa­tion.

Re­gional Se­cu­rity Ar­chi­tec­ture

The se­cu­rity in­ter­de­pen­dence be­tween states in the re­gion is par­tic­u­larly in­tense be­cause of the na­ture of per­ceived se­cu­rity threats. Transna­tional non-tra­di­tional se­cu­rity threats dom­i­nate the Cen­tral Asian se­cu­rity nar­ra­tive, im­ply­ing that th­ese have an ex­ten­sive im­pact on the re­gion and re­quire a re­gional re­sponse but re­gional se­cu­rity dy­nam­ics are de­fined by mu­tual sus­pi­cion. Over the past few years, SCO and CSTO ap­pear to be stak­ing out com­ple­men­tary rather than com­pet­ing man­dates. There ap­pears to be un­der-the-sur­face com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the two groups. The new In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group (ICG) writes in its re­port ti­tled “China’s Cen­tral Asian Prob­lem” that Rus­sia con­tin­ues to seek mil­i­tary in­flu­ence in Cen­tral Asia but has be­come in­creas­ingly dis­trust­ful of the SCO and Chi­nese in­ten­tions. It also notes that China has not been able to match its am­bi­tious eco­nomic moves with po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary mus­cle be­cause of strong Rus­sian in­flu­ence in CAR se­cu­rity struc­tures. Rus­sia con­tin­ues its monopoly of arms sales to CAR. There­fore, re­la­tions be­tween CSTO and SCO re­main un­cer­tain and po­ten­tially com­pet­i­tive but th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions have proved in­ef­fec­tive in cri­sis. ICG as­sesses that in case of a power vac­uum in the re­gion, even if ei­ther China or Rus­sia is will­ing to in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily in Cen­tral Asia, China may take the lead. How­ever, this ICG as­sess­ment is just one view. Post 2014, there is also good chance of Afghanistan in­creas­ingly in­te­grat­ing with Afghanistan and SCO as­sum­ing greater role in Afghanistan. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, there is also pos­si­bil­ity of more CSTO-NATO co­op­er­a­tion since China can­not pro­vide se­cu­rity for its in­vest­ments in the re­gion, par­tic­u­larly Afghanistan, and Rus­sia un­der­stands ad­verse ef­fects of rad­i­cal dis­pen­sa­tion in Kabul.

In­dian Con­cerns

De­spite all the over­tures made to Pak­istan over the decades by In­dia in­clud­ing grant of the MFN sta­tus, a rad­i­calised Pak­istan ob­sessed by ha­tred has con­tin­ued not to open trade and grant MFN sta­tus to In­dia and fa­cil­i­tate the land route for In­dia to trade with Afghanistan and CAR. South Asian mar­kets, es­pe­cially In­dia, are im­por­tant to CAR and Afghanistan for trade and easy busi­ness. Con­cur­rently, In­dia needs the hy­dro­car­bons of CAR for its en­ergy needs. In­dian goods have been routed to Afghanistan through the Chah­ba­har port in Iran and through Dubai and will con­tinue to do so also with the CAR while Pak­istan brews in its own stew.

Se­cu­rity Per­spec­tive

The re­gional se­cu­rity per­spec­tive in CAR is fluid and has var­ied pos­si­bil­i­ties. Fi­nally, the quan­tum US troops in Afghanistan post 2014, Pak­istan’s ca­pac­ity of mis­chief, the pos­ture of Tal­iban, level of in­sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan and pos­si­bil­ity of an­other in­ter­na­tional force (like from OIC coun­tries) are a mat­ter of spec­u­la­tion but CAR coun­tries cer­tainly need to in­te­grate more in­ti­mately into the se­cu­rity frame­work.

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