Post-2014 Afghanistan: Implications for Central Asia.
The announced withdrawal of American and ISAF forces from Afghanistan by 2014 can increase the threat of spill over of terrorist and extremist activity, tension and confrontation in this vast region and lead to the emergence here of a permanent source of instability.
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov Introduction In recent years, Central Asian region has come into political limelight. American's war against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks has initiated a debate at international level regarding the extremist groups in Afghanistan's neighbourhood.
Hence along Pakistan, Central Asian region is also considered vulnerable for terrorists' activities and safe heavens due to already established radical/extremists groups and difficult terrains.
In the wake of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the security of the Central Asian states could be susceptible by endemic instability in the Afghanistan, especially through the spread of extremism, human trafficking, and drug smuggling. In addition, the eternal power vacuum in Afghanistan seems to be the most serious factor to the stability and security of Central Asian states. The role of external players in Afghanistan along with the alarming internal factors i.e. socio-political and economic also is making the situation more volatile.
Moreover, Central Asia's strategic position at the crossroads of three regions makes it more vulnerable to these threats. The long porous borders shared by the Central Asian states and Afghanistan are also of deep concern as the spill-over effect of the conflict in Afghanistan would have direct implications for these states, especially, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Post 2014 Afghanistan: Likely Scenarios
Afghanistan reaches a breakthrough in peace talks and as a result the level of violence drops dramatically which will ultimately pave the way for a timely withdrawal of international forces and an effective transition to the Afghan authority. A s reconciliation succeeds, the challenge will then be how to accommodate the different groups within the political system to avoid internal divisions and promote political cohesion.
The talks fail but progress is made on all other fronts including reintegration and uniting Afghans behind a national movement of peace. The widening of the security box through reintegration efforts will open other opportunities in development and governance, further consolidating the conditions for long-term community recovery and peace. An effective peace and reconciliation effort will lay the foundation for peace and stability beyond 2014.
The utmost power vacuum in might fuel ethnic conflict in Afghanistan and hence civil war erupts in the country. The fault lines of civil war i n Afghanistan would be again very much ethnic rather than extremism or terrorism. In addition, sectarian conflicts would also blow up Afghanistan. However, the ethnic and sectarian conflict in Afghanistan would have severe regional implications.
Implications for Central Asia The leadership of Central Asian Republicans have time and again mentioned Afghanistan as the major security threat to their countries, either in the form of drug trafficking or from extremist groups. In addition, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov in January 2012 while an interview said that "the announced withdrawal of American and ISAF forces from Afghanistan by 2014 can increase the threat of spill over of terrorist and extremist activity, tension and confrontation in this vast region and lead to the emergence here of a permanent source of instability".
Likewise, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security of Kyrgyzstan, Tokon Mamytov, on November 26, 2012, cautioned that "there might be anger of an incursion from Afghanistan into Kyrgyzstan in 2013 or 2014".
In addition, apart from the negative implication of foreign forces withdrawal from Afghanistan for Central Asia, there are some positive implications as well. For instance, in post-withdrawal scenario, if the internal situation of Afghanistan improves and the new afghan government ensures security and stability countrywide then the country would have some positive role to play in the region by becoming economic transit hub. As Afghanistan due to its geostrategic position on the globe does have the potential to appear as a transit hub between the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia.
Militants/Extremists' Cross-border Movement
A menace of spread of militants/extremists prevails in Central Asia, where the extremists have quite strong positions and control of some part of the Ferghana Valley which the three Central Asian states (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) share.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper in a briefing to Congress on threats around the world said that the United States is concerned about "Central Asia's ability to cope with violent extremist organizations especially militants based in Pakistan and Afghanistan represents an additional focus, particularly in light of the planned U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014....Tajikistan is particularly important due to its extensive border with Afghanistan and its history of internal and cross-border violence." Moreover, Central Asian states are also worried about the return of extremists to their homelands after the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. As previously seen when Soviet forces withdrew from the country in 1989. Following are the three Central Asian militants groups based in Afghanistan: Jund-al-Khilafah (JaK): It is based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and the North Caucasus. It mainly targets Kazakhstan in Central Asia .
Approximately 200 to 300 Kazakhstani militants are settled in PakistanAfghanistan border area, and also have financial connections with the Jund - al - Khilafah members in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh militants group also has connections with Pakistani militant groups including Ansar-al-Din.
- Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP):
- It is a militant group that mainly operates in Central Asia and China. A large number of its fighters are based in Pakistan's tribal belt and bordering area of Afghanistan .
T I P a l s o h a s connections with Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
It is led by Uyghurs from Xinjiang, China. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU):
It is a Central Asian terrorist organization, and is a close ally of Al-Qaeda and Taliban of Pakistan. A huge number of the IMU fighters moved from Uzbekistan to the Afghan-Pakistani border regions in the late 1990s. However, the IMU fighters are settled in Pakistan's tribal areas including North and South Waziristan and also in the northern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. According to Long War Journal's reports, there are about 2,500 to 4,000 IMU militants in Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. In addition, it is also allied with Jamaat Ansarullah, a Islamic militant group of Tajikistan.
According to the Deputy Chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee , Kabdul karim Abdikazymov, Jund al-Khilafa is a "real threat" to Kazakhstan's national security. As in late 2011, this group targeted three cities of Kazakhstan (Atyrau, Taraz and Almaty). However, TIP fighters targeted China where as IMU since 2004 has not involved in any major attack in the region. But all the militants groups have the capacity and training to carry out major attacks in the region.
In addition, the three most likely areas where Islamist militant groups in Central Asia could infiltrate are:
- The Fergana Valley,
- Tajikistan's Gorno Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) and Rasht Valley, and - Western Kazakhstan.
Ethnic Conflict Apart from terrorism and extremism, the other prevailing threat to Central Asia Republicans is ethnic conflict, as three of the Central Asian Republic shares border with Afghanistan. M o reover, the demographic connections have put the region in a dangerous situation.
The growing ethnic divide in Afghanistan instigate a civil war of more intensity than before, and these ethnic groups will probably act as the conflicting groups and since many of them move to neighbouring Central Asia. The ethnic and cultural linkages of Afghanistan and Central Asian states automatically drag Central Asian in the new problems.
In addition, as Central Asia and Pakistan are among the most contiguous refugee destination from Afghanistan put both Pakistan and Central Asian states under serious burden and will pose serious implication on their already weak economies and fragile stability.
As far as the issue of drug trafficking is concerned, it is also one of the most eminent problems that Central Asian states are facing. Afghanistan, which shares long porous border with three Central Asian states is not only a terrorists'/extremists' hub but is also the land of opium. Afghanistan is world's largest opium producing and illegally exporting country. It reaches the near abroad through Central Asia, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia.
Sebastien Peyrouse (Senior Research Fellow with the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program) in his paper " Drug Trafficking in Central Asia: A Poorly Considered Fight?" divided the Central Asian drug trade into three types:
- "Green" refers to trafficking organized by clandestine Islamist movements to self-finance their operations. Its share of total drug profits is relatively low.
- "Black" consists of the trafficking of minimal quantities by small criminal groups or individuals at high personal risk (concealing drugs on their body or in clothing, suitcases, and so on) in order to supply local markets.
- "Red" refers to the largest share of the drug trade, organized by larger criminal structures with the support of some senior officials. According to Peyrouse, the spillover effect of drug trade from Afghanistan is also because of the Central Asian governments' poor assessment on the issue and lack of will to curb the issue . Hence , Central Asian governments' gives more attention to "green" and "black" drug trade rather than focusing more on "red".
Despite of international organizations efforts to curb the opium cultivation in Afghanistan and drug trade, a mount in sales and production is seen in recent years. Moreover, according to Russia's anti-narcotics chief, Viktor Ivanov, "drug trafficking in Central Asia generates up to $ 20 billion every year".
Central Asian states are facing the drug trade problem since their independence and are worried about the post withdrawal scenario as the drug issue may rise more in the years to come . In addition , opium production in Afghanistan increased dramatically in recent years and may increase more as the foreign forces leave . One can say that for extremists/terrorists drug trade is not less than a life line. As drug money is the only financial source these non-state actors have.
Another worrisome factor for Central Asian governments regarding the post withdrawal scenario is the flow of refugees to Central Asian states. As there are chances of civil war and ethnic discord in Afghanistan in wake of withdrawal and it might led to prolonged destabilization. In this case, bulk of Afghans will move to the neighbouring countries especially Pakistan, and Central Asian states. According to CIA Fact Book's latest statistics, the total population of ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan is 27 % (approximately 8 million) whereas about 9 % (3 million) are ethnic Uzbek and 3 % (1.2 million) ethnic Turkmen out of 31 million total population of Afghanistan.
America's haste withdrawal strategy will leave Afghanistan in more chaotic situation as the question of internal instability is still unanswered, moreover the terrorism menace is also still active throughout the country and the Taliban factor is also an imminent danger for the Afghan people. Additionally, the political and socio-economic situation is still at standstill, no progress is seen in all these sectors since the decade long war started.
Furthermore, the ethnic discord in Afghanistan for power would pose a greater threat to the stability of country once the foreign troops withdrew. As still, there is no credible strategy or policy to tackle the questions of ethnic disharmony or to bring peace in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's strategic location on the world map not only attracted the world powers but also the regional players as well, it's also a contributing factor in the instability of the country.
A stable Afghanistan, which is a dream so far, is not only important for the world super power but also for the neighbouring states. The decades' long wars have made Afghanistan more volatile than before, violence is now in the blood of Afghan vengeful generations.
Instability in Afghanistan poses potential threats to the neighbouring as well as regional countries. Central Asia, due to its geographical proximity to Afghanistan, long shared history, ethnic groups, and porous borders is more vulnerable to the spillover effects. The governments of all the five "Stans' are worried about the eminent threat of terrorism /extremism , drug smuggling, human trafficking, and flow of refugees to Central Asian states.
International community and the regional countries are cooperating and assisting the Central Asian states in order to strengthen its security structure to combat terrorism/extremism.
The external players are also working to ensure CARs economic situation. Though, all the players have their own interests' i.e. economic, energy thrust, and combating other players' influence etc in the region and they are fulfilling their interests in lieu of above mentioned cooperation and collaboration.