The massive Wikileaks document trove on the war in Afghanistan may have changed the course of the war, or not, but what does it have to say about Central Asia?
In general, the documents -- mostly military reports from the field -- suggest that the post-Soviet Central Asian states play a minor role in the Afghan conflict. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan appear frequently in discussions about the electric power they provide to Afghanistan, but that's about it. Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani and Mongolian troops serve in Afghanistan, but they barely appear in the documents.
One episode, though, could have been dicey: an unmanned drone lost contact with its controller in southern Afghanistan in September 2009 and had to be shot down by an F-15 before it entered Tajikistan, armed with Hellfire missiles and a 500-lb bomb.
What's most interesting is some diplomatic cables that got included in the leak. They show a much more frank assessment of the political situation in Central Asia than we normally hear from diplomats. What they say isn't necessarily news to EurasiaNet readers, but it's refreshing to hear diplomats saying it. (For whatever reason, most of the documents are from 2007.)
Here, an outgoing US ambassador to Uzbekistan (apparently Jon Parnell) gives his thoughts in 2007:
Uzbekistan is not that hard to figure out. Coming up with effective policy mechanisms to advance U.S. interests in Tashkent is a much more difficult question. On the eve of my departure after over three years in Tashkent, I offer some thoughts on where we are and what may lie ahead. Uzbekistan does not pose all that complex a picture. It is a post-Soviet police state run in the interest of a small coterie of families who monopolize political and economic life. Membership in the inner circle is no longer based on loyalty to a ruling ideology or party as it was in the Soviet era, but on loyalty to the president, Islam Karimov. He will be reelected for another term later this year (probably on December 23) regardless of what the constitution may say. His many public and private statements to the contrary, he is not interested in reform of any sort, but in tight bureaucratic control of the economic and political system.
Here, a US embassy cable complains about Tajikistan's president "ranting" about Uzbekistan in July 2007:
"This new bridge is as important for us as oxygen," Tajik President Emomali Rahmon told Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who led the US presidential delegation to the opening of the new US-funded bridge linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan across the Pyanj River. Rahmon used the remainder of a ninety-minute US-Tajik bilateral meeting to elicit US assistance and investment for additional infrastructure projects, expound on Tajikistan's favorable foreign policy and business climate, and rant about Uzbekistan. A separate trilateral meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai was more scripted and concluded the business portion of the festive weekend (August 25-26).
A May 2007 cable from the US embassy in Tashkent reports on frustrations that the Germans have with Uzbekistan:
According to the German Ambassador, the German-Uzbek counterterrorism relationship is "stagnant," with no real dialog taking place. In addition to providing little credible information, the Government of Uzbekistan allows little access to the Islamic community, thus impeding Germany's ability to reach an independent assessment about the real terrorist threat here. The Uzbeks profess to want more cooperation, but their approach to cooperation is that German equipment and money are welcome, but that German values on such things as respect for human rights are not. The German Ambassador expects that the Uzbeks will "scream" publicly if European Union sanctions are not lifted completely in May, but that the decision will have little negative impact on the German base at Termez because of the money that the Uzbeks receive as a result of the German presence.
In June 2007, the US embassy in Dushanbe analyzes Tajikistan's relationship with Iran:
Tajikistan has characterized its ties with Iran as purely economic, but growing political, military and diplomatic relations indicate that more than investment and trade is bringing the two countries closer together. In the last eighteen months, Tajik President Rahmon and Iranian President Ahmadinejad have made trips to each other's capitals and signed a raft of agreements and declarations ranging from education, science and culture to inter parliamentary and defense cooperation. Iranian assistance has also trickled into impoverished rural areas, building schools and mosques in places where the government has provided little development. But although friendship with a country that supports religion-based insurrections in neighboring states is a dangerous game for Tajikistan, neither Rahmon nor Tajikistan can afford to say no to infrastructure development and investment. In the short run, both countries stand to gain from closer relations: Tajikistan needs the money, and Iran needs the friend.
A Kyrgyz politician is called "melodramatic" for warning of the possibility of civil war:
A meeting between opposition MP Kubatbek Baibolov and SCA DAS Evan Feigenbaum April 19 revealed that Baibolov, at least, has little hope for a near-term solution to Kyrgyzstan's political instability. Baibolov said that the struggle for power and resources between rival clans remained the core explanation for the country's dilemmas, and was doubtful that constitutional reforms alone could resolve the current standoff. Ever melodramatic, he forecast that if a resolution was not found, civil war could ensue.
I imagine this could be resulting in some awkward conversations this week in Tashkent and Dushanbe...