Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is bucking a trend by pooh-poohing scaremongering about the security threat that the Central Asian region will face after NATO troops finish withdrawing from Afghanistan next year.
Observers have voiced apprehension that the region will confront rising challenges from threats such as terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking that could destabilize the entire Central Asia region. But Nazarbayev does not subscribe to that view.
“I will say it directly: I do not accept the catastrophic theories that we read and hear from various sides,” he said on April 25, adding that he did not believe that there was some sort of “countdown timer” running, ticking off the days before coalition forces withdraw and disaster strikes.
Nazarbayev was speaking at the Eurasian Media Forum in Astana, a jamboree of assorted international media professionals and pundits organized by his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva to discuss global and regional problems.
His remarks fly in the face of accepted wisdom about the mounting security threat that Central Asian states will struggle to cope with after 2014.
Nazarbayev’s own security chief, Nurtay Abykayev, is less insouciant than his boss, warning last month of “growing threats of instability.” “We are concerned by the ongoing activeness of terrorist and extremist organizations in the region, particularly in the run-up to the departure of NATO forces from Afghanistan.”
Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, is a cheerleader for the doom-and-gloom brigade: He frequently raises concerns about instability on Uzbekistan’s southern flank after the withdrawal, most recently at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this month.
Pundits believe that this looming threat – in Karimov’s eyes – is driving Uzbekistan closer to Russia, but he has also been accused of talking up the risks to persuade Washington to give Uzbekistan military hardware as its army withdraws.
Nazarbayev plainly believes the region can fend for itself, however. “Just 18 years ago our region was a periphery little known to anyone,” he told the Eurasian Media Forum. “Yet now Central Asia is a very important link in the world economy and in the regional and global security systems.”
Nazarbayev and Karimov are renowned for being regional rivals, so perhaps it is not surprising that their positions on Central Asian security are poles apart.