As the U.S. and NATO prepare to pull their troops out of Afghanistan starting in 2014, everyone is wondering how to keep the country -- and its neighbors -- from the instability that seems inevitable. And the preferred strategy seems to be regional integration: the U.S. is convening a regional conference in Istanbul next month to coordinate strategies with Afghanistan and its neighbors, of which the U.S.'s new Silk Road Strategy is one component. Russia, too, is promoting the CSTO as the security component of what promises to be a larger, regional diplomatic effort including Pakistan, China and other neighbors.
But as an excellent analysis by George Gavrilis in Foreign Affairs suggests, the countries surrounding Afghanistan are not likely to be too invested in any regional coordination:
Ex-Chief of General Staff of the Moldovan Army, Iurie Dominic, sacked after an arms deal with Armenia
Armenia has bought some weapons from Moldova, and Azerbaijan is not happy about it, reports RFE/RL:
Azerbaijan has expressed serious concern over Armenia’s reported purchase from Moldova last month of rockets and other weapons worth millions of dollars, saying that it will complicate a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Elnur Aslanov, head of an analytical unit at President Ilham Aliyev’s administration, on Friday described this and other arms acquisitions by Yerevan as a “serious destabilizing factor” in the region.
“The policy on Nagorno-Karabakh pursued by Armenia testifies to the destructive position of that state in the region,” Russian and Azerbaijani news agencies quoted him as telling journalists in Baku. “Any arms acquisition, any increase in the number of weapons in the region certainly does not lay the groundwork for establishing peace and stability and, on the contrary, impedes that.”
Kyrgyzstan is a dark-horse candidate in elections for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, but one of its advantages is the Manas air base, according to an analysis by Bloomberg:
The impoverished former Soviet state, which has no credit rating or international bonds, has been criticized by the U.S. and UN for corruption and a range of human rights abuses, including the abduction of girls for forced marriages.
Still, it has two cards to play in seeking a place in the UN’s most powerful group: a woman leader and air bases.
The land-locked country has Central Asia’s first female president and is unique in having both Russia and U.S. use military bases on its territory. The U.S. relies on the Manas Transit Center to support operations in Afghanistan, after Uzbekistan evicted U.S. military from its airfield in 2005....
[President Roza] Otunbayeva “is certainly going to do her best to ensure the maximum number of Western votes for the only democracy in that part of the world with a valuable transit military base leased by the U.S,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, a London-based analyst at IHS Global Insight.
Well, and that's the only evidence presented that Manas will have any effect on the vote. Kyrgyzstan is a candidate for the de facto Asia seat on the council, and its primary competition is Pakistan. And there is much speculation in the South Asian press that the U.S. is marshaling support for Kyrgyzstan over Pakistan. From the Times of India:
A Washington task force headed by two U.S. senators has released a report on Georgia and its relations with the U.S. and Europe, "Georgia in the West: A Policy Road Map to Georgia's Euro-Atlantic Future." It makes a variety of recommendations for U.S., European and Georgian policymakers, including some provocative ones in the security realm:
-- Propose an international security presence in the occupied territories: As part of an effort to go on the offense diplomatically, the United States should work with its allies to lay out a clear vision of what security arrangements should be in the context of a fully implemented cease-fire agreement: an Abkhazia and South Ossetia in which additional Russian forces and border guards have withdrawn and security is provided by a neutral international security presence working closely with local authorities...
-- Advance Georgia’s NATO aspirations. US officials should use the NATO summit in Chicago to advance NATO’s commitment to Georgia’s membership aspirations in practical ways, including by adopting a package of intensified cooperation, reiterating that Georgia will become an ally, and making clear that the NATO-Georgia Commission and Georgia’s Annual National Programme are mechanisms through which Georgia can eventually achieve membership...
Master Sgt. Scott Sturkol, Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
U.S. Air Force C-130 transport aircraft at Karshi-Khanabad base in Uzbekistan in 2005
The press service of the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command (whose mission it is to transport troops) has written a brief history of the war in Afghanistan, which turned ten years old on Oct. 7. And one of the three parts is dedicated to the role of Uzbekistan's Karshi-Khanabad base, or K2. It is a straightforward account of the base's operation, some quotes by then-top Pentagon officials Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Myers about the importance of the base, and then this:
Although the 416th Air Expeditionary Group stopped operations in Uzbekistan in mid-2005, many elements of its former mission are in use at other locations. Most notably is the 774th EAS which now operates from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan...
This neglects to mention that the US "stopped operations" there because the government kicked them out, after the State Department objected to the Andijan massacre.
Now, I'm almost certainly reading too much into a press release written by a staff sergeant in Illinois (with no disrespect intended), but this is interesting reading in light of recent events. The U.S. and Uzbekistan are now somewhat tight again; Uzbekistan is allowing massive amounts of U.S. military cargo to pass through en route to Afghanistan, and the U.S. has removed restrictions on military aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even suggested that Uzbekistan is making progress on democratization and human rights. Does this rose-tinted history fit in to this story somehow? (It's also noteworthy that Kyrgyzstan's Manas base, where Air Mobility Command continues to operate to this day, does not receive a mention in the history.) Something to ponder...
Russia's Duma has passed, and President Dmitry Medvedev has ratified, an agreement allowing the Russian military to maintain bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia for 49 years, with automatic 15-year extensions after that.
The agreements refer to the 7th Military Base in Abkhazia, and the 4th in South Ossetia, which have evolved from the peacekeeping bases that Russia maintained before the 2008 war with Georgia. (For a details about the bases, a thorough, if slightly old, accounting was published in Russia in Global Affairs.) The bases host a total of about 7,000 troops, split evenly between the two breakaway territories.
A Russian analyst says in Izvestia that the agreements are mainly necessary for legal purposes:
Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Russian Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said the agreements’ ratification will make things a great deal easier for the Russian military.
“They are currently living in a legal grey zone, although they are not complaining because their bases are located in resort areas,” Karaganov said.
He said the agreements on these Russian bases will cement the secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia and make peaceful reunification impossible.
“Russia should be consistent in its actions. It has recognized these republics’ independence, now Russia must safeguard it,” Karaganov said.
India's Defense Minister AK Antony gets a "traditional bread and honey welcome" in Dushanbe from his Tajikistani counterpart, Sherali Khairyulleov
India's defense minister AK Antony visited Tajikistan this week on his way to Russia, which served as an occasion to revive rumors that India might yet use the Ayni air base near Dushanbe. One would think those rumors would have died once Tajikistan publicly said that India wouldn't be using the base, and that it was negotiating only with Russia on the use of the base. Yet, on Antony's visit he demurred when asked about the base, the Press Trust of India reported:
India, Tajikistan and Russia are in negotiations on the joint use of the Ayni Air Base, close to the Tajik capital Dushanbe which is set to acquire strategic significance after US withdrawal from Afghanistan, sources said here.
Though Defence Minister A K Antony made a technical halt at the Base, on way to Russia he did not divulge whether a trilateral understanding had been reached to develop the base, one of the biggest in Central Asia during his parleys here.
But, sources said that in talks with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov, the issue, including working out modalities of joint use of the base was discussed.
When asked if India was a partner in the use of the base, Antony merely described Ayni as the best air base in entire Central Asia.
So is India still in the running? Probably not. But some Wikileaks cables shed light on why these rumors refuse to die. One cable, from the embassy in New Delhi in 2007, says that India has an interest in keeping the rumors flowing, in order to send signals to China and Pakistan:
Iran's movement of an oil rig toward Azerbaijan's territorial waters in the Caspian Sea in 2009 caused Baku to fret about its lack of military capacity to handle such a threat, and to seek advice from U.S. officials on what to do, recently released Wikileaks cables show.
The cables make for some fascinating reading, and seem to provide some real insight into the strategic thinking of both the Azerbaijani and U.S. governments about the threat of conflict in the Caspian. They make it clear that Azerbaijan is afraid of both Iran and Russian threats against its gas and oil infrastructure in the Caspian, and that U.S. embassy officials are eager to prevent any such conflict because of the economic disruption that it would cause.
The crisis, which seems not to have been previously reported, began in November 2009, when Iran moved its new Alborz-Iran rig into waters that were disputed between Azerbaijan and Iran. The U.S. shared some (unspecified) intelligence information to Ali Asadov, senior energy advisor to President Heydar Aliyev to which Asadov responded:
"This situation is challenging, your information shows this. This tension will escalate." Asadov did not outline specific responses the Azerbaijani government planned to undertake. Rather, like many of our GOAJ interlocutors, Asadov appears to be gathering information and weighing Azerbaijani options, in light of superior Iranian naval strength."
Asadov's assessment of the situation is worth quoting at length:
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov is betting on NATO rather than the CSTO to help secure his country as the U.S. forces begin to leave Afghanistan in 2014, according to a report on the website uzmetronom (in Russian). The report doesn't cite any hard data, but uzmetronom is pretty well connected with government officials in Tashkent and their analysis certainly makes sense, given the trends of the last few years, in which Karimov has pulled away from Russia and its favored security bloc, the CSTO, while increasing its cooperation with NATO.
"The fact is that Islam Karimov has never considered the CSTO as a real force that could counter the military threat from the outside," the report says, adding that Karimov's top concern as the U.S. starts to withdraw from Afghanistan will be border security. "One solution: to develop contacts with U.S. and NATO as much as possible."
Since the U.S. has moved to remove human rights-related restrictions from military aid to Uzbekistan, the Obama administration has been criticized for abandoning its scruples for the sake of Tashkent's cooperation on hosting supply lines to Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about that yesterday, and she said there has been progress on human rights and political freedoms:
With respect to Uzbekistan, we value our relationship with Uzbekistan. They have been very helpful to us with respect to the Northern Distribution Network. They have also been helpful with Afghanistan in terms of reconstruction. They are deeply involved in assisting Afghans and the Afghan Government to try to rebuild and make Afghanistan a more prosperous, peaceful country. We believe that our continuing dialogue with officials of the government is essential. It always raises, as I have and as others from our government continue to do so, our concerns about human rights and political freedoms. But at the same time we are working with the Uzbeks to make progress, and we are seeing some signs of that, and we would clearly like to deepen our relationship on all issues.
Now, that contention is going to get a lot of scrutiny. She didn't give any examples of how the situation in Uzbekistan has improved. The most recent State Department human rights report does highlight a few areas in which Uzbekistan has improved. For example: