Central Asian states do not face an “imminent” threat posed by Islamic militants, but they need US assistance to help defend against potential dangers, according to top US diplomats. Such assistance, it appears, may include drone aircraft delivered to Uzbekistan, which democratization watchdogs rank as one of the most repressive states in the world.
NATO leaders missed an opportunity during their recent summit in Chicago. In addition to trying to garner international support for an Afghanistan drawdown and stabilization strategy, they also should have considered the overlooked toll that the Afghan campaign has taken on the adjacent Central Asian states.
In early April, a Tajik driver died when an avalanche near the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan crushed his truck, smashing its contents. The tragic episode highlights the danger of an environmental incident posed by the transport of hazardous materials along the Northern Distribution Network.
With the United States and its allies preparing for the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, a top British defense official who recently visited the region believes that British forces are close to securing overland transit routes via Central Asian states to extract military equipment.
Commercial sources familiar with operations on the Northern Distribution Network, a key supply line for the Afghan war effort, say that Uzbekistan is “continuously uncooperative” when it comes to facilitating the shipment of goods to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The hassles are such that some Pentagon contractors now try to avoid dealing with Tashkent when possible.
The US Department of Defense makes approximately $500 million in payments annually to Central Asian states participating in the Northern Distribution Network. But the Pentagon won’t disclose the individual amounts that each state receives.
The Northern Distribution Network, the key re-supply route for US and NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan, is set to experience a spike in traffic due to the closure of the Pakistani-Afghan border. But it will take several weeks for the United States and NATO to work out the logistics of rerouting cargo.
Uzbekistan has taken a pounding recently over its human rights record, but financial wizards in Washington have measured praise for Tashkent’s economic performance, and at least some American executives remain upbeat about doing business in the Central Asian state.