The Kazakh View on Situation in Afghanistan

Murat Laumulin (KazISS), Fatima Kukeyeva (KazNU)

From Kazakh point of view, the political situation in this country has improved greatly over the last years. The obscurantist and wayward Taliban regime ceased to exist. The international community helped organize an extraordinary Loya Jirga, or grand council, to appoint the interim administration and then the constitutional Loya Jirga convened to adopt a new constitution and form the Transitional Administration. Later, the Presidential election was held. Currently, the Afghan establishment prefers political rivalry and intrigues, which is evidently better than direct combat.

The drug issue is critical in both Afghanistan’s internal and international context. Afghanistan ranks as the top producer of opium poppy and heroin (about three-fourths of the total worldwide production). Income from selling heroin amounts to billions of US dollars and is far above the U.S. investments in the country. Some two-thirds of farmers, or about one and a half million Afghans are involved in the production of drugs. To reduce the production of drugs, the Afghan police are trying to block the imports of heroin precursors. To date, these imports have been nearly stopped only on Tajikistan’s border; precursors are still delivered from Europe through other countries. The UN states that Afghanistan produced 90% of all drugs traded worldwide. During his recent visit to the U.S., Karzai promised to reduce this figure to 30% in 2010.

The World Bank published a report in Kabul stating a 50% growth in Afghanistan’s economy over the last two years. The situation in Afghanistan should also be considered in light of international factors. Afghanistan is a country under occupation, with limited national sovereignty. Its security, internal stability and further economic development depend on the U.S., NATO and global economic aid.

After the new US Administration in the White House has come, the U.S. remains the most influential military and political power in Afghanistan. The Pentagon persists in eliminating the terrorist infrastructure and pursuing al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is to solidify Karzai’s regime and stabilize the internal political situation by moving its potential antagonists onto the periphery of politics. Regarding military objectives, the U.S. tends to limit its responsibility and increase NATO’s participation in the peacekeeping process. In the recent past, Washington began a decisive anti-drug campaign.

The U.S. Special Forces and military have changed their focus from massive direct raids to targeted tactics. They send small raiding forces to probable locations of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders to capture or kill them. These missions are implemented with the connivance of the Afghan government and controlled by the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI. The U.S. soldiers come to villages under the guise of medical workers offering vaccinations.

Experts insist that losing bases in Central Asia would be a striking blow to the Pentagon. Washington has been granted access to an oil- and gas-bearing region that has been controlled by Russia for years. The military bases are of strategic importance and include outposts on the Chinese border. Besides, Washington is considering the possibility of locating its military in Mongolia. Moscow and Beijing were deeply disturbed by the U.S. attempts to put down roots nearby. Yet, Washington intimated that it was not going to abandon its military facilities in Central Asia.

The American analytical community says the following about the relations between Central Asia and Afghanistan: since the republics regard balanced relations with all large powers as their strategic aim they should be interested in America’s success in Afghanistan. In turn, the United States, which is trying to stabilize Afghanistan and push it toward economic revival, needs the region’s states and their businesses as economic partners and sponsors of Afghanistan. The United States is placing its stakes on wider regional cooperation in which Kabul should also be involved.

So far, Afghanistan remains one of the key factors of Central Asia’s military-political security. Today relative stabilization is alternating with intensified hostilities; Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of hard drugs, the bulk of which is moved across the Central Asian states.

This is forcing NATO to build up its military presence, widen the zone of fighting, and cooperate with Russia and the CIS in transportation of its cargoes to Afghanistan, which takes the problem outside the region and affects security and the strategic situation inside the CIS as well as relations among its members.

The April 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest and public statements of Western leaders attracted attention to the current situation in Afghanistan. The NATO members and particularly the United States know that radical changes are overdue. America is probably getting ready to launch a new offensive at the Taliban; much is being done to strengthen the Afghan army to use it as the pillar of the state’s political system. In the next five or six months Washington will launch a wide-scale operation in the southern and eastern provinces and in the Southern Waziristan Province of Pakistan. This is what the new strategy of the Western coalition in Afghanistan suggests. It has been underway since late 2007 and was officially approved by the latest NATO summit.

Today nobody expects Hamid Karzai to tighten his grip on the country and put an end to the political instability, therefore Kabul has to increase its armed forces many times over within the shortest time possible to turn the army into the state-forming element. In the future, however, the newly acquired might of a country that has no hydro- and energy resources to speak of might develop into a regional threat.

The Central Asian republics want the territory of the former Northern Alliance turned into a security belt to which they and Russia should particularly extend their assistance. A large-scale U.S. military operation will not be limited to Afghanistan – it will spread to Pakistan and tip the military-strategic balance in Southern and Central Asia. These developments will inevitably affect the interests of India, China, and Russia. In fact, the present intention of the Pentagon to set up a large and strong National Army of Afghanistan might produce unexpected results. The regional balance of forces will be tipped in favor of Kabul, which might use its newly acquired force to impose its conditions on its neighbors, including the Central Asian states.

The relations between Central Asian states and Afghanistan is closely connected with so called Greater Central Asia project. The GCA project initiated in 2005 confirmed that the United States treated the region as a foreign policy and security priority. The project was primarily promoted by the changed balance of forces in favor of Russia and partly China, which called for an adequate strategic and geopolitical response. At the same time, the Greater Central Asia idea can be viewed as a conceptual and ideological substantiation of what the United States is trying to accomplish in the region. This is a fresh (and logical) approach to America’s entire previous foreign policy theory and practical regional policy.

In a wider sense the project is a strategic matrix the United States is using in Central Asia, the Caspian, and Afghanistan to channel the local geopolitical, military-political, and geo-economic developments in the desired direction. In fact, this is a mechanism for organizing the geopolitical expanse akin to the Greater Middle East. It is no coincidence that theoretically both projects are mutually complementary.

Today, when the largest world actors present in the region have officially accepted Kazakhstan as the region’s leader and strategic partner with sufficient political weight, it has become extremely important to clarify its relations with the SCO and the Western security structures present in the region. Kazakhstan might promote the idea of a new mechanism of cooperation and/or dialog among the security structures (NATO, SCO, and CSTO). This has become especially important today: the world political and economic systems are no longer what they were and are still in the process of changing while the states are looking for new models, forms, and formats of international cooperation. This is happening at a pace that makes detailed comprehension impossible. Responses should be dynamic while thinking must be preventive. Kazakhstan’s initiatives can, to a certain extent, return the geopolitical rivalry in the region to a constructive sphere for the sake of continued geopolitical balance. Indeed, sooner or later the regional security systems will have to identify the level and sphere of their cooperation.

In Kazakhstan’s external policy, Afghanistan is not a priority. The direct threat of the Islamist radicals’ invasion of Kazakhstan has been eliminated. Central Asia’s security is maintained by the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan and Russia in Tajikistan. In these circumstances, Kazakhstan’s task is to support joint anti-terrorist efforts promoted by Russia and China within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Anti-drug measures remain an important focus of Kazakhstan’s policy. Last years, Kazakhstan managed to stop fourteen times as many smuggled drugs as in the previous year, which was highly appreciated by the international community. These efforts should be built up further in cooperation with Russia, Central Asian and Western countries.

Kazakhstan can also benefit from the prospective Trans-Afghan pipeline – it is theoretically possible for Kazakhstan to join the gas supplies to South Asia. However, this project hardly seems feasible. It is most likely, that the pipeline’s security will not be maintained if Karzai does not manage to enlist the guarantees of ethnic opposition in western and southwestern Afghanistan.

It seems that Kazakhstan should build up its Afghan policy in cooperation with Russia and the other Central Asian countries within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Central Asian Economic Community.