OPINION | Post 2014 - Afghanistan : What does it hold for Central Asia? by Ratul Chowdhury
IndraStra Global

OPINION | Post 2014 - Afghanistan : What does it hold for Central Asia? by Ratul Chowdhury

By Ratul Chowdhury

Over the past few years since 2011, Obama Administration has been harping on plans to draw down troops from Afghanistan with the completion of the active military stage of anti-terrorist operation there which is to finally take place the next year - 2014. The year seems to be an absolute watershed in the history of the US-Afghanistan relations vis-à-vis Central Asia.

Post 2014 Afghanistan poses a number of difficulties for the neighbouring Central Asian states for a plethora of reasons and these states are likely to see a repetition of the past which was marked by security breaches, rampant drug smuggling, spread of religious extremism and so on. Apart from this immediate concerns, the most important challenge which the Central Asian states are going to face when US troops retreat from Afghanistan is the intervention of extra-regional major powers viz, USA, EU, Russia and China; each having their own interest and stakes in the region which are to have great ramifications for the days to come. Thus, the world would observe the “New Great Game” that has already begun with the US, EU on one hand and Russia, China on the other while the Central Asian states and their Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Afghanistan would be the ones dilly-dallying over whose stand to take.

Source : Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom

Post 2014 Afghanistan seems to bear more difficulties for Central Asia than any other region due to the sheer geographical proximity of the lands. The Central Asian region has been the chessboard for the major powers post disintegration of USSR and 9/11 after which US and other powers understood the significance of the area not only in terms of economy or energy resources but also with regard to the security structure and political implications. Very few regions in the world had such a profound and long lasting impact of 9/11 events as the Central Asian region. The anti-terrorist operation led by the USA against the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda networks surrounding Afghanistan influenced this area greatly.

However, keeping all that as past, when the US troops retreats completely, great speculations amongst IR scholars have started regarding its effect on the Central Asian region. There are huge scopes of security deficit with chances that the state might fall under Talibans once again or simple break up owing to instability and poor governance. States like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are likely to be affected by such inadequacy of state capacity and military capacity where there would be chances of the Taliban infiltrating in these territories and spark off the dormant regional tensions. Besides, there will also be challenges of tackling drug trafficking as almost 65% of narcotic raw materials are smuggled to Europe through the Caspian Sea area which would be a safe route for the Afghani dealers. Cross border terrorism is also likely to increase along with the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Thus, the effects would be catastrophic for the Central Asian states unleashing a future of insecurity and threat which would be accentuated by great power rivalry over strategic issues and energy security.
Design by Farwa Rizwan / Al Arabiya English

The removal of US forces from Afghanistan would create not only a power vacuum in the state but also in the neighbouring Central Asian region with the interventions of major powers for the economic and strategic self-interest.

It is well known that Central Asia has already become the centre of attention for the major powers for its energy resources where US, China, Russia, EU – all wishes to gain a firm foothold. Therefore, in the XXI century ‘Global Energy Wars’, Central Asia is steadily emerging as a prominent front. On one hand, through the Partnership for Peace programme NATO is trying to coax the SCO states for robust economic-security ties so that the US - European markets receive steady energy supplies, on the other hand Russia and China are in no mood to give away their claims over these resources and are constantly trying to woo the SCO members towards them claiming regional sentiments and common ties. 

Strategically, Central Asia located in the southern rim of Russia and northern border of China is of great importance to both the states and of course to US. While the formers are on a mission to check US influence in the area due to the historical occupation argument (Russia) or sheer national political-economic interest, the latter is trying to gain support from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the likes in the region through monetary and military assistance to make its presence felt so that the SCO members do not fall prey to the formers and completely disowns the West. Thus, the New Great Game has two vital cognates in the form of economy and security which is going to played in the region surrounding Afghanistan and how.

The democracy –promoting West may try to usher in some Arab Spring winds in the Silk Road way, but there is no guarantee who the future regimes are going to owe its allegiance to! But one thing is for sure that the Central Asian region is going to be marred by intra and inter-regional conflicts in the coming future over myriads of issues origination from and around Afghanistan.